30 October 2013

Competition! Win an Usborne Activities Royal Doll's House Sticker Book!

Win this fabulous Royal Doll's House Sticker Book:

"This magnificent house is the home of a prince and princess and their small baby. You can take a tour of the garden and the rooms inside their house. Help to arrange everything, to make the family as comfortable as possible."

This Usborne book comes with over 200 stickers for hours of fun! My daughter, Charis, who is 9 next week has given me strict instructions to buy this book as a present as she loved the 1920s and Edwardian fashion sticker dolly books that we reviewed recently. 

The competition will run from 31st October to 13th November 2013. To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is scroll down to the Rafflecopter entry form and complete four tasks - tweet about the competition (optional), like the Librarian Girl Facebook page (optional), follow Librarian Girl via Google Friend Connect if you haven't done so already (mandatory) and comment on this post what you like most about Usborne Books (mandatory). The lucky winner will be announced on Thursday 14th November 2013.

Thank you to Usborne Books for enabling me to run this competition. Good luck!



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14 September 2013

Review: Usborne Party Cakes to Bake and Decorate

Received a call from my three year old great niece, Fearne, one summer afternoon saying she was at a loose end and would Charis and I like to hook up with her. We said, of course and asked if she'd like to help us bake a cake from the delightful Usborne Party Cakes to Bake and Decorate book. 

Charis chose this strawberry hearts cake from the book. After shopping for ingredients, we rolled up our sleeves, donned pinnies and happily set to work.

The book boasts a whole host of amazing party cakes and cupcakes to wow your guests such as a chocolate cake decorated with pastel coloured marshmallows and another edged with chocolate finger biscuits that we are eager to try. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. We were also impressed with the pages showing how to decorate your cakes with cool paper decorations such as flags on a string and star shaped cake toppers. Even how to make confetti for the table. The book is full of great ideas and I'm looking forward to baking a cake for Charis's 9th birthday in November. 

Fearne getting stuck in. Bless her, she loved making the cake and enjoyed following the instructions, asking 'what's next? What's next?'

Here's the finished result. As you can see, the strawberry jam hearts didn't quite go to plan, but it was tasty all the same. The baking times in the book were spot on - no soggy bottom - and the pink icing was delicious. 

Top marks for Usborne once again. I love the style of their activity books, the beautiful illustrations and clear instructions. Usborne is a lovely, fabulous quality brand.

A tip on how to perfect those jam hearts from good old Pinterest. The jam was too runny to create dots on the cake from a teaspoon prior to running a cocktail stick through them to make the hearts. I will definitely try out an icing syringe next time. 


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19 August 2013

Classics Spin #3. And the number is....

...number 4. I'll be reading Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan. 

I'd hoped for number 3 as I'm currently reading War and Peace, but I'm lucky Bonjour Tristesse is a short novel so it's worked out well. 

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17 August 2013

Classics Spin #3

I've decided to have a go at Classics Club Spin number 3. I am to list 20 books from my challenge list here by Monday 21st August, five I'm dreading/hesitant to read, five I can't wait to read, five I'm neutral about and a five free choice. On Monday the moderators at Classics Club will pick a number between 1 and 20 and the book assigned to that number on my list is the one I will be challenged to read by October 1st 2013.

Five I'm hesitant to read:
1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
4. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
5. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett  

Five I can't wait to read:
6.  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
7. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 
9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
10. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing 

Five I'm neutral about (don't ask me why. I'm sure I'll be pleasantly surprised by them):
11. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
12. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
13. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
14. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe 
15. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque 

My five free choice - children's classics:
16. The silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
17. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
18. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
19. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 
20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I'm hoping Classics Club will choose number 3 as I'm reading War and Peace at the moment and loving every page. 

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Classics Spin #2 Review: Fahrenheit 451

You may remember in May I pledged to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as part of the Classics Spin #2 in May. (Six was the magic number picked by the Classics team). I can't believe it's taken so long for me to post my review, especially as I finished the slim book and wrote a review in a notebook in May. Honestly.

