FCBC Reading Challenge 2020: Neon Empire by Drew Minh #BookReview

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In a state-of-the-art city where social media drives every aspect of the economy, a has-been Hollywood director and an investigative journalist race to uncover the relationship between a rising tide of violence and corporate corruption.

Bold, colorful, and dangerously seductive, Eutopia is a new breed of hi-tech city. Rising out of the American desert, it’s a real-world manifestation of a social media network where fame-hungry desperados compete for likes and followers. But in Eutopia, the bloodier and more daring posts pay off the most. As crime rises, no one stands to gain more than Eutopia’s architects—and, of course, the shareholders who make the place possible.

This multiple-POV novel follows three characters as they navigate the city’s underworld. Cedric Travers, a has-been Hollywood director, comes to Eutopia looking for clues into his estranged wife’s disappearance. What he finds instead is a new career directing—not movies, but experiences. The star of the show: A’rore, the city’s icon and lead social media influencer. She’s panicking as her popularity wanes, and she’ll do anything do avoid obscurity. Sacha Villanova, a tech and culture reporter, is on assignment to profile A’rore—but as she digs into Eutopia’s inner workings, she unearths a tangle of corporate corruption that threatens to sacrifice Cedric, A’rore, and even the city itself on the altar of stockholder greed.

This is Book 6 for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The category was ‘A book which is a dystopian novel.’ The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that I have not reviewed book five in the challenge, ‘A book from my favourite genre.’ Unfortunately, the book I chose for this category was not to my tastes so, in line with my policy of not including negative reviews on the blog, i have decided I will not be reviewing it.

Neon Empire is a dystopian novel set in a not-too-distant future where the world’s increasing obsession with social media status has developed to the next level and a whole city has been constructed where popularity and social media influence are the sole currency and where flocks of people gather to pursue fame and fortune and hedonism. But the maintenance of status becomes all-consuming, and people’s desire to achieve or maintain their position drives them to further and further extremes and the corporations in control go to ever more desperate lengths to monetise experience to the last degree, regardless of the danger to human life. This all leads to a tautly-wound society that is only ever seconds away from violence and civil disobedience and it is only going to take one wrong move for the tinder-box to erupt.

The pace of the book is frenetic, and the story arc is spliced and jumbled and told by different voices and all angles, to reflect the fast, constantly-changing, crazy world of utopia, where things move and change from second to second and everyone is constantly reacting to changing stimuli and running to catch up. The world-building is detailed and evocative, in my mind Eutopia is a cross between Las Vegas on acid and Minority Report and, for some reason, a place where it is permanently night. Sometimes the text provides too much information to take in, and your brain is chasing the detail, unable to keep up, but again this is deliberate, to reflect the reality that the book presents, which makes for an exciting read, but it is not remotely relaxing!

This is an interesting exploration of where our society could go, given the trajectory we are on at the moment. Bearing in mind the scandals there have been with regard to data-mining and social media influencing of our decision-making in recent years, of how susceptible we all are to online marketing and rumour, how we know that the internet seems to predict our every move by monitoring our online interactions, the world portrayed here is no so far-fetched as to be unimaginable. It is not, however, a pretty or comfortable picture and should give us all pause for thought.

A future of online manipulation, superficiality and artifice is not a place I want to live, or for my children to grow up in. This book made me want to get out in the fresh air and touch something real.

Neon Empire is out now and you can buy a copy here.

 

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher #BookReview (@CharlieFletch_r) @orbitbooks @TheFictionCafe @dstackedshelves #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2020 #challenges #readingrecommendations #TemptedBy #YoungAdult #ABoyAndHisDogAtTheEndOfTheWorld

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My name’s Griz. I’ve never been to school, I’ve never had friends, in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, before all the people went away, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.  

Then the thief came.  

He told stories of the deserted towns and cities beyond our horizons. I liked him – until I woke to find he had stolen my dog. So I chased him out into the ruins of the world. 

I just want to get my dog back, but I found more than I ever imagined was possible. More about how the world ended. More about what my family’s real story is. More about what really matters.  

Book four for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club is in the category ‘A book with an animal on the cover’ Well, I see a dog so I think this counts!

This post also represents a special edition of my Tempted by … feature, as I bought this book after reading this fabulous review by my friend Jill over at Double Stacked Shelves. Make sure you pop over and check out her blog.

This book lived up to all Jill promised. Although it is a young adult book, readers of all ages will take away something from it, and you’d need to be some kind of curmudgeon not to enjoy it just because the writing style is pitched at a young adult reader. This is a dystopian story, a tale of adventure, an exploration of human nature and frailty, a morality tale, and a treatise on the love than humans have for their pets, all rolled in to one great book.

