Shizzle, Inc

Comedy Book Week – Ana Spoke – Author of Shizzle, Inc

I am always on the lookout for funny books by fellow Aussies, and Ana’s Shizzle, Inc did not disappoint. I think I was expecting a traditional rom-com, but this story is more of a satire, and not really a romance at all (although I suspect there might be a little later in the series!).

Isa Maxwell is quite a character. All she wants is to be famous, and she doesn’t really mind how she gets there. So when she sees an ad on TV featuring billionaire Mr Hue and a search for his next assistant, she races off to the interview, not realising that hundreds of other women are also vying for the job.

Isa manages to stumble from one crazy situation to another, always emerging unscathed. Much of this is due to luck, but she may also be a bit more intelligent than we are led to believe.

I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t your typical billionaire romance. When Mr Hue first appeared, I was thinking ‘here we go, he’s going to go all Christian Grey and start flirting with her’ – but it wasn’t like that at all. And throughout every new chapter, an unexpected event would occur. I never knew what I was going to read next, and I LOVED IT!

I also adored Isa’s DJ friend Harden, and I hope to see him in the sequel. All the characters are hilarious and come out with quite random and kooky comments, but it works perfectly. If you can imagine the funniest parts of a Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell movie, you will be part of the way there to understanding Shizzle, Inc.

The style of this book is very, very clever, and it is incredibly well edited. The tone of the story took me a few pages to truly appreciate, but once I immersed myself in Isa’s world, I couldn’t wait to see how it ended.

Definitely recommend.

Author Interview with Ana Spoke

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m relatively new to the world of self-publishing, although I’ve tried to write that “first novel” for at least ten years. I then tried to sell that first novel to traditional publishers for almost a year, before deciding to self-publish just over a year ago. Today I have two published books with the third on the way, and I love every stage of the process, from draft, to editing, and (strangely) marketing.

I still have my day job, working in a serious and sometimes boring role in a government organisation, which provides a stable base and an endless inspiration for my comedy. Before that, I’ve been a professor, a registered landscape architect, and even dabbled in genetics, which helps with that whole “write what you know” concept, not that my protagonist has any idea about gene sequencing. Yet.

2. What is your latest book about? What inspired it?

Indiot, the second instalment in Isa Maxwell series, was inspired by a spam email – turns out they are good for something! After receiving a plea for help from an Indian prince, Isa gets into another huge heap of trouble, driven by her good intentions and a few bad decisions. Just like the first book (Shizzle, Inc.), Indiot is very fast-paced and has twists and turns all along the way, so hold onto your seat!

3. Who would you cast in the movie version of your book?

I’d like a complete unknown, but obviously brilliant, new actor, to be cast as Isa. If not, then Amy Schumer, although she’s a bit too old for the character. In fact, most of my preferred actors are too old for these roles – for Mr. Hue, I can just see John O’Hurley, who played Mr. Peterman in Seinfield, but he’s over 60 now.  I’d love to cast Helena Bonham Carter as Eleanor, the evil secretary, but I would be just as equally thrilled to see someone else choose the actors and bring the story to life.

4. What songs make up the soundtrack for your book?

Isa absolutely loves old-school rap and anything with a beat. I have bits of soundtrack happening in Shizzle, Inc, as she listens to Eazy E and Snoop Dog in her car, or parties with her friends to the Far East Movement and Bloody Beetroots. In Indiot, I would imagine a lot of Bollywood-style music, but I couldn’t name the artists for that. Again, what an amazing experience would it be to see a filmmaker apply some magic to the story!

5. Tell us about your writing process.

It keeps evolving – the first book was written as anecdotal scene bits on my public transport commute, walking to work, and as emails to my sister, which I then shaped into a story. The second one I conceived in my head for months and then wrote out in Word as one narrative. I am currently working on the third and, having discovered Scrivener, started with a much more detailed plot than usual.

I rewrite a lot, which is probably normal for comedy. Even as I write the sentence for the first time, I delete, delete, delete, until it makes sense. I edit as I go, which is considered a no-no for some, but I just can’t help it. Then, once finished, I edit mercilessly several times myself, send the draft to beta-readers, and edit some more, until sending it to…the editor. It took me about six months total to write Indiot, of which three solid months were spent in editing stage. 

