Book Review – Go To Sleep, Little Farm

TITLE: Go To Sleep, Little Farm
AUTHOR: Mary Lyn Ray
ILLUSTRATOR: Christopher Silas Neal
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: 2014

Go to Sleep, Little Farm is an adorable fat board book about the farm going to sleep at the end of the night.

The color scheme is a mostly muted blue/grey with occasional pops of muted reds (like the barn, or the little girl’s pajamas), and it’s absolutely beautiful. Serene and peaceful like it was undoubtedly intended.

The book starts “Somewhere a bee makes a bed in a rose…”  and goes on from there.  Not your normal “the cow goes to sleep, the donkey goes to sleep” type stuff here.  Not-so common animals (even an earthworm!), illustrations and text that show where and how they sleep, and it’s just so precious.  As all the animals settle down, we see the little girl reading under her covers with a flashlight.  The farm settles in, dad turns off the light, and mom and dad tuck the little girl in so she can dream about all the animals that are sleeping.  The author even included the “slippers, asleep on the rug” and holy cow.  Since the toddler is currently in his “What’s your shoes doin’?” phase, that line was like the most perfect thing ever.

This is so much better than *gasp* Goodnight, Moon – and I love that book.

5/5 very sleepy pages.

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Book Review – Soldier Boy

TITLE: Soldier Boy
AUTHOR: Brian Burks
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 1997

So, remember I said I went down the whole library? Well, that includes everything but picture books. I pulled this little children’s chapter book off the shelf pretty close to last (by this time I had 18 or so in my pile), and I had hopes for it.
It starts with Johnny “The Kid” McBane, a nobody without a family fighter in Chicago. His manager wants him to throw a fight, and he doesn’t, abandoning all the money and possessions he has to run away, hop a train, and then enlist in the cavalry. He ends up out west somewhere, part of Custer’s army.

So, the author’s note at the beginning of the book (which is the only thing in the entire 150 pages that puts the book in context of a year aside from the vague Custer reference), talks about how very little was written about under aged soldiers and he really wanted to show how amazing all of this was, etc.
Except that he didn’t show how amazing anything was.
I think the book suffered badly. The things that could have had amazing details didn’t, and the things that had details didn’t often need explained. And some of them were either wrong or extraordinary claims. “Thousands of dollars were bet on this bout…” Really? Thousands of dollars in post-reconstruction America? On a nobody kid who not a lot of people knew? (At the time of this writing, $5000 in 1876 is about $106,332 in today’s money)

I missed the richness that this story desperately needed. Even as a kid, I would have found this book boring as hell. Actually, as a kid, I probably would have given up on it and not kept reading.
The author also did a stupid nod to several pet peeves of mine. So, there was zero point to any of the stuff that Johnny said to another soldier they called The Scholar. (Pet peeve #1- this goes with the old adage of “if you aren’t’ going to shoot it, don’t show the gun”) There was definitely no point in sitting around discussing “But aren’t we being mean to Indians” because that wasn’t exactly the prevailing thought of the day back then. That was seriously only put there because a modern audience would have thought that when reading (pet peeve #2- not paying attention to the society of the time in historical fiction).

In the end, this book was a flop, and I’m amazed that I managed to see it through to the end.
It’s short, even by genre standards, and I think that it seriously could have used about 20% more words (mostly as description), and a bit of deleting when it came to Johnny, who hadn’t much opinion of anything, suddenly being upset about Indians.
Also, the story pretty much is a prologue that ends when you get to the meat of the story, and for that it really sucked. That battle could have been a really amazing chapter.
I’ll give it 2 out of 5. Read it when you’re bored, but don’t go out of your way to find it.

