Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Talon: The Windwalker Archive Book Review

Talon: The Windwalker Archive Book 1 by Michael James Ploof is set two hundred years before the events of Whill of Agora. Both of these series are epic fantasies, set in a world rich with magic, lore, and unique cultures. While I haven't read the Whill of Agora books, is isn't necessary, because both book series can be read as stand-alone series. But in Talon, you'll meet new characters, see where some characters came from (like Chief, the wolf pup), and see how the story all began.

Ploof's books are inspired by the works of Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. A.Salvator and Tolkien. So you'll find similar themes and types of characters in his stories. This fantasy realm contains many races of creatures, from humans to dwarves, elves to giants, even dragons. The land is rich with interesting conflicts, drama and relationships. And there's enough world building to paint a lovely picture of the scenery.

I happen to really like coming-of-age type stories, and this one is about a boy named Talon who was born premature. In his village, children undergo a sort of initiation to become men and he fails in his trial. It's kind of like the Spartan lifestyle, where children who aren't strong enough to survive the initiation is cast out or killed. Except in this barbarian tribe, instead of simply being abandoned, you are sent to live on a slave island. Talon is banished to the slave village where other discarded children live and that's where he meets some unlikely friends.


I love underdog stories and this book definitely kept me interested. It was a page-turner and the type of fantasy story that I love. I play a lot of fantasy-themed RPG's and board games, so it's definitely a setting that I love. Some of my favorite characters are barbarians. And this story kind of reminds me of some of the characters in the movie 300, based on the story of Leonidas of Sparta. 

I'm really excited to continue reading this series and I look forward to picking up Whill of Agora. These are the types of books many of my friends enjoy as well, so I'll be sharing them with them as well! 


Disclosure: I received Talon: The Windwalker Archive from Legends of Agora on Tomoson.com. I was provided the eBook for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Adventures of Pajama Girl Book Review and Giveaway

Disclosure: I was provided this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Adventures of Pajama Girl: The Coronation of the Cupcake Queen by Sandra Hagee Parker is a Christian story is about two sisters who have delightful dreams inspired by their pajamas. Ellie, AKA Pajama Girl, has an awesome bedtime routine of choosing out pajamas that will inspire her dreams that night. In this story, she chose cupcake printed pajamas and dreamed about the Cupcake Kingdom where she met the Cupcake Queen. Ellie's younger sister, Princess Sis, was there for the adventures as well.

The Adventures of Pajama Girl is best suited for children 4-8 years old. My youngest is 3, and my cousin who we babysit is 1, both enjoyed this story as well. I honestly believe children of any age will enjoy this story. 

The illustrations in this story are cute and hand-drawn. The imagination of children is limitless and this story reflects on that. All children will be able to relate to Ellie and her sister. It may even inspire children to wear their own magical pajamas to create wonderful dreams for themselves. So join the Pajama Girls and go on an adventure to help the Cupcake Queen find the sprinkles for her coronation ceremony! 

Like many books for children, there is a moral to the story. This story deals with the effects of stealing and how it can effects others feelings. The children are able to work together to fix the situation to make it right for everyone!

If you decide to pre-order the book, be sure to sign up for free updates and coloring pages!

Be sure to enter our giveaway for a chance to win a copy of The Adventures of Pajama Girl!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Round Felt Play Mat

This Round Felt Play Mat was a custom order for an Etsy customer. I'm just sharing the how-to in case someone else wants to make one! I found the pattern at The Scientific Seamstress. It's just a template for a circle, the rest I created myself. You can customize the size by a half-inch with this pattern and I know I will use it for many more future projects. I trimmed it to the size I needed, which was 21 1/2 inches.

For regular fabric, you can just fold it into quarters and trim. But since felt is much thicker, you just can't do that.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

So I ended up printing out 4 copies of the pattern and taped it up. Then I pinned it to the piece of felt and cut along the edge. I just picked up a new pair of Fiskars fabric scissors, and boy does it make a huge difference! The cut is so much neater and there's less fray. However, the downside is that I have small hands, and those scissors feel huge! 