6. Favourite authors / books?

I love comedy in all its forms, which is why it felt natural to start up www.comedybookweek.com. I have only had a chance to read one of the participating authors this year, but can’t wait to read some of the books on offer for the next year’s event. The variety is mind-boggling, from chicklit to funny sci-fi and mysteries.

Some of my all-time favourites include a Russian classic 12 Chairs by Ilf and Petrov and Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek, which I read in translation as a kid. More recently, it’s been chicklit, such as Bridget Jones and Devil Wears Prada. I especially like quirky characters and prose, and the more ridiculous, the better.

7. What’s next for you?

I am currently working on the third installment in the series. It is just as bizarre and funny as Shizzle, Inc, although Isa is growing up a little with each book I write about her.

8. Where can we get your books?

Shizzle, Inc is available on all major platforms, such as Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and Apple, but Indiot is currently exclusive to Amazon. I plan to make it widely available in a few months as well.

Indiot Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01EXZU8R2/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

Shizzle, Inc Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Shizzle-Inc-Maxwell-escapades-Book-ebook/dp/B014XFQPZ6?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc

My Twitter: https://twitter.com/spokeana?lang=en

My Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Ana-Spoke-390428354419279/

My blog: https://anaspoke.com/

K L Phelps

Comedy Book Week – K L Phelps – Author of Mind If I Come In

As part of Comedy Book Week, I happened to discover that K L Phelps was participating. This was very fortunate, because I had just begun reading his first book in the Kat Parker series!

Mind If I Come In is as funny and interesting as I had hoped it would be from the description. (The cover is cute too!) It’s almost impossible to spoil the story, because there is a lot going on that the reader won’t find out about until later in the series, but I’ll do my best to explain what I understand so far.

This story follows the life of Kat Parker, a woman who goes to Vegas one weekend, and while there, finds herself in a yet-to-be-revealed catastrophic situation.

When she comes home, she has to learn to adjust to a new reality with very limited knowledge of what happened. But what we do know is this:

  • Kat met a guy and married him, only to have him die soon after.
  • She picked up a confused vampire on the way.
  • She now has the ability to communicate with people in comas.

Fans of the Sookie Stackhouse novels will probably really enjoy this book. Kat is a very likeable character, as are most of the people we encounter throughout the story. There is an immediate issue that is resolved in this first instalment, which should provide enough closure for readers – but don’t expect to find out everything just yet!

My one very tiny issue with this story was that we are kept in the dark a lot. I don’t mind not knowing some details in a story, but I get frustrated if I feel the characters are aware of that information and are purposely withholding it. I want to know what Kat knows – even if that’s not very much!

I have already started reading the second book in the series, so I suppose the author’s gamble to make me wait paid off. And it’s just as addictive as the first!

Highly recommend.

Author Interview with KL Phelps

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

Me? Really? Im not interesting at all, really! Well from a young age I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Seriously, it really was all I wanted to do. I fell in love with books from an early age, have fond memories of my second grade teacher reading The Happy Hollister series during class (The Happy Hollisters were a middle-class family [5 kids, a cat, a dog, and if I remember correctly there might even have been a donkey] instead of doing things normal families did, they solved mysteries), and it was around that time I started to write my own stories. So naturally, I became a nurse. After 17 years I was completely burnt out on medicine and decided I should finally get back to pursuing my dream. So now I’m struggling at this writing thing. If it’s not already painfully obvious to you yet, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I have no clue what I’m doing!!

2. What is your latest book about? What inspired it?

My latest book is Sins of the Father. It’s the 6th book my Kat Parker series. It’s a story I always knew I would tell, that I even hinted at in the first Kat Parker book. (Or rather my subconscious hinted at it and then later filled me in on it.) The book explores the relationship between Damian, Kat’s kinda sorta boyfriend, and his father. It also deals with a very serious issue that no one in the media seems to want to address. The growing number of turtles struggling with gambling addiction!

3. Who would you cast in the movie version of your book?

It’s kind of weird that I don’t have an immediate answer to this because a number of people have told that my books read like movies. Not sure what that means, but I’ve always taken that as a compliment. If that’s not the way it was intended, please don’t tell me. Ignorance is bliss after all. When I first wrote Kat, I envisioned her as a young Sandra Bullock. If I had to pick from people available today, I’d want Jennifer Lawrence to play her, because well she’s Jennifer Lawrence! Chris Hemsworth might make a good Jonny, and I’d have The Rock play Damian, even though he looks nothing like the character I wrote. Why? Because I think The Rock might actually may be a giant and because he’s The Rock and that would almost guarantee the movie to be a hit!

