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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: library book, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 819
1. A Lion To Guard Us

A Lion To Guard Us. Clyde Robert Bulla. 1981. 117 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading Clyde Robert Bulla's A Lion To Guard Us. I saw this one on the library shelf, and, it said TAKE ME HOME. It is historical fiction and follows three siblings as they travel to America in 1609 to the first (and only) British settlement of Jamestown. The novel opens with Amanda hearing news of her father from a stranger--a sailor. Amanda is serving--in her mother's place--in a household. (Her mistress (Mistress Trippett) isn't the nicest or best.) Soon after the book begins, the mother dies leaving Amanda the sole guardian of her younger siblings: Jemmy and Meg. She wants to go to America and find their father. The problem? The family's money was taken by Mistress Trippett when the mother got sick and took to her bed. She's now claiming that the money isn't theirs but hers. And she's so insulted by their asking for the money, that she keeps all three out. Fortunately, they find a sympathetic soul in the doctor that treated the mother. This doctor, Dr. Crider, has dreams of his own. And those dreams include traveling to America. He takes the children in and promises a bright future for one and all. Their new lives will start aboard the ship The Sea Adventure. But readers learn that life is full of uncertainty...

I loved this one. It is historical fiction at its finest. I enjoyed the chacterization and the action. It's a very simple yet emotional story. Definitely recommended!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Socks

Socks. Beverly Cleary. 1973. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I haven't reread Socks by Beverly Cleary since I was a child. I remembered very little about it except that it was about a cat, which, I must admit is the most obvious thing to remember! The first chapter introduces readers to Socks, her litter mates, and the boy and girl who originally "owned" her and were trying to sell all the kittens. Bill and Marilyn Bricker adopt Socks and take him home. Several chapters focus on these early, happy, good years. (Actually, I'm not sure how much time passes, Socks isn't particularly great at noting months, seasons, or possible years.) A few chapters into the book, Socks is upset by a shrinking lap. Mrs. Bricker is having a baby, and, Socks doesn't particularly care one way or the other about it...until the new baby changes everything. Less attention, less food, no lap-time, a lot of noise, visitors who warn of the dangers of having a cat around the baby, etc. Will Socks make peace with Charles William?

I enjoyed this one. I didn't love, love, love it. Not like I love, love, love the Ramona books. But it was an enjoyable read. I liked the ending, it felt right to me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox. Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. 1970. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Down in the valley there were three farms.

Premise/plot: Three farmers join together to hunt down and kill a fox that has been stealing from them. Farmer Boggis. Farmer Bunce. Farmer Bean. One raises chickens. One raises ducks and geese. One raises turkeys and apples. The story is told from the fox's perspective. Mr. Fox leaves his hole nightly to provide food for his wife, Mrs. Fox, and his four "small Foxes." Because Mr. Fox is great at what he does--fantastic even--all is well for a while until the farmers decide to camp outside his hole and WAIT FOR HIM.

My thoughts: I love this book. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Why didn't I ever read this one as a kid?!?! This one is short, but short in a just-right way. Each chapter is packed with delight. I would definitely recommend this one!  

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. George's Marvelous Medicine

George's Marvelous Medicine. Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. 1981. 89 pages. [Source: Library]

This was my first time to read George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl. My expectations were perhaps a little too high? I'm not sure. I do know that I didn't care for it as much as I'd hoped.

The premise. George HATES his grandmother who lives with them. Every Saturday, he's left to tend to his Grandmother while his mother goes out to do errands. He has to remember to give her her medicine. As I said, he hates, hates, hates her. And it's more mutual than not. The Grandma is depicted as being rude, snappish, unkind, mean. So the premise. One Saturday he decides to substitute a medicine of his own making for her real medicine. I'd say about 90% of his ingredients would have warning labels on them that they are not to be taken internally, that they are dangerous, poisonous. In they all go. George is reckless in his mixing to say the least.

