Back to Reality: A Novel (Audiobook) by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton: A Parallel Universe/Body Swap Story Story Full of Laughs and Heart


Back to Reality

Back to Reality

by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 6 Min.
The Bestseller Experiment, 2019

Read: March 19-25, 2020


Oh, boy… how do I talk about this? I thought about calling this a bundle of joy, but that means something else. A bundle of audio joy, maybe? This was just so much fun that I want to start with that. If you’re looking to have a good time, this is a book for you.

If you read the Book Spotlight I just posted, you’ve got a good idea about the plot (and if you haven’t read the Spotlight, why not?). But for the sake of completeness here’s the gist: connected by something across the multiple parallel universes, two versions (one 18 and one almost 2 decades older) of one woman swap bodies for a few days. The older version works in PR, is the mother of a teen who can’t stand her, with marriage problems. The younger version is a pop star on the verge of breaking through in the ’90s. If they don’t swap back, there’s every sign that they won’t survive in this new world. But how can they do that?

That sounds sort of intriguing, I hope. But the book never really feels like that kind of Fringe-inspired take on a Back to the Future/Freaky Friday mashup, because of the voice, the style and approach of Stay and Oliver—which is characterized by humor and heart. It’s like early-Rainbow Rowell/Jennifer Weiner/Emily Giffin/Sophie Kinsella. These are strong women in very strange circumstances, surrounded by interesting characters responding to unbelievable situations.

We meet Jo on a night out with people from the office, which turns into an alcohol-fueled karaoke sensation (Jo has a fantastic voice, but a lot of stage fright). I enjoyed this chapter so much that I probably could’ve written 3-4 paragraphs about it alone and would’ve read an entire book about this woman’s life (especially because what happens to her in the next couple of chapters deserved a complete novel to see her respond to). It took me a little longer to get invested in “Yolo” (the 90’s version), but I came around and started rooting for her, too.

I am not the target audience for this (note the authors I mentioned above—some of which I only know through my wife’s description). And there were a few times I asked myself why I was listening to this—each time, I decided I was enjoying myself enough that I didn’t care if this was my typical read or not. There’s just a hint of SF, a dollop of Time Travel (more like jumping between parallel universes), and a healthy amount of “women’s commercial fiction.” This is a recipe for a wonderful literary dessert.

I’ll frequently (maybe too frequently?) talk about an audiobook narrator bringing the text to life. And Kim Bretton does that. But she does more than that—she fills it with life. Dynamic, energetic, vibrant…are just some of the adjectives that spring to mind. I was very happy when I just looked over her other audiobook credits and saw a couple of titles I was already thinking about—if she’s doing them, I’m giving them a try. (although, if I never hear her do another American male accent, I’d be more than okay).

Funny, sweet, amusing, heartfelt, laugh-inducing, touching, comic, imaginative—and did I mention humorous? This is 606 minutes of pure entertainment. I really encourage you to put this in your ear-holes. It’d probably work almost as well in print—Bretton’s great, but she has to have something to work with—but in audio? It’s close to a must-listen.


4 Stars

My thanks to Overview Media for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Back to Reality: A Novel (Audiobook) by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Tour for the delightful audiobook of Back to Reality by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton (Narrator). Following this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: Back to Reality by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton (Narrator)
Release date: September 25, 2019
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: The Bestseller Experiment
Length: 10 hours and 6 minutes

Book Blurb:

The bestselling ’90s nostalgia time travel comedy

Jo’s world is about to change forever, and it’s about time

Her marriage is on auto-pilot, daughter hates her, job sucks and it’s not even Tuesday.

As Jo’s life implodes, a freak event hurls her back to ‘90s Los Angeles where, in a parallel universe, she’s about to hit the big time as a rock star.

Jo has to choose between her dreams and her family in an adventure that propels her from London to Hollywood then Glastonbury, the world’s greatest music festival.

Jo encounters a disgraced guru, a movie star with a fetish for double-decker buses, and the biggest pop star in the world… who just happens to want to kill her.

Back to Reality is a funny, heartwarming story about second chances, with a heroine to rival Bridget Jones and the rock n roll nostalgia of Keith A Pearson.

The novel from the Bestseller Experiment podcast presenters Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux. The Two Marks went to more gigs in the ’90s than in any other decade and are currently working on a time machine to see Prince in concert.


