Talespins Blog Tour: Read it if and Giveaways!

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tale spins tour

“It’s become quite a trend to take a known story

and tell it a different way.

That’s all well and good, for we can assume

every author has something to say.”   

(Jack’d, Talespins, p 66)

Afternoon all!  I am chuffed as a chuffed thing to be participating in the blog tour for Michael Mullin’s new book Talespins, a poetic retelling of three traditional fairy tales.  Click on the link to check out the other blogs participating the tour, and then go visit!
Tour Schedule

Don’t forget to scroll down right to the end of this post too (after you’ve finished reading it all, word for word…obviously) for GIVEAWAYS! Hurrah!

Now I’ve mentioned before that I am generally not a fan of retellings of fairy tales in any form, but having recently read and enjoyed Scar and the Wolf, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with zombies, I felt that I should probably give this one a go.

Talespins features three short stories-in-verse aimed at an audience of middle grade and above.  The first story, 8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown 8th Dwarf, is narrated by Creepy (the aforementioned previously unmentioned 8th dwarf) and presents a well-known and oft-repeated lament of unattractive suitors down through the ages.  The Plight and Plot of Princess Penny relates the results of a hip young princess’s ill-advised scheme to wreak revenge on a bullying schoolfriend, and Jack’d presents the Giant’s side of the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk tale, with a guest appearance by Death.

I thoroughly enjoyed these tales.  In my experience of ferreting out fantastic ebooks for children and young people, I have found time and again that some novice authors grossly underestimate the difficulty of constructing GOOD rhyming text.   Good rhyming text has cadence.  It has meter.  It has a rhythm that allows someone reading aloud to perform the story, rather than just read it.  One of my major pet peeves is the creation and sale of books (usually in e-format, and usually self-published by people who have bypassed entirely any decent process of editing) by those who believe that just slapping two random sentences one after the other and chucking two rhyming words at the end constitutes good writing for children.  I am absurdly happy therefore, to assure you that to read Talespins is to experience GOOD rhyming text.

There are a few spots in which the meter is a bit out, particularly in the middle story of the three, but overall, Mullin has done a great job at sustaining the rhyme and rhythm throughout these reasonably long (for verse) short stories.

tale-spinsRead it if:

* you believe that not all fairy tales should end happily ever after

* you’ve ever been referred to amongst your group of friends, in word or thought, as “the one with the unfortunate face”

* you fervently adhere to the idea that every school’s bullying policy should allow for retaliatory use of potions moste potente by victims against their perpetrators

* you have a recurring dream involving magic beans, a poorly maintained elevator shaft, and the clammy hand of death on your shoulder

 Given that I have now enjoyed TWO fairy tale retellings in as many weeks, I should probably rethink my stance on rejecting them out of hand.  If you are looking for a quick, fun and feisty read for a young’un around your shelf these holidays, you could do a lot worse than securing a copy of Talespins.

Incidentally, Talespins would also be the perfect choice for those participating in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge for 2014, in category eight (a book with wordplay in the title).  If you have no idea what I’m on about, perhaps you should click on this large and attractive button, and enlighten yourself, sign up and set your thill-seeking missiles to FUN!

small fry

 Now that your participation in the Safari is all settled (welcome aboard!), you should have a look below at some more info about Talespins and its author, Michael Mullin.  Right at the bottom of the post, because I always save the best ’til last, are two giveaways – one for US residents only ….*sniff*…fine…us internationals know when we’re not wanted…*sob*….and one for the rest of us.

Until next time,

Bruce

tale spins banner

Tale Spins
A trilogy of alternative fairytales and retellings. Discover the real Snow White story through the eyes of Creepy, the unknown 8th dwarf! Meet a teen princess who hires “The Frog Prince” witch to get revenge on a Mean Girl at school! And learn how the giant, boy thief and magic beans tale truly went down!

Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Praise for Tale Spins

Not usually enamoured of either re-tellings or poetry I was totally taken aback by just how much I relished this trilogy of alternative fairytales and re-tellings aimed at the Young Adult market. ~Tracy (Goodreads)

TaleSpins was like walking into a vintage store and finding a true treasure. This book takes the fairytales we all grew up on and gives them an interesting and modernized version that I enjoyed. ~Rose (Goodreads)

mike mullin

Author Michael Mullin

Michael Mullin is a native New Englander living in Pasadena. He is the author of TaleSpins, a trilogy of alternative fairy tales and retellings for YA readers. TaleSpins stories (in the 1-book collection) are “8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown 8th Dwarf”; “The Plight and Plot of Princess Penny”; and “Jack’d”. Michael is also the co-author of the successful “Larry Gets Lost” children’s book series. His screenplay “Zooing Time” was recognized by the WGA’s Written By magazine. Before all this writing, he taught preschool and college, two positions he found disconcertingly similar.

Website * Facebook * Twitter

Tour Giveaways

Giveaway #1 – Open to US only

Mike Mullin Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway #2 $25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 1/21/14 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pre-release Read-it-if Review: The Dead Men Stood Together….

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Good Sunny Morning to you all! Today’s offering is a pre-release from one of the shelf’s favourite authors: The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital review copy via Netgalley from Bloomsbury in return for an honest review, so three cheers to Bloomsbury!

As I mentioned, we are big Chris Priestley fans around the shelf – indeed, he has even been the subject of one of Mad Martha’s Odes to an Author, which you can check out here, if you so desire.  So it was with great anticipation that I got my paws on this latest tome.  As a bit of background, Priestley has recently published a number of books that are retellings of well-known horror stories, and The Dead Men Stood Together is the latest in this line-up.  Based on Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Dead Men follows the adventures of the young narrator as he sets sail through every extreme of weather, on a highly unusual and extremely creep-inducing adventure in the company of a crew of hardened sea dogs and his highly unusual and extremely creep-inducing uncle.

I had not read the poem before starting the book, but a few chapters in, I thought I probably should, just to have something with which to compare the story as it unfolded.  If you are of a similar mindset, you can find the text of the poem here, although it is by no means necessary to be familiar with the poem in order to enjoy the book.

dead men stood together

Read it if:

* you can’t resist a rollicking tale set on the high seas

* you have ever been held captive by an elderly person as they regale you with far-fetched stories from the distant past

* you are inclined to complain heartily and predict impending doom should the weather stray more than a couple of degrees either side of your preferred temperature

* you have an objectionable uncle (or indeed any type of irritating relative) and you would love to witness their come-uppance…particularly if that come-uppance involves the wearing of something large, ridiculous and foul-smelling as a means of public ridicule

Priestley has a very recognisable style that pops you straight into the gothic, atmospheric headspace required for maximum enjoyment of a fear-laden tale.  The voice of the narrator is just perfect for read-aloud and I can definitely picture fathers and sons (probably best to avoid uncles and nephews, unless you are indeed the objectionable sort of uncle who finds amusement in creeping kids out) enjoying this one together as a before-bed serial.  This would also be a good choice for middle-grade lads who like a bit of substance with their adventure.

The only trouble I would note for this as a read-alone for the younger end of the target age bracket is the pace of the book in some parts – particularly towards the end of the tale, there are a few large chunks of text that are almost entirely comprised of the narrator’s reflections and I found that without any dialogue or real character interactions that I had to really focus my attention through those sections.  This may also have been due to the fact that I find myself far more distractable when reading e-versions  – I would definitely say this type of story suits a print book. Preferably a hardback. Dog-eared. With an attached fabric bookmark.

Overall, this was a nice, atmospheric read; light on the blood-spattering gore type of horror but well-divested of a sense of creeping dread.  And I will award bonus points because, as it’s based on classic poetry, it allows one to indulge in a bit of book-snobbery: “Coleridge? Oh of course darling, I’m utterly familiar with his major works….”