Will Grandma still be breathing by the final page of this one? That would be a NO. Did George's medicine kill her? Essentially yes. Do all the characters rejoice at her death? Again the answer is YES. It is the celebration of recklessness, carelessness and shortsightedness that bothers me. The way George's father WANTS him to make more, more, more so that he can FEED it to all the farm animals and thereby introduce it to the POPULATION. (George's father doesn't think about that at all. That what you feed chickens and cows and pigs MATTER.) I think there are real-life cases where this kind of wacky science has been encouraged and applauded.

Dahl's silliness--wackiness--is fun in other books. This one that essentially ended up in murder with no consequences, in fact ending up with a PARTY of sorts, really unsettled me.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach. Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. 1961. 146 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old.

Premise/plot: James, our hero-orphan being raised by two horrid aunts (one horribly fat, one terribly skinny), finds his fortune changing quickly one day when he meets a complete stranger--an older man--who promises to show him something wonderful and then pulls something out of his pocket...a small white paper bag filled with tiny green almost-glowing things. He's given instructions on how to use these green things to have a super-wonderful life. But. On his way home, he trips and the green things are lost...on the ground....but that is not the end. The title should give away the rest.

My thoughts: This one was weird and silly and unexpected and unique. I didn't hate it certainly. It is very Dahl. But I didn't love it. I find Dahl's lack of characterization annoying in some ways because instead of characterization we don't get more action or more adventure, we just get cruelty. Cruelty seems to be one thing all Dahl books have in common.
Aunt Sponge was enormously fat and very short. She had small piggy eyes, a sunken mouth, and one of those white flabby faces that looked exactly as though it had been boiled. She was like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage. (6)
I liked this one better once James enters the giant peach and meets all the insects who have been effected by the mystery green things.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Matilda

Matilda. Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. 1988. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

Premise/plot: Matilda, our heroine, is an absolute genius. (She's taught herself to read and to do times tables). But her parents are terrible human beings. Mr. Wormwood is a used car salesman who is really dishonest. Mrs. Wormwood, well, maybe her greatest fault is neglecting her children? Both Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are addicted to television and abhor the written word. Hate isn't too strong a word for how they feel about their daughter. Matilda escapes from her home most every day to visit the local public library. (She's read every book in the children's section and is now making her way through the adult section with a little guidance from Mrs. Phelps.) Another escape soon becomes school. The good news is that Miss Honey, the teacher, LOVES AND ADORES her genius pupil. The bad news is that the headmistress is evil, cruel, abusive. (Was Dahl inspired by Jane Eyre!) Matilda's reaction to injustice is naughtiness and cleverness. How can she use her brains to get revenge on those she sees as being unjust or in the wrong???

My thoughts: I like this one. I do. I more than like it actually. Perhaps because Matilda LOVES, LOVES, LOVES to read and there is a lot of dropping of book titles and authors names. Perhaps because Matilda finds the library to be such a wonderful place. Perhaps because two of the nicest people in the book are a librarian and a teacher. Regardless this one is definitely worth reading.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. A Bargain for Frances

A Bargain for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1970/1992. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was a fine summer day, and after breakfast Frances said, "I am going to play with Thelma." "Be careful," said Mother. "Why do I have to be careful?" said Frances.
"Remember the last time?" said Mother. "Which time was that?" said Frances. "That was the time you played catch with Thelma's new boomerang," said Mother. "Thelma did all the throwing, and you came home with lumps on your head." "I remember that time now," said Frances. "And do you remember the other time last winter?" said Mother. "I remember that time too," said Frances. "That was the first time there was ice on the pond. Thelma wanted to go skating, and she told me to try the ice first." "Who came home wet?" said Mother. "You or Thelma?" "I came home wet," said Frances.
"Yes," said Mother. "That is why I say be careful. Because when you play with Thelma you always get the worst of it."

Premise/plot: Poor Frances! Her mother was right. Again. Thelma had ulterior motives with wanting to play tea party with her friend, Frances. And Frances got tricked! Tricked into trading her money for Thelma's old tea set. Her ugly old plastic tea set. (A set so ugly that even Gloria sees it as junk.) Thelma then uses the money to buy a new tea set--the exact tea set that Frances had been saving for for months and months. Will Frances get even with Thelma? Can she outwit this trickster? Can this friendship be saved?!

