Score: 79/100 (7.9 out of 10)
Here's a heartfelt book that comes from a good place—a place of love, care, and compassion. Unfortunately, this is a book that is held back by shortcuts in its production process and the author's likely battle with English as a second language. It seems very unlikely that this book went through a proofreading process at all or that it was reviewed by beta readers before being published. It is also haphazardly organized, jumping from subject to subject often without a clear method to the madness.
“Care Giving Gift of Unconditional Love” is a memoir by David Soh Poh Huat reflecting on his experience with caring for his terminally ill parents as well as some of the lessons he learned from that experience. Right off the bat, it doesn't get much more heartfelt than that. The general thesis of this book seems to be that a person should be willing and able to care for their loved one in later life just as their loved one has or would have taken care of them earlier in life (had circumstances been better). The book doubles as a short manual on how to care for your sick and/or dying loved ones. Part of the problem is that we're unsure (and we're pretty sure the author was unsure) which of these two things he wanted to accomplish the most: whether to tell his story or to serve a didactic purpose in teaching others living a similar story.
And there's another problem: it's too oddly specific to the situation that the author and his loved ones were in. The author only provides specific medical tips regarding pneumonia, liver abscesses, and cancer because these are the medical problems that his loved ones dealt with. The issue there is that this book is marketed as a book for caregivers in general—presumably caregivers of people who suffer from many types of diseases and illnesses. In other words, the sections talking about pneumonia, liver abscesses, and cancer sound oddly specific and narrow for a book that we thought was supposed to have a larger scope.
The best example we can give you of this problem is when the author attempts to categorize the different kinds of “siblings” who are supposed to take care of a sick or dying loved one. To summarize: there are siblings who are selfish and don't care about their parents or their family, there are siblings who do care but don't want to pay medical expenses or provide care, and there are good siblings who do care and offer to help or pay medical expenses. Now, that's actually pretty relatable to many people facing this situation, but there's one question that's bothersome in all of this: what about the reader who doesn't have siblings? The author automatically seemed to assume that because he had siblings who acted this way that all the readers must have siblings who act in one of these ways. Well, we all know that can't be true. So, by default, the advice is not applicable to all caregivers. What if the caregiver, instead, is in a dispute with their nieces/nephews or in-laws over power of attorney or finances? What then? A far better example the author could've provided instead of listing categories of “siblings” is to list categories of loved ones in general. The reader shouldn't have to do mental gymnastics to obtain this information and figure out if or not it's relevant to them. That's the author's job. The author should provide the information in the best way possible, and this seems far from the best way possible.
Another thing that's a bit worrisome is that the author seems to provide medical advice to various individuals including encouraging them to challenge their doctors, all the while we don't remember reading a disclaimer that this book isn't intended as medical advice and isn't intended to cure, treat, or diagnose any diseases. The author just throws his medical opinions out there and considers it wisdom. Well, we can understand that. We believe things about medicine that run contrary to the establishment like about the benefits of herbs and special massages, however we haven't written a book distributing these beliefs and opinions without a warning or disclaimer. We can see that potentially being a legal or liability issue.
So, from the beginning we are confronted with one of the main issues of the book: the author is still wrestling with English. Even the title, “Care Giving Gift of Love,” is a bit odd. Shouldn't the title be something like “Caregiving: A Gift of Love” or “A Caregiver's Gift of Love?”
There are entire words missing throughout this book. Words like “doctor” are capitalized for no reason. In fact, the author has an inclination to hit the ALL CAPS button a bit too frequently including in his name and the book's title. The sentences are very short and very choppy. The book itself is very short, very choppy, and skips around from topic to topic. Overall, the writing just isn't that good, unfortunately. As it exists now, this book borders on a Power Point presentation.
Where this book does shine is in its core message: that people should love one another and care for one another just as God and Jesus love and care for them. It's a beautiful and powerful message. We just really wish the author had worked more on this book to flesh it out and/or got help in producing it. There really should've been an editor and/or beta reader. As it exists now, this book borders on a Power Point presentation with its very few and very short pages. If you're someone who is purchasing this book, you already care enough about being a caregiver to look past the book's core message. You don't need to be told to care for the sake of caring, you already spent the money to buy a book about caring for the sake of caring.
Still, we support David Soh Poh Huat's inspirational and beautiful mission and hope that he continues to produce books and improve as a writer.
Check it out this book at Walmart!
Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
“Paris Blue” is a drama-filled memoir by Julie Scolnik chronicling her decade-plus, on and off romantic relationship with a Frenchman named Luc, a lover who shares Julie's passion for classical and baroque music. This book has several dimensions and layers.
This book reminds us of several books that we've read this year: “No Perfect Love” by Dr. Alyson Nerenberg (non-fiction) and “A Major League Love” by Domenic Melillo (fiction). All of these books highlight the twists and turns that life and love can take. Something unique about “Paris Blue” by Julie Scolnik, however, is that it especially highlights the “rose-tinted goggles” of idealism that lovers often have at first, leading to disappointments and shattered expectations. It's about what happens when the perfect love isn't so perfect, and it's also about a woman's journey to self-discovery.
