Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Crown The Official Companion by Robert Lacey

Written by royal biographer Robert Lacey, The Crown the Official Companion covers everything you might wonder after watching the Netflix show. Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen covers the years 1947–1955, corresponding with season one of the show.

The book is broken into 10 chapters, one for each episode. Each chapter contains history surrounding the events of the show, and most interestingly describes any deviations the show has from the historical record. For example, chapter one explains that Phillip had really given up his title several months before the wedding, but the show condensed the timeline. For each deviation, Lacey explains what really happened and why it is portrayed differently in the show.

Throughout the chapter there are short biographical blurbs of various related people, or blurbs about specific moments or general history. One about “educating Elizabeth” lasts several pages. These blurbs are more about specific history and relate less to the show/specific episode. 

There are black and white photos throughout, both historical and from the show. Sometimes they are not captioned, which is a little annoying to not know the context. Another small problem with the pictures is that in Phillip and Elizabeth’s wedding picture, which spreads across two pages, the caption specifically regrets to Queen Marry being behind and between the bride and groom, but you can’t see her at all because it’s right in the book’s gutter. There are also two color inserts. Overall, the amount of photos is generous and what you would hope for in this type of book. 

This book also provides other resources, such as a family tree, a royal timeline,a list of the cast (including a category of fictitious characters added), recommended further reading on the history,and an index. 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tora Fright Patches Things Up by Tracey Madder, illustrated by Bonnie Pang

Tora Fight Patches Things Up is a children’s book from a series called “Prayer Monsters.” Tora, the second youngest of five siblings, is described as being the one who always reminds her siblings to pray. However, when her baby brother accidentally destroys an art project she’d worked so hard on, it takes her mother’s gentle reminder for Tora to pray. Tora asks God for help in forgiving her brother and then apologizes to him. Together, they rebuild the art project.

After the story, the last page has Ephesians 4:32—“Be king to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

The story is told through short paragraphs, usually about three sentences per page. Some have more, especially if the other page of the spread doesn’t have any words. The illustrations are colorful and cute. The monster family has a home just like a human, complete with family photos and bookshelves.

Before the story begins, there is a chapter introduction of three of the siblings, each devoted their own page. After the story, the other two children are featured. These character descriptions provide more background and detail to individualize the characters.

This is a pleasant book to read and I thought the message was very well done. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"The Austen Escape" by Katherine Reay

The Austen Escape is the fourth Katherine Reay book I've read, and unfortunately I did not find it as enjoyable as previous books.

Mary goes on a Jane Austen–inspired trip to England with her friend Isabel to stayin Bath, acting and dressing as though they belonged in one of Jane Austen's novels.  However, while there, Isabel has a sort of mental break after some cruel words from her father and believes she is actually the character she's playing. Mary's frustration at her friend's backstabing man-stealing ways get pushed aside as she must wait until Isabel remembers who she is before confronting her.

This novel had a fun, easy to read writing style. Mary was shown to be a strong woman, engineer, and  loyal to her family and friends. However, her relationship with the love interest of the story, Nathan, made her seem immature and lacking in social skills. For example, she overhears half a phone conversation and instead of talking about it, takes several drastic actions including buying a plane ticket to leave the country and attempting to leave without telling Nathan.

It's an interesting concept that you could vacation in a place where you could live out your favorite stories, but Isabel's memory problem interfered with my enjoyment of that aspect of the story too much. I'd recommend reading this book only if you really enjoyed Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane, and The Brontë Plot as I did. Even still, I was not as captivated by this story.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Come As You Aren't: A Role-Playing Game for Adventurous Couples

I found Come As You Aren't: A Role-Playing Game for Adventurous Couples to be uninspiring and poorly executed. That's not to say that everyone would feel that way; for me I think it was mostly that I had certain expectations and this game did not meet them.

First, there are no rules. The two-sentence description on the back of the box is all you get. It's probably to promote creativity or something, but it just felt undeveloped to me. The concept is you choose a Who card, a What card, and a Where  card and write down a time and place and put inside the included envelope. You leave then it for your partner to find.

I have so many questions. According to that, there's only one Who card. So I'm assuming Partner 1 picks out the scenario and Partner 2 enacts all of it? Leaving Partner 1 to improvise? I find it kind of annoying that the game doesn't provide a set of people on a Who card. I suppose this is where the creativity comes in--you could add a second card maybe? Instead though, you get one with a cheesy name, occupation, accessory, and a little three sentence description of their personality (also cheesy). Every description is written with unnecessary ellipses or em-dashes for the card to explain it's own joke. Every. Time.

For example:
D. Major

Concert Violinist

Black Bow Tie

D. Major can't seem to stay out of treble...treble clef that is. [continues for three more sentences]


Red Inkwell

Bestselling Author

Notebook and Pencil

Red Inkwell has a nice, well-rounded body...of work. [continues on]

I don't particularly want to be any of these people. But I do like that they each have an accessory so there is an element of dress up involved, which would help to get in character.

For the What, I would have hoped for a scenario, some kind of storyline. Instead, it's a small thing that doesn't seem like it would naturally come up at all and doesn't relate to the "role-playing" character aspect. "Be the one to suggest to go into the bedroom" is odd because 1) aren't you at a random place as described by the cards? and 2) the adventure level here is pretty low.  "At some point spill water on your partner and suggest a change of clothes" is another card. My partner and I agreed that we'd be annoyed if this were to happen. This has going for it though that Partner 1 is choosing something that Partner 2 will do, so at least they're choosing something they would like to have happen?

