Friday 31 July 2015

Giveaway #497 : Win Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball - closed - winner Diana Semionova

On a windy night Tamara lies awake in bed, when she hears a noise outside her room. Suddenly she is whisked away by a hairy arm and taken to the village hall! Luckily it is just the monsters from her neighbourhood inviting her to their ball. She has fun dancing with all the monsters before being sent back home with a lovely slice of slime cake!

All the way back in 2012, we reviewed the fabulous children's book Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball by Giles Paley-Phillips. (Click through to read our review.) We loved the fun story that plays with children's expectations and giggled at the fact that Tamara looks just like Juliette !

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing; 2nd Revised edition edition (28 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848861753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848861756
  • Product Dimensions: 26 x 0.3 x 26.5 cm

A brand new edition of the book has just been released and to celebrate its new look, the publishers have kindly offered to send a copy of the book to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 20/8/15

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after a week, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

Picture book review : Jay-Jay The Supersonic Bus - Sue Wickstead

Meet Jay-Jay The Supersonic Bus, the four-wheeled, double-decker star of Sue Wickstead's lovely picture book.

At the start of the book, Jay-Jay (so named because of the first two letters on his license plate, which Pierre thought was brilliant - now he's trying to come up with a name for our car and every other car we see in the street!) isn't supersonic at all. He's a very dejected and dilapidated bus that's been left to rot in a scrapyard.

But he's about to get a new lease of life, being transformed into a mobile kids' playground, complete with slide, painting stations and sand tables. I wish we had one of those around here for the Madhouse kids to play in !

Pierre loved seeing the bus change from broken down and sad to happy and brightly coloured. The vibrant illustrations really bring the story to life and Pierre has been flicking through all by himself, "reading" the story to himself by explaining everything he sees in the pictures and that he can remember from when I read it to him.

He was slightly perturbed by the word supersonic in the title - he wanted to know what it meant and when I explained, he said that Jay-Jay wasn't really supersonic. I tied it in to the aeroplanes in the book but we couldn't really work out why an airport would want to buy a children's fun bus either ! The back of the book mentions that this is a fictional tale based on a real life bus called Supersonic so it would have been nice to have a page at the end, explaining a bit more about the real-life bus and maybe showing a picture of it, to see how it inspired Jay-Jay.

As with all great books, the story reminded Pierre of things we'd seen in real life - an old double-decker bus that has been transformed into a mobile pizza restaurant.

And another one that came to our town square as a mobile party zone with DJs on the top deck !

Pierre also loved seeing Buckingham Palace feature at the end of the story, as it was a place we'd visited on a trip to London last year. 

It's a story that will appeal to young children of both sexes and I've been asked to read it several times since it arrived at The Madhouse. It has led on to discussions about recycling/upcycling, overcoming adversity and fun things to do in the holidays, as well as designing our own fun bus and even making a cardboard box bus during the hoidays.

This is the first Jay-Jay book but there will be more, so we'll definitely be keen to see what other adventures he gets up to.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 38 pages
  • Publisher: Sue Wickstead (10 Oct. 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0993073700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0993073700

Disclosure : We received the book in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse diaries : Sophie the adrenalin junkie

After our first disappointing trip to the beach to see the kite surf championship village (most things were cancelled because of the wind and rain), we decided to go back for a second attempt.

After some umming and aahing, Sophie decided to brave the bungee catapult. Right up until the last minute, she didn't look too sure though !

Listen out for the scream ! She must have enjoyed it though because she debated queueing up for another go !

Once her feet were back on the ground and her knees had stopped knocking, she played with the traditional wooden games with Pierre. For this one, you have to balance your colour of balls on the hanging wooden balls in the middle. (And yes, we did keep giggling at the word balls !) There's some serious concentration going on here, as you can tell from Pierre's tongue sticking out !

It's not as daring as Sophie's exploits but Pierre still had great fun in the paddleboats.

Some days, the adventures keep on coming. As we headed home, just opposite our bus stop, there were some little games laid on for the kids with prizes to be won - Pierre won a beach ball and Juliette won a pot of wax crayons that they were both very happy with !

There was just time to tuck into some vegetable kebabs that they were sampling then we jumped on the bus home !

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Clean floors in a Flash ! (review)

"Let the sunshine, let the sunshine, The sunshine in ..."