I'm more of an on-the-go doer, and didn't plan the entire design upfront. So when I created the roads for the play mat, they were originally for a full 2' square before I cut it down to the 21" circle. So the roads that were curving... only look like they are starting to turn near the edge of the circle. I ended up trimming one, but kept the other. For future projects, I'll be keeping to straight lines and actual corners. It looks better that way. 

It was pretty easy to make the road. I just tapped a few pieces of paper together and used a ruler to draw the lines. I made sure the roads were wide enough for two cars to drive down. I just used a bowl to trace the corner. 

For the flowers, I created wet-felted balls in various colors and sizes. It was my first attempt at wet felting and I'm pleased with the way they came out!

She mentioned that she liked the "grass" trim she saw on some of my other felt play mats. She said the play mat would be used by 3 year olds, so with that in mind I glued the yarn to the felt with fabric glue. The bond is flexible, permanent and washable, so that means that the individual treads can't be pulled out.

I set up the felt balls on little green cut outs that were supposed to be leaves. I simply cut out 1" squares and then trimmed them down to four leaves.

I stitched the felt balls onto the leaves using embroidery thread.

I created a dirt mound using cobblestone embossed felt. It's perfect for "construction site" areas on felt play mats. I used a matching shade of brown felt for the dirt road. I filled the mound with poly-pellets. It created an interesting sensory spot for the play mat. Cars and trucks can easily drive over the mound and move the pellets around, giving a neat sensation for driving through something.

Then I added two driveways and flower beds. The driveways are the perfect size for matchbox cars. The area around the driveways was a bit small, but we were able to create two "houses" using blocks next to the driveways. So it worked out. The alternative would have been to put the lake where the driveways were, but she had asked for the lake to be in the middle. There's enough room next to the lake for more block houses.

So for the flowers, I stitched them through the felt, but I didn't think tying them off would have been a strong enough hold. I glued the underside of the flowers to the felt, and then I cut the threads to about an inch on the back. I folded them into a circle directly under the flowers and glued them in place. Always be sure to let the glue set for at least 12 hours (24 preferably) before moving anything around.

So for the mound, I had originally sewn a pouch for the poly-pellets. However, right before I sewed the back to the mat, I unstitched the mound and pulled the pouch out. Why? Because the pouch was restricting the pellets from fully moving around. I probably could have made a larger pouch, but the stitching was close enough that I don't think any pellets will pop out. I much prefer the change.

The hardest part was being patient for all the glue to dry. Gluing the grass to the underside of the streets was a bit time consuming, but sewing through it was harder. It wasn't too bad though, so I'll probably do it again.

I really like the way it came out!

The mound isn't too tall, mainly because if it had been filled any more, the play mat wouldn't have laid flat. However, it's plenty big enough for some construction trucks to drive around on it.

I did trim the grass a 1/2". It was looking a little wild before. There is a sandy brown area around the lake, and grass around the lake. There's a small cleared patch, too, for swimmers.

And it wasn't part of the play mat purchase, but I added a couple of sewn felt rocks (6 colors, 3 shades of grey and 3 shades of brown) and needle felted logs. There's even a hollow log for animals to hide in! I always add a little something extra to my Etsy orders. I think it's a nice surprise and hopefully no one minds. :) This play mat was meant for a preschool classroom, so I think the rocks and logs will add to the fun of playing with it!

Feel free to visit our Etsy store if you ever want us to create a custom order for you!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thick as Thieves Book Review

Circle C Milestones from Kregel Publications is part of Susan K. Marlow's series of wholesome books for kids. These are Christian-based stories that revolve around horses and adventures from the perspective of Andrea "Andi" Carter. Andi grows up in San Joaquin Valley, California in the 1870-1880's. Her family owns a ranch and her best friend is her trusty horse, Taffy, who she raised from a foal.

