Saturday, 28 February 2015

Book review and giveaway - Oksa Pollock - The Heart of Two Worlds blog tour

Today I'm taking part in a blog book tour for Oksa Pollock - The Heart of Two Worlds. The Heart of Two Worlds is the third book in the Oksa Pollock series (the first two being The Last Hope and The Forest of Lost Souls) by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf. There are six books in the French series, and The Heart of Two Worlds has just been translated and published in English. 

The series follows Oksa Pollock, who has just moved to London with her family, when she discovers that she has special powers. She finds out that this is because her grandmother was a princess in another land, Edefia, and Oksa has inherited her gifts. Oksa is now the last hope of the group of Edefian survivors, and the series follows her as she leads a group of other survivors as they fight against their evil leader, in a world populated with exciting spells, supernatural goings on and mystical creatures.

If you like the sound of the series, I have a copy of Oksa Pollock - The Heart of Two Worlds to giveaway! All you need to do is enter via the Rafflecopter form below (please see the Terms and Conditions at the bottom of the post)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm taking part in the Oksa Pollock - The Heart of Two Worlds blog tour! You can see a list of all the blogs taking part below, do pop over to see what they are sharing about the book each day!

Oksa Pollock Heart of Two Worlds blog book tour

Giveaway Terms and Conditions

The giveaway prize is a paperback copy of The Heart of Two Worlds by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

As a mandatory entry into the giveaway you must leave a blog post comment telling me what you are reading at the moment. If you are leaving a comment as Anonymous or using a nickname, please leave your full name in the comment (and if possible a Twitter handle or e-mail address) so that I can moderate entries. 

 The giveaway is open to UK residents only. 

The giveaway closes at midnight on Friday 6th March 2015. All entries to the giveaway must be received via the Rafflecopter form above. The winner will be chosen at random through Rafflecopter and invalid entries will be removed. If the winner does not respond within 14 days I will redraw and reallocate the prize. One entry per person, no third party or automated entries. There is no cash alternative. 

I received a copy of the first three books in the Oksa Pollock series in exchange for a review and giveaway. 

Book review - T-Rex Terror from Parragon

T-Rex Terror is a part of the Dino Supersaurus range from Parragon, and a few months ago I reviewed another book in the series, the Dino Supersaurus Boxset. T-Rex Terror is a comic strip storybook, written by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Tim Wesson. It is great for children that are reading independently, with the comic book style making it particularly good for those that are intimidated by books containing large blocks of text.

T-Rex Terror from Parragon

Harry grabbed this book as soon as he saw it. It's the first book that we have in this format, and it clearly caught his eye. I wasn't sure what he'd make of it, but he absolutely loved it and read it over and over. This story introduces us to the Supersaurs - four ordinary dinosaurs endowed with special powers after being struck by a radioactive meteorite. As well as fighting crime in New Dino City, they must also deal with the evil T-Rex, who wants to destroy the Supersaurs and rule the world.

T-Rex Terror book review

It's a fun story, which Harry really enjoyed, and so I'd definitely recommend it!

I received this book to review from the publisher as a Parragon Book Buddy. However they have not paid me for this review, and they do not exercise any editorial control over my review or anything else on this site. T-Rex Terror retails for £5.99. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Book reviews - Gorgeous picture books from Flying Eye books

This week I've been looking at some gorgeous new picture books for children from Flying Eye books.

Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen and Emmanuelle Walker

Beautiful Birds picture book review

Beautiful Birds is a large alphabet book, filled with stunning illustrations of the world's most beautiful birds. A playful poem leads readers through the book, accompanied by bright and cheerful pictures.

Beautiful Birds picture book inside

Many of the birds, like ducks and flamingoes, will be familiar to everyone, others, like tanagers and kakapos are less well known. It's an educational book, both a classic alphabet book and a way to teach young children about the bird kingdom. I think that it's equally suited to younger toddlers that will enjoy the rhyming text and colourful illustrations, as well as being a wonderful book to share with older children and even adults that are interested in all the different types of bird.

Beautiful Birds picture book from Flying Eye

The book itself is sturdy with lovely big pages and bright neon colours that really pop. It's a wonderful book to keep on the bookshelf to browse through.

Black and White by Dahlov Ipcar

Black and White picture book review

Black and White tells the story of a little black dog and a little white dog that are friends. They play together, and they dream of adventures beyond their wildest imaginations.

