Signs and Wonders by Alex Adena is a fascinating book. Annie Grace is a fraudulent faith healer, although when she was a young child, she once performed a miraculous healing. Her father, Daddy, exploited this and became a very rich man through healing roadshows.

Annie feels like a fraud. A ghost from the past rears its head – Annie faces prosecution for her part in a tragic incident five years before. Two of her employees turn against her. A client secretly taperecords her making tactless remarks. Her latest one-night stand kisses and tells. It seems everyone is trying to bring Annie down. But when it looks like things can’t get any worse, her amazing powers return. The question is, will Annie use them for good this time?

The characters in the story are all rounded and believable. The book is very well written. It’s hard to put down. And events most certainly don’t follow a predictable path.

But there’s more to Signs and Wonders than the story of Annie. As the author says, he wrote it “for everyone who has felt pre-defined by their upbringing and family expectations”. This comes across strongly in the book. Can we change as we grow up, or are we cast in permanent roles as children by the adults around us, whether rightly or wrongly? Should we try and make other people change?

Brilliant book, hugely entertaining and very thought provoking. A definite must-read. Available as a Kindle book from Amazon and from Smashwords. Paperback coming soon too.

Alex Adena has a website here and pages on Goodreads and Smashwords too. He’s a thoroughly nice guy and has given me plenty of useful advice on book marketing, which I’m very grateful for. Do buy his book!

 

 

 

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reviewing books. I used to do it regularly for the Cork Examiner back in Ireland, predominantly children’s books. I’m doing it for myself these days regarding books about life in France – go to the book reviews section of this website. And, via Twitter, I’ve picked up on calls by publishers for people to review their books for their blogs. This has led to me reviewing Expat Women, and I’m currently impatiently awaiting a copy of Armand Cabasson’s The Officer’s Prey by Gallic Books to read and review.

I have also joined the Reader’s Favorite team of reviewers. The first book I reviewed for them was 33 Days by Bill See. This wasn’t a book I might have picked off the shelves otherwise, and that would have been a shame, since this is a very gripping, inspiring book. Here’s my review of it.

33 days by Bill See is the fascinating account of what turns out to be a life-changing tour by young, hungry rock group Divine Weeks, who get into their van in 1987 and go and look for fame. Dave, George, Raj and Bill, organized by Ian, yo-yo between gigs with a handful in the audience, to packed-out venues. One moment they’re having TV and radio interviews, the next they are literally begging for food. There are highs and lows, good times and bad. They meet some great people but brush shoulders with the sleazy side of life too. They give their all on the stage. They fall asleep at the wheel. Sleeping on floors or in the van, the band does what it takes to achieve this ambition of getting out there and being necessary, being relevant. Sure, there’s drinks and drugs and groupies, but the overriding note of this book is triumph and achievement.

Along the way, someone asks them what happens if the tour is a flop. The author replies: “We’re more concerned with what happens if we don’t try.” This is a book about going for it and giving it your all. It’s written in diary format that cleverly weaves in flashbacks to childhood times and reflects on moments in the author’s difficult relationship with on-off girlfriend Mary. It’s not just an account of a road trip but of a spiritual journey too. For Bill See, the tour was about “deliverance, redemption and transcendence”. Things would never be quite the same again afterwards.

This book contains swearing and adult scenes.

 

I’ve been reading Expat Women: Confessions: 50 answers to your real-life questions about living abroad.

As an expat woman twice over, I was fascinated to find out what this book had to say. Over the last twenty years I’ve learned the hands-on way about moving and living abroad, and while there can never be any better teacher than experience, a book such as this can be an invaluable springboard to the adventure.

There are six chapters which discuss the following areas:

  1. Settling In: This is a very strong, positive chapter, which grabs culture shock by the scruff of its neck and gives it a good shake! There are lots of ideas and tips on how to help yourself settle in to your new surroundings and make the most of this new experience. It deals with minimising culture shock through good preparation; the positives and negatives of living abroad, especially when family ties are strong; managing expectations; coping with being a ‘trailing spouse’; overcoming isolation; setting up a social club; making and mistaking new friends; making yourself feel welcome in your new surroundings, even if others don’t do so immediately, and the pros and cons of hiring help around the house.
  2. Career and Money: The emphasis of this chapter is on retaining your sense of self-worth in your changed working, or non-working, situation. Specifically it looks at how to cope with giving up your job when you move abroad with a partner and how to assess the options and resources that are open to you; coping with a job abroad that turns out to be disappointing through improving your relations at work and thinking ‘big picture’; getting the work-life balance right; dealing with lack of respect at work; networking and volunteer work; starting your own business; getting financial advice and planning for contingencies; dealing with financial dependence on a partner, and sticking to a sensible budget.
  3. Raising Children: Children can be the make or break for a move abroad. I know several families who have either not taken the plunge to become ex-pats because of worries about how it would affect their children, and others whose unhappy kids have been the reason for them returning home. We ourselves moved to France from Ireland with children aged 4, 12 and 14. They each had their own minor problems at various times, but with common sense and optimism we overcame these and all three are now completely French and proud of being pioneering and bilingual! Issues discussed here include pregnancy in a foreign country and deciding whether or not to go back ‘home’ for the birth; dealing with child unfriendly temporary accommodation; international adoption; raising bilingual children with particular emphasis on the value of learning languages; special needs children, and here research and support are crucial; helping teens adapt – the older the child when you move abroad, the harder it can be for them; dealing with teen suicide; overfocussing on the children as a trailing spouse, and, in contrast, dealing with empty nest syndrome.
  4. Relationships: At first glance this chapter might seem rather catastrophic, but it’s simply preparing for the worst-case scenario. Ex-pat life is often nothing but good for a relationship, since you are drawn closer as you deal with the new experiences living abroad throws at you. Speaking for myself, I have now spent 5 years working alongside my husband in our new business, 24/7. It’s been brilliant. Actually getting to spend time with the person you wanted as your life partner has a lot going for it! The chapter contains advice on dealing with a dissatisfied trailing spouse; overcoming difficulties in intercultural couples; adjusting for different needs and aspirations where one half of a working couple is happy as an ex-pat, and the other is not; keeping communication channels open; dealing with divorce, both during and afterwards; coping with domestic violence and infidelity, including online betrayal (here ex-pat triggers play a part – culture shock, cultural differences, one partner feeling isolated etc); ending an affair.
  5. Mixed Emotions: this chapter takes a considered look at overcoming negativity; undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country and culture; adapting to different holiday traditions; dealing with alcoholism; becoming settled as a TCK – third culture kid (someone who, as a child, has spent a lot of time in cultures other than their birth one); missing friends; retiring abroad, and caring for aged parents from a distance. This last issue carries a lot of guilt with it, and is another frequent reason for ex-pats to return home. The authors talk sensitively and sensibly about coping with guilt in this respect and building the life you want away from them.
  6. Repatriation: returning home can be welcome, in which case it should be easier, but it can also be sudden and unwanted. There will inevitably be upheaval on return – reverse culture shock, emotional upheaval. There is plenty of calm advice on how to make the best of the situation and help yourself re-adapt.

