Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Worst Best School Year Ever

The Best (Worst) School Year Ever. Barbara Robinson. 1994. 117 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Unless you're somebody like Huckleberry Finn, the first day of school isn't too bad.

Premise/plot: This book is a sequel to the Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Both books are narrated by a girl named Beth who bear witness to the awfulness of the Herdman family. The book loosely takes place between the first and last days of school. The chapters are more episodic than linked to one another. All focus in on the Herdman family. Some chapters are better than others. I wouldn't say that any were wonderful.

My thoughts: I really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Best Christmas Pageant ever. And I think the reason why was that it had a point--a redemptive point. The Herdmans surprised everyone with their humanness, and, they weren't just the town joke when all was said and done. That isn't the case with The Worst Best School Year Ever. While there was one touching moment when Beth, the narrator, noticed Imogene at her best, that alone wasn't enough to make up for all the "let's laugh at the Herdmans." The scene I did like was when Beth noticed the initials on the blanket "returned" to baby Howard. I.H. When Howard lost his blanket--he was the bald baby whose head the Herdmans tattooed with waterproof markers--Imogene gave him her old blanket and pretended it was his that she had found. Only Beth suspected the truth. The first book seemed to end with a fuzzy removal of the "us" and "them" distinction. Not so with this one. And that is disappointing.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones. Rich Kienzle. 2016. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Would he or wouldn't he show up?

Premise/plot: The Grand Tour is a biography of George Jones that seeks to balance a focus on his life and on his music. The author takes on the role of music critic and biographer. In the prologue he explains his approach, "Jones's life and music are inseparable. The music often triumphed even during his worst personal moments. His evolution from twangy imitator to distinctive new voice, from influential vocalist to master of his craft, is as important as his personal failings. Exploring that musical side--how he found songs and recorded them; the perspectives of the public, those involved in creating his records, and Jones himself--is pivotal to understanding the story. I've attempted to take the long view, examining not only his life and the events that shaped him from start to present, but simultaneously exploring his immense musical legacy, all in a clear chronological context." (13)

My thoughts: I started listening to George Jones' music this summer. And what I loved, I really, really LOVED. So I was curious to pick this new biography up at the library. I picked it up as a new fan and not an expert, so perhaps keep that in mind. But I enjoyed this biography very much. I think I might have appreciated aspects of it even more if I was familiar with more of his albums, more of his songs.

The prologue of this one had me hooked. Here is how the author describes Jones' voice: "The voice was raw nerve put to music...Yet above all that was his consummate ability to explore pain, sorrow, heartbreak, and emotional desolation." (9)

It was an often absorbing read full of highs and lows. I would definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Dog Loves Counting

Dog Loves Counting. Louise Yates. 2013. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved reading them late into the night and didn't like to leave them for long.

Premise/plot: Dog knows he should go to bed, but, he's having trouble falling to sleep. He decides to count something--not sheep--to help him sleep. So he opens a book, finds himself inside, of course--Dog gets lost in books, becoming part of the action--and starts to find things to count. He makes friends too, of course.

My thoughts: Of the three books, this is my least favorite. I still love Dog as a character. And I can even relate to not wanting to put down his book and go to bed. But as an adult reader, I can't really lose myself in a book that focuses on counting from one to ten and back again. I just can't. For young children, of course, this one is still recommended. But it feels more 'educational' than the previous two in the series.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Wagon Wheels

Wagon Wheels. Barbara Brenner. Illustrated by Don Bolognese. 1978. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: "There it is, boys" Daddy said. "Across this river is Nicodemus, Kansas. That is where we are going to build our house. There is free land for everyone here in the West. All we have to do is go and get it."

Premise/plot: Wagon Wheels is an early chapter book based on a true story. Set in the late 1870s, the book follows the adventures of the Muldie family as they settle in Kansas. First the family settles in Nicodemus, Kansas, a black community. Then the father leaves the boys behind and searches for a better place to settle down and call home, this time near Solomon City. The boys--all on their own--travel to rejoin their father. (The father disliked the flat land and missed trees and hills.)

The book is narrated by Johnny, one of four boys being raised by a widower. The text is simple, and the action is straight-forward. Though simple, it was packed with just the right amount of detail. This book is much, much shorter than any of the Little House books, but, it is just as vivid.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. The edition I picked up is all black-and-white illustrations. I could not tell based on the cover alone that it was a black pioneer family. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I started reading the text to find some diversity. The family--and the community--are saved from starvation by the generosity of Indians--Osage, I believe. Unlike the Little House books, the Indians are portrayed positively. Yes, they are referred to as "Indians" but not savages or redskins or the like.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Library Loot: September

New Loot:
  • Stories from the Life of Jesus by Celia Barker Lottridge
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller
  • Won Ton by Lee Wardlaw
  • The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • Louise & Andie: The Art of Friendship by Kelly Light
  • Won Ton and Chopstick by Lee Wardlaw
  • This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter
  • March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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