Thursday, 9 July 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Across The Water by Ingrid Alexandra

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Across The Water by Ingrid Alexandra - 4/5 

Blurb: In a remote, boat-only access house, Liz Dawson's lifeline to the real world is her window, where she watches the people who live in the three identical houses that sit side by side across the creek. But it's the middle house Liz finds herself drawn to most: the beautiful young mother, Delilah Waters and her baby.

When Dee and her baby go missing, last seen by the murky waters of Myall Lake, it is a suspected murder-suicide. After all, it's no secret that Dee Waters never wanted children. She wasn't coping with the baby. Everyone in the town believes she leapt to her death, taking her child with her. Everyone except Liz.

Wrestling with her own demons, Liz risks everything to uncover a truth that becomes more complex with every twist. Of all people, Liz knows that just because someone is a reluctant mother, it doesn't mean they don't love their child. And it doesn't mean they're capable of murder... Does it?

Review: Liz has briefly moved to a secluded area in Australia with her husband Adam after his father dies and they need to sell his house. The house stands on one side of a creek, with three other houses on the other side; one belonging to Dee, Rob and their baby Ruby, one is Erica and Samir's and the third is Zac's, who works in the local bar.

Liz passes the time in the evening, whilst her husband is commuting to Sydney for work, by looking across the creek at the goings-on of the houses she sees. She becomes familiar with these people then one day, Dee and baby Ruby go missing. But what has Liz seen? What does she know?

It took me a while to get into this and it took to almost halfway into the book to finally get somewhere but when it did, I was hooked. We learn that Dee is struggling with being a mother as it's never what she wanted and Erica is struggling with the loss of four babies.

We are given little breadcrumbs of information throughout the book and I felt desperate to read on to put all the pieces together. You suspect so many people of Dee and Ruby's disappearance and the ending was great. I did end up guessing a little of it but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | You Are Positively Awesome by Stacie Swift

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

You Are Positively Awesome by Stacie Swift - 5/5  
Blurb: A pocket pick-me-up from an Instagram sensation

Everyone weathers difficult days; sometimes, people just wake up needing a bit of a boost and a reminder that nobody really has it together all the time. This is a book for all those days - a rainbow of good vibes, full of self-care prompts and words to live by. Even though deep down people know it's okay not to be okay, everyone needs a bit of a reminder from time to time.

Whether it's an affirmation to raise a smile, practical tips on upping self-care, or space to create a pie chart of 'Things That Help On Tough Days', this book combines colourful illustrations with useful words of support for everyone, even at their unsparkiest. 

Review: This is a really cute, positive, upbeat and encouraging book.

It doesn't translate fully into Kindle format given that, in print format, it would have little activity bits to fill in for you to look back on and give yourself a boost. I would definitely be interested in purchasing a physical copy to fill in!

The positivity is by the bucketful in this book and Stacie writes beautifully. It's so uplifting and I feel like it would be one of those books you'd gift to a friend for their birthday or Christmas. It focuses so much on feeling positive about yourself, remembering that you are loved, acknowledging that it is okay not to be okay and that people's lives that we see on social media aren't always sunshine and rainbows.

It's a reminder that self-care isn't selfish, take time for yourself, say "no" more and just be kind.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

I Am Not A Label by Cerrie Burnell | Children's Book Review

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Wow. Every parent needs a copy of this book on their children's bookcase.

Cerrie Burnell (you may remember her from CBeebies) has put together stories of 34 artists, thinkers, athletes and activists with disabilities - past and present.

The foreword by Cerrie herself is wonderful. She explains that being born with one hand (and even having a hook at one point) meant that she never saw protagonists or heroines that were like her in any children's book that she read. The aim of this book is to introduce children to people who have disabilities but have managed to do amazing things.

My son C was delighted to see Beethoven on the first page because he is absolutely obsessed with composers. I often joke that they'd be his specialist Mastermind subject.

We learn about all types of disabilities, whether they are visible or hidden like being blind like Stevie Wonder, having autism like Temple Grandin and having spina bifida like Catalina Devantas.

It opened up a lot of conversation between C and myself. He had a lot of questions and was eager to learn more. 

It is a wonderfully educational book and I especially loved that they included a transgender person and mentioned about one person having relationships with both men and women. 

The glossary at the end is brilliant for easily explaining words that children may never have heard before such as cis-gender and fibromyalgia.

