Thursday, August 31, 2023

Blog Tour: Big Little Spells by Hazel Beck

ARC provided by Harper Collins
Links denoted with * are affiliates.


Today, as part of the Harlequin Trade Publishing Summer Blog Tour programme, I want to talk about a book called Big Little Spells - it's the second novel in Hazel Beck's Witchlore series, and the follow-up to Small Town, Big Magic

A smart, modern Rom-Com about a witch banished from her coven who seeks help from the only person who can prove she's not a threat to witchkind - her annoyingly immortal childhood crush.

Rebekah Wilde was eighteen when she left St. Cyprian, officially stripped of her magic and banished from her home. Ten years later she's forced to return to face the Joywood Coven, who preside over not just her hometown, but the whole magical world.

The Joywood are determined to prove Rebekah is a danger to witchkind, and she faces a death sentence if she can't prove otherwise. Rebekah must seek help from the only one who knows how to stop the Joywood - the ruthless immortal Nicholas Frost. Years ago, he was her secret tutor in magic, and her secret, impossible crush. But the icy and frustratingly handsome immortal is as remote and arrogant as ever, and if he feels anything for Rebekah - or witchkind - it's impossible to tell.

As I've mentioned already, this is the second in a series, which I was completely unaware of when I requested it. I haven't read the first book, and it soon became evident that that would be a slight issue.

The book picks up after a fairly big event, one that's not explained very well. We're thrown straight into the world and we're expected to know and understand several strange terms (like a test called a "Pubertatum" that just made me think of the baby from the Addams Family Values). Usually in a series, there's a little catch-up, and I felt that really would have helped here because it took me a while to figure out who was who and what was happening.

In saying that - the story romped along fairly quickly, and soon morphed into a solid tale of two witch sisters who had spent some time apart and were now working on repairing their relationship while also proving to their community that they had earned the right to use their magical powers. There's a romance subplot, it's a very early Buffy/Angel dynamic with some similar banter and some closed door scenes ("we tumbled this way and that" was about as explicit as it got).

There's a wider issue at play here - local witches are succumbing to some kind of illness that kills them, and the sisters and their coven are sure that the local equivalent of the town council are to blame. The same people they must impress if they're to be seen as true witches. The sisters failed the test once before, ten years ago, now they must take it again. This means revisiting some of the preparations and rituals they did as teenagers (think Never Been Kissed if Josie was a witch trying to prove herself). 

I didn't really take to the teenage elements of the story (like the Prom) - I imagine fans of the first book who enjoyed it will LOVE this one, especially the progression of the relationship between Rebekah and Nicholas. I couldn't put it down for the last quarter, but I did feel like the book overall could've lost 50 pages and been none the worse for wear. 

Will I read the rest of the series? Probably not, but I imagine fans of these authors and this series will be very happy with this latest instalment, which is hitting at the perfect time of year for some cosy witching. 

Thank you to Justine at Harper Collins for having me as part of the blog tour program. 

Big Little Spells is out now to buy (or you can request it at your local library!)

You can learn more about Hazel Beck below, and keep up with them on their website, or on social media via Instagram, Facebook and Goodreads

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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Blog Tour: Even if the Sky is Falling [edited by Taj McCoy]

ARC provided for review 


I have another book from the Harlequin Trade Publishing Summer Blog Tour Program for you today - this time it's a compilation, edited by Taj McCoy.

For readers of Bolu Babalola's LOVE IN COLOR and Dhonielle Clayton's BLACKOUT, a collection of six stories filled with hope, humor, and heat that explore the chances a couple may take when they mistakenly believe the world is ending; for fans of Love Actually and all the best 90s disaster films that end in a triumphant kiss, with stories by Taj McCoy, Farah Heron, Lane Clarke, Charish Reid, Sarah Smith, and Denise Williams.

When the global threat of meteor showers - exacerbated by an increasing amount of space debris in our solar system - causes widespread panic, a world-wide siren system alerting people to significant threats is developed. The plan immediately hits a rocky start when the US accidentally launches the siren during a routine testing without being able to signal the all-clear, causing people to take immediate shelter.

Each of these 6 stories forces two people - strangers, colleagues, crushes, rivals - to take cover with one another, exploring what chances a person may take when they mistakenly believe the world is ending. Spoiler: it's a lot of confession making and kissing.

Filled with joy, heat, and emotion, this collection also seamlessly incorporates issues impacting people of color in an authentic and genuine way.

Editor Taj McCoy describes herself as "committed to championing stories that include Black & Multiracial women of colour, plus-size protagonists, Black love, Black joy, & senses of sisterhood & family bonds."

That aim really comes through in this collection of six romance stories, all set during a 12 hour emergency lockdown (of sorts). The opening story, "All The Stars" by Taj McCoy explains how the disaster happens, with a sweet tale about a NASA crew trial that goes awry.

