Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Review - Sharing Daddy

Sharing Daddy

by Roberta Borg
illustrated by Bex Sutton
Date: 2022
Publisher: Primal Studios Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

Roberta Borg’s debut rhythm and rhyme children’s book.

“We love your Daddy, yes, we do, but sometimes others need him too!”

“What? But who?”

Billy loves playing with his daddy, but when his dad is called to an emergency at work, he is left sad and confused by his dad’s abrupt departure from playtime. In this heartwarming story, we join Billy on a journey of emotional growth as he learns about his daddy’s caring profession. So the next time his dad gets called away, Billy’s reaction is rather different…

All proceeds go to charity.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sharing Daddy features an interesting premise, namely children having to share their emergency service-worker parents with the general public.

The illustrations are cute, and the book is written in rhyme with a strong rhythm.

So this is a good book... but I would recommend getting yourself a print version. It was nearly impossible to read on a laptop screen, due to the formatting that kept two full spreads side by side on the screen at all times. This made the text quite small and nearly impossible to read. (I'm not sure what would happen on an e-reader, but I can't imagine it would be any easier!)

So the book itself is fine. The e-book formatting... not so much.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review - You've Reached Sam [AUDIO]

You've Reached Sam

by Dustin Thao
Date: 2021
Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Length: 9 hours 42 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

Dustin Thao's You've Reached Sam is a heartfelt audiobook about love and loss and what it means to say goodbye.

How do you move forward when everything you love is on the line?

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan.

But then Sam dies. And everything changes.

Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.

And Sam picks up the phone.

In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought the premise of this one sounded so cool. A grieving girl who suddenly has the chance to reconnect with her dead boyfriend through a magic cellphone? Sign me up!

I'd read some not-so-stellar reviews of this one, but I thought I'd give it a try, anyway. The library had the audiobook, so I gave it a go.

Big mistake.

It's probably just one of those books that works better in print. Because the timeline skips around a lot, it's kind of hard to follow. I can't see scene breaks when I'm listening, so sometimes I was confused when Julie would suddenly be with Sam again. A lot of the confusion could've been avoided had the author used the past tense for flashbacks. But the majority of the book is written in the present tense, even when Julie is remembering things that happened in the past.

Speaking of those memories, I'm not a fan. They're almost like a fever dream, with one recollection dissolving into the next, and everything seems disjointed. These sections could've really helped flesh out the story, or made me understand the characters a little better. Sadly, much of the book seems like padding, and the various characters are unlikeable, underdeveloped, stereotypical, unpleasant, or just plain inconsistent. I don't even particularly like Sam, especially after he died; all those rules with their connection that are never explained almost seemed like manipulation.

When we find out how Sam died, I thought there would be more to it than that, especially since Julie spends much of the book in a "woe is me, it's all my fault" mode. In fact, a lot of people blame Julie for Sam's death, and the reasons why make absolutely no sense to me. The perpetual blame game comes across more like a plot device than anything else, and I was disappointed that there was no earth-shattering twist that explained what really went on that night and who was really to blame.

I'm not sure if I should even mention this next part, because I'll probably get flack for it, but I feel like it needs to be mentioned. This book is kind of racist. I'm already uncomfortable by the fact that a Vietnamese-American man decided to write the book from the point of view of a Caucasian girl... but not because authors need to stay in their own lanes. What irked me is that this choice seemed to be made as a subtle way to make a statement about race. Julie, a white girl, doesn't really have a cultural background; on the other hand, the book tries to glorify Asian culture (while simultaneously presenting it as a bit of a stereotypical monolith, which was a bit odd). Everything Asian is good (the people are model-beautiful, they bring pretty lunches to school, they're so inclusive they'll let white people into the Asian club, they're so in touch with their heritage, etc.), while a number of the white kids in the book are portrayed as one-dimensional bigots.

Anyway, even without that stuff, I'm not sure if I would feel much more favourably toward this book. It was kind of boring, in the end, and I never got the answers—or the characters—I wanted.

Also, sending flaming lanterns out into the wilderness in a state that regularly has wildfires is extremely irresponsible. And Julie wouldn't be walking under cherry blossoms during her first week of school. I'm surprised an editor didn't have something to say about these things...

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Performance: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Review - Unchosen [AUDIO]

Unchosen

by Katharyn Blair
Date: 2021
Publisher: HarperAudio
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Length: 10 hours 3 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.

The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.

The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.

Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.

When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.

The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.

But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.

Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was looking through my book blog and realized I hadn't listened to an audiobook in over a decade. What?! Yeah, I know. But, to be fair, audiobooks and I don't always get along. Without visual input of some sort, my mind tends to wander. (Either that, or I fall asleep.) But I've been having trouble lately with starting books and then not finishing them, so I wondered if "reading" an audiobook might work better for me right now.

I haven't tried an audiobook in ages, and I also haven't read a young adult novel in a while. I think I might be getting too old for them. Or maybe I was just too old for this one. When the world has gone to hell and zombies are nipping at your heels, it seems a little ridiculous to start waxing poetic about some guy's shoulders. But... here we are.

I did really like the premise of this one, though. It's basically a post-apocalyptic zombie book, but the zombie thing is really unique. It's based on a curse rather than the usual virus, and it's spread through eye contact. This leads to some interesting work-arounds like the characters having to use mirrors to look at things, lest they get zombified.

Our main character is Charlotte, who's the inconsequential middle sister of three. Her older sister is some badass warrior, and her younger sister is literally the Chosen One who's supposed to save them all. On top of that, Charlotte is in love with her older sister's boyfriend, so things aren't running too smoothly in the family unit.

Once the story started to pick up a bit, and some villains were thrown into the mix, I found myself getting a little lost. Maybe it was because of the audio format, or maybe the book was actually just confusing. The pacing seemed uneven in spots, especially toward the end (which was a little lacklustre after all that buildup). I wasn't that impressed with the villains, either; they were your standard moustache-twirlers who enjoyed being evil just for the sake of it.

This probably wasn't the best book to ease me back into the world of audio. There was an awful lot of repetition, which was painfully obvious in audio format. (What I mean is that certain words and phrases were repeated way too close together, and characters' names were used too often when "he" or "she" would've sufficed.) I also wasn't a fan of this particular narrator, who would lower her voice for the male characters (which sounded silly) and harshen her voice for some of the female characters (making the villains, especially, sound more vapid than menacing). I do realize there's not much a single narrator can do with a book to differentiate the characters other than try to put on different voices. Still, I felt like the somewhat weird character voices were distracting and drew me out of the story at times.

Overall, I give the premise top marks for originality. The execution is a little lacking, though. Still, it will probably appeal to young adult readers who are looking for an interesting post-apocalyptic romp with a touch of romance.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Review - Look at Me

Look at Me: a celebration of self, playfulness, and exploration

by Audrey Beth Stein
illustrated by Kristina Neudakhina
Date: 2022
Publisher: Audrey Beth Stein
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

What do YOU like to wear? Nail polish? Fancy suits? Pigtails? Monday underwear? Possibilities are endless in this vibrantly illustrated picture book for all genders about self-expression and play.

Feelings and senses take center stage in Look at Me as a diverse cast of children share what they like (and don't like) to wear. "Pants are itchy. I like tights," says one kid. "When I grow up, I'm going to live somewhere warm and be naked all the time," declares another. Look at Me inspires kids to be themselves and to embrace others' differences.

Some of the kids love how they look already. Others want to try something new. A few look the way they do for reasons beyond their control. But whether it's through their hair, their clothes and accessories, or something they were born with, each has their own playful and distinct way of exploring their appearance.

Although no child's race, gender, or disability is explicitly mentioned, the illustrations capture the diversity of the real world. Non-binary and gender-nonconforming characters appear alongside gender-conforming kids and adults.

Thanks to the wide cast of characters, every child who reads Look at Me will find at least one person they relate to in this thoughtful and sweet celebration of self.

Look at Me's bright thoughtful images and artful easy-to-read text inspire introspection and discussion.

Children often don't have the right words to communicate big emotions or physical discomfort. Look at Me gives parents, teachers, and caretakers the jumping off points they need to start a conversation with their kids about identity, gender, and self-expression.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

A book like this might make a reader (especially an adult one) sit and think for a moment about how arbitrary (and silly) some of our society's "rules" are. Look at Me is a celebration of kids being themselves, dressing however they like... whether that's a little boy wearing nail polish, a little girl wearing a suit, or a child of unspecified gender wearing nothing but underpants. I can see some of the sentiments being quite relatable to many children.

That said, I'm not sure I love the execution. The text is sparse and the illustrations are not especially appealing. But I do have to commend the overall intent; it's good to see this theme appearing more in children's books. Everybody should have the freedom to be themselves, and there are more important things to worry about than policing the style choices of children.

So, I would recommend this one. Parents looking for books with similar themes might also want to check out Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, Pink Is for Everybody! by Ella Russell, and Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Review - Marshmallow

Marshmallow

by Clare Turlay Newberry
Date: 1942
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A beautiful classic picture book story about an unusual friendship between a bunny and a cat.

Oliver is a tabby cat who is always the center of attention.

