Circle of Light #1: Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock

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Title: Circle of Light 1: Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock

Notable: Book #1 in the Circle of Light series

Premise:

Dwarf, Bear and Otter cross over Calix Stay, the river which separates the World Before Time from Atlanton Earth.  Though initially unsure of the purpose of their quest, they meet some wizards and a few trustworthy humans who help keep them safe and guide them along their journey.  The three unassuming friends have a pivotal role to play in the fight against the Dark Queen, who seeks to gain control over all the earth.

My thoughts:

We’re going really retro here!  This is one of the books that came in my Books by the Foot sci-fi/fantasy box. It started out on shaky footing from the start, when it stated on the cover, “Beginning a great new saga for all who love THE LORD OF THE RINGS!”  The author was just setting himself up for some unflattering comparisons and critiques.  If the cover hadn’t mentioned The Lord of the Rings, I would have read this with a completely open mind.  As it was, I was too busy trying to compare the two.

Circle of Light is not even in the same league as The Lord of the Rings,  It’s like saying that Palmers and Ghiradelli chocolates taste the same.  Anyone with a modicum of good taste can tell the difference.  In addition to that, many elements of the story seem like a direct rip-off of The Lord of the Rings.  But let’s lay those issues aside and simply talk about the merits of this story.

The plot isn’t bad.  There are a few scenes which have the potential to be interesting and epic.  Unfortunately, the writing is such that even major battles come across as mundane and boring.  FYI–the story ends without any resolution, so you’ll have to read the next in the series to get to a satisfying stopping point.

I like the choice of animals as main characters.  Bear and Otter are probably the two most endearing characters.  Dwarf, the other main character, is a bit of an enigma.  He seems a bit off, as if there are two warring personalities at work within him.  If a character is going to exhibit behavior at both ends of the spectrum, there should be a good reason for it.  Please author, what is the character’s motivation for acting the way he does??  Let me bring up another issue–character names.  Holy cow, this story is chock full of names–multiple names for many characters.  It got to be very confusing and didn’t add to the story at all.

Overall, I was not impressed with this book.  The writing style and execution were subpar, the characters uninteresting, and the events rather boring.  If you’re young and just want a so-so fantasy adventure to read, you might not mind Greyfax Grimwald.  If you have a more sophisticated palate when it comes to your fantasy novels, I’d say skip it.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence
  • The a-word is used a few times (as in someone is being a dunce)

Rating: 2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Littles Take a Trip by John Peterson

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Title: The Littles Take a Trip by John Peterson

Premise:

The Little family decides that it is time to make a trip to meet up with some other tiny families.  They believe that their children are a little too socially isolated, and they hope that this will help them make some friends.  Cousin Dinky scopes out the route, but when their ride (Hildy, the cat) gets injured and is taken home by Henry Bigg, the Littles find themselves stranded in the woods.  Will they make it to the tiny family gathering?

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this as our homeschooling chapter book.  This book is much like all the other Littles books, so if you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy it.  I’ll confess that it wasn’t my favorite book in the series.  The story and dialogue were just average, with nothing that really stood out as remarkable.  My son really enjoyed it, though!

I think that a child would get a bit more enjoyment out of the book than an adult would.  They can daydream about what it would be like to ride around on a cat in the middle of a giant woods, and later to ride a tame skunk!  In case you’re worried about the Littles getting stuck in the big, dark woods–don’t fear!  It turns out there are actually tiny people living in the woods whom the Littles never even knew about.  Phew!  You can stop sweating now.

I recommend The Littles Take a Trip to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a fun family read-aloud

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

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Title: The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1961

Premise:

Chester cricket is accidentally transported from his rural Connecticut home to the Times Square subway station in New York City.  A friendly cat and mouse help Chester fit into this new and foreign environment, and a boy named Mario Bellini adopts Chester as his new pet.  Chester is instrumental in saving the Bellini’s struggling newspaper stand.

My thoughts:

This book was completely new to me and I’m happy to report that it was an enjoyable read.  The story is very basic, but the animal characters are charming and really the focus of the story.

My two favorite characters are Chester cricket (of course) and Sai Fong, the Chinese gentleman.  Chester is so good-natured and you can’t help but feel sorry for him.  This poor little country cricket finds himself dumped in the big, loud, dirty city without a soul to help him.  Thank goodness Tucker mouse and Harry cat step in!  It’s fun to imagine the scenes when Chester is giving his concerts in the subway and all of the people are standing there rapt.  The child in me wants to go find a cricket now just to listen to their song.  (Incidentally, we had a cricket infestation in our house several years ago, and I can assure you that it’s not too fun hunting loud crickets in the middle of the night when all you want is to get some sleep.)

