review

Skipping Christmas – Christmas book review

Skipping Christmas cover of John Grisham's Skipping Christmas

by John Grisham

Dell (Random House), New York, 2001

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Format: 198 page paperback

I know John Grisham as a respected author, covering serious books such as The FirmThe Associate and The Rooster Bar, so I was pleased to see a Christmas book by him – I loved the idea of a Christmas book with some depth to it.

The story

A middle aged couple decide to skip Christmas after their only daughter goes overseas in November.

My review

I started this book with expectations of something to get involved in, although the length said it couldn’t get too complex, and pleasure at a serious Christmas read. It is only since starting it that I discovered it was promoted as a comedy – don’t get me wrong, comedy is great but it isn’t what I was expecting from John Grisham.

And comedy is not what I got – nor was a serious read with depth.

My expectations kept me going through the early part of the book as I had hopes of improvement. Further in, I did get more of an interest in the characters but the plot was still pretty mediocre.

Luther and Nora decided to save money and pass on the usual Christmas traditions – not just avoid decorating their house and not celebrating on Christmas Day, but to avoid all things Christmas including attending work Christmas parties, sending cards or even giving service people their annual tip/gift. It seemed a little drastic to cut out everything (but of course I am biased by my love of Christmas!) but I suppose that is where the humour lies and the social comment on how much Christmas pervades our lives in December.

I felt uncomfortable with some of the reactions to Luther and Nora – it just seemed rude to me that people come to the door expecting them to buy a Christmas cake or tree, and then arguing when the answer was no. To then offer $100 later in the year as compensation also seemed pointless – they weren’t saving money that way and seemed to accept the rude expectation on them.

As an Aussie, I found the name of one scout hilarious though – Randy Bogan! Could you imagine going to school or a party and saying ‘hi I’m Randy Bogan’?

Luther had my sympathies by the end of the story, and I liked that the neighbours rallied around him and Nora. There was a bit of ‘no matter what, when you really need us we’ll be there’ from the street, which is lovely, but given their earlier attitudes and behaviours it felt a little ‘aren’t we good’ instead of generous – and it was aimed at Blair (the daughter) anyway. This was during the slapstick part of the book where Christmas was no longer being skipped and things were looking a little lonely. In a movie, this part may look funny but it was sad in the book, I thought.Back cover of book Skipping Christmas

So I guess a few questions arise as I think about this book… shouldn’t people be able to celebrate or not as suits them, without fear of ridicule? Is it reasonable for a neighbourhood to band together against one household for no real misdemeanour? Should Christmas carols be used as a weapon to humiliate people’s choice of not decorating their front yard?

Good parts to the book – it has a happy ending, it has a few funny moments (like a risqué charity calendar that didn’t go to plan), it is well written (no awkward sentences to trip over, no long winded descriptions, assumption you can understand rather than repeating details over and over, good grammar, and so on), and it was easy o read and follow. Oh, and of course, it was definitely about Christmas, even if it wasn’t!

Would I recommend it? As a Grisham novel, no. As a cheery Christmas spirit story, no. As a comedy, definitely not. As a light read a bit different to the usual, yes it is an ok story.

Follow me Santa – Christmas book review

Follow me Santa

by Roger Priddy
illustrated by Steven Wood
This book was made by Nicola Friggens, Robyn Newton, Penny Worms and Kylie Hamley

Priddy books, New York, 11 September 2018

Age group: toddler to pre-school

Book cover of Follow me Santa

The fun starts on the front cover!

Format: 14 page thick pages

This is exciting – a new release Christmas book that is colourful and fun! I think this should be under many Christmas trees this year!

The story

A quick overview of Santa’s activities on Christmas Eve, from leaving his workshop to arriving back home ready for a nap.

The story as such is short and simple but you get to follow along by finding the way for Santa through a finger maze.

My review

This book is a delight! I discovered Roger Priddy’s work earlier this year when I reviewed Let’s Pretend Christmas and was happy to find this book was going to be released in September (and I may have ordered it on the spot as a pre-release!)

