Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Review: Zoom: Ocean Adventure by Susan Hayes & Sam Rennocks + Zoom: Space Adventure by Susan Hayes and Susanna Remiz (Children's, Board book, 10E/10E)



 

 July 2020, What on Earth Publishing, 36 pages, Hardback, Board Book, Review copies 

 Summary

Zoom Ocean Adventure from What On Earth Publishing 

Join Noah as he puts on his wetsuit and visits Earth’s most mysterious environment: the ocean. Come face to face with a great white shark, join dazzling fish on a coral reef, explore the depths of the ocean in Noah’s submarine, and discover your very own pirate treasure.

Zoom: Space Adventure from What On Earth Publishing 

Join Ava and her cat on their adventure into space, where you can visit the International Space Station, ride in a moon buggy, discover a Mars rover, journey past all the planets in the Solar System, and watch the greatest show in outer space: a supernova explosion.

Nayu's thoughts

These books are so fun! Yes, I do have a favourite which has to be Ava's tale in Zoom: Space Adventure, but Zoom: Ocean Adventure was really good too. Both are extremely sturdy board books which will stand up to being chewed on and torn at, or attempted to tear. The bright colours and well detailed illustrations match the adventure theme of the books. Both books start with the child in their room, preparing for an adventure. I liked how most of what's in the opening scene plays a part in the tale, sharks and planets alike feature for Ava and Noah. Parts of each book are deliberately cut out to add depth to the scene: for example Ava's space antics let her see the moon from afar, with a bit cut out and on turning the page what was the whole moon is actually part of the moon which Ava lands on and is really big. For Noah a shark's eye is also a giant squid's eye.

The reason why Ava's tale is my favourite is because there is a countdown before her space rocket launches: the 5,4,3,2,1 is shown in numbers that are cut out, one per page, Each is layer in a way that shows what the engineers and other technicians do in their final checks prior to launch. It struck me as extremely clever, Plus Ava's cat is with her, and as a cat lover I totally love that! I love how she visits most of the main places in the solar system, apart from Pluto which I know isn't a planet any more, but I grew up with it as a planet so to me it forever will be a planet! It looks so odd without it included.

Both children visit an awful lot of their respective place, touching on all the main points, having a few creatures and planets labelled on each page to help readers learn more about the areas. There is a wonderful large pop-up at the end of the book before each child returns home, which made me smile and will be unexpected to first time readers (I did suspect it could happen as I've read similar books). These are definitely a must buy for any reader wanting to explore the world both on and off this planet.

Suggested read 

Similarly themed books include National Trust: Up and Down, A Walk in the Countryside by Rosalind Beardshaw (Children's, Picture book, Board book, 10/10)


 

 

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Blog Tour: Ruthless Women by Melanie Blake (Thriller, Romance, 9/10E)



 

 18th February 2018, Head of Zeus, 464 pages, Ebook, Review copy

Book summary

On a beautiful private island off the coast of the UK, the cast and crew of glamorous TV show Falcon Bay are at breaking point.

Ratings are falling, and their new boss is inventing ever more dramatic - and impossible - storylines to get Falcon Bay back into the number 1 slot.

Director Farrah, lead actress Catherine and producer Amanda are the driven, ambitious women holding the show together. With so much at stake, they will stop at nothing to stay in the jobs they love and on the island they call home.

Can these women team up to bring down their rivals? Or will scandal, betrayal and ambition tear them apart?

 

Nayu's thoughts

Wow. I have just finished reading this and let me say the ending is impressive. There is so much to like about this, especially the strong, determined women who despite their mistakes keep fighting for what is right. The only reason this didn't get a top grade is because I had really wanted one of the women not to be so eager for romance - well, not even romance, but I'd wanted one to be someone I could relate to, even if they then went off the rails. The inappropriate for under 18s scenes are graphic and nothing is left to the imagination: I did skim read them only to see where they stopped. I'm more a left off the page girl for those topics, so a fair amount of blushing happened. However, I can see it was all keeping with the characters' personalities and was important to the plot. 


