Tuesday, May 12, 2015

REVIEW: My Friend Cayla

 Meet "My Friend Cayla!"  I was given a wonderful opportunity to do a product review for Genesis Toys in preparation for the upcoming nationwide launch August 2015.  

Cayla is the first internet connected doll that talks and interacts with you like a friend!  It is an international best seller and the winner of the Innovative Toy of the Year Award 2015.  It is also a Gadget of the Year recipient.  You can find a short informative video HERE!

My review:  Sophia had a blast interacting with Cayla!  The Cayla doll was very easy to get out of the package, which is nice considering so many toys require so much effort.  I was able to download the My Friend Cayla app from the iTunes store and secure a Bluetooth connection on my 5th generation iPod touch.  The app works with an iPhone and iPad as well.  I did find you have to turn Cayla on, connect via Bluetooth under settings, and THEN launch the app.  Cayla operates on a  kid-safe internet which is necessary in my opinion.  Once you launch the app, it is very easy to navigate.  When Cayla's pink heart necklace lights up, it signifies to the child she is listening so they can ask a question or give a response to her question.  You can change the settings in the app for Cayla to talk more or less and also adjust the volume.    

One of my favorite parts of the app is the word-exclusion button.  I can type any word into the database that I do not want her to respond to.  For example, you can type in "heaven" and then if Sophia asks Cayla about heaven, she will respond, "That is not appropriate, you need to ask your parents."  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this feature!  I want Sophia to ask Nate and I for answers to big important questions!  As a safety feature, when the internet is turned ON, I always make sure Sophia is within an ear shot from me!  So far, I have not had any issues of inappropriate responses.  

Another favorite feature on the app is that I can turn the internet access off, so Cayla cannot access the internet for any search.  She has preset generic conversations that she can have with Sophia (about school, sibilings, playing sports, etc) without the internet turned on.  As you can see in the image above, she can do many amazing things offline such as talking, interaction, play games, talking about her images in the photo album, and read stories.  Sophia has really enjoyed playing the games (Tic-tac-toe and memory) with Cayla.  She also enjoys listening to her read the story books.  

I have enjoyed listening to the conversations they have.  I feel like Cayla promotes good behavior, obedience to parents, and teamwork with friends and siblings.  

Overall, I have been very pleased with Cayla.  I was very hesitant at the beginning since the internet is involved, but have been pleasantly surprised by all the safety features in the app.  You can enter in as many words as you want into the word exclusion feature.  She seems to be a well-made doll.  The clothes are of good quality.  (Also, it is important to note she is fully compatible with most clothing and accessories for 18” dolls).  She comes with a small mirror and hairbrush!  My Friend Cayla has provided lots of entertainment for my 6 year old daughter!  I am quite pleased with this product!  

I have a feeling she will be one of this years HOT Christmas toys!  Cayla will be available at Target, Walmart, Amazon and other retailers after August 3, 2015.  

Follow Cayla on FB and enter to win a FREE doll.

Disclaimer: I received this product free of charge. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I was not monetarily compensated for this review.

Monday, May 11, 2015

REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: Cottonmouth Series by C.S. Fritz

Adventure, friendship, truth, sacrifice, power, darkness, light ... just a few words to describe themes in these well-written and illustrated books!

I am thrilled to once again join the David C Cook team for a blog tour of THE COTTONMOUTH SERIES BY C.S. FRITZ.  We were asked to review the final book which was just released May 1, 2015, however, I had the opportunity to read the whole series, which is recommended for ages 8-12, but enjoyable for kids and parents!  

The back of the book summarizes the series in such perfect words: "This is a rare children's story that is both bold and tender and brimming with moments of great risk, adventure, and heart .... this story will capture both the imagination and intelligence of children and their parents as it sheds light on the power of sin, sacrifice, and redemption."

Book ONE: Cottonmouth and the River

Join Freddie Cottonmouth on a wild journey with a furry friend Tug and a black egg!  Freddie discovers that "broken promises come at a great price."  One of my favorite quotes comes in the middle of the book when Tug, the comforter, is telling Freddie the story of the Sun brothers (sun and the moon) and what happened when the moon didn't come out one night due to envy.  "The world was empty of light, and blackness filled the land.  People began crying and shouting for the dark Sun (moon) to return.  You see, Freddie, it was then that the Moon realized that even though he didn't get what he wanted, he was exactly what he needed to be.  This similar truth is for you now."

I don't want to share much more because it will spoil the surprise at the end of book one, however we see an example of gut-wrenching sacrifice and friendship.  

Book TWO:  Cottonmouth and the Great Gift 

Join Freddie on a special mission with his new sidekick Yellowthroat.  You will wade through the waters of deception, friendship, and selfishness with Freddie.  Freddie receives a wonderful gift from Tug and it helps him along in his journey, however, selfishness causes us to sacrifice the great gifts we have been given.  We are forced to deal with the consequences of our decisions.    

Book THREE:  Cottonmouth and the End

You will journey with Freddie as he completes his mission, stepping out of our world and into another world.  We will see him face incredible "challenges and conflict."  How will he respond when he "comes face-to-face with true darkness?" 

MY REVIEW:  I really enjoyed reading this books, even though they are geared towards 8-12 year olds.  The adventure component draws you into the book quickly and I found myself finishing one book, excited to begin the next, to see where Freddie would journey next.  I love a good book that I have a hard time putting down!    

I see similar artistic style in these books that I find in Where the Wild Things Are, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Polar Express.  I found myself digging deep into the passages to figure out the hidden spiritual references in the story.  It reminded me of the time I read The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  I think that it would be fun to read these together with my kids (when they get a little older) and discuss the spiritual themes.  I know one thing is for sure, that it will generate great conversation!    

Throughout all three books, you see redemptive themes of sacrifice and friendship.  The characters really come to life and you see how one "small" decision can have such an impact on your future!  The final book challenges the reader to confront the problem of true darkness and the only way to escape from it.  

Finally, the illustrations in these books are INCREDIBLE!  C.S. Fritz is very talented!  His illustrations tell part of the story without using any words.  They evoke such emotion and thought.  Very seldom do you find a story where the illustrations add great value to the story like you do in the Cottonmouth series!  

A little bit about the author:  C.S. Fritz, was nominated as Arizona Visual Artist of the Year.  He is now director of Kids and Youth Ministry for Reality LA.  He lives in Hollywood with his wife and two young children.  

To leave you with one of my favorite lines from Book Three ...

" ... suddenly a thunderous shout belonging to the One who could shatter mountains said ... I AM."

GIVEAWAY:  David C Cook publishers are offering a copy of the final book in the series, Cottonmouth and The END to one very special GO LONG GO GREEN reader!  Please leave a comment below with what intrigues you the most about this series!  I will pick the lucky winner MONDAY MAY 18th!

David C Cook SPECIAL GIVEAWAY:  Click HERE to enter to win an original, signed piece of Cottonmouth artwork and a drawn-in copy of Cottonmouth and the End.

FINALLY: Here is an opportunity for you and your children and grandchildren to write a letter to and receive a letter from Freddie Cottonmouth!!!  

Disclaimer: I received this product free of charge. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I was not monetarily compensated for this review.