In Keep Calm and Curry On by Farah Heron, two rival Pakistani chefs get stuck with each other in a flea market; My Lucky Stars by Lane Clarke sees law student Jones infuriated with her colleague Dianna, who she assumes is just a pretty face. Bunker Buddies by Charish Reid is that "do it for our country" scene from Grease 2 but with a professor and an indie bookstore owner; Interlude by Sarah Smith is a handyman fantasy come to life, and Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better by Denise Williams is a spicy tale of old rivals returning to their college for an awards ceremony when the alarm sounds.

It's SPICY - no slow burns here, no ma'am - but it's fun, and it's always nice to read stories featuring Black characters & characters of colour that don't have some kind of traumatic backstory to overcome. Joy and love reign supreme - and it's hot, fast, sweet, and charming. It has been described as "an ode to the disaster movies of the 1990s, but with more kissing" and that's a really accurate description.

Spicy, cute, well done. 

Thank you to Justine at Harper Collins for having me on the Blog Tour! 

Even if the Sky is Falling is available now.

Or you can request it from your local library!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Blog Tour: The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead (Review + Excerpt)

ARC provided by Harper Collins


I'm delighted to bring you a review & excerpt of "The Boyfriend Candidate" by Ashley Winstead as part of the Harlequin Trade Publishing Summer Blog Tour programme. 

I've loved taking part in these tours before, because they always have a great selection of books to choose from.

This time round, I picked a Grumpy/Sunshine, Fake Relationship rom-com about a quiet school librarian and a ballsy political candidate with somewhat of a reputation: 

A laugh-out-loud rom-com about learning to embrace living outside your comfort zone.

As a shy school librarian, Alexis Stone is comfortable keeping out of the spotlight. But when she's dumped for being too meek - in bed!- she decides she needs to change. And what better way to kick-start her new more adventurous life than with her first one-night stand?

Enter Logan, the gorgeous, foul-mouthed stranger she meets at a hotel bar. Audacious and filterless, Logan is Alexis's opposite - and boy, do opposites attract! Just as she's about to fulfill her hookup wish, the hotel catches fire in a freak lightning storm. In their rush to escape, Logan is discovered carrying her into the street, where people are waiting with cameras. Cameras Logan promptly - and shockingly - flees.

Alexis is bewildered until suddenly pictures of her and Logan escaping the fire are all over the internet. Turns out Logan is none other than Logan Arthur, the hotshot candidate challenging the Texas governor's seat. The salacious scandal is poised to sink his career - and jeopardize Alexis's job - until a solution is proposed: he and Alexis could pretend to be in a relationship until election day... in two months. What could possibly go wrong?

I loved this. I thought it was so sweet, sexy, funny - both Alexis and Logan made for really likeable lead characters, and I liked that although Alexis was quiet, she wasn't afraid to stand up for what she believed in or the people she cared about. It's a masterclass in the slow burn - the tension was almost unbearable at times. 

I loved the political parts too, some of the topics that the author touched upon were unfortunately incredibly topical - book banning at schools, libraries being defunded, protests by far-right groups about certain reading material. I liked that Alexis found a way to speak about these issues while also staying true to her own introverted nature. 

The only thing I didn't love about the book was the push from Alexis's sister Lee to date someone for real - surely as a politician herself she would know that were Alexis to deviate from the agreement with Logan, she'd be throwing herself to the wolves? I thought it was a weird thing for her to suggest, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story. 

I loved the story, loved the plot, loved the characters, and I'm really thankful for the opportunity to read the book courtesy of the publisher. Thank you to Justine for having me on the Blog Tour.

The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead is available to buy now (or you can request it from your local library!) 

You can learn more about Ashley Winstead's work below, and keep up with her on her website, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.  Keep scrolling for a sneak peek at the first chapter!


Alexis Stone Is Not a Mouse

I’LL SAY ONE NICE THING ABOUT MY EX CHRIS TUTTLE: the man was the entire reason I was here, standing at the entrance to the sultry Fleur de Lis hotel bar, wearing a red dress so plunging I kept it in the back of my closet for fear of scandalizing visitors, on the verge of reinventing myself. The memory of Chris and the still-fresh psychic wounds he’d left me were like a marching drum line urging me forward as I’d left my apartment, Ubered downtown to the Fleur de Lis, and cut a determined path across the lobby to the bar, a place with a reputation as Austin’s Grand Central Station of hookups. Unfortunately, now that I was standing at the entrance, the sight of all the laughing, drinking, dazzling people—dressed to the nines like me, but looking much more at ease about it—had me momentarily cowed.

