Monday, April 6, 2015

(Guilty Pleasure) Teen Romance Trilogy
I went into these books knowing nothing, and that cold start was rewarded with instant, bold action.  I recommend going in cold.  I think the more you know, the more you anticipate and compare.  So I'm not going to tell you more about what these are about, and I recommend you skip the blurbage...but know that this is subject matter that has been done, but I was happy to revisit this sub-genre, with a new swing on things.  I liked this swing. 

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater
  • I'm a sucker for romance, and I even overlooked a variation of insta-love to enjoy this one.
  • There's fun dialogue.
  • If you thought the Twilight series was lame, you should probably skip this.
  • I found the initial first-person protagonist funny and independent, and warmed to each perspective I was granted access to.  
  • Sex is alluded to and teenagers are participants.   I think language, substance use and violence are treated with care (and painted as unappealing, unfortunate or unattractive).
  • But there is also some intense, disturbing content.  I'd go with "Much older YA" on this one, or just read it for entertainment as an adult, to be safe. 
Linger, Maggie Stiefvater
  • New voices emerge, and I was equally interested in each -- surprisingly!
  • The intense, disturbing dark stuff continues to feature not only as part of the narrative, but becomes an essential motif.
  • I found some parts of the sequel thought-provoking.  I think Book 2 tops 1!  The writing gets stronger too, I believe!
  • I also found it so easy to read, and wanted to read more each night.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship development (multiple relationships' development!), the dialogue, and pacing.  
  • At first I feared the idea was being stretched a little too much, but then I settled into it and loved that the world was really being tested and fleshed out; it felt more like maximizing its potential, in the end.
  • There's definitely some cheese here, but this was made okay by being delivered by a writing style I found fun to eat up. 
Forever, Maggie Stiefvater
  • This was a great wrap up.  I wouldn't say each book topped the previous one, but I think it was on par with Linger.
  • I cared about the characters and was highly entertained.  Some classy, eloquently-written stuff I've read lately lacked this fundamental lure!
  • Fun fun fun.
  • I still recommend this for older YA...or better yet, adults who enjoy a teen romance now and then.
So, this will divide you lovelies, I know.  If you consider "cheese, Twilight and teen love" flags of ill-boding, I'm surprised you're still reading this review.  If, you however, feel a nostalgic pull towards a dose of those three...step. right. up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Family Mottos and Mantras: MyBooks Review has branded itself as a place to go for photo-books.  When I was invited to review these "photo-books," I naturally began percolating another picture book project idea (remember Mama & Papa: A Love Story?  That was the last picture book I made for our kids)...and I stuck with that plan, using the MyBooks software.  How did MyBooks stack up, when I stretched its means to meet my ends?  Pretty well, actually.

So, what was the project, this time?
There are a lot of things our family values, and we remind each other of these on repeat.  Many a sentence in our household begins with "In our family we..." as an explanation for why we do things a certain way.  We have found power in those four words, as an opener!  Not only do they help us explain our reasoning, they help to build our collective identity.  Having mulled over many of the mottos and mantras of our family, I decided it was time to harness them and put them into a format that I could better...indoctrinate our children from?  Yeah, kinda.  I'm going to go with "reinforce from."  After listing our mottos and mantras, and grouping or merging those I could -- to keep my page count down -- I set to the task of finding a corresponding illustration to go with each page.  I decided I wanted each matching image to be taken from a story that taught the lesson referenced.  For example, for the motto, "We believe in the power of the imagination; There is always some way to play," I have included artwork from a Little House picture book featuring the two elder girls playing in their attic with corn on the cob swaddled like a baby.  /blink blink.

I went with a simple white cover in the spirit of Mix It Up, The Book with No Pictures and Press Here, but you can add an image on the cover too, of course!

You can read a virtual copy of the book I made (that the girls are reading in all these pictures) here.

"Where is that picture from?"
You've never seen that book before?
An Image Source List is included belooooow (way below).

Things I like about MyBooks:
  • From the outset, I loved how organised the team were, at MyBooks.  Their invitation was so slick, and all communication with them was clear and well-thought.
  • There is a very strong online help system and database and excellent follow-up (I found an answer to a very specific question there!).
  • The book-building software has a pretty strong console compared to some others I've used (such as Blurb and Vistaprint), and for the high-end quality, the pricing is comparable.  If it is slightly more, I think this could be justified by knowing you are supporting a NZ-owned and operated company.
  • I was most impressed with how well the images I used printed, especially since I used a few that warned me the resolution was too low...they still came out well enough!  I also had to do some photoshop work to blur the edges of some of the images I'd chosen so they wouldn't look like a different shade of white or off-white on the page (did. not. want), and these came up better in the print than I could have hoped for.
  • My book arrived quickly, well-packaged, and has a fairly high quality look and feel.  Interestingly, I got an email saying it had shipped in the early hours of the morning, and it arrived later on that very day. 
  • It didn't appear as though I could choose my own title pages in the software's layout view, but when the book arrived, it included a blank front and back page, plus a repeat title page that matches the cover image -- I think these look gorgeous, and I'm glad they're there.  I'm adding this as a positive, because I wasn't expecting it, based on the preview I'd viewed, (If they hadn't been there, I think I would have been really disappointed)...

