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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Diet Dropout's Guide to Natural Weight Loss by Stan Spencer, PhD

The Diet Dropout’s Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find Your Easiest Path to Naturally Thin

If you just want to lose weight, almost any diet will do. The problem is that the rigid, one-size-fits-all approaches of most diets make them difficult to stick with for very long. You quit your diet and the lost weight returns. This book takes a different approach: permanently reshaping the habits and thought patterns that cause your excess weight. The aim is not to lose weight quickly, but to lose it permanently and become a naturally thin person. Drawing from over one hundred scientific studies, Dr. Spencer explains:

• The truth about common weight loss myths
• Why “fat genes” can’t keep you from being thin
• How to naturally boost your metabolism
• How to calm cravings and quit emotional eating
• How to keep a slip from becoming a binge
• How to get more exercise and enjoy it
• How to eat less without going hungry
• And much more

With this knowledge and the simple steps in chapter 10, you will create your own weight loss plan — your easiest path to naturally thin. Creating this optimized plan will take about five minutes, and in another minute or two you will be taking your first steps on the path away from endless dieting to a naturally thin body.

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received a copy of the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.  

I started this book with a bit of a negative attitude.  I thought, not another weight loss book, it's all been done before.  So, I was quite surprised that I am actually giving it a fairly positive review.

It has all been done before and I couldn't help but compare it to a book I have recently read (Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting by Bethenny Frankel) particularly as they both use the term "Naturally Thin.  The difference though is that this book puts it all down in a no nonsense, short and easily read way without any of the "celebrity" hype that is in the Frankel book.  

I am not the target audience of this book as I know all the rules and guidelines and practice enough of them to be "naturally thin" already but I think it will be a very useful read for those of you who don't already have the right lifestyle to be "naturally thin".  It is short enough that it is not a chore to read and just lists the facts without any floweryness about it.  I think it will be a very useful tool for anyone who truly wants to lose weight and keep it off and who is willing to make the lifestyle changes to achieve this.

I did get some interesting information from this book that I want to investigate further.  I have heard a lot of talk (mainly from one of my friends) about the benefit of sprouted grains but usually just nod and smile without really taking in what their benefit is.  Page 50 of this book was interesting to me and has made me add this topic to my list of "things to investigate further" as I worked under the impression that if, say bread, was made from wheat flour or stone-ground or a variety of similar terms then it was the best one for you, not so, according to this author, so I will need to investigate further for myself.

A glowing review you say, so why have I deducted a star.  I have a personal hatred for books that refer and cross reference too heavily to lists of books or studies in an appendix.  It seemed to me that every second sentence had a small number in it, referring the reader to the book or study that the information came from.  Now, I know the author is just trying to give credit where it is due, but it did start to annoy and distract me very early on.  

So, quite a good, straight forward guide to start you on your path to being Naturally thin.

In the Dark by Mark Billingham

In The Dark 

On a rainy city night, a handgun is fired at random. A struck car swerves and plows into a bus stop, killing an unsuspecting bystander. In an explosive instant, a cold-blooded gang initiation ends one life and forever changes three others: the desperate teenager who pulled the trigger . . . a policewoman on maternity leave . . . and an aging gangster plotting a terrifying revenge.

The truth about the shocking incident will tie them all together in a lethal blood knot. And nothing is what it seems

I will start by saying that I am a big fan of Mark Billingham books.  I have read the first 7 of the Tom Thorne series and enjoyed every one of them in a different way.  I also love the style of writing of this author.  He does short, snappy chapters and has a "blokey" style that works for his stories and the characters.  I like the way he throws a load of characters at you in most of his books and you almost learn about them backwards at times,  I mean you start in the middle of their stories and then find out the basics and details as the book progresses.  So, I was looking forward to reading this stand alone book that was not part of the Tom Thorne series (although Thorne does make a cameo appearance).

I didn't enjoy it, the first Mark Billingham book that I did not enjoy.   The "blokey" style, that I normally like, was just too much in this book.  It was almost exaggerated and while most of the characters were young men/boys living in The Hood in London this should have worked, it just started to annoy me quite early on in the book.

The story did not flow as well as I would have liked and there were to many things happening, conveniently, at just the right time, that was not believable.  I liked the main character, Helen Weeks, and felt that there could be a future for her character if the author could just get the right story for her.   Or even bring her into the Tom Thorne stories more.

Towards the end it felt like the author had had the idea for the story and a couple of side stories but was struggling to bring them all to a reasonable and believable conclusion.