Here is the book, borrowed from the school library. For ages I thought it was a depiction of a horse. What I thought was its long, golden mane are flames of fire.

A nice message waiting for me as I opened the book made me smile:

Goodreads synopsis: Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires ...
The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning ... along with the houses in which they were hidden.
Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames ... never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.
Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think ... and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do!

A strange story that left me feeling uncomfortable. Uneasy. Although I did enjoy Bradbury's succinct, poetic writing style.

Bradbury depicts a horrible world that is much too fast and devoid of culture for my liking. Cars that travel so fast along the highway no one dares to cross the road.  Billboards 200m long so speeding motorists don't miss their messages. A world where books are banned and Shakespeare plays are adapted to 5 minute long TV shows. Firemen start fires. Hoses pump out kerosene. Their job: to put out libraries. No one is allowed to think, no free thinkers in this world. Everything goes so fast you don't have time to think, your mind is numb thanks to the constant stream of media stimulation wherever you go. A world where floor-to-ceiling TV panels are installed on each wall in your living space and they are constantly on. The actors on the screen aren't actors, they are your 'family', programmed to 'talk' to you and like a good brainwashed citizen you buy into that. (Picture a world where Phil Mitchell is your actual uncle. Nice). At night you drift off to sleep whilst listening to radio via seashells placed in your ears. No peace and quiet. People find they no longer remember anything of importance and are unaware of what is going on in the world. Anniversaries are forgotten and atomic wars are waged in the space of 5 minutes (against who no one knows).

It fried my brain.

Anyone caught displaying signs of free thinking or engaging in their surroundings, i.e. taking walks in nature, are sent to a shrink. Anyone caught reading or hoarding books receive a menacing visit from the Fire Department...

"A book is a loaded gun in the house next door...who knows who might be the target of the well read man."

I will not forget the mechanical hound or the image of Captain Beatty at the wheel of the Salamander that brought to mind comic book villains. I kept thinking how well the book would work as a graphic novel.

Imagine a world without stories. Culture sustains us, feeds the soul. Take it away and you are left with unhappy, empty, suicidal people. Such is Bradbury's world. I feel depression setting in as I recall reading the book. It reminds me of how culture brought moments of pleasure to prisoners in the ghetto concentration camps. It is a necessity in life, not a luxury. I kept waiting for Bradbury's world to crash and burn and start over at a slower, more natural pace.

First published in Great Britain in 1954, elements of Fahrenheit 451 and its dystopian future are evident in our world today. Except cigarette smoking - there'd be none of that on the scale as seen in the book (I don't know anyone who smokes indoors anymore) - and that's a good thing. 

Glynis's review:

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6 August 2013

Review: Usborne Sticker Dolly Dressing Book

Charis and I are fans of Usborne books and were delighted to be sent this lovely Edwardian Fashion sticker dolly dressing book to review. 

The book briefly describes the Edwardian era in Europe and there are several dolls, with gorgeous names such as Cecily and Pearl, to dress up using the 160 stickers provided. We removed the sticker section from the centre of the book and couldn't wait to clothe Henry and Cordelia at their boat race outing, Aunt Esther and family at the British seaside, Marie and Viola at Poiret's party plus many other scenarios typical of the era for the elegant, well-to-do set. 

Exotic outfits 

Charis found the reusable stickers easy to peel and place on the dolls and she learned a lot about the costume of the era as she played away. It's easy to know where to place the stickers as each comes with a little instruction. Charis was curious about the various fashions beautifully illustrated in the book and, having studied costume and fashion history at university, I enjoyed answering her questions, such as 'mum, what's an empire line?', 'did they really use actual bone to make fancy hair combs?', 'what are plus-fours?', 'why are they wearing tights on the beach!'

