Sunday 30 June 2019

Gen7 Crossroads Storytelling Adventure Game Review (Age 14+) Sent by Asmodee

Gen 7 is a mainly co-operative 'crossroads' game, where players decisions affect the outcomes and change how gameplay and the storyline progresses. Made by Plaid Hat Games, we've been sent a copy to review for the Asmodee Blogger Boardgame Club, and it's brilliant.

Gen 7 Game box with filmstrip illustrated characters

Suitable for 3 to 4 players aged 14+, you are the 7th generation to exist aboard a huge colony ship fleeing Earth for a fertile new home planet. The journey is around half way through and everything has gone well so far, until now. The entire mission and lives of everyone on board are threatened and it's up to the crew to find the clues, solve the puzzles and save humanity.

There are more elements included in the Gen7 box than just about any game I've played. It makes it seem very exciting, but it also seems much more complicated than it actually is. The secret nature with lots of hidden information adds to the anticipation.

Friday 28 June 2019

Rocketbook Everlast - Almost Everlasting Intelligent Notebook Review and Giveaway (paid collaboration)

A couple of weeks ago we were sent the Rocketbook Everlast for review. An almost everlasting intelligent notebook which can be used, scanned, erased and reused for years. Combined with a clever app. which includes Optical Character Recognition, you can save or send your scan, and convert handwriting to typed print instantly.

Rocketbook Everlast bag and contents for 2 basic sets

We were all excited about receiving the Rocketbook because we use a lot of paper. My household includes myself, an I.T. Man and 3 University students who all makes lists and notes constantly and rely on notebooks every day.

In the Rocketbook Everlast Executive pack are the Rocketbook itself, plus a soft cloth to wipe pages clean and the Pilot Frixion pen, which you do have to use, but they are a gorgeous pen to write with.

The pages in the Rocketbook are made from a special hardwearing but thin plastic coated material, which feels pretty much like regular paper when you write and wipes completely clean afterwards. I've found if you press on hard then the pen leaves a slight indent which scared me at first, but so far even this has actually vanished after cleaning and resting for 5 minutes.

The clever stuff comes with the app. Each of the 32 pages has a QR Code and very faint symbols across the base of the page, which can be read when you scan into the app. You can really easily associate those symbols with cloud services or email addresses, so when you mark over the symbol and scan a page, it is automatically sent to the folder you want.

I was a bit daunted before I started because it seemed like it would be complicated, but it took seconds to work my way around the app. and decide where I wanted everything to go - all to my own email address as default - I jot, doodle and work mainly alone.

There are lots of cloud services the Rocketbook app. can link to, and you can also choose to 'share' in the same way as you can share any images or documents from your phone, so sending to multiple people or places is again, really easy, intuitive and familiar.

Still in Beta, but working exceptionally well, is the OCR - Optical Character Recognition. The software 'reads' what you've written and converts it to typed text. When you scan and send a page, you can choose to also include a printed text version, and you can even search your notes.

You can give a page of written text a title using double hashtags, which is a really handy feature. I didn't make any effort to tidy up my writing because I wanted a real test of how well it read when I was behaving normally. I'm really impressed. For notes the transcription is perfectly good enough, and when I've made only a tiny bit of effort it's been perfect.

My partner has also found that the Rocketbook app. can read his writing, and I can't, so bonus! You can see it in action and hear what we all thought of our Rocketbook Everlast in this 3 minute video:

I mainly use my Rocketbook for lists and notes - my job list, weekly job list, daily to-do lists. Shopping lists, household chore lists and for noting down points for reviews as they come to me. I've found it ridiculously handy because I can delete and add to my lists or notes at will, and a clean page is a job well done.

I genuinely didn't realise how much paper I was using each week and it's a great bonus for my uni students, who have reams of notes from lectures. We like Rocketbook Everlast - two of us have already swapped from paper to Rocketbook.

Rocketbook is available in different sizes. 'Letter' is similar to A4 costing £34.99rrp and 'Executive' is similar to A5 at £32.99rrp. You only need plain water to wipe it clean and replacement Pilot Frixion Pens are available at most stationers in a variety of colours and thicknesses.