Praise for Back to Reality

“Like if Nick Hornby wrote a time travel, body swap adventure!”—New York Times bestselling author Mimi Strong

“Everything the world loves about British comedy. For those who wished Simon Pegg wrote novels, you now have the Two Marks.”USA Today bestselling author Shannon Mayer

“Written with an authentic touch and plenty of good humour. A tough book to put down.”—Mark Dawson, USA Today bestselling author of the million-selling John Milton series

“A compelling story where the comedy compliments the drama and keeps you turning the page… A delight.”—Bestselling author of The Dublin Trilogy, Caimh McDonnell

“I LOVE IT! It’s Back to the Future meets Freaky Friday.”—#1 Kindle bestselling author of Hot Mess, Lucy Vine

“Crackles with all the addictive energy of a pop hit, and the heart of a soul classic.”—Samantha King, bestselling author of The Choice

“Like a book version of Hot Tub Time Machine with fabulous female characters and great music.”—Kate Harrison, author of the bestselling 5:2 series

“If you love time travel and rock and roll, you’ll love this book!”—Julie Cohen, author of Together

Sliding Doors meets Back to the Future in a story to make you sing with joy.”—Karen Ball, Speckled Pen

“A magnificent book! Loved every page. Beautifully written.”—Callan McAuliffe, actor The Walking Dead


What Amazon readers are saying:

★★★★★ ‘A real page-turner overflowing with humour.’
★★★★★ ‘All kinds of funny, from laugh out loud to quiet snorts of recognition.’
★★★★★ ‘I miss the characters so much I think I’ll start reading it again!’
★★★★★ ‘Pure pleasure to read. You won’t put it down until you reach the last page.’
★★★★★ ‘An absolutely cracking read. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s heartwarming, and completely impossible to put down.’
★★★★★ ‘It’s —Spinal Tap meets —Back to the Future meets —Freaky Friday.’
★★★★★ ‘Funny, fast and massively entertaining. Hugely recommend.’
★★★★★ ‘—Back To Reality has it all; It’s funny, it’s thrilling, its thought-provoking and inspiring, but be warned, once you start reading this book you won’t want to put it down.’
★★★★★ ‘Think —Peggy Sue Got Married meets MTV. Funny and warmhearted. Highly Recommended.’
★★★★★ ‘This book reads like the best comedy movies. Great pace, humour and loads of action. Recommended for fans of Douglas Adams and Helen Fielding.’
★★★★★ ‘Belts along at a cracking pace, at times reminding me of Douglas Adams.’

About the Authors:

Mark Stay

Mark StayMark Stay co-wrote the screenplay for Robot Overlords which became a movie with Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson, and premiered at the 58th London Film Festival. Author of the fantasy novel The End of Magic, he is also co-presenter of the Bestseller Experiment podcast and worked in bookselling and publishing for over twenty-five years. He lives in Kent, England, with his family and a trio of retired chickens. He blogs and humblebrags over at markstaywrites.com

Mark Oliver

Mark OliverMark Desvaux writes fiction as Mark Oliver. He also authors inspirational non-fiction and online courses, and is a professional speaker in the fields of self-development and spiritual growth. He is chairman and co-founder of the charity Foodshare. As a bestselling recording artist (Urban Myth Club), Mark’s two critically-acclaimed albums have led to appearances at festivals such as Glastonbury (which he tries to mention on every podcast). He lives on Vancouver Island with his family, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and seas, with chickens, bees and very tall trees.

Purchase Links

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

My thanks to Overview Media for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator): George Orwell Goes Shopping

QualityLand

QualityLand

by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator)

eARC, 352 pg.
Orion Books, 2020

Read: February 13-15, 2020

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


When you boil it down, QualityLand is simply the epic tale of a man trying to return something he didn’t order (and doesn’t want) to an online retailer. Peter Jobless’s tale involves a paranoid hacker, a blackmail scheme, an armed stand-off, a smitten sex-bot, a TV news panel show, a revolutionary tablet computer, swaying a presidential election, and a revival of interest in the films of Jennifer Aniston. We’ve all been there, right?

There’s no way I could describe the plot in a way to do it justice—so we’ll stick with the broad sweep. Before much gets underway story-wise, there’s a lot of set up required. When the dominoes start to fall in earnest, they go quickly. But so much of the book is devoted to setting them up, establishing/explaining the culture, government and everyday life of the QualityLand’s citizenry.