My thoughts: I have enjoyed rereading the Frances books. Have you read any of these? Do you have a favorite? I think each book is made stronger by the fact that it is a series. That each book stars characters that you already know and love. Frances is a gem of a character. I love her VERY much. I love her songs. I love her imagination.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Eat Fat, Get Thin

Eat Fat, Get Thin. Why The Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health. Mark Hyman. Little, Brown. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

I almost wish that Eat Fat, Get Thin had been divided into two books. One book presenting the historical overview, the scientific research, and the essential philosophy behind the concept of eating fat to lose weight. The other book presenting his 21 day weight-loss plan. The first book which I imagine consisting of Part I and Part II (How Did We Get Into This Big, Fat Mess? and Separating Fat From Fiction), I would have given three stars. The second book which I imagine consisting of Part III and Part IV (The Eat Fat, Get Thin Plan and Eat Fat, Get Thin Cooking and Recipes), I would have given one star--or perhaps two--if I'm generous.

The premise of this one is simple. Fat has been demonized. It has been made the 'bad guy' by scientists, doctors, nutritionists, the government, the media, the food industry. But, Hyman argues, fat isn't all bad. Not all "fat" is created equal. Good fat far from being the 'bad guy' is the hero. Good fat is the hero we need as a country to rescue us from the obesity crisis. (So what is good fat? Think avocados, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, coconut oil, flax and chia seeds, olives, grass-fed beef, etc.) Diets high in good fat will help you lose weight, but, there is a catch. You have to give up eating a diet high in carbs and sugars. And you can never go back. Of course, I can't imagine *wanting* to go back. But still. That's one of those things you should know before spending time with this book.

The opening chapters are very readable. I think his writing becomes more complicated and complex in the second part. He returns to being readable in the third part, but, unfortunately he's switched from being an authentic-sounding doctor, to being an infomercial salesman.

I felt each page was saturated in a sales pitch. And also that there was a lot of 'product placement' going on as well. With every turn of the page, I heard a loud ka-ching, ka-ching. For example, buy this $70 spoonk acupressure mat; buy these $200 sheets that "ground" you to the earth's energy; buy these $50 light bulbs, etc. And that's not even mentioning the hundreds of dollars per month you'd be spending to buy all his "must-have" supplements. (Only PGX Fiber will do.) And then there's the cost of food. If he got paid a penny for every time he tells you to only buy organic, he'd be very, very rich. And he urges you to only buy organic, grass-fed, free-range, super-special meat. (You know, the stuff that costs you--at the very, very least $7 a pound but closer to $10 a pound.) Since his "diet" has you eliminating all beans and legumes--a cheaper source of protein to be sure--your only other option is organic, free-range, omega-enriched eggs. And these aren't as "cheap" as regular eggs.

I agree that it is best for your health, for your weight to give up refined/processed foods high in carbs, high in sugar, high in preservatives and additives. I agree that good fat is great for you. And if you can afford to strictly follow his plan down to every, single little detail, then perhaps you really will lose weight--a good amount of weight even...


But the book is new. Even if his 1000 participant trial run was on his plan a year ago, I don't think there's enough "evidence" that his plan is guaranteed to lead to "sustained weight loss." It simply hasn't been long enough to see if anyone who uses his 21-day plan is able to keep the weight off for five years or more! (Which is what 'sustained' weight loss is all about. 95% of the weight lost on "diets" and "plans" is not sustainable.) It would be interesting to see how 'successful' the plan is five years from now. (Though I have a small feeling that if participants gained the weight back, it would be seen as being their own fault for not following the plan 'well' enough.)

So what else should you know?