4. What songs make up the soundtrack for your book?

I wouldn’t know where to begin. Sometimes I write in silence but often times I have music playing. However, once I get lost in the story, in the zone so to speak, it all completely fades away and I don’t even hear it until I stop typing. I know some people will play different music to set the mood for a scene, but I’ve never done that, no consciously anyway. Now if someone were going to score my books I’d want it to be John Williams because … well it’s freaking John Williams! If I recall correctly, when I wrote this book (and several others) I think I was listening to Pink, Train, and Owl City. But considering my taste in music is very much like my taste in books, i.e. I liken to everything, I could just as easily have been listening to Metallica, Eminem, The Spice Girls, or the soundtrack to The Little Mermaid.

5. Tell us about your writing process.

I’m supposed to have a process? Now you tell me! I’m a total pantser. Very rarely do I know what is going to happen in a book. A random idea will hit me and I will just start throwing down words. I know many people plot things out, and I’m kind of jealous of them. Often times the characters will just take over. I almost never know what is going to happen. The second book in the Kat Parker series, Talking with the Dead, is a great example. I knew there would be a dead person and a funeral scene early on. I had no preconceived notion of who the mourners would be. I think I was probably more shocked than anyone who ended up graveside. And I think I was about halfway to 2/3 of the way through the book before I finally understood the connection between all the characters. I have little doubt my subconscious mind had it all worked out, but my subconscious and I tend to be on a need to known basis, and more often than not my subconscious seems to feel that I don’t need to know until the last minute. (So many examples I could give.)

6. Favourite authors / books?

Stephen King. I started reading him at a very early age. The guy is just a natural story teller. Sure at times he had issues with figuring out how to end a book, but he hits the mark more often than he misses. My favorites include: Bag of Bones, The Stand, and of course the entire Dark Tower Series. The Drawing of the Three may just be my favorite of that series. There is just something about that book. I can still recall the first time I read it, sat down in the morning and didn’t get up until I was done. It’s rare for me to read any book in a single sitting.

Janet Evanovich. I’ve had several people tell me that my Kat Parker books remind them of her Stephanie Plum books, which is of course flattering to me but which might be insulting to her! Regardless, those books definitely influenced me. She’s one of the few writers out there who manages to make me truly laugh out loud while I’m reading.

Patrick Rothfuss. I’ve only read two of his books, The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear, but I have read them over and over and over. I used to read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, but then for some reason I stopped. He rekindled my childhood love of fantasy novels. I just wish he wrote faster! Seriously! I’ve been waiting for the 3rd book in his Kingkiller Chronicles series since 2011!)

There are so many great books and I feel bad for not listing more, but I think my favorite book might be Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life. Something about that book resonated with me the first time I read it. There is just something completely magical about it to me.

7. What’s next for you?

Hard to say. As you can tell from my list of favorite authors/books, I read in almost all genres, and unlike many writers out there I don’t have a strong desire to stick to a single genre. I have ideas for almost every/any genre you can name. The way I see it, if actors can tackle roles across a vast spectrum of genres, why can’t writers? Sci-fi, fantasy, even the ever elusive post-apocalyptic dystopian self-help book! I want to take a crack at them all. I seriously think, without the slightest bit of hyperbole, I can safely say that outside of erotica and regency romance there isn’t a genre that I haven’t scribbled down a few story ideas for.

8. Where can we get your books?

You can find my books here on Amazon Kindle.

On Writing

I’m not sure what I could say about this book that probably hasn’t already been said a million times. This is my all-time favourite book on writing. If I had to pick only one book about writing to recommend to people, this would be it.

I have to admit, I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King’s books, but I enjoyed the ones I did. It’s just that I’m not much of a horror fan. I can appreciate good writing though, and I am very grateful that Stephen chose to write this book to give us an insight into how his career progressed from teenage amateur to the superstar he is today.

From this book I discovered that even famous writers have the same worries as the rest of us. Stephen’s advice for avoiding self-doubt is to out-write it. So essentially, figure out your story’s main goal or question and then start writing, and keep writing until you’re done. Don’t take days off unless you absolutely have to, and trust that it’s all going to work out in the end.