Where cards range from the weird/scary "A Public Restroom," "A Bathroom," "An Alley" to the mundane "A Parking Lot," "A Hallway,""A Kitchen." I think the aspect of writing a specific place to meet probably negates the need so specify whether the restroom is public or not, but there's a separate card for some reason.

Lastly, the box design. It's a slide out tray, which led to the included envelope sliding right out of the box and is now lost forever. No idea where that went. It seems like it would be an easy way to lose all of the cards too, but to my knowledge that didn't happen to me.

I would not recommend this role-playing game, but that doesn't mean that others would have the same view. I love to play card, board, and role-playing games, and perhaps that is why this one didn't work out for me as it left too much ambiguity.

I received a copy of this game from the publisher but was not required to post a positive review.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

"God Gave Us Family" by Lisa Tawn Bergren, art by David Hohn

God Gave Us Family is an adorable children's book with a great message--families can look different than your own, but they are all special and loved by God. The story is told from a wolf pup's conversation with its parents.

The types of family differences covered include family size (only child to many children), adoption, single parenting, and being raised by grandparents. It also talks about different ways lifestyles, such as raccoons staying out late at night.

It also covers the good (and not so good) aspects of the pup's own dealing with cousins that are sometimes annoying, but also enjoying their company to build forts and play hide-and-go-seek.

I love the message of this book that all families are unique and that's a good thing! This book tries to teach respect, understanding, and appreciation of families.

The illustrations add a lot of value to the story as well. They are beautifully colorful and artistically drawn so that you can see individual strokes, almost like colored pencil drawings. The wolf cubs are very cute and all of their play-time activities look very fun. I also appreciated the aesthetic of the inside of the front and back covers, which is decorated with a drawing of string lanterns.

The back of the book suggests that this book is age-appropriate for 3-8 year old children. It also lists other books in the "God Gave Us" series, including Thankful Hearts, You, Christmas, Love, Easter, and Sleep. This was the first book I've read of the series though.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"The Proving" by Beverly Lewis

The Proving is a sweet tale of discovery for a young former Amish-woman, Mandy, who returns to run her family's bed and breakfast following her mother's unexpected death. her inheritance of the inn was conditional upon her running it profitably for one year. After being moved away for five years and having given up her Amish lifestyle, there was a lot of adjustments to be made. Most of all, the rift with her twin sister Arie would be impossible to ignore once she moved back.

Mandy quickly learns that the Amish community she left isn't so willing to help out at the B&B while she owns it, dressing and acting like an Englisher. Firing Arie so she didn't have to work with her caused further strife with extended family. Soon working all by herself trying to keep up the B&B, Mandy is incredibly overworked and stressed. Still, she does her best to keep everything running, while also not working on the Lord's day.

It's not long before a difficult guest, Trina, shows up, constantly complaining and driving Mandy crazy. Desperate for help to run the B&B though, Trina may just be the answer to Mandy's prayers.

I was not a fan of the way that Trina's story line was introduced. After 3 chapters about Mandy, all of a sudden the 4th introduced Trina, but didn't go back to her again until 30 pages later. By that time, honestly I couldn't remember who she was and had to go back and look.

I was also thrown off by the epilogue being in first-person from Mandy's point of view after the entire book had been from third person point of view. Not that I'm against switching things up since the epilogue is different, but I just didn't see the benefit of it. It would have worked just the same as being in third person, so it could have stayed consistent. If anything, it would have actually worked better because it just seemed less genuine.

However, those minor annoyances did not get in the way of my enjoyment of this book. The Proving is a novel full of faith, friendships, family, love, and work ethic. I especially liked the ways that Mandy learned more about how her mother ran the inn while she was away, and  how Mandy began to have similar methods. It was immersive to read of the day-to-day tasks of running the inn. It sounded like a place that would be lovely to visit--a meadow full of butterflies, incredible homemade breakfasts, and a host who cares deeply about her guests.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

"One Christmas Bear" written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy

"Two tiny mice get a ride, and off they go!
Two funny foxes making angels in the snow."

One Christmas Bear is a 20-page board book with a unique cut-out shape. Though it is a board book, it is not as thick as many others and the pages can still bend and flex. It is a counting book that follows a polar bear and other arctic animals participating in various snowy activities.

Each page features one sentence of text, which rhymes with the adjacent page's sentence. The spreads each have a large number in the bottom right corner that indicates the number. The number begins both sentences of the spread.

The last spread breaks the pattern with four lines of text on each page, but imparts the important message that "Little acts of kindness, our friends and families dear, Merry time together--gifts from God to last all year!" This is only part of the book that has directly religious content.

The illustrations are very cute and colorful--a difficult feat in a book about snow! My favorite illustration is of four jolly snowmen because each one is a different animal shape: bunny, bear, dog, and mouse. The caribou are especially well-drawn (and are wearing wreathes, bells, or scarves around their necks!).

On the cover of the book, the words and part of the bear's scarf are metallic red. The background around the pear is dusted in glitter. Those features, added together with a cute rhyming story of winter fun with lots of different friends, make this book a nice item to gift to a child this Christmas season.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.