Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Monday, October 23, 2017

Northstars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville! by Jim Shelley, Haigen Shelley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a great comic with a great title. In Snowville, Santa's daughter Holly (not much of a stretch there!) thinks she's getting a babysitting job when she's put in charge of the daughter of the visiting Yeti King. She doesn't know she's about to set out on an adventure which will uncover a conspiracy at the North Pole!

She quickly learns that Frostina is a girl very much her own age if a little taller (she's a yeti after all, although she doesn't look much like the traditional yeti is supposed to), and very soon the two are involved in an adventure. This was, to me, described a little confusingly in the blurb as being a trip to "the subterranean city of Undertown to investigate trouble in Troggie Town." I didn't quite get what that meant. Is Troggie Town part of the City of Undertown, maybe a suburb or an Ethnic neighborhood? Or is Undertown misrepresented and is a region rather than a city or a town - a region in which lies Troggie Town? It's no big deal, but it felt a bit confusing, especially since it doesn't look subterranean at all, being awash in snow, trees, and lots of bright light!

Anyway, while down there they encounter some weird and wonderful creatures and strange opponents, but the two feisty girls win through and save Christmas, and isn't that what's needed more than anything - saving Christmas from any selfish interests which would ruin it? We can all fight that battle!

I really enjoyed this story and thought it was well-written, beautifully drawn and colored, and told a worthy tale of Christmas fun and adventure.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Miss Kane's Christmas by Caroline Mickelson

Rating: WORTHY!

Closing out the year on a nice positive note, This is a typical Christmas "need to change your outlook" kind of a story as exemplified in books such as A Christmas Carol, and in movies such as It's a Wonderful Life which I took delight in parodying last year, and Miracle on 34th Street, of which I think the original was better than the remake. It involves a couple falling in love in only two or three days, and a very pushy woman winning over a determinedly anti-Christmas single dad. So why did I like this one, and reject the other one I'm reviewing today? It's a matter of perspective. The other one put a completely unrealistic plot into a real life situation, and this one put a perfectly plausible plot (in the story context) into a fantasy. The latter works. The former never will unless you're writing an absurdist comedy and not a romance.

It's the very fact that this is a ridiculous fantasy that means you don't take it too seriously, which is why I don't get some of the negative comments I've read about this. It's like complaining that Cinderella would have been far too uncomfortable in glass slippers (when they were, in the original story, fur anyway!), or that wolves can't even talk, much less huff and puff, and blow down a house. You can't judge it seriously, and like a children's story, you need to accept it within its own frame of reference, not in some adult reality frame of your own invention. It feels rather like these critics are trying to argue that you can't change a young suicidal person's mind, so leave 'em alone and let 'em get on with it!

No, you don't let an otherwise perfectly healthy young suicidal person get on with it even if they really want to, and in a world where Santa is not only real, but has a family, you can't let a guy rob his kids of the fun of Christmas. You have to hold an intervention! This is why I can like this story and reject the other one, because within its fantasy world, this story was plausible and fun. Yes, Santa's daughter was pushy, but she didn't want to be there in the first place, and was focused solely on getting this task done and moving on. She never expected to be won over by this single dad's love for his kids or his level of patience with her. It wasn't great literature. It wasn't authentic reality. It was a fairy tale, and it was cute and fun and funny, and I liked it. That's all there is to it.

A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt

Rating: WARTY!

I'm a bit late with these last two, but what the Noël! I think yule find the reviews worth reading as long as I don't carol on about them....

Since both of my parents hail from Yorkshire, I thought this might be an interesting read. In fact, it simply wasn't. Even though the story was short I didn't read it all, so I can't comment on the last half of it, but the first half could have been set literally anywhere it snows, from Yorkshire to Yakutsk, from Canada to Chile, and it wouldn't have made any difference, so why 'Yorkshire'? I don't know!

Sometimes when people are obsessed with writing a series, even a loosely packed one like this, they become so enamored of their "brilliance" in picking the catchy titles that they're blinded to the fact that they have to write a story which fits the title, and it has to be a good and realistic one if you want me to read it.