We meet Griz & his family at the end of days, when the human population has all but died out and the few people who are left are scattered far and wide across a barren landscape. Everyone is living a hand to mouth existence, which makes them suspicious of strangers and protective of the things they have. So when a visitor to their remote home steals Griz’s dog, he sets off in pursuit. The rest of the book then follows Griz’s journey as he travels across an unknown land to find his lost companion.

The story is gripping from the first page as we try to understand what has happened to the world and what kind of devastation humans have wreaked on themselves and the planet. It is fascinating to look through the author’s imagination to see what someone who has never experienced life as we currently live it makes of our world through the decaying remnants left behind. What kind of things are still of value to humans on the edge of existence, and what has become worthless.

The book is full of emotion, as the bonds of family are tested, and the importance of relationships, trust, understanding, empathy and kindness are explored through Griz’s journey and the challenges he meets along the way. The book explores how we can change and grow in the face of adversity, confirming the old adage, ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’

I have been a huge fan of dystopian fiction since my old school librarian introduced me to the books of John Wyndham as a teenager, but I don’t remember there being any books like this specifically aimed at my age group. This book brought back echoes of those books to me, along with a sniff of Treasure Island for some reason. I was thoroughly invested in the story, and found it moving, melancholy and uplifting, all at the same time. I am also happy that I have found a book I can share with my teenage daughters and discuss and enjoy with them. A book to be passed along between generations, which makes it a great find.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Charlie’s a screenwriter and a novelist and he lives on the edge of Edinburgh. He’s been lots of other things too – temperamentally unsuitable bar staff (grumpy, not talkative), temporary laundry manager in a big London hotel, detail-shop car-wash jockey in Reno, Nevada, despatch runner for a film company in Soho,  food critic (not a very good one, basically never met a meal he didn’t like. Or at least eat too much of), national newspaper columnist (Scotland’s a nation, right?) and a film editor at the BBC. He studied Literature at St Andrews University, and later took a grad degree in Screenwriting at USC.

He swims a lot, keeps thinking of taking up cycling, likes forgotten books, summers on the Outer Hebrides, terriers, his wife and his children – not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Charlie:

Website: http://www.charliefletcher.com

Twitter: @CharlieFletch_r

LAST CHANCE TO ENTER! #RNA60 Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook Group Launch Competition. Win 60 Romantic Novels from 0ne More Chapter! @RNATweets @0neMoreChapter_ #Competition #Giveaway #RomanticFictionBookClub #RomFicBookClub

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Today is the closing date for the Romantic Fiction Book Club’s huge launch competition, so if you haven’t already join the new Facebook group for readers, authors and bloggers who love Romantic Fiction, you’d better get on to it quickly!

As a reminder, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, to celebrate this momentous occasion, the RNA have launched a new Facebook group, the Romantic Fiction Book Club, which aims to be a warm and cosy place for lovers of romantic fiction to engage with other readers, bloggers and authors of romantic fiction. The group is open to anyone who loves to read any type of romance, bloggers, and all authors of novels with a romantic element, not just those who are members of the RNA.

To launch the new group with a bang, we have an amazing competition for you. In conjunction with publisher 0ne More Chapter, members of the new Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook group have the chance to win an amazing bundle of 60 romantic novels, donated by 0ne More Chapter. There are also 60 runner up prizes of a single, signed romance novel, so there are a total of 61 prizes up for grabs. What amazing odds of winning something! The competition is running from 14th to 29th February., i.e. TODAY!

All you have to do to enter the competition is join the new Romantic Fiction Book Club here and then follow the link below to the competition:

One More Chapter & RNA Diamond Anniversary Giveaway

There is detailed information about how to enter on the new Facebook page, including how to increase your chances of winning by subscribing to the RNA and 0ne More Chapter’s social media links, plus, there is lots of fun interaction going on in the group. UK entries only I’m afraid. What are you waiting for, go and sign up now!

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Four Weddings and a Festival by Annie Robertson Narrated by Ellie Heydon #BookReview #audiobook (@annierauthor) @EleanorHeydon @orionbooks @TheFictionCafe @NetGalley @audibleuk #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2020 #challenges #NetGalley #FourWeddingsAndAFestival

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Four months. Four weddings. One happy ending…?

Lifelong friends and rom-com fans Bea, Lizzie, Hannah and Kat have curled up with Bridget Jones, sobbed at Love, Actually and memorised the script to Notting Hill. They always joked about getting married in one summer – their own Four Weddings – and it seems like this might just be the year . . .

