Thursday, 26 November 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | The Twins by J.S. Lark

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The Twins by J.S. Lark -  ★★
Blurb:
"Susan and Sarah. Sisters. Best friends. Together...forever?

Nothing could break them apart.

Until they meet him. 

And he can only choose one...

Now Susan is back. Determined to reclaim everything Sarah has taken from her. 

Her home. Her husband...her life?" 

Review:
This story follows twin sisters Susan and Sarah. You are immediately drawn in at the first chapter. Sarah is married to Jonny and they have a grown-up daughter called Lucy. Susan surprises them by turning up at their door and we learn that they have been estranged for 30 years. Something has happened in the past that Sarah wants to forget. She needs Susan to leave forever.

This book had the potential to be brilliant. It is written well and I did feel like I wanted to carry on to see what happened. Firstly, the chapters switch between three different timelines but also the narratives of both Susan and Sarah with no distinction. You don't know what moment in time you are at or whose character you are reading about until you've read into the chapter a bit.

The main storyline is great. Although I didn't like a single character in this book, we are given depth of both sisters, learning about their tough childhood and how they met Jonny. The book touches on a lot of different subjects from abuse, drug addiction, rape and teenage pregnancy.

For me, there was one too many twists. It ended up confusing and a little far fetched and unbelievable at times. 
Friday, 20 November 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Just Between Friends by Rosie Nixon

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Just Between Friends by Rosie Nixon - 3/5 
Blurb:
"Aisha Moore is eight months pregnant. She's thrilled, and a little scared. Not least because her husband Jason hasn't quite wrapped his head around the fact. 

Lucy is having her first child too. She has finally got her wish - although the circumstances aren't quite what she had hoped. Oscar will be a great dad though, won't he? 

When the two women join the same baby group, they quickly become friends and before long they're confiding in each other. 

Only there's one thing Lucy hasn't told Aisha. And while a baby may turn your life upside-down, a secret this big will change everything."

Review:
'Just Between Friends' follows Aisha and Lucy who have joined the same baby group. Both ladies are in the later stages of pregnancy and the chapters are told in each of their points of view.

Their relationships are very different. Jason, Aisha's husband, is working a lot of overtime in preparation for the baby and she feels that he is stressing out about being a father.

Oscar got together with Lucy after she had IVF to conceive her baby, saying he would be there for the two of them.

It soon becomes clear that there is a secret that connects these two women, but what is it?

I had guessed pretty early on what the connection was so I was eager to read on to see if I was right. The story itself is well-written and full of humour. If you are a parent, you will definitely be able to relate to a lot of the stories in this book.

I loved all of the supporting characters and the different family dynamics/circumstances, touching on relatable subjects such as both vaginal and caesarean section births, colic, poo-splosions - it brought it all back to me! 


Friday, 13 November 2020

Another Us by Kirsten Hesketh - Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book (via BritMums) directly from the author for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this post, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Another Us by Kirsten Hesketh - 5/5 
Blurb:
"What if Emma isn't the person she thought she was?

Her younger son has just been diagnosed with autism.

She's accidentally quit her job.

The marriage she was dedicated to suddenly seems like a sham.

She's pretty sure that she is going to have an affair with a hot new dad at the school.

The only thing that stays the same is everyone else. Emma realises it's not them - it's her. But if she's not who she thought she was, can her old life fit in with the new Emma?"

Review:
What a wonderful debut! 

'Another Us' follows the story of Emma and Daniel whose ten-year-old son Jack has been diagnosed with Asperger's. They also have a teenage son called Freddie and eight-year-old Lily. Following Jack's diagnosis, Emma reads a leaflet and learns about "The Statistic" - that 80% of marriages end before the autistic child turns 16. 

The story touches on a lot of subjects and it shows the strain that can be put on a relationship. Emma ends up having to leave her job and is then trying to navigate her new life spending more time at home, trying to give her three children the attention they all need whilst trying to start a freelancing job, and all the while wondering if she could have Asperger's too.

Emma and a few other of the special needs parents form together and try to organise a ball to raise money so that the school can have a group for their children. Emma gets quite close to one of the dads whilst Daniel job takes him to America for a few months. 