Things I would like to see improve in the future:
  •, the first thing I would love to see improve in the future, is for the book preview to better reflect the end-product.  Even if the front and back blank pages are locked in and unavailable to edit, they could be displayed as such, and the title page could auto-duplicate the cover design and be greyed out as a page that can be altered, fine, but these pages could still be there, in the preview.
  • From the size of the preview and the safety margins alone, it is still pretty difficult to tell exactly how your text will appear on the page, in print.  Sometimes you have to learn by experience with a print company how close you can come to their print and actual margins, and because this is a higher-end product, it's not so easy to do that.  I recommend erring on the side of caution, and allowing a good amount of space away from the print margins for any essential content, for a good design.  I have a page or two where the text looked well-placed in the preview, but in the print it is too close to the page edge.  The images do print right up to the edge of the page, if full page is selected, however.
  • Currently, there is no option to print on the spine of the book, which is a touch I really like (which Blurb has).
  • There are a few options for book cover types, but within each size and thickness, there doesn't appear to yet be choices between the covering as much (e.g. A matte finish as opposed to the gloss I received as default.  I like the gloss
  • The back cover features site logos.  Perhaps the more accurate preview (bullet 1) could show these would be there, and better yet, offer and option to pay a small fee to have these removed or minimised (e.g. instead placed on the back page).
  • While I appreciate that foremost MyBooks is marketing itself as a photo-book-maker, I would have liked an option to turn on a spelling and grammar check (because er...text was key in my book!).  Yeah, most photo captions would consist of names and places that would invite squiggly underlines galore to the party, but I think a lot of people do photo-books as gifts or surprises, and consequently may not have a person on-hand to proof read before they order their very permanent and professional-looking printed item.  Yes, I had a typo and no I didn't spot it in my own proof-reading.  Learn from my mistakes, and make sure you get someone to proof-read your text, and if the person handiest can't be that person, email a preview to someone who can.  I know Dad, I should have.  Yes, there is white twink-tape in my photo book.
  • I would love the ability to embed a preview of the book in this post!  Currently all I can do is send you to a link to see it, or embed a thumbnail of a static image of the book.
  • The book looks pretty classy, but the binding isn't 100% as high-end as I would like. In particular, the back board is bowed slightly so that the book sits slightly open when laying flat, on its face.
The Verdict:

Overall, I'm really pleased with the quality of this photo-book, and recommend YOU consider making a book of your own design -- either photo, story or family themebook, for yourself, or as a generous gift for some treasured human/s in your life.

--> If you go with MyBooks in the next two weeks, you can "Spin and Win" yourself a voucher for at least $20 off your creation (you might win more)!

Image Sources (in order of appearance)
Dogger, Shirley Hughes
You Are Special, Max Lucado; illustrator Sergio Martinez
Please Mr Panda, Steve Antony
Diamond in the Snow, Jonathan Emmett; illustrator Vanessa Cabban
Winter Days in the Big Woods, inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrator Renée Graef
Gilbert the Great, Jane Clarke; illustrator Charles Fuge
Owl Babies, Martin Waddell; illustrator Patrick Benson
Winter Days in the Big Woods, inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrator Renée Graef
The Dot, Peter H Reynolds
The Little Engine that Could, retold by Wattie Piper; illustrators George and Doris Hauman
How The Library (NOT the prince) Saved Rapunzel, Wendy Meddour; illustrator Rebecca Ashdown
Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack, Lynley Dodd
Marmaduke, the Very Different Dragon, Rachel Valentine; illustrator Ed Eaves
Finklehopper Frog, Irene Livingstone; illustrator Brian Lies
The Great White Man-Eating Shark, Margaret Mahy; illustrator Jonathan Allen
You Can Do It, Sam, Amy Hest; illustrator Anita Jeram
The Smartest Giant in Town, Julia Donaldson; illustrator Axel Scheffler
Alfie Gives a Hand, Shirley Hughes
The Smartest Giant in Town, Julia Donaldson; illustrator Axel Scheffler
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

Because we own (or will soon own) all of the original books from which these images are "borrowed," I felt comfortable including them in our one time only book, paying tribute to the tales to which they belong.  I think a book produced on this scale is akin to a private journal or scrapbook, and will only profit me in terms of elevating these authors and artists' work to icon status in our home.  Should anyone object to the images being included in the digital preview, I will remove it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Easter Music Concert in Wellington!

Christmas has so many opportunities, carols, traditions, and ways to celebrate. Easter is just as special to our family (if not arguably more so, when we break down what we're celebrating), and yet I find there are fewer obvious ways to focus on the reason for this season.  Do you?  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact we're seeing autumn in with a host of Spring symbols!  Yes, at Christmas we have the odd snowman and icicle array reminding us there are other (colder) parts of the world celebrating with us, but I don't think that levels things; there aren't really "Empty Tomb Sets" or "Resurrected Saviour" finger puppets to match December's nativity scenes, nor the selection of Easter playlists and albums!