First and foremost, "Paris Blue" is a will-they/won't-they romance about Julie and Luc. To say that this is the heart and soul of the book would be an understatement. The sexual and romantic tension is high throughout, and we are frustrated when Julie is frustrated, we are sad when Julie is sad, and we are angry when Julie is angry. We often find ourselves on Julie's side of the aisle, typical of an autobiography or memoir. It's very difficult to see things from the perspective of our other main character, Luc. In a lot of ways, he comes across to us as detestable and unlikable. In other words, this relationship almost always seems one-sided and often borders on manipulative and abusive, and we're guessing that can be a great morality tale for others to get out of these types of manipulative and abusive relationships. Remember that abuse isn't always physical, it can be mental and psychological. It comes in the form of neglect and manipulation.
The second layer or dimension of this book is how it's kind of a coming of age story about Julie, young and naive, learning to come to terms with her changing feelings, her changing body, and her changing world. We're with Julie from the age of 17—right at the cusp of becoming a full-fledged woman—and we journey with her into the middle of adulthood in which she becomes more mature, self-confident, and independent. We also see her journey as a musician, going from a hobbyist to someone who can be invited to perform at concerts.
The third layer or dimension of this book, and arguably the one we wish was further explored, is the culture shock that Julie experiences in transiting between America and France (and vice-versa). Julie absolutely detests the term “culture shock” and seems to go out of her way to avoid highlighting differences between America and France. Interestingly, Luc has the opposite point of view. Luc constantly sees America and Americans as different, and he openly criticizes and talks down about them. About a month ago, we'd read “Just Arrived” by Bona Udeze, a book about a Nigerian immigrant's interesting experiences in moving to America—full of culture shock, adapting to new foods, strange habits, and a fresh start. There's just an element of that missing with “Paris Blue.” For a book with “Paris” in the title, we don't really see or learn much about the place. It's in the background. When Julie moves to and fro Paris, it is described as just being like any other big city, not much different from Boston where she eventually ends up. She walks the streets, takes buses, goes to restaurants, and attends or performs at concerts. You could do that in New York City. You could do that in Salt Lake City. You could do that in Honolulu or London. You could do that in Sydney or Dubai. This aspect of the book remains so criminally under-explored, unfortunately, especially when compared to something like “Just Arrived”--a top-notch book about moving to a new country.
One of the things we debated in literary terms was whether or not Luc could be considered a protagonist, a secondary protagonist, a love interest, an anti-hero, or a straight-up villain—a bad guy akin to someone like the manipulative, vindictive Cynthia from “A Major League Love.” You could argue either way, or even that he's all of these things. But to us personally, he's a villain. He's only about a notch of villainy lower than Wally Mussel—the abusive, exploitative boss from “My Famous Brain” by Diane Wald. Luc is a demonic, Titanic piece of crap walking God's green earth in our opinion. Sorry. And the fact that Julie kept believing his lies and crawling back to him, especially after that knife incident in which Luc dismisses and ignores her as she's bleeding profusely, frustrates and angers us greatly. Or perhaps we're displacing some personal frustrations.
The fact of the matter is, this book is relatable. Many of us have been in relationships like this. Many of us have found ourselves afraid or unwilling to let go, even long after the point of no return. Scolnik captures that feeling perfectly.
You can check out the book on Amazon!
Score: 82/100 (8.2 out of 10)
“Using Japanese Paper for Digital Printing of Photographs” is a photography book compiled by the brilliant Carl-Evert Jonsson of Sweden, holding both a Ph.D. and an MD from the University of Uppsala. He specializes in reconstructive surgery, and his research is cited in multiple medical and scientific journals. Jonsson has practiced the art of photography with Japanese washi paper for years and is excited to share some of his work through this book.
We wish we could say more about this book, but there isn't much to work with. If you've read our other reviews, we can go on for pages and pages, hours and hours, breaking down every nitty gritty detail. The thing about this work is that it really isn't that substantive or instructive at all. Don't mix our words, we didn't say that the book isn't substantial (important), but that it isn't substantive (containing enough insightful or enlightening content to stand on its own). There are really only three and a half pages of text in this entire book, and it fails to answer the one key question that all of us are begging to be answered: HOW does a novice photographer or artist get into this practice?
Why would someone publish a book that implies it's going to show you how to do something, then doesn't show you how to do it? This book is the equivalent of your eccentric uncle showing you his vintage G.I. Joe action-figure collection, but saying you can't touch or play with any of them, and he's not going to explain how he got them or where to buy them because it's an ancient Chinese secret. You need to climb a mountain and fight Pei Mei to earn the right to know that privileged information. Quote us on that, it'll probably get you engagement and sales.
