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Quicksilver (UK)
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Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade
Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade
by Greg Gormley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Solid but unremarkable., 21 May 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As a children's book, there's nothing wrong with Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade but I don't see as one that is going to become a classic. The story is nominally about not being scared and facing up to one's fears of monsters in the closet. The pictures are engaging, though again nothing particularly special.

Mermaid escapade is stretching it slightly too, as whilst there's a mermaid in the book, she doesn't feature that much more than any of the other incidental characters (a wizard, a prince and a pirate captain.) I see there's another book in the series, Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch. I haven't read it, but I suspect it's better than this follow up. The Mermaid Escapade has all the hallmarks of a "difficult second book"; one that is trying to recreate the originality of the first, but in a much tighter timescale.

One thing I do like about Fairytale Frankie, is that it's a boy who likes the fairytales. The Disney and pinkification of all things Grimm, means that enticing boys to read fairy tales has become increasingly difficult.I had to introduce them to my boys by stealth to get them to fall in love with them. The book is solid, but in world with so many amazing picture books out there, I think this one may well be lost in the tide.


Fred
Fred
by Mick Inkpen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging story for older listeners, 13 May 2017
This review is from: Fred (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a fun attractive picture book that has engaged my four year old. It's about a loveable puppy called Fred, who doesn't know what to "Fred" is. Sit, fetch, catch he gets, but what is this Fred they keep asking him to do?

The central concept probably requires a child of the upper end of the picture book range, as Fred's confusion may be lost on younger readers. Nevertheless, the pictures are fun and Fred's scrapes engaging enough to entertain everybody at bedtime.

My only gripe about the book is that it can't seem to make up its mind whether its should rhyme or not. Some bits do, others not so much. As a result, I keep finding my reading doesn't quite scan properly. The kids haven't seemed to notice, but it breaks my reading pattern.

Fred is an engaging story, with lovely illustrations. It's not quite a classic Mick Inkpen (of which there are many,) but then not many books are.


First Writing: Wipe-clean book with pen (I'm Starting School)
First Writing: Wipe-clean book with pen (I'm Starting School)
by Pat-a-Cake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Way to Practice, 13 May 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Up until recently, my youngest son has been reluctant to start writing. Books like this were pointless as he simply hasn't interested Suddenly though, things changed and he loves this book. With pretty good reason. It comes with a solid easy to hold felt tip and lots of follow the pattern pages for him to trace over. Each page is wipeable so that he can repeat the exercises again and again. It wipes clean easily and well.

Then pen does smudge a little after immediately after writing. He's a lefty so this is more of an issue than for somebody right handed. It's not a major issue, but something to be aware of.

All in all, this isn't any better from a handwriting perspective than printing off sheets with the exercises on, but it keeps all the letters together in one place and is reusable. It does have a phonic letter instruction with each letter, 'd is for dog' that sort of thing. The exercises are fairly straight, there are no abstract exercises for practicing fine motor dexterity. No stealth teaching of handwritng. A few exercises like that would have been nice, but for under a fiver it's hard to complain.


The Five Realms: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear
The Five Realms: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear
by Kieran Larwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Storytelling in the grand tradition, 12 May 2017
Every now and then a book comes along that sparkles. I love books. I love children's stories. I'm predisposed to finding something good in them. I tend to be effusive in my praise for anything that I think will inspire a greater love of reading. This doesn't always leave me room to really shout about books that I find really special. One such book is The Legend of Podkin One-Ear.

So, what can I say about it? The book is a glorious meld of Watership Down and Redwall. Comparisons between the three are inevitable. Like Watership Down the animals in the book are rabbits and like Redwall the creatures are anthropomorphised (to a greater extent than Watership down.)

The novel is set in a fantasy land, where magic is present. It draws on natural druid-like folklore. It's a world where good and evil must be kept in balance. There is a hint of a suggestion that this is a post-apocalyptic earth from which humans have long since departed.

The story opens when an old storyteller arrives at a burrow on "Bramblemas Eve." He tells a story in exchange for hospitality. It's The story of Podkin One-Ear and his battle against the evil Gorm. The narrative in the book is mostly that of

The narrative in the book is mostly that of Podkin, but it flits back to interludes with the storyteller; a device which Larwood employs well. It's never annoying and gently draws tension out from the main story, so that the author can ramp it up again during the next part of the bard's account.

At the start of the story Podkin is a lazy rabbit; a spoiled prince. But when the ironclad Gorm (who reminded me of General Woundwort from Watership Down) arrive at his burrow he, his sister and baby brother flee for their lives. Podkin is kept alive by the tenacity and gumption of his sister, Paz. After dashing for their lives they meet a curious rabbit hermit, who seems to be expecting them, and gives hints as to how they might defeat the enemy that is blighting the land.