  • That the 21 day plan is the minimum, that, "the plan" is for however long it takes you to lose the weight you want to lose, need to lose. So your "21-day plan" might last a year or more.
  • While on the 21 day plan, the restricted food list is very, very, very long.
  • No processed food, no exceptions.
  • No dairy.
  • No alcohol.
  • Maximum of 2 cups per day--tea or coffee--unsweetened. He recommends adding coconut oil to coffee for your breakfast.
  • No (refined) vegetable oils. (Think: canola, corn, soy, sunflower, etc.)
  • No grains, no exceptions. (I could totally see why giving up gluten would be advisable. But this includes healthy grains like quinoa, steel-cut oats, brown rice.)
  • No beans, no exceptions.
  • Nothing sweet (not just sugar, not just high fructose corn syrup, but all artificial sweeteners (including stevia) and all natural sweeteners (agave, honey, maple syrup).
  • Also you're only allowed small allotments of fruit (half a cup per day). But *only* lemons, limes, kiwi, and watermelon. I may have forgotten the whole list. But it did not include peaches, pears, apples, grapes, strawberries, bananas, oranges, cherries, plums, pineapples, you know, the things you think of when you think FRUIT.
  • Small portions of "starchy" veggies (1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time, but, only 4 times a week) This includes beets, celeriac, parsnips, pumpkin, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash.
  • When you're ready to go off 'the diet plan' he has you transition to a "Pegan" diet that is a combination Paleo and Vegan. Some things are permanently gone forever and ever from your diet. Other things get added back into your diet in small increments, small portions, occasionally. You can add some dairy back in, for example, "locally sourced cheese from grass-fed, heirloom cows."
Quotes:
  • Dietary fat speeds up your metabolism, reduces your hunger, and stimulates fat burning. (16)
  • Dietary fat helps you reduce your overall calorie intake, not increase it. (17)
  • Dietary fat, and saturated fat specifically, does not cause heart disease. (17)
  • Dietary saturated fat raises the good kind of LDL and raises HDL (the "good cholesterol"). (17)
  • Dietary fat improves brain function and mood and helps prevent dementia. (17)
  • Food is not just a source of energy or calories. Food is information. It contains instructions that affect every biological function of your body. It is the stuff that controls everything. Food affects the expression of your genes and influences your hormones, brain chemistry, immune system, gut flora, and metabolism at every level. It works fast, in real time with every bite. This is the groundbreaking science of nutrigenomics. (56)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Cain His Brother

Cain His Brother. Anne Perry. 1995. 404 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Cain His Brother a bit of a disappointment after The Sins of the Wolf. Especially in the beginning. Readers be warned, you may spend a lot of time YELLING at William Monk. Especially in the first half of this one. William Monk has been somewhat sympathetic even if flawed in earlier books, but, in this one, well, the way he speaks to Hester is just ALL KINDS OF WRONG. I think it stood out more in this one because of how Sins of the Wolf ended. And it wasn't just that. Also he seems to be completely stupid and gullible sometimes where women are concerned. When Druscilla's character was introduced, for example, I started shouting warnings to Monk. He didn't listen. No matter how many times I tried to warn him. I ended up liking this story after all, but, only because Hester COMPLETELY redeems the situation and saves the day. Does he know it?! Of course not. And if he did, he'd probably just yell at Hester and dig a deeper hole for himself as far as I'm concerned. But still I enjoyed this one overall for how Hester, Monk, and Rathbone work together for justice. And the case they're working on is INTERESTING.

Angus Stonefield has been murdered--presumably--by his "evil" twin brother, Caleb Stone. There is no body, just bloody clothes and a missing person case. Some might argue, well, he tired of his wife, he decided to abandon his family, his job, and begin a new life somewhere else. And his clothes might have anyone's blood on them. The widow, Mrs. Stonefield, comes to William Monk desperate. She needs him to find enough proof that he can be declared dead. Sure she'd love justice, but, is realistic about the situation.

Hester and Lady Callandra, meanwhile, are busy nursing typhoid patients on the wrong side of town. The book is very much focused on poverty and the horrible living conditions in 1850s London.