The whole book takes the form of 50 questions and answers. I was sceptical of this as a suitable structure for it to start with, but it actually works out extremely well. OK, it may not mean that every single aspect of ex-pat life can get dealt with, but that wouldn’t be possible in any book. (As the authors’ disclaimer says: This book is not comprehensive … .) However, as the chapter reviews above show, this book covers a lot of ground, and in a very sensitive way. The whole book is grounded in actual experiences and this method of presentation lends a conversational, confiding tone to the book that makes it very easy to read.

The conclusion is frankly inspired. It sums up expat life succinctly and expertly:

Expatriate life can be, and almost always is, an incredibly enriching experience. It can stimulate your senses, tantalize your taste buds and introduce you to a world of wonder you might never have experienced had you not dared to pack up your belongings, journey outside your comfort zone, and immerse yourself in the culture of a foreign land.

But the most important phrase of this summary is undoubtedly … ultimately you are the greatest determinant of your own success.

If you are tempted by expat life, or are having it thrust upon you, do read this book, and, as it urges, remember that you are the crucial ingredient. It will be what you make of it.

There are plenty of resources at end of the book: information about the authors – Andrea Martin and Victoria Hepworth, two energetic, determined and go-ahead expats – their acknowledgements, information about the website www.expatwomen.com with 2 pages of testimonials, 4 pages of books for readers to refer to, and finally an exhaustive list of ex-pat-life related websites from The Adoption Guide to Zest and Zen International.

There is a lot of wisdom and information packed into this book, but even more humanity.

Book reviewing seems to be cropping up on various blogs at the moment (e.g. the Blood Red Pencil, Self-Publishing Advisor, Carolyn Howard Johnson’s Sharing with Writers – and that’s just in the last day or so. Authors are prepared to pay a lot of money for book reviews. The sort of sums mentioned seem scary and might swallow up a lot of royalties. But it shows the importance people place on an objective, or better still, a good review.

The reviewer misquoted me - I was mad!

I enjoy reviewing books. I did English at University and I don’t seem to have got out of the habit of critically appraising everything I read, from cereal packets upwards! You get more out of a book if you think about it as you read it, I find.

Here are my 5 tips for book reviewers.

  1. Read the book – every word. You owe it to the author. It’s not enough to read the blurb, the first chapter or so and then the last one. You can spot reviews that cheat. They’re vague and clichéd. I repeat, read every word. I once got a rotten review for my book Scooter Gang: Mobile Madness, but I wouldn’t have minded it half so much if the guy hadn’t misquoted me!
  2. Check out the publisher’s and author’s websites to get some background info about the person.
  3. Be interesting. Don’t kill a good book with a dull review.
  4. Be fair. Not many books are all bad. Even if you find you can’t stand it, there will be something good about it somewhere. OK the plot’s awful, but the author used good imagery. The characters suck but the dialogue is lively.
  5. Be professional. Write well, structure your review, do your research. The author put a lot of work into the book. Put a lot of work into your review.

 

 

I’ve finally found my first totally free Kindle book. I’ve been rather miffed to find that all the free books I’d seen advertised and tried to get hold of up until now were either unavailable to my Kindle in France, or had to be paid for (not much admittedly, a few dollars, but they weren’t free). However, idly looking up ‘Oakley’ (my maiden name) on my Kindle last night, I came across a book called The Princess and Joe Potter by James Otis and illustrated by Violette Oakley. And it was definitely free. I had to get it! But I can’t read it. It’s too nineteenth century with the lower class characters speaking in sentences like “He was willin’, so long’s I ‘greed to be careful about fire, an’ well … there’s nothin’ to keep you from comin’ down to-night and seein’ it” and “I s’pose we’ll have a high old time between now and mornin’, ‘cause that kid, sweet as she’s lookin’ jest now, ain’t goin’ to be quiet.” Way too annoying! And no illustrations by my possible distant relative in sight. I’m beginning to see why it was free now!

So I’ll carry on reading A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson on my Kindle instead, so I can do a timely review of it to coincide with The Eurovision Song Contest, compulsive viewing in our household. It’s a very funny, delightfully readable story that I’m enjoying no end.

Do check out the reviews on this site. I’ve just added one on Martin Calder’s A Summer in Gascony which is a really excellent book.

And now, time to get on with writing my own books for the Kindle…