I thought back to what Chris said the day I discovered he was cheating on me (for the second time): “I do have needs you can’t satisfy. You should really learn to be more adventurous in bed, Lex. You’re like a timid little mouse. It can get really boring.” Remembering those words, I straightened my shoulders, took a deep breath, and stepped inside. I was not a boring mouse—or at least I wouldn’t be one anymore. Starting tonight, I was going to be a new version of Alexis Stone: as bold and adventurous as my flaming-red dress.

I tried to soak in the beauty of the bar while beelining through the crowded tables, anxious to leave the peculiar spotlight of being the only person standing among a bunch of cozy, seated people. But then I realized new Alexis wouldn’t care if everyone’s eyes flitted to her as she walked across a room—in fact, new Alexis would welcome it, because she’d spent nearly an hour straightening and then recurling her hair into movie star ringlets, and maybe that effort should be appreciated. I forced myself to slow and look up at the bar’s gorgeous glass ceiling, shaded a twinkly blue thanks to the night sky. Real palm trees lined the circular perimeter, fronds reaching toward the stars. They made the bar look like a very urbane urban jungle, which actually wasn’t too far off the mark.

My older sister, Lee, and her friends liked to roll their eyes at the entire downtown bar scene, calling places like the Fleur de Lis “meat markets where you go to spend thirty-five bucks on a martini while beating back horny yuppies” (Lee’s words). They preferred the hipster bars on the east side of Austin, where the clientele was cooler yet dirtier (my words). I thought the Fleur de Lis was romantic, so it made sense to come here tonight for my critical but one hundred percent private mission: I, Alexis Rosalie Stone, was going to have my first one-night stand. I was going to sleep with a man with no strings attached, no stakes or expectations: just one night to do whatever felt right. Alexis the unadventurous bore? I’d killed her and buried the body.

The gleaming brass bar was crowded, but I managed to slip a shoulder between two men and catch the bartender’s attention. “Vodka martini,” I said, feeling a sudden rebellious compulsion to do anything that would raise my sister’s eyebrows. By the time my drink came, I’d completed a full three-sixty swivel in my barstool to survey the sea of men for potential candidates. How exactly did one negotiate a one-night stand? Did you lead with it in conversation so all your cards were on the table (“Hi, I’m Alexis; you might be interested to know I’m trolling for a stranger to ravish me”), or did you hold back, let your intention slip out at just the right moment (“I see you’re ordering an Uber home; could I interest you in going splitsies back to my place for a wild night of sex”)?

I braced a hand on the bar, taking a fortifying sip of my martini. Even if I made a complete fool of myself tonight—even if I was roundly rejected by every man I spoke to—coming here alone at least meant Lee and her crew couldn’t witness my flop, then use it to skewer me for all eternity like the jackals they were.

A whistle cut through the bar’s ambient noise, followed by a loud, “Now that’s a dress.” Out of nowhere, a man appeared and sidled up beside me. One look at him and my mind blurted forehead! Probably because his was shiny as a disco ball, framed by waggling eyebrows, and tilted all the way to the side. The next second, I realized his head was turned that way so he could get a clear view down my dress.

“Thanks.” I placed a protective hand over my chest and swiveled in the opposite direction. Hoping my body language would signal my disinterest, I took another sip of my martini and studied the empty corner of the room like it was fascinating.

No such luck. “I’m Carter Randall,” the man said, jutting out his hand. “What’s your name?”

My deep desire for him to go away warred with my silly lifelong compulsion to be nice. “Um…” I twisted back to shake his oddly moist hand and searched for inspiration. My gaze snagged, as his clearly had, on my dress. “Ruby…” The next word came unbidden. “Dangerfield. Ruby Dangerfield.” Curse my polite hardwiring that had me sitting here inventing a new name instead of dismissing him with something cool and clipped like, “Not interested.”

Carter gave my hand a little squeeze. He was twice my age, probably well into his fifties. Well-dressed, with a massive gold watch on his wrist, and—now that I squinted—a strangely sweaty face, like he’d just done a lap. Was he on party drugs? He used his sleeve to mop his forehead and I pulled my hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it on my dress. Carter’s eyes drifted down the length of my body yet again. “Well, Ms. Ruby. Can I buy you a drink? A stiff one?” He grinned.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s very nice. But—um—no thank you.” Inside, I burned with the fire of a thousand suns. Saying no to anyone, even a stranger, stretched the limits of my bravery.

“Aw, come on.” Carter leaned in closer and I scooted back so fast I nearly tipped over. “Look at you, sitting there in that dress. Clearly fishing for attention. Well, you caught me. Let’s get you drunk and see what happens.”

Apparently, I was going to get a lesson in how not to proposition someone tonight. But my cheeks were burning, because in a small way Carter was right—I had come here to put myself on display and find someone, just very much not him. Be the new Alexis, I urged myself. Stop prioritizing this stranger’s feelings and tell him to leave you alone. But I couldn’t—at the slightest provocation, old, sad, doormat Alexis had quickly jumped back in charge.