When we are first introduced to Sai Fong, the man who owns a Chinese laundry and trinket shop, I was afraid that it was going to be another stereotypical portrayal of a Chinese person, hinting at our American superiority.  Thankfully that was not the case.  Sai Fong is a lovable character who is ecstatic about Mario’s lucky pet cricket.  He helps Mario get a cage for his cricket (really a beautiful pagoda), has them over for dinner, and supplies Mario with mulberry leaves to feed Chester.  Although his character doesn’t step outside the bounds of the typical Chinese character, he is presented with a loving eye.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  Though it has not become one of my favorites, I still think it’s a great chapter book for kids.  The story would need a bit more than pure fluff to put it on my list of cherished books.

I recommend The Cricket in Times Square to elementary-age kids or as a cute family read-aloud.

Possible Objections:

  • Chinese man’s language is garbled and spelled phonetically (if you’re particularly sensitive, you might find this offensive)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah & James Howe

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Title: Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah & James Howe

Premise:

The Munroe family finds an adorable baby bunny at the movie theater.  Harold, the family dog, and Chester, the cat, aren’t particularly concerned about the newest member of the family until funny things start happening to the food at night.  Could the cute and seemingly innocent bunny be the culprit?  Chester is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, but how far will he go in his quest for the truth?

My thoughts:

I read Bunnicula as a child, but had never gone back to it since that time.  I forgot what a little gem of a book this is!

The book is written from the perspective of the dog, which makes for some very funny reading.  Things are explained from a dog’s point of view, and with a dog’s understanding and priorities.  Seeing things from his perspective gives the story a unique twist and makes it really fun to read.

Even though the book is quite short, there is a lot of humor and personality packed into the pages.  Chester is a thoroughly neurotic cat and he goes a bit bonkers in his quest to find out what Bunnicula gets up to at night.  Harold is a happy-go-lucky dog who is willing to give their new bunny a chance, but he’s also forced to rein in Chester just a tad bit.  The Munroe family seems to be good-naturedly dimwitted, and eventually the situation is resolved in such a way that they are none the wiser about the eating habits of their little bunny.

I think that the characters of Chester and Harold really make this book.  It’s almost like they’re the cat-dog version of the famous Laurel and Hardy comedy duo.  Chester is serious and uptight, whereas Harold is the bumbling, kindly oaf.  They play off of each other sooo well!  The scene where they are both trying to sit in the same chair is hilarious!

I recommend Bunnicula to children who are beginning to read chapter books, up through preteens.  It also makes a fun, quick family read-aloud.  This would be a great book to read around Halloween, too!

A favorite quote:

“Chester turned to me and said under his breath, ‘That lettuce looks repulsive, but if there’s any milk left, I get it.’  I certainly wasn’t going to argue with him.  I’m a water man myself.”  (p. 10)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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Title: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Premise:

Follow the adventures of four woodland friends: Badger, Toad, Mole and Rat.  They have adventures in the Wild Wood, lazy days boating on the river, and trouble with a motor-car.  When Toad’s reckless ways land him in a heap of trouble, it will take all of the friends to make things right again.

My thoughts:

I absolutely love this book!  It’s not the first time I’ve read it, but it has just as much charm as I remember.  Grahame has an uncanny knack for writing in a manner which is both charming and playful, as well as describing nature in a singularly unique way.  It’s as if he sees all of nature as a living being.

The story is somewhat meandering (though still completely satisfactory) because it simply follows the characters in their day-to-day life.  The meat of the story is the episode in which Toad steals a motor-car and all of the drama that ensues because of his actions.  Certainly there are other events in the book and though they aren’t particularly dramatic, they are just as enjoyable to read about.

The characters are wonderfully written and developed.  Who would think that you could feel so much in common with woodland animals?  Yet Grahame makes his animals come to life and embody human characteristics to such a masterful degree that you feel like they are old friends.  I think Badger is my favorite character.  He’s a bit gruff, but still kindly and down-to-earth.  He would be like your favorite gruff old uncle who is hiding a heart of gold underneath.

