Get Well Soon: A Five Things I’ve Learned Review…

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.aaaaand a Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Today’s book is all about death and disease and as such, you wouldn’t necessarily think it would be all that enjoyable to read.  You would, however, be wrong.  Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright is a massively accessible nonfiction book with a conversational tone and enough humour to keep the (in some places) quite terrifying content, readable.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A humorous book about history’s worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they’ve suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright:

1. The incredibly deadly Spanish Flu didn’t actually originate in Spain.

2. No matter what the disease, it never does anyone any good when a stigma is attached to those who carry it.

3.  Having a plague that makes you dance non-stop for hours (or days) at a time may sound like fun, until your bones start protruding through your skin just as “Blame it on the Boogie” comes on.

4. Indulging in an illicit romp with a lady of the night is all fun and games until  your nose (and probably hers also) falls off.

5. People actually queued up at one time in history to allow a madman to drill holes in their skulls, in the hope that it would provide a cure for their assorted maladies.

I can’t remember when I last giggled so much while reading about infectious disease as I did while reading this book.  In terms of making nonfiction books accessible, Wright has done a bang-up job here with a narrative style that is light – but never makes light – despite content that can result in some pretty sobering reading.  The humour in this book is almost a necessary vent for the anger and sadness and bafflement some readers may experience while finding out about the ways in which some very sick people – as well as the people who tried to help them – were treated at various points throughout history.

The book covers various plagues in separate sections and includes famous plagues, such as the Black Death, Spanish Influenza, and Polio, alongside lesser known ailments such as the dancing plague mentioned in the blurb, the “plague” of lobotomies orchestrated by William Jackson Freeman III and the plague of Encephalitis Lethargia, which results in the loss of any kind of emotion or motivation and leaves sufferers, in some cases, like living corpses.  Part of the focus of the book is on how authorities and others dealt with these diseases when they first appeared and how this action or inaction affected the disease’s spread.  It’s fascinating to see how the work of some individuals and groups to gain evidence for the causes of certain diseases – cholera being a case in point – was pooh-poohed (pardon the pun) by the authorities and scientific community even in the face of growing numbers of people contracting the disease.

I suspect this book won’t necessarily cut it for those hoping for a scientific look at plagues and their causes, but for the casual reader and those interested in social responses to medical disasters, the book will provide enough information to be going on with.  The style of writing feels like narrative nonfiction, in part because of the way in which the author has highlighted the individuals involved in the outbreaks of each specific disease.  While the use of the term “heroes” to describe these people feels a bit twee to me, I appreciate the fact that these people should be acknowledged and possibly lauded as household names more than they usually are.

My favourite part of the book was the section dealing with Spanish influenza, simply because of the dastardly bad timing that meant this disease came to prominence at the same time as World War 1, leading to catastrophic breakdowns in communication between authorities and the general public that, had this been different, could have saved many lives.  Looking back on the content, I was mildly disappointed that the Ebola virus was not included in the list of diseases, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

If you, like me, enjoy reading about major global disasters in a style that won’t freak you out too badly or exacerbate general feelings of anxiety about the state of the world, this would definitely be one to add to your TBR.

Oh, and I’m adding this to my  Colour Coded Challenge as well.  Check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain…

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It’s time to classy things up a bit round the shelf with some nonfiction.  I requested Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain by David J. Vaughan for review due to the fact that last year I read two books on a similar theme: The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann and The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, both of which have a bit of crossover content with Mad or Bad.  Before I get into dissecting the book, I should say that we received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In a violent 19th century, desperate attempts by the alienists – a new wave of ‘mad-doctor’ – brought the insanity plea into Victorian courts. Defining psychological conditions in an attempt at acquittal, they faced ridicule, obstruction – even professional ruin – as they strived for acceptance and struggled for change. It left ‘mad people’ hanged for offences they could not remember, and ‘bad’ people freed on unscrupulous pleas.
Written in accessible language, this book – unlike any before it – retells twenty-five cases, from the renowned to obscure, including an attempt to murder a bemused Queen Victoria; the poisoner Dove and the much-feared magician; the king’s former wet-nurse who slaughtered six children; the worst serial killer in Britain…and more.

