Friday, 22 August 2014

Review: Maisie Mae - Bad Luck Bridesmaid by Poppy Harper


Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: June 19th, 2014
Rating: 8/10


Amazon summary:

When Maisie Mae is asked to be a bridesmaid it's a dream come true! Because weddings mean flowers and cake and, most importantly, BEAUTIFUL dresses. But things never run smoothly in Maisie's house and disaster is followed by more DISASTER! This time, Maisie might not even be able to blame her five stinky brothers. Maisie is probably the UNLUCKIEST bridesmaid in the history of forever... Can best friend Bethany-next-door help to save the day? 

Review: 

Maisie Mae: Bad Luck Bridesmaid is the second Maisie Mae book and is just as good as the first! Maisie is back with her five crazy, muddy brothers in what can only be described as a cautionary tale of bridesmaid dresses and how not to spill Ribena on them!

When Maisie's beloved Aunt Flo announces she's getting married, Maisie is super excited to finally be a bridesmaid. The dress is perfect, her brothers hate wearing suits and there's a marquee in the garden - everything is ready. Until Maisie ruins her dress and it's up to her best friend Bethany to help save the day!

Maisie Mae is a great character and I really enjoy reading these books. She has a huge chaotic family and plenty of hilarious mishaps constantly ruining her plans, making these books a joy to read from start to finish. Clare Elsom's illustrations compliment Poppy Harper's writing perfectly and I'm sure Maisie Mae must be a huge hit with younger readers. If they're not reading these books, they're missing out!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Review: Angela Nicely - Superstar! by Alan MacDonald and David Roberts


Publisher: Stripes Publishing
Format: Paperback
Released: August 4th, 2014
Rating: 7.5/10


Amazon summary:

Angela Nicely might look like she's made of sugar and spice and all things nice, but nothing could be further from the truth! Whether she's learning a new skill for the school talent contest, getting lost on a nature walk, or squaring up to the boys on the football pitch, she's determined to stand out from the crowd!

Review: 

David Roberts and Alan MacDonald are back with Superstar!, the fourth Angela Nicely book. Readers of the Dirty Bertie series will recognise Angela as one of Bertie's friends and frequent visitor to his house, and Bertie even makes an appearance in this book. I think Bertie's brilliant so that was a nice surprise!

There are three new Angela Nicely stories included in Superstar!, titled Talent!, Nature Detectives! and Girls United!. I enjoyed Talent! most, especially because it involves hypnotism and a school talent show. That's always a recipe for disaster, isn't it? At least it is when Angela decides that her talent is hypnotising her school friends...

As with Dirty Bertie, Angela Nicely: Superstar! is fun, fast and very well illustrated. I didn't find it quite as funny as Dirty Bertie, but I did enjoy it and am glad to see a Bertie spin-off series doing well. Girls and boys will love Angela Nicely and her mad world, particularly any boys who think girls can't play football. Prepare to have your mind changed!

Guest Post: Mark Lowery Talks Writing Funny Stuff!

Mark Lowery is a children's writer of books such as Socks Are Not Enough and Pants Are Everything. He's been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, which means he really must be very funny. Here's here today to talk about writing funny stuff so, to any budding humour writers out there, pay close attention to what you're about to read.

Thanks, Mark!


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Writing Funny Stuff
by Mark Lowery

First off, thank you to Jenny for letting me loose on her blog. I was wondering what to write about so I flicked through some of the other guest posts and came across Chris Priestley’s excellent guide to writing horror. I thought I’d try to do something similar for how I go about writing humour.

Obviously, humour covers a pretty broad spectrum and it’s very personal. Personally I don’t like zany, wacky, in-your-face stuff. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, it just doesn’t float my boat. Likewise there are plenty of people who’d think my books are about as entertaining as a paper cut on the eyeball but hey ho. By the way they’re not – they are really good, honest! Anyway, even if you’re not into/interested in writing the same kind of humour as me, hopefully this might give you a bit of an insight into how one person goes about it…

You might think that writing funny stuff is easy or great fun. Well… it can be great fun. And sometimes it’s easy. But it can also be maddening and difficult . And, like anything, if you want to do your best with it, you’ve got to take it seriously.

