Horrible Histories: Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary

Published: 6th October 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic
Pages: 96
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

It’s history with the NASTY bits left in!

Do you want to know:
– A very rude pantomine song?
– Why making Christmas pudding used to be a crime?
– How to get rid of carol singers?

Horrible Christmas tells you all the festive facts you ever wanted to find out but were too stuffed full of mince pies to ask.

It’s Christmas time and what better way to celebrate than with a fabulous book that tells you everything you know about Christmas is either wrong or even more interesting than you thought? Legendary series Horrible Histories has taken hold of Christmas and filled up this fabulous book with trivia, fun facts, and a whole heap of history both intriguing and horrible all relating to this the festive season.

The book is also incredible funny and quirky and I loved learning all the facts about Christmas and the surrounding myths and associations. There are multiple quizzes to test your knowledge and it is fascinating about all the old traditions that have either been forgotten or the ones that live on today but I had no idea of the original reasons why. There’s some science in there too as the realities of Santa’s sleighing and reindeer endeavours are worked out with maths and logic (a lot funner than it sounds), plus the horrible bits of history that wouldn’t be Horrible Histories without it.

The book is laid out with pictures, colours, and trivia boxes and full page stories. There are topics like chapters breaking up the book into relevant information like Christmas Carols, Christmas History, Rotten Christmas etc that keep the topics together but there is still general crossover. Great to pop in and out of when you need a certain fun fact.

I love learning new things and fun facts and trivia are some of my favourite things in the world so this book is right up my alley and it is presented in such a fun and non-intimidating way that it is easily accessible. It isn’t just page after page of facts, the best part is you learn things in different ways, not just quizzes, not just the fact lists but with storytelling and humorous writing too. Information like the first Christmas card was printed in 1843, or that kissing under the mistletoe comes from a Druid tradition are told in clever ways that are interactive and make it a fun experience.

My favourite fun facts from the book must be included here because they are wonderful:

  • There were no angels around when Jesus was born. The reporters wrote in Greek of ‘angelos’ being there which is not Greek for angels, it’s Greek for ‘messengers’.
  • Silent Night was first played on a guitar.
  • The first record of Christmas being written down is in 1038 in a Saxon book where it appears as Cristes Maesse.
  • Little Jack Horner (of thumb in pie fame) was actually a monk who (supposedly) tricked Henry VIII out of a land deed at Christmas.
  • In the 1600s the Germans decided that the Christ Child should be worshipped at Christmas. They called him Christkindl – German for Christ Child. This became Kris Kringle and became a name for Santa Claus instead.
  • Rudolph was created for an advert in 1939
  • In the 1800s Christmas had almost died out but Charles Dickens bought back its popularity with ‘A Christmas Carol’.

There’s definitely a lot more but these ones stood out. There’s so much to learn in this book about old customs, traditions from Victorians and other eras, other countries, present day and the past. It is fascinating to see what feels like an ingrained tradition or idea is actually manufactured or something so old was really a simple thing at first.

If you have been a fan of Horrible Histories in the past this is a great addition with a nice holiday theme, but if this is your first experience of Horrible Histories it is also a great book because you get to learn a little more about Christmas and its history and love the joyfulness that is Horrible Histories.

You can purchase Horrible Christmas via the following

QBDDymocks | Amazon

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

Published: 7th February 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Icon Books Ltd
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

A Gen-X librarian’s snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.

Librarians spend their lives weeding–not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbours, at cocktail parties—everywhere.

In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveller’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations. Hilarious, compassionate, and wise, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the consummate book-lover’s birthday present, stocking stuffer, holiday gift, and all-purpose humour book.  

 I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The collection of letters was entertaining and enlightening, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading about books I hadn’t read or even heard of. One thing I loved was that there’s a letter to the Beauty and Beast library which is the dream library of many book lovers, but Spence raises an interesting point or two and when I finished all I could think about was whether Beast smelt like wet dog at the end of the movie. This is the kind of humour she brings to her passion about books and reading. 

  There are letters to books found on library shelves and books that live on home shelves. It is filled with books I’ve heard of and many I had not heard of. There are a mix of fun letters and deep letters and you get insight not only into the author but about the effects certain books had on her now and as a kid. Not to mention the fun stories of dealing with the public and giving books out in her role as a librarian. There’re no real spoilers to book plots but there is an appreciation of narrative and how moments in books can inspire, move, horrify and delight. Reading the letter to Misery was amazing but cemented my decision to never read or watch it.  

 For the small and quirky style of this book it was a great read because you see the passion and experiences of other people in your field and it is fascinating to see the similarities and differences. One this that got me quite perplexed was Spence’s mention that a book was still on the shelf unborrowed for ten years. This was something my librarian brain with knowledge of her own weeding practices could not fathom. Spence also mentions librarians aren’t good at maths (this is true) but command for the English language is also up for debate. This is reinforced as I noticed an editor let through a cheeky “could care less”. 