An absolutely fantastic compilation of stories featuring some of the most brilliant people. The illustrations are lovely too. We will know most, if not all, of the people included in this book but the way they have been drawn is stunning.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Poo In The Zoo: The Great Poo Mystery by Steve Smallman | Children's Book Review

[Ad/Gifted: We received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

My children, like many others I assume, love a bit of toilet humour. Anything to do with poop especially, and they will be in fits of laughter.

Poo In The Zoo: The Great Poo Mystery had C and E (and even me at some points!) laughing at both the language and the pictures.

Blurb: SPLAT PATTER PLOP! Zookeeper Bob's super-duper pooper scooper has disappeared and the POO is piling UP! Is this a DOO-DOO disaster?

Or can Arabella Slater - Poo Investigator - save the day?

Review: This is the second book in the series but we haven't read the original, Poo in the Zoo, yet. After reading this one though, we will definitely be adding it to our bookshelf!

Zookeeper Bob McGrew has a little robot named Robbie that helps pick up all the poo that all the animals at the zoo leave behind - basically a little poop hoover!

One morning though, Bob wakes up, he can't find Robbie Robot and there is poo all over the zoo! What on earth has happened?

He enlists the help of Arabella Slater, PI (Poo Investigator) to help crack the case. 

This wonderful rhyming book is packed with poo jokes and beautiful illustrations (even if they do all contain poo!) and both my 7 year old and 5 year old found it absolutely hilarious. They especially loved the tales of what Arabella had gotten up to in the past.

We love the 'Dinosaur That Pooped...' books so if your little ones enjoy those, they will love Poo In The Zoo: The Great Poo Mystery!

This book will be published by Little Tiger on 9th July and can be purchased at bookstores for £6.99.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Just Saying by Sophie Ranald

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Just Saying by Sophie Ranald - 3/5 ★★★
Blurb: I almost gave up on love. My ex, who called his private parts 'Nigel', was enough to put me off men forever. But then I met Joe.

Alice thought she'd found Mr Right. Her blue-eyed boyfriend Joe gave her butterflies, makes her bacon sandwiches when she's hungover and doesn't have a nickname for any of his body parts.

 She should have known it was too good to be true. Because one day, Alice and Joe bump into Zoë. According to him, Zoë's 'just an old friend'. But Alice saw the way they froze, heard the strange note in Joe's voice when he said her name.

Then, out of the blue, Zoë needs a place to live. And Joe has the bright idea of inviting her, and her fluffy ginger cat Frazzle, to stay with them.

Alice tries her hardest not to feel threatened. But the thing is, Zoë doesn't survive off microwave meals, go days without washing her glossy copper-coloured hair, or accidentally get mascara in her contact lenses. 

Joe's ex might be pretty much perfect, but there's no way that Alice will let Zoë steal him. She's on a mission to prove that three (four, if you count the cat) is definitely a crowd...

Review: I enjoyed Ranald's book 'It's Not You It's Him' so I was excited about this one.

Alice and Joe both work at a law firm in central London and have been together for two years. I really loved Alice and Joe's relationship as they truly do seem like the perfect couple and they are written very well.

Something happens at work, meaning that the job offer that Alice had received for when she was fully qualified, has fallen through and she decides to leave and help out with the running of a local pub. I love this. I love that she wasn't happy with where she was and decided to do something that she truly enjoyed, even if that meant taking a pay cut. That pay cut though, meant that it would be tough on Alice and Joe when it came to paying the bills so they decided to rent out their spare Zoë, a girl Joe dated for three months, seven years ago. Firstly, that's bizarre and secondly, I can't see any woman being okay with that.

Obviously, throughout the book Alice gets jealous and has suspicions that Zoë wants to get back together with Joe.

The story does focus on sexual assault so that is just something to be aware of if you are planning on reading.

I loved the parts where Alice was working in the bar and getting to know the regulars, especially Maurice, and his and Wesley's story is so lovely.

It's an easy read that just sort of plodded along for me with no real urgency but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Friday, 3 July 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Control by Hugh Montgomery

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Control by Hugh Montgomery - 4/5 
Blurb: Renowned surgeon Michael Trenchard locks his office door and prepares for a relaxing evening. But what follows is a living nightmare when later he is discovered in a locked-in coma, the victim of auto-erotic asphyxiation. 

It is left to Doctor Kash Devan, Trenchard's young protégé, to uncover the truth. And what he discovers is chilling... In his ruthless pursuit of wealth and success, Trenchard has left a trail of wrecked lives, and angry people, behind him. 

Which of Trenchard's victims hated him so much that they wanted to ruin not only his reputation, but his life as well? Not all doctors are heroes... 

Review: I had been pushing this down my TBR pile due to a few negative Goodreads reviews but I loved it!

