Halloween’s Over, You Say? Then it Must Be Time for a Festive Christmas Double-Dip!

2

image

It’s time to break out the fruit mince pies and sugar-crusted almonds and rustle up that Christmas feeling, for today’s double dip is all about everyone’s favourite most stressful time of year.  Luckily, today’s books for mini-fleshlings are not stressful in the least and should actually contribute to the heightening of joy and happiness in your dwelling.  Let’s crack on then, with an Aussie Christmas picture book, Christmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson, which we cheerfully received from Five Mile Press for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Let’s decorate your branches…

The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, and the neighbourhood Christmas lights blaze against a warm December sky.

It’s Christmas time at home — the very best time of the year.

An Australian Christmas tale.

Dip into it for…christmas-at-home

…a delightful romp through the lead up to Christmas and Christmas Day itself, that pulls no punches as to how festivities really unfold in a land in which the only snow to be seen is of the type that is sprayed out of cans to fancy up one’s window display.  The text is based on the classic carol, O Christmas Tree, and each page spread focuses on a typical Christmas activity – wrapping presents, visiting neighbourhood light displays, cooking on the barbie, and general family shenanigans.  The illustrations are absolutely fantastic here and I particularly love the way that aspects of contemporary life, such as two lads discussing something on the iPad with grandma, a lady taking a selfie at a light display and dad trying to fly his new remote control helicopter are all present, but peripheral to the main events.  The best bit about this book for me however was the fact that the illustrator has obviously paid close attention to inclusion and representation in creating the characters.  Although the protagonist family are fair, white (and slightly sweaty!) Australians, every scene that depicts other people includes characters who possess a range of skin tones.  Just at a quick glance it is possible to spot an Indian couple, a number of Asian families, a Maori family and a family that, judging by their outfits, may be from West Africa.  There’s even an Inuit family friend who for some reason has chosen to wear traditional cold-weather clothing for reasons that aren’t explained.  Representation aside, there’s plenty going on in each illustrative spread for keen eyed mini-fleshlings to spot.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a “traditional” Christmas story, for this one is a celebration of modern family life.  Other than that, if you aren’t a fan of changing the words to well-known Christmas carols, then this might not be for you.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a story that seems simple at first glance, but has more layers to uncover every time you look through it.  The illustrations, obviously, have much to do with this.  The most memorable page for me is one that notes that on Christmas day, “every place is bursting”.  The pages feature a number of different social groupings, mostly showing families, but also with a few touching asides.  I will admit to getting a little stab in the heart as I noted one of the pictures shows an old lady dressed in jaunty Christmas bonbon hat, putting food out on Christmas themed paper plates for about half a dozen cats.  While the lady herself looks perfectly happy (and there’s no indication that she hasn’t just popped out from family festivities for a moment), I felt like this was a little reminder that others may not be celebrating with a large, jolly social group.  Whatever the case, as well as providing a cheerful Christmas read-aloud for the mini-fleshlings, there are also other aspects of the book that will no doubt start conversations about diversity and how others do things.

Recommended. Especially for those in a cold climate, who no doubt won’t be thinking of us southerners at all as we sweat it out over our Christmassy summer.

Next up we have a fun little boredom-buster for primary school aged kids and beyond.  It’s My Lovely Christmas Book and we received a copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Have a crafty Christmas this year: cut and glue, make beautiful pages, pockets, frames and other charming creations. Use your creativity to make lists, make notes, write poems, short stories, diary entries and add other things to make it yours. You can draw and colour, write and doodle. This is your book, made by you and for you.

Dip into it for…  my-lovely-christmas-book

…a sweet, creativity-inducing tome that really is as lovely as it claims to be.  The perfect gift for crafty pre-teens (or for yourself, if you rejoice in the anticipation of the days before December 25th), My Lovely Christmas Book is part diary, part photo and memory album, part activity book and part craft kit.  Apart from diary pages themed around each of the twelve days of Christmas, the book is structured so that the reader can flick through and pick the activities that take their fancy – and what a selection of activities there are!  On a quick flick from front to back I spotted mazes, cut-out-and-stick activities to make decorations, gift tags to cut out and use for gift giving, thank-you note templates, places to stick photos, doodling pages and search and find pages.  On a more studied examination, other features include beautiful papers that can be used to wrap small gifts, festive colouring pages, pages that can be cut and folded to make a pocket inside the book for holding special things, little journalling prompts, and a space to plan (or record!) a Christmas menu.  Honestly, it’s so chock-full of interesting things to list, make and do that any parent, upon hearing their offspring whine “I’m bored!” during the Christmas holiday period, could easily just growl, “Go to the book!” and everyone’s problems would be solved.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the kind of person who just cannot bear to write or draw in a book, let alone take to a book with a pair of scissors.  The only downfall I can see with this tome is that it is so aesthetically pleasing, that some readers may not want to spoil that beauty by actually using it as intended.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this book being a fantastic companion for a young one who loves to create and record, and as a finished product, something that will be kept for years to come – who doesn’t love looking back on their own (often hilarious) jottings from childhood?  I would certainly recommend this as a book to accompany Christmas time travels, to keep that sense of Christmas close even though one is away from home.  Being one of the aforementioned readers who is often unable to deface beautiful books, even if that is their sole purpose, I am in two minds about whether to have a crack at some of the activities myself or leave this one in its pristine state.  You, however, should search this one out immediately – even the grouchiest Grinch will feel a flutter of Christmas cheer on flicking through these lovely pages.