“I’m not trying to be rude,” I said carefully, feeling my heartbeat spike. “I would just like to be by myself tonight.” Well, shoot. Now that I’d committed to that, would I have to leave the bar so Carter didn’t catch me talking to anyone else later? My palms started sweating.

“One drink—” he started.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” came a voice, tinged with an accent I couldn’t place—British mixed with Texas panhandle? I nearly knocked over my martini. “She said no, mate. Get it through your thick skull and leave the poor woman alone.”

Carter spun to get a look at the man who’d interrupted us, and without his body blocking the view, I got a clear line, too. My stomach flipped over and released a conservatory’s worth of butterflies. Even wearing a look of contempt, the man on the other side of Carter was stop-in-your-tracks, tongue-tyingly handsome. He was around my age, maybe a little older—he certainly radiated an older person’s authority—with a head of dark curls cut close and tight, brown eyes that were currently blazing, and thick eyebrows arched, waiting to see how Carter would respond. He had on a dark suit like most of the other men in the room, but he’d taken off his jacket and hung it on the back of his seat. He was sitting hunched over his drink in a white dress shirt with the sleeves messily rolled back, wearing a dark slim watch that was the antithesis of Carter’s flashy gold one. The wrinkles in his suit, creases under his eyes, and day-old stubble gave the impression of a weary business executive after a long, hard day at work. His eyes flitted to mine for the briefest moment before returning to Carter, but the charge that ran down my spine was enough to root me to my chair.

Carter shifted his weight. Apparently, he was going to play the tough guy. “Why don’t you mind your business, pal?”

The beautiful, tired man rolled his eyes. “Oh, good. You’re one of those.” He got to his feet so fast his barstool made a screeching sound as it scraped across the floor. “Then let’s go ahead and get this over with, because I’ve had a shit day and I would like to kick your ass and get back home at a reasonable hour. So come on. You’re the one campaigning for Most Punchable Man in the Bar. Let’s have your prize.” The dark-haired man spoke calmly and quickly in his hard-to-place accent, like he invited people to get their asses kicked at least once a day. He made a little “come on” gesture that conveyed utter boredom.

People around us had stopped talking to watch. The extra attention only made me feel like I was going to melt into the floor at twice the speed. But if I had no idea how to respond to this turn of events—what to say or even where to put my hands—Carter was even more clueless. I could see his eyes dancing, doing quick calculations. On the one hand, Carter was thicker around the middle than the dark-haired man. On the other, the dark-haired man had revealed himself to be tall and well-built when he stood up.

“Nah, man.” Carter put his hands up. “We’ve got no problems. Just making new friends like you’re supposed to at a bar, for Christ’s sake.”

“Great,” said the dark-haired man. “Then kindly fuck off as suggested.”

Carter didn’t wait to be told a third time. As he hightailed away from the bar, a woman nearby muttered, “What a douche.” And with that judgment rendered, the room dialed back to a normal volume.

“Thank you,” I said to the dark-haired man. He waved me off with a grunt and settled back in his barstool, leaning comfortably over his drink, apparently hoping to resume his night like nothing had happened.

I stared at him. The adrenaline was draining out of my system, which left me feeling hollow. I should have been the one to tell Carter to fuck off. I should have had the guts, but instead I’d tiptoed around and this man had to step in and do it for me. How humiliating. It hit me like a ton of bricks: from the moment Carter arrived, I’d been unequivocally mousy. Exactly like Chris said.

Excerpted from THE BOYFRIEND CANDIDATE. Copyright © 2023 by Ashley Winstead. Published by Graydon House.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Blog Tour: Fan Club by Erin Mayer [Review + Excerpt]

ARC provided by Netgalley. 
Amazon UK link is an affiliate. 


Today I have a cracking debut novel for you, written by former Bustle editor Erin Mayer. Fan Club is a sharp, witty commentary on stan culture, how we view fame, and the risks we take in order to find some kind of meaningful relationship. 

The term "stan" comes from the song of the same name released by Eminem in 2000. It's written from the POV of a man (named Stan) so deeply obsessed with Eminem that he writes letters to him detailing his descent into anger and rage when Eminem doesn't reply. His actions get increasingly more dangerous as he begs for his idol's attention. The term entered the Oxford English dictionary in June of 2018, listed as "an overzealous or obsessive fan, esp. of a particular celebrity."

In this book, our main character isn't named. Which seems fitting, as she feels like she doesn't really exist in any great sense of the word. She uses the term "every-father" in the opening paragraph of the book - she herself is the "every-office-worker". She's anybody, she's nobody, she's everybody. She works at a job she hates, editing articles she doesn't care about for a website she doesn't read, lives with a roommate she doesn't really know, and doesn't have many friends. She craves love, intimacy, friendship, excitement, and she has all but given up - until she finds Adriana Argento. 