That's what I always want to start singing as soon as I lay eyes on the vibrant yellow Flash Multi-Surface Concentrated Cleaner that I received for a recent Savvy Circle project. Its gorgeous lemon fragrance and amazingly yellow colour always put me in a good mood and make the cleaning seem slightly less of a chore. And that's before it starts cleaning away the grease and grime with minimum effort. Win-win !

One of the features that I love the most is the clever cut-off self-dosing cap which dispenses just the right amount of product, avoiding spillages, heavy-handed wastage or wasting time measuring out the right dose. In this photo, I applied it directly to the floor then washed over the top with a wet floor cloth, but you can also dilute it and use it with a mop and bucket. Either technique results in a clean floor and a lovely fresh fragrance that permeates the whole house. I prefer the direct application method when I just need a quick clean up of muddy paw prints and/or footprints on a specific area but using a bucket menas that I can finish off by throwing the dirty water down the toilet which results in a nice clean toilet with zero effort too. Bonus !

It can also be used undiluted with a damp washing up sponge on the worktops and sink or even the bath - anywhere you like really as it's a multi-surface cleaner. It's great at getting dried-on toothpaste and soap scum off the bathroom sink. I like the idea of using the same product throughout the whole house because it saves time (no need to keep switching products) and avoids clashing fragrances, as well as taking up less space in the cleaning cupboard.

Above all, it really works though because it's very concentrated - it is apparently 2.5 times more powerful than regular dilute Flash lemon. I absolutely love the zingy lemon fragrance but I may be tempted to try the other fragrances too because they sound nice as well : Cotton, Blossom & Breeze, New Zealand Springs. I'm particularly intrigued by the last one.

star rating : 4.5/5

Disclosure : I received a kit from Savvy Circle with products, samples and money-off vouchers to share in order to spread the word about the product and give and collect honest fedback.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Hairydust Organic Dry Shampoo for Children review

Hairydust is a natural and organic dry shampoo for children, dreamed up by mum Emma Neame, and I couldn't help but laugh at the description of its creation : "A part-time design student and a busy mum of twins, Emma had her lightbulb moment when things got messy at the breakfast table one morning. Two-year-old Max and Nancy's jam on toast ended up on their heads, with no time to spare for hair washing before nursery." That sounds just like the sort of things I experienced when the Madhouse kids were little !

The product, made with all natural ingredients and no potentially harmful chemicals, promises to remove dirt, sweat, food and grease from your children's hair. I was intrigued to see what it was made from and scrutinised the small print on the bottle, as it doesn't say on the website. I was impressed by the lack of hidden nasties in the ingredients list : Tapioca Starch, Sodium Bicarbonate, Cucumber Extract, Zea Mays Flour, Roman Chamomile Flower Oil and Limonene.

It shakes out slowly so you don't get engulfed in a huge cloud of powder and looks like talc. It smells gorgeous - sweet and fruity, slightly zingy, a bit floral - indefinable but definitely lovely and it appeals to both Pierre and Juliette so it's a unisex fragrance.

Pierre was the first to test it - he tipped some in his hand then worked it through his hair. I couldn't see much difference but it definitely smelt much nicer and fresher. I remember how the kids used to wake up from naptime with very sweaty heads when they were small and this would have been perfect for freshening them up. It's also ideal for sorting out bedhead hair before the school run or for tiding you over on camping trips or holidays when the kids' hairwashing becomes more complicated. If your child is going through a phase of not wanting to get their hair wet, it could be a lifesaver (or at least a santiy-saver !) too.

The product retails at £14.50 for a 20g bottle (which contains about 50 applications). If you're very quick, it's currently on offer for £10 until 1st August.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £14.50 for 20g (£10 until 1/8/15)

for more information :

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse diaries : More wet, wet, wet than hot, hot, hot !

I know I was being smug about the damp weather sorting out my hayfever earlier in the week but we sang a very heartfelt rendition of "rain rain go away, come again another day" as we wandered towards the beach yesterday.

We took some slightly ironic snaps of the gloomy, drizzly scene reflected in some mirror sunglasses in a shop window as we sheletered from a shower ! 

Luckily it didn't last long so we carried on our journey, stopping to look at the big WW2 gun outside the war museum that always fascinates Pierre.

What better way to play at being soldiers ?!

There were supposed to be two main attractions on the seafront today - a huge bungee jump elastic trampoline thing (a bigger version of this one) and a jump bag - a huge inflatable sack that you free fall on to (have a look at Sophie and her death-defying leap last year !) - but sadly they were both cancelled due to the wind and rain. Luckily Pierre still got to have fun in the paddleboats.

