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Friday, 19 September 2014

Dirtie Bertie: Rats! by David Roberts & Alan McDonald (Children's, 5 years +, 9/10E, semi short 'n' sweet review)

July 2014, Stripes Publishing, 96 pages, Paperback, Review copy 

Themes: boys, pranks, mishaps, school, family life 

Content: lots of humour

Summary from Little Tiger Press
Calling all Dirty Bertie fans! Dirty Bertie – the boy with nose-pickingly disgusting habits – is back for another helping of comic chaos! With ever-increasing madcap schemes and crazy capers, Bertie continues to delight his legions of fans who revel in his revolting ways.

Join Bertie in Rats! his 23rd adventure, as he crosses paths with a cheeky rodent, takes part in a chaotic cross-country run, and tries to get his dog Whiffer to eat healthily – with disastrous results!

Nayu's Thoughts
This is the 23rd book of the popular series, but the first that I've read. I guess I was never interested because I prefer female protagonists. However, now I've read a wide range of books, I was intrigued and wanted to see what the appeal of Bertie was. It definitely is what I call a boy humour filled book, with some gross/icky situations (yes I'm pretty much a girly girl, hate getting dirty, hate bugs, love anything cute and fluffy). I can't say that Bertie is cute, but he is certainly a unique character. 

The book missed out on full marks because the numerous illustrations weren't 100% ones I enjoy, and it felt that one of the mini stories in the book finished a bit too soon, without explaining what happened next. I was surprised by the next story starting right then and there. at the next story with 

Find out more on the dedicated website

Suggested read
It happens that I enjoy reading a spin-off series from the Dirty Bertie books, which starts with Angela Nicely by David Roberts & Alan McDonald (Children's, 5 years +, 10/10E) 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Blog Tour: Finding A Voice by Kim Hood (Children's, 11 years +, 10E/10E)

I well up now just seeing this cover
August 2014, The O'Brien Press, 240 pages, Paperback & Ebook, Review copy
Themes: friendship, school, being a carer, mental illness

Content: emotionally tough scenes, tissues most definitely needed

Summary from The O'Brien Press

Jo could never have guessed that the friendship she so desperately craves would come in the shape of a severely disabled boy. He can’t even speak. Maybe it is because he can’t speak that she finds herself telling him how difficult it is living with her eccentric, mentally fragile mother.

Behind Chris’ lopsided grin and gigantic blue wheelchair is a real person — with a sense of humour, a tremendous stubborn streak and a secret he has kept from everyone.
For a while it seems life may actually get better. But as Jo finds out just how terrible life is for Chris, and as her own life spirals out of control, she becomes desperate to change things for both of them. In a dramatic turn of events, Jo makes a decision that could end in tragedy.
This is the story of how an unusual friendship unlocks the words that neither knew they had.

Nayu's thoughts

This isn't a light fluffy read. It isn't totally dark either. It will, however, make you cry if you are prone to welling up over both positive and negative situations. (Look at me sounding grown up in how I describe being emotional!!!)

* Ahem * I wished so hard so often that Jo could speak out. I get frustrated by others like her who feel that they'll make the situation worse by asking for help, rather than better. By keeping quiet Jo has to harbour way more than most young people her own age do, she has to mature quickly and lose her precious childhood innocence. She doesn't lose the ability to smile, or laugh. True, there's a lot that she can't smile about, not with emotions all jumbled up as she tries to cover up her mum's deteriorating condition from everyone. She has to become adept at lying, which isn't a characteristic I encourage improving on. 
Thankfully Jo isn't always that good an actress, which is why she ends up befriending Chris. This was one of my favourite parts of the story. I loved how every aspect of life for anyone like Chris is examined from Jo's view, as it isn't always an easy life. People don't necessarily think of how challenging daily tasks which we all have to do are. Eating. Using the bathroom. Dressing. Jo sees all of these, and gets indignant on Chris's behalf. She does go a little crazy (yes, I'm aware of the words I'm using given that her mother is mentally unbalanced), and tries to make the impossible possible. That is why I try to read books like this in one sitting, so I don't have to stop partway through exciting bits. Although sometimes I should because I then have dinner late which, when you have 4x a day meds to take isn't the best idea... It lands her in terrible danger which had me holding my breath a lot, and the fallout from her mistake was hefty.