We all love the Rocketbook Everlast, so I'm delighted to have a discount code for my readers. If you order on the Rocketbook website before 28.9.2019 then you get 10% off any Everlast notebook, in any size, with the code TheBrickCastle10 

Rocketbook Everlast is also available on Amazon

I also have a Rocketbook Executive Everlast to give away to one of you. Entry to the giveaway is via the Gleam form below and open to UK entrants only. Your details are only used to administer this giveaway and not shared with anyone else. The giveaway will end at midnight Sunday 28th July 2019. Full terms and conditions are at the bottom of the Gleam form.

You can find a link to help if you are new to Gleam and see my other UK giveaways here...

Rocketbook Everlast - Almost Everlasting Notebook Giveaway (paid collaboration)

We were paid a small admin fee for the time taken to administrate this giveaway and sent our Rocketbook Everlast for review. 

Thursday 27 June 2019

Hubelino Marble Run Elements Set Review Age 3+ (Sent by Hubelino)

Hubelino is a brand new product in the UK which combines with your own blocks and bricks to create a marble run track. The design and size is all up to your own imagination and it's a fantastic STEM supporting toy to bring out the designer and engineer in all of us.

Hubelino Marble Run Elements Set front of box with various bricks illustrated

We've been sent the Marble Run Elements Set, which contains 55 pieces, including 4 balls. Packaging is awesome. It's all in a big cardboard box, with 2 resealable plastic bags to keep everything tidy. No extra or unnecessary packaging and perfect for storage when you aren't playing.

Hubelino Set box contents 55 various shaped blocks in a resealable plastic bag

The Hubelino is Elements Set is an 'add-on' and although it's possible to create a marble run with these elements alone, it is designed to work with what you already have and is compatible with standard blocks.

Bunch O Balloons Filler/Soaker Giveaway (Age 6+) Sent for review by Zuru Toys

Bunch O Balloons have been a huge hit since they arrived in the UK a few years ago and this year they've increased their arsenal for even more garden water fun. We've been sent the new Bunch O Balloons Filler/Soaker for review and as luck would have it, the weather kindly perked up in time for my kids to have a play...

Bunch O Balloons Soaker/Filler pack and two packs of extra water balloons

We reviewed Bunch O Balloons last year. They're every bit as good as they look on telly and you really can fill a whole bundle of water balloons in 60 seconds. The balloons are rubber, biodegradable and recyclable. You can find my original Bunch O Balloons review here with our short video - and a couple of errors we made by being too cautious.

Orange bowl of water full of filled blue water balloons

The Bunch O Balloons Filler/Soaker is a really great addition to the range and means that you don't even need a tap to fill your balloons. Perfect for anyone who doesn't have an outdoor tap, and it makes Bunch O Balloons portable! You can even fill them on a campsite - but in a pool might well be the best of all.

boy firing the Bunch O Balloons Soaker/Filler as a water gun blaster

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Three Inch Fools present Macbeth: Ordsall Hall Summer Outdoor Theatre Review (We were guests).

Ordsall Hall's Summer Outdoor Theatre programme launched last Friday night with Macbeth and we were invited along to review. Last year when we went for the outdoor theatre it was 30 degrees at 9pm and we were melting - it wasn't quite the same this year, and I was reliably informed it would move inside if there was rain, but in the end we did very well with a dry, sunny evening.

Three Inch Fools present Macbeth: Ordsall Hall Summer Outdoor Theatre Review  view of stage

Ordsall Hall is a beautiful Tudor building set into gorgeous grounds, and it really is an oasis of calm in amongst all of the modern buildings, homes and businesses. The current Great Hall was built in 1512, so it would have been sparkly new when Shakespeare was alive. The perfect location for Macbeth.

