Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tip Top Teen Reads- Ten Things we Shouldn't Have Done and Geek Girl

Ten Things We Shouldn't Have Done- Sarah Mlynowski

The Blurb
I was about to live a sixteen-year-old's dream.
House on the beach.
No parents.
Parties whenever we wanted.
Boys wherever we wanted.

April and her best friend, Vi, are living by themselves. Of course, April's parents don't know that. They think she's living with Vi and Vi's mum. But it's not April's fault that her dad decided to move away in the middle of high school. So who could blame her for a little white lie? Or the other nine things that April (probably) shouldn't have done that year...

The Review
I saw this book in Waterstone's and was immediately drawn in by the eye catching cover- simple, yet bold.  And when I read the blurb, I knew this would be a book I'd enjoy.

There is typical teen melodrama when April realises her family doesn't revolve just around her, and after a few well-told untruths she moves in with her best friend Vi.  They end up in a lot of scrapes- a hot tub, the obligatory teen parties, gaining a kitten being just some- and April realises that life as a grown up is not always all it's cracked up to be.  Throw in some boys just to make things that bit more messy and voila!  You'vre got Ten Things we Shouldn't Have Done.

This is a fun book with some serious messages, and reading it has definitely made me keen to seek out more by this author.  It's a YA book with enough bite for the haters who say 'but they're for teenagers!' when I tell them I'm reading this genre, and it is chock full of action and drama.  I read it over two days and loved every second of it.

The perfect read to drag me out of my reading slump- thanks Ms Mlynowski!

Geek Girl-Holly Smale

The Blurb
“My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.

But she doesn’t know why nobody at school seems to like her.

So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.

As her old life starts to fall apart, will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

The Review
Oh, I loved it.  I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.  Harriet as the most unlikely model, Nat as the disgruntled but ever supportive best friend, Toby as the out and out weirdo and of course Nick, the ultimate in hot boy... This was a perfect teen read.

I'd actually bought Geek Girl a while ago and put it to one side, now I am wondering why on earth I did that as I am desperate to move straight on to the second book in the series!  It is just so much FUN.  I loved the scene where Harriet is 'discovered' and her first photoshoot had me laughing out loud (I wouldn't be able to stand in ridiculously high heels, I can tell you that now.  And with snow in the mix too, I'd be on my way to A and E).

It's a bit like a Louise Rennison book in style, which is only a good thing if you're a teen book, right? And you certainly don't have to be a cool kid to relate to the characters, because they are just typical teenagers wandering around with insults graffitied on their bags, trying to fit in (or at least, not stand out).

If these books had been around when I was younger I'd have read them back to back over and over again.  Actually, who am I kidding?  I'll probably still do that now.  After all, books are for enjoying, and whilst I'm not the target market, I can honestly say I'm a fan of Holly Smale's after reading Geek Girl.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wonder/The Julian Chapter- RJ Palacio

The Blurb

'My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.'

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things - eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside. But ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren't stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?

The Review

I honestly don't know where to start with this one.  I'm not sure there are enough superlatives in the dictionary for me to spout out, and I don't know if I can convey how much love I have for this book.  But I'll try and explain to you just why I love Wonder so much.

First, let's talk about August.  He's different.  Or rather, he looks different, but as you read his thoughts and fears you appreciate that he's actually experiencing life in exactly the same way as everyone else.  He's nervous about starting a new school, he worries what people will think of him, he doesn't want to be judged purely on his Star Wars obsession.  But because August looks so different to his peers, he is stared at wherever he goes, openly mocked, ignored or told he is repulsive.  Life for August isn't easy.  He can't just be a ten year old boy, he's 'The Freak', 'The Ork'.  The other children at his new school don't understand why he looks like he does, and most are afraid of him purely because of his appearance. 

August is ridiculed throughout, particularly by privileged Julian and his hangers-on.  It is uncomfortable to read and I am not ashamed to admit there were tears on numerous occasions.  However, the friendships August does make shine through.  His lunchtime pal Summer is beautiful inside and out, and as warm as her name would suggest.

