Cheap as Free Online Novels for the Broke

I like reading, but reading can get pretty expensive.  Good books cost upwards of $30 out here in Sydney and eBooks readers can get quite pricey – not to mention all that headache with eBook compatibility and such.

There’s only one way to solve this conundrum… TO THE INTERNET!

Many web novels on the Internet are free, or at least extremely cheap.  I’m proud to say that over the many years that I’ve lived on the Internet, I’ve been able to amass a fairly impressive library of online novels and am happy to share them with you.

Thalia's Musings1. Thalia’s Musings by Amethyst Marie

I’ve got a real soft spot for Greek Mythology.  Some of the earliest media I consumed were about Greek Myths and I’ve even won prizes for memorising and retelling the stories of Grecian heroes when I was a little tyke in school.  So, I was drawn to Thalia’s Musings by Amethyst Marie, a well-written insider account of the various quarrels, love affairs and dramatic deaths of the Grecian pantheon, as seen through the eyes of the not-so-innocent bystander, Thalia, the Muse of Comedy.

Although the series loosely follows the stories of many Grecian myths, it diverges slightly from what is expected and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the raunchy behaviour of the Grecian gods (and goddesses too)!  All in all, a great read.  Amethyst Marie has written three books of the series so far and is currently writing the fourth.  I’m at the edge of my seat to find out what happens next!

The books are available free online, but if you’re willing to shell out a little money and support Amethyst, you can buy eBook versions of Thalia’s Musings in her shop.

Stefan Gagne2. Stefan Gagne’s Fiction Factory by Stefan Gagne

All right, I’ll admit that Stefan Gagne (aka Twoflower) is one of my favourite online novelists – I’ve even tagged him on the writing process blog tour!

Unlike other online authors, Stefan really makes good use of the capabilities of html, working with different fonts, colours, images and even little flash programs to flavour the stories that he tells.  His latest work, cyberpunk web novel series, Floating Point, is very topical; but I’m a little more fond of his earlier cyberpunk work – A Future We’d Like to See (FWLS).  FWLS is a little 90s era zeerusty, but it still contains an underlying layer of unbridled optimism that came with the early Internet before the Eternal September of 1993, before all the trolling and the nastiness and the doxxing and stuff.

Of his works, my favourites would have to be Unreal Estate, a sweet sci-fi romantic comedy deconstruction of harem anime of the 90s that spans across the multiverse; and Anachronauts, a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about fairies, aliens and working together for the common good.  Both of these novels are now available for purchase in book or eBook form on Stefan’s store.  As a bonus, Stefan has included an extra short-story in each book that is not available online.

Velveteen vs3. Velveteen vs. by Seanan McGuire

I’ve written about one of Seanan McGuire’s books before, so I was pleased to note that she also releases free short stories on her Livejournal.  Velveteen vs. is a realistically modern take on superheroes in a corporate world, exploring how the very nature of superheroes can be corrupted by the ever persistent bottom line.  The series follows the story of Velveteen, a retired superheroine on the run from her former employers and her attempts to eke out a living as a civilian.  It’s a compelling and emotional read, certainly worth the wait between chapters.

The Velveteen vs. stories are still ongoing, but Seanan has collated most of them into two books – Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots and Velveteen vs The Multiverse.  Both are available at most bookstores, though you may have to order them in.

4. Tapestry: a Tale of Empire by Wysteria Climbing

Asian fantasy novels are fairly common these days, but very few capture that Tale of Genji spirit quite like Tapestry does.  With its unique diary-style format, Tapestry follows the tale of Lady Uru, her husband Seichi, children Pen and Pang and house slave Heiye as they navigate the treacherous politics, pomp and ceremony of the Elite class in a fantasy empire.  Wysteria Climbing does an expert job of painting Lady Uru’s personality through her conservative attitudes, reserved language and clever use of wordplay and inflection.  Don’t let the 2008 dates on the Livejournal fool you, Wysteria is still very active on her blog and updates her story sporadically.  The series is currently on its second book.

While Tapestry doesn’t have a dead tree format just yet, but you can still support Wysteria on her Patreon.  Doing so will increase the speed of her updates.

While these series represent what I feel are the best web novels on the Internet, you can still find plenty more to sate your reading appetites at the Web Fiction Guide.  However, if your tastes are more classical, you might want to give Project Gutenberg a try.

As a bonus, I’ll leave you with two more stories that didn’t quite make the A-list, because they’re not quite books…

Blue Sky by Waffleguppies:  If you like the Portal game series, you might want to check this excellent piece of fanfiction out.  It will seriously give you a case of the feels.  (Don’t worry, they’ve started a support group for that).

Digger by Ursula Vernon:  This Hugo Award winning graphic novel follows the story of a very lost wombat and her adventures in a strange world full of cults, religions and talking hyenas.  It is beautifully illustrated and cleverly written.

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31 of the best (FREE) online learning resources for preschoolers

Over here in Singapore, there is tremendous pressure on children to excel academically, and many of Little E and J’s preschool classmates are enrolled in various expensive enrichment classes.

