Monday, 27 April 2015

Guest Post: Todd Hasak-Lowy's Opinions and Impressions of London / England!

Darren hasn't had an easy year. His parents divorced, his brother left for college, and his best friend moved state. Also, he still doesn't have a girlfriend. Then his dad shows up at 6am with a glazed chocolate donut and a pretty world-shaking revelation. In full freak-out mode, Darren ditches school and jumps on a bus to visit his brother, Nate, at college. But someone weird / amazing comes along for the ride. Told entirely in lists, this hilarious novel perfectly captures why having anything to do with anyone is: 1. painful 2. unavoidable 3. ridiculously complicated 4. possibly, hopefully, the right thing after all.

Todd Hasak-Lowy is the author of Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You, which was published in the UK by Simon and Schuster last week. I'm halfway through it and enjoying it so far - it's all written in lists, which makes for a very interesting reading experience!

Thanks to Todd for writing this post for me!


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7 Impressions and Opinions Todd has of London and England in General, these based on two short visits that took place 25 years apart 
1. Street signs in London are exactly 400 times more interesting in their appearance than their counterparts here in the US. 
2. I know that drivers sit on the other side of the car in the UK than they do in the US and that, therefore, cars drive in the opposite direction on two-lane roads. But somehow when crossing the street I can never seem to recall what this means or where to look. So when crossing not at a traffic light, I look both ways, put my head down, and sprint, while praying for my survival. 
3. Free art museums are a beautiful thing. 
4. 11% of my brain (a part that overlaps considerably with the 13% of me who’s an idiot in general) likes to believe that no one in England actually has a British accent, but rather that these awesomely odd voices are produced solely for my entertainment. 
5. Related to #4, I spent an afternoon in 1988 in Liverpool. I couldn’t for the life of me understand a word any of the locals said. Nevertheless my friends and I kept looking for excuses to ask them questions, because when they responded it sounded like we were talking to obscure members of The Beatles. 
6. On that same trip, I was told I needed to pay for a packet of ketchup at a fast food restaurant. As a result, I held a grudge against the entire United Kingdom until 2006, when I finally put this trauma behind me. 
7. There will never, ever be a better term for an underground train than “the Tube.”

Sunday, 26 April 2015

In My Mailbox #255: New Books This Week



In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and any links take you to Amazon. Click images for a bigger picture!

Thanks so much to all publishers/authors who sent me lovely books to review - I received some nice surprises this week!


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For review:






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Bought:




Happy reading!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Review: Fuzz McFlops by Eva Furnari


Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
Format: Paperback
Released: April 23rd, 2015
Rating: 7.5/10


Amazon summary:

Fuzz McFlops is one of the most famous rabbit-writers in the land, but ever since his classmates teased him about his lopsided ears at school he's led a lonely life, writing sad stories such as The Withered Carrot. Now he's started receiving some scandalous, outrageous and rather eye-catching letters from one of his fans. Who is she? And why does Fuzz's funny, too-short ear start twitching every time he replies to her shocking notes? As their correspondence continues, Fuzz McFlops begins to wonder where this tale is heading, and whether he might not discover a happy ending for once, after all... 

Review: 

Fuzz McFlops is a lovely little book perfect for children and adults alike. It's the tale of Fuzz McFlops, a very famous rabbit, who has lived in loneliness for most of his life. He writes sad stories with no happy endings and, thanks to being teased for having one ear shorter than the other, he fails to find the good in his imagination. After a fan starts writing to him, Fuzz realises that life can be happy after all, and that maybe he doesn't have to be so alone. If only he could find her...

This book is brilliant from start to finish, a great mix of text, stories, poems, songs and illustrations, most of which have been written and drawn by author Eva Furnari. Fuzz McFlops is a character easy to relate to, especially in his loneliness and inability to create a happy ending for himself, and I liked him instantly. Sometimes it's hard to overcome a lifetime of teasing and feeling like an outcast, but the trick is to keep trying. One day something wonderful will happen, and everything will suddenly have meaning - even if it's only to meet your soulmate or write an important story.

