Saturday 30 October 2021

Advent calendar ideas for readers and book lovers

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

One of my favourite early blog posts was my ideas for things to fill a wooden Advent calendar. I had a lot of fun thinking of small items that could be used as fillers for a homemade or pre-purchased empty Advent calendar. 

Bookish Advent calendar ideas for book lovers and readers

So on a similar note I thought I'd put together some ideas for a homemade Advent calendar for the reader and book lover in your life. I'd love someone to put together something like this for me, or perhaps I should just go ahead and make one for myself! They would also make good stocking fillers or Secret Santa gifts.

These are all ideas for a bookish Advent calendar aimed at adults and I've tried to think about small things that won't cost too much money - buying twenty four gifts can add up quickly!

Links to Amazon are affiliate links which means that I receive a small commission on items purchased.

Books

Books are the obvious choice for a reading and book themed Advent calendar! But it will get pricey pretty quickly if you want to include a new book each day. You could think about looking for second hand books - I love World of Books for second hand books, especially the more obscure ones, and I've personally used them many times. Charity shops are another fab place for cheap second hand books, or if you do want to buy new then it's worth looking for box sets where you can buy a themed pack of books working out at a cheaper individual price.

There are also many Christmas themed books available. They are usually in the romantic comedy genre and fairly predicable in terms of plot, but they make lovely festive reading!

Bookplates

Bookplates make a perfect gift for someone who is building their library or enjoys lending books to friends and family but wants them to return home. Most packs come with lots of different designs so you can split up a pack to spread it out over several days. If you want to spend a little more you can also get some lovely personalised rubber stamps. 

Bookmarks

I have so many bookmarks, but I can never find one when I need one! You can buy some lovely multipacks of bookmarks which could be spread over several different windows in the Advent calendar. It's also really easy to make your own bookmarks, especially if you have access to a decent printer and laminator. Just print out your design, laminate, punch a hole in the top and thread through some ribbon. You could design personalised bookmarks using favourite photos and literary quotes.

Book and reading accessories

Some of these gift ideas are a little larger and pricier but would make a lovely Advent calendar gift! Again buying sets of more than one, like the bookends and sticky flags, means that you can spread them out over several days. The simple bookends could be personalised to make them more individual, with stickers, photographs or vinyl cut outs. 

Other small gifts that go well with reading

I love to snuggle down with a book and a hot drink, so an individual hot chocolate sachet or a tea bag would make a great gift and both can be bought very cheaply in the supermarket. Likewise some nice chocolates or other treats. Hot chocolate stirrers are also a nice treat, and it's pretty easy to make your own, for example have a look here - Hot Chocolate Stirrers recipe

I loved putting this list together, I hope that it gives you some inspiration if you are looking for Advent calendar ideas for a book obsessed family member or friend!

If you are putting together your own Advent calendar you might also like these posts:

Advent calendar filler ideas

Advent calender filler ideas for crafters

Main photo credit Sabina Sturzu via Unsplash.

Friday 29 October 2021

Review - The Curse of the Burial Dagger - a family-friendly interactive graphic novel murder mystery game

I received a complimentary link to enable us to try out this game.

The Curse of the Burial Dagger is an interactive puzzle game presented in the style of a graphic novel. It's a family-friendly game, and we were sent a link so that we could try it out together over half-term. 

Here's the premise of the game:

When everyone is a suspect, and a killer is on the loose, is anybody safe?

A mansion near Dundee, 1923. Susie Sato finds herself investigating a murder when her great-uncle and host Lord Hamilton is found dead in his private museum, an ancient Egyptian burial dagger protruding from his back. Could it be the curse of the dagger, an object Lord Hamilton was warned not to remove from the tomb? Or could something else have caused his death?

Can you uncover the events leading up to Lord Hamilton’s death and deduce how he died… before the curse strikes again?

We decided that the children and I would play the game together around one device, but you can use the game link for up to six people playing on different devices at the same time. This means that it's a perfect activity to do with friends and family remotely if you aren't able to meet in person. In total the game took us 80 minutes to play.

The story is presented as a graphic novel, with images and subtitled narration. We meet the narrator, Susie, who is staying at the house and investigating the death of Lord Hamilton. She's studying forensic science, so we learn some interesting information about different techniques which can be used to solve crimes, for example chromatography and fingerprinting.