Andi's many adventures teach lessons about family, faith and friends. In Susan K. Marlow's newest book, Thick as Thieves, the theme is friendship. Andi is a character that many girls can relate to. Her emotions easily read through and you feel like you are experiencing the story with her. In Thick as Thieves, Andi struggles with finding time for her horses and balancing school. Readers have to keep in mind that school was very different during the 1800's, especially for farming and ranching families. Andi meets an unlikely friend at school, Macy, who is quite unlike the other students. They forge a friendship that teaches readers to be compassionate to less fortunate people. Macy is able to help Andi on her adventures and they are able to rescue Andi's horses from cattle rustlers.

The Circle C books are well written for children and you are always left wanting to find out what Andi's next adventure is. We used to read these books at bedtime for Bean, during our Wild West themed unit study. They are wonderful for incorporating into a themed unit study on the Old West.

Thick as Thieves has a downloadable Study Guide available that is perfect for homeschoolers or students who want to use this book with a study guide. The study guide is 40 pages long and definitely worth checking out. It has so many educational activities, which are grouped by chapters, and include vocabulary lessons, comprehension questions, and other literacy activities. There is also an answer key for teachers at the end of the study guide. Each of the Circle C books has an available study guide. Some have lapbooks, activity pages, and/or coloring pages available.

Circle C Beginnings is perfect for children ages 6-9, Circle C Adventures are for children 9-14 and the new series, Circle C Milestones are for children 12+. If you start reading the books when your children are young, they really will feel like they are growing up alongside Andi Carter. However, you don't need to read any of the previous books if you are beginning with the Circle C Milestones series. If you are wondering about Andi's past experiences, you can check out her blog or read about her history on the website. (There's also Goldtown Adventures for 9-12 year old boys.)

We own the entire Circle C Adventures series and really like it. I happen to enjoy historical fiction to begin with, so it was a good fit for us. As far as historical fictions go, it's easy to get sucked into the book and jump back in time to experience life in the Old West. Bean even pointed out that they use kerosene lamps because they don't have electricity, which is something we are familiar with, because our family owns a cottage on an island with no electricity and we use kerosene lamps at night. It was really awesome that she remembered that, especially since we haven't been to the lake since last summer! Whenever we come across a part of the story that doesn't seem "modern," Bean points it out and we discuss the differences and similarities between then and now, like the lack of cars and the trains being steam engines. My great grandfather actually used to run a huge ranch with a couple thousand acres and used to go on cattle drives, so we're able to tell her the stories we know.

Some people ask me why I teach my children about history, since my children are so young. Children under 8 usually can't grasp the concept of history. Like, for instance, they may not understand why life was so different 200 years ago. So we don't focus on dates whatsoever. We simply focus on names, locations and events. Certainly, I mention dates here and there, but they are just numbers on a calendar. So when we introduced Bean to the Circle C books and mentioned that they took place during the 1800's, she didn't bat an eye. She simply asked whether they took place during the Wild West years, which they did, and that gave her a good mental image of what to expect. While reading the books, we looked at maps (many can be found on Andi's blog) and pictures of California. We even read a handful of dime novels. But Bean's favorite activities usually involve a small world. So we created one using her Safari Ltd. Wild West and Down on the Farm TOOBs.

We enjoy reading the Circle C books and plan on picking up Circle C Beginnings, to see where it all started. Plus, that would be the appropriate age for my daughter. What I really like about these books is that they paint a nice picture of the Old West. It is an easy to read series, so even reluctant readers shouldn't have issues with it. I love that each book comes with a lapbook, activity pages, or study guides. I would suggest printing them out and having them handy while you're reading. I love that the author has put so much into these books and made it so easy for homeschoolers to access learning materials to go along with the books. Not too many authors do that. Another thing to point out, is that despite the time difference, Andi's experiences are definitely those that modern children can relate to. In this book, Andi struggles with her classmates and becomes friends with someone she normally wouldn't have. It's like a "don't judge a book by its cover" kind of moment for Andi.

Look forward to Heartbreak Trail, the next book in the Circle C Milestones series (coming in July). The TOS Crew will be reviewing that book as well!

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