Ordsall Hall Salford Kitchen Garden area and back wall of manor house

Gates opened at 6pm, which allowed us plenty of time to familiarise ourselves, find a suitable spot and get comfy. You are free to bring your own chairs, and if it's wet you really will want to, as sitting on the grass or a picnic blanket will be cold and/or damp unless the weather is glorious, especially at night.

The gardens are gorgeous - the Gardener does an amazing job and I'm sure she is rightly proud.

Posh Paws BBC Earth Soft Toys Review And Giveaway (Age 12m+) Sent by Posh Paws

The BBC Earth range of soft toys from Posh Paws International is a collaboration with the BBC, and all of the soft toys depict land and sea animals featured in the BBC television documentaries including Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II. We've been sent some of these gorgeous creatures to review and I also have 2 to give away to my readers.

All of our land and sea creatures are suitable for anyone 12 months and over. They are approximately 25cm/10" tall or long (with a smaller 7" size range also available). Super soft and cuddly, they come with their own cardboard display plinth. In fact the display plinth is the only real packaging and there aren't any plastic bags involved.

Posh Paws BBC Earth Soft Toys Review Sea Turtle Penguin and octopus on table

Monday 24 June 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King DVD Giveaway (with 20thC Fox)

Today sees the DVD and Blu-ray release of epic family-friendly adventure, The Kid Who Would Be King. We've watched it and it's a great family action movie, and I have a DVD copy to give away to one of my readers, courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

My boys will watch quiet and considered films, but mainly they like a good lively film with plenty of action, so The Kid Who Would Be King was a hit with my boys. It's PG rated and there's no gore, but a strong storyline with plenty of peril and fight scenes. Some characters do not survive to the end of the movie.

Alex thinks he’s just another nobody, getting bullied at school and told what to do by his teachers, until he stumbles upon the mythical Sword in the Stone, Excalibur. Now old school magic meets the modern world and with the help of the legendary wizard Merlin, he must unite his friends and school yard enemies into an allied band of knights to defeat the wicked enchantress Morgana. With the future at stake, Alex must become the great leader he never dreamed he could be and save the world.

Friday 21 June 2019

Summer Holiday Theatre and Event Round Up for Manchester and the NW UK

As usual there is tons on for families in the North West this Summer, and I've included everything I've been sent here. Theatre, days out, music, workshops and so much more. It's early days yet, so I'll be adding lots more as venues finalise their programmes and event days.

There really is something for everyone, and I've included events that suit families with children of all ages, even when they're taller than you are and have a more impressive beard.

A PHOTO SEPARATES EACH VENUE OR EVENT LISTING (for example Refract at Waterside's programme of theatre, music and stand up is MAHOOSIVE), so scroll to the next image if it's not your thing.

If you have anything you'd like me to add, please email it over with a photo - or beware, I'll use a random one of mine...

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Manchester's Festa Italiana 26-28 July Pasta Masterclass Taster (with Salvi's Mozzarella Bar)

Ahead of Manchester's Festa Italiana, which takes place 26th-28th July, we were all invited to a very special Family Pasta Master Class at Salvi's Mozzarella Bar in the Corn Exchange, with Carmela Serano Hayes of Carmela’s Kitchen.

Collage of pasta making photos Festa Italiana

Italian food is very much family orientated and there is a whole programme of events during Manchester's Festa Italiana especially for families with children. One of the highlights will be the FREE Kids Pasta Master Classes with Carmela, where children can learn first hand just how easy it is to make your own pasta and have a go at creating some different shapes and textures to match with different dishes and sauces.

Table of pasta making equipment. Rolling pins cutters, bowls, pasta machine

I'm a firm believer in cooking with children from a young age, so we were all excited about our Pasta Master Class. This was taking place downstairs at Salvi's, a restaurant and deli in the Manchester Corn Exchange.

Monday 17 June 2019

Lily's Just Fine. Young Adult Fiction Review (Sent by Sweet Cherry Publishing)

Lily's Just Fine has been sent to us by Sweet Cherry Publishing for review and it released on July 11th. Rather than being a fantasy tale where an exceptional event occurs, Lily's Just Fine goes much deeper and looks at more realistic and chaotic everyday struggles that people can face. It tackles depression. mental breakdown and chronic illness, but it's actually a really positive story and I really enjoyed it.