Even if that hadn't been a curious factor in this novel, the story itself was so predictable and ploddingly uninventive that I literally couldn't stand (nor sit!) to read it. The characters were neither inviting nor intriguing, and the story went nowhere that hasn't already been trampled by the feet of countless writers into chill and unappealingly scruffy pack ice. So what was the point of one more flat, cheesy, Christmas cookie-cutter romance? I submit it to you that there is none to be made.

It's the so-trite-it's-shite city girl versus country boy, rich versus poor, helpless versus capable story we're read a billion times before. There is literally nothing new here. Once more we have a girl on the run from a bad romance, because you know that all women are cowardly and weak, and they routinely flee to a new city when a romance goes bad. Curiously, they always seem to arrive in perfect time to immediately fall in love with either a complete stranger or an old flame (ELO! It's either real or it's a dream there's nothing that is in between!), whereas in reality, a woman like that would be a total moron or a limp rag of a person who is of no use to anyone.

As if this isn't bad enough, there's the sorry fiction that every woman needs a Saint George to rescue her from some dragon or other. The fleeing whimpering woman has to be saved and validated by the perfect guy - who can be either simple and country or a billionaire, but who must be a complete stud-muffin in all other regards. excuse me while I barf. This book had no redeeming features whatsoever and I cannot recommend it.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sad Santa by Tad Carpenter

Rating: WORTHY!

All the Christmas stories I've seen, especially children's stories, are about the anticipation of Christmas, and about Christmas Day and the opening of gifts, but this one asks the logical question: what happens to Santa the day after Christmas? In the US, the day after is nothing. In Britain and the so-called commonwealth countries, it's called Boxing Day. Historically, this was the first weekday after Christmas Day when mail-carriers ('postmen'!), delivery boys, and servants were given a small gift-box as a thank you for their services. Religiously, it's the feast of Stephen, when Good King Wenceslaus (which Google thinks should be spelled 'audiences' LOL!) looked out.

For Santa, though, as this author tells us, it's a horrible, miserable day when he's out of work! There's nowhere he has to be, and nothing to do when he gets there, so what's a Santa to do? It's quite a to-do! As the blurb has it, "His reindeer and elves can't lift his spirits, and even a vacation with Mrs Claus doesn't do the trick."

Printed in four-colors, this book hits the right note in text and artistry and provides a different and entertaining perspective on this interesting time of year. I like the idea that the author is a Carpenter - evidently it's a family trait, but since he was only a Tad Carpenter, he decided to become a writer instead?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Emma and Snowbell by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three reviews of children's books by Mary Lee. They're seasonal, and this one is obviously aimed at Christmas. The little girl who is at the heart of these stories is named Emma, which happens to be the name of a niece of mine as well as the title of a Jane Austen novel.

Each of the three novels has rhyming text patterned after a song or a nursery rhyme. The Christmas story follows the rhythm of Jingle Bells. The composer of the original rhyme, James Lord Pierpont, is offered no credit for the song the author riffs off, which is sad, but since it was composed in the mid-nineteenth century, I guess that's the way it goes when your copyright expires! Jingle Bells, originally title One Horse Open Sleigh, tells of sleigh races which were held in the early nineteenth century./p>

Emma doesn't have a sleigh, one horse open or otherwise, so she's trudging through the snow until a reindeer takes pity on her and gives her a ride - in the sky, as reindeer are wont to do. I liked this story. The do-over of the song was amusing and the artwork was, as usual, fun, so I recommend this one.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas Best by Diana Kizlauskas

Rating: WORTHY!

Here's an interesting story for young children with a Christmas flavor. Or is that just another way of saying it's a turkey? Just kidding. I thought this was nicely illustrated by the author, but it seemed to send a mixed message. In the end I decided to recommend it because it can be used a a really good teaching tool about choices and consequences.

It doesn't work too well on a tablet though - this book will be of more utility as a print book I think, but it's very short, so tree-abuse is limited. The reason it doesn't work well on a pad is that instead of individual pages, all of the "pages" in the book are offered as double-page images, so you can only see them as relatively small images unless you spread them with a finger and a thumb, which is a nuisance. If you turn your pad sideways, they can be seen as a double-page spread, but then they're quite small. They're legible at this size, but not ideal.