Adriana is a pop princess, loved the world over, who is on the brink of releasing her first album after a hiatus due to a tragedy at one of her shows. If this all sounds a bit familiar - you too, may believe God is a Woman. Adriana becomes more and more important to our main character, and as so often happens, the fans find each other and our gal becomes deeply involved with a very intense branch of the Adriana fandom, to the detriment of her and the people around her. But it's exciting. 

This really didn't go the way I thought it would, but I found it to be a really engaging read.  The whole world of standoms and fandoms is equally terrifying and intriguing to me - I find it a little sad sometimes and one of the lines in the book really summed that up for me: 

"The most efficient way to lose yourself is to idolise somebody else"

It's scary to me how much access people have to celebrities now. Of course as long as there have been celebrities, there have been stans - but I feel like with advances in technology and the ways we use social media, celebrities have gone from being untouchable to being dangerously reachable. Stan Twitter honestly scares the bejaysus out of me, but I've no doubt had I been born ten years later that I'd have absolutely been bang smack in the middle of it. I can see the allure - finding your tribe is one of the hardest things on this earth to do, and many people go through life without ever finding that kind of comraderie or a group of people with whom they can truly be themselves. Fandoms seem like ready-made families, ready and waiting to accept you with open arms - until you step out of line. 

I ate this book up in one sitting - I was gutted when it ended, because I could easily have read another hundred pages. It takes celebs, fans, cults, social media, jaded millennials, capitalism, and spins it into a cautionary tale about living vs existing in a world full of online obsession. As a species, we've never been more connected - so why aren't we more connected? 

I didn't adore the ending, but I really enjoyed the journey there. 

You can read an excerpt from Fan Club below. Thank you to Justine at Harper Collins for having me on the Blog Tour, I really appreciate it. 

Fan Club will be released on October 26th, and you can request it from your local indie bookshop, library, or purchase it at the links below: 

You can keep up to date with Erin Mayer's work on her website, Twitter, and Instagram



I'm outside for a cumulative ten minutes each day before work. Five to walk from my apartment building to the subway, another five to go from the subway to the anemic obelisk that houses my office. I try to breathe as deeply as I can in those minutes, because I never know how long it will be until I take fresh air into my lungs again. Not that the city air is all that fresh, tinged with the sharp stench of old garbage, pollution's metallic swirl. But it beats the stale oxygen of the office, already filtered through distant respiratory systems. Sometimes, during slow moments at my desk, I inhale and try to imagine those other nostrils and lungs that have already processed this same air. I'm not sure how it works in reality, any knowledge I once had of the intricacies of breathing having been long ago discarded by more useful information, but the image comforts me. Usually, I picture a middle-aged man with greying temples, a fringe of visible nose hair, and a coffee stain on the collar of his baby blue button-down. He looks nothing and everything like my father. An every-father, if you will. 

My office is populated by dyed-blonde or pierced brunette woman in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. The occasional man, just a touch older than most of the women, but still young enough to give off the faint impression that he DJs at Meatpacking nightclubs for extra cash on the weekends. 

We are the new corporate Americans, the offspring of the grey-templed men. We wear tastefully ripped jeans and cozy sweaters to the office instead of blazers and trousers. Display a tattoo here and there - our supervisors don't mind; in fact, they have the most ink. We eat yogurt for breakfast, work through lunch, leave the office at six if we're lucky, arriving home with just enough time to order dinner from an app and watch two or three hours of Netflix before collapsing into bed from exhaustion we haven't earned. Exhaustion that lives in the brain, not the body, and cannot be relieved by a mere eight hours of sleep.

Nobody understands exactly what it is we do here, and neither do we. I push through revolving glass doors, run my wallet over the card reader, which beeps as my ID scans through the stiff leather, and half-wave in the direction of the uniformed security guard behind the desk, whose face my eyes never quite reach so I can't tell you what he looks like. He's just one of the many set-pieces staging the scene of my days. 

The elevator ride to the eleventh floor is long enough to skim one-third of a longform article on my phone. I barely register what it's about, something loosely political, or who is standing next to me in the cramped elevator. 

When the doors slide open on eleven, we both get off. 


In the dim eleventh-floor lobby, a humming neon light shaped like the company logo assaults my sleep-swollen eyes like the prick of a dozen tiny needles. Today, a small section has burned out, creating a skip in the letter W. Below the logo is a tufted cerulean velvet couch where guests wait to be welcomed. To the left there's a mirrored wall reflecting the vestibule; people sometimes pause there to take photos on the way to and from the office, usually on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. I see the photos later while scrolling through my various feeds at home in bed. They hit me one after another like shots of tequila: See ya Tuesday! *margarita emoji* Peace out for the long weekend! *palm tree emoji* Byeeeeee! *peace sign emoji.*

She steps in front of me, my elevator companion. Black Rag & Bone ankle boots gleaming, blade-tipped pixie cut grazing her ears. Her neck piercing taunts me, those winking silver balls on either side of her spine. She's Lexi O'Connell, the website's senior editor. She walks ahead with her head angled down, thumb working her phone's keyboard, and doesn't look up as she shoves the interior door open, palm to the glass. 

