Blog Tour: When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson #BookReview

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Sometimes life can be bittersweet . . .

Between tending to the whims of her seven-year-old and the demands of her boss, Viv barely gets a moment to herself. It’s not quite the life she wanted, but she hasn’t run screaming for the hills yet.

But then Viv’s husband Andy makes his mid-life crisis her problem. He’s having an affair with his (infuriatingly age-appropriate) colleague, a woman who – unlike Viv – doesn’t put on weight when she so much as glances at a cream cake.

Viv suddenly finds herself single, with zero desire to mingle. Should she be mourning the end of life as she knows it, or could this be the perfect chance to put herself first?

When life gives you lemons, lemonade just won’t cut it. Bring on the gin!

It is my turn on the blog tour today for When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson. My thanks to Sanjana Cunniah at Avon Books for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by Fiona Gibson, and I’m now wondering why I haven’t read anything by her before because this novel was right up my street, definitely what I needed to cheer me up and take my mind off my enforced isolation.

It probably helped that the main character of Viv could, in many ways, be me. I haven’t related this closely to the main protagonist of a novel in a long while. It is so refreshing to see a menopausal woman of a certain age as the main character of a mainstream book, and one who is so unassuming but kickass as Viv. Although I have to say, the thought of having a seven-year-old at the age of 52 (which would be the equivalent of me currently being in charge of a toddler) filled me with abject horror! Those days are far behind me, thankfully (although dealing with teens can be just as bad) and I admired Viv’s fortitude in this regard.

The writing in this novel is light and upbeat and easy to read throughout and I fairly flew  through the pages. The plot and tone and characters are all very engaging, and it was very easy to immerse myself in their world and care about what was going on. I really loved the fact that Fiona did not make any of the characters canonised saints or absolute sinners, which sometimes can happen when an author wants us to sympathise with a protagonist and her decisions. Here, although Viv’s husband behaves like a cad, he is not a pantomime villain with no redeeming features, just an ordinary, if slightly weak, man, and this makes it much easier for the reader to believe in him and Viv’s reaction to him. All in all, I felt like all of the characters and their behaviour were realistically portrayed.

What made this book a real winner for me, though, was the painfully and brutally honest portrayals of peri-menopause and what it does to a woman, both physically and emotionally. As someone who is going through this stage of life at the moment and has, at times over the past three years felt like her body has been hijacked by an alien who keeps doing very undignified things to it, it was refreshing to see someone talking about this out loud and taking the sting out of it. At times this book had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part when Viv’s boss takes her out to lunch to discuss a potential new role for her in the company was a particular highlight. A good chuckle at women in my current situation was the tonic I never knew I was missing.

On the downside, I may never eat another Wotsit.

This book was funny and pacy and all-round delightful. If you looking for an easy, upbeat read to get you through quarantine, I highly recommend it.

When Life Gives You Lemons is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the blog tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Fiona Gibson is the author of 15 romantic comedy novels, including the best-selling The Mum Who Got Her Life Back (Avon), which celebrates the empty nester years. Under the name of Ellen Berry, she also writes the heartwarming Rosemary Lane series (Snowdrops on Rosemary Lane is out in January 2020).

Fiona grew up in West Yorkshire, before working on Jackie and Just Seventeen magazines – in those heady pre-internet days when it was thrilling to get a free plastic mirror taped to the front of your magazine. She went on to edit More! magazine, where she introduced the infamous Position of the Fortnight. After having twin sons and a daughter, Fiona started to write novels, usually at night with the house full of toddlers and builders. She was sleep deprived anyway so it really didn’t make any difference.

She also loves to draw, paint and run – by some miracle she managed to finish the London Marathon 2019. With the kids all grown up now, she and her husband Jimmy live in Glasgow with their collie cross, Jack.

Connect with Fiona:
Twitter: @FionaGibson
Instagram: @fiona_gib

 

Blog Tour: Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts by Colin Garrow #BookReview

Blood on the Tyne Body Parts Feb 2020 Ebook

Newcastle, 1955. A death in the family brings nightclub singer Rosie Robson home to Newcastle, but her planned return to London hits a snag after she agrees to perform with her old band.