The author does briefly go over the methods in the broadest way possible, but he fails to supply a step-by-step breakdown of how it's done so that it can be replicated. That seems kinda important to us. Don't you agree? That's essential to the scientific method: every experiment needs to be reproducible. It is the author's job to make sure that his methods are reproducible by supplying adequate details. How much water should you spray on the photos? How much actual egg-oil do you use? What the heck is “10per cent?” Did you mean “ten percent?” Did you mean a mixture of 10% oil and 90% water? Wait a second, there's an Appendix 1? What the hey is dammar gum and where do we get it? What the blue heck is balsam turpentine and where do we get it? What's a “dash” of balsam turpentine? What if your “dash” is bigger than our “dash?” How vague and imprecise. How is that quantifiable? How is that scientific? How is that reproducible? Why would we go through all this trouble, follow all of these vague and imprecise instructions, just to make egg oil when we can probably order it for like $8 on Amazon? It's like the guy who grinds his own coffee beans.
How long do the photos need to be left out to dry? Do we need to dry them? We assume so. How many times do they need to be rewetted? Why? What exactly do you do with the soft brush? We assume you brush with it, but the author doesn't tell us that directly or explicitly. They use the vague language of “apply” the egg oil. Well, how much oil do we “apply?” How long should we keep brushing? Is it like making a cake and you're supposed to keep mixing for like 2 minutes? WHERE do we apply the egg oil? Do we apply it to the front AND the back? Do we only apply it to the top of the photo? The bottom of the photo? Do we have to apply pressure so that the egg oil can better be absorbed or are we supposed to be gentle so we don't damage the paper?
Why is it that the author uses passive language to describe what to do with the soft brush? Why is it that the author keeps using passive language to describe the method in general? Why is the author describing what other practitioners do but not what he does? Or are we to assume he does it the exact same way that they do?
What the heck is a Sennelier pigment? Where can we get it? Is it available on Amazon? Ebay? At Office Max or Walmart? Does it come in small, medium, and large? Does it come in some liquid vial with a dropper? Is it dry? Does it come in something resembling a salt shaker? Does the transparent paper have to be A4 sized too or does it have to be a little bigger to account for variation? What the heck is aquarelle paper? Is it available on Amazon? Ebay? At Office Max or Walmart?
Is Adobe Lightroom the only editing software we can use to crop the photos or change them to black & white? Can't we just use the free Photos app on a Windows OS? Or Canva? Or Photoshop? Why not? What is it about Adobe Lightroom that makes it the go-to software for washi-paper people? Could the author maybe enlighten us and tell us how to use the software in a clear, coherent, and substantive way?
Even assuming that we—the readers—are artists and photographers, these methods and techniques may be new to us. The software may be new to us. The author shouldn't assume that we can just pick it up and run with his vague and oddly passive instructions. Going back to an earlier example for our review of Dale L. Roberts's book, you can't just give a cyclist a motorcycle and say, “Hey, you can ride a bike, right? I'm sure you can ride this.” They wouldn't know where the ignition was or how to control the headlights. Why? Because bicycles don't have ignitions or headlights. Motorcycles and bicycles are similar but two very different things with two very different propulsion methods. Likewise, you don't just toss some photography hobbyist some egg oil, a spray bottle, washi paper, Sennelier pigment, transparent paper, aquarelle paper, dammar gum, balsum terpentine, and a Adobe Lightroom software and say, “Hey, take all of this. You're a photographer, right? I'm sure you can figure out what to do.” No!
It is so frustrating because the instructions aren't very instructive or helpful at all. What if we actually care about replicating the process? What if we actually care about doing this right? The author's not giving us the adequate tools and information with which to do it. We're better off just googling “washi paper photography” and learning for free.
So what is this book actually really good for? It's pretty, and it shows off the author's work, and for that it's commendable. Credit where credit is due: the photographs themselves are artistic. You wouldn't believe they were originally taken on a camera like a normal photo, you'd think that someone went through a painstaking process to draw and paint these because all of these look like paintings that could be in an art museum somewhere. There's a very National-Geographic-esque vibe to all of these like they come straight from some sort of vintage historical text. And that probably encapsulates this art-form as a whole: it's very vintage. Maybe that's not your jam, maybe it is. We can buy into classical, antique, vintage things. We collect old obscure art and even have swords and stuff. We're those kinda people.
And are these photos well-organized? Yes. They are divided into four sections, and you can see which techniques were used with which photos.
All in all, this book by an absolutely brilliant person can be fun to look at, but it just doesn't seem to supply the information and helpful instructions/guidance that we really wanted from a book of this nature.
You can check it out on Amazon
Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Once Upon a Dance is yet another returning Outstanding Creator Awards champion, this time in children's books!
