Well, I’m taking part in a book blog tour for the first time. The book in question is Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark. Here’s my review of it:

It’s not often I can’t put a book down, but Stay Tuned came into that category. I read it one go. The turkeys were waiting mournfully for me to put them to bed, the llamas were left thirsty – I got lost in the story and remained glued to my Kindle till I finished.

Why? The story really caught me. It was fascinating to get an insight into life at a TV station, delightful to meet characters like Melissa, Chris and Candace, and there was plenty of excitement in the plot. The relationships between the people in the story were gripping. There were attractions and hatreds, tensions, frustrations, misunderstandings and real affection. Several punches got thrown, there were clumsy passes, lots of tears but just as much laughter. And the ending is bittersweet without being mawkish or implausible.

Reality is very much the key of this book. We could all so easily find ourselves in Melissa’s shoes – juggling career and family life, trying to keep the communication channels open with a workaholic husband, striving to be fully committed in every sphere of your life.

Every single character is rounded and interesting. There aren’t any cameo roles or stereotypes. This story is peopled by a truly human set of people.

It’s a very readable book. The author has a flowing, natural style that sweeps you along and you can’t wait to find out what happens next. Definitely worth reading.

 

How to win

Now, as part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Stay Tuned eBook edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 2nd, so you don’t miss out.

To win the prizes you need to:
1. Purchase your copy of Stay Tuned for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (You’ll need it for the big contest on Friday)
2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!

…And I can win too! Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

 

The events

Monday, Radio Interview with Novel Publicity! We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We interviewed Lauren on our radio show Sunday night and have embedded the full podcast and blogged about its highlights. Give it a listen and then leave a comment on the blog post. This is a great chance to get to know more about this fun and bubbly author. One commenter will win an autographed copy of Stay Tuned. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet:  Take a break from the holiday frenzy, and read Stay Tuned. It’s fast, fun, and reduced to just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/7zA1e #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions.

 

Extract

To whet your appetites further, here’s an extract from Chapter One.

 

Alyssa Andrews was missing.

Gone, vanished, MIA with just minutes to airtime.

“Melissa, where is she?” Our news director, Joe, shot a harried look in my direction. After dealing with a broken studio camera, spotty satellite reception, and last-minute script changes, his nerves were fried to a crisp.

“She’ll be here,” I promised, knowing my confidence was a front. Alyssa, one of WSGA-TV’s main news anchors, was a constant source of angst in my already-stressful job.

She was young, talented, gorgeous…and chronically late.

This lack of punctuality was a problem, especially when WSGA ran a show at exactly six and ten o’clock every night. Not a moment later.

WSGA was Macon, Georgia’s number one news station and had been for two years running. If we wanted to keep it that way, timing was everything. Every second mattered.

I produced both evening shows, which meant—among a dozen other tasks—organizing the day’s stories, writing copy, and checking video. Each segment had to run seamlessly between three-minute commercial breaks.

Deep breath, Melissa. Send up a little prayer. She’ll show up.

The red numbers on the clock continued to march forward.

Another deep breath. Everything’s in place. Alyssa just needs to walk in and get on set…

“Tighten up on camera one.” Joe peppered the room with demands. “Mic check, now, not yesterday.”

Tim Donaldson, Alyssa’s co-anchor, obliged, counting backwards from the number five.

Joe’s thick fingers punched buttons on the massive keyboard in front of him. “Bring up the live shot.”

Still, no Alyssa.

Joe raked a huge hand through his long gray hair. “Five minutes!” he growled, with a glare into his empty coffee cup.

At this point, it was Joe’s show to run. He was in charge. I shuffled my scripts. “How about I call her?”

“She’s an adult,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t have to.”

Joe expected nothing less than perfection. He was experienced, hard working, and a stickler for detail. Alyssa’s nonchalance made him crazy.

Which, at 9:55:36 on a Friday night, gave him the patience of a gnat. On crack.

This was particularly dangerous for an unsuspecting new employee, all of twenty years old and pimple-faced, who crept up behind us.

Joe ignored him at first, barking an order to me instead. “Fine, fine. Melissa, tell Princess A. she’s needed in the studio.”

On autopilot, I punched her extension, eyes focused on the row of monitors above my head in case she decided to appear.

While the phone rang, the new kid rocked on his heels nervously. I flashed a smile and shook my head gently in his direction, hoping he’d get the hint.

Not now.

Nope. The kid stood there, coughed lightly, and waited for one of us to turn around.

“What?” </em>Joe finally snapped.

The force of the word made the kid’s body jerk back. Jaw open, unable to speak, his face turned crimson.

Joe waited about a second for the kid to talk, and then leaned back over the control panel. He pressed at switches, clearly annoyed. The kid looked sick. Joe rolled his eyes. My anxiety level cranked up ten notches.

9:58:09. Less than two minutes.

Wait…a flash of an ivory suit and blond hair.

“There she is,” I interrupted the tension with a cool nod toward the monitors.

Front and center, Alyssa sauntered into the studio, lips puckered, blowing her shell-pink nail polish dry. She slid into her seat next to Tim, and gave him a playful pat on the shoulder.

Joe muttered something I couldn’t repeat.

I stifled a loud sigh of relief and glanced around the room. The new guy was the only one in the building unimpressed with Alyssa’s arrival. With a shaking hand, he reached out and tapped Joe’s burly shoulder.