Although I am trying my best to avoid hot-housing my children, both J and Little E have a innate love of learning and I like to find ways to nurture and encourage them in their educational journey. Now with the June school holidays on the horizon, I find myself actively looking for meaningful home activities to keep them gainfully occupied during the day!

Here is a list of 30 of my favourite (free!) online learning resources that I find myself returning to again and again!

Phonics and Early Reading

With most schools returning to phonics to help children to learn how to read, these are some brilliant websites which will help you to reinforce what your preschooler is learning!

  1. Reading Bear – there are some very lovely videos to help capture your kid’s interest
  2. Progressive Phonics – this has some great e-books and worksheets too
  3. Starfall Phonics – the animations may be rather crude, but the songs are pretty catchy!
  4. Phonics4free – this is a series of videos and guides for empowering parents to teach phonics
  5. ABC Fast Phonics – A very simple no-frills guide to the basics which is good for parents who want to help their kids at home

Mandarin

Bilingualism is very important in Singapore with Mandarin chinese offered as a second language in most preschools. We speak very little Mandarin at home, so I have to find creative ways to expose my children to the nuances in both the spoken and written word. These websites have really helped me to keep my kids interested and engaged!

  1. Chineasy – This is a beautiful website which focusses on the pictorial nature of the chinese written script and helps kids (and adults) to remember chinese characters using gorgeous illustrations and beautifully animated teaching videos.
  2. CCTV Learn Chinese – This is an extensive library of videos aimed at teaching conversational chinese and touches on aspects of chinese culture and daily living as well.
  3. Fun Fun Elmo – Sesame Street has most recently developed a preschool mandarin programme featuring the ever-popular Elmo in a series of 10 minute vignettes! This first season is available on Youtube – and hopefully Sesame Street will release their subsequent episodes online too.
  4. Semanda  – These are some free printable flashcards which cover some basic concepts (such as colours, fruits, animals, vehicles etc) as well as some multiple choice style quizzes
  5. Hanlexon Chinese – This is a useful website for printing out writing practice worksheets. You can alter the worksheet to show the stroke order or allow tracing of the characters

Math

  1. Khan Academy – This site is brilliant for kids who already know how to count. J loves this because he can unlock achievement badges and trophies when he has achieved mastery of a new concept!
  2. Math Worksheet Wizard – Here is a simple worksheet generator to help reinforce simple counting, addition as well as subtraction.
  3. ScootPad – This has a basic free system for individuals as well as a subscription service for classrooms. The basic free system has both Math as well as Reading practice pages (but the Math pages are prettier), as well as some really fun math games!
  4. Math Game Time – this is self explanatory, but helps kids to reinforce their rote counting and number recognition skills
  5. Soft Schools – Here you can find some great free printable worksheets and online games to help grow little mathletes.

Art

These art sites are more for parents who are looking for simple, foolproof art projects for preschoolers as well as lesson plans to introduce kids to art history!

  1. Mrs Brown’s Art Class
  2. Teach Kids Art
  3. Art Projects for Kids
  4. KinderArt
  5. Museum of Modern Art NY

Science

These are a collection of brilliant websites that include some very impressive science demonstration videos as well as projects and simple experiments that you can set up at home!

  1. Science For Preschoolers
  2. Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop
  3. The Kid Should See This
  4. BrainPOP
  5. SESL Writing Wizard

Other Useful Resources

There are plenty of awesome sites out there that will inspire your kids to learn more about the world around them! Here are our current favourites that include everything from World History to Astrophysics :

  1. Typing Club
  2. Learning with Fun
  3. Crash Course World History
  4. NASA Kids Club
  5. The Good Stuff
  6. Smarter Every Day

Fine Arts Appreciation for kids

Recently, I brought J and Little E to the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, to watch the Conservatory Chamber Singers.

I used to sing in a choir myself when I was at school, so I really do enjoy choral music and it is something that I would like to share with my kids.

When I was university, the Glee club that I joined went on tour around a few states in the US, performing at schools in small towns. Each night we sang inside a town hall which would be packed to the very edges, with people even standing outside the doors, just to have a chance to listen to the music. Families came in droves, from the very tiny week-old infants, to the very elderly in wheelchairs.

After the concert, we had a chance to mingle with the townsfolk and I found out that many of these suburban families have very little access to art and culture outside their community. They looked forward to our university Glee club’s annual visit as one of the highlights of the year as it gave them the chance to see a ‘live’ performance and listen to different forms of beautiful music. Some of them were moved to tears by our songs, which encouraged us to work even harder at making sure we put up a good show.

Visiting these suburban and rural areas during the Glee Club tour made me realise how fortunate I was to grow up in a city that is a melting pot of different cultures.

Singapore may be a very tiny little city, but like all other cities, the arts scene here continues to grow and flourish and it provides ample opportunities for me to introduce my kids to the wonders of music.

Our little city has several tertiary-level institutions that train budding artistes from around the world, preparing them for the world of performing arts. These are the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, the LASALLE College of the Arts and the Nanyang School of Fine Arts, just to name a few.

This means that there are plenty of recitals by students who are required to showcase their talents as well as masterclasses and concerts by visiting artists and music professors happening nearly every day, every single week of the year…and all of these are open to the public entirely free of charge!