Book Review – Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic: A Calgary Stampede Adventure
Jean Stringham
Paperback
2013

I’ve thought long and hard about this review, and I still don’t know what to say about it.
The book starts off with a prologue that has seemingly nothing to do with the next 2/3 of the book. A cowboy appears by magic on the day of the Summer Solstice [oddly, the same day I started reading this book]. Then in chapter 1, we’re suddenly on a farm somewhere in Canada.
So the family dynamic is a bit unique. There’s Mom, Dad and Daughter, which isn’t as weird, but then the grandmother – who the son hasn’t spoken to since he was a young kid – arrives from the Ukraine with her huge, man-eating dog in tow. We also have the less-than-typical family at the next farm – siblings and their grandmother. They’re also Ukranian. [Note: 3.8% of the overall population of Canada, and 14.8% of Manitoba are Ukranian – I looked it up.]
The daughter, Zo, has just been given a pet rabbit, Susie, and is teaching it to do hopping courses. The grandmother is hell-bent on chasing it around the house with a broom and shouting about vermin in the house. Which adds color, but…

Let me stop. The book is a bit weird and jumps around from thing to thing. A few things you’ll see in this book:
Family relations, including the dynamic of Zo’s grandmother trying to be a human being, which she mostly fails at. There are several instances where you just want to slap the bitch. Pretty much every time she’s in the book.
Lots of stuff about animals: the hopping course, sheep-hearding by dog courses, the Calgary Stampeed, the grandmother’s psycho crazy dog, etc. As a side note, though, I don’t know how Canada works, but in most countries, bringing a dog in would result in the dog being quarantined for six weeks. I would assume Canada is much of the same, though, but my google-fu tells me that only certain dogs don’t have to be quarantined and I’m not sure this dog fits that description.
Ukrainian everything – which is both good and bad. The author chose to use more Ukrainian spellings kevbosa instead of kielbasa, etc. I don’t care. There’s a glossary in the back if you get confused. But she italicized everything every time she used such a word. If a normal book talked about having kielbasa for dinner, they wouldn’t have italicized it, so why Jean thought she should here is beyond me. It was distracting and annoying and something a good editor would have pointed out. Another thing, the mysticism and Ukrainian stuff was interesting, but for somebody with absolutely no background in it, there were a few things I would have liked explained better. The magical aspects of the book, though… I wasn’t sure where the Ukrainian stuff stopped and the magic began or how intertwined they really were.

Some other concerns – I never felt a good voice for the author or the characters. Transitions were weak – sometimes there were entire paragraphs that should have been there for transitioning that weren’t – and Zo was in high school but sounded about ten. Also, serious climactic scenes didn’t feel any stronger than any other scene, and there were a few (especially in the last third of the book) that should have felt heavy while I read them. Zo living with her friends, for instance, felt about as serious as a slumber party.
I don’t at all buy that a five foot nothing size two woman could pass as a guy in the rough and tumble world of rodeo. Not without a lot of hazing.

I could tell that the author was really into animals. The descriptions of the dogs/cows/bull/sheep/bunnies were all great.
Sentence structure/grammar/that sort of thing were good.

So rating. I don’t know that I can give one to this book that I won’t want to change tomorrow. (I really have spent an entire day trying to figure out how to rate this book) It’s a decent showing for a first novel, but there are a lot of things that need tightened up. I think it would do better as YA than an adult book for sure. But I think it’s appeal – at least with the book as its written now – is small. So I think if you’re really seriously into Ukrainian things or the Calvary Stampede that you’ll want to read this book, but I’m not sure how much it will appeal to you if you don’t.

 

July 19- Edit to add this note:  The author read my review and sent me a letter, explaining the background of the book.  *ahem*  Now, while I did discover that the book was meant to be YA (apparently I didn’t know this going in), it doesn’t change anything else I said.  Because the truth is that most readers find books by accident.  We find them in libraries and bookstores and yard sales.  And even if we find them online, we generally don’t get more than just the back cover blurb.
Besides, most of what I said above stands.  Knowing that the book is about Ukranian Mysticism (which, incidentally, I did know) doesn’t make it any more clear if you don’t know what Ukranian Mysticism is.  It also doesn’t fix the problems that I had with the book.

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