That is, until Bea turns down her boyfriend’s proposal. Is her own Hugh Grant waiting for her amid the champagne and confetti? Can real-life romance ever live up to a Richard Curtis movie?

As the wedding – and festival – season gets into its swing, can all four friends find their happy ever after…?

This is the third book I have chosen for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The third category for the challenge is ‘A book which includes a wedding.’ Well, what is better than one wedding? Four!

I’ve chosen this book because it also represents a step forward in my other goal for 2020, which is to reduce my NetGalley backlog. My thanks to the publisher for my digital copy of this book, received via Netgalley, and I have reviewed it honestly and impartially.

Okay, so you’ll get the immediate impression that this book is inspired by the Richard Curtis movie and you wouldn’t be wrong. The author is obviously a fan and there are a number of references to his films throughout, so if you enjoyed those films you’ll enjoy this.

This was s fun read, following the weddings across one summer as three of them get married and Bea, having turned down the proposal of her perfect-on-paper boyfriend, tries to decide what she is going to do with the rest of her life, now all of her friends are settling down.

The details surrounding the four weddings are fun to read about, especially the unexpected one, and my favourite part was the description of the festival they all attend. Festivals in books have been a bit of a thing for me this week, after the Dave Holwill one.) I completely sympathised with Bea’s predicament, not wanting to settle and also not wanting to be left behind and alone. Life is tricky to navigate when you are in your twenties, I sometimes think people should be banned from marrying until they hit 30!

The thing that made this book for me was the character of Aunt Jane, she is a total legend and a role model for women of a certain age. I fully intend modelling myself in my seventies on a cross between her and Zillah from This Could Change Everything by Jill Mansell.

All in all, an enjoyable romcom for fans of Richard Curtis-esque movies and novels about female friendship. and finding The One.

Four Weddings and a Festival is out now and you can get your copy here.

About the Author

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Annie Robertson trained in London as a classical musician, then worked as an assistant for an Oscar winner, an acclaimed artist, a PR mogul and a Beatle. After several years of running errands for the rich and famous, she went to medical school where, hiding novels in anatomy textbooks, she discovered her true passion for writing, and went on to complete a Creative Writing MA with distinction.

Annie now lives back home in Scotland. When not writing Annie enjoys playing the piano, swimming with her young son, and visiting antiques markets with her husband.

Connect with Annie:

Twitter: @annierauthor

 

#RNA60 Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook Group Launch Competition. Win 60 Romantic Novels from 0ne More Chapter! @RNATweets @0neMoreChapter_ #Competition #Giveaway #RomanticFictionBookClub #RomFicBookClub

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Calling all fans of Romantic Fiction! This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, to celebrate this momentous occasion, the RNA are launching a new Facebook group, the Romantic Fiction Book Club, which aims to be a warm and cosy place for lovers of romantic fiction to engage with other readers, bloggers and authors of romantic fiction. The group is open to anyone who loves to read any type of romance, bloggers, and all authors of novels with a romantic element, not just those who are members of the RNA.

To launch the new group with a bang, we have an amazing competition for you. In conjunction with publisher 0ne More Chapter, members of the new Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook group have the chance to win an amazing bundle of 60 romantic novels, donated by 0ne More Chapter. There are also 60 runner up prizes of a single, signed romance novel, so there are a total of 61 prizes up for grabs. What amazing odds of winning something! The competition is running from 14th February (of course!) to 29th February. Take a look at some of the fabulous titles up for grabs.

All you have to do to enter the competition is join the new Romantic Fiction Book Club here and then follow the link below to the competition:

One More Chapter & RNA Diamond Anniversary Giveaway

There is detailed information about how to enter on the new Facebook page, including how to increase your chances of winning by subscribing to the RNA and 0ne More Chapter’s social media links, plus, there is lots of fun interaction going on in the group. UK entries only I’m afraid. What are you waiting for, go and sign up now!

I’ll see you there!

(There was an interesting article about the new group and how it came about in Frost Magazine earlier this week, you might like to check it out here.)

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Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer Narrated by Robert Hardy #BookReview #audiobook @audibleuk @TheFictionCafe #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2020 #challenges #freereading #RumpoleOfTheBailey

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In these witty and comic stories, Horace Rumpole takes on a variety of clients and activities. He, of course, brings each case to a successful end, all the while quoting poetry and drinking claret.

This is the second book I have chosen for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The second category for the challenge is ‘A book by an author who shares your initials.’ Hence, Julie Morris = John Mortimer.