The story is about job satisfaction, so it's very relevant in this day and age. Written in scattershot verse, we read of five elves, none of which is very happy with their lot in life making toys for International Santa Corporation. Why Santa gets such good PR when he clearly is running a sweatshop and making extensive use of slave labor is a mystery to me. I detest the little dictator, but that's just me.

Anyway, I guess the elves work in Texas or some place which has the same labor laws because they just walk out, offering no notice and decided to try something new. Baking isn't their forte, so they migrate to being choristers, mail carriers, present wrappers, and so on, but they are so poor at doing these other jobs that they give up and return to Santa Corporation to resume their original employment.

This actually offers room for a great discussion with your kids about working and job satisfaction, and loyalty and job training, which no on seems to offer these guys and girls. Should we stay in our little world trapped by our limited perspective and our exemplary skills in a job which offers only broken dreams, or set forth upon a sea of jobs and by embracing, mend them?

What if we fail? Is it a failure to try something new even if it doesn't work out? Is it okay to return to the sorry world we left if there appears to be nothing better? Can we be happy with what dissatisfied us when we realize there's no hope for an alternative out there, or do we have to mesmerize ourselves into being happy even when we're not? I recommend this book for its bold exploration of elvish existentialism and charming artwork.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Baker's Dozen by Aaron Shepherd

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Beautifully illustrated, this Christmas story (actually set on and around Saint Nicholas's Day, which falls in early December), tells a highly fanciful tale of how a "baker's dozen" came to be thirteen rather than the actual twelve there is in a dozen. In fact it's because bakers in the past (as early as the eighteenth century if not before) didn't want to be fined for shorting their customers so they added one more to their 'dozen' (a term which comes from the French) for good measure. No one is going to complain about getting something for nothing, right?

In this story however, a rather gluttonous woman puts a curse on the baker for giving her only twelve "cookies" (a term which actually derives from a Dutch word koekje) when she'd requested a dozen. The baker's business falls into a disastrous decline until he decides to give thirteen instead of twelve for a dozen, whereupon his business flourishes! I don't know if this is the reverse of the real spirit of Christmas in our capitalistic age, where less is more - profitable!, or if it actually embodies it!

The real joy of this story though, apart from the happy ending, is Wendy Edelson's gorgeous illustrations in full color, which hark back if not to a Dickensian Christmas age, hark certainly back to a Rockwellian one. Beautifully done in great detail and in rich earth tones, ornamented with Christmas reds and whites, the images are a joy, but you cannot enjoy them at their best in electronic form unfortunately. This is very much intended as a print book, and the tablet version breaks up the images in unfortunately and uncomplimentary ways. This is the really the kind of book you have to buy in the print version and leave on the coffee table over the holidays! And perhaps that's just as well. A little old fashioned never hurt anyone at Christmas, now did it?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rock Chick by Kristen Ashley

Rating: WARTY!

I made it to page five and decided it wasn't for me. I think that's a record for me. It appeared to be about an ex-groupie who now runs a used book store. It was written in 2011, so I'm asking, "Who would have their character running a used book store in 2011?" The store would be out of business! That's not to say there are no independent used book stores, and certainly not to say that there shouldn't be, but you cannot stick your head in the sand! They are rapidly dwindling, so unless your story is about that very issue, I see no point in taking such a lazy way out!

It was first person PoV, the most detestable voice in my view, which didn't help, and the main character claimed that the romance section did a brisk business, but who buys used romance print books any more when you can get the latest cupcake novel free or for ninety-nine cents from Amazon? A more interesting story would be about Big Business like Amazon killing off the book business (but I guess Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan did that!). They have at least one such book every couple of weeks of that nature available for free. Not that I buy them. I read one of them once and it was poor, but believe it or not, there is quite evidently a market for romance stories or even detective stories about women who run cupcake stores or run cafeterias.

