Tiny Love Deluxe Gymini – Tiny Princess Tales Review – 4 Stars @TinyLoveUSA


The word deluxe and baby mat don’t really have to go together as my baby will just as happily lie on an old towel as any fancy flooring. However, something a little prettier does make the house look nicer and if it has added elements it will help entertain your baby as they develop. The ‘Tiny Love Deluxe Gymini’ is a standard play mat, but with a few extra touches that shows the quality. Like many of these mats you have to construct the arches by clicking them into the corners and then attaching them together in the middle. One of the elements you are paying a little bit of a premium here for is the central housing; this acts as a way of keeping the two struts together and not pinging around the place. It is a very appreciated and simple fix.

Elsewhere the mat is quality; the toys themselves are plush and full of interactive elements. Best is the musical/noise making bird. Designed to slide into the central housing it is easy to secure and stays in place. I was very impressed at the sheer range of noises and songs on offer; I lost count. In the past I became used to the same three or four songs on repeat, but here they are numerous enough that it has not been an issue. A nice touch is that the music will play should the central bird noise maker be hit; another great interactive layer.

There is quality throughout the ‘Tiny Love Deluxe Gymini’. Some will question the aesthetics slightly as the large eyed animals are a little twee, but at least they are bold and clear for a baby to focus on. The white base was also an interesting option as it stains more obviously. I also think that the slick material chosen is waterproof yes, but a little cold at first and will need warming slightly for more sensitive children. Aside from a couple of mishaps, this is a high quality play mat that if you like the look of would be a good purchase for a 1-6 month old. The plentiful songs and quality alone make it a better purchase than many on the market. These elements can be removed from the mat at a later date and played with for years.

4 Stars

Pirates in Classroom 3 by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse Book Review – 3 Stars

Classroom 3

Not all of us were the child that paid attention in class.  Some would look out of the window and let their minds wander.  Why be stuck in a stuffy room when you could be in space or on the high seas?  Sometimes you do not need to seek adventure as it may just find you.  It makes perfect sense to me that if the teacher leaves the classroom there is ample time for a pirate to enter and ask all the children to help him find some lost treasure.  Who could possibly give up this opportunity?

In Ms Bitsy, the children of Classroom 3 have a strict, but upstanding teacher.  However, once she leaves the room it is open season.  Rather than cause havoc themselves, they instead meet a pirate named Captain Calamity who has a map to some buried treasure hidden somewhere in the classroom.  Can the children, with the aid of the Captain, find the loot before the mischievous Pirate Bloodloss gets it first?

There is a definite charm to ‘‘Pirates in Classroom 3’’ by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse and it is down to the book’s sweet nature.  This is a world in which a pirate can enter a classroom and rather than scream their heads off, the kids decide to help find the treasure.  What entails is an adventure that blurs the reality of the classroom with some imagination.  Do you really know what is under your classroom floor?  For some people it may be another classroom, but for others it could be a hidden beach.

Donald provides several flights of fancy, but is all a little haphazard; a lot of different things happening to a bunch of kids in a short space of time.  There is a lack of defined structure to the book and the characters feel like they are going nowhere; physically or narratively.  You get the sense that it is just meant to be a bit of fun with some pirates.  This is a reasonable thing for a child to enjoy, but it does not have the story to keep all kids coming back over and over again.  What is nice are the little hidden asides, like the relationship between Ms Bitsy and Captain Calamity.  Their blossoming romance will be lost on kids, but does give adults something to smile about.

Whitehouse’s illustrations do a good job of bringing colour and fun to proceedings.  Each double spread is packed with bright images that catch the eye.  It is just a shame that the story seems to randomly trundle along and Whitehouse cannot do much about that.  ‘‘Pirates’’ is a fun book and children that love salty adventures will enjoy it.  However, for those none-to-fussed about Pieces of Eight etc. the slightly directionless story will mean that it loses its appeal more swiftly than with some titles.

3 Stars

Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos Book Review – 4.5 Stars @pigknit @barbrabakos


One of the best things about modern online shopping is the knock on the door and the parcel arriving.  What was it I ordered again?  It could be something as exciting as a new toy, or something as boring as a new mixer for your shower.  The anticipation of opening the box is as close to the feeling of Christmas that an adult is going to get (except perhaps for Christmas).  Rooster has ordered something online and it arrived quickly.  Will his farmyard pals appreciate his buy as much as he does?