Here’s the best part about the set-up time: it’s totally worth it, and the way the dominoes are being placed is enjoyable/entertaining enough that even if the results were duds, I wouldn’t really have minded all that much. The icing on the cake is that the plot works well (we’ve all seen too many examples of elaborate worldbuilding that accompany a story that’s not worth it).

This is a world given over to algorithms, a world where the algorithms of various retail entities know so much about their customers that they no longer have to wait for a customer to order something to provide it—no, the algorithm will know what you’re going to want and will deliver it before you know you want it.

Not only are all your possessions provided for you in this manner, the algorithm decides what kind of career you will pursue, but it will also guide and govern your romantic life, your health care, and so on and so on.

It even gets into politics—so much so that during the course of this novel, there is an android running for president—because, we’re told repeatedly (mostly by the candidate), “machines don’t make mistakes.” An android chief of state (the theory goes) will better all of society because the android will know what’s needed.

At each step of the way, as each aspect of society is introduced and explained, as each character appears for the first time, it’s done in a way that will make you grin, chuckle, or laugh. The world is so zany, so…out there—and yet, completely recognizable as a natural progression of our world/society/culture.

Unlike so many satirical novels, the ending of this novel doesn’t get out of control. The plotlines come to natural conclusions and resolve in a satisfying way.

The characters—from the Everyman Peter Jobless, to the campaign manager (she can give Malcolm Tucker some lessons on the use of words as weapons), to the history teacher’s trouble-maker daughter (in-person to public officials or in online comments), to Peter’s collection of electronic companions—are wonderful. They’re a little better rounded than I’m used to in satires.

There’s a wonderful playful quality to the language, making the whole thing a barrelful of fun. I’m assuming that Searle captured the feel of the original in that, and did a great job. There’s an acronym that’s used a couple of times, that I think may be funny in the original, but doesn’t translate into anything (at least as far as I can see). That one thing aside, the ability to make a translated text feel so natural, so easy is no small feat.

QualityLand is a fun read t’s a thought-provoking read, it is (occasionally) a frightening read as you realize how close to this dystopia we are (and how fast we’re running to it). I strongly recommend this one.


4 Stars


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.


This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

I’m excited to welcome the Book Tour for QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling this morning. I’ve got this little spotlight post and my take on the novel coming along in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator)
Publisher: Orion
Release date: February 20, 2020
Format: Hardcover
Length: 352 pages
QualityLand

Book Blurb:

Everything in QualityLand is geared towards optimizing your life. QualityPartner identifies your ideal mate, earworm personal assistants get you where you need to go and android drones know you need a six pack of beer at the end of a long day even before you crave one. Humans, robots and algorithms co-exist, everything is seamlessly corporatised, stratified and monetized. Your very name reveals much of what we need to know about you and your profile discloses the rest.

Peter Jobless is a down and out metal press operator, dumped by his long term girlfriend when she is alerted to a better option on her QualityPad. But Peter has another problem – he seems to be the only one noticing that his fellow Qualityland robot citizens are experiencing an existential crisis. There is a drone who’s afraid to fly. A sex droid with erectile dysfunction. A combat robot with PTSD. Instructed to destroy these malfunctioning A.I., Peter starts to suspect the technology that rules us all has a flaw, perhaps a fatal one. Not only that, these robots might be his only friends…

 

About the Author:

Marc-Uwe KlingMarc-Uwe Kling is one of the most successful authors in Germany. His latest book QualityLand is an astounding satire of the future that sometimes feels closer to the present than you could wish for. QualityLand spent months on the German bestseller lists, has up to now been translated into twenty-four languages and the HBO is planning an adaptation with Mike Judge as show runner.


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.

GUEST POST: The Poop Diaries: How a clogged toilet turned into a book by Abby Ross

The Poop Diaries

How a clogged toilet turned into a book

I never expected to write a book. Of course, I have always loved to write. When I was a child, I wrote poems, short stories, and filled in the pages of those blank books designed for kids to put their imagination into words. Writing has served me well throughout my career. I worked as a television news reporter for six years where every day I wrote stories. I then transitioned into public relations where I wrote bylines, press releases and pitches. Today, I work in marketing where I write blog posts, client-facing and sales enablement content, and website pages. Writing is and has always been my favorite part of every job. Again, however, I never expected to write a book.