I feel almost guilty writing this review as this is one of my favourite authors, so please don't let me put you off him completely.  I would just suggest that you start with the first Tom Thorne series book, Sleepyhead, before you read this one.  2 out of 5 and that is being generous.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween is coming

and they do it in big style over here, so "when in Rome" I thought I would get into the spirit this year.  Hannah and I have been doing crafts on an almost daily basis to help decorate the house.  There is such a sense of achievement from making decorations oneself rather than just going out a buying some.  We did buy a few but these have inspired me to make some more for future years.  So, I thought I would share some of our craft ideas and hope that we get some feedback and inspiration from your own ideas that you are willing to share with us.

First we made these simple ghosts

Take the bottom of an egg carton and cut out one section.  Cover with glue from a glue stick, something your toddler can help with.  Cover with a large white paper towel and squash the paper towel down over the egg carton to resemble a ghost shape.  Draw a face, I went for a woo face but when I did this craft with a 6 and 3 year old I was babysitting they chose a zombie face.  Then thread some string or thread and put through the head to hang them.

Next we coloured in some bats and hung them from the lamps

The bat template came from the British Swim school website (https://www.britishswimschool.com/) and we just cut them out and let the toddler at them with crayons and pens.                                                                                                                                    

Then we put some bats in our basement                                                                                                        

Fold a sheet of black construction paper in half and cut out a half bat shape, I just did it freehand but I am sure you can find a picture or template somewhere if you are not artistic enough.  Open out and fold the ends of the wings back and hang with thread.                                                                                                                                                                                               

This is one of my favourites.  The idea for it came from the Martha Stewart website with a little add on of my own.                                                                                                                                                                   

White paper, cut out a ghost shape, again I did it freehand but look online for a template.  Cut out and fit to the shape of your mirror.  Draw on the face.  Cut out a speech bubble and write whatever greeting you want.  Stick onto the mirror.                                                                                                                          
Now onto the pumpkins.  We, of course, had to do a traditional Jack O Lantern pumpkin 
We then wanted to do something a bit different that Hannah could help with, so we decided to do a Cookie Monster (from Sesame Street) pumpkin.                                                                                                   

 Just cut the top of the pumpkin and scoop out as normal.  Cut a big mouth like a half circle.  Then the whole family helped to paint it blue with acrylic paint. We painted it outside to keep the mess contained as we had a lovely sunny weekend. Two polystyrene balls stuck with cocktail stick for eyes and black marker pen for the irises.  
To finish we are going to have real cookies coming out of the mouth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Various baby pumpkins with feathers, pipecleaners, stickers, pens, paints, really whatever the two year old can get her hands on.  These are great to keep the toddler occupied for ages at the kitchen table.

To finish I thought I would share one of our purchases decorations.  We have an emply section in our front garden that we have not got round to planting yet.  So I thought it would make the perfect graveyard.  A couple of grave stones later and this is what we have.  See the little skeleton hands clawing their way out of the graves!

Anyway, thanks for reading and please share some of your own craft ideas for us to try.

Next stop Thanksgiving and Christmas!!

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempe

Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble is the story of a little boy whose face keeps turning red for no particular reason. When he meets Roddy Rackett, a little boy who keeps sneezing for no particular reason, it's the beginning of a great friendship. This book features text and illustrations by Jean-Jacques Semp

A gift that was sent to Hannah from my friend MrsMac, who we are going to adopt as a surrogate Grandma as she is so good to Hannah.

This book was a French classic since 1969 and has now been translated to English and it is just an adorable book.  The illustrations are very simple pen sketches but just so much to see in them.  The story is a great moral story for children while being an amusing tale for adults as well.

The book itself is a lovely square hardback which would look great as a coffee table book although it is a bit cumbersome while trying to cuddle a two year old and hold it up for her to see as well. 

One of those books that you just stumble across while browsing that will become a classic in your own household and I am so glad that MrsMac did come across it and was kind enough to pass it onto us.  Booklovers keep your eye out for this one. 5 out of 5 for me.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Heat of the Sun by David Rain

Product Details

 When recently orpahned Woodley Sharpless encounters Ben Pinkerton - known to all as 'Trouble' - for the first time at the exclusive Blaze Academy, he is instantly enraptured. They are polar opposites: Ben is exotic and daring; Woodley is bookish and frail, yet their lives quickly become inextricable linked. First at school, then in the staccato days of twenties New York, Woodley sees flashes of another person in his friend and slowly discovers a side of Ben's nature that reveals his dark and hidden history.