1) First off I start with a basic idea. So for Socks Are Not Enough I thought: “what’s the worst thing that could happen to a teenager? Simple – if their parents were nudists…” For the sequel, Pants Are Everything, I wanted things to get worse so I decided that the main character, Michael, should be mistaken for being a nudist himself.

2) Next I just play with the idea a bit. Roald Dahl called this “sniffing around it”. I jot down anything I can come up with – mind maps of possible funny events (usually ‘what could possibly go wrong?’), pictures and character profiles of the most ill-suited characters for the situation etc. I don’t do much research (anyone who’s read my books would know that…) but I do look around for anything that might come in useful.

3) All the time I’m doing this, I scribble scenes. These might be scripts or lists or unpunctuated streams of consciousness. I try to just do what comes naturally and not put myself under pressure. Usually the scenes involve flinging the main character into a situation they wouldn’t enjoy. You end up chucking most of this away but usually it throws up a joke or something you didn’t know about your character that you can exploit elsewhere. Occasionally you strike it lucky and come up with a scene that you barely have to change. At this early stage of Socks I wrote a scene where Michael’s mum’s nudity collides (quite literally) with his breakfast. The first thing I wrote for Pants was a police interview transcript for when he’d been arrested for dancing naked in front of a stolen donkey. Both scenes appear in the books virtually as I wrote them.

4) When I’ve honed these down into a set of scenes I’m pleased with, I start to look for links between them, or little details I can turn into running themes throughout the book. In Socks, two little throwaway comments about liking custard creams and fearing hooved animals ended up being the key to the entire story.


5) Meanwhile, I’m working on my characters, thinking about what they want, what they hate, why they’re the way they are. The best thing about writing humour is that people are just so weird! There are so many different ways that you can create a funny character. It’s like mixing a cocktail – you just throw together a load of characteristics of people you’ve met, shake them up and see what pours out. A lot of comedy comes from character clashes, so I try to think of different people my main character wouldn’t get along with.

6) When I’m happy I’ve got the balance right and I’ve got plenty of ideas, I plan. I really like funny stories to make sense – I feel a bit cheated by 200 pages of jokes with no progression – so for me, a good plan is essential. One of my favourite funny books is Holes and my favourite funny film is Hot Fuzz. Both are cleverly and tightly plotted so that nothing is wasted throughout. To try to emulate this, I use a pyramid system (from Writing for Children by Andy Melrose), which maps out all of the different storylines in order of importance and ensures they all come together in the end. I think that finding a way of linking everything is the absolute key to good planning – it gives the story a sense of purpose and direction. As a result I generally plan the last scene first and work backwards.

7) Then I write my first draft. Usually I hurry through it because I know it’s terrible and I want to improve it as soon as I can!

8) So, being my own biggest critic, I go through it again and again. The problems with writing humour are that (as I said ) it’s very personal, and also you have no-one there to tell you that your jokes are rubbish. As a result you’ve got to become very serious about it – tearing your scenes to pieces, deleting thousands of words (for Pants, which was 60k words long, I reckon I wrote a total of almost a million words over two years!!!), re-structuring it and re-working it so that it’s as funny as it can be. I always write to entertain myself and hope that other people share my enjoyment of it. Unfortunately, editors and readers also want things to make sense so you’ve got to ensure it’s natural and unforced and that the storyline all fits together.

9) Finally, when I’ve come up with something I’m proud of, I can lie down in a darkened room and eat loads of crisps.

So there you go. I hope this has been remotely useful or interesting. The biggest thing about writing humour is to enjoy yourself.

Have fun,

Mark Lowery



Review: My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara


Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: February 28th, 2013
Rating: 6.5/10


Amazon summary:

Tom’s big brother is an Evil Scientist who wants to experiment on Tom's new goldfish, Frankie. Can Tom save his fish from being dunked in radioactive gunge? Er, no. In an act of desperation Tom zaps Frankie with a battery, bringing him back to life! But there’s something weird about the new Frankie – he’s now a zombie goldfish with hypnotic powers, and he wants revenge . . . Tom has a difficult choice to make - save his evil brother, or save his fishy friend?