Most animals walk around in the nude, but not Rooster.  He has ordered a pair of skinny jeans off the internet and he is ready to wow the other creatures.  With some fine stitching and wonderful blue denim, everyone is going to love them, or will they?  It turns out that the other animals don’t think he looks good, in fact they think he looks a bit daft.  Can Rooster find it within himself to not care what others’ think?

The lesson of teaching kids to be themselves and not bow down to peer pressure is a great one, but a little heavy.  Never has it been done in quite the way that Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos’ ‘‘Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans’’ has.  The book is colourful, hilarious and in places a little outrageous.  It makes no sense that a Rooster would want to buy a pair of tight fitting clothing, but it works as the entire exercise is done with joy.

Miller’s writing is perfect; a light tone, but still getting the message across.  The story is told in rhyming couplets and scans brilliantly.  There are plenty of funny sentences, as many for the adults to enjoy as the kids.  The sense of knowing means that this book works for the parent whist the children can enjoy the animals and story.  We all like to buy things online and reading about a fashion conscious cockerel is amusing.

Bakos also plays an important part as the illustrations are great.  The colours are vibrant and you get the sense of a lovely farm somewhere out on the plains.  There is also lots of things to spot all over the page.  A particularly fun game we played was to count how many chicks were on each page.

The idea behind ‘‘Rooster’’ is so odd that is works, but only because Miller and Bakos both set the right tone.  Any darkness would have made you feel too sorry for Rooster and you want to end the book punching the air and saying good for him.  This is exactly what you get in a story that should not really work, but does magnificently.

4.5 Stars

A Treasury of Songs by Julia Donaldson Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Song Treasury

Some people have all the skills, not only is Julia Donaldson one of the most successful children’s authors, she can also carry a tune.  For the past few years she has adapted many of her most popular stories into songs and plays them during open readings, or releases them as part of a song book.  For the first time ‘‘A Treasury of Songs’’ brings together several of her books in one omnibus and it also has a CD too of Donaldson singing the songs.

Anyone who has had a child or grandchild in the past ten years or so will be well aware that The Gruffalo has turned out toes.  He also has a wart on the end of his nose.  They may also know about Superworm, Stickman or Room on the Broom.  All of these stories are Donaldson classics and were written in a rhyming style.  With a little massaging Donaldson has created songs based on these books and has added them to loads of new action songs written by herself.

Trying to create new nursery rhymes in this day and age is very difficult as the likes of Humpty and Baa Baa are not going anywhere soon.  However, the fact that Donaldson has so many strong stories to work with means that she is starting with an advantage.  The book is split between songs that are based on her books and those based on new ideas.  Surprisingly, both areas are as strong as one another.  The Gruffalo song etc. has instant appeal, but the action rhymes also make a nice alternative to the same old Grand Duke.

On paper some of the rhymes are not that easy to pick up straight away, thankfully the books comes with accompanying CD.  Here the author sings her own songs and the production value is of a decent level.  Donaldson does not have a voice that will feature on Top of the Pops anytime soon, but it has a soft lilt to it that is perfect for children’s songs. It took me a little while to get over the slightly cringey feeling of listening to someone sing children’s stories, but kids love it.

An important part of many of Donaldson’s most familiar works is the illustrations of Axel Scheffler.  It has to be said that in this Treasury his impact is lessoned.  The illustrations are dotted around the page and are often taken from the original books, although there are plenty of new dancing children and animals to enjoy.  It is just that this is a song book first and not a traditional children’s book.  Fans of the duo will love being able to immerse themselves even deeper into the stories, but any adults will have to prepare themselves to listen to over 20 new songs over and over again as the CD is required to learn the songs.

3.5 Stars

Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre Book Review – 4 Stars @cbrookmyre

Places in Darkness

Living in 2018 has me longing to live in some sort of futuristic Utopia, in a world of free thinking and no major crime.  Perhaps in a Space Station high above the Earth were the greatest minds have traveled so that they can build a vessel that will send the next generations of humans to populate new planets.  You know that as soon as you arrive it will be the same old problems.  You can’t really have a Utopia with people in it, can you?

The Space Station, Ciudad de Cielo, has too sides to it; the one that people on Earth think and the reality.  Alice Blake has been sent up from Earth to investigate corruption on the Station, but whilst she thinks she may see a few backhanders, she was not expecting the likes of Nikki Freeman.  Freeman is a corrupt individual who breaks the law during one cycle, then upholds it the next.  Scratch the surface of this city in the sky and you reveal a rotten core.  A city that claims that they have never had a murder, but why are there so many bits of person floating around in Zero G?