Until next time,

Bruce

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Atlantis Re-imagined: What’s in a Name Challenge

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It’s okay people, you can stop the phone calls to the Missing Persons (Creatures?) Department – I’m back! My recent absence (that you all noticed and pined over) was due to some difficulties with our interwebs connection. The fleshfolk who dwell here have finally sorted it out and I’m ready for a posting frenzy, beginning with Obstacle Number … something or other … in the What’s In a Name Reading Challenge: Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay!

surface tension

Taken from the: Non-Christie Listie (as a last-minute ring in )

Category: One – A book with Up or Down or its equivalent in the title.

“But Bruce!” I hear you interject, “That title doesn’t bear any relation to up or down or its equivalent!”

Ah yes. On the surface (pun intended), it would appear that this book has no up or down connection….but delve a little deeper (pun intended) and you will note that this tome has been recently re-released under the title….BELOW! Take that, category one!

below

Surface Tension (or Below) follows the story of Cassie – a young lass who was born on the day her family’s town was drowned.  Since Lower Grange was flooded after the creation of a dam in the area, Cassie, her friend Liam, and all the other residents have resumed their lives in the higher and drier New Lower Grange.  During summer holidays, Cassie and Liam take to swimming in the not-commonly-frequented side of the lake above Lower Grange and stumble upon a secret hidden away with the fish and lake-weed in the old town.

This Book’s Point of Difference:

McKinlay has created a refreshing take on the sense of mystery and adventure evoked by the image of a city hidden beneath the water – it’s a great premise and a nice change from the usual middle grade/YA fare around at the moment.

Pros:

– It’s a reasonably quick read but there is enough for middle readers and younger teens to get their teeth into

– The secret discovered by the kids is kept nicely hidden through the use of a few well placed red-herrings. It was a surprise for me – which was great, because two-thirds of the way through I thought (rather disappointedly) I’d figured it out. I hadn’t.

– It’s got that classic summer holidays feeling.

Cons:

– I can’t really think of any. It was certainly the book I’ve most enjoyed out of the last ten or so I’ve picked up.

This is a really well constructed little read and delivers just what you’re looking for if you’re after something light but a little bit different from the standard fantasy or friendship fare.

Ahhhh. It’s good to be back. Stay tuned for more Reader’s Challenge fare shortly, as well as a frustration-related Haiku and dates and themes for subsequent Fiction in 50s.

Until next time,

Bruce

Retro Reading: Finders Keepers…

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Today’s Retro Reading offering is, for me, a quintessential book of childhood.  I first encountered it as a school-aged stone, through a teacher’s (inspired!) choice for a classroom read-aloud.  I remembered it fondly and was very excited to dip back into it as a grown stone.  finders keepers

Finders Keepers by perennial Australian author Emily Rodda, (she of Deltora Quest and Rowan of Rin fame), follows the exploits of Patrick, a young lad who is contacted through a computer game and invited to take part in a mysterious game show and win fabulous prizes.  After accepting, Patrick is pulled through “the Barrier” separating our world from…well…another very similar world…and is tasked with finding three objects that have slipped through the Barrier and been lost by their owners.  Cue all the fun and suspense that goes along with any adventure in which a child is continually thwarted by perfectly ordinary problems – such as not having anyone to drive him to the shop where he suspects one of the objects may be found.

finders keepers 4

I am happy to report that re-reading this book produced everything I remembered and adored about it the first time round.  Emily Rodda possesses a remarkable ability to draw the reader in to the world she has created, even when crafting everyday domestic conversations or describing the simple problems faced by her young protagonists.  In Finders Keepers, she weaves suspense through the story beautifully and has crafted her characters – particularly Patrick and Estelle – in such a genuine way that one finds oneself glued to the page and cheering them along.

finders keepers 2

This story also features some riddles – a bit of a Rodda signature move – which are quite fun to solve and would appeal to its target audience.  Finders Keepers, having won the Childrens Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers in 1991, was followed up with The Timekeeper, and later made into a television series.  You can see a bit of it at the link below.  Incidentally, if you’re a fan of early 1990s fashion and culture in Australia, you’re in for a treat!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3Mnh_eJ54M&list=PL7A4147BF2FB6412F