There are so many awesome anecdotes and pieces of advice in this book, that I can’t cover them all. But one thing that I never realised (maybe because I’ve never done a proper writing course) is that you should avoid using adverbs in dialogue attribution. This has been a game-changer for me, as I tend to be a bit light on the ground with descriptions in my writing, and leaving out the adverbs forces you to think of more.

I also like the idea of having a single person that you write your books for. Even if they’re imaginary, it can help you to focus your attention, and you can ask yourself if that person would respond favourably to what you have just written.

If you are an aspiring writer, I think you should buy this book. You will realise that even Stephen King got a lot of rejections and lived on very little money for a long time before he became famous.

So hopefully there’s still hope for the rest of us!

Imperfect Chemistry

This was exactly what I was in the mood for when I discovered it – a cute romantic comedy featuring likeable characters and an easy-to-follow plot.

Lucy, the main character, is basically a female version of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, except I pictured her to look and sound like Amy Farrah Fowler.

Lucy has never been in love and wants to study emotions as a pathogen. Enter her good looking, newly heartbroken neighbour and watch the hilarity unfold.

There wasn’t anything ground-breaking in this story. Everything happened exactly as I expected, complete with zany sidekick friends and overbearing parents. But it was written well and I could easily pretend I was watching a movie.

My only qualms were the repetition of the phrase he scrubbed his hand through his hair and the word coursed (as in through someone’s veins). I also felt the ‘betrayal’ at the three-quarter mark was a bit weak.

It’s actually a great piece to analyse if you’re trying to figure out how write your own romantic comedy because the turning points were so obvious (and I mean that in the best possible way).

Overall, it was a fun, quick read and I’m thinking I will look up the next two books in the series.

Recommended for romantic comedy fans.

3.75 / 5 stars

Hector and the Search for Happiness

This was a quick, fun read. I have long been a fan of self-improvement books that are presented in the form of a quest, so this was right up my alley. When I first started reading it, I found the language a bit too simple, almost patronising. But after a while, I really got into it, and the simplicity actually made me consider the lessons for happiness a bit more deeply than I might have otherwise. I’m not sure I came away with anything brand new, but it was a good way of presenting information I was already aware of in a different way.

A Wild Sheep Chase

This is my third Murakami book, and probably the most confusing of the three (the other two being Norwegian Wood and 1Q84). I loved it, but I’m not sure how to explain why.

I am not the kind of person who can dig into themes and subtext and give everyone an insight into the deeper aspects of a story, so I’m just going to review the story in the only way I know how.

The protagonist is an almost too average guy. He doesn’t have a name. His wife just left him. He spends his days working at a PR business he half owns with an alcoholic friend.

And then a mysterious man shows up and wants him to track down a sheep in a photo that was used in one of their PR campaigns.

With the help of a girlfriend who has magical ears, they set off to the wilds of Hokkaido to find this sheep, which apparently inhabits people and then essentially tries to take over the world.

It all sounds really weird, and it is. But the interesting thing about Murakami’s books is how mundane the stories are, until suddenly they’re not. Apart from the sheep aspect (and the magic ears), the rest of the action is almost boring. There’s a lot of musing, and a lot of waking up, eating, walking etc. But I liked this because it reminded me of day-to-day life when I lived in Japan. I also love the descriptions of the scenery. Murakami has a deceptively simple way of writing things, which make abstract concepts easier to understand.

The last part of this book is quite dark and disturbing, although you don’t even really find out why until right at the very end.

I do recommend it, but I would possibly try something else by Murakami first to get a feel for how he operates.

I think this book will stick with me for a while.

Horns

A couple of my writer friends and I have formed an unofficial book club. So far, we have read Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (an awesome Sliding Doors type story), Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover (sorry, I just couldn’t finish it!) and now Horns by Joe Hill.

I read a lot of horror and thriller when I was younger, but I seemed to have forgone them in recent times for more light-hearted stuff. So when I first saw that Stephen King’s son was the author of our newest read, I was a little scared.

And I had a right to be so.

Joe Hill has a knack of lulling you into a false sense of security, making you think everything’s OK (despite the fact that the protagonist has newly developed horns growing from his head), and then bam! You’re suddenly sympathising with people exhibiting the darkest elements of human nature.