More elegant outfits with easy to follow instructions

Easy to position, reusable stickers

It's interesting to see the numerous styles of clothing prevalent during the Belle Epoque: tweed sportswear for golfing and motoring, wide-brimmed ladies' hats, the classic striped blazer and straw boater, exotic oriental inspired fashion by designer Paul Poiret, Art Nouveau inspired clothing, outfits for ballroom dancing, a day at the races and so on. The book also explains how the First World War brought changes to fashion.

The colourful illustrations perfectly capture the elegant style of the period and make it interesting and accessible to children. 8 year old Charis can sometimes close her mind to historical subjects, no matter how interesting, brushing them off with an 'ugh, mum, it's old fashioned!' comment. But not so the content of this lovely activity book. Incorporating a hands-on approach using stickers and a section to decorate your own clothes is a great way to invite children to learn whilst they play. 

Charis at work dressing the dolls

Marie wearing an oriental themed outfit

Charis's Littlest Pets joined in the fun

Charis enjoyed painstakingly dressing the dolls and afterwards told me what she had learned about the fashion of the era. 

She loved that each doll has a name and her favourite was Hattie because she looks like a female Harry Potter:

Meet Hattie Potter!

We now want to look out for more Usborne sticker dolly dressing books. The 1930s and '40s especially - my favourite fashion eras. 

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10 July 2013

Goodbye Flirty Thirties...

Outfit: Oasis dress, Ralph Lauren sunnies and Michael Kors shoes from Daniel Footwear. I absolutely adore these shoes!

Yep, I turned 40 on Sunday. 

We're enjoying a heatwave in the UK, our first in ages. I don't remember the last time it wasn't overcast or didn't rain on my birthday. I had a lovely weekend, gorgeous gifts and a family get together. And to top it Andy Murray made sporting history - I'll definitely remember where I was on that day!

Outfit: Seven For Mankind Jeans, Primark floppy hat

Atticus and Scout! My favourite literary hero. What a fabulous gift.

Charis wears: M&Co dress.

My 8 year old daughter, Charis. 

I feel very lucky indeed. 

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31 May 2013

Code Name Verity

Synopsis from Goodreads: I have two weeks. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do. 
That's what you do to enemy agents. It's what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine - and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again. 
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I'm going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France - an Allied Invasion of Two. 
We are a sensational team.

I adored this book. I. Adored. It. 

There's something about the 1940s that I find fascinating and everything I find fascinating about it is contained in this touching story of friendship. Maddie, a young working class woman who likes riding her Silent Superb and fixing things, joins the ATA as a pilot (ferrying aircraft and RAF personnel up and down the country) and becomes friends with Queenie, a young upper class woman working as a 'wireless operator'. Their paths cross when they are suddenly instructed to guide a lost Luftwaffe pilot to land at their RAF airbase; Maddie utilising her navigation skills and Queenie her fluent German.
From that moment on they make a 'sensational team'.

Two strong women who, during peacetime, would probably never have met. This is what I like so much about this era; how the war brought people from all walks of life together. They forge a close bond and as Queenie recalls:

"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." ~ p.88

In fact, this is the tagline of the book for me and I often find myself saying it in a clipped '40s accent when I am gazing wistfully through book-glazed eyes in a face-in-hands story-induced meditative state. I think of their friendship and sigh. I once had a twin-flame, best mucker connection like that...

The first half of the story is Queenie's account of her friendship with Maddie and the events that led to her capture by the Nazis. The second half covers the same time frame but from Maddie's perspective. An interesting structure. Expect irony and twists in what is a riveting plot.

I was told to arm myself with tissues whilst reading Code Name Verity, but unfortunately, and much to my amazement, they were not needed. However all is not lost: I was dry-eyed throughout my first reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, but a blubbering mess on the second devourment (if that isn't a word, it is now !) of the novel. And things happen during the second half of the story that shed new light on the first, thus the need to flick back to the start is established and, like Maddie, I'm more than happy to relive Maddie and Queenie's friendship. 