Having read the two aforementioned tomes about crime in Victorian Britain, and having digested the above blurb thoroughly enough, I expected that Mad or Bad would be a similarly accessible foray into the vagaries of the insanity plea in capital crimes, with case studies that illuminate the atmosphere of the time and give an insight into the human elements of each case.

Mad or Bad is a lot drier than that.

Although the case studies aim for an accessible tone, the complexities of the laws surrounding the insanity plea and the brevity of description of each case meant that by the end of the book I just felt confused and ready to put the whole topic to bed.  It seemed to me that in trying to highlight the seemingly random nature and chaotic legal background of the insanity plea, the author has been drawn into the chaos, resulting in a collection of case studies that seem disconnected and lacking in context.

Having said that, there are some extremely interesting points raised about the use of the insanity plea, particularly with regards to women committing crimes.  I was hoping for a more narrative tone to the case studies, rather than dry information, but regardless, there are certainly some studies that boggle the mind in terms of evidence that was acceptable at the time and evidence that was overlooked or counted as irrelevant to the proceedings.

The biggest problem I had with this book was in its organisation and format.  Bear in mind that I was reading an uncorrected proof and certain of my criticisms may have been ironed out before publication, or in subsequent editions, but I would have preferred to have seen the case studies grouped under relevant headings rather than placed one after the other.  As a couple of the case studies reference previous (or subsequent) studies mentioned, it would have been helpful to have a mental framework, in the form of similar studies collected together, on which to hang (pun unintended) the information.  I suspect I would have got more out of this book had I been able to, at a glance, look over and compare all the cases in which the prisoners received a reprieve for instance.

As ever, pictures would also have been helpful!

On the whole, if you are looking for a book about crime in Victorian Britain, I would probably plump for either the Stratmann or Summerscale tomes that I mentioned at the beginning of this post before going to this one, but if you are specifically looking for some background to the treatment of the “insane”, you should find what you’re looking for here, even if it takes a little while to find it.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 and you can see my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Shelfies: My Christmas, Unwrapped #Whographica # DoctorWho

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Since we’re among friends, I think it’s safe to make you all jealous by telling you how many books I got for Christmas.  Are you ready?  I think you’ll be shocked and amazed…

I got……

One.

Yup, you read that right.  One single, solitary book for Christmas.  But am I crying? No siree, Bob!  Because the book I received is an absolute cracker of a read – and best of all, I didn’t even know it existed!

So what was this intriguing, involving and all around excellent book?  Whographica: An Infographic Guide to Space and Time by Simon Guerrier, Steve O’Brien and Ben Morris.

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Now, if  you aren’t a fan of Doctor Who you can probably switch off now because I’m not sure you’ll appreciate how kick-ass this book really is.  If you are still reading, I will assume that you too are a fan of all things Who, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Captivating, intriguing, beautiful and strange, Whographica explores the rich universe of Doctor Who like no book before it. Through creative visualisations, infographics, charts, maps and more, it offers a unique introduction to the extraordinary worlds of the show – from the Doctor’s family tree to the strangest weapons in the universe; from a star chart showing the exact co-ordinates of Gallifrey to a flow diagram of allegiances between Daleks and Cybermen throughout history.

Bursting with colour, expert knowledge, and fun, Whographica will delight new and long-term fans alike. And, like the show it celebrates, it will make you see the world in an entirely new way.

If you, like me, are a fan of Doctor Who and would like to extend your Who-related knowledge, but lack the time to watch every episode ever made or read long nonfiction texts about the series, its creators, its social impact and other bits of Who-minutiae, you should really get your paws on this book.  Every single page in it has an infographic about some fascinating aspect of the show – from the Doctors themselves to the actors who played them, from when and where particular episodes were screened, to the frequency of words used in their titles, from the comparative appearances of cybermen to daleks, to the percentages of male-to-female job roles in the production team – this book will tell you every little thing you ever needed to know about Doctor Who.