These (highly undersubscribed) concerts are wonderful for kids because its a great way to expose them to a wide range of musical genres in a formal setting, and I can leave at any time without feeling bad about wasting a ticket!

renaissance-madrigals-choral-music

Listening to the Conservatory Chamber Singers

It is so different, listening to madrigals through the tinny speakers in car during the morning school run, and sitting down to watch a live performance in a concert hall. Little E was at times very moved by the music, swaying and putting her arms out to imitate the conductor. At a few points, J stopped wiggling around in his seat and closed his eyes, then leaned way back to listen.

We sat right at the back of the hall, in case a quick exit was required, but I was pleasantly surprised when both my kids remained quiet (but not still – we’re working on that) during the whole concert, which consisted mainly of medieval songs or Renaissance-inspired music in sung in latin or german.

If an afternoon of classical music is not your thing, there are plenty other forms of artistic expression that is worth looking at.

Last week in fact, I took J and Little E to the Lasalle College of the Arts to attend an original puppet theatre performance called ‘Bully & the Beast‘ put up by the Diploma in Performance Level Two class – and it was aimed specifically at a young audience!

bully-and-the-beast-puppets-kids

With the puppets from ‘Bully & the Beast’

J and Little E had a real blast and enjoyed themselves so much during the performance, which was interactive in nature… and afterwards they had a chance to talk to the performers and examine the puppets and props! The Lasalle students were all so welcoming and friendly towards the kids and the stage manager even spent some time chatting with me and gave me some tips on how to make puppets with the kids at home using papier mache.

I really do hope that I can continue to introduce the kids to the various aesthetic forms – like ballet, contemporary dance and maybe even some classical asian theatre like Chinese Opera and Wayang Kulit!

35 Simple Christmas Craft Tutorials and Free Printables

If you are looking to make something special for the Christmas season (and you want to get your kids involved), here are a bunch of super-awesome, super-easy craft tutorials and printables from all over the web!

These crafts are simple and pretty, and they don’t require complicated materials, so they are perfect to do together with the little ones.

If you’ve got an awesome Christmas-themed craft that you’d like to share – feel free to link to it in the comments section below!

free-christmas-crafts-kids

Awesome Advent Calendars – Free printables and tutorials

1. Welcome to Christmas Street! Printable by Mr Printables

2. Advent activity calendar by Whaddayalookingat

3. Advent Calendar icecream stick tree with origami boxes  by Crafty Nest

4. Snowflake activity advent by Eighteen25

5. Bunting Advent Activity Calendar by Lily Jane

Free printable Christmas cards, templates and tutorials

Free printable Christmas cards, templates and tutorials

6. Reindeer Christmas Card by Stephanie Locsei

7. Hand Drawn Christmas Card by Mufninc

8. Two Turtle Doves by Slug & Bull

9. Easy and Elegant DIY Christmas Tree Card by Rita Shehan

10. DIY geometric Christmas tree card by How About Orange

11. Pressed Christmas Print by Pressed in Brooklyn

12. Printable Christmas Card Kit by Shery K Designs

13. Customisable Christmas Photo Card by my.craft.affair

14. Last Minute Angel by Kirsty Neale

15. Joyeux Noel by Super Nattura

Free printable Christmas gift tags and labels

Free printable Christmas gift tags and labels

16. Yuletide Christmas Gift Tags by Kelli Murray

17. Letterpress tags by Shanty 2 Chic

18. Customisable Gift Tags from The Celebration Shoppe

19. Christmas gift tag printables from myheartcreative

20. Fine Print Holly Jolly gift tags by Avalon

nativity-scene-christmas-craft-colouring-kids

Nativity Craft Tutorials and Printables

21. Colour-in printable Nativity by Scrapbookscrapbook

22. Print and Build Nativity Set by Marloes Devee

23. Ice-cream stick Nativity Craft by MamaScientist

24. DIY Minimalist Nativity Set by Curbly

25. DIY Nativity felt puppets and printables by Pretty Prudent

recycled-upcycled-christmas-craft-kids-decoration-decor

DIY Christmas Wreath Tutorials

26. Easy Christmas Ribbon Wreath Tutorial by Shelterness

27. Toilet Roll Holly and Berry Wreath Tutorial by Lavender Girl (Website in Hungarian!)

28. Paper Loop Christmas Wreath Tutorial by Crafts ‘n Coffee

29. Newspaper Scroll Christmas wreath by EcoEmpire

30. Vintage Paper Leaf Wreath by Emily Morris

holiday-craft-kids-easy-fun

Easy DIY Christmas decorations – tutorials and printables

31.DIY Modern Paper Ornaments by Design*Sponge

32. Macaroni Snowflakes from Katy Elliott

33. Printable Christmas Bunting by Love Mae

34. Happy Christmas Party Flag Bunting by Team Kitten

35. Christmas star garland by Activity Bucket

P.S. If you’re looking for something more in the ready-made-with-heart variety for Christmas (or for any other special occasion), check out these gorgeous handmade paper cards from Little Blue Bottle! Every cent will go directly to charity and you can even have them personalised!