Lily's Just Fine. Young Adult Fiction Review book bracelet and bookmark

The first in a series of 4 books by author Gill Stewart, Lily's Just Fine is a really enjoyable tale which is modern and very easy-to-read. The storyline revolves around the lives of Lily and Tom, two 17 year olds living in a Scottish coastal village. Their lives become intertwined because of a mutual friend, Gemma, who is good friends with Tom's sister Sarah.

Lily's mother has depression, her older siblings have moved away and her father spends little time at home. She's left to try and cope, but is busy being a teenager and really unaware of how badly her mother is suffering at first. Tom's sister Sarah has chronic illness and his family life revolves around her health. They both escape by sailing at a local club, and discover they have more in common than they'd have realised.

The format of the book is excellent, and ideal for young adult or teenage readers who don't want to face an epic tome. The book is split into sections of around 2-4 pages each, alternating narration between Lily and Tom. Being able to see their relationship and the outcomes of their actions from both sides adds an understanding that we could definitely benefit from in real life.

Saturday 15 June 2019

June #TBCSmiles... 58 Months

It's the middle of the month again and it's a bit different from this time last year! Although we've had a bit of sunshine, it's been short-lived and a big well done to anyone who has the suntan they already had 12 months ago.

Rain has been quite a feature the past couple of days. My thoughts really do go out to anyone who has been flooded. Losing everything you own so suddenly is far more than I think I can appreciate. It's easy to say "at least you got out okay", but the months of sorting, cleaning, rebuilding, fighting with insurers and living in temporary accommodation are no fun for anyone.

You've all made the most of what sun we had - there are loads of outdoor photos this month and a few children riding bikes. My children also finally learned to ride this month. A lot of things went on hold when we lost Elspeth, whether we realised it or not. We are beginning to catch up a bit now - thanks to our big kids for the nudges and the time spent running alongside their brothers.

Friday 14 June 2019

Frogs, Fairies and Dodos 3 Children's Book Reviews Age 4-8 (sent by Matador)

Matador are the children's division of Troubador Press and they regularly send us books to take a look at. I usually cover books for older children, but these are 3 shorter fiction books which are especially suitable for beginner readers in Early Years and Key Stage 1 infants, aged around 4-8.

Frogs, Fairies and Dodo's 3 Children's Book covers

Thursday 13 June 2019

Disney/Pixar Toy Story: Woody's Augmented Reality Adventure Book Review (Sent by Carlton Kids)

This month Carlton Kids have sent us Disney/Pixar Toy Story: Woody's Augmented Reality Adventure Book for review. It's aimed at children of all ages 3+ and my boys still enjoy Toy Story despite being 9 and 10, plus we all wanted a sneak peek of the new characters from Toy Story 4, especially Forky!

Carlton Disney Toy Story Book AR Book Cover Image with characters and title

The Augmented Reality is created via your phone or tablet camera and a free app. which you'll have to download from Play Store or Apple before you start. It's not huge and only took a few seconds.

The app. is ready to go instantly and very intuitive, with good, clear instructions on screen to get you started. There are very few options, so you can find everything easily and it's even ideal for very young children or technophobes.

Monday 10 June 2019

Bandai STEM Kits - Glowing Crystals and Sea Monkeys (Sent for review by Bandai)

This month Bandai have sent us two more of their STEM educational kits for review. The National Geographic Green Crystal Growing Lab (age 8+) and the Sea Monkeys Ocean Zoo (age 6+).

Bandai STEM Kits - Glowing Crystals and Sea Monkeys packs

National Geographic Green Crystal Growing Lab (age 8+) allows you to grow a glow-in-the-dark pale green crystal. You are supplied with everything you need except water and a suitable container, and it's a really easy kit to get started.

