Thursday, March 22, 2018

"We Don't Work With Bloggers" - How a rude email showed a huge (and continuing) lack of understanding of the blogging community - A ReadItTorial

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This week's ReadItTorial came from an incident that REALLY put my back up this week. It all stemmed from an email to a company who (without naming names or going into too much incriminating detail) responded to a very polite inquiry with what amounted to a digital slapdown.

The original email was a simple "Do you provide press or review kits? If so, we would love to write about one on our blog."

We don't often send out emails to companies, but from time to time it's always worth a try - and most of the time in the past we've always received a favourable response.

The response in this case was far away from favourable, it was downright rude and just contained the two lines.

"Dear Customer" (note the impersonal response here - I had actually included my full name).

"We don't work with bloggers"

...and that was it. I expanded the email expecting to see perhaps an attached press release, links to the site that the product was being sold from, at least a sign-off with a customer representative's name but no, that was it.

Normally in my line of day-job work I brush off rude emails like this (and yep, as anyone will attest when you work in any line of technical support, you get a LOT of rude emails on a daily basis) but in my 'pseudo-alter-ego' book blogging life, we have never had a response like this before.

Companies either politely decline, or respond favourably and happily send us review copy or kits with a few provisos that we'll actually write about the 'thing' in question.

The real irony here was when I went to their site to check out the 'testimonials' section, expecting to see a lot of reviews from big posh broadsheets, well-established websites perhaps, but instead found a handful of customer testimonials from Facebook users instead. So there you go folks, random facebook opinions are worth more than blogger opinions, apparently!

As usual, I went onto Twitter to have a whinge and a whine about it and was universally met with a sympathetic ear (mostly from authors who we've been lucky enough to review books from in the past).

The email response really smacked of sheer ignorance, a complete lack of understanding of what bloggers do - and what an honest review can lead to. I don't want to sound like our blog has any sort of widespread reach or influence, but in general we've had some great feedback on our reviews and feel like we're sticking to our policies of being honest (brutally so at times) and not just in it for some sort of freebie grab.

I think there's still a hardwired perception that this is what a lot of bloggers are in it for (and we've written about that perception of blogging in the past). There still seems to be a real lack of appreciation with some companies on how much time blogging takes, how articles are crafted and written, and most of all the reason people choose to write blogs in the first place.

It's more than just sharing an opinion. It's also about a shared experience with your readers, those golden moments when you get a piece of positive feedback when someone tells you that your review 'sold them' on a book or an item - and then further feedback from them telling you how right you were. That's the real reward, that's definitely what we're both in it for and as C gets older, it's become more and more important to her to think that her opinions on books are appreciated by other people (I think this is the precursor to that teen 'need' for validation and identity far wider than your close circle of family and / or friends).

We're not the sort of vindictive folk who would rubbish the company by name to anyone who'll listen (I've made sure that I've not mentioned the company by name in any of my rants) but boy oh boy I'll keep that email around to remind me that no matter how polite and pleasant you are, or how well-meaning you are, there's always someone who just doesn't get that at all.
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Children's Wildlife Atlas by John Farndon (QED Publishing)

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It's time for yet another stunning non-fiction title from QED Publishing, once again celebrating the amazingly diverse animals we share our planet with...
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"Car Car Truck Jeep" by Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

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A sizzling, funny and brilliant rhyming sing-a-long book that is destined to be much in demand by your littlies. Turn the ignition and hop on board...!
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"When's My Birthday?" by Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson (Walker Books)

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This gorgeous book turned up about a week before two "big" birthdays (namely mine and C's) and it was great fun to see just how perfectly this story captured that excitement and anticipation of the big day...
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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Earth Verse" by Sally M. Walker and William Grill (Walker Studios)

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Take a breathtaking journey around this tiny blue orb we call home, with some incredible prose and illustrations from a very talented duo.
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"50 Ways to Feel Happy" by Vanessa King, Val Payne, Peter Harper and Celeste Aires (Quarto Children's Books)

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If there's one trend we're seeing increasing in kids from early years upwards, it's the need to take time out and...just be kids.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"A Big Garden" by Gilles Clement and Vincent Grave (Prestel Publishing)

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This certainly is a big book (so we made our header image nice and big to match). "A Big Garden" by Gilles Clement and Vincent Grave is perfect for this time of year, as spring starts to shyly emerge from winter's shadow, and all our gardens come to life.

This beautifully prosaic look at the life of a garden - and the gardener who tends it is underpinned by the most stunningly detailed illustrations as we closely take a look at the seasons, and the months that herald their arrival.

Part fact, part fantasy but so dizzyingly beautiful that you'll get completely lost in these amazing pages, each illustration full of quirky and whimsical moments that mean just one read through will never be enough. We spent hours with this one, laughing together at all the tiny little scenes as they unfolded (and of course marvelling at some truly corking end-papers too).

A very special book this, quite unlike anything we've seen before.

"A Big Garden" by Gilles Clement and Vincent Grave is out now, published by Prestel Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Origami Heart by Binny (Hodder Children's Books)

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It's not a huge secret that we both love Origami. Any excuse to immerse ourselves in a bit of clever paper engineering and we're there...
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Powering up with four recent comic acquisitions featuring thoroughly mighty women.