This is a fantastic book if you have a child who might be interested in ballet or dance but don't know where to start. Think of this as Ballet/Dance 101, but instead of paying a lot upfront for a beginner's class, you can get it for probably less than $20 when the book releases on May 3rd. You as the parent or teacher, however, have to be prepared to consume and understand these techniques and then teach them. That's a commitment of time, energy, and mind-power. If you care enough about the practice, however, it can definitely be worth it, and your kids can definitely benefit. It's not too dissimilar to books teaching things like yoga to children.
The author provides helpful metaphors for these techniques. For example, your ideal posture can be imagined as being like a peacock spreading their feathers or a cobra stretching the sides of its neck ("hood"). Your ideal foot placement is compared to making the biggest footprint possible in the sand at the beach, feeling it between your toes. Other analogies are made such as forming a tripod with your body, emulating a flamingo, and imagining breathing in a large hot pot of spaghetti. The performer is instructed to imagine forming a tower with their hips, chest, and head. These analogies can be very helpful, and the illustrations further hit the points home.
This is not your traditional children's book with a short morality tale that's intended to be consumed in one sitting, although you could presumably read all of this in about 20 minutes. This is actually an educational guide containing detailed instructions, helpful tips, and complementary (and beautiful) illustrations showing you and your child how to perform some of the basics of ballet and dance.
If there's anything that keeps this book from being perfect, however, it's that it is very wordy. The author/instructor has a lot to say, and it can be pretty complex from time to time. Remember, it's not how much you (the coach) know, it's how much the players or the performers know. Again, you as the parent or teacher have to be prepared to read and understand this before presenting it. Sitting down with a child to read this from cover to cover may push their attention spans to their limits, so it's probably best to tackle one concept at a time or to take this information and create your own routine from it, perhaps practicing standing, breathing, and balancing for about 30 minutes each day. You and your child may find it fun to do this together!
Something very cool about Once Upon a Dance is that their books are all part of a multimedia program that includes other books and videos. We would not be surprised if there's audio to accompany this, and that could be very helpful. The reason for that is, it can be difficult to practice something while holding a book in your hand at the same time. It is easier for someone to read the instructions aloud to you, allowing you to focus on physically performing the actions/movements.
We encourage you to check them out at https://onceuponadance.com/dance-stance or https://www.facebook.com/OnceUponADanceViralDancing/ in anticipation for the May 3rd book release!
Score 86/100 (8.6 out of 10)
From one book on alcoholism to another. They're roughly the same length but with completely opposite approaches. “Make it a Double” by Randall McNair takes a more snarky and cynical approach to the topic than “Dying for a Drink” by Amelia Baker, which attempted to be helpful and hopeful for the sake of the reader. The nomination letter also admits that this book has a “bleak” tone or outlook. How incredible that we have two books about the exact same topic but approach it in two very different ways, and it's not just poetry versus prose. Both authors struggled with alcoholism for about the same amount of time, but while one (Baker) has seemingly overcome it and strives to never go back, the other (McNair) seems to have "embraced the suck."
“Make it a Double” is a poetry book on alcoholism with poems written while the author was supposedly in an inebriated or drunken state, or at least a little tipsy. It shows. McNair calls alcohol his “muse.” This is more than likely not the healthiest view of alcohol, and we fear may be triggering for some actual alcoholics. It's like the frequently-drunk dad who slaps you on the back and tries to give you advice while slurring and stumbling half the time, it can be somewhat amusing but also concerning, and obviously you aren't taking any of the advice.
At the same time, the approach that this book takes can arguably be beneficial in that it may be able to convince former and current alcoholics that alcoholism—while seemingly big, scary, and all-consuming—is not insurmountable and not unbeatable. Should you take a big issue like this lightly? It depends. Usually, no. But for some, the best way to overcome an obstacle is finding the courage and strength to say, “I can take you” or, like Rocky to Clubber Lang in Rocky III, “You're not so big. You're not so bad. You're nothing.”
One of us has a somewhat related and also humorous personal story. He used to have a small fear of spiders like many do. Arachnophobia is very common like alcoholism. He got over this by making the commitment to punch every spider he saw “in the face.” He soon found that spiders, while seemingly weird and terrifying, are nowhere near as formidable as a human fist and can't survive the force of a human punch. In the end, they're smaller than us and probably more afraid of us than we are of them. They die just like any creature. Alcoholism can be similar. Alcohol only has the power over us that we give it—that we allow it to have. It only has the significance and meaning that we give to it. Intrinsically, it's a substance in a liquid. For some people, that kind of thinking can be helpful.
Another example we heard from the TV show “Prison Break” is the child who is afraid of the supposed “monster” in their closet. This is another common fear that children have, even featuring as a major plot device in “Monsters Inc.” Obviously, there is no monster in the closet, but because the child perceives the closet as mysterious, dark, and scary, it gains a greater meaning and power in their mind. The truth of the matter is, the closet is just a closet like any other closet. At some point, the child needs to find the strength and the courage to open that closet and see that for themselves. At some point, the alcoholic may need to confront their great enemy and realize that it does not have any intrinsic power over them.