Let’s start with the mazes – I like that they are cut outs so that little (and not so little) fingers can trace their way through the maze. Much more fun and easier to use again and again than a maze you draw on. The pattern is not the same on every page so there is challenge to it, even more so if you get distracted and look at the pictures rather than focussing on the maze from above. My favourite is the maze up and down chimneys so the correct path is all over the double page spread.

Inner pages of Follow me Santa showing the ocean

Steven Wood has done some lovely illustrations, too. Each image is cute and colourful, and there are fun details to notice (like the bike covered in Christmas paper and the air traffic controller elf).

As well as the maze, there is a search activity on each page. And I like that it has a little twist on some pages – for instance there are five polar bears but only four are wearing jumpers as listed to find.

Santa does travel the world but is only shown in cold, icy places unfortunately, but it great to see elves male and female, and different skin colours. Maybe one day Priddy can do a second book to include those of us with warm Christmas celebrations!

I also love the details of Mrs Claus having a present for Santa at the end, although it must wait until he has finished his well deserved nap with his teddy!inside pages of Follow me Santa

 

So do I recommend it? Absolutely! It will entertain young children for ages while helping them observe, count and gain fine motor skills. Older children may solve the mazes faster, but can still enjoy the illustrations and feel of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cosy Christmas Teashop – Christmas book review

The cosy Christmas teashop

Front cover of the Cosy Christmas teashiop

by Caroline Roberts

HarperImpulse (Harper Collins), London 2014

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Format: 384 page paperback

This is actually my daughter’s book, but the title gives a Christmas link and sounded cute so I gave it a go.

The story

Ellie runs a teashop and weddings in an old castle, alongside her husband and a mixed team. The story covers their lives over a few months, including weddings, a Christmas Fayre and a Christmas wedding.

My review

I hadn’t realised it was the second book about Ellie, and the summary of the first book was a surprise – poorly written and not introduced as a summary made me wonder if it was a poor prologue!

Frankly, I think this book could be about one third shorter simply by removing the repetition! In the first fifty pages I lost count of how many times I was told Ellie had started a new tearoom and was lucky to have met the wonderful Joe. Then there was the mention of her father and brother in overalls in front of their van labelled “Hall & Son” – followed a page later with an explanation that her brother had moved into a trade like their Dad and joined the family business. I found it insulting to imply I couldn’t understand or remember anything and needed to be told it over and over.

Aside from the repetition, I found the writing very simple, over detailed and the conversation stilted.

The story itself varied between sweet romance with Ellie, Joe and their friends running a teashop and tourist castle, and humorous interactions with customers such as a Bridezilla wanting to arrive on a unicorn!

Running a Christmas Fayre followed by a special wedding, gives the story the tinsel, mince pies and Christmas cakes I enjoy. The Fayre does sound beautiful with a huge tree and lots of festive stalls inside the manor hall of an old English castle – I would enjoy being part of that!

So do I recommend it? I can’t say I would recommend this, unless you read book one and want to know more about Ellie and Joe, but it’s not bad for a light read if you can get past the repetition.

Artul’s Christmas hamster – Christmas book review

Artul’s Christmas hamperFront cover Artul's Christmas hamper

 

by Richard Brown
illustrated by Paul Howard

Cambridge Readers, UK, 1996

Age group: 4 to 7 years old

Format: 24 page paperback

Another lucky find at our holiday house, this is a year one reader that originated from a school near home! My kids are above this reading level now but we still had fun reading it together.

The story

A young boy meets a hamster for the first time and is hopeful his parents are getting him one for Christmas.

My review

This is a sweet story that is actually based on a true story from 1973 when Artul Pandy was new to Cambridge (England).

When visiting a friend, Artul sees a hamster and very excitedly tells his parents how much he would love to get one for Christmas. His parents were very non-committal to this request but had some mysterious shopping trips.