Told through the eyes of August, his family and his peers, it examines how one person can affect the lives of people around them.  It will cause you to consider your own actions and words more closely, and although I wouldn't call it an easy read because it will challenge your thinking (emotive-yes, engaging- yes, easy-no), it is beautifully simplistic in its message. 
As an adult reading Wonder (particularly one who has worked in education for the last sixteen years), I was especially interested in the portrayal of the teachers in the book.  Mr Browne, the English teacher with a penchant for precepts, is wonderful.  He encourages children to be introspective, to become better people and most of all to 'choose kind'.  Every child should have a teacher like him for at least one year of their schooling (I very fortunately had a brilliant teacher for two years, Mr Richards, who taught kindness and empathy alongside poetry and creative writing).  The Head teacher, Mr Tushman is also a brilliant character.  I'd say he has a quiet power, and a real knowledge about just what is going on inside his school walls.
It is impossible to explain just why this book is such a hit with adults and children alike except to say it is truly unique, and a book which deserves to be read, and reread until we are all better, kinder people.  It is one of my favourite reads of the year, hands down.
So my final message to you is to choose Wonder.  And most of all, choose kind.

New editions of Wonder contain The Julian Chapter (which can also be bought separately), giving the viewpoint of the ringleader and bully.  Equally as well written as Wonder, and just as powerful, I was brought to my knees by this addition to the book.  It could so easily have been overkill, but RJ Palacio judged this one just right. 
To raise awareness of Anti-bullying week, the publisher has very kindly given me a 'Wonder Bundle' to dish out to one lucky reader.  To enter, simply comment below telling me why you should win, or tweet using the hashtags #bwbwonder and #choosekind.  A winner will be selected at random on Tuesday 26th November. Due to postage costs, I am sorry that this is a UK only competition. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Waiting for Doggo- Mark B. Mills

The Blurb

One man. One dog. One big love. The perfect novel for anyone who loves MARLEY AND ME, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or ONE DAY.

No-one ever called Dan a pushover. But then no-one ever called him fast-track either. He likes driving slowly, playing Sudoku on his iPhone, swapping one scruffy jumper for another. He's been with Clara for four years and he's been perfectly happy; but now she's left him, leaving nothing but a long letter filled with incriminations and a small, white, almost hairless dog, named Doggo. So now Dan is single, a man without any kind of partner whether working or in love. He's just one reluctant dog owner. Find a new home for him, that's the plan.

Come on...everyone knows the old adage about the best laid plans and besides, Doggo is one special kind of a four legged friend...and an inspiration.

The Review

There's been plenty of hype about Waiting for Doggo (or just plain 'Doggo', as it is affectionately known for short).  Other bloggers raved about it and the publicity team at Headline have gone all out to make sure that we know about this book.  To say I had high expectations is an understatement.

The book is actually mainly about Dan, Doggo's owner.  He's the kind of guy who blunders along through life, not quite sure what's going on around him. And since his long term partner Clara left him suddenly, he's had even more doubts about what he wants.  And what he does wants, and ultimately does, is surely going to only cause more chaos in the long run.  So how on earth can he take responsibility for a dog, not least a dog his ex rescued from Battersea on a whim? 

Dan throws himself into his job, taking Doggo to work with him, and before long the scruffy, unattractive mutt (Doggo, not Dan) soon becomes part of the furniture, livening up the office and the everyday work scenes which might otherwise have seemed borderline mundane in print.  The little anecdotes about Doggo delivering the mail for example, were cute and evocative. 

It is Dan's workplace which is so much like many other working environments, which had me laughing.  The boss, the wannabe, the Billy big bollocks full of eye-rollingly bad ideas...they're all there, and you'll recognise them from your own experiences.  Mark B Mills certainly knows how to create a character that will make you feel.  And Doggo himself will certainly do that.  He's the ugly, oddball dog that they never thought they'd be able to rehome.  And he has a weird obsession with Jennifer Aniston.  But I loved him.

This isn't a gripping mystery, or a passionate romance.  It isn't a gory crime, or a laugh out loud comedy.  But it is a story of a likeable man, with his best-mate of a dog, and how together they approach a life-changing period.  Waiting for Doggo brims with positivity and hope.  It will make you believe that you can.  It is a book which is difficult to categorise and it's equally difficult to explain just how Doggo captured my heart and captivated my mind.  Touching doesn't cut it.  Engaging only skims the surface.  Heartwarming sounds all too twee, especially when you consider the Tupperware scene (you'll know it when you get there). 

I can only say it is unique, and that I found myself turning page after page even when part of me wasn't sure why.  I was strangely hooked.  Doggo won me over. 

And with that ending, there has to be another instalment at some point, surely? I need more Doggo in my life.

Waiting For Doggo is released on November 20th, published by Headline.

With thanks to the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Roy- The Roy of the Rovers autobiography

The Blurb

The greatest story ever told by the world’s most beloved sportsman, Roy of the Rovers, in his own words for the first time.