Confronting your greatest fears with lighthearted snark and cynicism seems to be the essence of these poems and this book. We could literally envision the author thumbing his nose and sticking his tongue out at the issue. Alcoholism isn't the big, scary monster in this book. It's not the dragon that needs to be slayed. No, it's the dainty little harpy damsel that keeps badgering and nagging the knight on his journey, never lifting a finger to help—just being a ball and chain. No offense, but unless you find drunkenness amusing or funny somehow, it is very clear that the alcohol is not helping the poet to craft better poems, unless of course he's using alcohol to become less inhibited—to get over writer's block or something. The thoughts, as you'd expect, are scattered. They jump from things like drinking, partying, to “tits.” Well, perhaps those three are more related than we'd like to think. But the point remains: the poetry is not our cup of tea. Most of them tell little stories of events that occurred while drunk, usually just as is with little subtext, some involving sex while others involve violence.
Something that bothered us about this book (and we alluded to it in our last review) was that this book can come across as quite mean-spirited. While Amelia Baker in her book was conscientious and remorseful, McNair in this book seems almost remorseless about the actions he took (and possibly continues to take) while drunk. He punches a man in the face while drunk and breaks his face, and this is something he seems to be proud of and celebrate. There's a part where he admits that his wife is probably home alone eating with their cat while he is out drinking at the bar, but it sounds more dismissive of her plight than remorseful. There's a whole poem in here that, instead of talking about alcoholism in the AA group, talks about the hypersexuality of its members. There's a pretty tough to read poem in here about a sexually transmitted disease (herpes) and another about breasts, spoken of in a very unsavory and aggressive way. These aren't things that we necessarily celebrate or even find funny. Sometimes it's just disgusting.
The author does demonstrate some ability to stick to a meter and have some beat. There are poems in here like “Clone” and “I Write Love Poems” that stick strictly to tercets. The lines of most of these poems are consistent in length. We do miss the rhymes and the rhythm though. We miss the emotion and the feels. Something about these poems is that they all deliberately seem detached. They seem to have a very nonchalant or “just screw it” tone to them. What's amazing is that one of the subtitles of this book is quite literally “Bad Poems- Book 2.” Did the author go out of their way to portray the mind and ability level of an alcoholic? Because, in all honesty, if that's the case (and it very likely is), then this book is a cautionary one. Yes, you can find amusement in a silly drunk saying silly drunk things, but you (the reader) can also gather that perhaps alcohol is not a very helpful muse after all.
If you are interested, you can check out this poetry book on Amazon!
Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
“Dying for a Drink” is a terrific memoir/autobiography by Amelia Baker reflecting on her relatable battle with alcoholism, a battle that has lasted for over a decade. Interestingly, this is one of two books on the topic in this contest along with “Make it a Double” by Randall McNair. “The Prodigal Father” by Forrest Hutter, a 2nd-place grand-prize winner in non-fiction, also heavily concerned alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous. That gives us some great points of reference and comparison. The fact that we've seen so many books about this one topic is also an indication that alcoholism is a huge problem that affects many lives. There are still a lot of people crying for help and longing for hope.
All in all, “Dying for a Drink” distinctly takes a more serious and optimistic tone at the topic than “Make it a Double”—which more so seemed to poke fun and be playful regarding it, not without reason. Sometimes you need to thumb your nose at your problems and your fears. Sometimes, you need to confront the monster in the closet with a laugh and a sneer. Whether that makes it more entertaining or enjoyable to read is arguable and depends on taste, however in our opinion, “Dying for a Drink” is generally more up our alley. The reason for that is that Amelia Baker as a person/character really seems like someone we can get behind and root for.
Where as McNair could come across as mean-spirited at times, sometimes even resorting to and glamorizing violence, Baker comes across as someone ridden with guilt and desperately trying to do the right thing. That's not to say that we need the narrator to be a littlest, purest angel. The opposite is true. In Hutter's work, the alcoholic father in question was abusive to the point of being uncomfortable to read about, but it wasn't abuse for the sake of abuse—he seemed to want his son to learn to be strong and independent so that he could take care of himself and his sister, which his son eventually did with great success. That doesn't excuse the narrator's actions, but it makes it more understandable. The obstacle that McNair came across was trying to put across his personal character in the form of poetry—poetry which was often sharp, cynical, and blunt, almost to the point of saying “screw it all."
That's in contrast to Baker who is constantly conscientious—constantly considering her actions and inactions—her concealment and neglect—the repercussions of these things on her family and other loved ones. She knows at seemingly all times whether or not her actions are wrong. She knows that she is her own worst enemy, and that a lot of the problems in her life like her son being born with an illness, her divorce, her abuse from a similarly alcoholic partner, falls, and accidents all followed her alcoholism. But like a truly abusive relationship, she kept going back to it for more.