"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."


I absolutely loved picturing Maddie flying the Lysanders up and down the country. I have a fascination with Second World War planes. 

Lysanders in actionSource

Even though I am not comfortable as a passenger, I am in awe of pilots and planes. I was halfway through the book when our country celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. I watched a TV programme to commemorate the amazing feat and it helped bring Code Name Verity even more alive to me. Eight weeks training to do what they did, those Lancaster bomber pilots. And at night too. I have nothing but admiration for those who served during and experienced the war. What courage!

And then on the evening of the anniversary I read this...

"A great big wonderful waxing bomber's moon was rising just as she arrived at the pick-up airfield, and Maddie landed just before the local squadron took off. She taxied to the Operations hut as the brand-new Lancasters were leaving. The demure Puss Moth shuddered in the wind of their passing, like a marsh hen among a flock of grey herons - each thrice her wingspan, each with four times as many engines, heavy with the night's fuel and payload of explosive, off to deliver vengeful destruction to Essen's factories and railway yards." ~ p.193

... and imagined Maddie was passing the mighty Dambusters. What beautiful use of a simile; I felt engulfed by and in awe of the powerful Lancasters.

Another fantastic simile that struck me as beautiful:

"Maddie took the top of her egg off with her spoon.The hot, bright yolk was like a summer sun breaking through cloud, the first daffodil in the snow, a gold sovereign wrapped in a white silk handkerchief." ~ p.161

Wein's writing oozes with deliciousness throughout the novel. The mundane action of eating an egg turned into beautiful, arresting imagery. Because it did arrest me. Visualising sun breaking through cloud made me sit bolt upright and take notice. A simple yet powerful line, I relished the prospect of savouring the humble, yet heavily rationed, egg. 

Another thing I liked was the Aerodrome Drop-Off Principle. Was this a real WW2 concept? I have no idea but I like this notion of paying it forward, of random acts of kindness. 

I can't wait to read this book again and I hope, hope, hope it is adapted to film so I can see Queenie's immaculate blonde chignon and effortless style in action. And I want to see Maddie's Silent Superb and Dympna's Puss Moth. Incredible ladies.

Finally, a treat for those of you who've read the story:

Glynis's Rating:

Glynis's Rating:

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30 May 2013

Witch child

Synopsis from Goodreads: Welcome to the world of young Mary Newbury, a world where simply being different can cost a person her life. Hidden until now in the pages of her diary, Mary's startling story begins in 1659, the year her beloved grandmother is hanged in the public square as a witch. Mary narrowly escapes a similar fate only to face intolerance and new danger among the Puritans in the New World. How long can she hide her true identity? Will she ever find a place where her healing powers will not be feared? 


If I were to centre a book display in the library I work in on themes such as prejudice, ignorance and discrimination, Witch Child would be included. A work of fiction posing as primary source material discovered in the folds of a 300 year old handcrafted quilt, Witch Child is a story brimming with intrigue and mystery. I like how it is presented as a factual diary; making 14 year old Mary's plight seem all the more real. Imagine coming across such a find...

There are no scenes of actual sorcery in the story and neither did I expect any. It is about how women healers such as Mary and her grandmother were persecuted by society and their skills massively misunderstood. Why? Why were they wiped out on such a huge scale across Europe and North America from roughly 1480 to 1750, 'spanning the upheavals of the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, resulting in an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 executions'? [1]

"Those that can heal can harm; those that can cure can kill."

You can probably sense my temptation to delve into the subject at great length, but I shall spare you the digression. I love it, though, when a work of fiction makes me research and become more aware of a period in history.