Review: 

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish is an unusual book for younger readers, but a fun one too. It's about a fish called Frankie who, after an unfortunate incident with some nasty green gunge, is brought back to life with a battery and finds he's now a zombie! What a bonkers concept!

This book is split into two stories: A Frankly Shocking Tale and Rules the School. Each story is about eighty pages long and introduces fish Frankie, new owner Tom and his best friend Pradeep. Each story is fast-paced and funny, with Frankie quickly becoming the star of the show. He's a mischievous, slightly evil zombie goldfish who always looks out for his friends. If you're an enemy, well... watch out!

My favourite of the two stories presented here is A Frankly Shocking Tale. It's the origin tale of Frankie from normal household goldfish to swirly-eyed zombie, and just how it all happens is great to read. It involves Tom's big brother (evil scientist), strange green slime and some pretty high voltage. From that day on, Frankie is never the same and Tom's house is a danger zone. Yikes!

If you like the Undead Pets series then My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish is the next book for you. While it's not one of my favourites for this age range, it kept me entertained and made me want to read more books in the series, starting with My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: The Sea-quel (ha!). Author Mo O'Hara has the knack when it comes to writing for children and I look forward to delving into more of her writing.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Review: Maisie Hitchins - The Case of the Secret Tunnel by Holly Webb


Publisher: Stripes Publishing
Format: Paperback
Released: May 5th, 2014
Rating: 8/10


Amazon summary:

In Book 5 of the Maisie Hitchins series, Maisie is intrigued by a new lodger, Mr Fred Grange, who isn't quite what he seems...Mr Grange claims to work as a clerk for a biscuit company, but he's out and about on the London streets at odd hours, and Maisie soon discovers something very precious hidden in his rooms. Determined to unmask him as a thief, she soon discovers that the truth is far more complicated - and dangerous. Before long, Maisie and her friends are led into a web of mystery lurking underground... 

Review:

Maisie Hitchins: The Case of the Secret Tunnel is the fifth book in Holly Webb's detective series for younger readers. Set in Victorian London it tells the story of Maisie Hitchins, who wants nothing more than to be a detective. She has a cute doggy companion called Eddie, and together they solve London's mysteries and crimes!

In The Case of the Secret Tunnel, Maisie's gran has a new lodger called Fred Grange, and Maisie knows something isn't quite right. Before long she finds herself knee-deep in some dangerous criminal activity, and she's the only one who can piece it all together. It's thrilling stuff!

I enjoyed this story and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that it's my first ever Holly Webb book (gasp!). I loved the illustrations by Marion Lindsay and how they brought everyone to life. Maisie is a brilliant character, so independent and intelligent, and really goes after what she wants. To be so young and know she wants to be a detective... well... look out, London! The setting is great too though next time I'd like to see more emphasis on the Victorian era. Perhaps that's something I've missed in previous books in the series?!

The Case of the Secret Tunnel is a fun book reminiscent of Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. There's plenty of mystery and intrigue, a strong female character and did I mention a very cute little dog? I'll definitely make it my mission to read more by Holly Webb - she's such a prolific children's author and now I know why!

The Raven Mysteries: Q&A with Marcus Sedgwick!


The Raven Mysteries is my all-time favourite series for younger readers (see my post here to find out why) and I'm rather excited to have author Marcus Sedgwick here on my blog today. Yay!

If you don't know what this series is about, here's a quick summary of book one, Flood and Fang, to tell you more:

Meet the wonderfully weird Otherhand family and their faithful guardian, Edgar the raven, and discover the dark secrets of Castle Otherhand.
Edgar is alarmed when he sees a nasty looking black tail slinking under the castle walls. But his warnings to the inhabitants of the castle go unheeded: Lord Valevine Otherhand is too busy trying to invent the unthinkable and discover the unknowable; his wife, Minty, is too absorbed in her latest obsession - baking; and ten-year-old Cudweed is running riot with his infernal pet monkey. Only Solstice, the black-haired, poetry-writing Otherhand daughter, seems to pay any attention. As the lower storeys of the castle begin mysteriously to flood, and kitchen maids continue to go missing, the family come ever closer to the owner of the black tail...