Using a crime story to give your science fiction world some sort of structure is no new thing.  Science fiction writers seem to believe that writing crime is easy; that may be true, but writing good crime fiction is not.  Someone who should be able to do both is Chris Brookmyre, best known as a crime writer, but has dabbled in other genres.  ‘‘Place in the Darkness’’ is his most obvious science fiction book to date as it is filled with high concepts such as Space Stations, mind meshes, AI and androids, but it is also an odd couple crime thriller about a by-the-book rookie and a corrupt veteran.

‘‘Place’’ takes a little while to warm up as Brookmyre decides to preload the story with all the sci fi ideas.  The first 85 pages are mostly exposition that will hold you in good stead for later.  After this the narrative switches to a crime thriller and it bombs along nicely.  The fact that Brookmyre felt the need to spend so much time explaining the Space Station and the science that goes on there was not great, the best sci fi integrates this stuff into the story itself.  Indeed, after page 85 Brookmyre does this himself, gifting the reader glimpses into the underbelly of life on the station, without having to dwell.

What makes the book fun is the action.  There is a lot going on in ‘‘Place’’ once it gets going.  Alice soon realises that the picture postcard portrayal of the city is a lie.  Not only do we see it is a lie, but it is pretty debauched.  Brookmyre paints a very good unsavoury picture of the city as poor people are forced to work more than one job to be able to afford to leave one day.  There are several good ideas about the society, such as the closed nature of it as the companies pay the workers and then force them to spend all their money on company goods.

It is a little hard to understand what ‘‘Place’’ is; cyberpunk, crime, space thriller.  It is all of these at once.  The grungy world that Brookmyre creates feels like something of tomorrow, but you can also see the cities of today in it.  If the first act of the book had been integrated better into the narrative, this would have been a must read science fiction book for those who like their tales a little pulpy.  As it stands, some people may not get past the intense start.

4 Stars

Maxi-COSI Tobifix Group 1 Car Seat Review – 4.5 Stars @MaxiCosiUK

Maxi cosi tobifix

Speak of car seats and the name Maxi-COSI will spring up quickly; they are one of the premium brands you can get. So prevalent are they often catered for with generic pushchairs so that you can fit your Maxi into them. This is not going to happen with the ‘Tobifix’ as it is not only too large to be pushed around as a pram, it is also perma-fixed to the Isofix element on the bottom. This may prove an issue for some as you will need to buy an additional seat to cover 0 and 2 stages, the ‘Tobifix’ is Stage 1 only.

Bearing in mind that you should know about this already, it being Stage 1 only is not a huge issue as it is a stage that can last for a couple of years so buying a quality seat to house your child from 9 months to 4ish is not a bad idea. And you so get a quality seat – it is fantastic. Compared to the generic seat I used to have it is far more comfortable and easy to fit. The Isofix elements slot in with ease and you get a green/red element that tells you whether it is positioned correctly. Once you click it is the first time, it takes seconds to do again and feels very secure.

The seat itself is made of a robust and good looking material. The headrest can be easily pulled up when your child gets older and it takes the seatbelt with it – no more having to thread the belt every few months are your child grows. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into making the Maxi a quality piece of engineering so that you feel like you are getting your money’s worth. With no seat belt option it does work in older cars, but this has not proved an issue for us as we move it from modern Isofix to modern Isofix with ease. If you have the money and want your child to sit in a comfortable Stage 1 seat the ‘Tobifix’ is a fantastic option. As wellbeing comfy it is also easy to fit and clean – important things when you have a toddler sitting in it.

4.5 Stars

Splash About Kids Floatsuit Review – 4 Stars @SplashAboutUK


Some children love the water, be it the bath, a swimming pool, or even just a puddle. When you take a toddler to the swimming baths, you want them to have fun, but also be safe. My child is confident in the water, but not a great swimmer, she just loves it in there. With constant supervision she is fine with armbands, but they are awkward and she gets a mouthful of water a few times each trip. The ‘Splash Floatsuit’ won’t allow them to swim without your help, but it is a great way for them to get their balance in water and slowly build them up as a better swimmer.

Unlike armbands, the buoyancy here is around the chest and back in the form of pockets that contain a floating foam type material. Initially it can take your child a little while to get used to the shift in weight to the chest and back, but once they get the hang of it it leads to a more natural swimming position and encourages them to lift their heads above the water. Once they get the hang of the suit and can start to paddle well you can take out some of the floats so that they are slowly learning to swim on their own.

From the look of the suit it can seem like it is a life jacket type things that will allow your child to float around, this is not the case. With the flotation devices all around the chest and back a child just leaving themselves to the fates will struggle. This suit is to aid swimming development, with good positioning your child will take the slack of swimming themselves and not rely so much on the suit. Just be aware when putting a child in the ‘Splash’ for the first time that you help them get the hang of it.