But I digress. I have to say that I'm not a fan of writers who use bookstores in place of doing the work of making the character actually cool. It's the same kind of problem with writers who say their character reads (or has) a lot of books, in place of actually making them interesting or intelligent! This was undoubtedly part of why Rock Chick simply did not appeal to me. I didn't like the tone or the writing, and it was first person PoV which is the nail in the coffin for me unless it's done really well. That's all I have to convey about this one! Your mileage may very well differ. I hope it does. I'd hate for you to experience the same negative vibe from this that I did!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Daughter Claus by D Thrush

Rating: WORTHY!

The author doesn't know a while heck of a lot about the North Pole, but she can tell a story and I recommend this one. This was an unusual, if slightly flawed novel, but charming and amusing nonetheless, and I consider it a very worthy read. Flaws? What do I mean by that? Well one example is the fact that this novel was published in 2013, yet this ambitious Gothic rock band featured in the story was obsessing over making and releasing their first CD. Who does that anymore? They would have been posting their singles on iTunes and Google Play, and elsewhere if their behavior had been consistent, but that's a quibble. I have one or two others I'll mention, but none of them interfered with my love of the story.

The tale told here is that Santa is getting old, and is looking at retiring to Florida where he and his wife Clara have a condo. The fly in the snow is Santa's son Nick. Santa expects him, as the firstborn son, to take over the family "business", but Nick has other ideas. He wants to pursue a career in Goth rock, with his band, "Black Ice" (and release a CD!). Poor daughter Santina isn’t even considered as a replacement - despite the fact that she's the one in college pursuing a business degree - because she's a girl.

This "business" thing was a bit weird, since there was no money being made in this operation, yet they were talking about elf wages, and union contracts, and the costs of modernization. Santa made enough to buy a condo. In Florida. It made no sense and nothing was offered to explain cash flow in Santa's Business! Again, a minor quibble, but definitely confusing.

On the day Santa is supposed to head back north, he has a heart attack, and while the injury is minimal, he requires surgery and is laid up for some time. The only person who can step in is Tina, who isn’t due back at college until the fall. Nick is on tour with his grudge band (that's a garage band which has a bad attitude, LOL!). Tina has her own ideas about how the business should be run, and she starts in making changes and improvements, and getting everyone to work together in harmony. Even the sleigh-pullers are reined in, dear! Her jerk of a father and jerkess of a mother are not supportive. Frankly, those two parents are intolerable and intolerant and need a serious lump of coal stuck somewhere the sun doesn't shine - which would be the North Pole in wintertime, of course....

How will this all pan out? Well, you'll have to read the novel to find out! I did and loved it! There were some issues, as I've indicated. The story gets a bit bogged down with day-to-day humdrum and with Tina having the hots for a guy in Nick's band, who is improbably named George. Her best friend Lisa has the hots for Nick until she discovers how self-centered, and career-focused he is. He can’t even remember her name. I'm not sure why all that was tossed in because the story was working fine without it. Not every main female character in a novel has to have a love interest, male or female. The majority of them tend to work better without. In this case the involvement is kept to a minimum, so it’s not awful, but it isn't necessary, either. If you were going to do something like that, why not really stir things up and have Santina and Lisa fall for each other?!

One interesting thing about this is that the Kindle version I read on my phone has page numbers! See? it can be done, Amazon! There are two hundred pages, but it’s a very fast and easy read. I do think the author didn't quite fully appreciate that this was taking place at the North Pole (when it wasn't set in Florida), however! This was not in Antarctica, nor was it on some land mass in the Arctic circle. It was actually at the North Pole, where the elevation above sea level is maybe ten feet! There are no mountains at the North Pole, so the assertion that Tina "...noticed the distant mountains draped with a smooth white blanket" is nonsensical! There are no mountains there - not even in the distance!

Also, it’s the North Pole! All directions from here go south, and there are no time zones, and therefore no meaningful time differences! So how do we explain this: "Tina called Lisa at lunchtime the next day. She had to take into account the time difference." What time difference? The time zones don’t go by latitude! And did I mention that they're at the North Pole! Are we to understand that Florida is on a different time zone to the North Pole? What does that even mean? Or is the author simply confused because the North Pole has only one sunset and one sunrise per year?! Yes, you can argue that they're on North Pole time which is aligned with some time zone other than the one in which Florida resides, but why would it be that way? Why wouldn't it be aligned to whichever time zone Santa is in?