Fuzz McFlops is a quirky book, expertly translated to English from Portuguese. It's a fine example of how good stories from other countries and cultures can be, and it's also a really fun read with lots of educational merit. Fuzz McFlops is a rabbit character to remember, and I'm glad I got to know him and his short ear. Many thanks to Pushkin Children's Books for publishing this book in the UK - what a treat it is!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Review: Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin


Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: March 26th, 2015
Rating: 8/10


Amazon summary:

Denton Little's Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own --- except that everyone knows the day on which they will die. For Denton, that's in just two days - the day of his senior prom. Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle (as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend's hostile sister. Though he's not totally sure - see, first hangover). His anxiety builds when he discovers a mysterious purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton's long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters. Suddenly Denton's life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

Review: 

This book is an unusual, darkly-comic look at death and what it means to die. Death is still a subject people don't like to talk about, even though it touches every single one of us, but Lance Rubin has taken said subject and completely turned it on its head. There's no death taboo here - it's happening, and that's just how it is. So deal with it.

I found this whole attitude completely refreshing, not to mention fascinating. Everyone in this future world knows their deathdates - the date when they will die - they just don't know how it will happen. I personally alternated between wishing I too could know my deathdate and hoping I never did, my opinion changing with every chapter. It'd be cool, right? You could plan everything and know what was coming. But would that knowledge make your life better or worse? Thankfully it's not something we'll ever have to worry about, but for Denton Little this day is what his whole life has been leading up to.

Now Denton is a funny guy, self-deprecating, fiercely loyal and as stupid as any other seventeen-year-old boy out there. The only difference for him is that his deathdate is tomorrow, so he has very little of his life left to actually live. He chooses to spend it with family and friends, right up until the moment when things start to get REALLY weird and his deathdate suddenly seems more dangerous than it ever did before. Seriously, as if he hasn't got enough to cope with, he's dodging death left, right and centre. Poor guy.

Lance Rubin has written a really funny book with Denton Little's Deathdate, but I don't mean the kind of funny that will have you rolling around clutching your sides. I mean sarcastic, dark, satirical humour, the kind you find in episodes of Six Feet Under - an underhanded comment as a dead body is being prepared for burial, or a situation you shouldn't laugh at but inwardly you do. That's what reading this book is like, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Denton Little's Deathdate employs my kind of humour, dark and unrelenting and also completely inappropriate in many instances. I love it. It's a highly unusual, intelligent book, posing many questions that can't possibly be answered and that, truthfully, don't even need to be. It makes you think, makes you laugh awkwardly and, ultimately, makes you glad to be alive. Three cheers for Denton!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Perfectly Ella Blog Tour: Chloe's Tips for Pranking Your Family!


Meet the Strawberry Sisters! Oldest sister Amelia wants to be Left Alone to have deep thoughts, so she's grown a fringe to hide under. Second up is Chloe who's sport-crazy and in training to be a wrestling star (this week anyway). Littlest sister Lucy is the cute one who's training an army of earwigs.Then there's Ella. The middle one who's still trying to work out what makes her 'perfectly Ella' and how to stand out in a house full of big personalities. And now there's a new Strawberry Sister. Baby Kirsti who lives with Dad and his Finnish girlfriend. Along with her sisters and one very tired Mum who's struggling to keep it all together, Ella's small home is crammed with almost-finished homework, nearly-clean jumpers and a vampire bunny called Buttercup. With so much going on, life can sometimes feel totally crazy but the Strawberry sisters have a secret weapon against the craziness of the world they live in, each other.

Perfectly Ella is the first book in a brand new series from Candy Harper, who just so happens to be one of my favourite UK authors. It sounds like a really fun, lighthearted read, and I can't wait to get stuck in. It's published tomorrow by Simon and Schuster, so do mark it on your calendars!

I hope you enjoy reading Chloe's pranking tips - good luck using them on your own family!