As the parent of an autistic child, a lot of this resonated with me. One such scenario was the differences between a tantrum and a meltdown (it infuriates me to this day when people refer to their neurotypical children's tantrums as "meltdowns"). That red mist descends and they truly cannot remember what just happened. A lot of Jack's behaviours reminded me of C, especially the fact that he could transfer files between games consoles "the boy who can't tie his own shoelaces".

This book made me laugh a lot, especially the Aspie parents Murder Mystery evening with the hilarious character names but it made me quite emotional too. I definitely saw a lot of myself in the character of Emma and it was interesting to read the development of their relationship.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Nostalgic Play with Flair Creative Play & Heritage Brands - Review

[AD/Gifted - We received these items for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Toys have a come a long way since the 80s and 90s but I love that there a few that have either stuck around and are still popular or have made a comeback. C and E were very excited to receive a box of goodies from Flair.


We received:

  • Mr Frosty
  • The Original Spirograph
  • The Original Spirograph: Scratch & Shimmer
  • Plasticine Movie Maker Studio
  • Plasticine Tool Box
  • Plasticine Softeez Noodle Doodle Assortment
I don't know who was happier with this - the kids or me! When I was a child, I owned The Original Spirograph and adored it (it was my favourite toy!) and I was desperate for a Mr Frosty but never got one. Imagine my excitement when we opened this parcel!

Mr Frosty
Mr Frosty has had a bit of an update since the 1980's. His look has definitely been modernised but it still works in the same way.

Inside the box you get the Mr Frosty Ice Crunchy maker, 3 x ice lolly moulds, 2 x Mr Frosty spoons, 1 x penguin juice dispenser, 1 x shaped ice tray moulds and 2 x Mr Frosty bowls.

Using a Mr Frosty could not be easier! To make lollies, we simply popped a mix of water with our favourite lemon flavoured squash and put them in the freezer overnight. 

Similarly to this, we changed up the flavour and did apple and blackcurrant ice shapes using the mould. These are great for putting on top of the crushed ice that you make with Mr Frosty or even putting into your drinks on a hot day.

Making crushed ice was definitely the children's favourite aspect of Mr Frosty. This parts works best if you use small ice cubes that have been left for approximately 30 minutes at room temperature, otherwise they can be difficult to crush.

Simply put the ice cubes into the Mr Frosty maker, gently put his hat on top and push down while you twist the handle on the back. This will make the mechanism move and the crushed ice will appear in the drawer at the front of the maker.

When your ice has all been crushed, put it into a bowl to eat and if you want to add a bit of flavour, simply put some juice or squash into the penguin juice dispenser and add as you please!

You can get your own Mr Frosty from Smyths Toys for £17.99.

Spirograph

Spirograph is one of those toys that brings me right back to my childhood. I remember sitting for hours making different designs.

We used The Original Spirograph first as the children had never used it before. Inside this set (which also doubles as a carrycase/built-in work surface) you get 19 x spirograph precision wheels, 2 x spirograph precision rings, 1 x spirograph precision rack, 3 x fine line design pens, 5g of reusable spiro-putty, 20 x sheets of design paper and 1 x design guide.

The design guide is a great place to start as it gives you a bit of an idea when it comes to know which size wheels will give you which design. Each ring has a number of holes for you to put your pen into and the design you get will different depending on which one you pick.

Spirograph definitely takes a bit of getting used to. You start by using the putty to stick the ring to your paper then make sure that you use the pen to push the wheel around the ring - without it coming off! - and you'll begin to see your design come to life! 

Spirograph is recommended for children aged 8+ due to the difficulty. C turned 8 in September and needed a little assistance to begin with but he soon got the hang of it. Once he had had enough practice, he started to get adventurous and was able to change pen colours and wheels, making for a more lively picture.

You can buy your own Original Spirograph from Argos for £28.

The Original Spirograph: Scratch & Shimmer is one that I have never seen before but it works in a similar way.

Inside the box you get 1 x spirograph precision ring, 6 x spirograph precision wheels, 4 x rainbow scratch sheets, 4 x glitter scratch sheets, 2 x sticker sheets, 1 x drawing stylus pen and 1 x guide book.

