A World of Words

Reviewing children's books

An app for the boys

Mr Potato Head

Sorry about the slightly late post this week, I’m off to Mauritius in less than two weeks and have been excitedly packing and keeping busy! It’s therefore taking me a little while longer than normal to read my current book, The Clock of Time, by Nancy Klann-Moren, so today’s review is for the above app.

PH1I don’t know about you, but my older niece and nephew have loved the Toy Story franchise since they were in nappies. ‘Aylees’, their baby babble word for Toy Story 3 (short for aliens) was practically their bedtime story (when they weren’t visiting me!).

PH3

If you look at the apps on my phone, a good two-thirds could be said to appeal more to girls rather than boys. When I saw this, I knew I had to get it for Lewis.

I can’t actually remember how much I paid for this – once bought, I can never seem to get Apple to show me how much it was! It must have been free or cheap though, as the app does have adverts. It took a while to train the children not to touch anything before the play button popped up! You can also buy bundles as in-app purchases, but I’ve found there are enough costumes without needing to buy more.

PH4

You basically get several choices of costumes to put onto Mr Potato Head, and these can be mixed and matched. It’s a great idea – there are male and female versions of several costumes, including cowboy, pirate, circus performer, alien, etc. In the pictures I mixed him up so he’s a pirate with sparkly eyes and a father christmas nose and moustache. You also get a choice of where to put each accessory, so if you want, you can put the eyes where the ears are supposed to go, or the ears where the legs are supposed to go. One big drawback about this, though, is that sometimes it can be a little tricky to get things in the right place, as well as mistakenly turning the wheel Mr Potato Head is on – while Caitlin can manage to get around these things, Lewis isn’t quite there yet, so it does mean an adult (or older child) does need to be keeping an eye. By the way, Lewis is 4 in July, and Caitlin is 5, just to give you an idea of age.

Once the dressing up is done, you can choose one of several scenarios – including pirates, cowboys, aliens, candyland and a ballroom. There, you get a choice of 5 things you could make Mr Potato Head do, although I think these amuse me more than Caitlin and Lewis, who just love to dress him up! You can also press the camera to take pictures of Mr Potato Head’s antics, which is how I got most of the screen grabs.

PH5

Generally, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s the first one both Caitlin and Lewis go for, and particularly Lewis. While he can get a little frustrated at getting stuck every now and again, they both love being able to dress up Mr Potato Head, and it’s fairly easy to make them take turns.

Oooh, and a quick side note – I should be seeing my website artwork soon so I hope to be revamping the design ASAP!

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Post Mortem, by Kira Snyder

Post Mortem (Parish Mail #2), by Kira Snyder
Published by Coliloquy

Post Mortem

 

Celia Macarty is back in Post Mortem, the second instalment in the Parish Mail saga.

Autum in New Orleans means Homecoming, romance – and murder. When a friend vanishes, Celia believes a desperate letter about an unsolved Civil War-era murder holds the key to unravelling the mystery.

As she searches for answers, Celia enlists the help of quirky witch Tilly, and either all-American boy Donovan or enigmatic Luc – you get to choose.

As the gang follows the missing girl’s trail, danger turns up on all fronts. A vicious stranger threatens Celia’s family. Celia’s nightmares – about a shadowy, ominous villain – get worse. And a new ghost has appeared: beautiful Angelica, who shares a past with Luc.

It will take all of Celia’s will and wit, and the faith of her friends, to solve an unspeakable crime. And no matter which path Celia takes, she will discover that sometimes the past can come back to haunt you.

 

Having reviewed Dead Letter Officethe first of the Parish Mail series, I was contacted by Coliloquy to review Kira Snyder’s second book, Post Mortem. I am so glad – I loved the last book, and if anything, this one was even better.

At the end of Dead Letter Office, the reader is told about a pile of letters that Celia has, in which she is being asked for help. This book is based a couple of weeks after the first, and follows the events of a letter from Celia’s pile. Again, she has the help of best friend Tilly as well as Luc and/or Donovan.

The reason I said this book may have been a little better than the first is that it gets stuck straight into the adventure, without needing an introduction to the characters. The characters are established, and there’s no pussy-footing around, wondering if someone will get weird with the level of magic involved. That was still great in book 1, don’t get me wrong, but there was an instant hook in this story that I loved.

Talking about magic I think the way that magic is so effortlessly intertwined with normal life is really cool. Within a paragraph, Tilly can be whipping up some magical concoction and at the same time dig at Celia for gossip about Luc/Donovan/insert teen issue here. <b>[Mild spoiler in next sentence]</b> I have a thing for realism, so while in a different book I might have an issue with the protagonist leaving a big dance to go adventuring, in this book it seemed perfectly normal.