But as the curtain falls on the frivolity of the twenties and rises to reveal the cruelty of a new decade, Woodley and Ben's friendship begins to fragment. Over the coming years the two men meet intermittently: in Japan before the outbreak of the Second World War and then again amidst the furore of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Change in both their lives, their relationship and their suffering, stand for a generation marked by depression and upheaval, brutality and confusion. The Heat of the Sun is an ambitious and assured novel that captures perfectly two friends, two loves: two lives

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received the an advance reader's copy of the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. 

When I first opened the book and saw that it was set out like an opera rather than having "proper" chapters, I thought it would be rather pretentious.  I am not always a fan of authors using these ideas to present their story.  In this book, however, it worked perfectly.  The story flowed exactly through the sections as an opera would and it reached the perfect crescendo just before the curtain came down on the story at the interval.  I was quite drawn into the concept of the opera before I was even half way through the book.

I really liked the authors writing style as well.  He had the perfect balance between setting the scene and describing it enough so you can picture it in your mind without being over wordy and going on and on at length just for the sake of it.   His writing structure was very easy to read while still being intelligent enough to not make you feel like he was talking down to you.

The story itself was very different to what I had expected when I started reading.  I expected more of a tragic love story based around Trouble's father and his Japanese "wife".  We still get the love story but just with different people involved, which really kept me reading to see where it was going.

We all know the saying that "truth is stranger than fiction" (one of my favourite sayings) and it applies to this story.  Central to the story was the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a plot which you could not make up as no-one would think it believable.  The fact that it is true is astounding.  I knew so little about this period of American (and Japanese) history and was glad to be educated by this book.  Imagine being at the testing of these bombs and then knowing what they were going to be used for and having no way to stop it, or even worse, being able to stop it and not doing anything about it!  I am finding it difficult to express myself here without inserting a spoiler so lets just leave it for now and you will just have to read the book yourself to see what I am trying to say.

I dropped one star from my rating as I felt that the section "Le Vol's Story" was not necessary to the book and just added some confusion in my mind as to where the ending was going.  There was also a lot left to the imagination with words unsaid and I must admit to being slightly confused as to what the author was trying to get across at times.  It kind of became clear in the end but I still have a niggle in my brain that I either misinterpreted or missed something completely through the omissions.

In summary, a unique and enjoyable book that I would be happy to recommend to a friend.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Good Manners for Very Young Children with Rio the Rat by John C. Lister

Good Manners for Very Young Children with Rio the Rat

 As required by FTC, I received a complimentary copy of Good Manners for Very Young Children with Rio the Rat by John C. Lister as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team.  Visit dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Rio is a little rat...a river rat to be exact. He lives in a very human world; that is to say, he can't always do things his own way!
Rio's mom has taught him well; His manners are very good, do tell.
He is very different to be sure, to be a rat in this world, there is no cure.
But a good little rat he is (and that is that!), a very well-mannered river rat.

What a great idea for a children's book.  Manners nowadays in children (and a lot of adults) are as rare as hen's teeth, in my opinion.  When I saw this book available for review on the Dorrance website, I thought it would be perfect to help me teach my two year old some basic courtesy and manners.

The concept of the stories are great, teaching your child that you will be liked more and nicer to be around if you are well mannered.  The chapter headings and topics are very useful, in case you are having a problem in one particular area with your child then you can just read that short chapter (although each is so short that you can read the whole book through as a bedtime story). 

My daughter sat and listened to the whole book as a bedtime story on a couple of occasions and, hopefully, absorbed the basic premiss of the messages, time will tell on that!  So, I guess, the book is doing what it's main purpose is by keeping her attention and teaching her manners but I had some issues with it. 

The Font that is used in the title and in each of the Chapter headings, which I think is Kristen ITC, annoys the hell out of me.  I have seen this font used in several children's books, not sure why but perhaps they think it looks like a child's writing.  Whatever the reasoning behind the use of this font, it is one I just do not like.  I was very grateful that the actual chapter writing was in something plainer and different.

The author had tried to rhyme each chapter and somehow it just didn't work.  This was a combination of the actual rhymes being very poor and the actual layout of the lines on the page.  The writing skipped to another line making you read it with a different lilt and accent that made the rhymes that existed just not actually work.  Some of them were very dubious and made me have to repeat what I was reading to get the rhythm of the words.   I think the stories would have worked better without the rhymes at all.  

There was an overuse of parenthesis  (and I know I am very guilty of overusing parenthesis in my writing) that was too much for a children's book.  Keep it a lot simpler for the target audience.