Look at that smile - it made up for the dismal weather !

After a quick play in the play area and on the (rather damp) sand, we moved over to an undercover area where there were some old-fashioned games laid out. Everyone had a go at the wire buzzer game.

 And Sophie practised trying to catch a wooden ball on a stick (and nearly brained herself and me in the process !).

Pierre and Juliette patiently waited to have a go on the airless air hockey (as we called it !).

Pierre took it all very seriously ...

... and was over the moon whenever he scored a point !

Well, it may have been a bit tamer and wetter than what we had planned but we still had fun !

Picture book review : Alfie Outdoors - Shirley Hughes

We first discovered Alfie all the way back in 2011 when we reviewed All About Alfie, so the Madhouse kids were delighted to discover his latest book, Alfie Outdoors.

The title makes it sound like a summer-themed book but it actually looks at the whole year, and the 'Alfie's Year in the Garden' spread at the back of book gave us lots of interesting discussion time, looking at things that Pierre has already experienced and things that he is looking forward to later in the year. It's been years since we've managed to build a proper snowman so that was high up on his wish list, but luckily he's also looking forward to jumping in leaf piles and enjoys feeding the birds too - phew !

Pierre had his first experience of proper gardening (ie not just helping mum and dad !) at school this year and excitedly told me about how their radishes and lettuce plants were doing on a weekly basis, peering through the railings every day as we walked past the secondary school so that he could spy on the little allotment that had been given over to the infant school !

He therefore loved hearing all about Alfie growing carrots with his dad in his own little vegetable patch, patiently (or impatiently !) waiting for them to grow so that he could excitedly pull them up. 

Gardening isn't the only fun you can have outdoors though and the story explores other favourite childhood pastimes such as digging, getting muddy, building dens or just finding a quiet place in the garden to be alone. As usual, the texts are almost poetic and the charming illustrations are absolutely teeming with details to point out and talk about.

The texts are fairly long (for a picture book) but the illustrations kept Pierre glued to the page, fascinated to hear about and spot everything going on. There's even a missing goat to keep things exciting !

The Alfie books are still as charming and entertaining as we remembered them, and they have a timeless quality that remind me of my own childhood bedtime books. 

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £11.99

  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (30 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782300317
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782300311
  • Product Dimensions: 25.8 x 0.9 x 25.8 cm

Disclosure : We received the book for free in order to write an honest review.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

YA Chicklit review : I Knew You Were Trouble - Paige Toon

As well as being the queen of chick lit, Paige Toon has added another string to her bow by branching out into young adult fiction. (As it's basically chick lit with a younger audience in mind, I wonder if it should be called egg lit !)

Fans of the author will already be familiar with A-list global rock star Johnny Jefferson, who featured in Johnny Be Good, and his wife Meg, whose story was told in Baby Be Mine (click through to read my review). As well as the two novels, there was an ebook short Johnny's Girl in which the pair are left reeling when Johnny discovers he has a teenaged daughter he knew nothing about.

This teenaged daughter, Jessie, got to tell her side of the story in Paige Toon's first YA novel, The Accidental Life of Jessie Jefferson. I Knew You Were Trouble is the second in this YA spin off series but, although it's lovely to drop back in on the characters from previous novels and see how their lives have progressed, the book also works fine as a stand-alone novel.

Jessie is still trying to come to terms with the accidental death of her mother a year before and tells enough of her story to fill in the background for anyone who hasn't yet come across Jessie, Johnny or Meg. After spending time in LA getting to know her new family, Jessie has returned home to her maths teacher stepdad, her school friends and a burgeoning romance with school hottie Tom. It may be worlds apart from the glitzy lifestyle she got used to in America but she is happy enough ... until the tabloids get hold of the story of Johnny's secret daughter and Jessie has to excape the media frenzy by running back to LA.

Jessie is a believable character, struggling to come to terms with everything life has thrown at her recently - losing her mum, discovering a whole new identity, calling a famous rockstar dad, falling in love for the first time, ... She has the odd teenage strop and shows a slightly rebellious streak that all teens go through, even without an A-lister parent ! The novel reminded me of a soap opera - somewhere between Grange Hill and Neighbours with a bit of Awkward thrown in for good measure. Jessie's friendships, nights out and boyfriend trouble will strike a chord with all teenaged girls and the odd reference to One Direction and the Hollywood lifestyle will only make it more appealing to this age group.