The story is filled with scrapes and acts of heroism, deliberate and accidental. There's great peril and ear loss. It's a coming of age story for Podkin, who rises to the challenges set before him. Paz mostly stays in the limelight too, though she does fade a little towards the end. This is a shame, as she pretty much keeps her brother alive up until the final battle and is deserving of more acclaim.

The druid and aging warrior characters that help Paz and Podkin, may be old tropes but they are well rendered and remain fresh for readers young and old. I loved the world-building. The infrastructure of the rabbit world is intriguing and I'd love to see more stories set in "The Five Realms". There's plenty of scope for more books, and more than a suggestion that Larwood intends to write more stories about Podkin, Paz and baby Pook.

This is children's storytelling in the grand tradition. Engaging characters, exciting scrapes and a dark and powerful enemy. Finished off with a dusting of magic to bring everything together. The Legend of Podkin One Ear is a book that deserves to be read and read for years to come.


Star Wars: A New Hope Junior Novel (Star Wars Junior Novel 1)
Star Wars: A New Hope Junior Novel (Star Wars Junior Novel 1)
by Ryder Windham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars May the Force be With You., 3 May 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had this junior novel when I was young and it's great to see it's still in print. Perhaps not surprising considering the world conquering might of Star Wars. It probably goes without saying that there are better written novels out there. After all, when does a film tie-in novel ever stand out as a great book in its own right? What this novel brings is instant immersion into a well-known world. It even has the Star Wars "crawl" text written on the back.

These Star Wars books are a great way to bring new readers or those lacking in confidence towards reading novels. Most people, picking up this novel know what they are going to find inside its covers and know that they are going to like it. Certainly, with my boys, this is 2/3 of the battle. Convincing them that the words are worth reading.

This is a tried and tested novelisation that has been reprinted many times, perfect for Yrs 3 and upwards. You get exactly what you expect. No surprises!


Leitz A4 Ruled Notebook, 90 Sheets - Red
Leitz A4 Ruled Notebook, 90 Sheets - Red
Price: £5.63

5.0 out of 5 stars Notebook: First Class, 27 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm a bit of a sucker for notebooks. This one is great. Decent quality paper, ruled quite thin, just under 7mm, according to the detachable ruler that comes with the book. Yes! A detachable ruler. I've not seen a notepad with one before, and whilst I'm not sure how often I'd use it, I think it's a really nice touch. It would make the book handy for school/office projects where you regularly need to underline headings. In theory, at least, you should always have your ruler with you!

The ring binder is sturdy, with plenty of space for the pages to be turned easily, they don't get stuck. The pages lie flat if you open the book out completely, making it possible to right with no problems on both sides of the page.

The whole book (including spring) is A4 width, and 2m taller. The interior pages have two frames. One at the top, 1cm tall for a title and date (the date goes in a separate partition which has / / in, for you to fill in the blanks. The writing frame is a little under A4 size being 18cm x 25.5cm, instead of 21.5cm X 28cm. This gives clear margins on all sides of the page. Note: the ruler has a measurable (calibrated) distance of 26cm long but is roughly 30cm long in total. The pages tear from the binding cleanly. A little force is necessary, such is the quality of the paper. In my tests, none of the paper was left behind to clog up the spiral.

The PVC cover is sturdy, so shouldn't be torn off, if it's continually taken in and out of bags. The pattern is bold, if not terribly interesting. Save the interesting stuff for between the covers. I think this a really great notebook for jottings, meeting notes, lecture notes and lab work (though pages can be exorcised a little too easily perhaps?)

This plain (lined!) and simply is a great notebook


Dash Robot by Wonder Workshop - Smart Robots for Curious Minds, Girls and Boys  learn how to code while having fun - Free Apps
Dash Robot by Wonder Workshop - Smart Robots for Curious Minds, Girls and Boys learn how to code while having fun - Free Apps
Price: £154.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Robot Toy, 24 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Teaching younger children how to code and programmable robots go hand in hand. Robots are in themselves fascinating for children (of any age), and the immediacy of seeing lines of code converted into action is invaluable for capturing wandering attention spans.

Enter Dash from Wonder Workshop, one of the most engaging robots you’re ever likely to meet.

From the moment you hold the box, you can tell you’re holding a product of quality, a product somebody has put a lot of thought into. Opening the box is a tactile experience. It has an attractive design - brushed cardboard with a magnetic catch, and inside the box, everything is laid out well.

The glossy hard plastic and blue/orange colour scheme makes Dash extremely appealing, and when you turn him on, he's just the right level of cute, without inducing nausea.

Dash is a decent size (roughly 25cm sqaure.) and can move about. He's better on hard floors, but works on carpet too. He has hours of programmable potential just waiting to be realized. This is a product that has been thought about in great depth.