Learning the group’s previous singer left after an argument, Rosie begins to wonder if there might be a sinister reason behind the young woman’s disappearance. Uncovering the first in a series of grisly murders, Rosie decides to investigate, but in doing so, finds her own name has been added to the killer’s list…

I’m delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts by Colin Garrow, which is the first book in the Rosie Robson Mystery Series. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

So, this book is a short, sharp read of absolute joyous madness. Total hokum, but so engaging and fun that you really don’t mind it is in no way realistic. A really unusual and unique story of fairly brutal murders that is written in such a tongue in cheek and outrageous way that it was making me smile internally. I know that sounds really bizarre but there is no other way to describe it. You really need to read the book for yourself to find out what I mean.

There are two particular factors that really make this book. The first was the total immersion in the setting, which is some of the seedier parts of Newcastle. Because the main character is a pub singer and a lot of the book is set around the cheaper pubs and clubs of Newcastle, we are already prowling dark and dangerous streets at night, even before the series of grisly murders of young females begins. The author paints this world really well, it feels very authentic. He uses Geordie vernacular throughout, which sometimes in books can feel forced but here it feels very natural and fitting for the book, presumably because the author is born and bred in the area and is soaked in the speech patterns and turns of phrase, so it is not being forced. This may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if the speech of the North East is particularly alien to you, but I really enjoyed it and it enhanced, rather than detracted from, the story for me.

The second strong factor is the main character of Rosie. Tough and determined, with a no nonsense attitude and strong sense of self, she was perfectly developed and a great protagonist for the book. Look, what she gets away with is nonsense. No way would the police ever allow a civilian to be involved in the investigation in this way, but it is enjoyable nonsense for sure. If you can get your mind past the fact that her behaviour, and that of pretty much everyone else is ludicrous, the plot is gripping and fun and I really was swept along by it. In fact, this book reminded me of nothing so much as a dark, gory, sweary Nancy Drew story for adults. I can’t think of a better analogy. Anyone who grew up in the seventies on a diet of The Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but whose tastes now turn more to the noir, will absolutely love this.

A crazy, entertaining read to while away a couple of hours, different from the run-of-the-mill crime novel. Great fun! I really look forward to seeing where this character goes next, I felt like there were interesting themes and storylines to be developed further for this character.

Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for more great reviews and other content:

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About the Author

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True-born Geordie Colin Garrow grew up in a former mining town in Northumberland and has worked in a plethora of professions including taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, theatre director and fish processor, and has occasionally masqueraded as a pirate.

Colin has published three stage plays, six adventures for middle grade readers, two books of short stories, the Watson Letters series and the Terry Bell Mysteries. His short stories have appeared in several literary mags, including: SN Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Grind, A3 Review, Inkapture and Scribble Magazine.

These days he lives in a humble cottage in North East Scotland where he writes novels, stories. poems and the occasional song.

Connect with Colin:

Website: https://colingarrow.org

Facebook: Colin Garrow The Writer

Twitter: @colingarrow

Instagram: @colinngarrow

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Blog Tour: Summer at the Highland Coral Beach by Kiley Dunbar #BookReview

Summer at the Highland Coral Beach

I’m so pleased to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Summer at the Highland Coral Beach by Kiley Dunbar. Kiley is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I could not wait to read her latest book. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Escape to the Highland Coral Beach – where broken hearts can be healed

Beatrice Halliday needs a break from life. Booking a trip to the Highlands on a whim, Beatrice hopes learning Gaelic in a beautiful Scottish village might help her heal her grief after losing her baby, her husband and her much loved job in a space of months.

But Port Willow Bay isn’t exactly as the website promised. Instead of learning a new language, she’s booked in to learn the ancient skill of willow weaving, her hotel room is Princess and the Pea themed (with a stack of mattresses for her bed!) and worse still, her tutor is Atholl Fergusson, grumpy landlord of the hotel where Beatrice is staying – and she’s the only one doing the course.

But as Beatrice finds herself falling in love with Port Willow Bay and its people, and as she discovers the kind heart beneath Atholl’s stony exterior, can she really leave?

At the very end of 2019, an author whose writing I had loved since I was in my teens very sadly passed away. That author was M. C. Beaton and the books beloved by me were the Hamish Macbeth stories. I spent many holidays in the Scottish borders as a child and in the town in which we stayed there was a newsagents, the Scottish version of W H Smiths, where I discovered the first Hamish Macbeth stories. I was in my early teens at the time and I immediately became addicted. As I am very old, this was in the days before Amazon, and I could not find these books in any local bookshops in the UK, so I used to wait eagerly for the summer holidays, saving up my pocket money, so I could rush and buy the next books in the series.