It was Crown Court that started it. A lot of you won’t remember it, but those of a certain age may recall this TV show which ran during my childhood, to which I was completely addicted. In fact, I didn’t even realise that it was drama to begin with, I thought they were real criminal trials being shown on TV, and this was made me want to become a lawyer.

To begin with, I wanted to be a barrister, and this ambition led me in turn to the novels of a real-life barrister, John Mortimer, and his most famous character, Horace Rumpole.

I read all of the Rumpole books multiple times when I was younger, rabid as I was for tales of legal life. Of course, these books are not really representative of life as a barrister, and I ended up taking an entirely different route in my legal career, away from the Bar and criminal law to the non-contentious role as a corporate solicitor. I continue to love a legal-based book though, and discovered Caro Fraser’s Caper Court series, John Grisham and, more recently, the novels of Gillian McAllister and Peter Murphy. But Rumpole will always have a soft spot in my heart.

I haven’t revisited the books in a long time, although I still have my original copies, and they do feel somewhat dated now. The law and society have changed so much in the interim, and the writing may come across as rather un-PC when viewed through a modern lens. They are certainly books of their time, and Rumpole is no modern man by today’s standards. He could not get away with referring to his wife as ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ these days, thankfully.

However, if you read them of products of the time in which they were written, you can still see the appeal they had to a young, wannabe barrister. The writing is clever and fluid, Rumpole is a loveable rogue and defender of the underdog, wily but charming, a distinctive personality of a type which I doubt exists at the Bar any more. The books portray an era of legal practice long gone which, in some respects is to be mourned although in others society has improved. And the books are very funny (maybe only in some respects to lawyers. There were blank looks on my daughters’ faces as I laughed like a drain at the joke ‘Agent provocateur, you don’t get many of those in conveyancing.’) I still found much to enjoy in the book when I listened to it within its original frame of reference.

I really enjoyed my amble down youthful memory lane with this book. I won’t consign my old Rumpole books to the recycling bin just yet. I’m not sure I’ll be persuading my daughters to pick them up any time soon though.

Rumpole of the Bailey is available here.

About the Author

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Sir John Mortimer was a playwright, novelist and former practising barrister. During the war he worked with the Crown Film Unit and published a number of novels, before turning to theatre. He wrote many film scripts, and plays both for radio and television, including A Voyage Round My Father, the Rumpole plays, which won him the British Academy Writer of the Year Award, and the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Mortimer wrote four volumes of autobiography, including Clinging to the Wreckage and Where There’s a Will (2003). His novels include the Leslie Titmuss trilogy, about the rise of an ambitious Tory MP: Paradise Postponed, Titmuss Regained and The Sound of Trumpets, and the acclaimed comic novel, Quite Honestly (2005). He also published numerous books featuring his best-loved creation Horace Rumpole, including Rumpole and the Primrose Path (2002) and Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders (2004). All these books are available in Penguin.

Sir John Mortimer received a knighthood for his services to the arts. His authorized biography, A Voyage Around John Mortimer, written by Valerie Grove, is also published by Penguin (2007).

Sir John Mortimer passed away on January 16, 2009.

Goldsboro Books’ Book of the Month Club – January 2020: Long Bright River by Liz Moore @GoldsboroBooks @LizMooreBooks #BookReview #bookclub #firsteditions

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KENSINGTON AVE, PHILADELPHIA:

THE FIRST PLACE YOU GO FOR DRUGS OR SEX.
THE LAST PLACE YOU WANT TO LOOK FOR YOUR SISTER.

Mickey Fitzpatrick has been patrolling the 24th District for years. She knows most of the working women by name. She knows what desperation looks like and what people will do when they need a fix. She’s become used to finding overdose victims: their numbers are growing every year. But every time she sees someone sprawled out, slumped over, cold to the touch, she has to pray it’s not her sister, Kacey.

When the bodies of murdered sex workers start turning up on the Ave, the Chief of Police is keen to bury the news. They’re not the kind of victims that generate a whole lot of press anyway. But Mickey is obsessed, dangerously so, with finding the perpetrator – before Kacey becomes the next victim.

Goldsboro Books’ Book Club Book for January is Long Bright River by Liz Moore.

This book has so many fascinating strands to entice the reader, and the central mystery was actually the least of those that kept me welded to this book until I had finished it. I read it in a single day, staying up until the early hours to get to the end, because I just had to know how all of the facets of the plot played out. An amazing story of family relationships, personal decisions and the life of a city.

