BITB Best Books of 2014

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It’s amazing to me how long the blog has been going.  I have our loyal readers to thank for that.  I know that we don’t always get a post every day, but we do try to bring the best reviews we can.  This year had some issues, too.  Illness (we’re better now), new jobs, moving, etc, but we managed to get past all of that and have brought in another new blogger for your enjoyment.

But onto the books.  As you know, Book in the Bag features regular posts from our panel of reviewers.  We all bring with us different backgrounds, experiences, tastes, etc.  The first time I did this, it seemed like the only books we liked were in German or were geared towards kids under eight.   The next year, we were into graphic novels, young adult, and tried-and-true favorites.  This year, it might be a little different – hell, it might surprise even us.

To be considered a top book of 2014, the book had to be given a five out of five review from someone on our panel of important people (ie, our staff reviewers).  The books are:

  • Big Appetites – Christopher Boffoli
  • The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind – William Kamkwabama
  • Invincible: The Ultimate Collection 1 – Robert Kirkman, Corey Walker, Ryan Ottley
  • Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey – Emma Rowley
  • Matilda – Roald Dahl
  • Proud Too Be Weirrd – Ralph STEADman
  • The Gurkah’s Daughter – Prajwal Parajuly
  • Mr. Wuffles – David Weisner
  • Thor, God of Thunder – Jason Aaron
  • Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

Phew.  It looks like we were a tough crowd this year.  Hopefully we’ll find more enjoyable reading next year!

But what about you guys?  What were your favorite books to read in 2014?

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Book Review – The Missing Golden Ticket

TITLE: The missing golden ticket and other splendiferous secrets
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
ILLUSTRATOR: Quentin Blake
FORMAT: paperback
PUBLISHED: 2010

The missing golden ticket and other splendiferous secrets is a compendium of Dahl facts and excerpts, recipes and more. It includes a deleted chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, little comments he made about each month, and even a quiz.

Here’s the thing. As an avid Dahl person – hey, I warned you – I have two such books on my shelf that aren’t this book. And the overlap is incredible. The stuff about the seasons is all new and exciting, but this exact quiz is in another book, as is the excerpt. I’d rather see bonus content on any other book out there at this point.

So I’ll make this review short and sweet. If you haven’t read such a book about Dahl, I really think you should. Pick one, any one will do. But if you have, you only need to read the one.

3/5

Book Review – The Mildenhall Treasure

TITLE: The Mildenhall Treasure
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
ILLUSTRATOR: Ralph Steadman
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2000
NOTE: This was originally done as a story for the New Yorker just after WWII. It was redone into a children’s book in 1977.

The Mildenhall Treasure is the true story about a man named Gordon who is asked to plow a field because a man named Ford is too busy to do it himself. When plowing, Gordon finds a treasure trove of Roman silver. Unfortunately, Ford is a greedy crook and he cons Gordon out of it.

There’s not much to say about the story, and since it’s true I can’t really comment about much of the content. I will say that I was aware of the story beforehand, though, and I liked the presentation of this. I would, however, have liked to have actuall names of people and not just “a man named Ford” for the characters at play, but that was the writing style at the time.

Again, not illustrated by Quentin Blake, who did most of Dahl’s stuff, but the illustrations for this are in some cases actual oil painting, and they’re awaesome. I actually sat there wondering which ones I’d want on my wall if I were given a choice.

Still, it’s slightly short of perfect, so 4/5.

Book Review – The Minipins

TITLE: The Minipins
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
ILLUSTRATOR: Patrick Benson
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 1991, just after his death.
NOTE: This is probably the last thing he wrote before he died.

Before I get to this review, I’m going to apologize in advance – after reading Matilda (see the review a couple weeks ago), I decided that I really missed the writing of Roald Dahl and I went back to read the ones that I hadn’t read before now. You’ll be seeing a lot of his stuff for the next couple weeks.

Anyway.
I wasn’t sure if I had read The Minipins before now or not, and I was sure that if I had, it wasn’t a childhood book, it was a go-back-and-read-Dahl type of a thing, so I started there.
Turns out, I’d read it, so I went for the re-read.

In this book, Little Billy is a good little boy who always does what his mother tells him, although one day he decides his life is boring and sets out for the woods, despite the Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers, Snozzwanglers and Vermicious knids that live in the forest. I have to say, with the original Willy Wonka movie one of my all-time favorite movies (despite being nothing like its book), having references that cross seemingly unrelated books really does make me smile.
What he actually finds in the forest is a fire-breathing creature on the forest floor, and an entire civilization of teeny-tiny people (who fly around on birds) living in houses built into the trunks of trees. Little Billy deals with the creature, and Don Mini rewards him for life.