Bandai STEM Kits Green Glowing Crystal lab pack shot

In the pack are growing powder, a seed rock, stirring stick, real Fluorite crystal, magnifying glass and a learning guide with the instructions. Packaged entirely in cardboard and the pull out cardboard tray is super handy for containing any mess while you work.

Thursday 6 June 2019

Grown Ups AFOL Night at LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (Complimentary Visit)

We've been to adult night at LEGOLAND Discovery Centre before and I've even written about it, so being invited along to review is something I was more than happy to agree to. Adult Fan Of LEGO nights take place every month, and it's only £12 for adults 18+ to play as much as you want for 2 hours without little people in the way.

This month LEGOLAND Discovery Centre are hosting 2 AFOL nights and hopefully it'll do really well because we had a brilliant time last night. Right from the start we were excited - a new brick in the 'Factory Tour' to compliment this season's 4D movie and theme of LEGO City Police and Emergency Services - Report For Duty.

The specific theme for this month's AFOL Night was Terrific Telly and there were several special games to play plus the Big Build Competition and loads of prizes to win.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

FREE Children's Eye Care Review with Optical Express (Paid Partnership).

In the UK children under 16 are all entitled to free eye care, including FREE EYE TESTS, but not everyone uses it, in fact 1 in 10 people don't take their children for a regular eye test. We are working in a paid collaboration with Optical Express to show that taking your child for an eye test is easy, quick and entirely painless - in fact my children have always seen it as something of an adventure!

View of Optical Express frontage in intu Trafford Centre Manchester

In their 2019 survey, Optical Express found that children are using screens for an average of 4 hours a day, twice as much time as was reported only 2 years ago. This is leading to an increase in headaches and can also influence the development of short sightedness. Some estimates suggest that by 2050 half of the world’s population will be myopic.

We visited the Optical Express store inside intu Trafford Centre, Manchester for our free children's eye test. Booking is essential. I booked my eye test online and received a follow up call, when I was able to give more information about my son and his health.

inside Optical Express store manchester trafford centre range of glasses
f your child has a vision or eye health problem, the earlier you catch it, the less they will fall behind their friends. Many eye conditions can be corrected permanently or changes made so that your child has an easier life. It has a massive effect on confidence.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Get Out And Grow School Gardening Kit Giveaway (Paid Partnership with Sudocrem)

It's almost Summer and a great time to get children outdoors and learning about where fruit and vegetables come from and how they are grown. We're working in a paid partnership with Sudocrem to promote gardening in schools and show just what a difference it can make.

In a recent survey, 90% of children said that they would like a garden at school. The whole process of planting and raising plants includes maths, science and a host of other subjects, as well as giving your child skills for life. Enjoying and even eating the end results will give anyone a real sense of pride - plus the fresher the produce, the more vitamins and flavour it has!

This Summer Sudocrem are donating 20 Get Out and Grow Kits worth £160 to UK schools and I'm delighted to say I will be giving one of them away on this blog. The kits contain everything the school needs to make a start with their own garden, including children’s wheelbarrows, gardening gloves, mini-trowels, seeds and lessons on how to make the most of a school garden.

Monday 3 June 2019

Yard And Coop Manchester Family Restaurant Review (Complimentary Visit)

Last week Yard And Coop invited us over to review and as we all had a few days off, it was perfect timing. Specialists in chicken, but with a menu that looked equally interesting to me as a vegetarian, we were really looking forward to it and I'm pleased to say we absolutely were not disappointed.

The visit got off to a great start before we even got inside, because the artist Qubek / Mural Life was busy painting their outside wall. He's responsible for some awesome images around Manchester, including two of the most poignant and well-remembered after the Arena bomb. It was amazing timing that wasn't lost on my 9 year old.

Qubek Graffiti Russ painting a mural of golden wings breaking out of a golden egg

Russ of Mural Life Qubek Manchester with his mural just finished

Inside the Yard And Coop is huge and spaciously laid out with a range of different seating and tables to suit anyone, or any number. You could have an intimate 2 person meal here or an office party with 35 people and it would be perfect. We were offered a corner booth with a big sofa and loads of windows and gladly accepted.