I trip over the back of one clunky winter boot with the other as I spped up, considering whether to call out for her attention. It's what a good web producer, one who is eager to move on from the endless drudgery of copy-pasting and resizing and into the slightly more thrilling drudgery of writing and rewriting, would do.

By the time I regain my footing, I come face-to-face with the smear of her handprint as the door glides shut in front of me. 



I work at a website. 

It's like most other websites; we publish content, mostly articles: news stories, essays, interviews, glossed over with the polished opalescent sheen of commercialized feminism. The occasional quiz, video, or photoshoot rounds out our offerings. This is how websites work in the age of ad revenue: Each provides a slightly varied selection of mindless entertainment, news updates and watered-down hot takes about everything from climate change to plus size fashion, hawking their wares on the digital marketplace, leaving The Reader to wander drunkenly through the bazaar, wielding her cursor like an Amex. You can find everything you'd want to read in one place online, dozens of times over. The algorithms have erased choice. Search engines and social media platforms, they know what you want before you do. 

As a web producer, my job is to input article text into the website's proprietary content management system, or CMS. I'm a digitized high school janitor; I clean up the small messes, the litter that misses the rim of the garbage can. I make sure the links are working and the images are high resolution. When anything bigger comes up, it goes to an editor or IT. I'm an expert in nothing, a master of the miniscule fixes. 

There are five of us who produce for the entire website, each handling about 20 articles a day. We sit at a long grey table on display at the very center of the open office, surrounded on all sides by editors and writers. 

The web producer's bullpen, Lexi calls it. 

The light fixture above the table buzzes loudly like a nest of bees is trapped inside the fluorescent tubing. I drop my bag on the floor and take a seat, shedding my coat like a layer of skin. My chair faces the beauty editor's desk, the cruelest seat in the house. All day long, I watch Charlotte Miller receive package after package stuffed with pastel tissue paper. Inside those packages: lipstick, foundation, perfume, happiness. A thousand simulacrums of Christmas morning spread across the two-hundred and sixty-one workdays of the year. She has piled the trappings of Brooklyn hipsterdom on top of her blonde, big-toothed, prettiness. Wire-frame glasses, a tattoo of a constellation on her inner left forearm, a rose gold nose ring. She seems Texan, but she's actually from some wholesome upper Midwestern state, I can never remember which one. Right now, she applies red lipstick from a warm golden tube in the flat gleam of the golden mirror next to her monitor. Everything about her is color-coordinated. 

I open my laptop. The screen blinks twice and prompts me for my password. I type it in, and the CMS appears, open to where I left it when I signed off the previous evening. Our CMS is called LIZZIE. There's a rumor that it was named after Lizzie Borden, christened during the pre-launch party when the tech team pounded too many shots after they finished coding. As in, "Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks." Lizzie Borden rebranded in the 21st century as a symbol of righteous feminine anger. LIZZIE, my best friend, my closest confidant. She's an equally comforting and infuriating presence, constant in her bland attention. She gazes at me, always emotionless, saying nothing as she watches me teeter on the edge, fighting tears or trying not to doze at my desk or simply staring, in search of answers she cannot provide. 

My eyes droop in their sockets as I scan the articles that were submitted before I arrived this morning. The whites threaten to turn liquid and splash onto my keyboard, pool between the keys and jiggle like eggs minus the yolks. Thinking of this causes a tiny laugh to slip out from between my clenched lips. Charlotte slides the cap onto her lipstick, glares at me over the lip of the mirror. 


That's Tom, the only male web producer, who sits across and slightly left of me, keeping my view of Charlotte's towering wonderland of boxes and bags clear. He's four years older than me, twenty-eight, but the plush chipmunk curve of his cheeks makes him appear much younger, like he's about to graduate high school. He's cute, though, in the way of a movie star who always gets cast as the geek in teen comedies. Definitely hot but dress him down in an argyle sweater and glasses and he could be a Hollywood nerd. I've always wanted to ask him why he works here, doing this. There isn't really a web producer archetype. We're all different, a true island of misfit toys. 

But if there is a type, Tom doesn't fit it. He seems smart and driven. He's consistently the only person who attends company book club meetings having read that month's selection from cover to cover. I've never asked him why he works here because we don't talk much. No one in our office talks much. Not out loud, anyway. We communicate through a private Morse code, fingers dancing on keys, expressions scanned and evaulated from a distance. 