The making or breaking of these types of products are the apps and community support. The excellent production values used in building the robots continues right through to the educational support provided for Dash (and his borther Dot.) The Wonder Workshop website has lots of great ideas for projects to carry out with your robot, and the apps all function well, with intuitive interfaces. All the Dash and Dot apps are available from iTunes or the Android store. I’ve tried both platforms and they work equally well.

The "Go" app is great for Dash's first drive. With it, you can use your device as a remote control, to send Dash around the house, or to control both robots’ lights and sounds. The siren noise is particularly popular with our emergency-services-obsessed four-year-old.

The Blockly app is a coding tool very similar to Scratch, where you can use colored jigsaw shaped lines of code to build up routines for Dash to follow. The app has puzzles and challenges for your children to complete. As they do so, they are learning to create simple computer programs. Those who have learned some Scratch should take straight to it, and those yet to try it will find these tutorials an excellent path into a wider world of programming for children.

The Wonder app is clearly Wonder Workshop’s flagship app. It’s well polished, and again, a lot of thought and love has been put into it. Wonder offers another way for your children to program their robots, using icons. Each of Dash and Dot’s operations (called cues in Wonder parlance) are represented by a picture icon, with a string hanging from it. Strings can be attached to other cues, and then followed in sequence. The strings can have timers added to them, so operations can be carried out instantly, straight afterwards, or after a delay.

The app has several options. First you’ll want to visit the “Scroll Quest” in order to learn how cues work, and how to use them to program Dash. The Scroll Quest are is extensive. There are hours of fun to be had here, and each station of the quest builds up a different aspect of your robot's potential.

Progress in the Scroll Quest arena opens up the “Free Play” area where your children can start to build programs of their own. As they learn new cues in the Scroll Quest they become available in the Free Play section too. This prevents Free Play from becoming too overwhelming. There are a lot of cues to learn!

Better still is the community aspect. Wonder Workshop has clearly worked hard on this. In Free Play, once you have built a project, you can save it for your own future use. It can even be saved directly onto the robot, so that you don’t have to have the app open to run your routine.

For each of your projects, you can create a key (a random collection of letters), which you can then send to friends who also have Dash. They can then play with your programs too. If you’re sent a program key by somebody, you can download and run it, to see what they have created. You can then copy, modify, and send back the program to the person who originally sent it to you. Great if you have friends who own the robots too, or, if your children want to share their programs wider, they can be uploaded to the Wonder Workshop website.

Wonder Workshop also set challenges, for which they give out keys. You can download their start-up routines and complete the challenges set. I tried one called Zoo Party Challenge, and it was far from straightforward. It should keep your children entertained for hours.

All three of my boys have enjoyed Dash. My four-year-old enjoys the remote control and chasing it around the house. My seven year old has really found his way into the Wonder app. He hasn’t created any of his own programs yet but is enjoying working his way through the Scroll Quests. He is also beginning to explore the uses of the Lego brackets—clever accessories that come in the box that clip on to Dash, allowing you to attach Lego structures. In his case, Star Wars spaceships.

After originally being slightly disdainful, my ten-year-old interrupted me writing this review, took off with Dash, and returned two hours later having learned lots of the Wonder cues and written several of his own routines. He’s now keen to play again, and even better, work on a project with Dash, and his brother.

I’m very impressed with Dash. Like all robotics toys, the investment required to bring him home is not insignificant, but he is a top-quality product. I’m lucky enough to have three children and so should have many years of use out of them yet. The support from Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop is excellent. The team clearly care about their invention, and about helping today’s children become the programmers of tomorrow.


Product Nation 30 x 45cm Whiteboard Drywipe Magnetic with Pen Tray, Aluminium Trim and Accessory Pack
Product Nation 30 x 45cm Whiteboard Drywipe Magnetic with Pen Tray, Aluminium Trim and Accessory Pack
Offered by Product Nation
Price: £9.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good for the price., 23 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a perfectly functional but extremely ugly piece of kit. But then for under a tenner what can you expect. I had thought we might put this up om our kitchen, but to be honest, It is a little too cheap looking for that. It would be perfect for a workshop, craft room, or play room.

As a whiteboard it functions well. The pens that come with it work fine, the magnets make a strong connection, so it's ok to pin notes to it. Being small, you wouldn't have to pin very many before you had taken up all the space to write on it. The hanging hooks are quite flimsy, though I haven't tested them as I don't want to hang it up.

I need my board to be portable, so I can carry out and about with me (it's a very handy thing to have at game night - to write down scores and bonuses, I need to remember.) It's nice and light so this isn't a burden to do, and it can be propped up easily too.