The story is set in 1659 and during this period people believed the devil walked abroad, as it were. Anything out of place was a sign the devil had taken up residence in the neighbourhood. People back then had amazing imaginations, no doubt fueled by a lack of scientific knowledge and fear of the unknown  (I wonder if this fear was fueled by the church to maintain order amongst the people and power over them? No, I'm not going there)... Knowledge truly is power in this respect and a killer of a wild imagination. Nowadays we allay our fears by softly telling ourselves that everything can be scientifically explained and if ghosts and other such supernatural phenomenon were to exist, it's the living we need to be most afeared of.

"What powers do they think we have, my grandmother and I? If she had real power, would she not be able to undo the locks to their stinking dungeon and fly through the air to safety? Would she not call up her master, Satan, to blast and shrivel them to dust and powder? And if I had any powers, any at all, I would destroy them all, right here and now." ~ p.14

So yes I've established that the book piqued my interest in the history of 'witches' and witch hunts, but what of the story? I immediately took to Mary and needed to know what happened to her after she was cruelly jolted from the life she shared with her grandmother. They didn't hurt anyone. They helped their neighbours when illness struck and were called upon as midwives. Mary's grandmother was a wise woman; she educated Mary, taught her to read and to 'scribe', tended a 'physicks' garden, growing plants with medicinal properties. They weren't portrayed as dabbling in 'dark arts', partaking in naked dance rituals, casting spells or turning folk into toads (although there are certain individuals in the story (Reverend Johnson) who could have done with being on the receiving end of such a spell). They came across as spiritual people, in tune with nature and Celia Rees writes beautifully about Mary's spiritual experiences; they are magical but there is nothing supernatural about them. The reader could easily put Mary's sighting of a hare in the forest down to coincidence, but it's so nice to share these private moments of Mary's and read special meaning into them. After losing her grandmother I wanted her to be looked after. We all have private moments where the sighting of a bird or a rainbow means so much more to us... a sign from the universe or a passed loved one, perchance?

Mary befriends Jaybird, the native American boy who helped Mary and the Puritans pick their way through the immense forest to reach Beulah, their new settlement. I thought it interesting how Mary shares similar healing skills and knowledge as Jaybird, knowledge that is revered and accepted in his society but feared in Mary's. As Celia Rees writes on her Witch Child website:

"Although some English settlers showed respect, even admiration, for their Indian neighbours, most regarded them as little more than savages and thought their pagan beliefs put them in league with the Devil." [2]

A classic example of how people often misunderstand the customs of another culture, leading to ignorance and a misinformed view of that culture. Something sadly still in existence today.

My favourite part of the story was definitely the epic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Rees described it vividly: the unsavoury smells, cramped living conditions, sailing conditions. I felt every lurch the ship made on stormy seas, the awful creaking and banging noises that would have terrified me (I endured a 10-day Iberian cruise a few years ago. I say 'endured' as every cranking sound I heard at night had me trembling. I have a phobia of large engines and things like propellors and the hull of a ship below the waterline. Makes me feel mightily overwhelmed and insecure. Makes me shudder. If I had a past life during the Industrial Revolution, I would have been useless).

I loved it when the ship got stuck too far north and ground to pretty much a halt amidst an ocean of icebergs, the crew sounding fathoms, the chilling calm of the scene. Then the fishy-breathed minister Elias Cornwell storms the deck, calling for a gathering of his flock and a sign from God. Cue a spectacular 'sign' from the Heavens leaving everyone agog and falling to their knees; Elias, arms outstretched, hair and robes flowing in true biblical fashion, to receive God's message. To see that sight now would have me in a state of awe, but to witness it 300 years ago, not having heard of it, would have been a major wow. However, not to Mary and her well travelled travelling companion, Jonah, who has witnessed such a sight before. Knowledge is power. Ignorance fuels fear.

This book has left me with many questions - some I'd like to ask the author about her characters and scenarios, and others about the actual historical period.

Amazing how a book of slim proportions has opened up a world of curiosity inside my head.

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23 May 2013

52 Lists. Ways in Which You Can Love Each Other



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