I loved to do scratch art as a child too so this was the perfect combination of two of my favourites. The underside of the rings have little dots which cause friction against the scratch sheets so they don't move. We did feel like we had to still hold it on the sheet though when moving the wheels around.

Scratch & Shimmer was a little bit more difficult. The main concept is the same, pick a hole in the wheel, move it around the ring and create a design. This time though, the stylus needs to be held at a ninety degree angle and more pressure needs to be put on it to make the scratches in the sheet.

The images come out very beautifully and E has already asked to hang them up in her room!

You can buy Spirograph Scratch & Shimmer from Argos for £20.

Plasticine
We love Plasticine in our house because, unlike other types of dough brands, it doesn't dry out. We only ever owned the individual strips and didn't know that there were other sets to choose from.

The Plasticine Tool Box is a cute little carrycase containing 7 x colours of Plasticine, 5 x shaped cutters, 1 modelling tool and 1 x roller.

This makes for a lot of open ended play which is definitely 6 year old E's favourite. The Plasticine is quite hard when you start off but after playing with it in your hands, the heat will make it softer. The shaped cutters are great for making animals and objects then creating your own pictures or scenes with them.

E took it one step further and made a full sculpture using the tools too!

You can find the Plasticine Tool Box at Amazon for £12.99.

Plasticine Softeez Noodle Doodle come in three different designs; Jungle, Ocean and Circus. E chose to do the Circus one while C opted for Ocean. Inside each pack you get 3 x Noodle Doodle sheets and 5 x Plasticine colours.

The Plasticine colours are already in "noodle" form and attached together so all you need to do is peel off a noodle and follow the squiggly line guides on the included sheets to create your picture.

I loved these as they are the type of set that the children can be left with to entertain themselves while I am busy cleaning! It has a great reusable aspect too and both C and E were very proud of their finished results. I think these would make lovely little gifts.

You can find the Plasticine Softeez Noodle Doodle Assortment from Amazon and independent toy retailers for around £4.99 each.

When C saw the Plasticine Movie Maker set, he was desperate to open it straight away because he spotted the 'Stop Motion' app logo on it. He loves making stop motion movies so this is right up his street!

Inside the box you get 12oz of Plasticine in assorted colours, 1 x modelling tool, 1 x stand for a smartphone or tablet, 4 x background scenes, 73 movie props and 1 x idea guide.

Both C and E were excited to get stuck in right away and set to coming up with a scene for their first shoot. Each of them designed their own person, using a few props along the way. 

We chose a scene then put our Plasticine people in the beginning positions. If you don't already have the Stop Motion app, this can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store. After taking the first photo on the app, we moved the people slightly then took another photo, and so on, until we were satisfied that we were finished. They were delighted with the outcome!



It is a lot easier to do that I first thought and it is a set that they have asked to play with almost every day since it arrived! This will definitely be a popular one for Christmas.

You can get the Plasticine Movie Maker from Amazon for £9.99.



Thursday, 5 November 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

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


The Chalet by Catherine Cooper - 4/5 


Blurb: 

"French Alps, 1998


Two young men ski into a blizzard...but only one returns.


20 years later


Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.


Someone knows what really happened that day.


And somebody will pay."


Review:

This book is great!


The Chalet alternates between two different timelines both set in the French ski resort of La MadiƩre. It is snowy, atmospheric and the scene is set wonderfully.


In 1998, brothers Will and Adam go skiing off-pister with instructors Cameron and Andy and both brothers end up missing. Adam is later found but Will is presumed dead.


In 2020, Ria and her husband Hugo are in the same resort for business reasons with Simon, his wife Cass, baby Inigo and nanny Sarah. Hugo wants Simon to potentially invest in his company.


We meet a host of additional characters such as the brothers' girlfriends Louisa and Nell back in 1998 and chalet workers Millie and Matt in 2020.


Will's body turns up in 2020, but what does this mean for the group that are currently staying there? Not everything is as it seems and some people may even have a connection to him.


This book is full of surprises and kept me guessing. I thought I had sussed it out but the twists kept coming. That very last sentence was wonderful!