But, because of her lovable passion to make things 'better' for Chris, both his and Jo's own situation improve, getting the help they both need, as well as learning that friendship makes the rougher parts of life liveable. I hope that readers take away a lot, how being a carer can be caring for someone with physical disabilities (or whatever the politically correct term is these days) or someone with mental health issues. That social services aren't as evil as they can sometimes be seen, that most teachers want to help you in all aspects of your life. That everyone, no matter how different they seem, is human, and therefore should be treated with respect and seen as a possible friend from the moment you first meet them. I'm going to reread this book for sure – make sure you read it!

Find out more on Kim's website.

Suggested read

Another insightful book which has just been published & reviewed here on NRC looks at life from the eyes of a girl with Cystic Fibrosis, The Baking Life of Amelie Day by Vanessa Curtis (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E) 

What Inspired Me To Write Finding A Voice by Kim Hood 

Nayu here! I'll pass over to Kim shortly, I promise. It's truly a pleasure to find out a bit more about the background to this touching tale. I guess I have a mini soap-box stance because of my chronic illness I've been educated alongside people like Chris, and they truly are full of life, just like a fully healthy person, and having to deal with mental illness in a family or in a friendship scenario is mega hard. That's my say - now it's over to Kim! 

As a writer, every experience I have is possible material for a story. Every place I go is a possible setting; every quirky person I meet lends possible idiosyncrasies to future characters; every conversation is a chance to absorb turns of phrases that could be perfect on the page. So it isn’t surprising that characters with mental health issues and disability snuck into my first novel. I’ve spent twenty-five years immersed in teaching and supporting people with just such challenges.

What might surprise you is that I did not intend for either themes of mental health or disability to play any part in Finding a Voice. I’m not sure what I thought the book might be about when I started it. The first thing I imagined was Jo (the main character) stumbling through the woods, upset about…something. That is as clear as the story was!

However, when it did emerge that Jo’s mum had significant mental health challenges, it was easy for me to get to know that aspect of her. I wish I could say that there is a simple, fool proof way to treat mental illness, but for a great many people there just isn’t. I have supported people through crises that were very similar to the one Jo and her mother experience before her mum is hospitalised. It can be a scary, confusing time for everyone.

I do hope that readers see Jo’s mum as a whole person though, and not just someone with mental illness. I enjoyed writing her so much. She is exuberant and eccentric--my favourite kind of person!

While Jo’s mum evolved as I wrote, Chris, who happens to have cerebral palsy and is unable to walk or talk because of it, was inspired by a very specific event. More than twenty years before I started writing Finding a Voice, I was working at a camp for kids with disabilities. It was always a whirlwind of activity, and we often did not get all of the information about our campers that we needed. One of my campers had a disability like Chris, but I didn’t know that he usually had an electronic communication board; it was in for repairs while he was at camp. I spent the whole camp making choices for him (what to have for breakfast, what activities to do, etc.) and he spent the whole camp trying to tell me they were the wrong choices!

I can’t say much without spoilers, but that camper taught me everything I needed to know about making assumptions about people. He not only inspired the character of Chris, and a big part of the storyline, but he inspired me to listen to people with more than my ears.

I suppose that is the essence of this story—learning to listen as much as to speak up. Everyone needs to be heard, but some of us have a harder time finding a voice that people can understand. Listening without assuming is the first step to understanding .