Black and White picture book from Flying Eye

The rhyming text follows them as they play during the day, and at night they dream of black and white creatures and places before telling each other all about them the next day.

Black and White was originally published in 1963 during the height of the US civil rights movement, and was intended to promote equality within the turbulent political landscape of its time. This edition contains the original artwork, printed using a limited palette of just a few colours on each page.

It's a beautiful book. Although the story would be appreciated more by older toddlers and children, I know that my son in particular was fascinated by high contrast images in books from just a few weeks old, and I would have loved a book like this to share with him when he was first starting to focus on books. The text flows beautifully, and it's a pleasure to read aloud.

I received copies of these books to review.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What to do with old diaries?

I'm currently decluttering. I'm coming to the end of a February decluttering challenge (more on that to come!) and I'm also following a year long organisational programme - Declutter 365. I've always thought that I was quite good at getting rid of things, but I'm amazed with some of the things I've been keeping that I'd forgotten all about.

One thing that I unearthed recently was a big box of my old diaries. I did know that they were there, but the box had been pushed to the back of the wardrobe and I'd not seen it for a while. This is just a few of them...

Pile of old diaries and journals

I started keeping a diary around 1990, in my final year at primary school, and carried on pretty much until I went to University in 1998. There is a 2002 diary in the box, but I gave up around March that year. I always used A5 hardback diaries, beginning with two days to a page and working up to each day being an entire A5 page. I usually filled the page, and I stuck in various tickets, free stickers from magazines, and ephemera as well.

The diaries themselves are mainly pretty boring to be honest. They contain detailed descriptions of what I got up to in each lesson at school that day, along with plenty of teenage angst which makes me cringe when I read it back. It's like reading something written by a different person, and I can't believe that I got myself so worked up over such little things.

My instant reaction was to bin them, as I find them very difficult to read back. But when I asked for opinions on Instagram, almost everyone said I should keep them! I would hate for anyone else to read them though, so a note to family and friends - when I'm gone, burn them!

Although I stopped keeping such detailed diaries, I still kept a holiday journal with long accounts of our travels. But on my birthday last year I began keeping a diary again. I have a Five-Year Memory Book where I write just a few sentences each night about what I've been up to that day. In years to come I can bore Ram before bed with details of what we were up to on that day in previous years. I also have my Smash Book, which I've started to use as a way to keep a few notes about memorable days and holidays, as well as a place to stick in tickets and other daily life ephemera. This is a really quick double page spread that I did the other day for our recent holiday to Disneyland Paris:

Disneyland Paris Smash Book pages

Do you have an embarrassing box of old diaries? I'd love to know what other people do with them! I can't help feeling that I'd feel much happier if I just binned the whole lot, but I don't want to regret it!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Review - Hot Wheels Track Builder Spiral Stack Up set

The Hot Wheels Track Builder Spiral Stack Up set is a part of the Hot Wheels Track Builder system. The Spiral Stack Up allows you to build and rebuild in all directions. It's a smaller set, so it's quite compact to store, and it also doesn't require any batteries which is a big plus.

Hot Wheels Spiral Stack Up Set review

I started with the basic layout, and assembly was fairly straightforward. I do sometimes find the instructions difficult to follow, but along with the help of the picture on the box and my previous Hot Wheels assembly experience I managed to put it together quite quickly without too much trouble.

Hot Wheels Spiral Stack Up

To play with the set, you position two cars on the launchers part way down the track, then launch a car from the top of the track. As the car passes the launchers it will fire the other two cars off down their separate tracks. So it's a great way to begin a more complex Hot Wheels layout, and you can add your own tracks and layouts onto the ends of the three different tracks, as well as adding more track to the base piece. It's a shame that like all Hot Wheels set only one car is included, as it works a lot better with several cars, although we found that our other cars did work well in this set.

The two separate launchers can be slid up and down the track to change their positions. We had to fiddle a bit with the positions sometimes, for example if they were too close to the curve then they didn't work, but they also needed to be near the supports for stability. Once in position though they worked fine.

You need quite a lot of floor space so that you have room for the cars to fly off in different directions and space to extend the track. It does mean that several children can play at once though, as they can each build and take control of a different section. My two played with it really nicely together. I left them to it for a short while, and they had soon filled the living room with Hot Wheels track, building a massive Hot Wheels city!