Dr Kash Devan is working under highly esteemed surgeon Michael Trenchard. He looks up to him as he's rather charming, confident and great at his job.

Everything changes when Trenchard is discovered unresponsive, the cause thought to be auto-erotic asphyxiation. He is then left in a persistent vegetative state. Kash is convinced that someone else played a part in this, he didn't do this to himself, and he sets out to find the truth.

I love hospital dramas, like Grey's Anatomy, and this reads exactly like one. You could definitely see it as a movie. The surgery scenes are described wonderfully - I even felt a bit queasy reading one of them - and you can feel the sense of urgency during an emergency operation.

The book switches between the narrative of Kash as he searches for answers and Trenchard whilst in his state, these are brilliantly written. The stories of Kash's possible suspects are woven well together so you do suspect everyone and there are a few red herrings and curveballs.

I've knocked a star off because there is an undertone of kink-shaming throughout the book. I think people should be allowed to be into whatever they're into, as long as they aren't hurting anyone, and we really can't judge.

A great read!

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Travel Tips for Parents: A Professor's Guide to Staying Sane with Kids on Long Trips by Noah Charney | Guest Post

[AD - This is a sponsored guest post.]
“Are we there yet?”

No, we’re not there yet. We just started. And you can only sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” so many time or listen to the same CD on repeat, before madness sets in. Fortunately, there are all sorts of tricks for managing longer trips with young children—or indeed any sort of activity that requires sitting for a long time and waiting. 

A Professor’s Tricks
I’m a father of two daughters, age 5 and 7, but I’m also a professor. The techniques I use to both teach my kids and keep them entertained (ideally doing both at the same time) are borrowed from my approach in the university classroom. I go into far more detail in my limited-edition book, Superpower Your Kids: A Professor’s Guide to Teaching Your Children Everything in Just 15 Minutes a Day, but here are a handful you can try at home.

There are a few keys to this approach. The first is to divide up your time into roughly 15-minute intervals. 15 minutes is a chunk of time that a child can grasp. It’s about half of an episode of Scooby-Doo, for instance. It’s digestible. It doesn’t feel forever. So take your drive or your wait and think of it as a big cake that you’ll look at in terms of 15-minute slices. That drive to Aunt Gertrude’s house takes 90 minutes, so that’s 6 15-minute slices. Your kids, if they’re anything like mine, may fall asleep for half of that, so you’ve got 3 “slices” to cover in terms of entertainment. A favorite album might be 45 minutes of music, and that’s three slices handled (provided you can survive listening to that album again). I’m leaving aside screen-related solutions, like letting the kids watch a DVD or play video games during the drive. My kids would get nauseous anyway, and I want to feel like I’m spending quality time with them, even if we’re “stuck” in the car together, so I don’t just want them to be set up with something passive. 

So what are the activities that we play in 15-minute bursts? We’ll turn to those in a moment, but one thing to keep in mind is to quit while you’re ahead. I’d rather stop playing a game after 15 minutes or so even if the kids are still into it, rather than let them get to the point when their enthusiasm wanes and they shift to considering the game no longer interesting. Think of it like eating ice cream. Would your kids be more likely to want to come back for more ice cream in the future if they have a single scoop and would happily eat a second one, or if you order them four scoops and they get through 2.3 and leave the rest? You can maintain the excitement of activities and games by stopping before they are categorized as no longer fun.

I Spy
The classic game requires each player to pick something they can see and say “I spy with my little eye…” and then they say what it is and others have to look around to see what they’ve seen. “I spy with my little eye…a hairless dog!” (That’s not at all weird, our dog, Hubert van Eyck, is a Peruvian Hairless…) This works best when you are not driving (things that you can “spy” go by too quickly in the car).

Name That Tune
Kids rarely have lyrics memorized but sing tunes with “dummy lyrics” that sort of half sound like what the lyrics actually are. (I do that, too, with Slovenian songs by my favorite musician, Vlado Kreslin…and in theory I speak Slovene). So you take turns singing a song (or humming it) and the others have to guess which song it is.

20 Questions
We play limitless variations of this game. We take turns picking a category of thing (animal, dinosaur, country, food, movie) and the players ask questions about it. For an animal, we might ask “Is it carnivorous?” “Does it walk on four legs?” “Can it fly?” “Is it a decapod?” (My girls love Moana). We have 20 questions or guesses—if we can’t figure out what it is after 20, then the picker wins that round. Whoever guesses is the next picker.