Several years later, the BBC made the Hamish Macbeth books into a delightful TV series, starring the gorgeous Robert Carlyle and set in a remote and dreamy part of the Scottish Highlands, and I was soon addicted to this too and still love it to this day.

Why is this in any way relevant to a review of the latest book by Kiley Dunbar, I hear you ask? Well, that TV series was filmed around the towns of Plockton and the Kyle of Lochalsh in the western Highlands, and this is a place I have been dreaming of ever since I first fell in love with these books and this show but I’ve never made it there, until now. Because Summer at the Highland Coral Beach is set in the fictional Highland village of Port Willow, which Kylie has based on that long-for destination of Plockton and the setting of the book is so gorgeous, so vivid, so…. touchable on the page that I feel like I’ve spent the last two days there, rather than stuck on my sofa at home. The book filled me with the same kind of joy and peace that made me fall in love with the portrayal of life in this small, remote Highland village and its eccentric characters in the M. C. Beaton books from my youth.

Anyone who read my reviews of Kylie’s previous two books will know I have waxed lyrical before about how wonderful her writing is at making a setting, location and a mood come alive on the page. It is a real gift, this ability to imbue the pages of a book with the spirit, the essence of a place so the reader is really there with the characters, in that place, at the time, and she really has it, possibly more than anyone I have read writing in this genre at the moment. If I really want to escape, these are the kind of books I want to pick up.

Setting aside, the characters in this book are just a delight, and I fell in love with the immediately. They are all warm and likeable and relatable from the off, and it doesn’t hurt that the main male protagonist is a hot Scot in a kilt. But it is the character of Beatrice that carries the book and made this particularly special and moving. For starters, the is in her late thirties, which is refreshing and relevant to us middle-aged readers, and she has been through something that is very moving and personal to me, because I have had a similar experience myself. I found the portrayal of Beatrice and her experience and the reaction to it very realistic and affecting, but it is written with love such and sensitivity and gentleness and understanding that, although it caused me to shed some tears and feel that little crack I forever carry in my heart give a shift, I also nodded along and smiled and acknowledged the truth of what was being shown in the story. This is a hard topic to write about, as well as to read, and it is done here with bravery and grace and I applaud the way it is handled. We must not be afraid to talk about these things, because they are the reality of people’s lives and should not be hidden and ignored.

I don’t want you to get the impression that this is a book full of sadness and pain, because it really isn’t. It is joyful and hopeful and truthful, full of warmth and sunshine and love and optimism. I adored all of the characters, the setting, the feeling of community and caring and family that flowed through it from first page to last. It was just what I needed to lift me at what is a dark time for a lot of people, and left me heart-warmed and cheered. Even in the darkest time, there is brightness and hope on the horizon. In fact, to steal a family motto from the book, ‘Dulcis Ex Asperis’. Let’s hope so.

Summer at the Highland Coral Beach is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the other fantastic blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Kiley Dunbar author portrait

Kiley Dunbar is the author of heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places. Shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon Award for Debut Romantic Novelists 2019 for One Summer’s Night.

Kiley is Scottish and lives in England with her husband, two kids and Amos the Bedlington Terrier. She writes around her work at a University in the North of England where she lectures in English Literature and creative writing. She is proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a graduate of their New Writers’ Scheme.

Connect with Kiley:

Facebook: Kiley Dunbar Author

Twitter: @KileyDunbar

 

Blog Tour: Tapestry by Beth Duke #BookReview

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Twenty-one-year-old Skye Willis lives in Eufaula, Alabama, a tourist mecca of stately homes and world-class bass fishing. Her childhood friends are either stuck at dead ends or have moved on to accomplish Big Things.

Skye’s grandmother, Verna, insists on being called “Sparrow” because she suspects her ancestors were Muscogee Creek. She dresses in faux deerskin and experiments with ancient Native American recipes, offering a myth or legend to anyone who will listen.