If it’s aligned to a time zone other than Florida, then why not fully embrace Holland or England where this Christmas legend began? Why would Santa go to Florida? Why not vacation in Holland, or if he wanted somewhere warmer, an overseas territory like Aruba? The legend of Sinterklaas originated in the Netherlands, not in the US, although a lot of his modern trappings became accreted there. 'Father Christmas' originated in England, so why not vacation in England or one of the warm English overseas territories? Why Florida? This bland assumption that only the US is of any account at all is as arrogant as it is annoying, and no rationale is offered.

This bigoted US-centric approach is clearly delineated when we're told that "Most of the elves lived in the area and had gone home for Thanksgiving." Why would they? Are all the Elves American and Canadian? Not every nation celebrates thanksgiving! Things like this were real irritations. The US isn't the world, and behaving like it is doesn't win it any friends. Also, Geothermal energy not an option at the North Pole unless you're prepared to set your plant under 13000 feet of water! Again, North Pole is pure ice. There is no land there! Santina would know this so why would she even consider geothermal energy as a cost-saving measure?

Those minor annoyances aside (complaints which most people probably wouldn’t give a second thought to if they ever gave a first!), I really enjoyed this novel. The characters were interesting and endearing, particularly Tina and her friend Lisa. Tina's family were deliciously obnoxious. When it came to stepping up, for example, where was mom? Clara Claus was just as bad as her husband! She offered not a lick of help. It was all, "Let's dump on the kids, and make them carry our dreams for us!" Santa was a blinkered grouch and Nick was a selfish juvenile. How Tina ever put up with them is a mystery. But they were family, so they were stuck with each other!

This just goes to show that I can fully enjoy a novel despite having some grumpy issues with it, if the author tells me a good enough story. This one was original and refused to follow stereotypes even as it remained within the broad framework of traditional Christmas fare, and I think it was great. The reindeer were inspired. They were a riot, and the pub scene was in some ways reminiscent of the Chalmun's Cantina scene from Star Wars episode 4. The reindeer were a delight, and it was overall, and despite some annoyances, a really good Christmas story.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mr Getaway and the Christmas Elves by Sally Huss

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a nicely drawn and colored, and poetically told story about a school class which gets a substitute teacher. Mr Getaway loves to do field trips (and evidently doesn't worry too much about permission slips!), and this particular excursion spirits the children away to the snowy wilds, where Santa's elves are busily creating this year's crop of toys, games, books, musical instruments and other assorted joys.

Sally Huss books often carry a message, and this one is to the effect that taking pride and joy in your work is a good thing. This is actually a wonderful lesson to impart to children, as long as it's not all work and no play! These children find themselves impressed that the elves are a happy bunch even when at work. They're sad that the elves don't get to play with the toys they make, but they learn that an elf's happiness comes from a job well done, and from giving without thought of receiving. These are good ideals at any time of the year.

We learn what Santa does the rest of the year and it turns out that he's really the Greek god Apollo, riding with the sun, or maybe the Egyptian god Ra, whose blessings come down on the sunbeams. I had no problem with this, until I read this advice: "remember when you look at the sun, think of me." It's not a good idea to look directly at the sun! Maybe "When you enjoy the sun, think of me" would have been wiser? That aside, I liked this story and recommend it. Since my blog is about writing as well as reading, here's a writing issue to ponder: For whom the who tolls?!

When Santa showed up, I read, "And whom do you think appeared in that space?" I think this should be 'who', not whom. Note that I am far from expert on this! Indeed think it's time to ditch 'whom' from the language altogether. No one speaks like that! But which use is correct? The trick, apparently, is to see if you can substitute a 'he' or a 'she'. If you can, then it's 'who', not whom. If, instead, you can substitute 'her' or 'him, then it's 'whom' which should be employed. If that's right and I translated this reasonably, then it's really asking, "Do you think he appeared?" To use "Do you think him appeared?" is clearly ungrammatical, which is why I'm going with 'who' as opposed to 'whom'. Whom knows?! 'And who do you think appeared?' just seems right to me, even if it's technically wrong!

