29 July 2012

My Friend Is Sad (Mo Willems)

Elephant and Piggie is a book series by Mo Willems. It has a fantastic comic book style, and features two friends: an elephant, Gerald, and a pig, Piggie.

Issues of friendship are addressed: My Friend Is Sad, Should I Share My Ice Cream? Can I Play Too? I Will Surprise My Friend! And my favourite, We Are In A Book!

My Friend Is Sad begins with Gerald, the ellie, who has a very sad face.

Piggie tries all sorts of things to cheer him up: dressing up as a cowboy, a clown and a robot. But Gerald remains sad

Eventually we discover that Gerald is sad because Piggie isn’t there, and because he can’t share the cool cowboy, clown and robot with Piggie – whom he is unable to recognise beyond the disguise. Happily, it all works out in the end, with a clever twist (that I subsequently spotted in all of the Elephant and Piggie books).

Mo Willems’s books are not only gorgeous to look at and easy to read, with very clean, well-designed pages and simple text – they’re also widely recognised: Two books in the series have been listed on Time magazine's ‘Top 10 Children's Books of the Year’: Today I Will Fly in 2007 and Elephants Cannot Dance! in 2009.

In terms of target reader, I’d say parents could read these books to toddlers from age 1, but – as the pages are paper rather than board – solo reading would probably be best from ages 2 to 4. And the range of books would be good to keep, to come back to in primary school, when it comes to navigating friendships and conflicts.

(This review will soon appear on the JoziKids blog.)

Recognising Postnatal Depression (Aarons, Levin & Taub-Da Costa)

Subtitled 'A Handbook for Mothers', Recognising Postnatal Depression is available from all leading bookstores, thanks to Penguin Books South Africa.

As I began to page through this book, just the first few chapters, I kept having to stop and verbalise out loud how much I wish we’d had a copy when I started to experience symptoms of PND.

But, even in the early days, I was too far gone to read it myself. That’s why I think this book should be required reading for any husband who suspects that his wife isn’t 100%. Or any granny, friend, sister…

As the authors say, upfront:
"This book may not be for you but you may want to read it anyway since we can guarantee that many of the mothers you care deeply about are somewhere inside that rainbow [of reactions to having a baby: antenatal depression, postnatal euphoria, baby blues, postnatal stress, postnatal depression, bipolar mood disorders and postnatal psychosis]."
It’s written by three women: Andy Taub-Da Costa, Paula Levin and Zahava Aarons – two of whom have had PND and two of whom are mental health specialists.

However, despite the authentic medical and psychological info in the book, its style and tone remain refreshingly ‘real’:  They use ‘yummy mummies’, ‘I’ and ‘we’, ‘throwing in the towel’, etc. Un-scary language.

The book defines PND, with ways to tell if you have it and what to do if that’s the case. There are true stories from women who’ve beaten it, including Sam Cowen and Deborah Patta.

There’s also a big chapter on psychotherapy (which, together with a brilliant psychiatrist and the right medication, was what ultimately saved me). And the book concludes with a chapter on treating PND ‘spiritually’.

For me, the strongest element of this book is the way it combines real medical thinking – Wolf, Winnicott, local psychiatrist Dr Rykie Liebenberg and others – with real human experience, in real human language.

The only other book on PND I’ve read is Brooke Shields’ Down Came the Rain, which I hated. (One of the authors applauds it, so that’s something, but I read it in the midst of my own depression and it helped me not at all.)

Unlike some of the mommies referred to in the Introduction, I’m not a propagandist of ‘blissful motherhood’, because I do honestly, unapologetically and (lord help me) publicly admit the hell I went through. But I do this because, when I was lost in the dark, I thought I was the only one. So, in a sentence, thank G-d for this book.

24 July 2012

I Hate Everyone, Starting With Me (Joan Rivers)

In I Hate Everyone, Joan Rivers dishes on all the things she hates. With her usual shocking honesty, political incorrectness and multiple swearwords. This book is a long list of Joan’s grave irritations, which include old people, dating and Anne Frank.

Here's an excerpt:

“For those of you thinking, Geez, Joan seems a little angry, you’re half right. I am angry. I’m also fed up. I’m fed up with the morons and losers and cretins who are cluttering up the planet. But being fed up and angry is better than being depressed. Psychologists tell us that depression is just anger turned inward, but I say, why waste your time? It is what it is and quite frankly I’d rather be angry than depressed. Why? Because antidepressants can cause bloating—and I hate bloating! (I need to go back and add bloating to the list of things I hate. Is there anything worse than not being able to fit into a size two Valentino? I think not. Talk about depressing.)”

