Tag Archives: Christmas

The Greatest Gift

Christmas at the Toy Museum by David Lucas (Candlewick Press, $15.99, 32 pages)

This is a children’s book about 22 classic stuffed toys that live in a Toy Museum.   On Christmas Eve, the toys all rush to gather under the Museum’s grand Christmas tree.   Once there, they sadly realize that there are no gifts for them under the tree!   That’s when Bunting the old toy cat comes up with a great idea – the toys will wrap themselves up as gifts for each other.   This seems like a very good idea, except that Bunting is the “gift” opened last and he has no gift to open for himself.Christmas at the Toy Museum (med.-lg.)

Well, it turns out that the toy angel at the top of the tree is a real angel with magical powers.   She decides to reward Bunting with a truly special gift, a wish that he can make that will come true.   Bunting decides to wish that Christmas would last forever, and so it does from that point forward.

This is a beautifully illustrated tale that teaches young ones the value of selfishness, while also indirectly telling them that everything in life – including one’s friends – has value.   Christmas at the Toy Museum would make a perfect gift for a child in almost any household.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Christmas at the Toy Museum is recommended for children ages 3 and up, although we can imagine that some smart 2-year-olds will also enjoy it.   David Lucas is also the author-illustrator of Lost in the Toy Museum: An Adventure.  

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Of Missing Persons

The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead Books; $25.95; 320 pages)

Someone once wrote: “We fear death the way children fear going into the dark.”   Meghan O’Rourke

There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading/ When things that seemed so very plain/ Became an awful pain/ Searching for the truth among the lying/ And answered when you’ve learned the art of dying…   But you’re still with me.   George Harrison (“The Art of Dying”)

Meghan O’Rourke has presented us with a serious, somber and thoughtful memoir about the grief she suffered when her mother died at the age of fifty-five.   Although her mother’s age is noted, one has the impression that she would have felt the same burden if her mother had lived to be 100, as O’Rourke was simply unprepared to live in a world without its (to her) most important resident.   As she states so well:  “One of the grubby truths about a loss is that you don’t just mourn the dead person, you mourn the person you got to be when the lost one was alive…  One night (my brother) Liam said to me, as we were driving home from my dad’s to Brooklyn, ‘I am not as sad as I was, but the thing is, it’s just less fun and good without her.'”

In order to deal with her pain, O’Rourke conducted a personal study of death, the standard fear of it, religious beliefs and traditions surrounding it, and the vast amount of research that has been done on the human grieving process.   She even touches upon grief in animal colonies.   One discovery she made in the process is that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on the stages of grief has been grossly misinterpreted.   These were not intended to be the stages that mourners – those left alive – go through; they were intended to represent the stages that the chronically ill pass through.

O’Rourke is at her best when she discusses her own fears with us.   She has been afraid, since childhood, of the notion of death but it remained an abstract, if frightening, notion up until her mom’s passing.   Then her grief became all-encompassing and something she could not put aside in order to lead a “normal” life.   Grief, in a sense, made her insane for a period of time but it also taught her some very valuable  lessons – the chief among them being that one has to focus on death in order to truly appreciate life.   As her father told her many months after his wife’s death, he had always focused on what he didn’t have; now he had learned to look at what he did have in the world and in the universe.

After a loss you have to learn to believe the dead one is dead.   It doesn’t come naturally.

There’s a sense of accepting humbleness that permeates O’Rourke’s account – although she was raised a Catholic, she refers numerous times to Buddhism.   If there’s a weakness in the telling, it’s a factor that naturally affects most memoirs, a tendency to make one’s own life sound more important than that of the others that share the planet with the writer.   And, like Julie Metz in Perfection, O’Rourke tends to tell us more than we actually want to know about her social (meaning sexual) life.

At one point, O’Rourke comes off as strangely naive in regard to social relationships.   At the time that her mother died (it’s Christmas), an old boyfriend – whom she once dropped without explanation – comes back into her life, and O’Rourke wonders why, “…he always seemed to be holding back – why, I did not know.”   The reader wants to scream back at her, “Because you dumped him when you went away to college!”   (The ex was simply acting like a normal, scarred, self-protective human being.)

But these are minor points, because O’Rourke succeeds quite well in making us examine death as something both macro and micro; as something that must be fully understood before we can make realistic choices about what is most important in our lives.   In her almost philosophical approach to examining death and dying, she has written not only a monumental love story for the person who has gone missing in her life, she has also placed death in its natural and proper context.

(I think I wanted to grow up to be my mother, and it was confusing to me that she already was her.)

This is, in the end, a work about acceptance – the good with the bad – survival with death, the sudden eclipse of a life and eternal love.   O’Rourke masterfully teaches us about the art of dying, a matter for both hearts and heads (minds).

Very, very well done.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “She is gone, and I will be, too, one day…  all the while my brain will be preoccupied by the question of death.   And that makes it hard, at times, to pay my bills…”


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A Seasonal Giveaway

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Hachette Book Group, USA we have a copy to give away of Sundays at Tiffany’s by America’s bestselling author, James Patterson.   He wrote this novel with Gabrielle Charbonnet and it’s being featured this month as a Lifetime original television movie, which will be shown on December 11th, 12th and on the 31st – check your TV listings!   Alyssa Milano stars in the Lifetime film version.