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Secret at Haney Field by R M Clark + Author Interview (Children’s, 9 years +, 9/10E)

 16th September 2014, MB Publishing, 134 pages, Ebook, Review Copy

Themes: friendship, ghosts, time travel, baseball,

Content: slight spookiness, some humour

Summary from MB Publishing
Twelve-year-old April O'Day's summer has gotten off to a flying start. As the new bat retriever for the Harpoons, her hometown's minor league team, she's fetching bats and doling out great advice to players and coaches alike. In a word, she's becoming indispensable. But mysterious things are happening at Haney Field, which April and her best friend - and fellow baseball enthusiast - Darren Plummer are determined to uncover. As they quickly learn, this is no ordinary season. In fact, it's a whole new ball game.
Nayu's thoughts
Please don’t be put off by April being sports mad. Okay, I didn’t understand a lot of it as I’m not into sport at all, and at first sometimes it felt that there was too much technical jargon, but with the glossary at the front (far better than being at the back when you only see it once you’ve finished the book) and the intriguing action which goes on this is an ace read. Yes, is a baseball nerd. I think it’s pretty incredible how she gets her ‘job’, and its hard to find words when she discovered the mystery at the baseball ground.

Initially I was freaked out by the shadows and questioned why I was reading the book, but thankfully I didn’t put it down and was soon captivated in April’s search to find out what happened. I liked all the tension when one main character acted out of character, because it hindered April & Darren’s investigation somewhat. Through April’s knowledge and skill she is rewarded with certain privileges which were totally cool! I think it sends a positive message to find what you’re passionate about, and nurture that enthusiasm because you never know where it will take you. I’m left wondering if there will be a book 2 for April – I really I can see her in action both on and off the field! 

Find out more on R M's website

Question & Answer session with R M Clark

Nayu here! It was a real pleasure finding more about April's adventure with R M Clark, who's written a fun book and who gets added to my growing list of friendly authors ^o^

Nayu 1) What made you make tell the tale from April's point of view instead of Darren's? That is the only reason why I wanted to read the book, because it was from a girl's point of view.

R M: I wanted a different approach to a baseball-based story. I see no reason why a girl can't be as involved in and know as much about baseball past and present as a boy. When I first pitched this book, I had many agents tell me no one would be interested in baseball story from the viewpoint of a girl, which is probably why it was rejected a few hundred times! I refused to make a gender switch and eventually, I found an agent and publisher who "got" April's story. Thanks, folks!

Nayu 2) Okay, the other reason I wanted to read the book was because for some obscure reason I really enjoy reading about sport mad girls, despite not enjoying watching sport being played. (The same goes for horses, adore reading about them, just not being near them or watching them). There is a fair amount of terminology and 'sport speak' in the book, but there's something which makes April's adventure so much more. Was it one of your aims to make the book appeal to readers who aren't that bothered about sport?

R M: Certainly. I like to say that this is not a "baseball book", but rather a story of redemption set at a minor league facility. Sure, April is a "savant" of the game, but what she really understands is people, even more than most of the adults. She seems to know what players are going through and how to help them. She can match wits with the Harpoons' crusty manager one day and the elderly owner the next. I tried to keep the baseball jargon to a minimum, but we did add a glossary to help with some of the terminology.

Nayu: 3) I confess that I was more than a little freaked out when April first saw the shadows (I think I can say that without any major spoilers), and that was with me reading in daylight. I was pretty relieved when the truth was uncovered, which lead to a lot of investigation by April and Darren. Why did you choose to look at that particular time in baseball history?

R M: The Negro Leagues had some of the most talented, yet underappreciated baseball players ever to grace the diamond. It was worth reminding the readers of the struggles so many of the Negro Leagues player went through, like segregation, prejudice, poor transportation and facilities, low pay, and little or no chance of making the majors. It's a stark contrast to the modern amenities of current professional players and only a 12-year-old girl and her friend are able to make the connection.

Nayu: 4) You touched on an important current topic with April's dad's situation. I was surprised that he wasn't caught by the authorities at the end - had you considered that happening at all? Will there be a book 2?

R M: Unfortunately, everything he did (going on and staying on disability) was perfectly legal. I even based him on a composite of people I know who have worked the system for many years. If only the real-life folks would have an epiphany like April's dad!

As for book 2, I have considered it and I even have a few notes scratched out somewhere. I think April is ready to move on from bat retriever and become a baseball scout.

Nayu: 5) Where is your favourite place to write? What kind of food and drink to you like to keep you going?

R M: I sit on a rather uncomfortable stool in my kitchen when I write, which keeps me focused on the task at hand. I prefer not to be distracted by any kind of sustenance. One might even say I suffer for my craft.