Hot Wheels set review

I've found that the Hot Wheels sets are much more fun if you have more than one set that you can combine together, or if you do as we have done and purchase some extra pieces of track. This set in particular works much better in conjunction with other sets, rather than having it as a standalone set. We've also had much more fun making up our own layouts using the different pieces rather than sticking to the instructions. It really is so customisable that you can do all sorts of fun things with it.

Hot Wheels are currently running an exclusive promotion - buy five diecast Hot Wheels cars to get your hands on a free, limited edition Black Car! For more details go to Hot Wheels Promotions.

I have also reviewed these other Hot Wheels sets, which all form part of the same Hot Wheels Track Builder system. Click the links to read my reviews:

Hot Wheels Super Looper Track Set
Hot Wheels Total Turbo Takeover Track Set

The Hot Wheels Spiral Stack Up set has an RRP of £20.99. I received this set in exchange for a review.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Review and Giveaway - Craft bundle, including Envelobox and Boxer boards

Today on the blog I have a great giveaway for fellow crafters, a bundle of crafting materials from Crafter's Companion, including two fantastic products - the Envelobox and Boxer embossing boards. The Envelobox board and the Boxer board are both part of the Ultimate Pro crafting system, which is a compact carry case which can be used with a variety of inserts to create boxes, card blanks, envelopes and more. Although these boards are designed to slot into the Ultimate Pro, they can also be used independently and as you can see below I've been having a lot of fun crafting with them.

Crafter's Companion craft bundle to giveaway

The prize bundle is pictured above and consists of:

The Boxer Board
The Envelobox Creator Board
The Advanced Construction Techniques DVD
1 pack of double sided A4 Centura Pearl cardstock
1 tape runner
1 bottle All-Purpose Glue
1 bottle Tacky Glue

Enter the giveaway below, and read on to find out more about the different products included in the bundle!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Full terms and conditions for the giveaway can be found at the bottom of this post, the giveaway closes at midnight on Sunday 8th March 2015. As a mandatory entry you must leave a comment on this blog post telling me your favourite craft, extra entry options are available as per the Rafflecopter form. If you are commenting as Anonymous or using a nickname, please leave your full name in the comment so that I can moderate entries.

These are the two boards - The Boxer and Envelobox Creator:

Boxer and Envelobox Creator boards from Crafter's Companion
The Boxer and Envelobox Creator boards from Crafter's Companion
And here are some of the pretty things that I've made so far:

Pretty patterned paper envelopes and box

The Envelobox Creator board

The Envelobox board is used to make 3D envelopes to protect your larger and more delicate cards or as a small gift box. You can make envelopes in hundreds of different sizes, and of several different thicknesses. Although it comes with full instructions it's a little complicated to work out until you've got the hang of it, so it's worth watching a video tutorial to start with.

The board comes with a booklet containing sizing guides. You need to cut your cardstock to the correct size, then place the cardstock onto the embossing board and use the scoring tool to mark out the creases. Then just fold it up, make a couple of cuts for the corners, glue it together and then you are done.

Box envelopes made using the Envelobox creator

These are the first basic box envelopes that I made, they can be neatened up a bit by rounding off the corners and then decorated as you wish. The board also has some patterns that you can trace over with the scoring tool to add a pretty embellishment, you can just see it on the flap of the green envelope above.

The Boxer board

The Boxer board can be used to make boxes in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles, and it works in a similar way to the Envelobox. You need to work out the size of box that you want to make, then cut your cardstock accordingly. Again, you use the scoring tool to mark the creases for the box, then make a few cuts, fold and glue together.

The board is very cleverly designed so that by lining the edge of the cardboard up with a different side for the box base and the box lid, the lid will be very slightly larger so that it can be placed on top for a snug fit. I made these simple boxes very quickly, before the children spirited them off to play with and decorate. Boxes this shape would make great gift boxes for homemade treats.

Boxes made using the Boxer board

Giveaway Terms and Conditions

The prize is a craft bundle from Crafter's Companion as described and pictured above. 

As a mandatory entry into the giveaway you must leave a blog post comment telling me your favourite craft. If you are leaving a comment as Anonymous or using a nickname, please leave your full name in the comment (and if possible a Twitter handle or e-mail address) so that I can moderate entries. 

 The giveaway is open to UK residents only. The giveaway closes at midnight on Sunday 8th March 2015. All entries to the giveaway must be received via the Rafflecopter form above. The winner will be chosen at random through Rafflecopter and invalid entries will be removed. If the winner does not respond within 14 days I will redraw and reallocate the prize. One entry per person, no third party or automated entries. There is no cash alternative. 

