Spandex and the City by Jenny T. Colgan

Published by Orbit on May 18, 2017

In Spandex and the City, Jenny Colgan has written a genius romantic comedy. I've read countless rom-coms and the format is almost always the same. The woman is clever or ditzy or a bit of both. The guy is tall, dark and handsome. They have everyday problems which impact on their relationship. They work it out in the end and have a happy ever after. Am I complaining? Not at all! But Spandex and the City is a rom-com with a huge difference. Imagine going on a date only to find your date actually wears purple spandex with a crappy superhero name emblazoned on his costume. Imagine that he never sleeps at night, or even during the day, and when you first spend the night together, he almost definitely won't be there when you wake up. Imagine how it would feel if someone tries to get in the way of your relationship? Not a disapproving friend but a villain who, shock horror, resents the internet! What if he switched it off? How would you survive?

Meet Ultimate Man. Holly has already met him when he rescued her from a mugging, causing a well-publicised accidental flash of unsightly knickers that Holly will never live down. I loved the way these two met and I enjoyed getting to know the man behind the mask. Ultimate Man is a lonely character, a bit awkward and uncomfortable when he is spending time with Holly, only there is a chemistry between the two of them that keeps them coming back for more.

This book grabbed me from page one with its sparkling take on dating and superheroes and the completely mad mash-up of the two. It was car-crash entertainment dressed up with a purple cape. Fast-paced, fresh and frenetic, there’s a lot to love about the way Jenny Colgan constructs this story. With the entertainment value just as good as the book’s brilliant title, I was always eager to see what was to come next.

One thing I struggled with a bit in Spandex and the City was trying to warm to the heroine. Holly was a bit of a difficult character, hard to please and almost always complaining about something. In a way, I really wanted to like her. She’s quite sarcastic and quick-witted and at times she made me laugh with some of the things she came out with, or some of the things she was thinking. Often this book featured bracketed pieces of humour from Holly and I did find her funny. But then there were many other times where I found her to be a bit irritating…

Something I did particularly enjoy about this book though was the divide between hero and villain, and the blurred lines in between the two. I sided with both Ultimate Man and his enemy Frederick Cecil (yep, Ultimate Man is not the only one with an unfortunate name) at times during the course of this book. I also found the outlook on our fascination with technology and the internet to be scarily realistic but reading this book does prove that there is more to life than the technology that lives within our mobile phones. I’m struggling with the idea that a superhero romance could be thought-provoking… but it sort of was!

As predicted, the story in Spandex and the City is a ridiculous one. This was a good thing. I loved the quirky, farfetchedness about it. Who doesn’t love to read something different every now and again? This book had me laughing out loud and it had me hooked. I just couldn’t help reading chapter after chapter and any other plans I had were soon forgotten as I got wrapped up in this superhero romcom – and that is a line I never thought I’d use! Smart, sassy and just a lot cheesy, Spandex and the City is a whole lot of fun, and highly recommended.

Fat Girl Begone! by D.E. Haggerty

Published on May 1, 2017

A Day in the Life of Author D.E. Haggerty

An ordinary day in my life? This is going to be easy, I thought. I grabbed my agenda to get started and promptly began to freak out. In addition to a mess of scribbles here there and everywhere, my agenda is covered in three different highlighter colors: pink for promo opportunities for my own books, green for private engagements, and orange for book reviews I need to do. And then there’s the to-do list as well as several post-its with more tasks I need to somehow accomplish written on them. Ordinary day? I’m not sure that exists at the moment. But wait! No one said I had to write about an ordinary day in my life.

Let’s start this all over then, shall we?

My day always starts early. I may be grumpy as all get out in the morning and not want to actually converse with anyone, but I love to get my butt behind the computer and write in the morning. If I have a tennis match or boot camp class scheduled, I’ll get up an hour earlier to make sure I have at least three hours behind the computer before I need to leave the house. These early hours are when I try to work on my work in progress. Whether that works out or not, you can rest assured that a huge cup of coffee will be close by.

After I hopefully – fingers crossed – get a chapter written in whatever manuscript I’m currently working on, I finally allow my eyes to wander to the dog. You can’t look at the dog before then or he’ll want to go out RIGHT NOW! I hate getting out of my pajamas, but it’s necessary when you live in the city and walk the dog in the park. I don’t brush my hair or put on any make-up, however, and my clothes usually consist of a pair of ripped jeans and t-shirt. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m crazy since I live in a hoity-toity neighborhood. Seriously, I once ran into the King’s brother in the supermarket.

As soon as the dog has relieved himself, played with some puppies, and embarrassed me by refusing to listen to my commands or just plain crying, it’s back to work for me. Well, unless I’m going to play tennis, attend a boot camp class, or have a meeting for my duties as Vice-President of the American Women’s Club here in The Hague. Whenever I do manage to get my behind back to the computer, it’s time to work on my blog. My Readsalot blog – where I promote other authors – is updated daily. My personal blog – aptly titled My Musings – is only updated two to three times a week. Blogging takes up an hour or two of my time every day. In addition to writing and posting the blogs, I visit other blogs I follow and comment or like as appropriate.