The shocking details of the five terrifying kidnappings that threatened to blight his playing career; the stomach-churning murder attempt in 1980, which left Roy in a life-threatening coma; the sickening car bomb attack that tragically killed eight of Roy's team-mates while on a pre-season tour of Basran; the devastation of losing his wife, former Melchester club secretary Penny Laine, who died in a car accident that brought Roy closer than ever to quitting the game he loved.

And finally the horrific helicopter crash in 1993 that resulted in the amputation of Roy's legendary left foot, bringing the curtain down on his sensational, game-clinching, goal scoring exploits.
Candid, emotional, optimistic, and never nothing less than inspiring, the autobiography of the man all fans of the game know simply as Roy Race aka 'Roy of the Rovers' lays bare for the first time the truth behind soccer's ultimate fairy-tale story.

It’s all Rover, and it is here for the first time for his fans to enjoy all in one victorious book.

The Review

Roy Race (AKA Roy of the Rovers) is the perfect football hero.  He's successful, a family man and dedicated to his beloved Melchester Rovers in a way that few modern day footballers are.  He's one on his own, and I'm surprised he (ahem) hasn't written an autobiography before now.

I really wanted to love this, to fondly relive some of the moments from the comic strips of my youth, such as the Mel Park earthquake.  Unfortunately, I found it a bit lacking.  Firstly, I found the discrepancies between the blurb and actual text of the autobiography irritating, for example the 'eight FA Cups' of the back cover to the ''eleven times' FA Cup winner mentioned on p112 and 'five terrifying kidnappings' which become being 'kidnapped nine times' on p131.  I don't know if it's supposed irony, playing on the hyperbole of the comic strips and Roy's confident demeanour or what, but I found it extremely frustrating. I'm not a big enough fan to know Roy's career history off pat, so I don't know which, if either, are factually correct.  Not good for an autobiography.

I would also have loved some of the iconic images of Roy's career in a picture section-after all, isn't that the bit we all flick to first in any autobiography worth its salt?  There was nothing like that.  I'm not sure if it was due to copyright, but I found that really disappointing.

Also, I am a massive fan of Penny and would have liked more of their life together to have been focussed on in the book.  Unfortunately, she comes across as little more than a baby machine, which isn't fair portrayal. 

I'll be honest, I really wish it had been done as a compilation of the highlights of Roy's career in comic strip format-whether that was simply linking the strips that had been run over the years with snippets of text in between or completely reworking it but retelling the story we all know and love in the format we are familiar with.  I wasn't overly enamoured by the ghost writers style either, I'm convinced there are fans out there who could have done a better job of sharing Roy's inimitable story.

For me, I'm sad to say, it didn't work.  I'd say this is one for the 'die hards' but unfortunately I think most die hards would say this is a poor, inaccurate effort to recreate the magic of Roy's career and moreso his private life.

NB. Yes, I am fully aware Roy Race is a fictional character.

With thanks to the publisher who sent me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Roy is out now, published by Random House.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

One Hundred Christmas Proposals- Holly Martin BLOG TOUR

The Blurb
The eagerly anticipated follow-up to One Hundred Proposals.
If you thought Harry & Suzie’s life couldn't get anymore sweepingly romantic than Harry asking her to marry him at the end of One Hundred Proposals – think again!
It’s Christmas in a snow-kissed London, and the.PerfectProposal.com have vowed to carry out one hundred proposals in December. No easy task at the best of times - made even more complicated by Harry & Suzie trying to plan their first Christmas and a visit from the dreaded in-laws. But one hundred deliciously Christmassy proposals later they find themselves asking if everything is still perfect in their own relationship….
Welcome back to the divinely warm world of One Hundred Proposals – with a sprinkling of pure, joyful, festive magic.
Have yourself a very merry Christmas indeed with Holly Martin’s Christmas novella.
The Guest post
I am delighted to have a lovely guest post from Holly which will pull at your heart strings and your Christmas bells! She is sharing some romantic Christmas proposals with us today which will get you in the perfect frame of mind for Harry and Suzie's latest instalment.  Over to Holly....

Whilst looking for ways to share about the release of One Hundred Christmas Proposals, I came across these gorgeous Christmas Proposals. 

I love this one because the mother in law is more bothered about her precious box, I love it because the man is so impatient for her to unwrap the present that he unwraps it for her.  I love it because even when he gets down on one knee she still has no clue and I love her reaction, the ‘I can’t breathe, sobbing really hard’ reaction.  It doesn’t need to be in a romantic setting with all the bells and whistles, it just needs to be the man you love asking you to spend the rest of your life with him

Ahh this one is so simple, so sweet and she has no idea, even when the proposal is staring her right in the face.  I love that her family were involved in the proposal and I love her wailing, shrieking, sibbing reaction when she finally realises what is going on.