I received these items in exchange for a review and giveaway.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A half-term break to Disneyland Paris

Ram keeps a pretty good eye on holiday prices, and last year he spotted a great deal on Disneyland Paris this February half-term. We hesitated for a while, after all we've only just enjoyed a fantastic trip to Disneyworld in Orlando, but in the end we just couldn't resist and booked ourself a four night stay at the Sequoia Lodge Disney hotel. 

We last visited Disneyland Paris by train for Harry's second birthday back in 2011, staying at the Santa Fe hotel. This time we drove all the way from home, using our accumulated Tesco points to cover the Eurotunnel fare. 

Children outside Disneyland Paris castle

The Sequoia Lodge was a great choice. We had a good sized room with two double beds, and it's just a 15 minute walk from the parks with continental breakfast included. Most of the walk is through the Disney Village, past a variety of shops and restaurants. Both Disney parks (Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park) have their entrances almost next door to each other, with the station just a few minutes away. Because the parks are adjacent you can easily pop in and out between the two, and having the station so close means that central Paris is less than an hour away by train.

When you stay at a Disney hotel your park passes are included, even for your arrival and departure days. We left home after lunch the day before and stayed an extra night beforehand at a local Novotel so that we could enjoy a full day in the park on our arrival day, then we travelled back in the evening of our final day.

The parks were very busy during this half-term week. Although as a Disney hotel guest you can enter the park two hours early, we didn't find that this really helped, especially as only a few rides were actually open at that time. It was pretty cold too, although we were well wrapped up.

Alice's Curious Labyrinth, Disneyland Paris

Harry is pretty timid when it comes to going on rides, but he's more worried about the movement of a ride rather than what he's going to see. So he loves the Phantom Manor and Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains (Snow White) but doesn't like Pirates of the Caribbean because it has two gentle hills. Mia on the other hand loves the faster rides but found some of the dark rides scary, in particular Snow White where she was terrified of the witch and had to ride with her hands over her eyes.

Both children loved the new Ratatouille ride which is an innovative 3D adventure ride through the Paris restaurant from the film. It was very popular, and we only managed to ride it by queueing up first thing in the morning for Fastpass tickets later in the day. This was a pretty stressful experience to be honest as the queues weren't very well managed, but it was worth doing.  

Another favourite attraction was Alice's Curious Labyrinth, and the children enjoyed Peter Pan's Flight, It's a Small World and Le Pays des Contes de Fées (a boat ride through fairytale scenes). Disneyland Paris park has several walk through attractions, like Le Passage Enchanté d'Aladdin, as well as the Pocahontas Indian Village playground and Adventure Isle play areas, and underneath the castle is a dark cave occupied by a very realistic dragon. It's nice to have these areas to explore without the need to queue.

The parade took place at 5.30pm every day and was very popular, to get a space at the front you needed to be in position well over half an hour beforehand. It was pretty good, some lovely floats and of course the Frozen sisters.

Frozen float in Disneyland parade

Every evening just before the park closed there was a performance of Disney Dreams! - a fantastic show around the castle with lasers, fireworks, music and projections onto the castle. It was very very good, probably the best evening show that we've ever seen at any of the Disney parks. Although the view was better if you were nearer the castle, you could still get a pretty good view from anywhere on Main Street, only arriving just a few minutes before it started. 

Disneyland Paris castle by night

One morning we ventured into central Paris with the children by train. Knowing that the Paris Metro is not at all pushchair friendly we left it at the hotel and found a route that avoided too much walking to save little legs. We popped up at the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and finished at La Défense where we ate lunch. I'm really glad that we took the chance to do it, as the children really enjoyed it.

Children in front of Eiffel Tower, Paris

One downside to Disneyland Paris is that eating out can be expensive, and unless you want to travel away from the parks your options are limited. We found that the food in the parks was very over-priced and not that good. We paid nearly 47 euros for a buffet meal at Buzz Lightyear's Pizza Planet and the food was not great with a poorly designed layout, although there was a good play area there for the children so we could eat in peace. We had a nice meal one evening at the Rainforest Cafe in the Disney Village, but again it wasn't cheap. There is a McDonald's if you need something quick and more budget friendly, and we took plenty of snacks with us to avoid buying lunch.

I must admit that we all felt a little Disneyed out by the end of the holiday, and it will probably be a few years until our next visit. But we had a brilliant holiday, with lots to see and do, and plenty of Disney magic. 
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