Monday, 15 September 2014

What are YOU reading? #235

What are you reading on Monday? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys where you post books completed last week and plans for upcoming books. Jump over to her blog and see who else is participating.


Rise and Die by Ginny Gold
Cozy Mystery
(A breakfast cafe owner is framed for murder of a cafe rival!)

Darcy Sweet Mystery: #1 Death Comes To Town by K. J. Emrick
Cozy Crime
(Scary times ahead for Darcy!)

Storytime Magazine Issue 1 by Luma Works
Children's, 3 years +, 5 years +, 7 years +, 9 years +
(Brilliant new magazine with no ads & lots of stories...)

Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain by Richard Roberts
Children's, 11 years +
(So awesome! Extremely inventive and fun to read!)

Pink and Green is the New Black by Lisa Greenwald
Children's, 11 years +
(Book 3 has me wanting to read book 1 & 2 of this funny school drama [probably not meant to be as funny as I find it]...)

Werewolf Club Rules by Joseph Coelho
Children's, Non-fiction, Poetry, 5 years +
(The opening hamster poem is brilliant!)

Frog the Barbarian by Guy Bass
Children's, 7 years +
(Frog is back! Be warned, the end sucks in a good way...)

Shipwrecked and Dark of the Moon by Siobhan Curham
Young Adult
(Despite the covers, minimal snake sightings and not a lot of voodoo [which I don't like at all].)

Ivy and Bean Take the Case by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall
Children's, 7 years +
(I never learnt what the mystery was! Learning about friendship is always fun though...)

Rendezvous in Russia by Lauren St John
Children's, 9 years +
(Another awesome adventure with the 3 friends, one who has 3 legs and barks...)

I haven't completed any audiobooks but I have got a few new ones so I'm eager to listen to them soon.


Medical drama, English version
(Nope, you aren't mistaken. I did stop watching this the other week. Needing light shows while being overtired after waking early I watched last week's eps and for once rather enjoyed it. Although Charlie being steered towards retirement is an end of an era...)

Pretty Rhythm Rainbow Live
REWATCH! - Anime, Japanese version
(Had the hilarious episode where both Ann and Ito's fathers discover what they do in their spare time-they do let them continue to work at the Prism Stone store, no fear there!)

Puri Para
Anime, Japanese
(Managed to see 2 new eps this week...which have me eagerly awaiting how on earth Sophie ends up with Lala and Mireille. Poor Sophie, captive to what her manager wants.)

Pretty Rhythm Aurora Dream
REWATCH! - Anime, Japanese
(Uh-uh, Aira and Rhythm have to learn how to use batapons [cross between a baton and pompoms}, which Mion naturally excels at!)

REWATCH! - Anime, Japanese
(I'm more in love with this cute series than ever! I did watch 2 of the later episodes so I could see Seira in action, but starting to race through the eps so content to be patient...)

Holby City
Medical drama, English version
 (Quite a funny plot contrasted with the more serious one revolving round Zosia who is not quite mentally stable these days.)

Hotel India
Documentary, English version
(Fascinating series about one of the oldest hotels in India. I'm puzzled why everyone speaks English all the it the international language for hotels?)

Craft, Games and more!
The crochet coaster for a friend hasn't materialised yet, but, in keeping with relaxing and doing stuff for me on a Friday after work I've almost finished a pair of fingerless gloves!  Considering Winter (according to my body) is on the way, being  easily able to do 1 pair a week is essential. I haven't made significant progress on other projects yet.

Games...I've barely played any this week. I've had a run of waking early and being overtired after work, leaving extremely little brain power to focus on games. Hoping my body will start sleeping in. Soon. I intend to game a bit this weekend (which is the one before this meme is out). I tried playing games on my tablet but I had to give up quickly.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Nayu's News #144: Why I'm like Sophie from the anime PriPara

This pic has little to do with today's post, but isn't the dragon adorable???!!
Anyone noticed I've quit calling it PuriPara? I still pronounce it like that, as that's the correct way, but that way I remember the spelling for when I need to search for PuriPara pictures. (Ha! Used my spelling there!)