Skye has no idea what to do with her life. She’s smart as hell, but she has no faith or knowledge there’s something out there she was “born to do.” Nor does she know much of anything about her father, who died in Afghanistan when she was a toddler. He and his family are a mystery her mother won’t discuss. But when Sparrow sets out to confirm her Creek ancestry through genetic testing, Skye joins in. The results hit like a DNA bomb, launching them both on a path filled with surprises and life-changing events. Skye learns a harder truth than she ever expected.

Alternating chapters between Skye’s Alabama life and an intertwining tale of greed, deceit, and control in Texas, this story offers proof that all life is a woven tapestry of past, present, and future.

I am thrilled to be taking part today in the blog tour for Tapestry by Beth Duke. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for offering me a place on the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a story about family, and what that means. Skye lives with her mother and grandmother in a small town in Alabama. Her mother has always been reluctant to talk about Skye’s father and this has left Skye feeling lost and unsure of her place in the world. At least, that is what she tells herself as an excuse for drifting through her life without making any decisions about her future. But does knowing where you come from really tell you who you are, and is blood what makes a family anyway?

Skye’s grandmother believes she has the blood of Native Americans flowing in her veins and that her ancestors are talking to her and guiding her  down the generations. Is she right, and does that sense of history, heritage and place make you more confident and secure in the world?

Skye’s mother, Lisa, has never been able to tell her daughter the truth about her father because she is ashamed, and the loss of the love of her life has left her unable to move on and accept the happiness that is being offered to her elsewhere. If she can forgive herself and allow herself to be happy, can she then open up and give her daughter the support and truth she thinks she needs?

This books explores themes of blood, heritage, family, understanding your place in the world and whether it is DNA or love that creates bonds between people. Through the trials and tribulations of three remarkable women, we explore what family really means and what we really need to know about ourselves to find peace and happiness. Some of the topics covered in this book are deeply personal to me, and I found the whole thing fascinating and profoundly moving. The author displays a deep understanding of the insecurities that can plague individuals and stop us from being the best versions of ourselves, until we are forced to confront them head on and deal with our deepest fears. I related on a fundamental level with a lot of what was discussed here.

There are some wonderful character studies in the book, particularly Sparrow, who was just a beautiful protagonist and one of those people who you remember long after the pages are closed. I wanted Skye throughout to realise that all she needed to do was look at her grandmother and mother for reassurance as to who she was and that there was no gap in her life that she needed a father figure to fill. Her progress towards this realisation, and the pain she feels along the way was genuine and frustrating, but a process a lot of people need to go through before they can accept that who they are is not defined by missing people, but by your own character and by the people who are there to love and nurture you in life, whether they are your blood family or not.

There is one character in the book who seemed to me a bit of a caricature, and I found the sub-plot of greed and power struggles less compelling than Skye’s personal journey, but I realise that aspect of the story was necessary to provide the contrast to Skye’s story arc, as another character comes to the same conclusions from the opposite direction. That being defined by looks, wealth and status are hollow markers because, once they are gone, there is nothing left to fall back on, so make your life choices wisely and be careful where you place your value.

This is all set against a rich and vividly-drawn backdrop of life in the South. As a lover of Southern-set novels, I basked in the warmth of the descriptions, tasted the flavours of the setting and enjoyed every second of it. The historical aspects that the author draws on to further enrich the story were fascinating, and made me want to go away and explore those details further.

This book has so much to offer that any reader endowed with curiosity and empathy will draw a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction from it.

Tapestry is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit the rest of the marvellous blogs taking part in the tour for alternative opinions:

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About the Author

Beth Duke Author Picture

Beth Dial Duke is an Amazon #1 Best Selling author and the recipient of short story awards on two continents.
She is eyeing the other five.
Beth lives in the mountains of her native Alabama with her husband, one real dog, one ornamental dog, and a flock of fluffy pet chickens.
She loves reading, writing, and not arithmetic.
Baking is a hobby, with semi-pro cupcakes and amateur macarons a specialty.
And puns—the worse, the better.
Travel is her other favorite thing, along with joining book clubs for discussion. Please invite her to London…England or Kentucky, either is fine. Anywhere!

Connect with Beth:

Website: https://www.bethduke.com

Facebook: Beth Duke

Twitter: @bethidee

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Desert Island Books: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

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When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she’s directed, her mother gets described as a “tap-dancing child abuser.” Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda.

Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for.