The story is written from the perspective of Kacey, a young woman from a deprived area of Philadelphia who grew up in a broken, dysfunctional family, which has had a profound effect on her and her younger sister. Against all the odds, she finds herself in the Philadelphia police force, patrolling the streets of the roughest precinct, where drug use and the criminal industries that support it are rife, and she lives in daily fear of finding her sister as one of its victims. Then a killer begins targeting the most vulnerable in her beat and her fear grows…

At the same time, she is dealing with the personal fallout from a failed relationship and its ramifications on the life of her young son. She finds herself struggling to balance all the aspects of her existence, and its threads soon start to unravel as the different strands that she has tried to keep separate begin to entwine. She finds she has some difficult decisions to make and some unpleasant truths from the past come back to haunt her.

The characters in this book are so complex and so well-developed they had me hooked from the start. Mickey’s relationship with her sister, the reality of their upbringing and the resultant close bond they develop, the circumstances that stretch that bond to breaking are so truthful, so poignant, that the reader cannot fail to be drawn in to the drama. The secrets that then unfold are quite shocking, and raise real questions about what the reader would do in the same circumstances. The author very cleverly sets the characters up to make us see them in a certain light, and then reveals more and more details throughout the book that subtly and slowly change those perceptions, so our initial assessments are utterly changed by the end of the book. It is elegantly done.

There are so many questions about modern society raised in this book which will make the reader ponder, and there are no easy answers to any of them. It is rare that a thriller will make the reader think so deeply about such difficult but very real problems, and the author approaches them with a delicacy and sense of understanding and passion. There is no judgement or condemnation here, just a light shining on corners we might prefer not to address, sitting as we are in our comfortable homes, indulging in a pleasant pastime. This book really brought a side of this city to gritty, vivid life, a side most people would prefer to ignore. I’ve been to Philadelphia and this was not something I was aware of. I am now and it shames me to a degree that we can so easily ignore the struggles that so many people face on a daily basis. I don’t have any answers, and the book doesn’t purport to offer any, but an awareness of this reality is possibly a start.

There is a mystery to be solved but, as I said at the beginning, this is almost incidental and the least relevant part of the story. To a degree, the solving of the puzzle seemed like a bit of a damp squib compared to the stories of the people. This is a book about human fallibilities, relationships, choices and human misery. I found it fascinating, gripping and profoundly moving and would encourage everyone to read it. A fantastic piece of work, and the Goldsboro special edition is something to be treasured if you fancy treating yourself.

Long Bright River is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Liz Moore is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction.

Her first novel, The Words of Every Song (Broadway Books, 2007), centers on a fictional record company in New York City just after the turn of the millennium. It draws partly on Liz’s own experiences as a musician. It was selected for Borders’ Original Voices program and was given a starred review by Kirkus. Roddy Doyle wrote of it, “This is a remarkable novel, elegant, wise, and beautifully constructed. I loved the book.”

After the publication of her debut novel, Liz obtained her MFA in Fiction from Hunter College. In 2009, she was awarded the University of Pennsylvania’s ArtsEdge residency and moved to Philadelphia.

Her second novel, Heft, was published by W.W. Norton in January 2012 to popular and critical acclaim. Of Heft, The New Yorker wrote, “Moore’s characters are lovingly drawn…a truly original voice”; The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Few novelists of recent memory have put our bleak isolation into words as clearly as Liz Moore does in her new novel”; and editor Sara Nelson wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine, “Beautiful…Stunningly sad and heroically hopeful.” The novel was published in five countries, was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and was included on several “Best of 2012” lists, including those of NPR and the Apple iBookstore.

Moore’s short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in venues such as Tin House, The New York Times, and Narrative Magazine. She is the winner of the Medici Book Club Prize and Philadelphia’s Athenaeum Literary Award. After winning a 2014 Rome Prize in Literature, she spent 2014-15 at the American Academy in Rome, completing her third novel.

That novel, The Unseen World, was published by W.W. Norton in July of 2016. Louisa Hall called it “fiercely intelligent” in her review in The New York Times; Susan Coll called it “enthralling . . . ethereal and elegant . . . a rich and convincing period piece” in her review in the Washington Post. The Unseen World was included in “Best of 2016” lists by The New Yorker, the BBC, Publishers Weekly, Vox, Google Play, and Audible.com, among others.

Moore’s fourth novel, Long Bright River, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books in January 2020.

She lives with her family in Philadelphia and is a faculty member of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Temple University.

Connect with Liz:

Website: http://www.lizmoore.net

Facebook: Liz Moore Writer

Twitter: @LizMooreBooks

Instagram: @lizmoorebooks