Two Picture Book Reviews – Starring Rainbow Fish and DC Monsters

I got both of these books last year sometime via NetGalley and had skimmed them myself but hadn’t read them to my kids until just this week. I can’t say I was super impressed with either, unfortunately. Now, let me say that I do think some of that comes from reading picture books on my Kindle – I’ve done it a handful of times now and I’m not planning to continue. It’s just not a format conducive to enjoying a picture book, in my opinion. I would LOVE to review more kids books, but they have to be hard copy or I can’t get into them. To my kids it’s “special” to read on Mommy’s Kindle, so they want to do more of it but… ugh.

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So, everybody loves Rainbow Fish, right? What’s NOT to love about the original? You Can’t Win Them All, Rainbow Fish is a new(ish) (2017) book in the Rainbow Fish series and aims to teach another moral lesson — in this case, how not to be a sore loser, basically. Most kids are familiar with Rainbow Fish (I think each of my kids has come home from school with Rainbow Fish artwork at least once), so it’s a great way to keep them engaged and learning through a familiar character, but to me this one lacked the charm of the original. Worse, to me it seemed a little forced. Perhaps I’m remembering the original too rosily (is that a word?), but this just didn’t measure up for me. The kids were engaged, but haven’t asked to read it again. So, I give it two stars and I think I’d get a similar opinion from the kids.

33510848The concept behind this book is fantastic – but at the risk of sounding repetitive, reading it on a Kindle is NOT. We live near DC, and though we don’t take the kids downtown much they were familiar enough with the landmarks to recognize them and get excited about places they’d been. They were especially thrilled with the page about the National History Museum because my husband took them there last week. That said, black and white pictures on a tiny screen made it virtually impossible to find the monsters in the pictures. The text, to me, was, well… fine. It’s a great introduction to DC landmarks and a potentially fun and engaging format for teaching young kids, but to me it falls into that very big basket of kids books that are just so-so and don’t particularly need to be revisited. Another two-star read.

So, on that cheery note I’m going to wrap up. I usually don’t post negative reviews because why? But these came from NetGalley and I figured it’s better to follow through and review even if it’s negative… so there you have it. Next time I write I’ll have something more positive to say.

Book Review: St. George, Rusty Knight and Monster Tamer by John Powell

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When I requested John Powell’s Saint George: Rusty Knight and Monster Tamer from NetGalley sometime last year, I confess I totally thought it was going to be a story of the legend of St. George, who is often portrayed as a slayer of dragons. That, of course, wasn’t the case at all (ha, oops!), but it was a really enjoyable read. Part of the novelty for my daughter was reading together on my Kindle (ooohhh! exciting!), but she really did enjoy the book and so did I.

The Goodreads synopsis is super short:

Humorous tales about an impoverished knight in old England who discovers a way to tame the great variety of monsters that roam the land in the days of Good King Freddie the Umteenth and his prime minister Merlin the Whirlin.

“Humorous” is the perfect word to describe the story. If I remember correctly, Powell says in the beginning of the book that he originally came up with these stories as bedtime stories for his kids – and you can tell! They’re just funny and perfectly geared toward little kids. They follow a predictable structure (all of them start with “Now it was in the days of Good King Freddie…”) and in each story Saint George has to take on some ridiculous monster problem or another – which usually can be solved by providing the monsters with the magical, monster-taming marmorguglehupf cake (my daughter thought that word was hilarious).

The stories are full of all sorts of absurdities with names just as outlandish as marmorguglehupf cake, ideas like George’s “armor-on week” and “armor-off week” (during which he sleeps – for the whole week!), and other silly, non-sensical things (like a king who can’t read!). The crazy names and nonsense action reminded me a good deal of Roald Dahl, and prompted the same kind of laughter from my daughter as did The BFG. There were only two drawbacks for me with the books: 1) each story was a little too long to be a bedtime read-aloud but it didn’t work to break them up so we just pushed through a whole story in each sitting; and 2) there was one entire story that REALLY is not suited for American kids – or their parents! We just couldn’t follow the thread on playing cricket (our loss, though – I’m sure to a British kid the story would’ve been as hilarious as the rest).

All in all, I’d give it 4 stars and definitely recommend it! I think it’ll be another year or two before my next daughter is ready for it, but I’ll look forward to rereading the silliness with her when she’s ready!

Book Review: Mary Poser by Angel A.