If you want to know if you are going to like this book or not, all you need to do is to read the prologue. It is only a page and a half long, but it perfectly encapsulates the setting, tone and characterisation of the book. It wraps you in the mood, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings of the Louisiana bayou and pulls you in to the book; a literary seductress of a prologue – I defy you to resist its siren call.

This is the third of the books I have chosen to accompany me to my Desert Island, to be read repeatedly in perpetuity and I had absolutely no doubt at all as to whether to include it in the list. I fell hopelessly and irrevocably in love with this book the first time I read it, and that love has remained unaltered – steadfast and true – through repeated readings over the intervening twenty-plus years. It is a book that has grown with me over that time, as I have matured from naive twenty-something to a woman in her mid-forties with now a history of relationships and children to inform my understanding of the book. It is a novel that gives you different things depending on from where in your life you come at it. A novel so rich in insight and understanding of the female condition that it will not age.

This book is, without doubt, the best book about female friendship that I have ever read, and given how much I read that is no minor feat. When I first read it in my early twenties, I was so moved by the depiction of the relationship between the four Ya-Yas, that I immediately bought a copy of the book for each of my three closest female friends, so I could share the experience with them, and I know I am not alone in feeling this. A whole movement of Ya-Ya clubs sprang up around this book as it moved readers to celebrate their own relationships with the women in their lives. Close female friendship is a unique and special thing, and Rebecca Wells portrays this perfectly. Just as in this book, my girlfriends have been there with me through all the important times in my life, good and bad. They have celebrated with me, commiserated, listened, advised, laughed and cried. At times they have literally carried me through periods when I thought I could not go on. They are always on my side, never judging, never criticising. They are the scaffolding that has kept me upright when my very foundations have been shaken by seismic life events, and this book dissects and celebrates the true bones of these relationships and their role in our lives.

As I’ve grown older and had relationships and family of my own, the dynamics of the mother/daughter relationship which is also central to this book have also come into sharper focus for me and meant more. I have come to understand it better from the perspective of Vivi, rather than Siddalee, and it has added an extra layer of richness to the narrative for me. There is always some new perspective to find on every reading, it is a book rich in nuance that takes more than one reading to mine and, as a result, I never get tired of it.

In addition to the above, this book also gives the most magnificent sense of place of any book I have read and was the reason that I fell in love with the Deep South of the USA before I even visited, and Louisiana in particular. I wanted to experience all the richness that this book promised awaited me there, the heavy warmth, the spice of the food, the twanging patois of the vernacular, so unique to this place and its mongrel history and when I finally got there, it exceeded every expectation. This book took part of my heart and planted it in Louisiana and the call to return and find it continues to draw me back to this day. This is an extraordinary feat for any book and reason enough to pick it up, if the preceding praise was not sufficient. If you want a book that transports you to a different time and place, look no further, this novel will carry you away; it is a book you can lose yourself in completely.

This book touches on some difficult subjects, but that is part of what makes it so glorious. This book is real. It deals with real people, real problems, real feelings, real relationships. The characters are flawed but compelling and the reader cannot help but be drawn into their drama. The writing is sublime. It is the kind of book that makes me want to write, to give people this experience, this connection with characters, this sense of empathy. When Rowan Coleman gave a talk at the RNA Conference last year about finding the three words to describe your writing, the top one on my list was affinity. I want people who read my book to feel an affinity with my characters and what they are going through, even if they have not been through the same experience themselves. That is what I feel for the characters in this book, even though they inhabit a different world than mine. And it makes me want to weep, because I know that I will never write anything as good as this.

If you haven’t got the message by now, I adore this book. It is one of those novels that, when you have read it, you feel that it has changed you.

You can get a copy of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood here and I think I might have to insist that you do.

About the Author

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Rebecca Wells was born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana. “I grew up,” she says, “in the fertile world of story-telling, filled with flamboyance, flirting, futility, and fear.” Surrounded by Louisiana raconteurs, a large extended family, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s Parish, Rebecca’s imagination was stimulated at every turn. Early on, she fell in love with thinking up and acting in plays for her siblings—the beginnings of her career as an actress and writer for the stage. She recalls her early influences as being the land around her, harvest times, craw-fishing in the bayou, practicing piano after school, dancing with her mother and brothers and sister, and the close relationship to her black “mother” who cleaned for the Wells household. She counts black music and culture from Louisiana as something that will stay in her body’s memory forever.