Reading the book, it did seem very likely Artul would get a hamster on Christmas morning but a beginning reader book isn’t likely to have a lot of depth or complexity in the plot! Having said that, the book did have an unexpected twist for Christmas morning that added to overall enjoyment of the story (and luckily the potentially bad ending didn’t eventuate!)

Would I recommend it? For a child learning to read, this is a great Christmas story to practice with. For everyone else, it is simple but enjoyable so yes I’d say it deserves to be recognised as a good Christmas book!

Lettice’s Christmas wish – Christmas book review

Lettice’s Christmas wishfront cover of Lettice's Christmas wish

 

text & illustrations by Mandy Stanley

HarperCollins Children’s Books , Great Britain, 2010

Age group: 2-5 years old

Format: 32 page paperback

How happy was I to discover a Christmas book on the shelves at our latest holiday house? It may have been out of season, but my kids and I enjoyed reading it together ?

The story

A curious and brace rabbit sets off to discover Christmas.

My review

This is a cute little story that requires a certain suspension of disbelief!

Lettice is a young rabbit who can communicate with humans, wonder what Christmas is and dress but has never seen snow before.

inside pages of Lettice Christmas Wish story bookShe goes off exploring to find out what Christmas really is, eventually finding some children who show her Christmas in their house. They discuss things like decorating the house and Santa delivering gifts, which is sweet, but I was a bit uncomfortable about all their wishes coming true and the absence of ‘being with family’ and ‘sharing’ in their descriptions. That is, it may be somewhat realistic for how children think but isn’t encouraging deeper thought nor non-material warmth.

It is a happy and joyful story, including generous children, so it seems very suitable as  Christmas book.

Would I recommend it? For younger children and those who have enjoyed other Lettice books, yes this is a beautiful addition to a Christmas book collection.

final page of the Lettice Christmas Wish story

Let’s Pretend Christmas – Christmas book review

Let’s Pretend ChristmasFront cover of Let's Pretend Christmas book and piezes

 

by Roger Priddy
Priddy Books, UK 2017

Age group: toddlers
Format: hardcover picture book, 8 page book plus 15 cut outs

I have a friend who loves Christmas as much as me so when I saw this interactive book, I just had to get it for her toddler!

The story

A simple story with things to find and objects to fit in place.

My review

This is a cute book, designed for inquisitive toddlers as it encourages interactions with the book rather than just listening to a story.

The book has a plastic box attached that contains various cut outs. There are five spots per double page where the cut outs will fit in, so little fingers have to coordinate the pieces like a simple jigsaw puzzle. It is simple and a good idea, although my nine year old found a few pieces challenging to place – it is easy to have them upside down and some are quite a tight fit.

Let's Pretend Christmas cut outs

The text on each double page mentions certain items for the child to find as well – two candy canes or three presents for example. We also then realised that each of the cut outs for that page are also ‘hidden’ on the page to be found. There are suitably obviously placed for toddlers to be challenged and find them all.Inside pages of the Let's Pretend Christmas book

I really liked this book, and the two year old recipient loved the pictures and playing with the cut outs so I count it as a successful Christmas present all round!

It also introduced me to Roger Priddy’s books – he seems to have written some fantastic books for kids that are fun and educational.

Would I recommend it? The publisher describes the book as “Encourages development of vocabulary and hand-eye coordination skills” and I would say that is very accurate, so this is a fun and developmental Christmas book I highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

Kissing Christmas Goodbye – Christmas book review

Kissing Christmas Goodbye

Cover of Kissing Christmas Goodbye book by M C Beaton

by MC Beaton
Constable, New York 2007 (this edition UK 2016)

Age group: mid-teen to adult
Format: 240 page paperback

I’ve seen some Agatha Raisin mysteries on TV so when I saw a christmas themed book, I grabbed it to see what the books are like – and how closely they fit the TV version!

The story

Agatha Raisin aims for a perfect Christmas whilst trying to determine who gave hemlock to Mrs Tamworthy (after the lady in question told Agatha she was scared for her life).