Best of all, for someone like me who likes a bit of variation in illustrative style, the infographic designs range widely.  There are some infographics packed full of graphs and bits and bobs, like the pages devoted to each specific Doctor:

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Note the pictograph showing relative heights of each doctor!! There are geographical infographics galore – this particular one shows all the countries in which 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor was simultaneously screened:

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There are many infographics devoted to the Doctors’ companions, like this one about Sarah Jane Smith:

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There are plenty of infographics that just have interesting facts that you may never have considered.  This one, for instance, names the six episodes in which every speaking character, not including the Doctor and his companion/s, ends up dead:

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Don’t be too downhearted though, because this infographic is a companion to an earlier one, which shows all the episodes in which everyone lives.

For us bookish folk, there’s even a graphic showing the dominant colours on the covers of all the published Doctor Who novelisations!

Truly, I was immediately engrossed in this nifty, satisfyingly chunky book as soon as I unwrapped it and I have had it on my shelfside table ever since.  I will no doubt be dipping into this one for a long time to come yet and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who considers themselves part of the Doctor Who fandom.

Did the Annual Gift Man leave any book-shaped packages under your tree last year?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Yarning with Mad Martha about Bless This Mother-Effing Home

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Cheerio my dears!  If you’ve ever thought that your dwelling could do with a bit more decor proclaiming shocking swear words and snarky sentiment then today’s book is one that you don’t want to miss!  Bless This Mother-Effing Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Kutthroat (not her real name, methinks?) is the perfect crafty tome for those who would love to adorn their home with traditional cross-stitch designs, yet lack the skill, time or desire to create such things themselves.  We received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The combination of sugar and spice is irresistible in this adorable and appalling collection of cross stitch. Laugh out loud fun through crafting is found in these biting yet precious patterns.

Katie Kutthroat’s warped and witty cross stitch has taken the internet by storm and has been featured on TV shows like HBO’s Girls. Cute but snarky, each cross stitch pattern featured in Bless This Mother-effing Home evokes laughter and irony. Perforated pages allow for readers to hang up or share favorite entries, spreading the cross stitched love.

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I, my friends, am not proficient at cross-stitch, bless my little fabric heart.

I would like to be.

I have dabbled in pre-printed long stitch kits with some success.  But painstakingly threading those tiny little crosses into a delightful pattern is something that I have not yet developed the patience to indulge in.

I do, however, love the look of cross-stitch, and this book is a little ray of genius sunshine for all of those out there, who, like me, like the design appeal of cross-stitch but can’t do it themselves, or don’t have an aunt, grandmother, (insert distant relation here) who can whip up a piece for them.

It took me a little while to twig to the brilliant formatting feature of this book, so I’m going to leave it to the end to draw out the excitement and talk about the designs instead.

If you are a fan of traditional cross-stitch samplers, look away now.  In fact, you should probably shut your eyes and never open them toward this title again, because there is no sugary-sweet sentiment here.  Nope, this book features antagonistic, sarcastic and downright anti-social slogans rendered in beautiful, folksy detail.  From the mild and amusing “Go to Hell”, to the thought-provoking “Deflowered not devalued” to the eyebrow-raising “I have a raging heart on”, there is something for all tastes in this collection, unless of course you don’t appreciate sweary personal attacks.  I nearly had to reach for my smelling salts after seeing “Shut your whore mouth” but I am an old-fashioned kind of gal.

Cheekiness levels aside, I did mention that this book has one genius feature, and here it is:

The pages are perforated.

This means that you don’t need to have any cross-stitch talent whatsoever and you can still display these delightful designs in your very own home!  Just carefully tear out the design that takes your fancy, pop it in a frame and ta-da! Everyone will think that you are the instigator of a new snarky take on traditional folk art!

Some of the designs in this book won’t be to everyone’s taste, due to levels of sweariness and general antagonism, but there are lots of benign, funny designs in here too, that won’t cause your mother to rage or your grandparents to disinherit.  If you are hankering after some modern cross-stitch art to hang in your home but lack the ability to bring your dream to fruition, let Bless This Mother-Effing Home do the dirty work for you.

