American Carnival – David Skernick

The nostalgia I experienced paging through this book was so much fun! Each year growing up I’d look forward to the Show (regional Australia carnival) coming to town. It would be in town for three days each year and it was a big deal; we even got a day off school on the Friday because it was a regional public holiday when I was growing up.

I’d feel like the most important person in the world when the ferris wheel stopped at the top, allowing me a bird’s eye view of the other rides. The local newspaper would list all of the different show bags that would be available, including all of the treasures you’d find inside them, and I’d carefully make my wish list and then agonise about which ones I absolutely had to have when I was told how many I could actually have.

I loved thinking I was a driver as I roared around the dodgem car circuit and still have photographic evidence of the one time my ride turned sour when an older kid rammed into my car and I somehow managed to hurt my hand in the process. I eagerly anticipated the fairy floss melting on my tongue and changing its colour, and was fascinated watching the vendor make it before my very eyes.

I desperately wanted to win specific toys in the games I played, the toys themselves losing some of their shine when I got them home, the sense of accomplishment remaining. I envied the bigger kids who were tall enough to go on the scary rides and waited for my height to catch up to my excitement.

It was loud. It was dusty. There were bright lights everywhere. There was so much to see, smell and do. It was magical!

Wellenflug, Oklahoma State Fair

In American Carnival, photographer David Skernick has collated a series of colour and black and white photos (predominantly panoramas) that bring to life the carnival experience, from the rides and attractions to the people who work there. Each photo is accompanied by a brief description. I would have been more engaged had the portraits included more information about the people they picture, for example, a quote regaling a humorous, touching or otherwise interesting experience they’ve had working at a carnival.

Halloween, Louisiana State Fair

The photos follow a short foreword by Heidi Gray and an introduction by the photographer. Spanning from day to night and including some vibrant sunsets and atmospheric storm clouds, I don’t know if you could see these photos without reminiscing about your own carnival experiences. While the day photos provide details you don’t see at night, it’s the night photography that truly brings the carnival to life, with the bright lights and blur of rides in motion.

Thank you to NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing Ltd. for the opportunity to read this book. You can find out more about this book here.

Photos (c) Dave Skernick, American Carnival, published by Schiffer Publishing 2019; used with permission.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Come celebrate the community, connection, and quirkiness of the American carnival. Stunning photographs by David Skernick capture the magic of the rides and games and the carnies and clowns who make the carnival their home. Meet Kat the sword swallower, Ember the fire eater, and the Human Fuse, Brian Miser, who sails through the air on fire! As day fades to dusk and the lights come up, smell the cotton candy, feel the vertigo of the Silver Yo Yo, and hear the laughter and screams. The panoramic images allow you to see the fair as if you were standing there yourself.

Rockabilly/Psychobilly: An Art Anthology – Jamie Kendall

I’m sure you’re already familiar with rockabilly. You’ve got plenty of men in suits or leather biker jackets and jeans, hair greased, admiring their cars, bikes and/or women. You’ve got the sexy, sassy bombshells, where oftentimes the only thing bigger than their butts are their breasts. The women are decked out in poodle skirts, short shorts and various combinations of not much, with plenty of Bettie Page inspiration and beehives competing to make it to heaven first. The beer’s flowing and the cigarettes are lit.

Are you as familiar with psychobilly? I hadn’t heard of the word before this book but once I started that section I realised I did know it after all. I love the way psychobilly is described in the introduction:

“I like to think of psychobilly as what happens to the rockabilly crowd once midnight strikes.”

Besides all of the gorgeous artwork, there’s also a playlist running through the book, with each new song flagged by a jukebox for rockabilly or vinyl record for psychobilly.

There are quotes scattered throughout the book by the artists and I think Leon Ryan nailed it with

“I’d rather draw something to be hung and enjoyed in dorms and filthy garages than ignored in a respectable gallery.”

I like an eclectic mix of bits and pieces people call art, including some that reside in respectable galleries. Rockabilly/psychobilly artists, though, these are my people! There’s an honesty to this artwork that I love. These are people inspired by such awesomeness as cartoons, video games, movies, and music.

I’m no art critic, thank goodness, but the gaggle of butts and breasts aside (I’m not going to whinge because it’s part of the style) I really enjoyed this art. There’s something immediately appealing to me about a style that doesn’t care what you think because it’s just doing its thing, whether you’re paying attention or not.

There was a lot to like in this book and so many artists to appreciate. If you’re in the market for a rockabilly/ psychobilly tattoo, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. There’s even an artist index at the end of the book where the artists’ websites are found so you can find even more awesomeness.

I don’t have a specific rockabilly favourite but some of the ones that drew my attention included:

🎙 Candy’s cat eyed woman with the orange beehive that is practically exploding with odds and sods, including three cars, some bats, a skeleton, fluffy dice with teeth, balloons and this green guy of some species holding a checkered flag. Candy’s website is here.