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Chloe’s Tips for Pranking Your Family 
If you want to have brilliant fun making people you know look stupid then the first thing you’ve got to do is to make sure the person you are pranking will think it’s funny. I play most of my tricks on my friend, Thunder, because he is smart enough to know that getting smacked in the face with a fish is hilarious. Some people don’t even realise that because they are too busy squealing, Ahhh, I’ll never get all these scales out of my hair! 
When you’ve picked your victim, try one of my favourite pranks. 
1. Pour your sister’s favourite cereal into a bowl, add milk and then put the whole thing in the freezer overnight. In the morning, top up with a thin layer of non-frozen milk then plonk it on the table in front of her and enjoy her face when her spoon hits the frozen milk. 
2. Sellotape the bottle bit of a party popper to a closed door and the little string to the door frame. When someone opens the door the party popper will go off. When I did this to my little sister, Lucy, she threw herself on me with a fork because she thought I was a bank robber firing a gun. Even though we don’t live in a bank. And you shouldn’t try to fight guns with a fork. You shouldn’t really try to fight anything with a fork. Except maybe badly behaved spaghetti. 
3. Buy a fake biscuit from a joke shop and pop it in a tin with some real ones. Try not to giggle when one of your guests picks it out. (This trick doesn’t work so well on anyone with a really big appetite; Thunder was half way through a rubber bourbon before he realised what was going on.) 
4. Replace your biggest sister’s grey school socks with your littlest sister’s grey school socks and spy on her when she tries to cram her tootsies into them. This works best if you spend the night before saying, Have your stinky feet grown? They look absolutely ginormous. 
5. Paint a moustache on someone while they are sleeping. This is much more funny if you choose someone who doesn’t want facial hair. When me and Ella did this trick on Lucy she actually loved her moustache. She cried when Mum scrubbed it off her.


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 [Click to enlarge.]

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Delete Blog Tour: Why Every Writer Needs Their Own Personal Reader!


Just when you thought the apocalyptic detention was over...Having fought their way back to what they believe to be their home world, Rev, GG and The Ape discover that they're now stuck in the nightmarish world of doppelgangers, surrounded by a town of super-powered killing machines. Johnson, Billie and the Moth are still trapped in the empty world. Alive, but with no way home. Can Rev get the misfits back together? And even if she can will she be able to do it before the world ends. Time is running out...And believe it or not that's the least of their problems.

Delete is the sequel to last year's brilliant Shift, and I'm really looking forward to getting back to Jeff Povey's unusual world. The book is published this week in the UK and Simon and Schuster have organised a fun blog tour which I'm excited to be part of.

I hope you enjoy the following guest post, and thanks to Jeff for writing it!


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Why Every Writer Needs Their Own Personal Reader
by Jeff Povey