Here is the official synopsis of the book, and also a short excerpt –

An Imaginary Friend

Jane Margaux is a lonely little girl.   Her mother, a powerful Broadway producer, makes time for her only once a week, for their Sunday trip to admire jewelry at Tiffany’s.   Jane has only one friend: a handsome, comforting, funny man named Michael.   He’s perfect.   But only she can see him.   Michael can’t stay forever, though.   On Jane’s ninth birthday he leaves, promising her that she’ll soon forget him.

An Unexpected Love

Years later, in her thirties, Jane is just as alone as she was as a child.   And despite her own success as a playwright, she is even more trapped by her overbearing mother.   Then she meets someone – a handsome, comforting, funny man.   He’s perfect.   His name is Michael…

And An Unforgettable Twist

This is a heartrending story that surpasses all expectations of why these people have been brought together.   With the breathtaking momentum and gripping emotional twists that have made James Patterson a bestselling author all over the world, Sundays at Tiffany’s takes an altogether fresh look at the timeless and transforming power of love.

Prologue / Jane’s Michael

Michael was running as fast as he could, racing down thickly congested streets toward New York Hospital – Jane was dying there – when suddenly a scene from the past came back to him, a dizzying rush of overpowering memories that nearly knocked him out of his sneakers.   He remembered sitting with Jane in the Astor Court at the St. Regis Hotel, the two of them there under circumstances too improbable to imagine.

He remembered everything perfectly – Jane’s hot fudge and coffee ice cream sundae, what they had talked about – as if it had happened yesterday.   All of it almost impossible to believe.   No, definitely impossible to believe.

It was just like every other unfathomable mystery in life, Michael couldn’t help thinking as he ran harder, faster.

Like Jane dying on him now, after everything they had been through to be together.

This fantasy-romance tale in trade paperback form has a value of $13.99 in the U.S. and $15.99 in Canada.   In order to enter this book giveaway, just post a comment below with your name and an e-mail address.   Or you can send an e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com with this information.   This will count as a first entry.

To enter a second time, tell us what you would like Santa to get someone you know this Christmas.   It doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as the gift is not for yourself.   It can even be for your dog or cat!   Just answer the question and this will count as a second entry.

In order to enter this book giveaway, you must live in the continental United States or in Canada.   If Munchy the cat picks out your name as the winner, you must supply a residential mailing address when contacted.   This book will not be shipped to a business-related address or to a P. O. box.   You have until Midnight PST on Thursday, December 30, 2010 to enter, so don’t delay! 

This is it for our typically complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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A Not-So-Blue Christmas

We can’t mandate happiness on the calendar…  and yet…  we try to do it anyway.   We strive to be merry and joyful.

I’m not a big fan of holiday stories so I approached this trade paperback with some trepidation.   As I walked through Target one day, the cute cover caught my eye and I noticed that the author, Sandra Harper, is a USC graduate.   Ok…   I didn’t buy it that day but I finally gave in to temptation on my next trip to Borders.

Let’s just say that this book was not as bad as I feared it would be (holiday theme and all), but not as good as I hoped it might be.   Still, it’s an easy and relaxing read and if you’re going to read a story about Christmas, why not do so in December?   Oh, and it has a great subtitle:  “It’s all relatives…”

Over the Holidays deals with three women:  the usually happily married Vanessa who faces temptation in the form of a young playwright, her artist sister Thea, and sister-in-law Patience.   It seems that each year Vanessa and her all-too-dependable spouse visit the uptight, if extroverted, Patience in the Boston area for the holidays, but this year many factors combine – including economic hardships – to change the typical plans.   Thus it turns out that Patience, her husband and their soon-to-leave-for-college daughter (U.C. Santa Cruz or USC?) travel to Los Angeles to celebrate the holidays at Vanessa’s.

Part of the fun of the story is seeing how the visitors from the east react to a Christmas in a city where many simply don’t celebrate it, at least not in traditional ways.   Patience’s brood is like a trio of aliens who’ve landed in the overly sunny and warm climate of L.A.   Then there’s the fact that Vanessa and Patience have completely different perspectives on holidays:  “I’m just not great in the holiday department…  I’m better at everyday life…” says Vanessa.   To this, Patience replies, “I’m definitely a holiday person, I like to look forward to things.   Special days.   It keeps me going.”

There’s a good deal of humor in Holidays, although it’s covered up with more than a touch of sadness.   (“Why do we pretend things are different than they really are?”)   And while it’s a fun read, it starts off quite slowly, not really moving along until the reader has hit page 80 out of 325.   There are also far too many long conversations used to tell the story, to the point where it reads like a court transcript.   Pick up the book at Target, for example, and read page 66 – it’s just people talking back and forth to each other and all in quotes.

There are also too many characters for the average reader to follow without difficulty, and a few too many crude moments/scenes (and overly adult language) that could have been left out.   But in the end, the characters learn to accept what they already have and not to mistake paradise for that home on down the road.   Yes, they learn to love what they already have; at least once they’ve reached the month of January.   As Vanessa concludes:  “I love January, so blissfully free of holidays…”   Exclamation point.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Over the Holidays by Sandra Harper.   “It’s all relatives…”

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