Adios until we meet again,

Mad Martha

On For Young and Old: Activity books from wicked to wonderful…

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If you (or your mini-fleshlings) are already twiddling your thumbs and the school holidays haven’t even started yet, allow me to avail you of some fantastic activity books that will give your thumbs, and indeed the rest of your hand-based digits, something to do.  Let’s start with something for the grownups, shall we, with…

The Wicked Plants Colouring Book (Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

which we received for review from Scribe Publications

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From Goodreads:

A colouring book with a dark side

In The Wicked Plants Colouring Book, Amy Stewart and artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs bring colouring enthusiasts the 40 most menacing botanical atrocities from their New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Morrow-Cribbs’s exquisite etchings are now finely rendered colouring-book art and are paired with details from the original book.

Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, and written with Stewart’s trademark wit, each wonderfully creepy spread offers a fascinating portrait of the evildoers of the plant world, from the vine that ate the South (kudzu) to the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother (white snakeroot) to the world’s deadliest seed (rosary pea).

If this time of year generally has you making a list (of people who have wronged you during the past year) and checking it twice, then you are definitely the sort of person for whom the colouring of deadly plants could be a relaxing and educational experience.  I was woefully unaware of the original nonfiction title that spawned this black and white spin-off, but Wicked Plants is now definitely on my TBR list.

As well as providing some gorgeous and detailed line drawings of the aforementioned floral evildoers for you to wile away the hours colouring in, each plant picture is accompanied by a short paragraph of text explaining the specific wickedness of said plant and providing tidbits of scientific information about it.  The cover star of the book, in case you are wondering, is the Betel Nut, a highly addictive nut prized for its chewability, but a chief cause of mouth cancer and asthma.  A small selection of the 40 delightfully deadly plants included here are the innocent-seeming Water Hyacinth (waterway clogger extraordinaire), the highly toxic Death Camas (well, the name did warn you), and the completely-poisonous-except-for-one-tiny-bit (can you guess which one?) Yew.  The plants are listed in alphabetical order, with a foreword from the author at the beginning, and some blank pages at the back for you to draw your own plants.

I think the most charming thing about this particular activity book is that it bears a “This book belongs to” stamp at the front, so that budding poisoners can ensure that nobody makes off with their tome of flowering death.  If you are, or you know, a green thumb who is also quite at home with the dark side of plant life, this would make the perfect gift.  Other than that, perhaps you could keep it beside your list of enemies, for when you need a light break.

Next we have one for the middle-sized fleshlings of your acquaintance…

Doodles Activity Book 

which we received from Allen & Unwin for review

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Doodles Activity Book Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $16.99

From Allen & Unwin:

A hilariously funny activity book filled with wacky drawing ideas. DRAW-SNAP-SEND-LAUGH – submit your drawing directly to the interactive animated comedy series Doodles, now screening on ABC3.

Take a monster selfie, untangle a robot’s wiring or create your own UFO in this comic and appealing activity book with loads of child appeal. Full of hilarious drawing activities, funny dot-to-dots, zany find-a-words, wacky mazes and other mad-cap activities sure to spark a child’s creativity, this book from the creators of the successful television show of the same name will be a winner for Christmas.

The interactive television show, Doodles, in which kids’ drawings are turned into micro movies is now screening on ABC ME. Kids can submit their drawings to the television show by following the instructions in the activity book.

As with the previous title, I had absolutely no idea that this book is based on a TV show currently screening on ABCMe (formerly ABC3).   At first glance, this book doesn’t appear to be anything too different or special when it comes to drawing prompt-type books for kids, but having had a quick look at the website for the show, which encourages kids to send in their drawings, which are then made into short animations, this activity book starts to make a lot more sense. I would definitely encourage you to use the book in conjunction with having a goggle at the show, to provide inspiration beyond what’s provided in the pages here.  Don’t panic if you think you’ll forget the website for the show – all the social media addresses are included in the book – and there’s even a little instruction page detailing how kids can submit their drawings for the show.