Reading it for myself, I loved it. Reading it with my almost-14 year old daughter in mind, I did have a few more reservations though. Jess is almost 16 so pretty close in age to my eldest daughter and I felt slightly uncomfortable about the number of times she drinks alcohol and the "sex" scenes (it only gets as far as a furtive fumble but there is talk of heavy petting and losing your virginity too, although I appreciated the safe sex message that was innocently thrown in there). I'm not a prude and I have no qualms about Sophie watching soap operas that deal with these sorts of storylines, but reading a book always makes me empathise more with the characters so I don't want to give her ideas ! I know kids grow up fast though so I'm sure that in a year or two, I won't even think twice about it.

If you're a Paige Toon fan, I recently read and reviewed another of her books - The Sun In Her Eyes - so click through to see what I thought of that.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books (30 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471118800
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471118807
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 2.5 x 13.2 cm

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

The CBeebies Furchester Hotel magazine has launched today (review)

The BBC's newest CBeebies magazine has just hit the shelves today and Pierre was delighted to get the first issue to check out. It features popular show The Furchester Hotel but even if you and your little ones haven't seen the programme before, you and they are bound to recognise some of the familiar faces including Elmo and the Cookie Monster.

If you're already rolling your eyes thinking that your little one will be hanging off your leg every time you push the trolley past the magazine aisle in the supermarket, rest assured - there's a new issue out every four weeks, so your wallet will get a rest in between ! It costs £2.75 and is actually quite good value, when you look at the content.

Each issue contains lots of puzzles and colouring pages, as well as two stories and the ever-popular sticker activities (with 60 stickers in this issue). It also has a 6-page activity book and this month's magazine (and, I would guess, every issue) comes with a fun free gift - this time it's a Make Your Own Portraits kit which looks great fun and much better than the plastic tat that many magazines come with ! (You also get a kids-go-free voucher for Sea Life centres too, which could be a great money saver if you had a trip on the cards already.)

What I always love about CBeebies magazines is that they support the Early Years Curriculum so, while your pre-schooler is having fun completing the pages, they are actually practising their simple maths, writing, observation and problem-solving skills without even realising it. Genius !

It's full of bright colours, cute characters and simple tasks that Pierre proudly managed to complete with very little input from me - writing over letters, completing mazes and finding the right pages for the stickers because they are clearly marked on the sticker sheet all made him feel very independent and clever ! The story time pages and more complex instructions (finding out what you need to draw in the white box, for example) do offer some lovely quality parent-child time though too.

If you like the look of the new Furchester Hotel magazine, make sure you head over to the UKMums.TV website which has gone Furchester crazy this week. They have a competition with ten annual subscriptions for the magazine up for grabs, as well as more Furchester themed activities and features over the next two weeks.

Disclosure : I received a copy of the new magazine in order to write an honest review, as well as a subscription as a thank you.

Globecooking recipe : Ayam Areh (Indonesia)

We (well, me and Madhouse Daddy - the kids opted for chicken and sweetcorn with crème fraîche !)  had Ayam Areh for lunch today - another recipe from this month's Indonesian-themed Kitchen Trotter box. (Click through to see the ingredients and recipes.) 

It required four ingredients from the Kitchen Trotter box : lemongrass powder, combava leaves, the dreaded shrimp paste (which still stinks !) and some candlenuts, which are much bigger than I expected. I'm not sure what they taste of though because they were blended with other strong flavours - they don't smell of anything.

Ayam Areh

ingredients :

3 onions
3 cloves of garlic
1/2tbsp shrimp paste (terasi)
5 candlenuts
4 chicken breasts
2tbsp oil
1tbsp lemongrass powder
4 combava leaves
2 bay leaves
2tbsp sugar
200ml coconut milk
1 chicken stock cube

Put the onions, garlic, shrimp paste and candlenuts in a blender.

Blitz to a smoothish, fairly runny paste.

 Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the chicken for 5 minutes.

Crumble the stock cube into 100ml water and stir to dissolve. Add the stock, coconut milk and mixture from the blender to the chicken. Toss in the crumpled combava and bay leaves, the lemongrass powder, the salt and pepper, the sugar and the lemongrass powder.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the sauce thickens. Discard the leaves and serve with rice.

It's not bad but the smell of the shrimp paste is actually quite offputting, especially during the cooking process - the taste doesn't come through much luckily ! I'm not sure we'll get through the rest of the jar so I think it might end up in the bin ! Does anybody actually like the smell of this stuff ?!

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! *** 

If you fancy trying more Indonesian cuisine, how about Mie Goreng or Gado Gado ?

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