So, I’m back with a book review! I’ve been busy with editing projects (SO exciting, I will share!), and I just can’t manage to find the time to edit AND blog at the same time. I have to trade off.

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In any case, Mary Poser is the first book I received from NetGalley, which I was really excited about. I read it over the summer, but I’m finally just getting to review it now. The NetGalley description is as follows:

The recipe for a warm and humorous story…

In a modest bowl of Nashville, gently place a girl who is Country music, Bible belt, and a steakhouse foodie. Then add a surprise portion of exotic and handsome Anglo Indian to the container who is a passionate Bollywood director, vegetarian and Hindu.

Stir vigorously on a bed of intense attraction. At first, the ingredients will seem to clash and separate.

Keep stirring…

Include a dollop of jealous boyfriend and a meddling mother. Splash in a serving of fun and mischievous friends.

Keep stirring…

Add a dash of crazy aunt and a minister father to keep the flavors working together. Sprinkle in even more complicated family members to taste. Cook on high emotions.

The secret ingredient that cuts through the sweetness is a final layer of shocking revelation that adds a surprising depth of flavor.

Finish with a twist of ‘Oh My God! Is she really going to do that?’.

Serve as tasty bite-size chapters in a novel dish of mayhem and madness  with a side of Country music and Bollywood dancing.

To be honest, I don’t love the description and I’m not sure I would have picked it up to read had I not received an invitation directly from NetGalley, which I had been wanting to join. Now, if you’re a regular reader here you know I don’t review books I don’t like, so you know the book had to be better than the description indicates or I wouldn’t be posting this at all. And it’s true – I’m really glad I got past the sort of silly description and read the book!

I like to read books that speak to reality in an entertaining and enlightening way, and that’s exactly what this book does. Through Mary’s journey of self-discovery and her struggle to be true to herself rather than live the life expected of her, the author examines issues of religion, stereotypes and prejudice, and mental illness.

Some my favorite parts of the book, because they taught me the most, were the parts where the aforementioned Anglo Indian, Simha Das, explains his Hindu beliefs to Mary Poser, the Nashville girl. Knowing virtually nothing about Hinduism, I found a surprising amount of commonalities with Catholic Christianity. Even more interestingly to me, the things I found common to Catholicism were often the things Mary found most unlike her Baptist faith (particularly in the realm of sexuality).

The book is full of references to common stereotypes and prejudices. I’m not sure whether it makes the story more or less believable that Mary’s family manages to deal with all the hot-button issues: race, sexuality, religious beliefs. Mrs. Poser, Mary’s mother, is the character who embodies the majority of the unsavory behavior. She is a stereotype, while believing and perpetuating every stereotype about anyone unlike her. She’s pretty much insufferable, and though she comes around at the end I find her redemption a little too convenient.

Mary’s personal journey forms the basis of the story and is the most compelling part of the book. It has a very powerful metaphor in Mary’s inability to cross a particular bridge, and is full of lots of insights about a young girl trying to figure out who she is and how to find her own way in the world. While the outward issue is that Mary falls in love with an Indian Hindu man in Nashville (the horror!), Mary’s inner dialogue reveals her struggle with mental illness, particularly anxiety and self-harm. She feels she has a role to fulfil in life and struggles to allow herself the freedom to break out of the mold her upbringing has forced her into. The author, I think, does a superb job of illuminating the inner workings of an anxious mind through telling the story from Mary’s point of view. My only grievance is that I’m not satisfied with the resolution. While Mary has moments of clarity, she seems unable to actually recognize her anxiety issues (for example, she chafes at being prescribed medication for anxiety when she sees a doctor for recurring stomach issues); similarly, I feel the self-harm (specifically, cutting) issue is inadequately resolved and not given the weight it deserves.

One thing that sticks with me all these months later (that I didn’t have to reread my Kindle notes to remember) is a discussion Mary and Simha have about using the term “busy” as cover for “unhappy” when asked how one is doing – as in, “How have you been?” “Oh, you know… busy” – because “busy” seems important. I don’t think it’s an expression I’m guilty of using in that context, but it has caused me to reevaluate what it is that I’m “too busy” for, to make sure those things that truly matter don’t get lost.

This one feels a little long-winded today, so I’ll call it a day here. I found the book entertaining, well-written, and to be an interesting cultural study. Best of all, I learned from it and it made me think – it was “edifying,” if you will 🙂

So, check it out! Info about the book and the forthcoming movie can be found at maryposer.com.

4 stars!

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy free of charge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!