The book itself is a satisfying A4 size, and divided into sections based on different themes – dinosaurs, superheroes, aliens, technology and robots, and magic and fantasy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea because not only does it allow the user to flick to whatever interests them first, but it but it also provides a focused prompt and allows users to practice one particular type of drawing before moving on to the next.  As well as lots of doodling prompts, each section has a range of other activities, such as colouring by numbers, decoding puzzles, crosswords, funny labelling activities and mad libs style fill-in-the-blank activities, so even if your mini-fleshling isn’t a drawing desperado, they should find something to keep them busy inside this book.  

The final section of the book is a “Make Your Own Movie” chapter, in which users are guided through the process of creating a story from start to finish.  Page prompts detail how to create characters, decide on a conflict and push the story through to an exciting ending.  This is a great way to keep the mini-fleshlings busy for more than just a few minutes, as they plan and create a story, rather than just fill in an activity page.

On closer inspection, I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the prompts found in the Doodles Activity book.  If you are looking for a way to get your kids away from their screens without cancelling all screen time, this book could be a great middle point as it uses the TV show as a starting point to fire kids’ imaginations.

And finally, we have one for the whole family, whether you’re snowed in or sweating it out…

The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book (Andy Seed & Scott Garrett)

which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia

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From Bloomsbury Australia:

Warning: This book will cure all boredom!

Christmas is everyone’s favourite time of year. But it can also get a bit boring from time to time. Those long journeys to see Aunty Periwinkle can seem to drag on forever! But look no further because Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Christmas Book will cure all those Christmas boredom blues!

Find out how to say snow in 16 different languages; discover who banned Christmas carols; act out your own wacky routine of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and much much more!

This fantastically festive witty and wacky book is bursting full of laugh-out-loud facts, games, quizzes plus heaps more for hours of fun. Packed full of Scott Garrett’s hilarious artwork, this book is sure to keep you entertained for hours of festive fun! 

“So how is this different from other Christmas activity books, Bruce?” I hear you ask.  Well, for a start, The Anti-Boredom Christmas book is far less focused on using the book as the starting point for the activity, rather encouraging people, both young and old, to share their ideas, likes and dislikes about all things Christmas.  Divided into a range of handy sections which cover everything from snowfall to festive music to Christmas around the world, each section features jokes to tell, objects or events to rate, challenges to complete individually or with family or friends, riddles to solve, games to play and contentious topics (like whether real or fake Christmas trees are superior) to debate.  My favourite bit (being a bit of a nerdy nerd) was discovering a list of Toy of the Year winners from 1965 to 2015, although I had a bit of a chuckle at a collection of real and made up festive place names from around the world (did you know the US boasts a town named Santa Claus?), and I thought hard over a would-you-rather game involving Christmas films.  The only downside to the book is that it is quite Northern Hemisphere-centric, and even Britain-centric, and younger Aussie readers may not quite get the references to Pantos and such.  

The book is quite a small size, which makes it super-handy for travelling, but ensures that the text is packed onto the page, so a quick flick through really gives the impression that there is plenty to get one’s teeth into to ward off holiday boredom.  It’s also beautifully formatted so that you can just open it at a random page and have a go at whatever you happen to land on, be it joke-telling, snowflake crafting or playing a Christmas-themed guessing game.  I think the best part about this book is that most of the activities within it beg to be shared with others, encouraging interaction rather than isolation on screen or over page.  If you are going on a long boring train, plane or car trip, or expect some drop-outs to your Wifi this holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is a great solution for when you need ten festive minutes to fill.