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. Not. Marketing is the bane of my existence. I’m sure I’m not the first indie author to say that! I’m constantly switching up how I market. I may be searching for new bloggers to beg for spotlight posts or reviews. Or maybe I’m reading Goodreads posts on how to market. I may even be trying out a new marketing service.

In between all the above stuff, I update my social media accounts and spend some time interacting with my followers.

By the time I’ve written a chapter, blogged, and done some marketing, lunch has come and gone and the dog is back to giving me puppy dog eyes. Yep, it’s time for another walk. If I’m not too stressed, I’ll take him to the forest smack dab in the middle of the city that’s only a block from my house. After his walk, I try to spend some time reading a book for review. To be perfectly honest, though, that doesn’t always happen. It’s usually around 3 p.m. when I return from the walk and, considering I start work at 6 a.m., I’m often ready for a nap right about now.

Before I know it, dinnertime has arrived and with it, the end of my work day. I’ll spend some time on social media before I go to bed, but, otherwise, my ‘work day’ is done, and the fun can begin. Mostly fun is spent reading a book. Yep, after spending the entire day working on my writing career, I’ll pick up a book and read. Because I’m a nerd like that.

Re-reading this to myself, I realize I’ve written what my ideal day looks like. Reality is similar. Sometimes.

After twenty minutes on the bike, I’m ready to go home. I know I’m supposed to do that circuit thingy with the machines, but I can skip it for this once. No one needs to know. I slowly sneak my way to the women’s locker room.

“Hey, Everly.”

Crap. Gabe’s standing right in front of the door to my freedom. I wave. Yep, I’m a total dork. “Hi.”

“I saw you out there on the bike. Looking good.” He winks. Damn, he looks absolutely scrumptious standing there with his arms crossed over his chest. Trust me, it’s an impressive show of muscles. Not huge like a body builder but big enough to grab onto. “Looking for your clipboard?”

And there goes any chance I have of sneaking out of the gym. “Just refilling my water bottle before moving onto the weights.” I hold up my obviously full water bottle and try not to cringe.

“Sure, babe, but make sure you get your weight training done as well. A woman with muscles is hot.” With another wink, he takes off.

Did he seriously wink at me? Is this part of the personal trainer service? Flirt with the customers to ensure they want to do your bidding? Even in my head that sounded crazy. That hot man of muscles would never want me and my jiggly bits. I shake my head and force my legs to the personal trainers’ section to grab my clipboard.

If I thought the bike was boring, I was wrong. Doing a circuit of weight machines is what’s boring. I should download some podcasts or something. Or maybe some books on tape? Do they hire men with scorching hot voices to read the male parts in romance novels? Definitely need to do some research.

I quickly towel off the last machine and grab my water bottle. I stand from picking up my clipboard and nearly run straight into someone. “Shit! I didn’t realize anyone was standing there. Did you want this machine?”

“Nah.” He shakes his head. “How are you doing, Everly?”

It’s the guy I ran into on Wednesday. Shoot – what was his name again? “Um, hi.” If that’s not embarrassing enough, I do a little wave but the clipboard is still in my hand and I end up smacking him in the stomach. Thank goodness, I missed any important bits. “Shit. Sorry.”

He laughs and grabs the clipboard from my hand, presumably before I can do any more damage. “It’s Carter. Do you want to grab a smoothie?” My face scrunches up at the thought of a smoothie. He chuckles. “Or a coffee or something?”

“Um. I was going to head home like this.” With my now free hand, I indicate my ratty gym clothes.

Carter shrugs. “That’s okay. We can get a quick drink at the bar here.”

I can’t exactly say no after I ran into the guy and then hit him. “Okay, let me grab my stuff.”

He smiles and nods. I rush off with my thoughts whirling. Is he just being nice? Friendly? Or is this like a date thing? I’m not ready to date. Do I tell him that? Crap. It’s only a coffee. It doesn’t have to mean anything. But what if it does mean something? Can I give myself a concussion from thinking in circles?

I grew-up reading everything I could get my grubby hands on, from my mom's Harlequin romances, to Nancy Drew, to Little Women. When I wasn't flipping pages in a library book, I was penning horrendous poems, writing songs no one should ever sing, or drafting stories which have thankfully been destroyed. College and a stint in the U.S. Army came along, robbing me of free time to write and read, although on the odd occasion I did manage to sneak a book into my rucksack between rolled up socks, MRIs, t-shirts, and cold weather gear. After surviving the army experience, I went back to school and got my law degree. I jumped ship and joined the hubby in the Netherlands before the graduation ceremony could even begin. A few years into my legal career, I was exhausted, fed up, and just plain done. I quit my job and sat down to write a manuscript, which I promptly hid in the attic after returning to the law. But being a lawyer really wasn’t my thing, so I quit (again!) and went off to Germany to start a B&B. Turns out being a B&B owner wasn’t my thing either. I polished off that manuscript languishing in the attic before deciding to follow the husband to Istanbul where I decided to give the whole writer-thing a go. But ten years was too many to stay away from my adopted home. I packed up again and moved to The Hague where I’m currently working on my next book. I hope I’ll always be working on my next book.