Okay, I have to say this.
First of all, this sounds more like some weird story you make up on the spot than an actual children’s story book. (But, this being his last book *sob* I guess I can understand how his storytelling had changed a bit…) I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, it just feels more stream-of-consciousness than well planned out.
Second of all, ‘Don Mini’ sounds like a mob boss name. Just sayin’. Also, ‘Little Billy’ is about as generic as they come. I wish they would have just called him Billy instead of Little Billy every freakin’ time.

With that said, I did still like the story. The Minipins sound fantastic, the references to tie this book to other stuff Dahl has written were awesome, and anyway, it still feels like a Dahl story, so there is that.
According to the dust jacket, it’s geared at 3-8 year olds. The book seems a little wordy for most three-year-olds, although some of the kids I know would have been okay with it.

I’m going to give the book 4/5.

Book Review – Matilda

TITLE: Matilda
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
PUBLISHED: 1988 (Originally, my verson, i dunno, but they’re the same)
FORMAT: illegal eBook*

 

So, it may be cheating to pick a book that I’ve read no less than 100 times, but I’m okay with it.  The first time I read <em>Matilda</em>, I was probably 10, and Roald was probably already gone from this world, which makes me sad.  As voracious a reader as I am, I never even had a concept of telling him such, and it’s too late.  But that is a tangent, so let me attempt to stay on track.  On a mostly related side note, I once had a streak of reading this book so much that the librarian outright denied me the ability to check it out and started funneling me other books as soon as they were made a part of the library’s system.  (The Jenny Archer series comes to mind…) She ordered me to buy my own copy, which I did, and that did not deter me.  I liked – and still do – the feel of a hardback book that has been given the library treatment, cover coated, taped to the book, etc.  There was something special about the crinkle of the paper in my hands.  My local Waldenbooks didn’t have a hardback, so I settled for a paperback copy.  I was sorely disappointed.

Anyway…

Matilda Wormwood is a young girl who is totally ignored by her family and brilliant despite it all.  She’s also a bit mischevious and sweet and awesome and everything else.  I always related a little to her (I was the only one in kindergarten who could read going in, although I wasn’t quite at the Dickens level).  And I just genuinely liked the characters in the book.  In her story, she deals with the crap in her world the best she can and gets exactly what she needs in the end.

This time through, I decided to ask myself why I liked the story so much, and I realized just how brilliant Roald Dahl is, and just how awesome British society twenty-five years ago was.  For starters, the book is obnoxious and rude and mean and everything else – child after child gets outright abused by the headmistress.  She calls them foul, she tells them how they’re the boils on the buttocks of the world, she tells them they’re stupid and useless and everything else.  And then she grabs them by the hair or the ears or the whatever and flings them about.

I’m not saying I like an obnoxious and rude character – we’re not supposed to like Miss Trunchbull – but I liked that the characters aren’t dumbed down or sugar coated or whatever.  I don’t think this book would have flown past the censors today.

And I liked that the language isn’t stupid and rhymey and stilted.  I can name entire series’ of books that are so dumbed down for readers that the author refused to use contractions.  This book, though…. at some point in the story, Matilda and the librarian are talking about reading and not understanding everything.  The librarian gives the best gem of advice – let the words wash around you like music.  And that’s good advice for the readers too.  I don’t think that anything is going to be over the heads of your average eight year old, but if you don’t get it, just enjoy the ride.

That’s probably why this book has stood up so well.  There are plenty of children’s or mid grades books that I loved that if I read today, I’d be like “oh, that was a great trip down memory lane… ” but I wouldn’t care much for the book anymore.  But this book… I pick it up yearly at least – and mostly, it’s not for the nostalgia.  it’s because I genuinely love the story and want to read it again. And I think it’s pretty telling that the story works just as well for me as an adult as it did for me as a kid so many years ago.

I know this is a shocker, but 5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Earlier tonight, I searched online for a free eBook copy of Matilda, because I wanted to reference something.  I’m pretty sure (like totally) that it was an illegal eBook.  Before you get on me about it, the only reason I did it was because I was too lazy to move my laptop, stand up, walk from the living room, down the hallway, into the computer room/guest room/library and find one of at least three copies that I own.  The paperback and hardback of this book are all the same unless a special edition.  Trust me on this; I’m the closest thing to an expert since Roald himself.

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