Hopefully one of these books has taken your fancy and we on the Shelf have once again assisted you with your gift-buying needs.  Or, you know, just helped you add a few extra books to your teetering TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Beautiful, Beastly Double Dip: Gift Books about Repitilia (and other unusual creatures)

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You may have noticed that it is getting to that time of year when it will be impossible to avoid the urging of others regarding choosing the right gift.  If you are looking to escape such urging, you have come to the wrong place, for today I have two beautifully presented books that would make the perfect gift for young readers of your acquaintance with a penchant for dinosaurs and other beastly creatures.  We received both of these tomes from Bloomsbury Australia for review and they have already been pored over by the mini-fleshlings, to the accompaniment of much “Ooohing” and “Ahhing”.

First up, we have Discovering Dinosaurs by Simon Chapman and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This is the the most thrilling, adventure book, ever! Written by a real-life adventurer, Simon Chapman, be prepared to live your dream and imagine you discovered the dinosaurs. It’s your chance to battle blizzards with swarms of vipers in the Gobi Desert with Roy Chapman Andrews, join the race across the the Wild West of America with bone-hunters Cope and Marsh.

Along the trail of discovery you’ll unearth a time when monsters really did rule the world – DINOSAURS.

You will find them all in here: Triceratops, Pteradactyls, Iguanodon, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and many more. It’s crammed full of stats, wild pictures, a brilliant pop-up (don’t get eaten!), realistic artworks, journals, flaps and even the insides of dinosaurs. You’ll discover what makes a dinosaur, when and where they lived, what they ate, why they fought and why they became extinct.

Dip into it for… discovering-dinosaurs

…a vividly illustrated adventure into the prehistoric world, with flaps to lift, notebooks and letters to flick through and one whopping great pop up!  If you have a mini-fleshling interested in dinosaurs, this would certainly be a winning choice for gifting.  The book is large with a satisfyingly chunky cover and solid cardboard pages, all the better to provide a sturdy base for the artifacts inside.  Beginning with a double page fold-out map of the world as it was during different geological time periods, the book is divided into double page spreads that focus on particular geographical regions in which certain species of dinosaur have been found, alternating with double page spreads on a range of “favourite” dinosaurs.  The book finishes with some information on fossils as well as an intriguing little flip-up notebook piece which is enticingly titled, “How to Find Fossils”.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of dinosaurs, I suppose.  Age-wise, the text was a bit advanced for the eldest mini-fleshling in this dwelling, at nearly six years old, but but he spent plenty of time flicking through the various flaps, pull-outs and bits to see what was in, under and around.  I would have to say that this is best suited to the seven and above age group, if you are looking at them actually getting to grips with the information in the book, rather than just having fun with the pictures and pop-ups.

Overall Dip Factor

The best recommendation I can give for this book is that the mini-fleshling double-checked whether this book would be remaining in the dwelling after it had been reviewed, and if so, could he claim it as his.  There are plenty of books on various topics in this type of engaging format around, but they certainly do make for a fun and tactile reading experience.  If you don’t know any mini-fleshlings with a particular interest in dinosaurs, this would make an equally appealing gift for any primary school teachers or children’s librarians of your acquaintance.  It’s the kind of book that will be on high rotation during silent reading.

Next we have A Miscellany of Magical Beasts by Simon Holland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Enter an incredible world of magical beasts, dare to draw near to their captivating powers, and discover the spellbinding stories of sixteen favorite mythical creatures from around the world. Venture into this world and you’ll discover why griffins collect a gem called agate, how to put out dragonfire, how mischievous elves can cause terrible nightmares, and much, much more.

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts is a beautiful, luxurious gift book showcasing a fascinating menagerie of creatures from the world’s timeless mythologies and legends. Presented in an incredible package with spectacular cover finishes, it is sure to be treasured by fantasy enthusiasts.