To end on a positive note.  The illustrations were very sweet and were liked by my two year old, which allowed for some other learning points as we were going through the book.  I think there could be some mileage in the character of Rio the Rat for further books just with better execution. 

So 3 out of 5 for the premiss and character but it's no De Civilitate Morum Puerilium Libellus
by Desiderius Erasmus! 


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins' War, #3)

Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta always has had the gift of second sight. As a child visiting her uncle, she met his prisoner, Joan of Arc, and saw her own power reflected in the young woman accused of witchcraft. They share the mystery of the tarot card of the wheel of fortune before Joan is taken to a horrific death at the hands of the English rulers of France. Jacquetta understands the danger for a woman who dares to dream.

Jacquetta is married to the Duke of Bedford, English regent of France, and he introduces her to a mysterious world of learning and alchemy. Her only friend in the great household is the duke’s squire Richard Woodville, who is at her side when the duke’s death leaves her a wealthy young widow. The two become lovers and marry in secret, returning to England to serve at the court of the young King Henry VI, where Jacquetta becomes a close and loyal friend to his new queen.

The Woodvilles soon achieve a place at the very heart of the Lancaster court, though Jacquetta can sense the growing threat from the people of England and the danger of royal rivals. Not even their courage and loyalty can keep the House of Lancaster on the throne. Henry the king slides into a mysterious sleep; Margaret the queen turns to untrustworthy favorites for help; and Richard, Duke of York, threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his rival dynasty.

Jacquetta fights for her king, her queen, and for her daughter Elizabeth for whom Jacquetta can sense an extraordinary and unexpected future: a change of fortune, the throne of England, and the white rose of York.


Don't bother reading the novel, just read the synopsis above from Goodreads.com and you, basically, have all the important parts of the story.

Being a fan of Philippa Gregory's writing in general, I was looking forward to the third installment of the "War of the Roses" (or The Cousin's war) series.  The first and second books were interesting historical stories showing the war from the two sides of the battle but this book seemed quite pointless to the whole series.

You knew the outcome of each battle scene having read it twice already in the first two books, so I ended up speed reading through those parts, which I hate to do in a book.  I don't feel like it added anything to my understanding of the battle for the crown in this period.  

Had she written this story about Jacquetta as a stand alone novel focusing on just her life and not the War of the Roses, then it would have been a very interesting read.  It all felt like the author was trying to stretch out limited information about this subject into her normal length of novel.

It was, of course, beautifully written and laid out, in normal PG style but it just lacked oomph and substance.  As for the fourth book in the series, well I don't think I will bother as it will be like reading the same books all over again just from a different person.

Shame really as she managed to make each and every one of her Tudor series novels be strong and interesting in their own right but this one just did not work for me.  Only a poor 2 out of 5 stars for me and that is purely for the writing style and nothing for the story.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Go tell it on the mountain by James Baldwin

Go Tell It on the Mountain Publisher: Dell

"Mountain," Baldwin said, "is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else." Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin's first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy's discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin's rendering of his protagonist's spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves

Ok clearly I was missing something.  I gave up on page 101 because I just could not be bothered reading on.  It is not like me to give up on such a short novel but this was grating on my every nerve.

I hated the Southern American Negro vernacular that was used  from the start.  The grammatical errors of this speech just annoyed me.  Ok,ok, I know that is probably how the characters talked in real life back then but I struggled to follow it.  I also thought the writing style (other than the type of speech used) was rather self righteous and long winded.  Even 101 pages in, the author had not really made a point, or at least not one that I noticed.

If this is the "most important novel written about the American Negro" then I really need someone to sit down and explain why.  Surely, To Kill a Mockingbird would be more important or Gone with the wind, or many other such novels.  Luckily, this is a book group choice and I will, partially, get the chance to find out why when we sit down and discuss it.

Sorry to all the diehard fans out there (and Wendy who chose the book) but I just did not get it.

Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham

Be Nice to Spiders

When Billy left his pet spider, Helen, at the Zoo, the animals suddenly became happy and contented. The lions snoozed all day long, the elephants enjoyed their baths, and the zebras ate their hay in peace -- all because Helen was spinning webs and catching flies.

But one day Helen's webs were swept away. The Keeper had the cages cleaned for the Mayor's inspection tour. Soon the flies were back again and the animals were miserable once more. But not for long...

Children will be fascinated and amused by the way Helen solved the problem and won a permanent place of honor for herself in the Zoo.

Margaret Bloy Graham's pictures match the wit and charm of her delightful story

Another charmer from Aunt Vicki.  Published in 1967, it is slightly dated but this almost adds to it's charm.

