Saturday, July 2, 2022

Review - Summertime with Snowman Paul

Summertime with Snowman Paul
(Snowman Paul)
by Yossi Lapid
illustrated by Joanna Pasek
Date: 2022
Publisher: Yosef Lapid
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 46
Format: e-book
Source: author

Can a Snowman have Fun in the Summertime?

“The story has excellent kid appeal, presenting endearing characters and a cheerful summer setting.” – Kirkus Reviews

Sure, Paul is a snowman – but should that preclude him from having fun with his best friend all year long (including the Summer)?

Snowman Paul doesn’t think so, but hot summer days do pose some obvious problems for a snowman.

Snowman Paul is ready to give up when his best friend (Dan) comes up with a brilliant idea that saves the day.

“A wonderful book meant to teach children the values of friendship and perseverance. Kids will have a blast reading the book.” Readers’ Favorite

Funny and stunningly illustrated with full-page watercolors, this tale will delight children and parents alike. It is ideal for beginner readers, and it will make bedtime fun for toddlers, preschoolers, and even older kids. It makes a great gift, and it belongs in any children's books library.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Snowman Paul is back, and this time he's braving the summer heat!

This instalment of Yossi Lapid and Joanna Pasek's cute picture-book series does require a bit more suspension of disbelief than some of the others. A snowman in winter? Makes sense. A snowman in summer? Well... I'm sure you can see the issues. For his part, Snowman Paul realizes he doesn't really fit in with summer. However, he seems to be more concerned about how other people see him than... you know... melting into a puddle of water during a heatwave.

But never mind. The story is cute, with the narrator, Dan (who also happens to be Paul's best friend), helping the snowman come up with a plan to make summers a little more bearable.

Pasek's illustrations are lovely, as usual, and really set the tone for a sweet summer read.

Maybe a snowman is just what we need to keep cool during the summer months!

Thank you to Yossi Lapid for the e-book copy of Summertime with Snowman Paul.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Friday, July 1, 2022

Review - Mommy, Mommy, Where Is the Moon?

Mommy, Mommy, Where Is the Moon?

by Serene Chia
illustrated by Sinem Kılıç Rabito
Date: 2022
Publisher: Serene Chia
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

A delightful bedtime story to be shared with your little ones before you tuck them in!

Kaitlyn and her mommy love to spend their nights looking for the Moon. Sometimes, they find it. Other times, the Moon plays peek-a-boo.

“Mommy, Mommy,” said Kaitlyn. “Where is the Moon?”
“It’s up there,” said Mom. “Are you looking hard enough?”
“There!” Kaitlyn pointed. “It’s hiding. Silly Moon.”

  • Creates a fun bedtime ritual with your children
  • Learn new fun facts about the Moon together

Come join Kaitlyn and her mommy on their search and pick up some fun and interesting Moon facts along the way!

(synopsis from Amazon; see it on Goodreads)

I'm not quite sure how to rate this one. The story is simple. The illustrations are adorable. Kids will probably like it. On the other hand, the use of too many (ugly) fonts, the inability to distinguish between dialogue tags and action beats, and a confusing remark about the moon might make adults think twice.

The book revolves around a little girl named Kaitlyn, who notices the moon (or lack thereof) in the sky and asks her mother a series of questions about it. She wants to know where it is when she can't see it. Sometimes it's hidden by clouds. Sometimes it's behind buildings. Other times, it's just in a different phase. (This is the part I felt was confusing. Kaitlyn's mother tells her she can't see the moon because "it moved in front of the Sun". I don't think that's quite the right way to phrase that; wouldn't that technically be an eclipse?)

The pictures are super cute and very colourful, with lots to look at. They're probably the strongest part of the book. Unfortunately, the integration of the text on the pages sometimes seems a bit amateurish, and it looks like an afterthought.

There are some activity pages at the back, but I don't think they're really necessary.

Overall, this is an okay picture book. I can see it having appeal at bedtime, especially given the subject matter.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

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