No one knows the importance of footsteps in the literary world more than I do. They are the barometer of everything I write. When I hand a manuscript to my wife I usually go upstairs and lie down awaiting her verdict. Sometimes it’s the other way around and she goes upstairs to read and I lie on the sofa instead, watching telly and probably eating sweets. In due course the footsteps will begin… We have wooden floorboards and I have learned to tell the difference between excitement or disappointment just from the speed of the footsteps. A quick, staccato rap usually signifies that I have a done a good job. I’m already on my feet awaiting to embrace further approval of my genius. But the slow footstep, the torturously long plod from bedroom to lounge or vice versa is the sound I have come to dread more than any other. I’m already tensing, I have put my sweets down, I’d like to say they fall from my hand and roll across the floor but that’s just melodramatic. Possibly in keeping with the rubbish I’ve just forced Mrs. P to read. But then again that’s what it feels like. It’s the end of days and even before she gets into the room with a look of sorrow and pity I know I’m in for some severe criticism. And worse, I know she’ll be right. 
Every writer needs a sounding board. In fact I imagine anyone who is in the business of presenting or unleashing anything artistic onto the unsuspecting world probably needs someone to comment on their creations before they put them into the public domain. I would love it if I could write something amazing every time, and for the footsteps to go away, but I don’t believe perfection is achievable first time out. I think writing is as much about rewriting as it is about that original manuscript where you thought you’d just completed Paradise Lost and you were officially now a legend. I read somewhere – and this may not be true – but Stephen King of all people won’t release a book until his editor is satisfied. That might be a myth but I know why I want it to be true. Writers like me need help. They need another head to come along and cast an eye over their work. And this eye is instinctive. It knows instantly when something jars or a character says something that doesn’t ring true, or recently in my case: “What the hell do you think you’re doing killing that character off?” In the first ever version of Shift Billie died quite early on and I had created this masterful chapter where that happened and then the gang went off on their further adventures. Mrs. P was vehement that I couldn’t kill Rev’s best friend and then have her pretty much not react in a reasonable way. She argued that the death of a best friend would eviscerate Rev and stop her being the character I wanted her to become. I tried to argue, weakly, that I was right, then I got into a huff and pouted, and afterwards I went to my office and started rewriting the chapter. Mrs. P’s prevailing instinct combined with the footsteps of doom broke my resistance pretty swiftly. When you read Delete, the sequel to Shift you will understand how right Mrs. P was. 
It takes a lot to listen to constructive criticism and a whole lot more to accept it. But to learn from it is the key to writing. That is the fundamental difference between a hopeful author and an author who is determined to improve, to take their work to the best level they can. My belief in rewriting comes from my career in writing for television. I would honestly keep going until every word was perfect but with TV filming crops up and you have to let go. Yes it’s in great shape by then but when I watch it broadcast I sometimes see where a better line or a better moment could have occurred. I’m talking about tiny probably unnoticeable things but with a novel you have the opportunity to write until it’s right. In fact that is my battle cry: Write Until It’s Right. 
The question of who you would trust to read your work and then to be as honest and frank as they can is a crucial one that you need to answer. Remember we seem to live in a world where for some reason we have to hear superlatives about ourselves before we’re completely convinced of our ability. An actor can never be good, they have to be stunning. A book can never be compelling, it has to be utterly and completely enthralling, a film has to have five stars and it has to change your world view with its unbridled testament to greatness. Good is a dirty word. But your reader, your personal critic will have been as exposed to superlatives as much as anyone and they know in their hearts that after reading your work they are expected to join in with a chorus of greatness. Well tell them no, that’s not what you’re after. Tell them to be honest. To reveal every thought and worry they have to you. Some thoughts will be right and some will be wrong, but even the wrong thoughts might have a soupcon of truth to them. You need to be prepared to hear everything. And that takes guts and a steady nerve. It also takes belief. Belief in yourself and belief in your reader. Then you need to be able to distil what your reader is saying and either accept it or not, but whatever you do, don’t ignore it. People react on instinct and I always believe in the first instinct, that initial gut reaction, more than anything else. We spend our lives listening to our instincts so why when someone reads your work should they behave any differently. 
If you are fortunate enough to find someone you trust to read your work then don’t be afraid to listen out for the slow footstep. It won’t feel good and you’ll get angry and belligerent and swear a bit but ultimately if you end up with a better manuscript then it can only be a good thing. You might be good but you can always be better. 
One last thing, don’t ever buy your reader wooden clogs. They’re really loud.


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[Click to enlarge.]

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Review: The First Slodge by Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond


Publisher: Little Tiger Press
Format: Large hardcover / paperback
Released: April 6th, 2015
Rating: 8/10


Amazon summary:

Once upon a slime, there was a Slodge. The first Slodge in the universe. She saw the first moon and stars, the first fruits and flowers. "Mine, all mine!" she said. But what if there was not just one Slodge ...but two? 

Review: 

Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond have teamed up to create a lovely picture book for little readers, all about the first slodge and how she learned to share her world. It's full of nice, simple artwork of the cute slodge, and it tells an important story as well. It's one to savour, that's for sure!

The underlying message in The First Slodge is to share, whether it be your food, the stars or the planet itself. Sharing helps move things along, and it also helps friendships form and relationships exist. The first slodge learns this the hard way, but learn it she does when a second slodge arrived on the scene. It's a great lesson to teach children, and hopefully it will help to instill in them a need to share and be kind.

Jenni Desmond's illustrations are all brilliant, and I immediately loved the slodge just from seeing the cover. I have no idea what she actually is, but I do know she's green, cute and excitable. Hopefully she'll return for more slodge books, and I can find out what happens to the next generation of slodges - let's hope they're all sharing their fruit!