Name Ten
We pick a category (food, carnivorous animals, big cats, cities in Europe…whatever seems appropriate to the interests of your kids) and players take turns naming ten of them, keeping track on their fingers. For trickier topics you can play Name Five.

The Translation Game
This works best for bilingual families (my family speaks Slovenian and English) or families learning a new language. Offer up a word in one language and try to stump the other players with the translation. You can “level up” and make it trickier by going from the secondary language into the primary language (either the first language or, in our case, the language spoken by the mother), which is normally more difficult. You can “level up” further by translating phrases (like idioms for which there is no direct translation but more a thematic one).

The Theory Behind the Games
These sorts of games promote some key abilities that will benefit your kids when they become students. They are encouraged to remember the proper names for things. Learning doesn’t help much if you can’t recall exactly what something is called. Precision and memorizing proper names is a useful skill. Thinking categorically is also important. That’s why it’s useful to think of foods in groups (vegetables, fish, meat, grains) because once you categorize them you can think of them in terms of shared characteristics and they can be sorted and stored in our memory more easily and with more useful detail. All of these games are a sort of fun test, and it’s good for kids to get used to being tested. It will happen all the time in school (and in life) and thinking of tests as a fun challenge, not something scary and overly judgmental, is beneficial later on. Repetition and articulation help memorization, so each time they name ten carnivorous animals, for instance, the list is reinforced and the memory held more tightly. And kids love to show off their knowledge. It’s empowering, and this is an ideal way to make kids proud of themselves.

Noah Charney is a professor and best-selling, Pulitzer-nominated author of more than a dozen books.

This article is an excerpt from his first parenting book, Superpower Your Kids: A Professor’s Guide to Teaching Your Children Everything in Just 15 Minutes a Day, which is available as a limited edition on Kickstarter.

Goodnight World by Nicola Edwards | Children's Book Review

[AD/Gifted: We received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I always like to introduce my children to as much of the world as possible and the best way to do that is through reading. You can learn about anything through a book!

Goodnight World by Nicola Edwards is a beautiful bedtime story that incorporates language learning.
Blurb: When the day's at an end, up to bed we will go,
The sky becomes dusky and so the night grows.
When the bright golden sun sheds the last of its light,
We turn to each other and we say, "Goodnight!"

Review: The illustrations by Hannah Tolson are absolutely beautiful in this book and you are instantly drawn in just from the front cover.

The book follows lots of different children around the globe and their goodnight routines with their families. These are all different, whether they are having a bath beforehand, fighting for space at the sink when brushing their teeth or being carried up to bed after falling asleep downstairs, but familiar situations that children will recognise.

It's an easy read with plenty of rhymes but the most important part is that we learn how to say "goodnight" in eleven different languages. From Italian to Finnish and Swahili to Mandarin, and they are spelled phonetically underneath to make it easier for us grown-ups to sound out! It's so nice to get your little ones learning and my daughter loved repeating them back to me. Each night we have been choosing a different one to say to each other so they are definitely sticking in her head.

There is plenty of representation in Goodnight World with lots of different races and even a wheelchair user which was lovely to see.

'Goodnight World' is a beautiful read and I would thoroughly recommend it. It has definitely become one of our favourites.

This will be published by Little Tiger on 9th July 2020 and can be purchased at bookstores for £6.99.

Monday, 29 June 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams - 4/5 
Blurb: She's single. But it can still be complicated...

Penny Bridge has always been unlucky in love.

So she can't believe it when she meets a remarkable new man.

Followed by another.

And then another...

And all of them want to date her.

Penny has to choose between three. But are any of them The One?

Review: 30-year-old London-based chef and café owner Penny Bridge is unlucky in love. Then she meets Francesco, a pastry chef and they have a whirlwind romance. Three weeks in, Penny's uncle falls ill and she must move from London to Derbyshire to take charge of his pub/restaurant. As the relationship is still new, she feels like she can't ask Francesco to go with her and instead, breaks the whole thing off.

Seven months later, Penny has settled in well and finally makes moves to get back in contact with Francesco on a friend-only texting basis. She also meets two men at two different times; Thomas, an old school friend and Priyesh, the pub's wine merchant. But then we have a bit of overlap, hence the book title.

I didn't love the characters of Penny or Thomas but I have a soft spot for both Francesco and Priyesh. The book touches on some real-life issues such as cancer and infertility and it is a very diverse book. There are supporting characters from the LGBTQIA community and even a non-binary character, Charlie. I would have loved to have had more of a backstory on Charlie, just to hear more about their life. It feels a little like they were introduced just to have a non-binary character with not much substance.

The ending was absolutely perfect for the book and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.