In between detailed information about motives and alibis given by the different characters, there are a variety of different puzzles which need to be solved in order to move to the next stage. Among others there are maths puzzles, logic puzzles, and puzzles where you need to look for clues based on the images.  

Some of the puzzles were simple but others were quite hard! In particular there was a maths problem which Harry and I both had different ideas about how to solve, so we tackled it separately and compared our final answers which were very different. And yes, despite my confidence his answer was the correct one - luckily we entered his result in first! If you are stuck with a clue at any point you can ask for help or skip it.  

Interactive graphic novel murder mystery game for families

As well as solving the puzzles you also need to pay attention to the story as it unfolds, as there are plenty of clues revealed in the spoken dialogue between characters. This is where we came unstuck - we solved all the puzzles correctly first time but got the final answer wrong as we couldn't decide between two suspects! 

As you go along you are encouraged to fill out a notebook on the screen where you decide how likely various different hypotheses are, and this helps you to think about who committed the murder. But we didn't mind that we didn't get the answer exactly right, we definitely felt like we had given the game a good go! And as Susie says during the game, it's putting together the clues that was what we were most concerned with, when it comes to convicting the murder it's up to a judge and jury.

We really enjoyed playing The Curse of the Burial Dagger, and I would definitely recommend it. The game was family friendly and aimed at ages 10 and up, although I think you'd want an adult or two playing, as some of the puzzles did require a bit of thinking about. But perhaps I'm doing mine (aged 10 and 12) a disservice to think that they needed me, especially after my failure at the maths task!

I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to play the game, and I'll definitely be looking out for similar things to try in the future. 

Playing The Curse of the Burial Dagger

If this review has sparked your interest, you can watch the trailer below to get a good sense of how the game works, and visit The Curse of the Burial Dagger for more information or to purchase.

The Curse of the Burial Dagger game is priced at £20. All you need to play the game is a computer or tablet with internet access, using either Chrome on a computer or Safari on a tablet. When you buy a ticket you will be sent an email with a link to the game which can be forwarded to other players to play at a time agreed amongst you, or you can play as a group using a shared device. If you are playing with others remotely then it's recommended to set up a Zoom call or similar so you can discuss it together. You can play the game at any time, and take as long as you need to play.

Thursday 28 October 2021

Painted wooden sugar skull craft for Halloween

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

With Halloween falling at the end of the half-term holiday this year, and with Halloween plans being back on track now that covid restrictions have eased, it's the perfect time to do some Halloween crafting! I did a quick trip to Hobbycraft last week to stock up on some craft supplies, and I couldn't resist buying us each a blank wooden skull to decorate. I thought that they would look great decorated as sugar skulls and I wasn't wrong - look at our amazing results!

Three painted wooden sugar skulls

This is what we started with - a simple blank wooden cut out. It's about 20cm in height and 15cm across and comes with hanging hole and ribbon. The jaw at the bottom is attached by wire so it is moveable if you are careful when painting.

Blank wooden skull to paint from Hobbycraft

We began our decorating with a couple of coats of white acrylic paint, which was enough to cover up the blank outlines and give a smooth surface. Then we added extra details with acrylic paint and felt pens, and glued on craft gemstones and sequins. I think it worked well to stick to a limited colour palette so I tried to encourage the children to pick their three or four favourite colours. There is plenty of inspiration online if you need some ideas but you can pretty much let your imagination run wild!

We'll be hanging our finished sugar skulls in the hallway and I'm hoping that they will be used as Halloween decorations for years to come.

Painted wooden sugar skull Halloween decorations

If you are looking for more sugar skull Halloween crafts you might like these:

Hama bead sugar skull bunting - including a free pixel art sugar skull design which can be used with Hama beads or other pixel art projects such as cross stitch.

Mini Hama bead sugar skull earrings - using tiny mini Hama beads to make some sugar skull earrings which make a great Halloween costume accessory.

A Halloween picture using Hama bead sugar skulls - Hama bead sugar skulls arranged to make a lovely Halloween piece of art.

Painted sugar skull Halloween decorations

For our painted wooden sugar skulls we used this Hanging Halloween Wooden Skull Decoration from Hobbycraft which we bought instore. 

I've linked some similar products to the ones that we used below (affiliate links).