🎙 Nano Barbero’s Rockalavera Rockabilly Weekend México 2015 poster. Nano’s website is here.

🎙 Mark Rehkopf’s ‘I don’t know what the hell is going on here but I love it’ piece that I’ve discovered is the cover art for Nick Johnston’s Public Display of Infection. It’s got UFO’s, eyeballs in trench coats overlooking the scene from the top of buildings, and there’s too much else to describe but it’s awesome!

In the psychobilly section I really liked:

🧟‍♀️ Miss Cherry Martini’s style but couldn’t choose a favourite so you can find her art here.

🧟‍♂️ Zach Bellissimo’s art, which is here. I wandered around for a while and didn’t find the illustration I was looking for (yet), although I found so much else to love.

🧟‍♀️ Kimberly Poizon’s pages, so of course I looked her up too! Her art can be found here.

🧟‍♂️ Marcus Jones’ Zombie Pin-Up Anatomy. (I was going to leave it at that, with three artists in each category, but then I found this image and my coffee almost escaped through my nose in a very attractive snort.) Here’s the black and white version; the full colour one in the book is so much better. Marcus’ art can be found here.

It may seem I’ve already shown you all of the Woohoo! moments in this book but I haven’t even come close. I’ve shown you about the equivalent of a dollop of cream on top of a mountainous ice cream sundae. Sure, you can enjoy that dollop but if you don’t stay long enough to try the various flavours of ice cream, sprinkles and hot chocolate fudge sauce 🤤 you won’t realise what you’re missing out on. It’s highly likely your biggest Woohoo! moments are still inside the book waiting for you to discover them.

Going into this I expected to find maybe one or two pictures I’d love and a whole pile of ‘yeah, it was okay’. I’m leaving it trying to figure out if I can afford to buy myself a copy because this is a serious contender to be added to my coffee table for future Woohoo! moments.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing Ltd. for introducing me to so many extraordinarily talented artists I may not have come across otherwise.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A visual road trip from Route 66 to Route 666, this rockin’ collection of more than 600 artworks presents the unapologetically fun and undeniably cool spirit of rockabilly and psychobilly. The 55 artists featured here represent a global subculture and are some of today’s best lowbrow and cartoon artists, the de facto styles of the genre.

Whether you’re burning for nostalgia or learning more about the phenomenon, this massive collection is a study of some of the main themes of modern rockabilly culture: respect the past, be proudly defiant, and stay true to what you like.

Here you’ll see a broad range of stylistic influence from the 1930s to the 1990s as well as other sub-pop cultures like jazz, ska, surf, burlesque, punk, and horror adorning album art, show posters, comics, pin-ups, and more. Complete with a playlist curated by the artists, this is a must-have volume of art by artists who are finding success despite being outsiders.

Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists? – Patrick O’Donnell

Illustrations – Erik Mehlen

Like many others I have a fairly significant case of dentophobia. My childhood dentist, in their infinite wisdom, told me that because I have deep crevasses in my teeth it was inevitable that I’d end up with a mouthful of fillings regardless of how well I brushed. This was after they’d already tortured treated me throughout my childhood, pulling all of my stubborn baby teeth that refused to leave me.

So, while this is a children’s book and I was reading it with that in mind, part of me was also keen to see if it had any wisdom to share with someone who hasn’t been to a dentist since their wisdom teeth were removed. I’m no closer to making a dental appointment now than I was before reading this book.

I liked the idea of applying dental fears to dinosaurs because dinosaurs make everything better, but overall the book just didn’t work for me. The rhyming worked sometimes and at other times it felt forced, for example, rhyming toothpick with picnic.

The pictures were cute and colourful. There’s a dinosaur with braces.

A family sit together munching on their lunch during a picnic with the sun smiling overhead. There’s even a dinosaur in need of dentures, wrinkly mouth and all.

There’s some facts about each dinosaur featured in the book at the end and also a glossary of toothy terms.

I thought it might be me being picky so I read it to my mother, who worked as a dental nurse before she retired. Naturally I pretended she was a child I was reading it to and showed her the illustrations as I read. It didn’t work for her either. Having said that, I haven’t read this book to a kid with dentophobia and a love of dinosaurs. If you want to check it out for yourself, here’s the link to the book on the publisher’s website.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Schiffer Kids, an imprint of Schiffer Publishing Ltd. for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What if a brachiosaurus needed braces? If a tyrannosaurus used toothpaste, would it squash the tube? A young child on the way to a dental checkup wonders if dinosaurs ever had cavities and if they had to brush their teeth, floss, get braces, and use fluoride or mouthwash. This whimsical picture book includes eleven common terms related to dental and oral health, along with a glossary of name pronunciations and fun, scientific facts about each of the eleven dinosaurs mentioned in the story. It takes an imaginative, humorous look at dinosaurs’ dental health and eases children’s fears about going to the dentist, while cleverly encouraging them to take care of their own teeth.