The alcohol begins giving her health problems like a distinct “alcohol diarrhea” which features both tragically and humorously in this book as the character puts off cleaning herself after an occurrence in order to go upstairs and drink more alcohol. She also has frequent blackouts and develops obsessive-compulsive as well as secretive behavior. It takes a physical toll on her like a fall that breaks her clavicle. And, of course, the mental/psychological toll is severe. Furthermore, these problems snowball as they lead to such problems as a codeine addiction that bring her to the verge of overdosing. This all leads to suicidal idealization culminating in a suicide attempt.
At one point, the narrator's alcoholic behavior gets them barred from her nephew's wedding, a wedding which they'd planned for and hoped on for months. It destroys her relationships.
You don't have to be an alcoholic to relate to this book or Baker. Anyone who has struggled with addiction of any kind can relate to this book. Addiction isn't merely a blue-collar problem. It's not just something that affects the poor or those predisposed to having “issues.” It can affect literally anyone, even someone affluent with a good home and a loving family, and that's something that definitely comes across in this book. And addiction doesn't only have to be to alcohol or drugs, you can have other addictions—to eating, to pornography, to shopping, to gambling, or even to diet and exercise (leading to bulimia and/or anorexia). Addiction takes many shapes and comes in many forms, but the affects are similar and familiar.
Something we love about this book is that not only does it present a narrative, it also provides support and advice. This is also something we absolutely loved about “A (True) Traumatic Brain History” by Mark Allen in the last contest. Amelia Baker seems genuinely interested in helping people and giving people an example to follow if they are struggling with addiction. Yes, some of these ideas are borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous or similar programs/books, but they are no less helpful. It's one thing when Bill Belichick tells you how to throw, it's another thing when Tom Brady tells you how to throw. Both are experts, but one has genuine first-hand, recent experience with the process, and is also prolific at it. Similarly, hearing from Baker and learning from her is extremely valuable.
Check out this book on Amazon!
Score: 90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
“Statue of Liberty on Fire” is a severe and thought-provoking 40 x 30” acrylic painting by former and defending Outstanding Creator Award grand-prize winner Kristan Ryan. As we'd stated from evaluating Kristan Ryan's other work, “Woman Done Swallowing Her Words,” art can greatly be judged by how much the work of art says without saying (or writing) anything.
The Statue of Liberty (“Lady Liberty” or Libertas) dominates the image. Though it is described as being “on fire,” it almost appears to be weeping from the eyes and bleeding from the head. At the same time, flames radiate from the face and out into the torch-wielding right arm. There, the flames are most apparent as they go from a deep red to an orange-yellow like a flame you'd see in nature. Interestingly, though the blood-red brush strokes run down her neck and robe, they do not continue running all the way down to the very bottom of the portrait. They end just above her breast or heart line, this may have symbolic meaning, implying that despite America's woes, the heart of America is still good and hopeful. And, while the heart is symbolic of love and virtue, breasts are symbolic of a nurturing nature as a source of food for a newborn babe. Wasn't America intended as a safe harbor and a land of opportunity for immigrants—those who were new? Perhaps not all hope is lost for America's nurturing and open arms if the blood and fire haven't yet covered the breasts of liberty.
This work of art was made in the middle of the Trump presidency. Of course, Trump was a president who constantly went after immigrants and went out of his way to make life and the process of immigration more difficult for them. This is encapsulated in his construction of the southern border wall. The artist stated that she believes that Lady Liberty would be furious at this as well as how foreigners and those who speak different languages are treated in America. We have immigrants among our judges. And, yes, they speak multiple languages as well. They've also faced discrimination not only here but in other countries like Russia. We can definitely relate with this plight.
Although the Statue of Liberty itself is front and center in the image, and though the blood-red brush strokes draw most of our attention, there is probably just as much if not more blue in this painting that hangs mostly in the background or is covered by the red. To the artist's credit, she was skilled enough and/or knowledgeable enough to not have the statue blend into the background. In fact, the statue almost pops out at the viewer. But going back to the original point: there is actually so much blue in this painting that gets overshadowed by the red, but the blue is arguably even more important than the red, and here's why... Blue is the color of the sea or “the waters.” That means that it's the color of everyone. “Seas” and “waters” are often symbolic of all the people of the world. You often see that in classical texts, especially religious ones. The world, of course, is much bigger than just America and Americans even though many Americans are Americentric. The sea or the waters are also where many immigrants come from, particularly the immigrants whom the Statue of Liberty was originally intended to greet. We're reminded of the scene from Titanic in which Rose and other survivors of the sinking are comforted by the sight of the statue after the traumatic events they've just been through.
Blue is also the color of the sky, and it's where many more immigrants come to the United States—by plane.