There now.  Aren’t you feeling more festive already?  Well that’s great, because apparently there are only seven and a bit weeks til Christmas.  You’re welcome.

Until next time,

Bruce

Alice and the Fly: A YA, GSQ Review…

7

imageIt’s time to unleash my psyche’s personas once again, appropriately enough to review young adult offering, Alice and the Fly by James Rice.  I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley (drawn in, once again, by the beautiful cover and the promise of content relating to mental health – I’m becoming predictable, aren’t I?).  Unfortunately however, these intriguing lures did not result in my arrival in readers’ paradise.  But let’s press on anyway, shall we?

It’s safe to say that Greg is a bit of an outsider.  Shunned by his peers and watching life from the bus window (when he’s not getting soft drink poured over his head), Greg records his thoughts in a notebook given to him by his would-be counsellor and actual teacher, Miss Hayes. As Greg records various traumatic incidents that happened (and continue to happen) to him, the reader finds out more about this troubled young man.  But then Greg finds what could be a friend…she doesn’t really know he exists, but Greg is determined to change that.  And that’s what leads to the terrible incident.alice and the fly

 

The Goodimage

The best thing about this book is its interesting format.  As well as excerpts from Greg’s journal (which  makes up the bulk of the narrative), the reader is privy to police interviews with a variety of Greg’s relatives and peers interspersed throughout the book.  These are welcome intrusions into Greg’s monologuing and also serve the purpose of giving the reader a few glimpses of the entire puzzle before the incident described at the end of the book.

The Sad

There were a number of things that didn’t work for me in Alice and the Fly.  The first is the fact that image there is a LOT of monologuing in this book.  It’s a personal preference, but I prefer my monolouing in moderation.  There were quite a few times during reading, particularly during the middle of the novel, that I just wanted Greg to shut up and/or stick to the point.

The thing that particularly annoyed me about this book is that there were quite a few things that just didn’t ring true while reading.  Greg’s father is a surgeon.  Greg, it appears, has some unspecified mental illness (loosely labelled schizophrenia), as well as at least one crippling phobia, that require him to be on serious medication (one would presume these to be antipsychotics).  I simply could not believe that a doctor who has a child with a serious, rare (in young children – Greg was supposedly diagnosed at 6) and debilitating mental illness, coupled with obvious social and emotional problems could be so detached from his son’s care and treatment.  Particularly after a violent incident that required Greg to be separated from the family many years previously.

That just didn’t work for me.  Nor did the fact that Greg’s problems were obvious to and identified by pretty much every adult in his life, yet he received no real therapy for his issues, aside from that provided by his well-meaning teacher.  I got the sense by the end that Greg was really just being portrayed, despite efforts to provide Greg’s side of the story through his narration, as the stereotypical dangerous, violent  loony, which just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Quirky

The quirkiest bit of this novel is the fact that it’s written by an unreliable narrator.  Greg haimages memory blocks that are slowly chipped away, drip-feeding the reader with clues to his overall situation.  Later in the book he also experiences some dissociation that muddies the waters as to what actually happens during the incident, as I shall refer to it.  The mysterious “Them” that Greg is afraid of is also a quirky drawcard, but what “They” are becomes pretty obvious early on in the story and I don’t think the author did a good enough job of describing Greg’s state of mind when in the throes of an attack of his phobia.

I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed.  Having a look at Goodreads, plenty of others really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it though, so if you are interested in the themes here I wouldn’t necessarily pooh-pooh this book out of hand just because it didn’t work for me.  On the other hand, if you are interested in searching out other books featuring dissociative disorders and their effects (on children and others) I would highly recommend the novel The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (which I never reviewed on the blog but probably should have!), The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod, or any of the gut-wrenching and eye-opening memoirs about schizophrenia that are out there such as Flying with Paper Wings by Sandy Jeffs, Tell Me I’m Here: One Family’s Experience of Schizophrenia by Anne Deveson, or Henry’s Demons: Living With Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story by Patrick and Henry Cockburn.

In completely unrelated news, the shelf is moving! Not this virtual shelf. You can still find us in cyberspace exactly where we’ve always been.  It’s the real, physical shelf that will be moving to a new home in the next week.  I mention this because that flightly mistress, WiFi, may or may not choose to make an appearance in our new home on time, and therefore we will be taking a week off from blogging from tomorrow (that’s January 17th).  I’m sure you’ll all miss us terribly, but we will be back with you as soon as we possibly can, hopefully on the 26th for 2015’s first round of Fiction in 50! Join us, won’t you?

Until next time,

Bruce