But that's a writing issue to wrestle with. I'm not too worried about it here, because I liked this story. It was perky and colorful, and promises a fun read to enjoy with your children.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Get Yourself Organized for Christmas by Kathi Lipp

Rating: WARTY!

As I post this, the calendar is turning towards that time of year when you are at least giving some mind towards the holidays. I thought this book might have some cool ideas and ingenious tips, but when it came down to it, it was nothing more than common sense and rationality, which we all need a good healthy dose of, but if you're in such a bad way that you need as book like this "to get on track", this book isn't really going to help you unless you're pretty much just like the author: a very religious woman in a comfortable income bracket, who evidently is technology-shy, who organizes quite large gatherings of friends and family every Christmas, has historically left things until the last minute, has (by her own admission) a husband who really isn't very useful around the house unless things are spelled-out for him, and a woman who tends to take a while to learn from mistakes. If that's you, then this book might help. It isn't me, so it was of no use.

I found it sad that a book which offers to get you organized for Xmas had so narrow a focus. I thought (and dearly hoped in this day and age) that it would be more expansive, but as I said, while there was, here and there, a brief hand-wave at other situations, it was far too narrowly aimed at people who are just like the author. It was largely exclusive of those who lead different lifestyles, who are not religious, who may approach Xmas in a different way, and who may not be a traditional family unit, and which may not even be constituted in the form of husband and wife. It carries with it the assumption that your Xmas is composed of rather rigid and relatively large events, many of which are religious in nature.

Talking of a non-traditional Xmas, I had some issues with the formatting on my phone when I tried to read this in the Android Kindle app. The headers showed Asian characters in titles such as How to Avoid Conflict During the Holidays where the last D T,G, and E were Asian characters! I looked at this in the Bluefire Reader in the iPad, and this and other headers (such as "Your Projects for a Clutter-Free Christmas") which had this problem on the phone, were composed of italicized characters and they looked fine on the iPad, so I continued in that format and abandoned the phone on this occasion.

There was some obnoxious stereotyping in this which I didn't appreciate - such as the old saw-horse that the mother-in-law is a trial and a torment, as exemplified in this statement: "...threatening your husband with a spontaneous trip to your mom’s house because you just can’t stand his mom anymore." I also found it strange that in a book which promises to help you organize, there was this old engineering sawhorse, too: “You can have it better, cheaper, and faster. Pick two out of three.”

There were some statements I found as sad as they were curious, such as "It is my sincere hope that no one feels like a failure around Christmas time. But I’ve felt that way myself, way too many times to count." All I can say about that, is that if it's honestly a routine for you to feel like that, then you shouldn't need a book to tell you you're doing it wrong. Christmas is about kids. If there are no kids then it's about other loved-ones. If there are no loved ones then you get the honor of it being all about you! Enjoy! Don't make yourself miserable. If you don't want to do it, just say no. If you don't want to go there, just don't go. It's a healthy thing for women to take these rules to heart not just at Xmas.

There were statements which fell flat for me because they read rather misogynistically, which is odd given that this appears to be written exclusively for women, as though men have nothing to do, say, or contribute at Xmas! Here was one that implies that all women obsess on shoes, as exemplified in this statement: "Who chooses an office product over new shoes?" Seriously? There were contradictions, too. If "Nobody is getting any time off to plan the perfect Christmas" then how does "...think the key is to take a few minutes, step back, and really think about what is important to you." work? If you flatly don't have time, then you sure don't have those minutes here (and other blocks of minutes elsewhere) to make these elaborate charts and lists and plans. If you're that short on time and have that complex of a holiday schedule, then cancel a few things and simplify the rest! Take a break. Think of yourself for a while! Sheesh!

There were arrogant religious statements, too, which I found obnoxious and insulting, such as this one: "I want to experience that deep, abiding joy that only comes from God and being with His people." That pretty much divorced this book from my favor! When I was religious I never experienced that joy from the religion, but I did and still do find it in abundance in all kinds of other ways, such as my children, my marriage, nature, taking a vacation, pets, traveling, physical activity, growing trees in my yard, reading a good book, enjoying fine music or an engrossing movie. It's everywhere. All you have to do is open your eyes and quit focusing on all those lists and charts and tables of organization!