Snyder has created characters that will develop upon every sequel, and I think the series would actually make a brilliant TV show – I’d definitely watch it! As with last time, I enjoyed the choices I could make, although they seemed to have a further reach in this book, which meant I had to think more about what I chose. There’s one towards the end that took me longer than it should have to decide, as it dramatically affects the climax of the book. There’s only one thing slightly negative I’d say about the whole book, and that is that sometimes things were mentioned that only happened in one of the choices in the last book. For readers that, unlike me, didn’t read all scenarios, that could have been an issue.

In brief (after a long review – oops!), a highly recommended book, and I can’t wait for #3!

Finally, I’m still posting on this blog, but I’ve actually just bought my own domain through Blogger and will be cancelling this account soon. I’d love it if everyone could check out www.a-wordofwords.com, which has all my posts on it. I’ve done this as it’s a lot easier to play around with the design, and I’m waiting for some cool artwork to make my blog look unique to me. Thank you!

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Perverse, by Larry Rodness

Perverse, by Larry Rodness
Published by Itoh Press

Perverse

19 year old Emylene Stipe is a second-generation Goth who, like every teenage girl, is trying to find her place in the world. One night she comes across an old painting in an antique store and is compelled to purchase it. When she brings it home , an image of a young woman appears in the sketch and then magically materialises in her apartment. Emylene nicknames her ‘Poinsettia’ and they soon become fast friends. But Poinsettia has an ulterior motive for her sudden and strange intrusion into her host’s life, which causes Emylene to question her whole belief system.

First off, I’m still posting on this blog, but I’ve actually just bought my own domain through Blogger – I’d love it if everyone could check out www.a-wordofwords.com, which has all my posts on it. I’ve done this as it’s a lot easier to play around with the design, and I’m waiting for some cool artwork to make my blog look unique to me.

Having been approached by Larry Rodness to review Perverse, I was intrigued by the blurb. It’s not often I read about Goths, let alone second-generation Goths!

Being honest though, I wasn’t overly impressed with the beginning of the book. While it wasn’t bad, I was a little disconcerted by the disconnected narrative of Emylene’s life that led up to the start of the plot. There’s setting the scene, and then there’s over-egging it a bit. I didn’t understand why such a big deal was made about Emylene being a ‘princess’ (except maybe to explain why she acted so spoilt), and certain characters (such as Nostra-Dame) have no bearing on the ultimate plot, so I’m sorry to say that if I hadn’t agreed to review it, I probably would have put it down.

However, upon hitting the middle of the book, the plot got decidedly better and I found it really enjoyable. It was fairly different to anything I’d read before, and I loved the idea of there being a certain part of town that offers your wildest dreams at night in exchange for a piece of your soul and a slightly hungover feeling. Then, there were different aspects of Goth lifestyle I found interesting and were explained well by Rodness. Once it got going, it was fast-paced, and Emylene became less annoying as she had more of a purpose. There’s also a sense of dystopia the further in I got (revenants taking over parts of town and slowly expanding), and you should know how much I love those by now!

So, while I admit it was a weak start, the book gets a healthy 3 stars from me for pulling it back and creating an unusual and interesting plot.

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Mudlark, by John Sedden

First off, I’m still posting on this blog, but I’ve actually just bought my own domain through Blogger – I’d love it if everyone could check out www.a-wordofwords.com, which has all my posts on it. I’ve done this as it’s a lot easier to play around with the design, and I’m waiting for some cool artwork to make my blog look unique to me.

A little while ago, my interest was piqued while visiting my grandparents in Portsmouth. I was experiencing Sunday train delays at their finest, so they took me for a walk to see the newish statue commemorating the mudlarks on The Hard. My grandpa, the most avid history-lover I’ve ever met, started going into the backstory of the mudlarks from when he was a policeman in the 1950s/60s.

I’ll go into more detail after my review. My interest in mudlarks having been caught, I stumbled upon the following book on Amazon:

Mudlark, by John Sedden
Published by Puffin

Mudlark

Portsmouth 1914. Reg and Jimmy are mudlarks. They dive for coins in the thick mud of the harbour. But one day Reg finds a skull – and it changes everything. It starts a murder hunt that lands them both in serious trouble with the police. They’ve always done everything together – and now they’re facing death.

Although mudlarks were also found in London, diving for pennies in the Thames mudbanks, this book is set in Portsmouth, so I was really enthusiastic to read this, hoping I’d know where the characters were larking about. Going to stay with my grandparents every half term means I know the area fairly well. Sure enough, most of the time I knew where the characters were, which added to my enjoyment of the book. In general, though, Sedden describes the scenes well enough that anyone could pick the book up and become immersed in the landscape of the book.

Jimmy and Reg, the first-person protagonist and his best friend, were really realistic too – there were things like Reg having a stutter, the number of dead-arms the boys give each other (!) and the sense of guilt Jimmy feels when he realises he’s in the wrong, which made the boys really 3D, relatable characters.