The left side of this portrait is particularly interesting because the strokes of blue become shorter and more varied. You see dark-blue strokes and light-blue strokes. They appear to be crisscrossing and running up against the fire that's building up along the right-arm. Could this imply the growing difficulty for immigrants? Possibly.
Once again, Kristan Ryan presents to us a work of art that initially seemed very simple on the surface and yet had a lot to say!
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Score: 86/100 (8.6 out of 10)
This is our first ever bilingual children's book! We have to say that fact holds a special place in our hearts because about half of us are bilingual or multilingual.
“Solita and the Purple Moon” follows a little girl named Solita (perhaps a surrogate for the young reader) who finds it difficult to sleep at night because she feels afraid and lonely. How sad! But it is relatable. We've all had nightmares or times in which we found it difficult to sleep due to stress, anxiety, over-stimulation, or worry. We've all been alone at one time and afraid because of it. Some of us are afraid of the dark. Some of us have insomnia. Some of us suffer from night terrors. So, all of this is very relatable.
Solita, the little girl, longs for daylight to soothe the way she feels, but is comforted by the presence of the titular Purple Moon who shines light through her window, promising to be her friend and be with her until daylight comes. It promises to cover her in the light of her favorite color: purple.
It's a very simple premise with very simple art, but it's beautiful and appealing in its own way. Most of all, the bilingual aspect of this book is a terrific selling point. Children are very open to learning new languages when they are younger. They have a critical period in which it's easier for them to learn. In adulthood, learning a new language becomes more difficult. We recommend that the adult reader who is presenting this to their child/children should alternate between reading this book in English and in Spanish on different nights. It is also possible to read the English and Spanish subsequently, but because of the relative wordiness of the text, we fear that may push the limits of most children's' attention spans. The good news is that the English and Spanish versions are separated into blocks by a moon symbol, so it's easy to differentiate and to read one or the other.
With children's books, one of the key things we look at is whether the art is appealing or not. We're not looking for hyper-realism or anything, but we are looking for a certain level of refinement. Color helps. Having appealing characters who are easily identifiable also helps. The art in this book consists of mostly hand-drawn sketches with some color, mostly highlighting the little girl's hair or the Purple Moon's glow. We can understand that. In fact, we read a children's book with almost the exact same gimmick/dynamic called “The Greatest Light” by Tim & Cindy Morrison in which the book was mostly absent of color except for the light itself (which was normally portrayed as blue). Well, in this book, the light is purple.
The problem is that because over 90% of the book is pencil-gray, almost everything blends in with everything else. Even the Purple Moon, despite being purple, blends in because the purple is usually a very dull, faded purple. It's not especially bright or especially dark. It blends into the background too well, and so does the little girl. Yes, you can see the outline of her outfit and make out her strawberry-blonde hair, but aside from that, she still blends into the background. For some reason on page 13, perhaps the fact that the girl is finally asleep (?), the little girl's hair turns as gray as the background. It isn't colored at all. Is she supposed to be a bio-luminescent life-form or something? Does her hair only have color when she's awake? We know that a lot of heart and effort went into this book. It may have raised the overall quality if the author had hired an artist to take these existing pictures and refine them. Yes, it would be more expensive, but like with the editing that many prose authors pay for, it would greatly raise the quality.
Anyway, this book isn't intended to be taken too seriously in so far as being hyper-analyzed. It is intended to relax and calm your child before bedtime while also providing the opportunity for teaching Spanish language to English-speaking children and vice-versa. For that, we have to give it credit where credit is due.
Check it out on Amazon!
“The Prophecy” is a solid, well-rounded fantasy novel with a combination of good protagonists, intimidating antagonists, solid world-building, and a great sense of adventure.
At first, we thought this was going to be a book about Drake, a legendary dragon slayer who—the story goes—lived in Scotland around 2,000 B.C. We then soon realized that our main character was actually going to be Warwick, who we playfully kept calling “Warrick Dunn” (perhaps “Warwick Dunn” would be more accurate to the story), a young boy unsure of himself and his great destiny. And, really, as much as we love badarse characters doing badarse things like they're Ip Man or Bruce Lee, it's usually better in a work of literature to introduce a character with a great deal more room for growth, someone like Warwick.
Indeed, the confidence, faith, and maturity that Warwick gains throughout the story is a huge part of his arc and the story as a whole. Warwick comes into contact with Rowan, who we playfully kept calling “Erick Rowan,” an old seer who acts as a sort of Gandalf or Obi-Wan-like character. Warwick comes into possession of a special metal key that may be the literal key to stopping the massively powerful and dangerous dragons who are terrorizing the countryside.
