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Five new music books for summer reading
A handful of fine new books on music that run from biography to a near true crime story and a memoir to a pointed analysis of the impact of the digital era on how and what we hear are ready to be read.

Here's a quick look at them:

“Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life” by Jonathan Gould, Crown Archetype, 533 pages, $30.

Jonathan Gould takes a two-pronged approach to his biography of Otis Redding -- telling the “what really happened story” of the soul singer who died in a plane crash at 26 while grounding it in the cultural and musical worlds from which Redding emerged in the early 1960s.

So Gould spends the first 175 pages of the 533-page book detailing the histories of slavery and Jim Crow, Southern race relations, African American music and the post World War II independent labels while inserting sketches of Redding’s childhood and early teenage years into the narrative.

With that background, “Otis Redding” then compellingly tells the singer's story -- from his not-so-accidental surprise studio performance that got him signed to Stax Records to his triumphant appearance at Monterey Pop (which opens the book) and the Wisconsin plane crash that took his life in December 1967.

Along the way, Gould provides insight into Redding’s relationship with his white manager and close friend Phil Walden, who later ran Capricorn Records; a view of Redding always trying to improve his work ethic and prodigious musical abilities, including a talent for “head arranging”; and an astute analysis of the music -- both good and bad.

The only thing missing from “Otis Redding” is Redding’s voice. With little true music journalism in the ‘60s, Redding did few interviews and Gould sparsely draws from two or three that do exist. That, however, is somewhat mitigated by the cooperation of Redding’s widow, Zelma, and their children for the book.

In any case, “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life” is likely to stand as THE biography of the greatest soul singer ever.

“Dreaming The Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World” by Rob Sheffield, Dey St., 350 pages, $24.99.

With "Dreaming," Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield has done the seemingly impossible -- delivering a fresh, entertaining book about the Fab Four.

What sets it apart from the shelf of Beatles tomes is partially revealed in its subtitle -- “The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World." Sheffield uses that premise to go full-on fanboy and look at, to pick a few examples, the brilliance of Ringo Starr -- the Beatles wouldn’t have been the Beatles without him -- the old "Are you more Paul or John?" argument and 26 songs about The Beatles.

Adding some trivial bits of Fab Four info gleaned from what appears to have been like obsessive research, Sheffield presents a personal and a cultural perspective of the group which nearly 50 years after its demise remains, on many levels, the biggest band in the world.

Thankfully, he does the chronologically ordered book without attempting traditional biography -- an inevitable rehash by now -- making it about what the Beatles mean to each of us and why questions like "Is 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' really the best Beatles album, much less the best album of all time?" remain important.

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Depending on how much time you've spent looking at new books, you might have noticed a shift in children's publishing over the last ten years or so, as our culture has changed. Historic Christian values are not a given in children's books (and especially not by pre-teen books).

If your children like to read, I encourage you to be aware of what's out there. There is much that is broken in this world.

But if you're like me, you don't have much spare time to spend previewing all your children's reading to see if there's inappropriate content.

Also, if you're like me, you love (LOVE!) your children's school books. Sonlight chooses good books!

If you have eager readers, who want more good books … and if you want your children to read, but prefer that the books they read remain generally within the values of historic Christianity, and, if not a Christian bent, at least with a redemptive story line, … I have a solution.

Sarita Holzmann, founder and primary book selector at Sonlight, continues to review about 100 books a month. She passes her favorites to her daughter Jonelle, and, together, they come up with a list of promising titles for boys and girls from elementary through high school.

The boy books tend to have male main characters, with plots that emphasize adventure and danger, with pranks, humor and hijinks for good measure.

The girl books tend to have female main characters, with plots that emphasize courage and connection, with romance, mystery, and beauty for good measure.

We seek to avoid "twaddle" – Charlotte Mason's perfect word for fluff reading. Even for our fun reading, we prefer well-developed plots and rich characters.

We want children to read good books.

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