My review

So this is book 18 in the Agatha Raisin series, but the first one I have read. It was perfectly fine to read this one before the other 17, although I assume character development and history would be better read in order. Interestingly, M C Beaton wrote the Hamish MacBeth books as well yet I find the two TV series based on the books to be quite different to each other. Have you read both series – did you find them particularly different?

The mystery itself unrelated to Christmas, but it includes a sub-story about Agatha preparing for a Christmas party to end all parties – she hopes! And the party includes a twist that readers of the series will find interesting, I believe.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye introduces a new character, Toni, for the series. This late teen girl gives opportunities to show Agatha as generous and caring, as well as grumpy and jealous of Toni’s youth and enthusiasm.

There is a complex plot to the crime in this story, with a quite unexpected result. The book also shows Agatha’s struggles with aging and men.

It was rather interesting to have many characters call each other “Mrs…” in a relatively modern setting. It gave the story a somewhat parochial feel at times and made it feel like a 1950s story, which somehow suits the tone of it overall.

So do I recommend it? That depends – as a truly Christmas book, no, not really. A sa light read over a Christmas holiday, absolutely! It is a bit of fun and fairly easy to read (the complex plot takes a little effort to keep up with!) so worth a try although it is never going to be one of my favourite books.

 

 

 

The Christmas Elf – Christmas book review

The Christmas Elf

Book cover of The Christmas Elf

by Hsiu Peng Wong
illustrated by Sami Lewis
IG Design Group, Clayton South, Victoria*

Age group: primary school (5 – 10 years)
Format: soft cover picture book, 14 pages

This book came as part of a box set with a plush elf who can stay in the house each December to help Santa.

The story

A short story to build the message of an elf who watches children’s behaviour to help Santa keep his naughty and nice lists current.

My review

I love the illustrations in this book – it is colourful and cheery, and fun to read. There is not a lot of text so the book will suit very young children as well as those able to read it themselves as part of their Christmas excitement.

Map of Australia and New Zealand Aussie kids dreaming inside The Christmas Elf book

I also like that there is a variety of children in the story – different genders and skin colours – and that dreams of gifts are not genderised (for instance, one child wants a boat and a doll while another wants a tennis racket, a nutcracker and a doll).

It is an Australian book and shows the elf crossing Australia and New Zealand in Santa’s sleigh. So I would have preferred the use of ‘jobs’ instead of ‘chores’ and perhaps some reference to the boomers instead of just reindeer.

It is a positive that the book gives some constructive ideas for getting onto Santa’s nice list – keeping a bedroom tidy, doing your jobs, finishing your homework and being good to one another.

Unfortunately, by the end of the second read, pages were starting to come loose so the construction quality is not great and I’d be wary of letting toddlers read it alone…

Map of Australia and New Zealand inside The Christmas Elf book

* Unfortunately, the publication date is not printed on the book nor can I find it elsewhere…

 

 

The toys’ night before Christmas – Christmas book review

The toys night before Christmas Front cover of The toys'night before Christmas picture book

by Dugald Steer
illustrated by Susanna Ronchi
Ken Fin Books, Collingwood, October 2004

Age group: 2-8 years
Format: hardcover picture book

I saw this book at a friend’s house when she encouraged me to read it, knowing that I love Christmas and books! I’m glad she did.

The story

It’s Christmas and Jack-in-the-box is disappointed that the toys don’t get any Christmas gifts.

My review

This is a beautiful book. Not only are Ronchi’s illustrations bright and colourful, the pages are textured with the main images embossed on the page. I found it impossible not to run my fingers over every page as I read this book.

The story is nice and simple – Santa forgets to bring gifts to the toys. Most of the toys accept they are toys, lol, but Jack is upset and sets about getting the toys acknowledged.

Jack sets out to make a Santa experience for the toy box residents, including a bird-pulled-sleigh! It involves the toys all working together, especially once someone gets stuck in the chimney!