Is Warwick kinda a generic protagonist? Yeah. Is Rowan kinda a generic sage-like figure? Yeah. Are the dragons kinda the most generic antagonists imaginable next to “evil kings” or “dark sorcerers?” Yeah. Is the setup kinda the most generic ever with the promised-one-protagonist finding the charred corpses of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru? Yeah. But does all this generic-ness really matter? No. Mostly. Because Luke, Anakin, and Frodo were awesome. Gandalf and Obi-Wan were awesome. And dragons will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever cease being the coolest, most awesome, most imposing, most captivating mythical creatures ever. The pieces are all there for a great story that's already been stress-tested and has stood up for centuries.
They don't make them like they used to. They certainly don't make them like this anymore. Whatever happened to just plain old fantasy tales about a young heroic upstart going off with a wizard to fight some dragons? It's a tale as old as time, it's a tried and true formula, and yet for some inexplicable reason, fantasy authors are just terrified of using it. Why? Because they're afraid to be seen as “too basic” or cliché, perhaps? Probably. But here's the thing: you don't want to avoid giving the audience what they want. True fantasy readers and fans of fantasy love to read about dragons. They love to read about young upstarts going on adventures. They love reading about mages, witches, and warlocks. They love magic. They love magical items. They love prophecies that need to be fulfilled, as generic and cliché as that trope is. They love David-like characters going up against Goliath-like characters. They love dragon slaying/giant slaying. That's just the way that this audience is wired.
When fantasy authors keep figuratively giving vanilla cake with strawberry syrup to an audience that actually loves chocolate ice cream with cookie bits, all they're doing is hurting the appeal of their book. That's where this book by JB Liquorish shines. It doesn't try to be a vanilla cake with strawberry syrup. It just is a bowl of chocolate ice cream with cookie bits, and we appreciate it for this reason.
Perhaps the best thing about this whole entire novel is that it captures the sense of adventure that all fantasy readers really want. This novel is never stagnant. The characters are almost never not going somewhere, often against great odds. They cross bodies of water, climb mountains, endure hunger, thirst, and lack of funds. The dragons are a constant threat, and we can truly grasp the sense of desperation the people of the land feel about them. There's almost no stopping them. We're along for the ride as Warwick and his fellowship of the ring takes them on.
Check out this novel if you love fantasy done the old school way!
Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
“Fixing Nick” is a great children's book about teamwork and cooperation! How many things can all of these cute, wonderful animals accomplish when they work together toward a common goal? In this case, their barn (and home), personified with the name Nick, is in disrepair and is falling apart. This not only affects the barn but the farmer and all of his animals! The team of barn animals including cows, a mouse, sheep, sheep dog, horse, pig, and others band together to try to fix it. It's very cute and very exciting! We found ourselves inevitably rooting for each and every animal to have their big moment and to play a part in this huge undertaking. You could even argue that the goat, who is the biggest cynic and doesn't physically help to fix the barn, still motivates the other animals who know that the goat's plight (being cold) is something they all share if the barn isn't repaired.
What's extra interesting about reviewing this book is that we have an exact point of comparison with the book we just reviewed: “Chesapeake Nursery Rhyme” by Kay Swann-Gregor. In that book, while the animals were absolutely adorable, compelling, and interesting, their actual functions within the ecosystem weren't really explored. Yes, the beavers built and the blue crabs cleaned, but the other animals just seemed to want to goof off and play. In this book, every single animal seems to have a specific function, role, and/or task. They all play an important part in the story. Duke, the border collie, uses his adept communication skills to tell the other farm animals about the barn's condition. The pigs and sheep find and gather supplies for the repair while the horse helps to transport these supplies. The chickens mend the roof. The goose cleans the stalls. And they all help to repaint the barn.
Something else the author is able to do is give some of these non-human characters personalities. For example, Duke, the border collie, is very conscientious. We know this from his concern about the barn potentially being sold by the farmer. You can see the concern on Duke's face. The goat is very cynical and pessimistic, giving up on repairing the barn and wanting to live in a newer one instead. You can constantly see that the goat frowns upon the idea of fixing and living in the barn. His face is frequently in a scowl. Furthermore, the barn itself is well portrayed. The artist uses Nick's windows as eyes and his door as a mouth to portray emotions like being concerned, suffering, relieved, and eventually elated upon being fixed. That takes great tact.
The art is more “wonky” and less realistic than Swann-Gregor's book, which portrayed animals generally how they would look in nature with some embellishments like smiles and cuter features. This book has a very interesting look and feel to it. It almost looks like it could've been colored by the kids who are likely reading this themselves using crayons or color pencils. It's subjective, but we did like the more realistic and refined appearance of the animals in Swann-Gregor's book. That book is just so much more appealing to look at. There are times when the animals in this book actually don't look very inviting or friendly. The goat is the primary example. There's something about the scowling expression that he often has that can be off-putting, but then again parents and teachers can use this as a prompt to ask children how they think the goat feels.
Parents and teachers can also point out that some other creatures find the barn to be their home like a ladybug, a spider, a caterpillar who often show up. It can be fun for them to point this out.
This is a solid, well-rounded children's book about an important subject in teamwork!
Check it out on Amazon!