Wednesday 27 October 2021

The books that I read on holiday

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

I always spend a lot of time thinking about which books to take on holiday! On our recent trip I decided to spend some time with my Kindle in an effort to save space in the suitcases. I managed to read three books, all of which I enjoyed, so I thought I'd share them here in case anyone is looking for some reading inspiration.

A Day Like This by Kelley McNeil 

I chose this book from Amazon First Reads, which lets Prime members pick a free new Kindle book to download each month. It will be published on 1st November.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a modern story about Annie Beyers, an artist, who has a car accident while driving her young daughter to the doctors during a storm. When she wakes up in hospital she's told that she doesn't have a daughter, is no longer with her husband and that she lives in a flat in the city instead of her idyllic home in the country. The story really keeps you guessing - is the life that she remembers with her family all in her imagination, is there a supernatural or a scientific explanation, or is something more sinister going on? 

I found it a really gripping and exciting read, very sad at times as Annie deals with the loss of her daughter and perfect life, and struggles to come to terms with her new reality. It was also fascinating to think through all the possible explanations to explain what was happening.   


This book was a second Amazon First Reads account, this one from my husband's account. It will be published on 1st November.

This book tells the story of Eliza, who along with her half-sister is glad to leave behind a tragic past in New Orleans and move to rural England when she inherits a country house from her Aunt. She quickly  discovers that in order to receive her inheritance she needs to marry within three months. Luckily she's instantly attracted to her handsome yet mysterious neighbour, but he turns out to have plenty of secrets of his own.

This was another enjoyable read, a late Victorian gothic romance/ghost story with plenty of twists and turns. Some of them were quite predictable but others were less obvious and it was one that left me keen to find out what would happen next.

Pachinko book cover on a Kindle


This book was an Amazon Prime Reading book, another great Amazon Prime benefit where you can borrow up to ten books at a time for free from a large list of both old and new books. Pachinko was published in 2017 and it tells the story of four generations of a family, beginning in Korea in 1911. It follows the family through Japanese rule in Korea, their immigration to Japan, their experiences during WW2 and the post-war years, finishing in the 1980s. A major focus of the story is the way that the Japanese treated people of Korean heritage, something that I knew nothing about, and the discrimination that they faced.

I was unfamiliar with the word Pachinko, which is the name of a popular vertical pinball game played by adults in Japan. Gambling is illegal in Japan but pachinko bypasses that as the player wins prizes not money, which can then be exchanged elsewhere for cash. It's a huge business and many of the pachinko parlours are owned and operated by Koreans. Pachinko parlours play a vital role in the lives of many of the characters and it's also used as a metaphor in the novel for the way that the people are caught up in seemingly random events and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. 

It's a long book with many characters but I didn't find it at all difficult to keep track of people and their relationships to each other as there were plenty of reminders embedded in the text (much easier to follow than books where I have to draw a family tree for myself to keep things straight!). The story moves along very quickly, often a new chapter will start several years after the previous one ended, with a brief line to update you on what has happened since. This means that some quite important parts of the story, like the deaths of major characters, are skipped over. However I liked this style of writing because it kept the story interesting along with the many different locations and life events.

It was a long read but it didn't feel like it and was another really enjoyable book that I'd definitely recommend.

Monday 25 October 2021

Our recent experience with flying abroad

We have recently returned from a lovely half-term holiday to Rhodes, Greece! We love to travel but it had been over two years since our last trip abroad, and I found the prospect of flying quite daunting. So I thought I'd share our experience in case it is helpful to anyone that is currently wondering about booking a trip abroad. 

Before flying

Preparing for the holiday was fairly stressful. The guidelines change constantly, and online sources of information are quickly outdated. TUI were very helpful and provided an up-to-date spreadsheet with clear information, along with a link to book discounted tests. To visit Greece, Harry needed to do an antigen test two days before arrival as he's over 12 and currently unvaccinated. Then we all needed to complete a Passenger Locator Form for Greece (one per family). For our return to the UK we all needed to book a PCR test for Day 2 (this requirement has now changed to a lateral flow test) and complete Passenger Locator Forms.

There were also extra things to pack for the holiday of course - like plenty of face masks and hand sanitiser. 

Departing from London Gatwick (North Terminal)

The airport seemed quieter than normal but it was still busy. We were travelling just before the usual half-term holiday, so there weren't many families travelling. Everyone was wearing masks, there were plenty of hand sanitiser stations and people kept a good distance while waiting in queues. There were QR codes available with links to the forms that were needed for arrival in various countries. And we did see people filling out the forms while waiting in the queue! We had checked in online and at the bag drop we had to show our vaccination details, proof of the negative antigen test for Harry and the Passenger Locator Form required for Greece. Then we were given a confirmation slip to present at the gate. I assume that if you check in online without going to the bag drop then you would be asked to show your details at the gate when boarding. The queue for security at departures was very short, and there were lots of staff around the airport to help with things.

On the plane

Mask wearing was very strictly enforced on the plane with regular reminders that wearing a mask was a condition of carriage and to remember to replace the mask after eating and drinking. I'm not used to wearing a mask for such a long time so it was a bit uncomfortable, but easily manageable. Also no more than two people were allowed to queue for a toilet at the same time.

Gatwick Airport during coronavirus

Landing in Rhodes, Greece.

The queue on arrival was very short. We knew that there was a chance of random testing on arrival in Greece, and the captain told us during the flight that although sometimes they stop only a few people, sometimes they will test the entire flight. But we didn't see anyone being stopped for a test (our flight did land quite late at night.) We only needed to show our passports like usual.

Departing from Rhodes, Greece.

Again we had checked in online, and at the bag drop desk adults were asked for their vaccination status and our Passenger Locator Forms for the UK were checked (this includes details of the tests which you have booked for your arrival home). This seemed to be a thorough check. The airport was quite busy and felt a little cramped at times, but there was enough space to keep away from other passengers and everyone was wearing masks. 

Landing at London Gatwick (North Terminal)

Arrival at London Gatwick was very smooth and felt just like normal. At Border Control we were only asked for our passports, not the Passenger Locator Form or to prove our vaccination status. I can only assume that this information must be linked electronically to our passports, or else they trust that we provided the information on departure from Greece.

In all our experience on each stage of the journey was very smooth and we were pleasantly surprised with how easy it all was. As long as you make sure that you are familiar with and have completed all the requirements then everything should be fine. Hopefully over time things will become more streamlined, although I do think that Passenger Locator Forms are going to be here to stay for a while yet.

Thursday 21 October 2021

Last minute Halloween crafts for children

Over the years I've shared lots of Halloween crafts on my blog so I thought I'd re-share some of my favourites. These Halloween crafts are simple, fun, and are a great way to keep children busy as well as add a spooky flair to your home. They can mostly be made with things from around the home or your craft box. 

Click on the individual links for full instructions.

Really simple spooky window pictures

A really simple craft for very young children using clear contact paper and tissue paper.

Simple spooky Halloween window pictures

Paper plate spider web


Use paper plates and white yarn to create some creepy decorations.

Paper plate spider web craft for Halloween


Toilet tube monsters


This monster family is made from painted cardboard tubes and bits and pieces from the craft box.

These Halloween coasters are made using the small circle pegboard design and make great Halloween decorations for your party table.

Hama bead Halloween coasters designs

Laminated battery candle covers


For battery powered candles only, these candle covers use Halloween sequins for some spooky lighting.

Halloween battery powered candle holders

Jam jar spider Halloween lantern

This simple lantern is made with a spray painted jam jar and paper template, and it looks great on a Halloween themed mantelpiece or windowsill.

Halloween jam jar spider lantern craft

Happy Halloween crafting!

This project was featured by Twinkl as part of their Halloween campaign: Crafts and Decorations

Monday 18 October 2021

My latest obsession - charity shop book buying

I'm an avid reader, but for a long time I've been practising minimalism when it comes to my books. A few years ago I got rid of many of my physical books and started to buy books for my Kindle instead. When I did buy an actual book I would pass it on when I'd finished with it, and over the last year or two I've been a frequent visitor to the local library. 

But a few months ago something changed. Perhaps because during lockdown I got used to reading physical books from the library, and although most of them were enough to keep me entertained over one reading, some of them were ones that I knew I would want to read again. I've also been chatting to a friend who told me how much she enjoys roaming around the local charity shops and coming home with bags of books.

During the summer holiday I took Mia for a shopping trip to our nearest large village. Along with a quick stop in the café and a visit to the toy shop we discovered five charity shops. I was delighted to find a great selection of books to come home with - a few that I had already read and wanted to read again, some new to me but by a familiar author, and some that I had heard of and wanted to read.

From that moment on I was hooked. I've found that around here the going rate in a smaller charity shop is £1 for a paperback, rising to £1.99 in larger shops like Oxfam. I've found several areas nearby where I can visit five or six shops within a few minutes walk, and if I have a child with me I always come back with more because they help to persuade me that I really need a particular book.

Many of the books that I'm buying are ones that I've already read and enjoyed. I also have a wish list in my head - I couldn't write it out from memory but if I see a particular book on the shelf I will know that it's one I'm after. It's all going a long way to filling up my new bookcases!

A photo of the books on my fiction bookshelf

I'd love to hear about your charity shop book bargains and any tips that you might have for second hand book buying!

Thursday 14 October 2021

The rise of the fidget toy in our house

Do you remember when your young children were toddlers, and you couldn't leave the house without a bag full of brightly coloured plastic teething toys to keep them entertained? Well I've recently discovered that even when they grow up and turn into tweens they still want to carry about a heap of plastic bendy and stretchy toys, even though these have now been rebranded under the more grown up term 'fidget toys'.

Pile of fidget toys for children

I first became aware of the fidget toy 'Popits' when I spotted references on social media and blogs back in the spring. I could see the appeal and I thought that my children would enjoy them, so we chose them each a small square Popit which they were delighted with. This was enough for the oldest, he enjoys to pop it from time to time and that's enough for him.

But for the ten year old? Well it marked the start of an obsession. She soon discovered that Popits were available in a range of different colours, sizes and shapes. Not only that, when searching for them on  Amazon it opened up a whole new world of different fidget toys - squishy ones, stretchy ones, wire ones, hard ones, soft ones...there is endless choice. She even plays a game on Roblox where she collects, swaps and pops virtual Popits with her friends.

As well as the multitude found online they can also be spotted for cheap on local market stalls and are readily available in all toy shops. I must confess that after seeing how satisfying it was to pop them I bought myself a small one to keep my hands busy while I'm thinking. We've given them to younger relatives that have loved them, and have been kept occupied with them for much longer than many other toys.

I'm a sucker for giving in to my children when it comes to keeping up with the latest crazes that hit the playground. At least these days they are able to spend some of their own money, and I like to think that it teaches them a little bit about budgeting and shopping around to get the best deals. Normally these crazes are short lived, but I can't see this latest obsession coming to an end any time soon!

Monday 11 October 2021

Book review - The Sailing Days of Bianca Drake by Louise McGee

 I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. Contains Amazon affiliate link.

We love cruising as a family, and as well as all the things to enjoy on board I also enjoy speculating about what life must be like for all the people that are busy working away in the background. So I loved the sound of this new book - The Sailing Days Of Bianca Drake (affiliate link) - a semi-autobiographical novel based on the real adventures of the author who spent six years at sea as a crew member on a luxury cruise ship. 

Here's the blurb:

Twenty-three year old Bianca Drake is about to embark on the biggest adventure of her young life, leaving home for the very first time and joining the crew of the 'Lady Anne' as she sets off for a six month cruise around the world. Bianca's whistle-stop tour of the seven seas does not go entirely smoothly as she tries to balance the unreasonable demands of her new boss Cynthia with a bit of adventure of her own.'

I really enjoyed this book. It was a light, fun read and a fascinating account of life behind the scenes on a cruise ship. The main character Bianca doesn't seem to have much idea of what working on a cruise ship will entail in terms of accommodation or life on board, but she copes admirably with everything that is thrown at her, even if it does take her a little while to find her feet.

I loved reading about all the places around the world that Bianca visits, although her experiences in port are a little different to those of a tourist like me! And it was really interesting to learn about the mistakes that crew members can make that can get them into a lot of trouble - they have to abide by some very strict rules and there are severe consequences if they make a mistake.

This book confirmed my suspicions that despite the long hours there is also a very enjoyable side to working on a cruise ship, and I'd recommend this book whether you are a cruiser or not. It's a light-hearted and funny read with a glimpse of into life that many people have wondered about. 

The Sailing Days of Bianca Drake book review