I didn't like that there wasn't a thought for recycling and wise use of resources here. You do not have to wipe out forests so you can gift wrap. You do not have to shred trees and send them through the mail in the form of cards, and organize with binders and folders and lists and charts. If you do choose this, then please look for recycled products. If you're Christian you should be doing this anyway if you really think we're to caretake this planet, but there are other ways, and this goes back to my comment about technology shyness above. You can send electronic cards. You can send an email card. You can send a video of your family wishing the recipient a Merry Xmas. You can call your family and friends in lieu of a card. You can go visit if they live nearby. You do not need to be hidebound by tradition or commercialism.

But I think that's really the problem here. In Christian society, what was a simple winter solstice celebration conducted in many cultures, has been co-opted by Christianity and built up to a ridiculously self-important height, raised obnoxiously higher by crass commercialism, that it seems like you have to go all out all the time, excessively doing everything. No, you don't. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do!

You don't have to go to midnight mass. You don't have to go to church. You don't have to go to parties and send out a billion Xmas cards, and get family portraits done, and buy humongous expensive presents like Harry Potter's uncle did for his son's birthday. It's your Xmas, yours and your immediate family's - no one else's! You're not required to go to elaborate festivals and events. You're not required to attend a friend's party or throw one yourself, especially if you're not enjoying it and it's wearing you down, and draining all of your free time.

If you have the energy, if you want to, then by all means, but if it feels like an obligation or a chore rather than a joy, you're working way too hard at it. And who says you have to do all these things every Christmas, ritually? How about we do this one thing this year and go all out for it, then this next one thing next year, and so on, so each Christmas is unique and memorable instead of becoming one mindless, forgettable rubber stamp repetition every year?

I know that those who follow a religion which celebrates Christmas as a religious or mythological birth, feel like they have to go to church, but why not ask yourself the same question you would ask someone else? What would Jesus do? I don't believe there was was a Jesus, son of a god, but let's pretend, for a moment, there was. Did he, according to the Bible, go to midnight mass? No! Jesus wasn't a Catholic. He wasn't even a Christian. He was a Judaist. He never celebrated Christmas nor did he ever tell us to celebrate it. It has nothing to do with any founder of Christianity, not Jesus, not Paul. It's purely an invention of the Catholic church designed to usurp the pagan solstice festival. It's time to take it back! Keep that in mind and you won't go wrong and you won't need to worry about organizing anything; nature will take care of the details! Trust me on that. Just you sit back and enjoy!

I cannot recommend this book

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Rating: WARTY!

I came to this as a recommendation from a good friend, but I didn't like it. It started out annoyingly and I immediately began to have mixed feelings about it because there as the potential for a great story, but it was wasted. The audio book is read by Elaine Stritch, of all people, so her voice isn't exactly the best, plus it's hard to see how the narrator - who is a kid in the school - would have had access to all the information he or she imparts in this story, particularly the things which happen behind closed doors when she isn't present!

I'm also not a fan of unremitting bullying, which is what this is full of in the first few pages (or in my case, the first few tracks since it was an audio book). Bullying, unremitting, unpunished, turns me off a book, and so many books about school seem to revolve around unchecked bullying, which makes them completely unrealistic to me. I know this one is forty years old, but still!

Anyway, I haven't written it off yet, but it's right on the borderline right now between acceptable and downright irritating! If the Herdmans had not been so bad, just a bit naughty, and incompetent, or something, it would have improved it, but they were outright bullies, cruel and brutal, and no one ever did anything about it. Their idiotic bullshit towards the end didn't make up for what had gone before, and nothing could improve the ending, which frankly just fizzled out into nothing.

There was a part, when they had the dress rehearsal, and the Herdmans were questioning everything about the nativity story - as everyone should indeed question such a mass of patently fictional claptrap - the book was funny, and I started reversing my opinion and looking forward to the actual pageant, but the pageant never really was a functioning part of this story. How this novel ever came to feature the pageant so prominently in the title when it was such an utter non-event is a mystery to me.