I recommend The Wind in the Willows to children in their later elementary years and up, families, and those who enjoy classic literature.  This is a fun adventure which appeals to all ages!

 

Possible Objections:

  • The a-word is used several times (as the English might use it to refer to someone who’s making a fool of themselves)
  • Some animals brandishing & shooting guns
  • A couple of the animals smoke pipes (not very frequently)
  • A few mentions of drinking alcohol: beer & champagne
  • The vocabulary might be a bit advanced for younger readers

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

fantastic-mr-fox

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My kids recently discovered the joys of Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I read it many years ago when I was a kid and absolutely loved it!  Was it a part of your childhood too?

Premise:

Mr. Fox and his family are being hunted by three greedy farmers who are tired of sharing their bounty with the animals.  Mr. Fox must outwit the farmers and provide for his family and the other animals on the hill who are now in danger from the gun-crazy farmers.  Can he find enough food for all of the animals and keep them safe from the farmers–Boggis, Bunce and Bean?

My thoughts:

This book is super-short and could be finished in one sitting–making it perfect as a beginner’s chapter book.  The illustrations should also help keep it interesting for the younger kids.  The book pictured above is illustrated by Quentin Blake who has a very whimsical style.

Boggis, Bunce and Bean are a bit boorish–what with their nose-picking, gun-toting and general uncouth manners.  Their uncivilized behavior is nicely contrasted with the animals’ more polished manners and speech.  It’s a nice juxtaposition of the two types of characters.

This version is the one that I read when I was a kid.  I much prefer the illustrations in this version over the one pictured above and they are at least half of the reason that I found the book so charming when I was younger.  I’ll have to buy a copy of it for our family’s library once we get moved into our new house.

I recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox to children who are just starting chapter books, to fans of Roald Dahl, and to families who want a fun read-aloud book.  I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does!

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of somebody saying “shut up”
  • The farmers use guns, though they don’t actually shoot and kill any animals

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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4 Favorite Children’s Books #2

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Here are more of our favorite children’s books coming your way!  Are any of these your favorites, too?

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

This book is an absolutely charming collection of poems which celebrate childhood.  Some of the phrases are dated–such as when it talks about getting dressed by candlelight, but most of the poems talk about things that are familiar to all children.  You can find many different versions of this book, so it might be best to find one with illustrations that you particularly enjoy.

My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis & Daniel Kirk

My boys really liked this book when they were younger.  A truck that is hauling a load of bones gets stuck in a giant pothole.  As a whole series of vehicles driven by dogs lines up to help pull get the stuck truck out, a bunch of wily prairie dogs take the bones from the truck.  It’s a cute and simple rhyming book that helps small children learn their numbers.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle

Eric Carle’s illustrations are one-of-a-kind and they are what really make this book special (okay, they’re what make all of his books special).  The simple text and colorful pictures help kids learn their colors.  Our kids can recite the book by memory now–they’ve read it so many times!

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons

Tosh learns about the history of his grandma’s delicious tea cakes recipe.  His great-great-great-great grandma made them when she was a slave, and she would occasionally sneak them to her kids.  The tea cakes helped remind her children to look forward to the day when their people would be free.  When Tosh’s grandma starts forgetting things, it is up to him to carry on the family’s tea cakes story and tradition.

Wild Beautiful Places: Picture-Perfect Journeys Around the Globe from National Geographic

wild-beautiful-places

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When I spotted Wild Beautiful Places at the library, I had to get it.  Anything by National Geographic is almost certain to be stunning!

Premise:

Readers get to see some of the natural beauty all over the globe through amazing photography, with a section devoted to each continent.  Also, there is a short explanation of each of the places visited, as well as a few travel tips for those who want to visit the locale.

My thoughts:

My favorite part of the book is, of course, the photography.  I’m a sucker for a good coffee table book–one which features amazing photos.  This book doesn’t disappoint in that respect at all!  The photos focus mainly on landscape, with a few photos of animals and people thrown in, too.  Many of the places I had never heard of, so it was nice to see something different.  There were a good number of National Parks featured, and not just in the United States.

I don’t think that I’ll ever travel to any of the featured places (Traveling internationally with a family of seven is completely out of the question!), but it’s a nice thought to include travel tips for those who might want to visit for themselves.