“The Poop Diaries” started as a side project. My toilet clogged on a Wednesday evening. I could not sleep without a working toilet, so I called a plumber – Jon. He showed up within an hour and unclogged the toilet almost immediately (as I embarrassingly cowered outside the bathroom door, like many people do). Jon also suggested I buy a new toilet, which he had in his truck ready to go. An hour later, the new toilet was installed, yet Jon did not seem to want to leave. He was a really nice guy who had that kind of magnetic personality where you hung on his words, curious what he would say next. I asked him to share his “greatest hit” stories, those service calls that he would always remember.

The minute he started sharing them, I began laughing and could not stop. I had no idea plumbers dealt with so much crap! And I do not mean literal crap. I mean the people they meet, things they find, and experiences they encounter. At that moment, I knew I had to write a book about Jon. After interviewing him and writing his diaries, I knew I had landed on something unique. So, I searched for more plumbers across North America.

The toughest part about the interviewing process was finding plumbers who would speak to me. As I mentioned earlier, I am a published writer in the sense of blogging and ghost-writing articles, but I am a “no name” in the book world. How were the plumbers supposed to know I was not a scammer? I found most of the plumbers through friends. Everywhere I went I told people I was writing a book about plumbers. I could not believe how many people in my inner circle knew a plumber! And I do not just mean a plumber who worked for them at one point in time. My friend’s uncle is a plumber. My other friend’s brother-in-law is a plumber. My friend’s friend is a plumber. Suddenly, plumbers were popping up everywhere.

Two of my biggest “finds” were women plumbers. Plumbing is still very much a man’s world. Women, however, are increasingly working in the business. The two women I interviewed own their own plumbing companies. My husband found them online, and fortunately, both agreed to talk to me. While I love the men’s stories in the book, the women’s stories are their own breed. For example, one of the women accidentally broke up a marriage because of what she found while on the job.

Writing this book made me come to a few realizations:

  1. Plumbers know so much about us, yet we know so little about them. They see us in our most private moments, sometimes because for whatever reason, we do not feel the need to “clear the cabinets” when a plumber comes over. Or, like one case in the book – get out of the shower. This book shows you those personal moments from the eyes of the plumber. It will definitely make you think twice about your trade worker etiquette.
  2. The stereotypes about plumbers – that they are blue-collar workers, who cannot pull up their pants, and are not educated – are FALSE. Plumbers are engineers. They spend years in school and/or working as an apprentice to learn the trade, which entails so much more than unclogging toilets. As one of the plumbers I interviewed stated, “Plumbing is like playing with a Tinkertoy set every day.” Plumbers also make good money. Many of the plumbers I interviewed have second homes and boats. No matter the state of the economy, the world will always need plumbers. It is a steady career that provides the opportunity to live well. Plumbers are also insanely patient and open-minded. Some of the stories they shared would make me want to run in the other direction. They all, however, stayed put, making sure they got the job done correctly, no matter how awkward the encounter. They also never made the customer feel embarrassed. All of the plumbers I interviewed said they are very careful with their reactions to situations because they never want a customer feeling uncomfortable. Oh, and that plumber’s crack stereotype? Most plumbers wear one-piece jumpers.
  3. Finally, I actually can write a book! All it took was finding a good story idea, and then dedicating the time to research, write and pitch (I pitched more than 100 publishers and agents. One said yes – Black Rose Writing). I believed in the idea from day one, and through the many rejections, I persisted. I knew if I could find just one person who believed in my idea as much as me, I would succeed. Persistence is the key to achieving an unexpected dream.

I hope you will enjoy reading “The Poop Diaries” as much as I enjoyed writing it. You can purchase it on Amazon.com and on BarnesandNoble.com

PUB DAY BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross

I didn’t have enough time to read The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross this month, but I liked the idea enough that I was hoping to give it a little boost here on its publication day. So I’ve got this little spotlight post and a nice guest post from the author coming along in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this atypical book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Release date: February 6, 2020
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 236 pages

Book Blurb:

They come into our homes. They see us in our most fragile moments. Plumbers are a fixture in our lives. When a toilet clogs, a faucet leaks, or a sewer line plugs, we call those unsung heroes, desperately seeking help. They scoop out our poop and pull underwear, toothbrushes and cotton balls out of our toilets, doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

On a late Wednesday evening, after my toilet clogged, I asked our plumber to share his top five “greatest hits.” The stories were so hilarious, I had to share them with the world. The Poop Diaries features true stories told by my plumber, and many other plumbers, about the most memorable service jobs they have worked on and most unique people they have helped. Whether it’s nudity, rats, fake vaginas, dildos, snakes, weapons and so much more, these plumbers have seen and smelled it all.

