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]


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