I loved that the book brought to life a picture of not only mudlarking, but the start of the First World War and everyday people’s reactions to it. The twists that take place in the book can’t be guessed from the blurb, and I found myself surprised a lot of the time. The solution to the mystery had to be explained to me just as much as it did to Jimmy and Reg, which is rare, as I can usually guess what’s coming from at least a couple of pages before. PLUS, the solution was historically accurate. Double tick!

I’ve since lent this book to a workmate’s 11-year-old son, so I’ll update if I hear an opinion from him. I reckon this book will appeal to boys (and probably girls too!) around 11-14, especially those with a love of history. Mind you, once I get the book back I’ll be sending it to my grandpa, who I’m sure will love it. It’s his old stomping ground, after all, although he’s never been as nasty as the policemen in the book!

* * * * * * * * * *

This book has given me a new idea. I’m a complete history geek, so I was thinking maybe once a month I’d do what I’ve done today – review a historical fiction (or possibly nonfiction – such as The Diary of Anne Frank) book, and then go a little deeper into the history behind it. I love researching these things, and if it’s something others would want to read, that’d be great!

Feedback would be greatly appreciated – please let me know what you think, and whether you’d read something like this! I was thinking the first weekend of every month, and calling it Weekend Walkthrough :-).

* * * * * * * * * *

Inscription reads:

mudlark statue

The nearby statue commemorates the generations of Portsea children who enjoyed mudlarking here – entertaining travellers by retrieving coins they threw into the mud below the bridge to the harbour station and Gosport Ferry. Boys and girls would scramble to find the money tossed down, sometimes diving into the mud, performing handstands or dipping their heads in it. Many Portsea families lived in poverty, so the small change was welcomed. Usually, what the children did not spend on sweets or pie and chips was given to mum to help out the family finances.

Most parents disapproved of their children’s activities, while the police regarded mudlarking as begging and tried to stop it. Mudlarking supplemented other ways of earning a few shillings, such as carrying passengers’ bags or finding drivers parking spaces. The building of the new bus terminus in 1976-7 put an end to mudlarking.

Also inscribed is a list of names of previous mudlarks. This statue reminded me a little of Archie and Lillie, two mudlark characters in the book.

Mudlarks

mudlarksThe definition of a mudlark is given by the Oxford dictionary as “a person who scavenges in river mud for objects of value. Historical: a scruffy or dirty child who spent most of the time on the street.” As the book is set in Portsmouth, I’ll keep to the Portsmouth mudlarks, although it appears that the term was widely used in London too, for those getting what they could from the Thames. Those living in London can still go mudlarking if they want to – it’s now for historical artefacts rather than spare change, but the link here gives details of dates that groups will meet up to go together.

Margaret Foster is a Portsmouth councillor who campaigned for the erection of the statue in Portsmouth. She wrote a book, called The Mudlarkers, and for it, interviewed several former mudlarks. According to them, soldiers would empty their pockets to throw to them. “At the time they just thought their luck was in but now appreciate the significance of men giving away the last of their money before going off to war.”

mudlarks (1)

While some have said that mudlarks could come from wealthier backgrounds, the general consensus is that mudlarks didn’t have much money. Reading Mudlark, it became obvious to me just how poor Jimmy and his mother were when I read that her ambition was to save enough money to buy Jimmy a pair of boots.
Plus, did you know that the Pompey accent isn’t far off from Cockney? People’s stories from online have people remembering mudlarks saying things like: “Bung us a bob matlow [Give me a shilling, sailor]”, and “Dip me ‘ead for a sparsy [possibly a sixpence]”.lark, it became obvious to me just how poor Jimmy and his mother were when I read that her ambition was to save enough money to buy Jimmy a pair of boots.

Lastly, it seems fitting to mention a mudlark quote in Margaret Foster’s book again: “It wasn’t just the mudlarking. We’d chop up firewood and sell bundles of that, and jump on the side of people’s cars and take them to a parking space. We’d get a shilling for that.

“From the age of about five, we knew how to put a loaf of bread on the table. But we were quite happy to work. They were hard times but not one of the people I spoke to said they didn’t enjoy themselves.

“It couldn’t happen again. Not with health and safety and there isn’t that same kind of poverty. But we were safe children and happy children.”

Old money
Mudlark money

Helpfully, Sedden includes a brief explanation of old money so the readers know what the mudlarks are referring to – see the picture. I was going to try and put old money in context but it appears to be impossible, so if you’re interested, this page gives a brilliant explanation of everything.

Copper Poppa

To conclude my little mudlarking history lesson (tee hee!), I thought I’d mention my grandpa again. I’ve already mentioned that he was a policeman in the 1950s and 60s, and that he and my grandma brought my attention to the mudlarks. Poppa told me that he was always reluctant to head over to The Hard whenever he was told to move the mudlarks along (as they were considered beggars) – they were only trying to make a living, after all. This picture here is him in his police uniform – I love it!

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