“Mr. Joe, there’s a problem with one of the machines—”

Joe’s back stiffened. He turned a millimeter in the kid’s direction and exploded. “Get your butt back there. Get one of the engineers. Fix it. Call someone.”

I caught the now-completely mortified kid’s eye, and motioned for him to come toward me. Grabbing the nearest piece of paper, I jotted down the engineer’s extension and held it at arm’s length with a kind smile. Poor guy. Lots to learn.

With a grateful look, the new kid plucked the scrap from my fingers and darted away.

Time to get started.

I settled in, gripped my pen hard, and looked up.

Okay. Alyssa’s collar was turned under. Minor detail, but sure to garner at least five viewer complaints. You wouldn’t believe what people called in about.

I leaned toward the microphone to let Alyssa know.

“Dare you not to tell her,” Joe muttered. It wasn’t a secret that the guys would willingly let Alyssa go on air with underwear on her head. She hadn’t made friends. Or tried to.

Tim, her co-anchor and current boyfriend, didn’t count.

“Just part of those darn producer duties, Joe. You know that.” I flashed him a smile and pressed the button to talk. “Alyssa, fix your collar.”

Her mouth parted into an O. Alyssa frowned, glanced down, and straightened the pale edge. Just in time.

Like a well-directed movie, the WSGA-TV opening video flashed across monitor one. Macon, Georgia’s skyline filled the screen.

My body tingled with a familiar rush of excitement. It happened every time we went on air. The cameras and lights, the beat of the music, the thrill of live television.

Here we go.

Seconds later, Alyssa and Tim appeared under the lights, their bright anchor smiles pasted on.

“Good evening, I’m Alyssa Andrews.

“And I’m Tim Donaldson.”

And on it went, without a blip, for the first ten minutes. I started breathing again after the third break.

Stanley and Sunshine, the weather cat, were ready for the five-day forecast, check.

Commercial break, check.

Sports, check. I didn’t worry about that three-minute slot. Plenty to talk about, visual stories; the anchors could get away with jokes and ad-libbing. Viewers loved it.

We rounded out the show with an inspirational kicker about a local scholarship winner, a kid first in his family to go to college. He’d won forty thousand dollars and was going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics.

The show wrapped with a standard goodnight, credits, and a wide shot of the WSGA set.

The second the master control operator switched to break, Alyssa flounced off the set in silicone fashion. She barked into her jewel-encrusted cell phone about her min-pin puppy’s cancelled spa appointment and stomped out of the studio, teetering precariously in four-inch heels.

Yikes!

I climbed the flight of stairs back to the newsroom, relieved the night was almost over.

The phones started to ring five seconds later.

I recently reviewed Donna’s terrific book Big Backpack – Little Word and am thrilled to bits that she agreed to do a guest post for me. I described her book as “a travel memoir that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and gives you a good shake!” So, over to Donna.

Stephanie has asked me to be a guest on her blog, and now I feel like I’m walking down the runway to accept an Academy Award. It is such a great honor to be here among readers and writers. I promise I won’t bore you with thanking everyone from my children to the pink-haired girl in Spain, but I do want to thank Stephanie for this opportunity.

Big Backpack—Little World tells my stories of teaching and traveling as an older, single woman. It is the stories of meeting new people, seeing countries I never dreamed I’d visit, having fun, and discovering an amazing life as an ESL teacher. It doesn’t tell you about the other doors that opened because of my traveling.

Twelve years ago if someone told  me to write a book, I would have known they were crazy. Today, my book is real. I see it on my Kindle. I see the paper copy. It sits on my desk, and I view it daily, hourly, gazing at the most incredibly beautiful thing in the world. Writing this book was  like packing-up everything I owned and moving to a foreign country, except it was scarier. I was no longer traveling solo. I was now traveling with everyone who picked-up my book. I was showing everyone my personal story, my soul, and it was frightening. Those that have read Big Backpack—Little World can verify I’m not afraid of many things, but this thing had me shaking.

I had kept good journals, and the first several months of writing was incredible. It was  fun revisiting countries, remembering people I’d met along the way, laughing at the crazy things I’d seen and done. Then one day, I knew I needed someone other than a friend to read my manuscript. At that time, I don’t think it could qualify as a manuscript, more like a bunch of writing.

So entered my first editor, who gave me the encouragement to continue. Then she became ill, and I had to find and pay for someone new to begin the ordeal again. My next editor, whacked and chopped my writing into a manuscript. I have to say none of this was fun. I re-wrote so many times I could hardly stand the sight of one more page of red slashes. It was rather like being back in grade-school with the teacher telling you that you could do better. She was usually right, but it still wasn’t fun.

My biggest problem with my editors were they wanted my book to be a soul-searching, gut-wrenching, in search of and finding myself. They wanted me to express the loneliness, or the hardship of being alone in a strange country. This was impossible for me, because I wasn’t searching for myself or a new love. I went on this journey for fun, and I found open arms around the world. I wanted my readers to know that at any age, it is possible to pack-up and leave their country, friends, family and happily go off into the vast unknown.

Writing your own stories, or poems can open a new adventure into your life. It can grab you, shake you, and awaken you to all this wonderful life has to offer. It doesn’t have to be for the world to view, do it for yourself, and see what you find.
Happy writing, my new friends. Thanks, Stephanie!

You can jog on over to my blog and read the incredible review Stephanie wrote about Big Backpack—Little World.

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…