The Last Veterans of World War II: Portraits and Memories – Richard Bell

This is one of the most powerful books you will ever have the privilege of holding in your hands. I would recommend The Last Veterans of World War II to absolutely everyone, regardless of your personal views on war, life experience or the genre you usually read. This book is simply too important for you to miss out on.

Richard Bell’s photography is beyond stunning. The black and white portraits of the American veterans as they are today are some of the most extraordinary portraits I’ve ever seen. The lighting is just gorgeous and unlike the forced poses and toothy grins you see so often with this type of photography, the expressions captured are natural, as if taken during conversation. There’s an honesty and depth to these images that captures the joy, sorrow, wisdom, grace, heartache, humour and character of the veterans. I don’t know enough adjectives to adequately describe the way they made me feel.

On the opposite page of each full page portrait you’ll find text accompanied by a smaller image of the veteran’s hand/s holding a photograph of themselves taken around the time of their service, most times in uniform. There’s something about the juxtaposition between the young man or woman in the photo and the elderly hand holding it that made me really emotional. It’s such a simple yet beautiful way of connecting each person through time.

If this book had been filled with photographs alone, the quality and evocative nature of them would have been enough for this to be a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ book. However, there’s more to this book. Each entry tells you the veteran’s name, current age, details about the branch they served in and where, along with a portion of the veteran’s story told to the author while he interviewed them.

It feels so wrong to be giving a star rating to peoples’ wartime experiences so my rating will be based solely on the photography in this remarkable book. While I won’t tell you anything about the experiences shared in this book as my words can’t do them justice, I will tell you that I was consistently moved by the integrity, humility and bravery of those interviewed. I learned about so many aspects of the war that I was previously unaware of. One of the quotes that I know will linger with me is by Ben Skardon, who served in the Army and is a Bataan Death March survivor:

“Nothing else is on my conscience that I know about, except why I’m the only one of my friends that made it back.”

The Last Veterans of World War II is one of those books that part of you doesn’t want to read because gut wrenching is not an adequate descriptor for the horrors these veterans have experienced. Yet you must read books like this because being an ostrich does not work in this situation. We must never forget and we need to continue to honour the heroism and sacrifice of these men and women.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing Ltd. for the opportunity to read this book.

Finally, but most importantly, to the ladies and gentlemen featured in this book along with other past and present service members, I am honoured to have read some of your stories and I thank you for your service.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Chronicling the many faces of the WWII effort, these contemporary black-and-white portraits of the longest surviving veterans remind us that the war comprised a collection of Americans from all walks of life. Their penetrating gaze captures the ethos of the endeavour of war. Intimate memories offer glimpses into the horrifying, and at times awe-inspiring, reality of war. The faces of these veterans, from all branches, are juxtaposed with images of their youthful selves and serve as a visual representation of the expanse of their life experiences. Appealing to the families of soldiers, academics, history buffs, and veterans of other wars, this collection is a testament to the spirit of patriotism and strength of a collective American effort.

Human Tribe – Alison Wright

Beautiful! Just beautiful! I can definitely see this photography book featuring people from all over the world making its way to my coffee table. I want to look through it over and over, and show specific photos to specific people:
“Look at those amazing eyes! They seem to look straight into your soul.”
“Check out the incredible composition of this shot.”
“Oh, that lighting…” satisfied sigh
“How cool is that?!”
“That depth of field of that one is perfect.”

I saw stories in the eyes of these people – humility, laughter, hardship, hope, pain, joy. Some even appear to have a slightly amused look on their face as if surprised that the photographer chose them as subjects.

Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded that as people we are more alike than not. We may look different and have varying world views and experiences, but the human experience ultimately remains the same. We’ve all had struggles, fears, sadness and pain, we’ve all (I hope) experienced happiness, love and the comfort and joy of friendship. We all have dreams, goals and ambitions for our life. Although maybe not everyone has quite as many soapboxes as I do…

The only things I would personally liked to have seen added to this gorgeous book are the first name of each subject and perhaps a sentence or two about who they are.

Human Tribe would make a lovely gift and would be a great talking piece as a coffee table book. Aspiring photographers could use this book to learn about what makes a captivating portrait, experienced photographers can appreciate the technical expertise of Alison Wright and anyone who loves photos will enjoy poring over this book.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing Ltd. for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A page-turner in the most exquisite sense, this book of over 160 portraits expresses the emotive beauty and grace of the human face. Documentary photographer Alison Wright traveled to every continent to capture the diversity of the human tribe, from toddlers to those who’ve lived a lifetime, and from South America to Africa, Asia, and points in between. Some of the people photographed are privileged, some live ordinary lives, and others live close to the land and in communities that may not last another generation. Collectively, these surprising studies of the human face remind us of our common bond and the inherent dignity in being ourselves.