Next weekend, Wellingtonian believers (or explorers) have an opportunity to celebrate the Easter season with music!  For all denominations or non-denominational peop's, St Paul's church is the place to be.  Yes, I'm totally plugging.   What, exactly? I'm plugging not only an all-new musical production following the life of Christ, culminating in the events of Holy Week, but it's an all-new musical production written by my sister (and friends). 

One reason to be there?  Because I wish I could be.

You can find out more about the concert, choir, soloists and tickets, here!

Image: Simon Dewey 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


1920's Theme Birthday Party.  (We were happy to be guests.) 
Sunday line-up.  Esky knows what's happening.
Okay, so only two of the three in this one but guys -- this!  I can't.  (Esky is thinking about what Ivy is saying, who is mid-speech.)
This one was taken just yesterday, the day Haki lit the first fire of the year for our home as autumn came to visit, in earnest.  Side note: Esky, we all want to do it, but you're not meant to actually do it.
Earlier this year, Esky offered to take the lesson during Family Home Evening.  She told us she'd need a minute to get her visuals ready.  Thatta girl.

She reappeared after a brief absence and presented two pictures for us to examine.

Before we continue: What would you think these are?  Note your answers, would you?

Esky:  Now, Ivy, what do you think this is?  Pointing to one picture.
Ivy: Icecream?
Esky: Look again.
Ivy: Egg?
Esky:  It's a Christmas tree.  Now look at this one.

Esky slid a second drawing next to the first.

Esky:  Now this is a second Christmas tree.
Ivy: Uhuh.
Esky: So how should you decorate your Christmas tree?  Like this one [tap tap tap], or this one [tap tap tap]?
Ivy: Um. This one?  She points to the tree on the left, above.
Esky.  Yes, that's right.
Ivy did her "phew" face.
Esky did this "closed lesson, my work here is done" face, which looks self-satisfied and borderline snobby.

Haki and I exchanged our, "We're going to choke but we mustn't laugh" faces.

Me: Is that it?
Esky:  Yup, that's the lesson.

It looks like I am out of a job.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Eight Yays and Nays at 8:00

  1. Yay: The Mentalist ended perfectly!  I temporarily bailed after The Red John arc wrapped up. Then I jumped back in, and I really enjoyed the final season!  (Although the finale was intense.)
  2. Nay: When I see things I had watch-listed on TradeMe go for their $1 reserve because I was busy at closing time (no, sometimes you can't bid earlier!), I think about it for at least two days.  I'm glad I was too busy living, yada yada, but $1 bikes?  Because I forgot to set an alarm?  /sigh
  3. Yay: I neglected to include one of my favourite Esky quotes from last year in her round-up post, so I'm going to give it its own point here (as well as editing it into the original post, of course!)Esky, 2014: "When I grow up, I want to be an animal rescuer, like Diego.  Only not drawn."
  4. Nay:  I experienced something new in the supermarket carpark, recently.  I wheeled my trolley of groceries up to our car, my three girls, in company.  My groceries still needed packed (I prefer to do it outside in the sun).  I had a relatively close parking space, but it wasn't a packed-out lot.  But a guy -- a guy I could see, and well -- indicated he wanted my space and sat there -- through the unlocking, hand-holding leading, belting of kids, the rushed bag-stuffing and loading (I like to pack my way too, you'll be unsurprised to hear), and most rich of all -- the trolley return.  At no point did he give it a second thought and scan for another vacant park, he waited, and watched.  I didn't enjoy it much.  It was one of the moments I would have liked to have had a bird-flipping friend.  Because I don't flip 'em, but I would've snorted a little if a defensive, more aggressive pal did.  How lame of me is that?  Fight my (non-)battles, Bravies?
  5. Feminine Hygiene Information Pending Alert (opportunity to avert your eyes, male readers)!  This is a Super-yay:  I have switched to a menstrual cup and I think they are the best.  Google your heart out if you're drawing a blank / seriously consider it if you've been on the fence / email me with a solidarity shout if you already knew about the Secret Agent feeling of control these things bring.   Emails also welcome from prospective Femmepals seeking support. /wink
  6. Nay: We have had a bad run of fruit, of late.  Stone fruits, in particular!  Deceptive avocado (I thought I knew all the tricks!), blah nectarines, and bland apricots. Oh, and one not a stone fruit -- an entirely inedible watermelon.  I grieve for fruit that won't ripen any further and advances to compost without passing go.
  7. Yay: We have been the recipients of anonymous kindnesses of late, and it has been so so heart-warming. 
  8. Yay: We went aboard a docked ship today for a tour, and Esky has been bunking on the couch on-and-off since, pretending she is in her berth at sea.  Sh, don't tell Diego!

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