Every page has a sign of Santa to find, too. The story ends, unsurprisingly, with Santa making Christmas extra special for Jack and his toy friends.

inside pages of the book

Absolutely gorgeous book to have on display for Christmas!

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa – Christmas book review

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa Book cover of Why Dogs don't bark at Santa

by Greg Ray
illustrated by Jenny Miller
designed by Holly Webber
Why Dogs, Tasmania, 2017

Age group: preschool to 10 years, adult dog lovers

Format: hard cover, 26 pages

 

A friend travelling in Tassie discovered this book for her grandson, and lent it to me.

The story

Santa and Rudolph are heroes to dogs everywhere, and this story explains why…

My review

I was surprised at enjoying this book more than I expected to. Jenny Miller has created some beautiful watercolour images for the story that merge into the white space used for the text. It starts with a dog not reacting to reindeer outside the window and Santa’s feet arriving in the fireplace.

The text itself consists of rhymes throughout which is fun for younger listeners, and for the reader!

Why Doges don't bark at Santa inner pages

Santa and Rudolph in the snow

Through a snowy storm, Santa doesn’t give up on searching for a group of lost puppies so the book showcases Santa as generous and caring, as we expect him to be.

This is the latest in series of Why Dogs books which are all self-published in Tasmania. I haven’t read any others, nor seen them, but they are described as a tongue in check collection of stories about the characteristics and eccentricities of our canine companions.

My seven and nine year olds enjoyed this story, as did a friend’s two year old dog-loving son.

Christmas treasure hunt – Christmas book review

Christmas treasure hunt Christmas treasure hunt book review

by Sarah Powell
designed by Emma Jennings
St Martin’s Press, London, 2014

Age group: preschoolers

Size/format: board book

A cheerful looking baby book full of Christmas images that we gave to a young friend last Christmas.

The story

A search and find book for babies and toddlers. There’s no story as such!

My review

This is a very cute book, enjoyed by adults and loved by the one year old we gave it to. Not surprisingly, it is very simple given the age group.

Santa page within the Christmas Treasure Hunt

There are seven sets of images (such as Santa and some Christmas stockings) where one image is a little different to the others. There is also a teddy bear ‘hidden’ on each page.

It is a lovely first book, and could be read throughout the year, not just at Christmas time.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely – it is lovely and develops observation skills as well.

 

Angry Birds wreck the halls – Christmas book review

Wreck the halls (Angry Birdscover of the Angry Birds book, wreck the halls

by Tomi Kontio
translated by Owen Whitesman
graphics by Terhi Haikonen
Puffin Books,  London, 2013

Age group: early to mid primary school (6-9 year olds)

Size/format: small, soft cover

I spotted this in an op shop recently and thought it was a bit different to the typical Christmas book. I believe it was originally part of a box set with a toy but I only got the book.

The story

A sack of Christmas presents is taken by three pigs and chased by two birds, Bomb and Red.

My review

This the first Angry Birds book I have read, and I know little about them. I was surprised to find a varied and interesting vocabulary (I wasn’t expecting to see words like smouldering, careened and precipice) and interesting descriptions (like majestic mountains, slanting rays of sun glimmering and gleaming pearls of ice).inner pages of Wreck the Halls

The story itself was good – the birds on skis chasing the pigs in a frying pan sled had excitement and anticipation. The birds speak respectfully and care for each other, and any anger is justified. It is a bit strange when Bomb explodes with expected repercussions, and comes away unscathed but I suspect that is something Angry Birds fans would understand and expect!

The pictures are ok, but I found a couple of them unclear. There is a reasonable amount of text on each page (it is not a picture book or aimed at early readers) and the font is rather small. The book is actually created based on an Angry Birds episode of the same name which was produced for Christmas 2011.

My children have played Angry Birds a couple of times (my sole previous knowledge of angry birds is based on those games!) My eight year old has more prior interest in the Angry Birds and he really enjoyed this book (“My favourite part was when Bomb exploded”); my seven year old was less excited but still enjoyed hearing the story.

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