Sophie at a PriPara concert
Some of you may have noticed I haven't been on Twitter a lot, or put up posts this weekends. The reason for that is linked to the reason why I adore Sophie from PriPara, and why I'm a bit like her. Those living almost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere knows temperatures are starting to fall, a sign that Winter is on its way. Unfortunately for me my body really hates winter. It cranks up the pain & discomfort, which can make me a tad crabby as I need to rest more, and write/blog less. Not something I like doing but it has to be done. 
Being good can suck.
I do try and look on the positive side, that watching anime is a completely legitimate daily activity as it helps me rest in a fun way. Plus it's often really cute graphics wise! 
Many anime have a lot of humour - the Spice & Wolf's heroine Holo has a greed for most food, especially apples which is never fails to make me smile
Why am I like Sophie? Well, I've recently learnt in the series that her health isn't fabulous. Ever since she was little she suffers from lack of energy, and her sisters helps take care of her. Her manager calls it Fancy Mode and does his rabbit best to hide it. 
Sophie's manager is totally un-cute.
I love Sophie in Fancy mode.
Sophie shocked when Lala pulls back her fringe in Fancy Mode - Lala doesn't hate her, as Sophie's been led to believe. Lala thinks she is beautiful.
She flakes out, has little to zero physical energy, and almost the same amount of mental energy. 
Sophie in Fancy mode while in costume for a concert.
Everything is a huge effort - which is pretty much me when my body goes on strike. Thinking straight becomes a great achievement. That's why I'm like Sophie. 

I'm like Mizuki in Aikatsu because when she collapses at a show it gets revealed that watching the legendary duo Masquerade, who have disbanded, perks her up. 
Mizuki feels better after rest & watching Masquerade perform
That particular episode was cool because Masquerade return to give Mizuki a bit of time to recover before her performance, so she gets to meet those who she looks up to (most people look up to Mizuki). 
This is what Mizuki sees when she first wakes from collapsing. Masquerade are actually the headmistress (which everyone knows) & Ichigo's mother (no-one knows that until part way through the series).

Watching anime - and currently idol/music based anime - cheers me up no end when I'm not feeling brilliant, a little like the transformation Sophie in PriPara undergoes when she eats a pickled plum.
First Sophie goes into her Fancy mode aka so tired I can't function

Sophie gets given a pickled plum

Kazing! Sophie reacts to eating pickled plum
Sophie is back to the vibrant side that her fans know
Unfortunately I don't get the same physical energy boost, but being happy is half the battle. 
Being happy is fun! & not something to be taken for granted.

So I'll do what I can blog wise, but there are going to be some days when I don't put a post up. I know that's ok as those of you who have been stopping by for a while are used to that. At least watching lots of anime helps give Muse inspiration, which is very good for when I can work on my novel!
Rest & fun is essential for life!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Blog Tour Splintered Light by Cate Sampson (Young Adult, 10/10E)

August 2014, Simon and Schuster, 320 pages, Paperback, Review copy 

Themes: seeking the truth, memories, mistakes, injustice, 

Content: constant tension, murder, unpleasant scenes, some violence, tissue needed

Summary from Simon and Schuster
At four years old, Leah Martens was the only witness to the murder of two women in a London park. Now, twelve years later, as the man imprisoned for the murders walks free, Leah desperately tries to remember exactly what she saw that day. But she’s not the only person whose life was scarred forever in that park and whose past now threatens to decide the future.
Two boys are also sucked into the treacherous investigation around the murders… Fourteen- year-old Charlie, who is plotting revenge with a ruthless man, and the enigmatic Linden, who befriends Leah all the while concealing his shameful past and leading her further into danger… 

Nayu's thoughts 
Slightly unusual for a review I'm starting with the negatives. I was a bit disappointed that Leah's point of view didn't get as much page time as I'd expected, not compared to the others. It made me a slightly grouchy reader, as its so much easier to relate to and understand female point of views. However, I think I kind of see why page time was weighted more heavily for Charlie and Linden. Leah may not have been always on the pages, but her past, present, and indeed her future were more tied up in those boys lives than they knew for a good long while. 