Thanks to the ever lovely Mr. Sedgwick for answering my questions, and I hope you'll all go and read The Raven Mysteries straight away. As Edgar would say: Futhork!


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[Illustrations by Pete Williamson]


Wondrous Reads: Hello Marcus! Why did you initially decide to make the jump from writing for young adults to writing for children?

Marcus Sedgwick: Two reasons; the first simply because I wanted to write some funny books as my reputation was for only doing dark things, and secondly, and very cynically, I thought it might be good to have some younger books out there so that they might recruit readers for my older ones. It seems to pay off from what parents tell me.

WR: What inspired the gothic characters and setting?

MS: I love gothic stuff and always have done. The strange thing about the gothic is that it’s always verging on the silly anyway, so a goth-fest is the perfect vehicle for humour, as we have seen over the years with Addams Family, the Munsters, etc etc. I was also thinking about Gorey and such like illustrators. Finally, because I live in a tiny tiny cottage, I thought it might be fun to write about a giant castle which could be a character in itself as well as providing the backdrop to all the other fun and games.

WR: How closely did you work with illustrator Pete Williamson in order to get everyone looking as they should? 

MS: We tried out four or five illustrators but Pete was clearly the man for the job - he ‘got’ it immediately and after a few tweaks to some of the major character designs we were good to go. He’s a great person to work with - fast and efficient and a thoroughly wonderful chap. He brings so much more to the books that would just be there on the page and I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t love his art.

WR: If Castle Otherhand was a real place, would you dare to visit? 

MS: Yes. Maybe. If it meant I got to meet Edgar, and as long as he was in a reasonable mood.

WR: Will you ever write more about the Otherhand family, either novels or short stories? [Pleeease!]

MS: Maybe! There’s a chance of a small Edgar Rides Again type project in the next year or so, but it’s a way off being definite yet. I’d love to do some more, but we’ll have to see.

WR: Favourite character? 

MS: Easy question! Edgar.


WR: Best book to write? 

MS: They were all fun and as the series went on it became more and more fun. I think Magic and Mayhem is the favourite for me because of all the bunny rabbits.

WR: Scene that made you laugh the most? 

MS: See above! There’s something about bunny rabbits that cracks me up. Throw in some Otherhand weirdness and that book was a lot of fun to do. I also like it when Edgar gets his beak stuck in the table top in Ghosts and Gadgets.

WR: Solstice or Cudweed? 

MS: Cudweed. I feel sorry for him. He needs help. Solstice can take care of herself pretty much.

WR: Valevine's best invention?

MS: Predictometer from Lunatics and Luck because I like the stupid sentences it comes up with.


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Review: Wendy Quill is Full Up of Wrong by Wendy Meddour and Mina May


Publisher: OUP
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: July 3rd, 2014
Rating: 7/10


Amazon summary:

It is very tricky to get things right ALL of the time. Sometimes, I get things a little bit wrong. But it's not actually always my entire fault. Like when my too-fast-bike whizzed round a corner and I slightly-squished a lady, or when the ghost in my sister's room accidentally pushed her open diary into my hands... My name is Wendy Quill and this is the story of my slightly awful accidents*. *don't worry though - it's all OK in the end! 

Review: 

Wendy Quill is Full Up of Wrong is the third book in the Wendy Quill series created by mother-daughter team Wendy Meddour (author) and Mina May (illustrator). It's a really fun book for younger readers and provides plenty of laughs and fantastic drawings!

In this book, split into three stories, Wendy Quill finds herself getting into some trouble, completely by accident. If it's not a ghost making her read her sister's diary then it's her bike accidentally squishing an old lady - completely natural occurrences, of course!

Mischievous Wendy will appeal to younger readers and I'm sure they'll see a bit of themselves in her. She's a typical nine-year-old, always up to something and concocting naughty plans. Just the funny kind of character you want!

Wendy Quill is Full Up of Wrong is an enjoyable book that will do well with existing fans of the Maisie Mae and Penelope Crumb series. The writing is spot on and the illustrations are brilliant - children will love meeting Wendy and her friends!