On the negative side, I want to use it in a portrait orientation, and the little flip shelf for the eraser in on a longer, landscape edge. This would be fine if it came off easily, but it doesn't and I'm not convinced if I did prise it off, I could fix it back on the portrait side, should I want to. I see from other reviews here you can pull it off with brute force, but this isn't ideal. A shelf that clipped on and off would be more desirable.

All in all though, if you're looking for a cheap functional whiteboard, this one is pretty good.


The Stars Are Legion
The Stars Are Legion
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Science Fiction, 21 April 2017
I’ve been meaning to read some Kameron Hurley for a while, having heard only good things about her God’s War series. I had no real idea what I expected from The Stars are Legion, but whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t what I found. The novel defies expectation.

Hurley knew that her novel would be a hard sell, “WHAT IS THIS 1968?” she says in the novel’s afterword. The reason? The Stars are Legion hasn’t a single man it. Such a device doesn’t seem too big a stretch to imagine in 2017, yet reading the book one quickly realizes how unusual it is. It’s not that men just don’t feature in the book, they don’t appear to exist in the universe Hurley has created.

The book opens with Zan waking from having suffered terrible injuries in an interplanetary (or possibly inter-starship) war. She has lost her memory, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is not the first time this has happened. With her is Jayd, her ‘sister’ who is apparently the same race as Zan and possibly a romantic companion; Zan cannot recall.

What follows is a mind-bending tale of lost identity, race, and war. The stars may well be legion, but the story mainly deals with three. Zan and Jayd are Katazyrna, who are in an eternal war with the Mokshi. Taking advantage of the savage battle between Katazyrna and Mokshi are the Bhavajas, who, early in the book, almost kill Zan for a second time.

It is evident, to the reader, that all the worlds are dying. The wars feel like fiddling with deck chairs as the universe implodes. Yet, it seems Zan and Jayd have a plan. Only Zan doesn’t know what it is and Jayd won’t tell her because the last time she did Zan became unhinged. Which feeds into another peculiarity of Hurley’s world. People are “recycled” a process that is (usually) final, but Zan has made it back at least once.

Part of the story is a “revealed memory” narrative. As Zan’s journey continues, she learns more about her past. And as she progresses, so we learn more about her world, and like all great science fiction, we hold up a lens to our world too. Hurley examines prejudice and the peril of repeating the mistakes of the past. With the peculiar reproductive qualities of her characters, she examines the nature of parenthood and childbirth, challenging preconceptions as she does so.

The Stars are Legion is never difficult to read but was occasionally baffling as I tried to follow what was going on. Everything mostly falls into place and the sense of mystery created means the book is never boring. This is high concept science fiction, and sometimes it took me a little bit of time to catch up with what was happening. The novel is not for the squeamish. There are some queasy moments in the book, particularly centered around childbirth. The process of recycling is about as horrific as you can imagine, only more so.

The Stars are Legion builds to a tense climax, as the truth of the situation is revealed. I haven’t read anything this unusual for some time. The book is the product of a writer pushing the genre in interesting directions. I doubt I’ll read a book as original in 2017, even if its core is rooted in 1968.


Sea (The Huntress Trilogy)
Sea (The Huntress Trilogy)
by Sarah Driver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Fine story with a gutsy heroine, 21 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sarah Driver's The Huntress: Sea is a classic coming of age fantasy. It features a gutsy heroine called 'Mouse,' who is a flawed but admirable and appealing central character. Aged barely 13, she's a strong young woman, trying to understand the world she finds herself in.

The Huntress is a sailing ship in a magical land, filled with mythical and terrifying beasts. Mouse is the granddaughter of a Sea Captain, and one day, it has been foretold, she will be captain of The Huntress too.

As the novel opens, this seems like an impossibility. Mouse’s mother is dead, her father missing, and her brother blind and sickly. Her grandmother, to all intents and purposes a witch, holds the ship together by force of will alone. The arrival of a taciturn ex-member of the crew, and a terrible storm throws Mouse’s world into turmoil. Her world tipped overboard, Mouse sets off down a trail laid for her by her absent father.

Such is the quality of the tale, it put me in mind of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. There is a blend of myth and magic versus technology. Mouse’s small but tough demeanor reminded me of Lyra, as does Mouse’s special ability of being able to talk to animals. There are differences. Mouse’s world is filled with superstition and faith. She is fighting against a man who believes in the power of gunpowder and advancement. He would see Mouse’s world swept away.

Subtitled “Sea,” this is the first book in The Huntress trilogy. The titles of the next books, Sky and Land, hint at their nature, as does the ending of this first volume.

The first two-thirds of Sea are good children’s fiction, but the final third elevates it towards greatness. The blend of quest, magic and the novel’s dark setting are mesmerizing. Driver’s world building is rich and enchanting, and she weaves a classic adventure tale into it. A classic tale with a well-wrought heroine. I can’t wait to see where the next volume takes us.


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