Moving on to the overall story, honestly I prefer this book to Melanie's previous book, The Thunder Girls, which I've read possibly because I have more interest in soaps - or should I say continuing dramas? - than the music industry, and find learning about film sets fascinating. It is important to point out that Melanie does a brilliant job of showcasing gender inequality in the film world, especially when it comes down to women becoming mothers. It is horrifying how mean the antagonists are, more so because it happens in real life outside of the book's pages too. It touches on the #metoo movement which is important for every person, no matter their gender. I can easily imagine those scenes in the book happening in the past and sadly in the present. I just hope the future will see changes to that. 

 

I promise the characters who are wronged get their revenge one way or another. I personally think it hints there may be a sequel one day, just because of how one is at the end. Farrah, Catherine and Amanda have strong personalities, some with admirable tenacity and inner strength despite not always taking life choices I would make. The way the women bond and band together when wronged is how it should be. All of them make mistakes they are not proud of. As someone who is sick a fair amount due to chronic illness rather than overindulgence in alcohol, I felt so sorry for the character who has a vomit accident in front of people. Yes it was her fault, but it is horrid being sick let alone over someone else with an audience. 


There is a lot of emotion and it's not a case of women being ridiculous. There is nothing ridiculous about them in this book, other than that some of the male characters are dimwits who completely underestimate them. The emotions surrounding each main character's current life are raw and powerful, even if they are at fault for their own circumstances. I don't have to have experienced all they did to connect with them on an emotional level, to want their lives to straighten out - especially their public humiliations. I'm human, I feel things, I have my own experiences to draw on and I can imagine the embarrassment the women felt as it dripped from the page. They may have caved a little under the weight of what was happening, but they all drew on their inner strength, leaning on each other literally at times when needed. Women can be ruthless, but when gathering together to fight a cause they are unstoppable. 

 

Because there was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, neither of which I can relate to, I suppose the character I liked the most was Amanda who for the most part abstained from all that. She excused so much of her husband's behaviour, how he treated her at work and at home, but mercifully sees sense eventually, especially when he makes major errors regarding their daughter Olivia. I was aware before reading Ruthless Women, how women can be sidelined at work after they have a child, which is completely wrong. They are as capable as anyone else, and actually talented at multi-tasking, so should not be underestimated. I liked that the women weren't all in their 20s and 30s, it gave a different perspective to what was going on, showing that older absolutely does not mean past it or unfit to keep acting. Farrah was a bit too wild for me, and I did admire Catherine a lot because of her age and all she had experienced.


Shoutout to the shark who was cool for existing. I had actually expected there to be deliberate foul play by a certain someone against a certain someone, so it was nice to be surprised by that plot twist. Almost every plot twist was unexpected, a sign of great writing that I appreciate and like. I truly want a sequel to Ruthless Women, as I'm sure there is more drama to be had at Falcon Bay. Regardless of if that happens, I am definitely keeping an eye on Melanie's future books!


Find out more on Melanie's website, and her social media which includes Twitter


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Guest Blog Post: The Making ofThe Dragon Song by R. M. Clark and Binh Pham (Children's, 9 years +)

 ..October 2020, INtense Publications, 210 pages, Ebook, Paperback, Hardback,

Summary 

The Dragon's Song is based on Binh's true story, when he, as a young man, fled Vietnam in 1980. Though some of the characters are fictitious, the story of Binh’s journey from Ho Chi Minh City to the United States is based on true events.

Eleven-year-old Bao Dang remembers watching in horror four years earlier as Communist soldiers dragged his parents from their home. Now an orphan, he begins a journey to escape the oppressive government of South Vietnam. The owner of a small boat, paid in gold, smuggles Bao and his cousin, Binh, down the Saigon River at night to the South China Sea, where they and over one hundred other "boat people" pack into a river boat designed to hold fewer than thirty. For six days, they face danger from the police, weather, pirates, and the constant threat of capsizing as they take on water while living only on dry, rationed rice.

Bao, Binh and the others hope a refugee camp in Indonesia accepts them, but there’s no guarantee. Word has it they may be turned away and even towed back out to sea to starve. Eventually finding a safe haven, Bao harnesses the power of music to heal and help him endure months of harsh and dangerous living while he and Binh await word from relatives in the United States, hoping they’ll obtain the ultimate gift: freedom.