4 Stars

Betty Crocker Microwave Cake Maker Review – 3 Stars

Cake Maker

I like cake as much as the next man, as long as that adjacent man is one lover of all things cake. However, like my waistline in recent years my tastes have been expanding and in a bid to be a little more healthy I am no longer eating what I call ’empty calories’. These are the random bits and bobs that you pick up as you walk around and eat without knowing e.g. crisps, biscuits etc. In fact, I now only try to eat cake if it is home baked and it would be rude to say no.

The ‘Betty Crocker Cake Maker’ lets you make homemade cakes, but not really. This set is designed to work alongside the Crocker cake mixes you can get. Add the mix and some other ingredients then nuke it in the microwave. The result is impressive enough in that it is fast and you get a cake like thing to eat in a few minutes, but it’s not really cake as you know it. Perhaps it is the brand of mix, but it was a little tasteless and lifeless; almost taking the joy out of cake eating. No, as a cake maker, this pack is only as good as the mix.

However, as a large and easy to clean microwaveable bowl, this is great. After the great cake experiment I have instead just used the bowl to heat food and it is a good size and keeps the food nice and warm. I imagine that there are easier and cheaper ways to get a good quality microwavable bowl, but if you are planning to get one and also want to make cakes, then this is certainly an option.

3 Stars

Marvel Classic Legends Series – Wolverine Review – 5 Stars @hasbrouk


Toys are meant to be played with, but is a model a toy? The ‘Marvel Classic Legends Series – Wolverine’ is a model of everyone’s favourite Canadian sociopath and is in the style of his vintage X-Men outfit. As soon as you get the action figure you realise that this is no ordinary beast, for one thing the size is impressive. At 12 inches it dwarfs the GI Joe style figures of my youth and it would crush any WWE wrestling doll you put in front of it. In the pack you can change Logan up by removing sections and using the spare parts. Do you want his face or the mask; claws in or out? The figure itself is also fun to play with as the joints are movable. You can pose him in attack or defence, or just play around as you would any toy, but should you even get it out of the box?

This figure has a quality look and feel to it that suggests it is designed for the collectors market, rather than the toy market. It comes at a premium price, but for that you do get a large figure and plenty of pieces to play with. The detailing is high, with muscles and veins popping aplenty. The box itself is ok, but Wolverine would work best out of the packet and used as a model. Personally, I think that toys are for playing with and you would be unlucky to discover that it was this model that was worth thousands boxed in the future. Better to live in the now and mess around with it, lose pieces and have some joy in your life.

The excellent thing about this model is that you can do either. It is a great looking statement piece for a collector; either boxed or out of the box on a desk. It is also a fantastic toy to play with. The subject matter may be a little vicious for the 4+ market, but a slightly older child will love acting out superhero adventures, especially if they get more of the collection. This ‘Legends Series’ is the type of toy range you dreamed of as a kid; exciting, well made and fun to play with.

5 Stars

Prestige Kitchen Hacks Nesting Frypans Review – 4.5 Stars @YourPrestige

Fry Pans

There are not that many things that I treat myself in life with, but somethings are just too important to buy on the cheap. Shoes are vital that you buy quality as you will be walking on them for miles; cheap shoes will just fall to pieces. My experience has been the same with frying pans; buy cheap and you regret it soon after; the non-stick starts to deteriorate quickly and the build quality is just not there. Take it from me, spend a little more on a frying pan and live a far happier life.

A good option is the nesting set from Prestige Kitchen. These 20 cm and 24 cm pans actually click together with their handles, so don’t take up as much space as they might. Only being 24 cm max, they are never going to take up too much room and I would say that the 24 cm is just about big enough to cook up a family meal, but an extended family would probably need a bigger pan. What these pans lack in width, they make up for in depth. Not quite wok deep, these frying pans are certainly deeper than I am used to and this means that the food does not spill over the edge as often.

In terms of build quality, the pans are great. There is a nice weight to proceedings and the handles are sturdy, connecting to the pan itself well. The non-stick is also of the highest standard, requiring little to no oil and cleaning impeccably. That is except for one bit. Where the handle meets the pan are two metal studs; these create a sturdy connection, but also an oasis of non-stick. The only real failing of these pans is that all the crust and goo is attracted to these two studs and they can be a pain to clean and not as hygienic as the rest of the pan. A small annoyance perhaps, but one that does not have the same prestige level as the rest of the pans.