Dip into it for…  miscellany-of-magical-beasts

…a feast for the eyes and a scratch for the fantastical beast itch.  Apart from being nicely timed to coincide with the release of a certain movie about certain fantastic beasts and where to find the same, this is the kind of book that will spark the imagination of even the most literal and pragmatic of young readers.  The cover image gives a good indication of the high quality of illustration throughout the book and each page is awash with colour and fine detail.  The book has several illustrators contributing, so while all the illustrations are stunningly gorgeous, there is a bit of variety in style, which is an interesting touch. Tucked within the pages are a few fold-outs and cut-outs and because they are not included on every page, add a little extra to the reading experience for those who go the distance.  A wide range of beasties are covered, from the unicorn to the chimera and from elves to werewolves, with each creature receiving at least a double-page spread of information in a blocks of text that don’t overwhelm.  Some of the creatures also get a little extra attention, with sections such as “How to Outwit a Werewolf” and a “Guide to Dragons” filling out some of the informational gaps and providing variety.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for information on gargoyles.  They aren’t included.  Similarly, if you are looking for a whiz-bang reading experience with pop-ups and flaps to lift you will be disappointed because this book is more of an information text, albeit a beautifully presented one.

Overall Dip Factor

If you know a mini-fleshling with a vivid imagination, who is into fantasy fiction, or is simply ripe for pushing into tabletop fantasy RPG games, this book will certainly whet their appetite for the magical.  It has a lovely large format that is perfect for enjoying with others and the illustrations really are something else.  Once again, if you are, or know, a classroom teacher or children’s librarian, this would make a brilliant and coveted addition to any school or classroom library.

As they say, the first bite is with the eye (or something of that nature), and if you have a reluctant reader or a mini-fleshling who would rather eat glass than wake up to find a book in their Christmas stocking, either of these tomes might change their mind.  On the other hand, if you are related to a voracious reader, either of these books in their stocking will reinforce for them why getting a book for Christmas is the greatest thing ever.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Maido: A Gaijin’s Guide to Japanese Gestures…

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maido

In my ongoing quest to learn more about Japan and its quirky idiosyncracies, I stumbled across this delightful and visually appealing (not to mention useful), tome.  We received a copy of Maido: A Gaijin’s Guide to Japanese Gestures and Culture by Christy Colon Hasegawa from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Maido (my-dough, not to be confused with that childhood favorite, Play-Doh) describes the most common Japanese gestures and defines their meanings and the cultural contexts that surround them. Japanese gestures are a world of their own, much the way the language and country are. In the Kansai region of Japan, people often use the term Maido as a greeting in business and sales, and as a send-off to a business’s best customers as if to say, come again or thank you.

In this case, Maido is welcoming you to a world in which you don t offend every Japanese person you meet. By learning a few simple gestures you can avoid making intercultural slip-ups and win the respect of locals. And who knows maybe the next time you walk into the local izakaya (watering hole), you may be lucky enough to hear someone saying, Maido! Maido! to you.”

So this book is essentially a humour-filled pictorial guide to reading the body language of Japanese people and as such is an incredibly useful book to read if you are planning on visiting or moving to Japan.  The book is set out in an easy-to-follow format: each page features a picture of a Japanese person demonstrating a gesture, accompanied by the Japanese term for the gesture, an English translation of what the gesture might be called and a brief explanation of how and where one might use such a gesture.  Gestures include everything from noting sexual preference to asking for a hot towel at a restaurant, from calling someone a moron to beckoning someone toward you – really, for the individual interested in social interactions, this book provides a wealth of information in a super-accessible way.

Apart from feeling that I was learning some useful information, I had two favourite elements of the book.  The first is that the gestures are being demonstrated by a majorly diverse cross-section of Japanese people, from the bemused looking elderly, to the styled-up cosplayer, to the neatly turned out professional type, to the cheeky little kid.  Visually, the photography itself provides a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and social interactions.

As well as the visual appeal of the book, I also loved the author’s conversational and humorous style.  The author was born and raised in Japan by a Japanese mother and Puerto Rican American father and as such is perfectly placed to deftly explain the social implications of certain gestures in a way that non-natives can appreciate.  She is also possessed of a witty turn of phrase, which makes reading each of the explanations a lot of fun in itself.

If you have any interest in Japanese culture at all, be it manga, cosplay or a strong desire to visit the country, you could do a lot worse than to have a flick through this handy explanatory tome.  I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Japan, as well as anyone who loves an accessible, visually-appealing nonfiction read about society and culture.

Until next time,

Bruce