Sometimes I think about flirting with Tom, for something to do, but he wears a wedding ring. Not that I care about his wife; it's more the fear of rebuff and rejection, of hearing the low-voiced Sorry, I'm married, that stops me. He usually sails in a few minutes after I do, smelling like his bodega coffee and the egg sandwich he carefully unwraps and eats at his desk. He nods in my direction. Morning is the only word we've exchanged the entire time I've worked here, which is coming up on a year in January. It's not even a greeting, merely a statement of fact. It is morning and we're both here. Again. 

Three hundred and sixty-five days lost to the hum and twitch and click. I can't seem to remember how I got here. It all feels like a dream. The mundane kind, full of banal details, but something slightly off about it all. I don't remember applying for the job, or interviewing. One day, an offer letter appeared in my inbox and I signed.

And here I am. Day after day, I wait for someone to need me. I open articles. I tweak the formatting, check the links, correct the occasional typo that catches my eye. It isn't really my job to copy edit, or even to read closely, but sometimes I notice things, grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, and I then can't not notice them; I have to put them right or else they nag like a papercut on the soft webbing connecting two fingers. The brain wants to be useful. It craves activity, even after almost three hundred and sixty-five days of operating at its lowest frequency. 

I open emails. I download attachments. I insert numbers into spreadsheets. I email those spreadsheets to Lexi and my direct boss, Ashley, who manages the homepage. 

None of it ever seems to add up to anything. 

Excerpted from Fan Club by Erin Mayer. Copyright 2021 by Erin Mayer. Published by MIRA books. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Blog Tour: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Review Copy
Amazon UK link is an affiliate


Following the success of her memoir Everything I know about Love, fellow egg mayo sandwich connoisseur (the superior sandwich filling and I WILL fight you) released her debut fictional novel, Ghosts, in October 2020. It's released in paperback today, July 22nd, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of the blog tour having enjoyed Dolly's writing in the past. 

In Ghosts, we meed Nina George Dean. She's doing a job she loves (writing about food), living in the city she loves (London) and she has a genuinely lovely family and friend circle. All that's missing is someone to share that with - so Nina agrees to take her friend Lola's suggestion of using dating apps seriously and dives into the murky world of blurry profile pictures and DM roulette to try and find a connection with someone who won't mess her around. Then she meets Max. 

I enjoyed this book a lot - it's witty, warm, funny, and Nina is really likeable. I also liked the other characters in her life - in particular it was nice to see a thirtysomething who had a good relationship with her parents. So often we see books where the mother is this stereotypical busybody who gives out about her husband, but not here. Nina's parents are facing a very tough journey together, and I really felt for her mother. 

The ghosts in the novel are everywhere (not literally) - we have parents getting old, a friendship that may possibly be coming to an end, an ex moving on, and boyfriends being twats. We go through so many stages in life and each one comes with a new set of challenges. Unfortunately, none come with a guide book - we're all just supposed to know what to do and how to cope with the fact that we're getting older or might need to move on from something that's not making us happy anymore. 

Friendships definitely change when one person has children - your day as a parent becomes consumed with trying to keep tiny humans alive and cling on to some semblance of a personality (then dealing with the guilt of wanting to retain your pre-baby personality) and it can be really hard to maintain friendships and remember that everyone is dealing with their own set of responsibilities and expectations. We're all just bloody winging it, really. I appreciated this part of the storyline a lot and really liked where the friendship with Katherine went. 

I would be very confident in recommending this to anyone looking for a Summer read with a bit of depth - it made me teary on more than one occasion. 

Thank you to Hannah at Penguin Random House for having me on the blog tour, and please do check out the other stops on the tour below if you'd like some more opinions on the book. 

Ghosts is out now and available at all good bookshops including:

and of course your local library and on Kindle

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Blog Tour: Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan [+ Excerpt]

Review copy. 
Amazon UK link (*) is an affiliate.


Today I am honoured to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan. You'll find an excerpt at the end of the post, thanks to Graydon House.

"Lady Sunshine" is the nickname given to our protagonist, Jackie Pierce, by her musician Uncle Graham in 1979. The book flits between 1999, when Jackie is given the task of dealing with Graham's estate after she inherits it, and 1979 - the Summer that changed everything. 

The sprawling estate in California was home to Graham, his wife Angela, and their daughter Willa. Jackie is sent there for the Summer when she's seventeen, and after a shaky start, her and Willa forge an incredibly close bond. In the present, Willa doesn't seem to be in the picture at all, so what happened? Jackie is busy packing up the estate for sale, but a promise was made to a group of musicians to allow them record there one last time. The music brings back a lot of memories for Jackie, could this finally give her some closure and help her move on from the events of that Summer? 