What I’ve just read is the tamest thing in the book. If you’re easily offended, read something else. But remember what one reviewer said, ‘This is an awful book that’s so offensive I ought to throw it out the window. But I can't, ‘cos I can't stop laughing.’

To go back a bit, Joan Rivers is an award-winning entertainment person – actress, talk show host, comedian. She’s also that woman on the red carpets and on E!’s Fashion Police with the frightening plastic surgery. She’s 79 and looks like a 69-year-old who’s had frightening plastic surgery. But she’s really, really funny…

On TV. Not so much in writing, where every paragraph has a punchline. Don’t get me wrong: I love Joan. But this book should perhaps have been a DVD.

Stolen Prey (John Sandford)

So here’s the back cover blurb:

"Lucas Davenport has seen many terrible murder scenes. This is one of the worst. In the Minnesota town of Wayzata, an entire family has been killed — husband, wife, two kids, dogs. On the wall, in blood: "Were coming." No apostrophe."

It’s that apostrophe that would have hooked me, even if I didn’t already love John Sandford, who’s written a novel a year since the Ark. Buuut, this isn’t his finest work.

The Prey series, of which this is #22, is a whole lot of edgy police drama in which Lucas Davenport is a snarky, quick-witted lunatic. He’s getting old, fine, but he’s also starting to spend a lot of time on the details – like, in this book, turning cash into gold.

I preferred the old Lucas. So, here’s my take... 

I’ve enjoyed it. It’s pretty good. I love this sort of thing. But it didn’t rock my world. If you’re already a Sandford fan, read it. May as well. If you’re not and you spot it in a second-hand store, on sale on Kindle or on a friend’s shelf, don't worry – Stolen Prey works well as a stand-alone for the uninitiated.

But know that there are better novels in this series, and that John Sandford (whose real name is John Camp) isn’t a Pulitzer Prize winner for nothing.

Fooling Houdini (Alex Stone)

When Alex Stone was five, his father bought him a magic kit. Years later, while living in New York, he discovered an underground magic scene with a fascinating cast of characters. 

There, he began to learn from a wide range of weirdos - from his mentor, who holds court in the back of a rundown pizza shop, to one of the world’s greatest card cheats, who happens to be blind.

He dived into this world, training with magicians around the globe to perfect his craft. While juggling a neuroscience degree and failing to have a normal social life.

In this book, Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the MindStone unveils a community shrouded in secrecy, fueled by obsession and brilliance, and based on a single need: to prove your worth by deceiving others.

In trying to understand how magicians manipulate our minds to create their illusions, Stone shares insights into human nature and the nature of perception, including psychology, neuroscience, physics, history, and even crime.

So, yes, there’s a lot of nerdy subject matter, but the book also explains the secrets of countless sorts of tricks, from the wonders of sleight of hand to the psychology behind the 'cold reading' that makes magicians seem like mediums. I love that stuff.

If you love that stuff – and you can get past the occasionally boring geekery – dive in. 

My July book reviews on 101.9 ChaiFM


So today I was interviewed by the lovely Niki Seberini on the ChaiFM Books Show.

My review choices were eclectic: one kiddie book, one non-fiction moms' handbook, one behind-the-scenes, one memoir and one crime fiction novel.

And of the five, I loved two and liked three.

Here they come...


17 July 2012

At the moment, I'm reading...

...a lovely variety of things. But in doing so, I'm also guilty of something I've always disparaged in reviewers: the simultaneous reading of multiple things.

Oh well.

Here's the list:
  • Stolen Prey - John Sandford
  • Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind - Alex Stone
  • Text Editing: A Handbook for Students & Practitioners - van de Poel et al
  • Recognising Postnatal Depression: A Handbook for Mothers - Levin et al
  • Zoe and Beanes - Chloe and Mick Inkpen
  • And 3 assorted Elephant & Piggie books - Mo Willems
Reviews to follow, here or on ChaiFM or on JoziKids or on Women24.

Chat soon.

Tiffany x


I chatted to Jodi Picoult last week...

...about My Sister's Keeper, a book I reviewed about 8 years ago. Okay, it wasn't really a chat. But the producers of the BBC's World Book Club Show did phone me so that I could 'call in' and ask Jodi my question, live, on radio. It was:
"I know that when the film version of MSK came out, the ending had been drastically altered, for 'Hollywood' purposes. For me, the ending was one of the novel's strongest and bravest features. I've read your feelings about this in other interviews, so my question is: Has this a) put you off future film tie-ins and/or b) made you stricter about what you will and won't agree to contractually?"
Jodi gave a lovely and informative answer, which you can hear here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00x8hmx

Chat soon.

Tiffany x