Marshmallow is a baby rabbit who moves into Oliver's home.

At first Oliver does not welcome Marshmallow, but the little bunny's charms are impossible to resist. This is the true story of how Oliver and Marshmallow become friends.

Clare Turlay Newberry's lifelong passions for cats and for drawing come together in this elegantly illustrated book, winner of the 1943 Caldecott Honor.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This could've ended very differently.

I hadn't even heard of this book, even though it was first published in 1942. It's a simple classic, though somewhat heavy on the text by today's standards.

Oliver the cat is content... until Miss Tilly brings a baby bunny named Marshmallow into the household. At first, the cat is afraid. But then his instincts start kicking in... and, for a moment, I was a little worried that this story was going to take a dark turn. Don't worry, though! This true story is safe for readers of all ages.

The illustrations are simple but effective, done in black and white with a few touches of peach. And the text perfectly captures the behaviour of both animals.

Overall, this is a cute classic that deserves a new generation of readers.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Review - Yara and the Yellow-Headed Parrots

Yara and the Yellow-Headed Parrots
(Yara's Rainforest #3)
by Yossi Lapid
illustrated by Joanna Pasek
Date: 2021
Publisher: Lapid Children's Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 50
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

A pair of Yellow-Headed Parrots are guarding a well-hidden nest perched high up on an Amazon Rainforest tree. They are confident that their young chicks are safe in their well-hidden nest. But are they?

In this third volume of Yara's Rainforest series, Yara confronts a nest poacher bent on capturing these critically endangered Amazon Rainforest birds and selling them on the black market.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read the first book in this series, Yara's Tawari Tree, back in 2019. It's an interesting series of picture books, set in the Amazon rainforest, that tell stories around the people and the natural habitat there. Yara and the Yellow-Headed Parrots is the third book in the series (I'll have to see if I can track down the second one), but it ties in with the first book with the healing powers of a special tree.

The rhyming text flows nicely, and the story—about a would-be poacher who has his eyes on some yellow-headed parrot chicks—is both timely and sweet. He's not just a villain, but has his own reasons for his actions, which I found refreshing to see in a book like this. Not everything is black and white.

There's some good info at the back about endangered bird species. Overall, this is a strong addition to the Yara's Rainforest series.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Review - The Lighthouse Witches (DNF)

The Lighthouse Witches

by C. J. Cooke
Date: 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 357
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse.

A lighthouse that weathered more than storms.

Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.

Coincidence? Or curse?

Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left.

Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .

But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 27%

Nope. I just can't do this to myself anymore. Even if it is set in Scotland. Even if is about witches and paranormal occurrences. Every time I think about picking this book back up, I immediately think of something else I'd rather be doing. Vacuuming. Taxes. Waxing my legs in slow motion.

This book suffers from some of the worst editing/proofreading I've seen in a traditionally published title in a while. The continuity is awful. Characters sit down when they're already sitting. They help each other up when they're not even down. Events are changed, and then not all instances are caught. (At one point, the mother slaps her daughter across the face. The girl runs away, clutching the back of her head as if she's banged it, and the mother says the kid is injured. Later, a reference is made to when the mother "pushed" her daughter. I'm guessing the shove was changed to a slap, but not every reference was caught.) When the teenage daughter runs away, the middle sister tells her that their mother hasn't noticed yet... and then, a few paragraphs later, says their mother is freaking out over the disappearance.

Even if I wanted to subject myself to a few hundred more pages of that kind of thing, I'd still hate the characters. The mother is some sort of underdeveloped artiste type who says she loves her daughters more than she shows it. (She seems rather indifferent, honestly.) And the girls... They're 15, 9, and 7, but they all come across as about 4 years younger than their actual ages. The teenager pouts and runs away from home when she's upset, says her mother probably won't even care, and then writes a letter to her boyfriend, telling him that she's probably going to get murdered by a serial killer, so he can have her CD collection (at which point she says something about how her boyfriend was probably going to murder her for it anyway). The 9-year-old has no character development, either as a child or as an adult (parts of the narrative take place when she's all grown up). The 7-year-old acts like a toddler, clutching her stuffed giraffe and being carried around. (She's actually 7½. Why can't she walk?)

But the biggest thing that got my goat was the ridiculous plot point of the family's disappearance. I can't really say much more without major spoilers, but suffice it to say that there's a pretty big plot hole there. Either that, or the police in Scotland don't keep very good records.

I kind of want to know what happens, but I just can't take the stupid characters, continuity problems, and implausible plot points anymore. If someone makes a movie out of this one day, I'll watch it. But as a book... nope. I'm done.