This has (and will be) compared to Daisy Jones and the Six and I don't entirely disagree - it has that same lazy, hazy seventies vibe and the musical element does play a part - but that's where the similarities end. This book is a look at friendships, families and forgiveness. I really loved this book. I think it's definitely one of my favourites this year and I would highly recommend it as a good Summer read. It's lovely. 

Lady Sunshine will be published on June 29th and will be available from all good bookshops, your local library, and at the links below.

Kindle US | UK*

You can keep up to date with the author on her website, or on her socials - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest


A Girl, Her Cousin and a Waterfall
I rattle the padlock on the gate, strum my fingers along the cold chain-link fence.
I own this place.
Maybe if I repeat it often enough I'll believe it.
All along the base of the fence are tributes: shells, notes, sketches, bunches of flowers. Some still fresh, some so old the petals are crisp as parchment. I follow the fence uphill, along the coast side, and stop at a wooden, waist-high sign marking the path up to the waterfall. It wasn't here the summer I visited.
The sign is covered in words and drawings, so tattooed-over by fan messages that you can barely read the official one. I run my fingertips over the engravings: initials, peace symbols, Thank you's, I Love You's. Fragments of favorite lyrics. After coming so far to visit the legendary estate, people need to do something, leave their mark, if only with a rock on fog-softened wood.
Song titles from my uncle's final album, Three, are carved everywhere. "Heart, Home, Hope."
"Leaf, Shell, Raindrop."
"Angel, Lion, Willow." Someone has etched that last one in symbols instead of words. The angel refers to Angela, my aunt. The lion is my uncle Graham. 
And the willow tree. Willa, my cousin.
I have a pointy metal travel nail file in my suitcase; I could add my message to the rest, my own tribute to this place, to the Kingstons. To try to explain what happened the summer I spent here. I could tell it like one of the campfire tales I used to spin for Willa.
This is the story of a girl, her cousin, and a waterfall...
But there's no time for that, not with only seven days to clear the house for sale. Back at the gate, where Toby's asleep in his cat carrier in the shade, I dig in my overnight bag for the keys. They came in a FedEx with a fat stack of documents I must've read on the plane from Boston a dozen times - thousands of words, all dressed up in legal jargon. When it's so simple, really. Everything inside that fence is mine now, whether I want it or not.
I unlock the gate, lift the metal shackle, and walk uphill to the highest point, where the gravel widens into a parking lot, then fades away into grass. The field opens out below me just like I remember. We called it "the bowl," because of the way the edges curve up all around it. A golden bowl scooped into the hills, rimmed on three sides by dark green woods. The house, a quarter mile ahead of me at the top of the far slope, is a pale smudge in the fir trees.
I stop to take it in, this piece of land I now own. The Sandcastle, everyone called it.
Without the neighbours' goats and Graham's guests to keep the grass down, the field has grown wild, many of the yellow weeds high as my belly button.
Willa stood here with me once and showed me how from this angle the estate resembled a sun. The kind a child would draw, with a happy face inside. Once I saw it, it was impossible to un-see:
The round, straw-colored field, trails squiggling off to the woods in every direction, like rays. The left eye - the campfire circle. The right eye - the blue aboveground pool. The nose was the vertical line of picnic benches in the middle of the circle that served as our communal outdoor dining table. The smile was the curving line of parked cars and motorcycles and campers.
All that's gone now, save for the pool, which is squinting, collapsed, moldy green instead of its old bright blue.
I should go back for my bag and Toby but I can't resist - I move on, down to the center of the field. Far to my right in the woods, the brown roofline of the biggest A-frame cabin, Kingfisher, pokes through the firs. But no other cabins are visible, the foliage is so thick now. Good. Each alteration from the place of my memories gives me confidence. I can handle this for a week. One peaceful, private week to box things up and send them away.
"Sure you don't want me to come help?" Paul had asked when he dropped me to the airport this morning. "We could squeeze in a romantic weekend somewhere. I've always wanted to go to San Francisco."
"You have summer school classes, remember? Anyway, it'll be totally boring, believe me."
I'd told him - earnest, sweet Paul, who all the sixth-graders at the elementary school where we work hope they get as their teacher and who wants to marry me - that the trip was no big deal. That I'd be away for a week because my aunt in California passed away. That I barely knew her and just had to help pack up her old place to get it ready for sale.
He believed me.
I didn't tell him that the "old place" is a stunning, sprawling property perched over the Pacific, studded with cabins and outbuildings and a legendary basement recording studio. That the land bubbles with natural hot springs and creeks and waterfalls.
Or that I've inherited it. All of it. The fields, the woods, the house, the studio. And my uncle's music catalog.
I didn't tell him that I visited here once as a teenager, or that for a little while, a long time ago, I was sure I'd stay forever.

Excerpted from Lady Sunshine © 2021 by Amy Mason Doan, used with permission by Graydon House.