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Comics have changed for the better, and it's about bloomin' time. Despite the continued issues we have with fragmentation of story arcs and the general confused mess that sometimes confronts you when you show interest in a particular series, it's sometimes worth doing a bit of digging and picking up a few titles regardless.

We've been huge fans of "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" for a long time on the blog, finally hoovering up the missing volumes and 'catching up' with this fantastic series.

Doreen Green AKA Squirrel Girl just happens to be a super-powered college student who can talk to squirrels, can pretty much duff up anyone else in the Marvel Universe - but quite often finds her foes throw in a curve ball to keep her on her tippy-toes (sorry, terrible pun there) with each and every collected issue.

Recently we've seen her taking a holiday with her room-mate to stay in a remote cabin in Canada ("NO WI FI? NO INTERNET? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TAUNT TONY STARK OVER TWITTER?") only to find the cabin sits on top of a bizarre colony of mini criminals who can break apart and reform into bigger / smaller versions of themselves at will. As they begin to slowly take over the world, it's up to Squirrel Girl, Nancy, Squirrel Girl's mum Man to stop this nefarious menace.

Tons of action, loads of silly humour but a superb mighty girl feel, this series just gets better and better (as do Squirrel Girl's tweets about hanging around with superheroes / villains).

"The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Like I'm the only Squirrel in the World" (Volume 5) by Ryan North and Erica Henderson is out now, published by Marvel Comics. 

Shifting gears slightly, we also took a look at "Gwenpool" by Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru, Danilo Beyruth and Tamra Bonvillain...

If you can imagine a universe where Deadpool is somehow gene-spliced with a candy-coloured version of Gwen Stacy from Spiderman, and given the same devil-may-care uber-violent but fun-loving personality of Mr Pool, that's where you'll find yourself with this quirky but fabulous comic.

Gwenpool is finding life in an alternate universe a bit tricky to say the least (have you ever tried to get a bank account when, according to every computer on the planet, you didn't exist before 2 months ago?)

Of course, this hampers this "Ms Merc with a Mouth" in her attempts to work her way into the criminal organisation of one of Marvel's nastiest supervillains, the big-headed bad-attitude dude Modok.

Weirdly, Gwenpool somehow manages to take out Modok's chief hitman, putting herself up for the job as his replacement. There is a snag though, Gwenpool doesn't actually have any discernible superpowers aside from an affinity with things that explode.

What's a girl to do?

This is a superb series, and we dipped into it only meaning to grab the one collected issue - but now want to read the rest. If you like the smart (and quite violent) side of Deadpool but want to do without all the ickiness, this could be the series for you.

"Gwenpool" by Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru, Danilo Beyruth and Tamra Bonvillain is out now, published by Marvel Comics. 

Moving on to a series that could've been MADE for us. A super-smart girl who loves science, but just happens to be the daughter of one of Marvel's biggest (smallest) heroes? What's not to like?

"The Unstoppable Wasp" by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier opens with the daughter of Hank Pym, Nadia, emigrating to the US. After years of growing up in the "Red Room" (the assassin academy regular Marvel fans will remember as also spawning Black Widow) Nadia is ready to embrace western culture, but also to set up a Science Academy for other superpowered girls like herself - girls who can bend science to their will in order to fight crime and injustice.

The first volume collects together issues 1-6 and sees Nadia on a recruitment drive that doesn't quite always go to plan.

We really loved this one, not least of all because of Nadia's effervescent enthusiasm for just about EVERYTHING, with some rather cool interactions early on with Ms Marvel (setting things up nicely for a complete EXPLOSION of all things Ms Marvel later on this year, watch the skies) and Moon Girl (the smartest pre-teen on the planet who also happens to be friendly with a colossal bloodthirsty dinosaur from beyond time).

It's whip-smart storytelling with glorious art, and another series we're in it for the long haul with.

"The Unstoppable Wasp" by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier is out now, published by Marvel Comics. 

Last but not least, the return of a familiar face in a brilliant comic series that just gets better and better...

"Star Wars: Princess Leia" Mark Waid and Terry Dodson pick up right where Star Wars Episode IV left off, in fact right there in the ceremony room where Luke, Han and Chewie all get their medals for blowing up the Death Star.

But we all know that even in the extended Star Wars universe, life is never as simple as it seems and Leia is swiftly drawn into a mission that will throw her into a team-up with a shadowy rebel pilot who really doesn't seem to like royals at all.

This is a fantastic romp, almost feeling at times like those cool saturday morning serials from the dawn of cinema.

It's chock-full of the atmosphere of the first movie trilogy, yet bang up to date with its treatment of female characters who can kick ass with the best of them

"Princess Leia" by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson is out now, published by Marvel Comics. 

(All four titles self-purchased)
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Monday, March 19, 2018

Ash Dresses Her Friends by Fu Wenzheng (New Frontier Publishing)

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Here's a delightful little tale of a happy-go-lucky little bird with an exceptional talent....Meet Ash!
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