I recommend Wild Beautiful Places to anybody who enjoys a good photography book.  It’s appropriate for all ages and would make an excellent coffee table book.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Wild Eats and Adorable Treats: 40 Animal-Inspired Meals and Snacks for Kids by Jill Mills

wild-eats

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I love the cover of this cookbook!  Doesn’t it look so fun?  Wild Eats and Adorable Treats is a rare child-friendly cookbook which features HEALTHY recipes.

Premise:

Instructions to make 40 animal-themed recipes.  Categories include: breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and treats.  Author shares how and why she started making these healthful and fun food treats–to tempt her own children to eat more fruits and vegetables.

My thoughts:

I really, really like this book and think we might add it to our own collection of family-friendly cookbooks.  The foods are appealing to children, the presentation is fun, and I won’t feel guilty about serving this food to my family.  Each recipe is based on a particular animal, includes tips and tricks, and facts about that particular animal.

The recipes use basic ingredients and mostly simple techniques.  Some of the instructions are complicated though, because there are exact cutting directions and/or precise food arrangement.  For this reason, I think it’s probably best for parent and child to work together, or for the parent to be on standby.  Also, make sure that you leave enough time to make these creations.  Some of them have somewhat finicky details, so don’t make them if you are pressed for time.

In the beginning of the book the author shares a short history about how she started making these healthy recipes, information pertaining to her blog, and why she thinks this kind of eating is important.  I can definitely relate to her desire to get her family eating more healthy!  If we made these snacks at my house, my kids would probably not be clamoring for junk food so much.

I recommend Wild Eats to families who want to incorporate more healthy food into their diets by getting artistic and playful with their food.  I think kids will have a great time paging through this book and picking out a fun recipe to make.

Recipes Included:

Breakfast: Chicken and Egg Breakfast, Whole Wheat Walrus Waffles, Birdy Breakfast, Cinnamon Bunny Buns, Doggy Oatmeal, Kangaroo Pancakes, Owl Breakfast, Pink Piggy Smoothie and Bagel Breakfast

Lunch: Panda Pita Pizza, Cow Lunch, Horsey Hot Dogs, Pigs in a Snail Shell, Crabwiches, Baby Birdy Egg Salad Lunch, Ladybug Lunch, Lion Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries

Snacks: Peachy Parrot, Gorilla Granola Bites, Foxy Fruit Snacks, Porcupine Pear Pretzel Snack, Penguin Fruit Snacks, Apple Owl, Froggy Fruit Snack, Sheep Snack

Dinner: Chili Cat, “Hippo”tato Soup, Mini Shepherd’s Sheep Pies, Penguin Black Bean Soup, Dinodilla Dinner, Mexican Stuffed Froggy Peppers, Puppy Pot Pies, Mexican Billy Goat Quesadilla

Treats: Mini Moose Mousse Cups, Beaver Brownie Bites, Turtle Turtle Cake, Koala Pretzel Pops, Beary Cute Cupcakes, Cheetah Cheesecake, Animal Cupcake Cones, Monkey Banana Bread Cake Pops

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Aesthetically speaking, this is my favorite recipe.  It is so cute!!

4 Favorite Children’s Books #1

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I’m starting a new series of posts which feature our favorite children’s picture books.  They usually aren’t long or complex enough to warrant an entire blog post, but if I give you a batch of four, it makes it a bit more worthwhile.  As you can see, our books are well-loved.  😉

Baby Food by Saxton Freymann & Joost Elffers

I remember back when this book first came out, and I was so impressed by it.  I loved the adorable animals made from fruits and vegetables!  The text is very simple, but the authors’ creativity in assembling recognizable animals from food is really impressive.  My kids love this book and enjoy reciting the different foods that the animals are made from.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss

Who hasn’t heard of this book?  It’s a classic that I grew up with, and now my kids are enjoying it, too.  The sing-song rhyme is very catchy and the illustrations are wonderfully whimsical.  This book explores many animals from the imaginary world of Dr. Seuss.

The Day the Goose Got Loose by Reeve Lindbergh

I love the illustrations of Steven Kellogg–they practically make this book!  This is a story about a goose who gets loose and causes mayhem on the farm.  The antics are hilarious and we laugh every time we read it.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

This is one of those feel-good bedtime stories.  Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare compete to see who loves the other more.  No matter how hard he tries, Little Hare is outdone by Big Hare in his exclamations of love.  It’s a cute and heartwarming story.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

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We received The Gruffalo from a family member several years ago as a gift.  It’s a cute story about a mouse and a monster-type animal called a Gruffalo.  The mouse is walking through the woods and when he is accosted by animals that want to eat him, he describes a monstrous animal that he’s meeting to share a meal with.  The other animals flee because the Gruffalo sounds so scary and forbidding.  Of course, the mouse doesn’t believe in the Gruffalo, until they actually meet in the woods!