The interesting thing about this book was that as events unfolded, it became harder and harder to tell who the ‘bad guy’ was. I don’t want to give any spoilers away, so I’ll just say that not everything is as it seems, and it does make you question traditional religion in a way you might not have considered previously.

I felt like there was a bit of a Devil’s Advocate vibe throughout. Also Fallen – with its Rolling Stones’ references. Joe Hill’s descriptions were perfect at creating a grungy, small town feeling and a sense of bleakness to the environment. There was also just the right amount of confusion and dream-like quality to keep you from being pulled out of the story, even as things got as unbelievable as it’s possible to get.

I was really impressed with this book, and binge-read the last 40% in one morning.

Anyone who is a fan of Stephen King should really appreciate this book.

Finding Harmony (Katie & Annalise Book 3)

The third book in this series contained an incredibly tense plotline that kept me zooming through the pages so I could find out what happened next.

I both love and hate suspense, especially when it’s done well, because I can’t concentrate on anything else until it’s resolved. This book definitely did it well. A big part of the story opened up a whole other side of the island Katie calls home – and a sinister one at that.

I’m not sure how much I can reveal without giving anything away, but it concerns a missing person and Katie’s attempts to find them.

The only thing I had concerns with was that Katie had slightly odd priorities that I’m not sure I agree with as a mother. And I also found myself not liking Nick much this time around. But then one of Pamela’s talents is creating realistic characters who behave in realistic ways, so this was a testament to her ability.

There is a huge reliance on the supernatural in this book – moreso than the other two books – so if you weren’t a fan of that angle earlier, you will probably like it even less here – but I thought it was clever the way it was used to help Katie solve the case.

Overall, this series was awesome and I will be checking out some of Pamela’s other stuff soon. Her way with words is unique, and she has inspired me to strive to be the best author I can be.

Thanks Pamela! You rock!

Leaving Annalise (Katie & Annalise Book 2)

I actually started thinking about how much information I prefer to know about a book prior to reading, and I’ve decided all I need is the blurb (the shorter the better) and the average star rating. I actually really like reading full reviews after I’ve read the book to see if people agreed with certain aspects of the story to me.

Although with this one, I didn’t even need the blurb or star rating before I started. I bought Leaving Annalise because of the Nick factor from the first book. And thankfully all questions were answered very quickly in the first few chapters.

Then there was a rather sentimental chunk of the story that while written well, wasn’t quite my cup of tea… but then it got back into the drama and intrigue that we all know and love from the first book. I read all three of the books in this series very close together, so I’m having a hard time separating the events in my brain, but there was definitely enough going on in this second instalment to make me move straight onto the third.

I still love the author’s ‘voice’ and all her descriptions of the location and its characters. Rashidi was one of my favourite people, and I would love to see a whole book about him!

For anyone who loves a bit of a mystery mixed in with their romance and set in an exotic location, this is your book.

An awesome addition to the series.

Saving Grace (Katie & Annalise Book 1)

This was my first book from Bookbub and it didn’t disappoint. Saving Grace is set in the Caribbean and features an attorney named Katie who likes to drink. It’s romantic mystery, but there actually isn’t a lot of romance in this first book. At least not reciprocated romance. Katie is hung up on Nick, a private detective she works with, but he’s going through a divorce and isn’t forthcoming with his feelings towards our heroine.

After several issues at work, Katie heads to Saint Marcos and puts an offer in on a beautiful old mansion complete with jumbie (or ghost for those who don’t know Caribbean lingo).

I absolutely loved the author’s ‘voice’ and her clever way with words. This was a very funny book, despite dealing with the serious issues of death and loss.

The supernatural aspect might not appeal to everyone, but I think it worked well mixed in with the ‘voodoo’ vibe of the story. I haven’t been to the Caribbean, but I found myself reminiscing about a trip I went on to Vanuatu a few years ago and its wild tropical beauty. The setting is a character all on its own, and it carried the story when the plot slowed down a bit mid-book.

Not all loose ends are tied up by the end, so of course I had to get the second one straight away. I think I would have preferred one of the major plot lines to be wound up in the first book, but I was going to buy the second one anyway.

It’s been a while since I’ve read something that I couldn’t put down. And while I’ve enjoyed the last few ‘straight’ romance books I’ve read, the funny stuff is much more up my alley.

Highly recommend :)