In high school, she read Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” which opened her up to the idea that everything in life is a poem, and that, as she says, “We are not born separately from one another.” She also read “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s indictment of the strangling consumer-driven American culture he saw around him. Acting in school and summer youth theater productions freed Rebecca to step out of the social hierarchies of high school and into the joys of walking inside another character and living in another world.

The day after she graduated from high school, Rebecca left for Yellowstone National Park, where she worked as a waitress. It was an introduction to the natural glories of the park—mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and geysers—as well as to the art of hitchhiking.

Rebecca graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, where she studied theater, English, and psychology. She performed in many college plays, but also stepped outside the theater department to become awakened to women’s politics. During this time she worked as a cocktail waitress–once accidentally kicking a man in the shins when he slipped a ten-dollar bill down the front of her dress—and began keeping a journal after reading Anais Nin, which she has done ever since.

Connect with Rebecca:

Website: https://www.rebeccawellsbooks.com

Facebook: Rebecca Wells Author

Twitter: @rwellswrites

Instagram: @mizrebeccawells

 

 

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.

 

Blog Tour: Containment by Vanda Symon #BookReview

Containment Cover

Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead.

What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of drowning…

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…

I’m so delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for Containment by Vanda Symon, the third book in the Sam Shepherd series. I loved the first two books, Overkill and The Ringmaster (you can find my reviews of those here and here.) and could not wait to read this one. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for offering me a place on the tour and to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Although this is the third instalment in the Sam Shepherd series, this book would work perfectly well as a standalone for anyone who is coming new to the novels. This book throws you straight in to the middle of the action and in to Sam’s distinctive world and character, as she finds herself immediately in the midst of an affray on a beach where locals are looting beached shipping containers after a wreck. Beaten, but coming back fighting, what at first seems like a minor issue of theft, spirals into something much more sinister as bodies begin to pile up, all linked to the wreck.

This author offers something new with every book, and this time we are confronted with the recovery and examination of a body dumped at sea (fascinating but fairly graphic and gruesome, steel your stomach), the law surrounding recovery of goods from wrecked cargo ships, the market in stolen valuables and the nefarious goings on of the local student population. All her books are packed with description and illuminating detail, meticulously researched and seamlessly stitched into the narrative until the setting and the world come to life for the reader through the text. At a time when we are all housebound, these are books that can take you to the other side of the world and immerse you in a totally different life for a few hours.

The books are well-paced, with short chapters that keep the momentum and new bits of evidence appear around every corner. In the same way a real investigation would unfold, this case starts out in one direction but gradually unfurls like a maze to become something entirely different, veering off in multiple directions and drawing the protagonists down a variety of obscure paths before they find the truth. It demonstrates how a mixture of great detective work, instinct and some pure luck can lead the police to the answer, and it may end up being more than one thing and very far from where they started. The plot is quite convoluted and complex, involving many different strands and characters, and the reader must focus to sort them out, mimicking the thought processes the police have to similarly go through to get there, but the writing is so accessible and flowing and the pace so quick that this is no chore.

Sam is a wonderful character, and she is the main draw for the books. She is small but feisty, brave, impetuous, honest but complicated, with a strong moral code and sense of loyalty. Some of her behaviour is totally outrageous, but she seems to get away with it because it comes from a positive place, a real desire to see natural justice served, which sometimes involves bending the rules. This does not always sit well with her boss, DI Johns, and the tension between the two of them plus throughout the text to add conflict. in addition, her personal life is no more straight forward, either with her blood family or in her romantic life. New developments add strain in this area, and things seem to be getting more complicated not simpler. There were certain matters in the book which were raised but not resolved, leaving me with theories about what might be coming in the next instalment, and eager to find out. However, do not fear, this book is perfectly concluded as a single story for readers who are not yet invested in this as a series, but i predict you will be once you sample Vanda’s writing.

The Sam Shepherd books are always a satisfying read, this one is no exception and I have added a physical copy to my collection. I eagerly await the next book in the series, and my next armchair visit to New Zealand.

Containment is available now and you can get your copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

Containment BT Poster

About the Author

vanda_jacket_br-1

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

Connect with Vanda:

Website: http://vandasymon.com/index.php

Facebook: Vanda Simon

Twitter: @vandasymon

Instagram: @vandasymon

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