Ah where would my list of Christmas proposals be without a flash mob.  I love the music, the dancing, the fountains and the Christmas lights and that they carry on dancing after the proposal has taken place.

This is just a gorgeous proposal, and my absolute favourite proposal of them all.  I love the mountains, the candles in the snow and the little hand carved signs. I love the Christmas tree decorated with special memories and the horse drawn sleigh.  I love the music and I love this has been set up and filmed by a REAL proposal company.  I wonder if they have two best friends that work for them too.

You can buy One Hundred Christmas Proposals from Amazon, just click on the link below.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Cafe- Rebecca Raisin


I am super-dooper excited to be a part of the blog tour for Rebecca Raisin's Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café today.  And why?  Well, firstly because Ms Raisin knows how to tell a story.  She's got that old-school romance and community feel down to a tee and creates characters that as a reader I cared about.  And secondly, I am very fortunate to now class Rebecca as a friend.  In fact, she says I was the one who encouraged her to make this a series (I'll take all the credit I can get, any hint of a link with this trilogy is good enough for me). 
So, the end is nigh.  The final instalment of the Gingerbread Café is upon us.  But it's a good one.  BOY, IS IT A GOOD ONE!  Christmas?  Check.  Wedding?  Check.  Future Mother-in-Law that will make your skin crawl?  Check. 

Let's get down to business...
The Blurb
 You are invited to the wedding of the year!
Snow is falling thick and fast outside the Gingerbread Café and inside, its owner Lily is planning the wedding of the year. Her wedding! She never dreamt it would happen, but this Christmas, she’ll be marrying the man of her dreams - in a Christmas-card-perfect ceremony!
The gingerbread is baking, the dress is fitted and the mistletoe’s in place – for once, everything’s going to plan. That is until her mother-in-law arrives... Suddenly, Lily’s famous cool is being tested like never before and her dream wedding is crumbling before her eyes.

In the blink of a fairylight, the Gingerbread Café has been thrown into chaos! Lily thought she had this wedding wrapped up, but with so much to do before she says ‘I do’, can Lily get to the church on time – and make this Christmas sparkle after all?

The Review

I'm feeling a teensy bit sad writing this, knowing it's the last in the Gingerbread Café series.  Lil, Damon and CeeCee are like old friends to me, the kind you don't see regularly but when you do get together it's like time and distance are immaterial.  Basically, these characters took me on a journey (I know that sounds a bit X-Factor, but still...).  Without giving away too much to anyone who hasn't read the previous two books (where have you been?  Get yourself copies NOW!), there has been heartache, upheaval and a few tears shed on the road to this wedding.  But now it's time for happiness to reign and for Lily to plan her perfect winter wedding. 

Author Rebecca Raisin

Of course, there is a spanner in the works, and this particular spanner is her future Mother-in -Law, who whizzes into town determined to not only take over, but in Lily's eyes ruin the whole day.  There was one moment (it involved floral table arrangements and was the absolute final straw!) where I literally threw my kindle down in rage.  This is my Lily, she doesn't need this! Appreciate her, you vile old bag!  Your son is lucky to have her! were my thoughts
Although I remained sure the ceremony would happen, I did have a few doubts about whether it would go smoothly and all I could think was that Lily has been through enough!  And when the ceremony passed, with a tender moment to remind everyone of the true meaning of love and friendship, I had a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat.  Totally beautiful.
Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café is a story of family- not just those you are born into, but those you make for yourself.  It is the perfect Christmas read, not just because it reminds you to value those you love, but because it is sweet, funny and most of all festive.  And on a personal level, it reminded me of my own Christmas Wedding in 2005.
Although this is the end of the Gingerbread Café series (sob!) there is more to come from Rebecca Raisin, and I'm hoping on cameos from all the characters in further books.  And I'm desperate for a book about a young CeeCee-I need to know just how she got so wise, and I'd love to see how her personality has evolved.  She's so caring and fun loving, I'm sure she could have had her fair share of romances in her youth.
So my final words are to BUY THIS BOOK.  I was trying desperately to think of a comparison for people who haven't read Rebecca's work yet,  and I've come up with one- she's a modern Maeve Binchy.  If you love books about community life with true-to-life characters in true-to-life situations, delivered with gentle humour and heartfelt emotion, these are for you.

With thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café is out now in ebook format.