I’m so delighted today to be helping launch the blog tour for The Dating Game by the wonderful Sandy Barker, and sharing my review. Published by One More Chapter, the ebook will be released on 10th September, available for preorder for kindle via Amazon, through Apple Books, Google Play, for Nook and for Kobo: the paperback will follow on 9th December, and that’s available for preorder too. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support (and for letting me post on the first day of the tour – she might just have had a fight on her hands if she hadn’t!), and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
Sandy Barker is – without question – one of my favourite authors. No, I still haven’t managed to catch up on the first book in her Holiday Romance series, One Summer in Santorini (but you might like to – it’s only 99p for your kindle) – but I entirely loved That Night In Paris (also 99p for your kindle), with its European tour, that great humour, and the perfect romance (you’ll find my review again here). I then enjoyed A Sunset in Sydney every bit as much (review here – and also just 99p) – perfectly handled emotional content, and the most wonderful settings. And then came The Christmas Swap – this was the one that prompted me to declare that no-one writes female friendship quite like Sandy Barker (and you can read the review again here).
I think I might be almost as excited as she is about the forthcoming release of her latest – let’s take a closer look…
‘Hilarious and highly original’ Julie Houston, bestselling author of A Village Affair
Once upon a time, twelve women joined the hottest reality TV show looking for love. Except one had a secret identity…
Abby Jones is a serious writer. Or at least she will be, one day. Right now, she spends her time writing recaps of reality television under a secret identity.
When a recap for The Stag – the must-watch dating show – goes viral, her editor thinks she should be on set, writing the drama as it happens. The good news: the next season will be filmed in Sydney. Sun, sea and a glamorous trip abroad, this could be Abby’s big break.
The bad news: the producers don’t just want Abby to write the recaps, they want her to be on the show. Abby can’t think of anything worse than being undercover and followed around by cameras. But her career depends on it, and when she meets gorgeous producer Jack, Abby begins to wonder if this job might not be so bad after all…
I loved the whole premise of this book – I’ve never seen The Bachelor, the show that the author’s The Stag is based on, but over the years I’ve watched far more reality tv than is probably good for me. I’m one of those people who used to watch the live feed of Big Brother into the early hours, entirely hooked by the relationships between the characters, desperate not to miss a second – the edited highlights were never quite enough, knowing that they were manipulated by the production team to allow you to see what they wanted you to see rather than every twist and turn. Coupled with Sandy Barker’s sparkling writing, this was a book I was particularly looking forward to – and it didn’t disappoint for one second, gulped down in one glorious sitting, compulsive reading at its very best and one of the most enjoyable afternoons I’ve had in a very long time.
Abby has aspirations to be a serious writer – but, for now, she’s making a good living writing snarky recaps of reality tv episodes (think Buzzfeed…) under a secret identity. That’s until the magazine she writes for and the makers of The Stag – the show where a single man chooses the love of his life from an array of women (the Does) who compete for his attention – come up with the idea that she should be a contestant on the next series, writing her pieces from behind the scenes, and make it amply clear that she really doesn’t have the option to refuse. She can’t take part as herself, or as her alter ego Anastasia Blabbergasted – so, armed with a new identity based on her best friend Lisa, she sets off for Sydney and the double life she needs to lead for as long as she remains on the show.
From the very beginning, she’s less than interested in the romantic possibilities of the stag himself – she’s already met producer Jack, also in on the secret, and felt a particular spark of attraction. But as the cast of women assembles at the glitzy Stag Manor, it becomes clear that many of them are ready to fight for success on the show. Abby categorises them all as potential brides, villains, dark horses, the miscellaneous ones and the fillers – some really looking for love, others just wanting to enjoy the whole experience, others seeing it as a platform to build their showbiz careers. And it turns out that the show categorises them in a similar way – I think we all know that the outcomes of shows like this are manipulated, but this behind-the-scenes view of what really goes on is a real eye-opener.
The characters in this book are simply wonderful – it really can’t have been easy to present a cast of a dozen women and make every single one of them recognisable and distinctive, but the author accomplishes it with absolute ease. There’s never a moment when you think “who was she again?”, every single one of them perfectly drawn, as they form friendships, show their true colours, and claw their way to the prize – there are some you take to your heart, others that you watch with a mounting sense of horror. The Stag himself is an absolute triumph of characterisation – an English banker (although you might like to substitute that initial “b”), vain and shallow, playing his part to perfection as he distributes his “pins”, dashing the hopes of some and building the anticipation as the cast dwindles with the approach of the prize. And, through it all, Abby needs to sustain her double life, playing her part on the show to perfection while disappearing backstage from time to time to write her no holds barred articles – all while struggling with her growing attraction to the lovely Jack.
I loved every moment of this book – even if you’re not a fan of reality tv, you can’t help but be fascinated by the exceptionally well-drawn cast, the friendships that develop between them, and the hoops they’re all willing to jump through with their eye on the prize. Abby herself is adorable – we see it all through her eyes, and she has a strong clear voice and a sense of humour (and the ridiculous) that’s particularly endearing, throwing herself into the action but always staying slightly apart from the circus that develops. The writing is just wonderful – the original idea might have been particularly inspired, but the way the story unfolds was everything I wanted it to be. Towards the end, you really can’t help feeling the excitement around the final and its uncertain outcome – with an accompanying sense of dread. And I have to say that I particularly loved the epilogue, catching up on what happened after the show was over – it really was the perfect postscript.
This was another perfect read from Sandy Barker – exceptionally entertaining (this book really is fun from beginning to end), a real page-turner filled with the most fantastic characters, a fascinating look behind the scenes of the making of a reality show, a convincing romance, a nice bit of armchair travel, and a real testament to the power of supportive friendship. Highly recommended to all.
About the author
Sandy Barker is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list. She loves exploring new places, outdoor adventures, and eating and drinking like a local when she travels, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, film buff, wine lover and coffee snob.
She lives in Melbourne Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins.