Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Book Review - Thank You, Mr Panda by Steve Antony


Mr Panda is a stickler for manners. In this book, Mr Panda has presents for his friends. But will they be thankful for their gifts, even if they are not what they are expecting? Lemur features as Mr Panda's sidekick - will he remember his manners too?

The expressions on the animals faces are priceless. Mr Panda is so deadpan, you can do the best voices while reading this book aloud.

This is the third book Steve Antony has written featuring Mr Panda, with a fourth due out in October. I had just gotten out Please Mr Panda from the library when this book arrived to review so Addison was familiar with the characters. I recommend starting with Please Mr Panda, then I'll Wait, Mr Panda, then Thank You, Mr Panda. Donuts also feature in all the books which is always a winner in my eyes!

These are the kind of books that children find hilarious and adults really love the humour too. I rate these books highly for the 2-4 year age group.

Published by Hachette and available in paperback now.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Book Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall


Louise Williams has been sitting on a terrible secret since high school involving the assumed death of a fellow student - Maria Weston. Now 25 years later a friend request from Maria appears on Louise's Facebook account. But she's dead, isn't she? The request is followed by increasingly mysterious and chilling messages which force Louise to re-live that night, and an upcoming school reunion makes matters worse. Who really knows the truth about what happened that night? To what extent will they go to keep it a secret?

This is Laura Marshall's first novel and it really holds its own in the thriller genre. I liked that it centres around social media and highlights some of the dangers about what we put out on the internet.
Louise is suitably anxious, paranoid and messed-up from her past which has weaved its way into her adult life. She is a solo mother of a young boy and the references to the early days of parenthood which affected the relationship with her then-husband are easy to relate to. There is a twist as usual and I definitely didn't see it coming. The pacing was a bit slow to start with but once past the halfway point it was all go until the end.

A great read, without a romance plotline or gruesome details, which is pretty rare these days! I will definitely keep my eyes and ears peeled for Laura Marshall's next offering as this was right up my alley.

Available now!

Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Book Review: Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed


Let me just start by saying that this book won't be for everyone. However if you, like me, have been intrigued yet horrified with 'The Handmaid's Tale' then this runs along the same lines. It has also been likened to 'The Giver'.

Set in a patriarchal dystopian world, most of the earth has been ravaged by fire and a small group of 10 men and their wives managed to create a settlement on an island. These men called themselves the Ancestors and set up a cult-like society complete with their loose version of a bible with 'shalt-nots'. The men tend the land. Women are wives and housekeepers, who may only have two children to ensure the population doesn't grow too quickly. Girls are married off as soon as they hit puberty but before that are there to 'comfort' their fathers when they can't go to their wives (if you get what I mean. Gross. It's never described though - only alluded to). In the heat of the summer all the children are sent off free to roam the island and fend for themselves to keep them from rebelling for the rest of the year.

Obviously inter-breeding becomes an issue with lots of 'defectives' which troubles the men of the island. The story is told by four girls on the brink of puberty, one is older than the rest because she starves herself to keep puberty away. The girls have grown up in this messed-up society but some have begun to question the why's and what-ifs. But can children change anything?

As I said - not for everyone. I chose this book to review because the blurb said that it was about a cult on an island. Would I pick this off the shelf for myself? No. Should I? Maybe. With all the hype surrounding The Handmaids Tale where women are oppressed and men teach false religion, it casts an eerie shadow on a future that may not actually be too far off these fictitious stories.

The writing is beautiful, the characters are well-drawn and the island comes to life in your mind. Although the topics that are alluded to are worst-of-the-worst, they are tiptoed around and treated with sensitivity. But then there is some graphic violence that undoes this.

Clearly I am torn with this book, it is very haunting but well written and it has made me think, which not many novels do -I tend to consume then forget.

So if my patchy review has made you curious then Gather the Daughters is available now. This probably won't be the last you hear of it.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Book Review: From Cradle to Stage by Virginia Hanlon Grohl


As soon as I saw this book was about to be published I had to have it. I usually struggle through non-fiction, especially biographies but this book is different.

From Cradle to Stage is written by the mother of rock-legend Dave Grohl (the multi-talented musician of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame). His MOTHER. Imagine all the hilarious stories she must have, the perspectives of Dave (or David, as she calls him) that she has seen from the trenches. You don't have to imagine. She delivers.

Along with tales from her own past, Dave's childhood and his early career, Virginia decided that she wanted to hear other rock-mother's stories. Others who have navigated that crazy lifestyle that she had never thought possible for her son. It turns out that there were plenty of other mothers that were willing to share their stories including Dr Dre's mother, Pharell William's mother, Amy Winehouse's mother, Adam Levine's mother and Josh Groban's mother. These stories are told by Virginia from the visits she had with each of these amazing ladies. Interspersed through the individual stories are vignettes of reflection and even some snippets of the early Nirvana years.

There is a familiar trend that runs through most of these musicians: school was not always the place that nurtured the creative spirit, much to the dismay of the mothers. Each story describes the moment when the musician realized that music was an achievable goal, and when their mother finally accepted this revelation. Often times their family is their biggest cheerleader, becoming manager/roadie/merch seller in the early days.

Some stories tell of pain, sorrow and heartbreak on the journey, others highlight the toll that this life can take on a family but every mother is so darn proud of their children that they would do it all again in a heartbeat.

I have picked up and put down this book, the stories are short, just enough to sit down with a cup of tea and read for 10 minutes. It means that it has taken me a while to get through but I think there is nothing wrong with that. It is well written, Virginia has a lovely storytelling style and is very humble. I love that there is a picture of her with each mother she meets and you can just imagine them sitting down and chatting the afternoon away. The stories are raw and real though and they don't gloss over the realities of the lives that have resulted from the fame. This makes each mother so much more relatable and you realize that behind every rock star is a mother who loves, cares and worries.

If you have ever dreamed of being a rock-star, if you have a mother, if you ARE a mother, or if you are just curious about the lives of some of these big names then get your hands on this book.

Available from April 26, 2017 in paperback and e-book formats.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Testing the Tui Pinafore by Below the Kowhai


My gorgeous friend Sophie has spent the last year or so learning how to create and draft patterns. I think that is pretty dang amazing! She has started up her brand called Below the Kōwhai - named after the huge Kōwhai tree in her backyard, where her two girls love to play. This pinafore is her second offering, her first is the Bellbird dress, a beautiful dress with optional loose, puffy sleeves.

I have been lucky enough to test both patterns for her and I really love the process! Sophie sends me (and a few others) her draft pattern and we run through making the item and pick up any changes that need to be made, give feedback on what works or doesn't, and make sure the sizing fits our models!

This process has made me a better seamstress already, I follow the pattern to the letter and when it says to iron, I do! This is far removed from my usual guesstimate sewing. I know that I can and should do better and this is definitely helping - thanks Soph! I also attempted her step-by-step embroidery on the pocket, I have only ever done basic embroidery before so it was fun learning new skills.

You can purchase the pattern over at the Below the Kōwhai website - Check out the beautiful photos of the Bellbird while you are there!

I had to tempt Addy into modelling the dress for me, she cannot sit or stand still hence the hilarious photos.

Details:
The Tui Pinafore
Model Wears Size 3
Material: Chambray
Curved Bodice and Straps
Patch Pocket with Embroidery













xx Amy

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Book Review: But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure


But Then I Came Back is written as a companion book (not a sequel as such, but the same characters, different protagonist and different story) to This Raging Light. I think it stands pretty well on its own without having read the first book, but the intro is a little washy and confusing and without the backgrounds of the characters it is hard to understand why the accident happens in the first place.

Eden slips off a rock by a river and ends up in a coma for a month. But then she comes back. Before, she was a ballet dancer with dreams of the big time in New York. Her life was organized, planned. While she was in the coma she experienced some crazy-weird stuff in the InBetween or the afterlife if you will. Now that she is back she tries to get her head around what she experienced, as well as having a totally different view on life. She also feels a connection with another girl, Jasmine, who is in a coma and resides down the hall from her in hospital. Eden feels like she can somehow reach her but realizes how weird that seems to everyone else. There is also Joe, Jasmine's best friend who becomes part of Eden's recovery too. Eden's family also play a big part in the story.

Now this is Young Adult Contemporary Fiction. I knew that going in, I felt like I would enjoy something lighter after a couple of darker, intense reads. I was conflicted with this book. I was not a huge fan of the narrative written as Eden's thoughts. She is obviously a teenager and thinks like one, but she didn't seem very likeable, or maybe I am just getting old. It didn't stop me from finishing the book though, the content pulled me through. Another thing I wasn't a fan of was the magical, otherworldly elements. A cool concept, but I thought some of it was a bit over-the-top.

On the plus side, I really appreciate the fact that Laure tackles the tricky issue of 'what happens after we die/are in a coma'. She did a lot of research into the medical side of things and the realities of recovery. In the Q & A in the back of the book, Laure talks about her very close friend who committed suicide just before she wrote this book. She didn't get to come back, but Laure found similarities between her and Eden and used the book as a sort of goodbye for her. I find this so heartbreaking but I praise her for dealing with death and tricky topics in a way that makes you end with feeling that life is meant to be lived well. I also enjoyed the fact that there was a love interest but it didn't overwhelm the story.

Overall, I'd read both This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back together. It is not a light, fluffy YA book but it deals with real issues. Thought provoking, funny and an interesting journey of self-discovery.

Available from 11 April 2017 in both paperback and eBook formats. 

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Friday, 21 April 2017

South Canterbury Camping Trip


This past week Dave, Addison and I went camping with two of our good friends Roanna and Stephen. We headed south of Christchurch to Timaru, where we picked up the Chiles family's caravan and headed about 30 minutes inland to a farm on the edge of the Pareora River. The farm is owned by a family friend and Dave's parents have been camping here for years. It is such a beautiful place, a secluded gem of solitude mixed with the occasional farm bike and dogs moving sheep around the paddocks.


It is currently autumn and pretty darn cold, we were hitting 6/7 degree lows overnight which is pretty chilly when you are sleeping in a tent! Thankfully we had the caravan for Addison to sleep in which was probably the best move we made because a) it was warm(er) b) it was enclosed and c) it was sound proof enough that we could still be up late chatting away and she couldn't hear us but we could still hear her when she woke.

We headed down on Monday and stayed until Thursday which was 3 nights and that felt like a long enough stay. There was no running water at the site so we had a chemical toilet and zero showers because the river was freezing! Thanks to the wonders of merino and deodorant we didn't smell too bad but the first hot shower after coming home was bliss.

The campsite has a well-used fire pit which we immediately got to finding and chopping wood. There is also a pizza oven which we tested out and had great success with.

It got dark around 6pm and we let Addison stay up and cook marshmallows with us then put her to bed. The magic of dark nights! It felt way later than it was and I think we ended up heading to bed around 9.30/10 most nights.

We spent the first two evenings hanging by the fire to keep warm but the last night it started raining so we retreated to the semi-enclosed dome tent that Ro & Stephen had brought. We had a Primus gas cooker for most of our cooking and the caravan also has a small gas stove. We had a 20 litre container of water and took some store bought bottled water too after our second container sprung a leak. We also had a chilly bin with a couple of bags of ice to keep our food cold. There was still ice left after 3 days so that seemed to work pretty well.

Menu:

Monday
Dinner - Bacon & Beans with Toast
Tuesday 
Breakfast - Bacon, Eggs, Hash Browns, Toast
Lunch - Sandwiches with Salad and Deli Meats
Dinner - Baked Potatoes with Creamed Corn, Bacon and Sour Cream (cooked in the embers of the fire!)
Wednesday 
Breakfast - Pancakes, Bacon and Maple Syrup
Lunch - We did a supply run into Timaru to get more water (and chocolate) and had lunch there.
Dinner - Pizza in the pizza oven!
Thursday 
Breakfast - Bacon, Eggs, Hash Browns, Toast
Lunch - Instant Noodles

Snacks were fruit, chips, chocolate and s'mores.

We took a plunger and coffee as well as hot chocolate and herbal teas which were on high rotation with the whistling kettle.

While we were camping we did a lot of exploring with Addison. She loved to help us with the general set-up and wood gathering. She got to work finding 'treasure' which were just old beer caps from previous occupants. We threw stones in the river, found some interesting looking ones, talked to the sheep, splashed in puddles and she took Roanna on a bunch of interesting adventures around the campsite. The toys we took to bust out when boredom finally arrived were playdough, bubbles, her dolly and a colouring book. We also had a couple of books for bedtime as well as her duvet, white noise, light lamp and cuddly toy. She quite took to the chemical toilet because it was in its own little tent and was just the right height for her. She was such a trooper in the cold mornings - we had to teach her to put her hands in her pockets and put her in multiple layers of merino to stay warm. She ended up with pretty dry lips so next time I'll make sure we have chapstick with us.

Dave and Stephen took a walk down to the Pareora Dam which was about an hour round trip on an overgrown path. It was a bit far for Addison so we stayed at the campsite with her while the boys went adventuring.




Roanna and Stephen were such awesome camp-mates. They had just spent the weekend camping in the rain at Eastercamp and still managed to be enthusiastic about coming to an unknown spot with the three of us. Addison loved having some extra attention and got quite attached to them. We made a pretty good team and had just the right amount of gear between us to make it an adventure. They didn't even bat an eyelid when the tantrums happened. Thanks guys!


We had so much fun on our trip and despite all my reservations about taking Addison camping, she well and truly proved me wrong and had a great time. We plan to make this a relatively regular occurrence now that we have figured out how it all works. Thanks to the Chiles' for the use of the caravan too!


Wood gathering

Addison discovering the toilet tent

Handing out snacks




Adventuring - Gumboots essential

Dave whittling a knife


I promise I was there!

Blowing bubbles

Jacket potatoes and walnuts we found drying by the fire

Morning fog



Balancing by the pizza oven

Getting the pizza oven nice and hot

Pizza!

Addison helping wash up


Arty shot


xx Amy

Book Review: My Hand To Hold by Smriti Prasadam-Halls


My Hand to Hold is a beautifully illustrated, feel-good book with the overall message of unconditional love running deeply through.The rhyming structure flows well  which I enjoy in children's books. It is beautifully illustrated, oh wait, I said that already? Well it is! The rabbits play through every breathtaking season. The rabbits are also not given specific genders so it can apply to any family unit. What I like best though is that it shows that life isn't always sunshine and roses:

'I love you in the dazzling sun,
When everything we do seems fun.
But when you have to shout and yell,
I love you at those times as well.'

This is definitely a book aimed at younger children (under 5's) but is lovely and sweet so older siblings won't mind listening in.

Available now in hardback and paperback.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Book Review: Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel


The Roanoke girls are rich and beautiful but hide a generations-long secret. This dark, dirty secret leads them to either run from the family home, or die.

Fifteen year old Lane Roanoke has stayed away from the family house but after her mother commits suicide, Lane is welcomed into the small-town Kansas mansion where her Grandparents and cousin Allegra live. During the long, hot summer, Lane and Allegra become good friends, meet boys and generally own the town but when the summer ends Lane runs and doesn't look back. Until eleven years later when Allegra goes missing and Lane is drawn back to find out what happened to her. But will Lane be able to resist the pull of the Roanoke secret once again?

I am so morally torn after reading this book. It touches on a very intense subject that made me feel pretty gross. I can't give it away without spoiling the plot, although the secret is known pretty early on. This is unusual for a small-town mystery novel, usually it would be saved until the end. But it silently festers and reaches all corners of the town. In saying that, the book has that draw, that pull that makes  you turn page after page to find out what happens in the end. There is a mystery element to the book which always gets me, Allegra leaves a trail of clues which need to be found by Lane. There is sex, crude language and characters that are beyond screwed up.

When Lane returns she reunites with her old flame who has about as many skeletons in his closet as she does. The two have a push/pull relationship where each seems to think that their issues will destroy the other but they manage to accept their brokenness and I think that is one of the better parts of the novel.

The narrative is told in then/now flashbacks and interspersed with brief voices from the dead or departed previous Roanoke girls. I liked this style as it kept the story moving and revealed the vulnerability and innocence of the girls who came before.

Overall this is not a comfortable read but if you can get past that then you will be rewarded with an intriguing tale with plenty of twists.

Available from March 14, 2017 in hardback and paperback.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.


Monday, 10 April 2017

Book Review: Takedown by Stephen Leather


I chose this book to review because I had previously read another by Stephen Leather - Dark Forces and I really enjoyed it. This one however didn't quite hit the mark for me.

The premise is that a British Special Forces soldier has gone rogue and joined forces with ISIS to launch a terrorist attack in the UK. Charlotte Button - an ex-MI5 agent (featured in other books by Leather) is hired off-the-books to take him out. She hires her favourite hitman Lex Harper to head up the operation.

I mean that is what the back of the book hints at, there is also a side-plot which involves Charlotte's personal insurance policy from when she was with MI5 - three flash drives that have been hidden away in security vaults. Two of these have been robbed and the third is at risk. Lex is called in to work on this case too.

The book starts in the perspective of Caleb McGoven - the rogue agent. There are a couple of chapters dedicated to getting to know how he gains the support of ISIS. Then we never get his perspective again. It switches focus to Lex for the rest of the book, save a chapter here and there for other minor league characters. This really confused me. It felt like I was getting invested in the terrorist plot and I would know why, where, what - all the important stuff. But nope. Nada. Everything was given from Lex's crew.

Lex is great at his job and is a relatively likable character, although he has his own stuff to deal with as well, more side-plots which kind of overtake the main plot. I think that is my main beef with this novel - there are too many sub-plots which could have easily been their own novels. The main 'rogue terrorist' plot - the one that drew me to the book in the first place - was super anti-climatic and took up maybe half the read time. I enjoyed the other plot lines but it was pretty jumpy.

Still a good read if you like the genre and the author, otherwise I'd read some of Leather's other novels instead.

Published by Hachette New Zealand. Available from 28 February 2017

Thanks to Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Dinosaur Coat From an Upcycled Blanket


Nearing the beginning of the month my nephew turned two. What! That means that in less than 6 weeks (more like 3 now) Addison will be three. What!
Anyway the weekend before I had inherited a couple of beautiful woolen blankets from Addison's Great-Granny and I finally went and purchased the Twig and Tale Wild Things Coat 

I don't think I have actually bought a PDF pattern before, I usually hunt down a free pattern and adapt it, or occasionally use paper patterns. So I figured I would make an investment - its about $17.50NZD and you get child sizes 1-14 and the add-ons for making 14 different animals! I have plans for making coats for plenty of birthday presents. The other awesome thing about Twig + Tale (apart from the fact that Lisa is a NZ local) is that she designs her patterns to be made from upcycled materials. I have seen old woolen coats being cut down and made into mini coats, or old blankets, sweaters and even leather jackets being used!

It is a nice simple pattern that an advanced beginner can tackle. Not sponsored by the way, just a happy customer.

So I decided to make a dinosaur coat for Master 2. It has felt spikes down the hood and back, and has a little spiky tail too. I added claws on the pockets as well.

Dave made me the toggles (AMAZING right?!) and they work so well with the coat.

Master 2 loves being a dinosaur and can roar on command. It will fit him through this winter and then I'll have to make him a new one next year. Maybe a Fox? Or a Bear? Or a Dog?

I have made Addison a Pony coat out of a different blanket which I will attempt to photograph later. It has a mane! I seriously love the versatility. I am looking forward to making a few more coats in the near future too. I just need to go blanket hunting!

I have been sewing a fair bit recently, my crochet orders have slowed down and study and general life has kept me busy but I am always itching to create. I love switching between sewing and crochet because crochet is quite relaxing and I can do it while watching TV and sewing is a lot faster and I see results in an hour or three. Crochet usually takes me at least a couple of nights to finish something.

But I ramble. Here, check out the cool photos of the Dinosaur Coat!








Ignore the fact that it needs a good iron - I was too scared of ruining it! That last photo is Addison modelling the coat - Master 2 is too speedy to capture and Addison isn't much better.

Thanks for stopping by - and stay tuned for coat #2 soon!

xx