Thinking fast again to avoid being eaten, the mouse tells the Gruffalo to follow him and see that all the animals in the woods are afraid of him.  As they walk past each animal it flees, not because of the mouse, but because of the Gruffalo who is tailing the mouse.  The Gruffalo, however, doesn’t realize this and runs away from the big bad mouse, too.

The illustrations in this book are fabulous!

Until next time…

Lori

Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale

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 Ten in the Bed is a very cute sing-song story for younger kids.  It’s about a little boy who goes to bed and keeps kicking his stuffed animals out when he rolls over and pushes them out.  When all of his animals have left the bed, then he starts to feel lonely and calls them back in.

The illustrations in this book are what really make it.  You can see how the little boy is just being rough with his animals and purposely throwing them out of bed.  They, in turn, go to the kitchen to look for a nighttime snack.

I’ve read this with all of my kids and it’s been a great book for cuddling together and sharing warm fuzzies.

Until next time…

Lori

The Donkey’s Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri

Christmas Song

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The Donkey’s Christmas Song is a really simple Christmas book for kids.  It’s about the animals welcoming baby Jesus at his birth.  There are doves, a cow, goats, sheep, chicks, mice, and a donkey.  The donkey is shy because he thinks his “song” will be too loud.  However, the baby really likes it!

My favorite part was when the donkey and baby Jesus cuddled.  I would recommend it for toddlers and younger kids.

Toodles,

Jewls & Lori

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins is a book for younger readers that’s loosely based on a true story.  Karana lives on an island in a small community of native people.  When the Aleuts show up to hunt otter, there is conflict and many in her tribe are killed.  Not too long after, another ship arrives to take the remainder of her tribe to the mainland to start a new life there.  Karana’s brother gets left behind when he goes back for something he forgot, and she jumps from the ship into the sea to swim back to the island.  Because of bad weather, the ship has to leave without them, so she and her brother are forced to fend for themselves on the island.  After only a short time her brother dies and she is left all alone.  The rest of the book chronicles the many tasks she has to do to survive, such as harvesting abalones and building a shelter.  Karana also makes friends with one of the wild dogs who has been injured, and some other creatures.  In the end she is rescued, but not until after eighteen years of seclusion.

I read this book as a child and loved it, so I decided to read it aloud to my boys.  It’s a great story of adventure and survival.  It also draws in themes of resourcefulness, companionship, loneliness, and the need for others.  This story is full of sweetness and sadness, which meld into a perfect blend.  I would highly recommend this book, especially for later elementary-aged kids to teens.

Possible Objections:

  1. There is a little bit of violence, such as when Karana’s brother is killed by the wild dogs.  Other than that, it’s fairly tame.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

Nim's Island

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Nim’s Island is about a girl named Nim, her dad Jack, Nim’s pen pal Alexandra, a seal named Selkie, and an iguana named Fred.  Jack is a scientist who studies all kinds of animals, but the animal that he likes to study the most is plankton.  When Nim was a little girl her mom was examining the contents of a whale’s stomach when some tourists bumped into the whale.  The whale was frightened, so it dived down.  Jack looked everywhere for her but the whale never resurfaced, so Jack gave up looking for her.  He went to live on an island that had not been mapped, which he called Nim’s island.  One day when Nim was older, Jack went out on his boat to study plankton.  While he was gone a HUGE storm blew his boat over and it sank.  Nim and Alexandra rescue him and everyone lives happily ever after, at least I hope so (be prepared for a long and VERY boring argument about whether or not they live happily ever after). Well Nim never found her mom, so that’s sad.  But Nim’s dad survives the storm so that’s happy.  So far the score is 1-1; let’s see what the next round will be like.  No one dies, so that is happy, but oooh it looks like bad is making a comeback.  Nim’s house is TOTALLY destroyed.  And the score is . . . 2-2!  This is it people, the final battle!  Only one will come out alive; who will it be? No one discovers their island and ruins it forever, so Yay!  Does bad have a comeback?  Nope, he does not. That’s it bubbas; that’s the game and the score waaaasssss . . . . . . 3-2. YES HAPPY WON, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!

Bubba says good-bye