The constant twists and turns the story took kept my grouchy-ness to a minimum. Just as soon as I'd had a revelation for one character, the next chapter would be for a different character! I both love and hate those kinds of reads. They work brilliantly and certainly keep me reading. The only other negative which is partially a positive is the fact I worked out who did it early on. That's a great achievement for me because often I have no idea who the culprit is for these kinds of books. I like to think that I understood the hints and have read enough thrillers to make an accurate guess, rather than the fact it was easy to work it out. But, even if that were the case it doesn't matter - I still had chills watching Leah get put in more danger (ok, and the boys too. I just focused more on Leah!) I have to say that Cate's book is along the lines of Sophie McKenzie's reads (Like Split Second, Young Adult, 10/10E)

Find out more on Cate's website.

Suggested read
I had to mention Sophie's book because it has a similar feel to Splintered Light. However, the book which I instantly thought of while reading Splintered Light is Looking For JJ by another amazing author, Anne Cassidy (Young Adult, 10E/10E)

How We Talk About Girls by Cate Sampson

Nayu here! Cate's post will be up in a few lines from now (which technically is down, not up!) As part of the blog tour for Splintered Light Cate speaks about how girls are viewed, which is a necessary topic seeing as Splintered Light features a girl (although not as much as I'd hoped...) Thanks Cate for writing such a good read (even with the less than ideal Leah page time) & for stopping by on your blog tour to NRC! 

Here's Cate!

I am writing this by way of a Mea Culpa. I realise I have sinned. It all started this week, when I saw a news article reporting that the actress Daisy Lewis, of Downton Abbey, had told journalists that she did not want to be described as ‘feisty’ because the word was patronising towards women.
‘Have you ever heard a male character on screen described as feisty? I think not,’ she is reported to have said in an interview with the Daily Mail.
Hmm, I thought grimly, she’s right. Grimly, because I remember clearly writing a blog post called ‘Top Ten Gritty Girls’ last year. I knew at the time that something didn’t sit right with the title, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Carnaby, my first Young Adult crime novel, published last year, has a teenage girl at its heart. She’s a strong person facing terrible difficulty. Splintered Light, which came out in August, is the interwoven story of three teenagers: a strong girl, a strong boy, and a much weaker boy. We need descriptive words, but they are dangerous ground, and we must walk it carefully.

‘Gritty’ isn’t as gender specific as ‘feisty’, which is a word almost always attached to the female of the species, whereas ‘gritty’ isn’t much attached to either. But the principle remains the same, and what Daisy Lewis said reminded me of something that I witnessed in the USA some years ago. There were a group of us, mature students, sitting chatting – we would like to have thought of ourselves as liberal and enlightened, I think, as a group. Not one of us would have voted UKIP, if there had been a Michigan chapter. I can’t remember the context, but I do remember the phrase ‘white trash’ passing someone’s lips. And none of us will forget our one black colleague standing abruptly and leaving in silent fury. For some time we sat open-mouthed, gaping in incomprehension, until someone figured it out. To talk about ‘white trash’ is to assume that trash is usually black. The qualifier tells the story. (Of course, using the word ‘trash’ to describe anyone of any race or gender is a whole other issue.)

To put the word ‘feisty’ before the word ‘woman’ suggests that a woman is not usually argumentative and ready to stand up for herself. To put the word ‘gritty’ in front of ‘girl’ suggests that the term ‘girl’ needs a little toughening up. Many of us who write for young women want to write stories which allow young women to be what they naturally are, to escape stereotypes. Yet when we write ‘strong women’ clearly there is a danger of perpetuating stereotypes even as we try to destroy them. By saying, look at this unusually fierce girl, we may be silently saying, ‘she’s not like other girls, who are so quiet.’

I have been living abroad for thirteen years. Coming back to live in Britain, I find myself surrounded by coded and not-so coded messages about gender in popular culture. These messages can be as toxic as the coded messages we all encounter about race. We need to learn to listen, to understand exactly what it is that we are hearing, and to question our own words.