The story is simple with the moral that everything is useful and has a place in the world. 

The ending annoyed me a little bit and I will quote the last page.

"And Billy was right.  A few days later, out of the egg sac came lots of little spiders.
From then on, Helen and her children and all the animals in the Zoo lived happily ever after"

Anyone who has read Charlotte's Web will know that once Helen has that little egg sac she is not long for this world!   Ok, I know, my daughter is only two but I don't believe in always teaching her happily ever after, what is wrong with a bit of realism.

There's an Elephant in the Bathtub by Roger Bradfield

Theres an Elephant in the Bathtub, A Whitman Giant Tell-A-Tale Book

Written and Illustrated by the famous illustrator, Roger Bradfield (http://www.rogerbradfield.com/bio.html), this is a charming children's book from 1964.  Another of the gems passed onto Hannah by Her Aunty Vicki.
The story is about Timothy Wicks who has such a wonderful imagination that if he shuts his eyes and imagines something then it is actually there in the room although he is the only person that can actually see it.

It works on two levels.  A charming children's story that my daughter adores and regularly requests, as well as a lesson for adults about taking notice of children properly and what they are trying to say.

The illustrations are a lovely combination of simple pen sketches and quite, colourful art work that combines to give a book that holds a two year olds attention perfectly.

It is such an old copy of the book, that I am worried about it being damaged and would love to get a more modern, board book, type copy of it so that I can keep this one safe while still reading the story to Hannah.

One you should definitely look out for at old book sales.

One question is did raise for me is what is the proper spelling of the word cooky/cookie.  I would have normally spelt it cookie for singular but in the book it is spelt cooky, which does actually make more sense if the plural is cookies.  What do you think?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moon Hoax by Paul Gillebaard

Moon Hoax
What if China convinced the world that the U.S. never landed on the moon? What would America do? Nothing? Let one of man’s greatest achievements simply be erased?

Moon Hoax, is a  tale of seemingly doing the impossible, sending an American back to the moon today. China claims the moon landings never happened and that they have proof. Losing worldwide prestige is not an option for the United States. Peter Novak, son of a moonwalker, is selected to fly the dangerous secret mission to the moon and enlists a former space rival as his unlikely co-pilot. The two must overcome China's efforts to sabotage the operation and beat the communists to the moon. 

America is thrust into a race back to the moon—And this time it's personal.

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

Where to start!   I found this quite an interesting read with a fairly novel, overall storyline.  It had a good balance of story and technical detail about Space/Moon travel and was not too technical for a complete Space novice, like me, to understand.  While the author used a lot of acronyms, they felt necessary in the context and were well explained in a way that was not too annoying (I hate books that need a lot of asides just to explain the acronyms so you can keep up with the story).  I was surprised at how well it flowed despite the language being rather formal and, at times, stiff throughout.  It felt like I was reading a full movie screenplay and script and could have used some editing for a novel, although, as I think the story would make a good movie, perhaps the author could just sell the book as it is as the screenplay!!?   At times it felt over-descriptive and could have used some editing down to get rid of a lot of unnecessary words and scene setting to make the storyline a bit more "snappy".

I cringed a bit at the love interest in the middle as it was just all a bit Hollywood and did remind me of the film Armageddon at times.  Think Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis and you have the love interest in this novel.  In my opinion, this was unnecessary to the novel and I would have preferred less about that and longer sections on the actual time in space.

So at this stage in my review the book is at 4 stars out of 5 so what brought it down one more star.

It could have been the Chinese phrases at the start of the book that were left unexplained!  It could have been the fact that the first 14 pages seemed unnecessary technical detail for the novel.  It could even have been the fact that I had no idea of the actual time setting of the story until Chapter 4.  But all of these I could have forgiven as I really enjoyed the story.

What I could really not forgive happened on page 53.  Now I would expect anyone capable of writing a novel to know what the currency used in England is.  So when the character, Peter, was jumping in a taxi cab in London to get to Heathrow airport and said "There's an extra 20 Euros if you can get me to the airport before 5a.m.", I cringed.  Did you see the mistake, well of course you did, the currency should be GBP and perhaps, being British myself, this inaccuracy niggled at me throughout the whole novel.  If this simple fact was wrong, how could I trust the facts listed throughout about Space travel!?

A shame about that as it was quite a good novel and actually gave me a lump in my throat towards the end so should have warranted 4 stars.  I guess even 3 is quite generous given this error.  So a note to the author, change this in future print runs and your star rating should soar to the Moon (see what I did there, lol).