Christmas Special: We Are Santa

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Crossposted from MainliningChristmas.com

We Are Santa

Ron Cooper, 2020

New Release! A digital copy of this book was provided by Netgalley for the purpose of review.

Wow. WOW WOW WOW. This might be "just" a coffee table book, but it charmed my socks off. 

The premise is simple. Photographer Ron Cooper recruited fifty professional Santas (talking to and interviewing even more) and took gorgeous photographs of them both in and out of costume. The book includes quotes, profiles of some Santas, and background information. The additional info is enough to establish some context for readers who might not be familiar with the history of Santa's look or the reality of the professional Santa gig, but it's not tedious even for those of us who know this world fairly well already. 

The variety is fantastic. Santas in red but also other colors, in robes and coats and pajamas and kilts and cowboy boots and military camo and a pirate-theme and... Of course, there are lots of lovely fur trimmings, but also Hawaiian shirts, one in a red velvet top hat, and one in a full Bishop of Myra getup.

The focus is the big beautiful photos and the lush costumes and beards galore, but the book is also peppered with personal profiles that provide more depth for some Santas - why or how they started as Santa, favorite memories, and poignant anecdotes. 

There are two black Santas, one Mrs. Claus, at least one Jewish Santa, and two young Santas in the book. I would have liked a little more diversity in those directions if possible, but maybe that's another book.

Overall this is just lovely and joyful, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the holiday aesthetic or in need of a visual hug. Plus, proceeds are going to Children's Hospital of Chicago. 

The only hard thing about reading this book was realizing that in-person Santa visits are not happening for most kids this year. Here at Mainlining Christmas, we hope all Santas are doing okay out there. 

4 Stars

Christmas Special: Ming's Christmas Wishes

Monday, November 30, 2020

Crossposted from MainliningChristmas.com

Ming's Christmas Wishes
Susan L. Gong, 2020

New Release! A copy of this book was provided by Netgalley for the purpose of review. 

I had to read through this children's book twice to understand it, but it definitely grew on me. 

This short, beautifully illustrated children's book follows a few days in the life of a young Chinese-American girl in the 1930s. Ming wants a Christmas tree (this is related to a larger desire to fit in at school), but her mother won't hear of it. 

The next day, Ming's father takes her to visit some family friends and some places his father took him when he was young. The trip connects her with her heritage, and they even come back with a tree to decorate - not a fir tree to cut down and discard, but a Chinese pine to keep in a pot. 

That all sounds simple enough, but there's something distinctive about the way this book is written, and it's somewhat unsettling if you're expecting a standard children's story. For one thing, the book is full of unanswered questions. On the first page, Ming is told that she can't sing in the Christmas choir at school. This barely comes up again, and it isn't resolved at the end. Ming's father tells her at one point that her mother's story is a "hard" one, but we never find out what that means. There are lots of aspects of Chinese culture that are alluded to without being completely spelled out.

I can't decide whether this feels more like a flaw in the writing, or like a choice to leave space. Parents could encourage kids to speculate and guess at the details, and it does allow the story to be more open-ended. Ming can't be all "American" and she can't be all Chinese, and stories like hers don't have pat, resolved-in-the-third act endings.

It's still a happy ending, but it's more complicated than I expected. 

I mentioned that the art (by Masahiro Tateishi) is lovely, and the writing is often lovely as well. It's full of poetic little turns of phrase that evoke Chinese or Japanese poetry.

Overall a unique little book, but not for everyone. 

No Rating


A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night (October Daye, Books 2 and 3)

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night (October Daye, Books 2 and 3)
Seanan McGuire, 2010 (both)

Premise: Follows Rosemary and Rue. Toby handles a dangerous case involving diplomacy and technology, then a more dangerous situation dealing with a children's bogeyman who is all too real. 

Being constantly home and also constantly busy is continuing to affect my reading habits. I want series content (repetitive characters, etc.) in a way I haven't in a long while, so I decided to finally dip back into this one. I really liked the first book, after all, but I just wasn't in the mood for more urban fantasy until recently.

I liked these two books fine, but they didn't strike me as interesting or inventive as the first. For better or worse, there isn't much recap in terms of characters and relationships, so I struggled at first to remember how the vaguely feudal faerie world works and how it interacts with the mortal world.

A Local Habitation is structured more like other urban fantasy. There's a mystery (no communication from her liege's niece, then murders) and Toby is sent to deal with it. There are interesting characters and we learn more about various faerie races and powers. I found it good but not great, though: I didn't connect strongly with anything that was going on. The solution to the mystery wasn't surprising, and I was frustrated with how long it took the characters to recognize that they were being bespelled by another character. To be fair, that meant it was obvious to the reader without being obvious to the first-person narrator.

An Artificial Night has a much more inventive premise. An incredibly powerful and ancient fae has stolen a bunch of children, and Toby risks everything to rescue them before they are turned into his monstrous servants. 

I liked all the individual elements of this - all the spells and descriptions, the characters, the individual scenes are exciting and emotional. However, the plot as a whole felt a bit meandering and redundant. She had to keep returning to this same place via different methods with different goals, and even though the repetition made internal logical sense, even mythical sense, it started to feel tedious to me. Even though the end was good, individual scenes were amazing, and the length of the adventure made sense with the weight of the ending... I just got tired because it felt like the plot had several endings, and then kept going.

I still liked both books, but they didn't make as positive an impression on me as the first did. 

2 and 3 Stars respectively.