About the Author:

Abby Ross has nearly two decades of experience working in journalism, public relations, and marketing. She has written countless news stories, bylines, and blog posts. Abby began her career as a television news reporter, which fostered her passion for interviewing and writing about interesting people from all walks of life. After six years of reporting, Abby pivoted her career into public relations and marketing, which has been her focus for the past decade.

Purchase Links:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon by Dana Schwartz, Jason Adam Katzenstein (Illustrator): A Guide to White Male Writers for White Male Writers (or those who want to be one)

The White Man's Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon

by Dana Schwartz, Jason Adam Katzenstein (Illustrator)

Paperback, 241 pg.
Harper Perennial, 2019

Read: January 7-30, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore (I did)!

If you want to be a writer, you should attend an Ivy League university, where you roommate happens to be the nephew of a senior editor at Knopf, and you should go on to get a summer internship in New York City. This internship will not be paid, and unfortunately you will have to suffer the indignity of living in an apartment that your parents pay for. But soon, your struggles will pay off, and you will be accepted at one of the nation’s most prestigious MFA programs.

If you can’t do all of that, I hate to say it, but it sounds like you won’t have the commitment and discipline necessary to make it as a writer.

Nice guy, the narrator of this book, right? I didn’t know this when I picked it up, but this is a book inspired by a parody Twitter account Schwartz runs @GuyInYourMFA, I wish I knew that going in—it might have helped me appreciate the book more. Probably not, really, the book speaks for itself, but it the humor in it screams Twitter. Anyway, that account is the voice behind this book.

This is a guide to:

teach you everything you need to know to become the chain-smokin, coffee-drinking, Proust-quoting, award-winning writer you’ve always known you should be…

Not a white man? Not to worry. The White Male Writer isn’t a hard-and-fast demographic; it’s a state of mind…

There’s a brief discussion of topics like how to dress like a writer, what the Western Canon is, how to identify “Chick Lit” (the last identifier is “By Jennifer Weiner”, which is a pretty good clue, you have to admit), and ends with a nice reading list of White Male Writers.

The heart of the book consists of thirty-two 6(+/-) page profiles of the greatest White Male Writers that make up the Western Canon. These consist of a brief biography, a discussion of some major works (“Works You Need to Know”), and some lessons from the work or life of the Writer that should be applied by the reader in their effort to become a Writer (drink recipes, how to respond to a rejection letter, how to write a love letter like James Joyce, etc.).

The writers are male, white, and largely published in the Twentieth Century (Shakespeare, Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Lord Byron, Dickens, Thoreau, and Tolstoy would be the exceptions). I can virtually guarantee that you’ve heard to them all—not that you’ve read them all, however. And in between the snark and intentionally sexist lessons, there’s some decent information to be gleaned. That isn’t the point of the book, the point is the snark, sexism, and general parodying the idea of the young, pretentious, white male would-be literary genius.

Every chapter includes at least 3 lines that should bring some level of amusement to the reader (some will have many more)—which is a pretty decent and consistent number. Sadly, all the jokes are around a theme, and so can get repetitive. If you don’t read cover to cover, if you only read a 2-3 chapters at a time, and bear in mind that all the jokes will be similar, you can have a lot of fun with this book. If you neglect any of that, it can get tiresome. Once I figured that out (it didn’t take long, thankfully, before I recognized the symptoms), I had a lot of fun with this book.

The illustrations are wonderful—each chapter (except the Pynchon chapter) features a great caricature of the artist, and a handful of other illustrations that do a wonderful job of augmenting the text.

This is not the subtlest of books I’ll read this year (it doesn’t try), but it is insightful, amusing and (accidentally?) informative. All of which makes it a fun, book-nerdy, read. Give it a shot, you’ll probably be glad you did.


3 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.