This book is a perfect choice for any kid aged 8 and above.  Actually, seven-year-olds would probably get a kick out of it too.  It really is one of those rare gems that comes along and sticks in your memory, and is well worth hunting out, particularly for readers outside Australia who may be discovering it for the first time!

finders keepers 3As has been my wont recently, I have included all the different versions of cover art that I could lay paw on…my favourite is the first as it is the one I remember. The last one pictured (with backwards hat boy) is my least favourite…I think it makes the main character look like an individual lacking the capacity for independent thought….or any thought, really.  Do not let this distract you, book Finders – I challenge you to seek out this book, even if you have to cross the Barrier to get to it!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Read it if: The Ministry of Pandemonium….

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ImageI have decided to take a leaf out of Mad Martha’s book and post today about another favourite lining the shelf: Chris Westwood’s Ministry of Pandemonium and its sequel, The Great and Dangerous.  Not wanting Martha to have all the fun, I too have proved that I can arrange an attractive photo of myself for your viewing pleasure with the tomes to which I will be referring.

So! The first of this series, The Ministry of Pandemonium was one which came to the shelf after my fleshling owner decided to take a punt on an interestingly titled tome at a large chain book store which has since gone out of business.  It was a punt which has returned plentiful gains in the satisfaction department for me, as I devoured the tale, pillaged the second book for its engaging content and am now eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.

The Ministry of Pandemonium deals with young Ben Harvester, a talented artist with a hard working single mum, who is surprised to discover that death, much like life, is shrouded in bureaucracy.  Ben also finds out he has certain talents that the Ministry of Pandemonium could put to good use, and agrees to work with the ministry under the tutelage of the enigmatic Mister October.  Thus begins a sometimes harrowing journey as Ben helps to get the deceased on their way to wherever it is they’re going, while attempting to uncover some family secrets on the way.

ministry of pandemonium

Read it if:

* you’ve ever suspected that the time immediately following your death may well be spent filling out life-relinquishment forms in triplicate

* you find cemeteries atmospheric, peaceful and relaxing as opposed to overgrown, creepy and downright depressing

* you’ve ever found it tricky to fit in with your peers

* your difficulties in fitting in are related to your ability to see people who have shuffled off their mortal coils and really should be doing whatever it is the dead do, rather than disrupting your ability to fit in with your peers

great and dangerous

I found these books refreshing and perhaps more importantly, re-readable, as they seem to hit a deeper level than one ordinarily sees for books for this age group (say, 12 to 16 years).  They deal with death openly and the characters are sensitively drawn, without any gimmicky stereotyping or character-flaws-for-the-sake-of-it that often crop up in tales for middle readers and young adults.  Ben is an ordinary boy with ordinary problems, placed in an extraordinary circumstance.

As an extra piece of trickery, the two books reviewed here have been released under different titles, with different cover art, in the US.  The Ministry of Pandemonium has been titled Graveyard Shift (rather underwhelmingly, I thought), with the following cover art:

graveyard shift

I personally think that the original art (and title!) more accurately reflect the tone of the book – from the US cover art, one might be expecting a no-holds-barred, boys-own, rollicking adventure from cover to cover, and that’s just not what you get with this book. While there is adventure and action there’s intellect and emotion too, which I find much more satisfying, particularly in a book for young fleshlings.

Right. I’ve blabbed on too much. The self-portrait phenomenon must have gone to my head.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Haiku Review: Shadow Forest….

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Hello my pretties! For today’s dose of haiku I’ve dug one of my favourite tomes off the shelf: Matt Haig’s Shadow Forest.  To prove it’s one of my regularly thumbed books, I’ve thoughtfully included a picture of myself with the book and it’s (slightly less engaging but still worth a read) sequel, The Runaway Troll:

mad martha shadow forestFrom the opening sentence of the book’s blurb, “Samuel Blink is the hero of this story but he doesn’t know it yet”, the discerning reader knows that a particularly intriguing tale is in the offing. Handily, this book is one of those special little paper-gems that will not disappoint.