I still plan on watching the movie for comparison. I noticed some reviewers who liked the book didn't like the movie, so maybe I'll have the inverse of their experience! I cannot recommend this novel, though, except to say that it's short. Mercifully short.

I watched the movie based on this book - and it was pretty much exactly the same as the book - but racist, to boot. Even accepting that it was produced in 1983, the movie was obnoxious. It was blatant religious propaganda, and despite this "Joy to the world" bullshit, the entire cast was white apart from two token African Americans and one Asian girl.

That's pretty much par for the course even today, sad to say, but what really struck me as weird, however, was that almost the entire audience for the pageant was female, mostly older women, including a huge number of very mature women. I was thinking, what the hell kind of demographic does this town have when the entire population (at least as represented here), is aging white females? It was just weird. And it wasn't even entertaining or funny. It was simply trite and insulting. If religion had that kind of power, there would be no troubles in the world. Quite obviously it doesn't and it's simply bearing false witness to pretend that it does. I disrecommend both this novel and the movie.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The 12 Days of Christmas

Title: The 12 Days of Christmas
Author: Xist Publishing
Publisher: Xist Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

First of December - time for a Xmas book! Unfortunately I can't recommend this one except in that it's free in Nook or Kindle form (as of this review's posting!)!

Normally I'm pretty liberal with reviews for children's books. I rarely find them completely lacking because my review standards are adjusted to a wider focus there. This one, however, apart from it's price, lacks anything to recommend it over a score or more of other such books.

If it had a little extra I could have seen it, but this is simply the twelve days of Christmas with nothing added: no information about where the song came from or what it means. Nothing but the simple words and some pictures. This may be fine for your kids. It's your choice after all. I would have liked a little something more.

If they could have only the words right that would have been something, but we still get the "four calling birds" and the "five golden rings, I'm sorry to report. And what's wrong with that you ask? Well, it's really supposed to be "four colly birds" and "five gold rings". The two phrases mean something rather different from the way they're typically rendered in the USA.

A colly bird is a blackbird. Those are four blackbirds. A golden ring doesn't necessarily imply that he ring is made of gold. Quite the contrary - 'golden' suggests merely that it bears the color of gold or a reasonable facsimile thereto! Is this what we want to foist upon our children? Cheap imitation?! Humbug, I tell you!

I can't recommend this over any other such children's book. Find the one which suits you best. There are twenties of them after all. See what I did? I changed the word! It doesn't sound right when I don't say "scores" does it?!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Recorded Books (originally Chapman & Hall).
Rating: worthy!

Well this took much longer than I anticipated (it's only three disks), interrupted as it was with falling asleep on the couch (very comfortable), Doctor Who (slightly disappointing), Man of Steel (much less than entertaining) and kid assaults demanding attention over one thing or another, but I eventually got it done, and I recommend this one.

Dickens (whose face could have readily passed for that of a woman's in 1843, when he wrote this) divides up this book into five "staves", matching the musical tone he set by naming the story a "carol". These staves substitute for chapters, and he wastes no time in impressing upon us that Jacob Marley is "dead as a doornail". Dickens's writing is sharp, descriptive, humorous, and very accessible. Scrooge begins to be haunted the moment he puts his key to his door as he heads indoors one chill Christmas Eve, seeing his old partner Marley's face in the door, and shortly afterwards being visited by Marley's ghost, about whom there's "more of the gravy than the grave", Scrooge observes humorously. He's warned that he must change his ways unless he wants to end up like Marley, forced to drag with him the weighty chains he forged in his own life, made from one mean or thoughtless act after another.

The ghosts of past, present, and future appear on after another, each presenting a more dire picture than the last, with the first's images actually not being dire at all, but being a rather pleasant, if somewhat saddening, trip down memory lane for Scrooge. The last visit is horrible because it depicts Scrooge's own lonely, miserable funeral. It's rather sad that the name 'Scrooge' has come to carry such negative connotations these days, because although he was every inch as his name suggests when the story begins, by the end he has completely reformed, and become the very antithesis of his popular defamatory epitaph. I recommend this strongly, and I recommend visiting wikipedia's page on the novel for some interesting details about this story, including a picture of Dickens from right around the time this novella was written.