Fat girl Begone! is my eleventh book.

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Island of Secrets by Patricia Wilson

Published by Zaffre on May 18, 2017

Tips for Writing Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction covers a broad spectrum, from historical novels to modern chic-lit, so it is impossible to generalise on what makes good women’s fiction. Gone are the days when we read about cardboard cut-out characters that were dependant on men — ruled by their hearts — and obsessed by nothing more than housekeeping and handbags.

Today, we have female characters with a rich and varied background, and we also have shallow, self-centred women. To bring out these individualisms, we need to understand our females, learn their innermost feelings, appreciate their vulnerabilities and fears. What makes them the way they are? Perhaps their shallowness is deeply rooted in an unstable childhood, or their career obsession based on a secret inferiority complex instigated by a bullying parent. Dig deep, and get personal with each character. No two are the same.

Forget about your reader when writing intimate scenes. Once you start wondering what your mother, daughter, granddaughter might think, you will lose all prospect of exposing your character’s deepest/hottest/weirdest inner self.

What is interesting about writing women’s fiction, is that we can look inside ourselves, analyse our own feelings and draw from personal experiences. Even when we portray unlikable characters, we must find their heart, their vulnerability, and discover their fears.

All these traits are laid bare as we start peeling away layers. The diverse nature of our fictitious women needs to be exposed, or at least hinted at. Ruthlessness sandwiched between caring and humour. Fear between bravery, ambition, and romance. And yes, it’s all right to be girly, or old, or childish, or in love, so long as we’re honest and consistent with the mentality and voice of each, and keep our characters true to their personalities.

Once you ‘know’ your people, the important thing to remember is that the circumstances of your story will alter your women, or at the very least, your protagonist, by the end of the novel.

Know them, expose them, change them.

Island of Secrets is published in paperback today by Bonnier Zaffre.

I'll Eat When I'm Dead by Barbara Bourland

Published by Riverrun on May 18, 2017

I’ll Eat When I’m Dead has a killer title, blurb and prologue and after reading them, I was dying to get stuck in to the rest of the book.

When RAGE Fashion Book’s top editor Hillary is found dead in the office, to outsiders the cause of her death seemed straight forward enough – she starved to death. There’s talk of an eating disorder, even though several employees in fashion seem to share Hilary’s thin figure, and even though Hillary never really seemed too concerned about losing weight. But the investigation went no further. That is, until something leads detective Mark Hutton to look further into the case, and he, alongside Hillary’s long-time friend Cat, look to see what really lead Hillary to her death that day.

Somewhat surprisingly given the fashion industry setting, the author gives her book a real feminist edge which I enjoyed, as it made the characters, in particular Cat, come across as fiercer, stronger and much more like a character I’d want to root for. There is a quote mentioned very early on in the book that says “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. I found this quote to be fascinating and thought-provoking, and fitting for the industry Cat is working in. But her attitude to her work is different to the outsider’s view of her work. Cat is always keen to remind the reader of the importance of fashion in society, why it’s not frivolous or meaningless or a device used by women only to make themselves more attractive to men. When someone is as passionate about what they do as Cat is, it’s hard to disagree! I loved her strong attitude and how she could stand up for herself and for her job. Cat was definitely my favourite character in the book.

The exploration into RAGE Fashion Book was also incredibly absorbing. One thing which is brought to the reader’s attention early on is that they are struggling to keep up the sales and subscriptions that they used to have. This felt timely and relevant as sales of print media have been declining steadily with the rise of digital media. As this is something I’ve studied quite a bit through my journalism degree, I found it interesting reading the methods RAGE would need to go to to keep up their readership and sales, whether that had to be through a different platform or otherwise.

Another more central theme of this book, which ties in with the death of Hillary, is the culture of working in fashion. Firstly there are appearances, where being unhealthily thin isn’t picked up on as that is just how people look. Then there is how parties and drugs and starving yourself is the norm. Though all these aspects are touched upon throughout the book, I would have loved to see them delved into more. I did like the light-heartedness about this book, but I felt like it could have been grittier and more hard-hitting than it actually was. The chaos that ensued as Cat and Bess took over was definitely entertaining to read, but I would have liked more from the investigation of Hillary’s death.

Whilst I did find this book to be compelling for the most part, there were a few times when my focus drifted away. I don’t share the interest in fashion that the characters in this book have, so whilst I found the premise to this book to be really interesting, there were only so many fashion name-drops I could read before I drifted away. I get that maybe this book is probably meant to appeal to the more “stylish” reader, but I do love a good mystery so I couldn’t turn this book away purely because I don’t really pay much attention to what people are wearing…

Despite that, and despite not having as much interest in the glamour of fashion as I should do, I found I’ll Eat When I’m Dead to be part funny and frenetic, part sharp and satirical. It’s one of those books that you can’t read slowly as so much is going on and you just need to know what will happen next. Some characters and events in this book will be very difficult to forget, and this is a book that is so thought-provoking I could talk about it for days!

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