This is a relatively quick read but it is funny and engaging and it was interesting to see the range of books Spence covers and her approach to each and every letter. If you’re looking at a little insight into a booklover’s relationship with books, then this book could be just what you’re after.

You can purchase Dear Fahrenheit 451 via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Growing Up Queer in Australia edited by Benjamin Law

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Inc
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Compiled by celebrated author and journalist Benjamin Law, Growing Up Queer in Australia assembles voices from across the spectrum of LGBTIQA+ identity. Spanning diverse places, eras, genders, ethnicities and experiences, these are the stories of growing up queer in Australia.

For better or worse, sooner or later, life conspires to reveal you to yourself, and this is growing up.

With contributions from David Marr, Fiona Wright, Nayuka Gorrie, Steve Dow, Holly Throsby, Sally Rugg, Tony Ayres, Nic Holas, Rebecca Shaw, Kerryn Phelps and many more.

Growing Up Queer is filled with voices of all aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community with stories about gay relationships, being intersex, having first loves, lost loves, and those who were important to the lives of all these authors, demonstrating the crucial roles some of them had to play in them finding who they are. The introduction is a good place to start because it includes the content warnings and apologies if the content upsets anyone. The stories are filled with discrimination, family rejection, suicide mention and violence. It is important to warn readers but these are crucial moments because these are stories about growing up queer in Australia, these are real stories and real experiences and knowing that these are hardships that these authors have had to deal with is part of the understanding.

There are stories that show the complex relationships with parents around cultural boundaries, about religion, as well as the struggles and the wins about coming out to family and friends. It isn’t only recent coming out stories either, many previous decades are covered from the 70s to the 90s and 2000s. There is even a story from the 50s that covers hiding your true self until an older age. I wasn’t keeping a real record about when each story was set, nor do all the stories really identify when they take place, but it felt like there were a lot more from the last thirty years than earlier. Not that the last thirty years isn’t a large amount of time for society to change it’s opinions, but I would have loved to hear more stories about the earlier years a well.

There were a lot of stories connected to the marriage equality survey and how the results affected people and their families. Some stories were wonderful, while others were a little heartbreaking. The authors talk about the impact it had on their relationships, their feeling of inclusion, not to mention their anger that it was being debated at all and how it changed how they saw some of their friends and family. Obviously this was a huge change to people’s lives and it was interesting to see their opinions and perspectives.

The “growing up” aspect of the title I was expecting their childhood or young adult experience, and many stories explore that time with recollections from moments in time that were important or crucial to them understanding or embracing . But there were also stories of being older, in their twenties, or an older adult. One author wrote that the growing up part of their queer life was when they were more comfortable in their queerness, not necessarily when they were young which I thought was an interesting approach.

I found myself writing down some brilliant insights and quotes that I think encapsulate what it means to be queer, what society thinks they should be and say, and how those critical and offensive towards them feel they are privileged to say and do. These essays are written by people who are masters with words and I found it helps explain just how different their experiences are from other people and how they are also not the alien figures people think they are. These are just some of my favourites:

“Try as they might, our subversive bodies will always tell us the truth…What censorship is really designed to achieve is the sort of silence that turns what our bodies tell us into shame. This calls for more than censorship of books and films. It also needs the censorship of learning.” – David Marr

“If you can’t be yourself in your own way then god help you when you die with a wallet full of fake IDs.” – Tim Sinclair

“All identities, queer or not, are fictional stories. The important of queer storytellers is not in how they prove their truth, but in how they prove it is necessary to tell our stories in a way that makes us comfortable.” – Oliver Reeson

The anthology is made of essays, but some were more essay like, some were memoirs that told of a certain moment, and some felt like wonderful fictional stories they were so beautifully told. I found myself getting quite caught up in some of these tales, drawn in by their way with words and their fascinating lives about being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the experiences they had had. While there were stories of trauma and trouble, there isn’t a huge focus on it. Many contributors wrote about how amazing it is nowadays that sexuality is spoken about more openly than ever before, but it’s acknowledged that fear is still there.

I was expecting more stories that talked about the struggles of discrimination, especially in the earlier decades about fighting to decriminalise homosexuality or other discrimination. I completely understand though that hiding who you were was the best defence you could ever have and embracing your queerness by celebrating the good moments is better than focusing on the bad. Initially I thought these types of stories needed to be included because the history is important and acknowledging the past is important even if it hurts. But it is also important to tell stories of happiness and hope, and there are mentions of the violence some people experienced, it isn’t focused on a lot but it isn’t omitted either.

This is a wonderful collection that could help people understand who they are, and it is a wonderful way to understand he lives of others, the struggles they have faced and makes you realise that as wonderful as things have become, there is still a way to go.

You can purchase Growing Up Queer via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Pimped by Samantha Owens

Published: 21 March 2019 (print)/21 March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
John Blake/Bonnier Books UK
Pages: 272/6 hrs and 55 mins
Narrator: Emma Swan
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When your new best friend has pimped you out to older men and is making money from your abuse, who will come to your rescue?