Samuel Blink (our soon-to-be hero of the moment) and his sister Martha (selective mute) find themselves suddenly living in Norway with a long-lost aunt (ex-Olympic javelin champ) after the untimely death of their parents.  Aunt Eda’s only rule for their stay is this: Do not enter the forest. Ever. For any reason.  For the forest is the known home of creatures of ill-repute and has already claimed the life of the children’s literally long-lost Uncle Henrik.

Obviously, both children end up entering the forest. And from there, as they say in the classics, the fun begins!

shadow forest

Picturesque arbour

not suited to tourist groups

Hold fast your shadow

I had forgotten how much I really love this book until I was casting my eyes over the shelf for re-reading inspiration recently. It’s obviously a kid’s book but the comedic undertones have appeal across age groups. I still can’t read the chapter involving the Truth Pixie without giggling to myself for days afterwards.  Incidentally, the picture above shows a different cover to the edition I own – I believe the art on my edition is vastly superior, but I’m sure you can make up your own mind.

Until next we meet, keep reading, and stay out of the forest…

Mad Martha

Retro Reading: The Brothers Lionheart…

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Today I present to you a book that I have been forced to categorise (since my most recent reading) as a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a very attractive dust jacket. I first encountered The Brothers Lionheart by perennial favourite Astrid Lindgren (she of Pippi Longstocking fame), as a reasonably young gargoyle. If memory serves I would have been around 9 or 10 years stony standing and was deeply involved in a “medieval” phase – which has been acknowledged as a highly important developmental period for gargoyles and other stone-creatures alike.  It was first published in the original Swedish in 1973, and had its first outing in English in 1975.

brothers lionheart

The story centres around young brothers Karl and Jonathan Lion, who die within weeks of each other and are reunited in Nangiyala, which appears at first glance to be an afterlife consisting of simple country living, such as one might have experienced during “the time of songs and sagas” as Lindgren puts it.  Shortly after Karl’s arrival in Nangiyala however, it becomes apparent that a creeping evil is descending on the valley where the boys reside and the story really takes off when Jonathan vanishes while on a secret mission into the heart of enemy territory.  Essentially, the plot unfolds as your basic good townsfolk versus tyrannical despot type of story, until we leave the boys as they gain entry into a second afterlife-y place called Nangilima.

bl pic 1

Right. Now as soon as this book popped unbidden back into my head n years after first reading, I immediately added it to my “to read retroactively” list as the thought of it was accompanied by a lovely warm feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment in the story.  Weirdly, as I re-read it, I also remembered that I was not able, as a youngling, to read this book in one sitting due to a feeling of dis-ease that seeped into my young mind with every turn of the page.  In fact, after some really focused reminiscing, I acknowledged that while I remember borrowing this book out from the library multiple times, I did so only because I found the book too discomfiting to finish in one reading.

bl pic 2

As a grown stone re-reading this story, I could see why it made my young self a tad unsettled.  For a start, it’s chock-full of death. The two main characters die not once, but twice; the second time in a way that I found, as an adult reader, a bit disturbing.  There’s plenty of terror and tyranny in the story as well – dissenters being carted off to a secret prison, traitors revealed amongst trusted company, and so forth.

I think though that this book is one of those tricky ones that can be interpreted at a much deeper level if first encountered as an adult.  Prior to re-reading, I had fond memories of my experiences with this book, with only vague undertones of something a bit frightening lurking within the pages.  As an adult reader, I’m now a bit unsure as to whether I like the story or not, and what sense or message I can take from it, and this might be a little unfair.

Soooooo…….do I recommend this one for young readers or not? I think I’ll have to err on the side of a guarded recommendation. It’s an engaging and action packed read, but “Macy the Shopping Mall Fairy” or “Captain Underpants” this book ain’t.  There are deeper themes presented here than one would normally find in children’s literature and for that reason I would recommend this book as a read-aloud, or for young independent readers who are fairly mature and/or sensitive in their outlook on life and books.

I would love to hear from anyone else who encountered this book as a youngling, and how their recommendations would pan out now.

Until next time,

Bruce