Nayu's thoughts

I have reviewed some of R. M.'s work in the past, Dizzy Miss Lizzie

 


Running On Empty

 


The Right Hand Rule

 


so I was interested whenn they got in contact about another book. Unfrotunately I have tendency to get emotionally invested in what I read, which if it's a current issue in the world it gets me thinking about other examples in the world, which when it comes to refugees does upset me. That is the only reason why I'm not reviewing The Dragon Song, which both Clark and Pham kindly wrote a guest post to entice you all to read it. 

 

 The making of The Dragon's Song by R. M. Clark and Binh Pham 

 

I first met my co-author, Binh Pham, back in the 1990s when we were both working as computer scientists for the same defense contractor. In the 2000s, we were both switched over to Dept. of Navy jobs, working in the same building. I knew from small talk and a few conversations that Binh had come over from Vietnam as one of the “boat people” of the early 1980s. He also mentioned some other tales of life in Vietnam. I was not a writer then, so his stories, although interesting, were just, well, stories.

I began writing novels in 2007 and got my first one published in 2012, with another to follow every year for five years. By this time, refugee tales were all over the news and I knew I was ready to tell his “escape from Vietnam” story, if he’d agree.

In the summer of 2015, I approached Binh and ask if I could chronicle his adventure. Since I am primarily a children’s book author, I had to convince him to have a fictional younger cousin go along with him and narrate the story (in real life, Binh made the journey without accompaniment). It would still be Binh’s story, but seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old orphan named Bao Dang.

Thankfully, he agreed and we went to work. We met in a break room once or twice a week. I told him to start at the beginning (why he left, how he paid for it, etc.) while I took copious notes. He went into vivid detail about the covert journey down the Saigon River with 14 others packed knees-to-chin in the bow of a small boat. Then it was on to the Hyvong (Vietnamese for “Hope”), a river boat that was used to transport Binh and over 100 other packed refugees to open water and beyond to a willing refugee camp. There were so many details about the trip I could never make up, they have to be experienced.

There were often others in the break room when we did this, and they, too, were enraptured by his tale. I frequently had to remind myself to keep writing as he spoke. It took most of the summer to get from escaping Vietnam to finally making it to the US (no spoiler needed), but I finally turned those many pages of hand-written notes into a nearly 40k-word first draft manuscript called “Escape to America.”

First drafts are typically far from perfect, and this one was no exception. During editing, we removed unneeded scenes and fixed clunky dialogue. I had to make sure the “voice” sounded authentic by deleting all American-sounding phrases and mannerisms and infusing the occasional Vietnamese word or phrase for effect.

Something was still “off” with the next draft and that’s when I realized the point of view needed to be changed from third person to first person. We had to get inside Bao’s head and feel everything he was feeling and then some. To do this, I asked Binh to dig a little deeper and tell me what he was experiencing using all five senses. We needed the smell of the cramped quarters in the bow of the boat, the taste of the one cup of rice and one cup of water they were given daily as they made their way through the South China Sea. We needed the sound of the wind whooshing through the flimsy structures at the refugee camps. That version of the story was much better, but there still something missing. It read too much like a documentary. It needed more soul. That’s when it hit me. Bao, the fictional refugee, needed non-human help to get him through the hardships of camp life. He needed music. He needed to hear The Dragon’s Song.

We rewrote dozens of scenes to add the element of music into the plot. Bao is given a small, bamboo flute called a sao truc. He soon realizes that he’s a very good player and that songs can soothe his soul. The music gets him through near starvation, bullying, overcrowded conditions, and worst of all, day after day of interminable waiting.

Now we were onto something. The title changed to The Dragon’s Song and we were ready to find a literary agent. After a few months and more than the usual amount of rejections, we found an agent from Texas who loved it. If we thought getting an agent was difficult, getting an editor at a major publishing house turned out to be a near impossible task. We do give the agent credit for trying. She suggested several rewrites to add tension and humor. Unfortunately, her office was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey and she suffered some major health issues along the way, one of which forced her out of the business before she could make a sale.

We were free to shop the manuscript around on our own, so we did just that. In November of 2019, we sent the manuscript to INtense Publications in Texas and the editor, Jana Grissom, offered us a contract just four days later. The Dragon’s Song had found a home! Now, five years in the making, we present to you our story, a heartwarming tale of faith and determination and courage.

We hope you enjoy The Dragon’s Song. We also hope you appreciate what many refugees around the world consider to be the ultimate gift:

Freedom.

 

R. M.  Clark

Binh Pham