By the age of thirteen, vulnerable Sheffield teenager Samantha Owens had fallen through the cracks in the care system. Bounced around numerous foster carers after her home life became too chaotic, Samantha thought she had found a friend in the streetwise Amanda Spencer. The older girl bought her clothes, styled her hair and found her places to stay. Samantha’s welfare was the last thing on Spencer’s mind, however, as in reality she was grooming the young girl for exploitation of the worst possible kind.

Over the course of the next few months, Samantha was plied with alcohol and drugs and pimped out to over fifty men for Spencer’s gain. Raped, abused, and with no chance of escape, Samantha was at the mercy of the calculating, ruthless and intimidating Spencer. It took a police investigation of two years to bring her and a small gang of cohorts to justice and, in 2014, Spencer was jailed for twelve years. With her abusers in jail, and Samantha bravely rebuilding her life, her shocking story is a stark warning to those who believe child sexual abuse follows any set pattern.

CW: sexual abuse, drugs

I can’t quite say what made me pick this up but it was an interesting story and one that is filled with sadness that these events could happen and no one ever notice or care. From a neglected childhood Sam is befriended by an older girl and from there her innocence and naivety is taken advantage of as the girl she looks up to leads her on the path of danger and destruction.

Samantha keeps referring to Amanda has her best friend but she clearly isn’t. But from Sam’s perspective she is the closest and only friend she has had, and once you know her childhood situation and her school life you can easily see how she held onto the belief that Amanda was her best friend.

Some parts describe the day to day before skipping parts of time and in this way we get to see a lot of the intimate moments of Sam’s life and get to see how long this went on and how it changed her life. It isn’t just her life on the streets with Amanda, her childhood has its own traumas and honestly, seeing her resilience through that as a child herself is something to be proud of. To see that be taken advantage of is hard and to see those around her fail her is even harder.

As Samantha got older and tells of her life on her own it was harder to track her timeline because she seems to change her mind a lot and her opinion flips often. This may have been over days or weeks but in the telling of the story it happens in a few sentences. This easily works as her being indecisive, but listening to it it happens fairly quickly. I didn’t mind this, but I was unclear of the time period and whether this was instant or over a few days or longer. Not that is has any real bearing on the story, but it was a moment of confusion.

Samantha doesn’t get away scot free and there are moments of unjustness but also of deserved consequences. Throughout her story though there are moments of despondency because you see Sam’s struggles and the circumstances she finds herself in and how she was behind from the start. It was sad to see how she often tried her hardest but the situation she was in and the lack of support she got often resulted in her falling back into bad habits. It is easy to see how it happened though as she explains that the pressure was too much and the need for money or comfort was what puts her over the edge no matter how much she hated it.

The is definitely a story about falling through the cracks of the system and seeing Samantha’s life from childhood to adulthood with neglect and abuse with only a few people to care about her was hard to hear about but one I think is important too. It is a powerful story to tell and having the courage to do so, and do so in a way where she doesn’t paint herself entirely as a victim, is incredibly brave.

You can purchase Pimped via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Published: 1st May 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Dog Books
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult/Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer. Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.

This has been on my TBR list for ever and I am glad I got to pick it up because I read it in one sitting. I was taken on a fascinating and insightful journey and I am glad Nevo told their story because I think the reflection, the uncertainty, the changes and the messages in the book are something that everyone should read. Some experiences are universal but some are beautifully unique and allow us a brief, edited, yet honest glance at the lives of others.

I did not expect to be crying like a baby at the end of it but that is where I found myself. Even though I have not gone on the exact same journey as Nevo I still felt and related to a lot of what they had experienced and those final pages (no spoilers), but they hit hard and they hit deep which I was well unprepared for.

Nevo’s story isn’t here to be a guide or instruction manual; it is an emotional and thoughtful reflection on their life and at the time being only twenty years old it is a life where a lot has happened. No doubt their experiences have helped make this book one that provides great insight about what finding yourself means, and that you are constantly evolving and changing as you grow and have new experiences.

I don’t think you can read Nevo’s story and see their journey as a definitive one size fits all example of the non-binary queer, Nevo themselves acknowledges they have taken an unexpected path and had many labels attributed to them and identified with. I love that their approach boils down to ‘I am just me’. I think everyone needs to read this and realise that everyone has a different journey and that is ok, and still being uncertain about yourself and what you want is ok too.

I can certainly understand how some of the people in Nevo’s life may feel but not only is it none of their business, but I think you also see their love for Nevo and how their journey is also one everyone around them has gone on too which leave marks. People are only human but I’m glad Nevo has good people around them and as they continue to grow and change however they see fit, that there is a support network.

There is a lot of power in Nevo’s voice as it covers a range of controversial and important topics like religion, gender labels and discrimination, transitioning, the safe-schools program, family, misogyny, not to mention anxiety and mental health. Over their twenty years Nevo has lived a life and now in this autobiography we get to understand the pain, struggles, and passion that makes Nevo’s voice such a powerful one today.

You can purchase Finding Nevo via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

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