There is plenty of detecting in this one, and, I think this one probably has the biggest twist so far in the series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Frog and Toad Together

Frog and Toad Together. Arnold Lobel. 1972. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

One morning Toad sat in bed. "I have many things to do," he said. "I will write them all down on a list so that I can remember them." Toad wrote on a piece of paper: A List of Things To Do Today. Then he wrote: Wake Up. "I have done that," said Toad, and he crossed out: wake up. Then Toad wrote other things on the paper.


Oh how I love Frog and Toad! I do! This book contains five stories: A List, The Garden, Cookies, Dragons and Giants, and The Dream.

In the first story, "The List," Toad panics when he loses his to-do list. The ever-supportive Frog is there by his side, but it may take a while to calm this worried Toad!

In the second story, "The Garden," Toad is envious of his friend Frog's garden. Though Frog warns him that a garden takes a lot of work, and a lot of patience, Toad isn't concerned. He wants a garden and he wants it NOW. Will Toad succeed in his gardening attempt?

The third story, "Cookies," is one of my FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITE stories of all time. Toad bakes some cookies. He even decides to share with his friend, Frog. But when they become unable to stop eating the oh-so-delicious cookies, then Frog insists that they have will power. Toad is less than enthused. Especially when he sees that Frog means to give his cookies to the birds. What will Toad do next?
"You know, Toad," said Frog, with his mouth full, "I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick."
"You are right," said Toad. "Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop."
Frog and Toad ate one last cookie. There were many cookies left in the bowl.
"Frog," said Toad, "let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop."
Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.
"We must stop eating!" cried Toad as he ate another.
"Yes," said Frog, reaching for a cookie, "we need will power."
"What is will power?" asked Toad.
"Will power is trying hard not to do something that you really want to do," said Frog.
"You mean like trying not to eat all of these cookies?" asked Toad.
"Right," said Frog. (32-35)
Of course, the scene just gets better and better and better!

The fourth story "Dragons and Giants" doesn't thrill me. But it could be because it follows "Cookies," and it would take a LOT to top that! In this one, Frog and Toad decide to see how brave they are! They find they are very brave safe at home in the closet and in the bed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Frog and Toad All Year

Frog and Toad All Year. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1976. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

Frog knocked at Toad's door. "Toad, wake up," he cried. "Come out and see how wonderful the winter is!" "I will not," said Toad. "I am in my warm bed." "Winter is beautiful," said Frog. "Come out and have fun." "Blah," said Toad. "I do not have any winter clothes." Frog came into the house. "I have brought you some things to wear," he said. Frog pushed a coat down over the top of Toad. Frog pulled snowpants up over the bottom of Toad. He put a hat and scarf on Toad's head. "Help!" cried Toad. "My best friend is trying to kill me!" "I am only getting you ready for winter," said Frog.


I love Frog and Toad. I do. Do you?! Are you more like Toad or Frog?! This collection includes five stories--all season-themed stories--"Down the Hill," "The Corner," "Ice Cream," "The Surprise," and "Christmas Eve."

"Down the Hill," the winter-story of the collection, has Frog and Toad out in the snow. Sledding may be fun, Toad admits, but he can't help feeling that BED IS MUCH BETTER!

"The Corner," the spring-story of the collection, has Frog sharing words of wisdom from his father. Something about how spring is around the corner. This made the young Frog curious because which corner is spring around?! So he sets out to find it!

"Ice Cream," the summer-story of the collection, has Toad bringing his best friend some ice cream. But the trip back to Frog, back to the pond, doesn't go according to plan! And ice cream can be a bit messy and sticky. Will these two friends be able to enjoy some delicious ice cream?!

"The Surprise" the autumn-story of the collection, has Frog and Toad 'surprising' each other. Toad rushes to Frog's house to rake his leaves. Frog rushes to Toad's house to rake his leaves. But the wind may have the last laugh! Good thing these friends will never know!

"Christmas Eve" is a holiday story of course! Frog was supposed to come to Toad's house for a big dinner. But. Frog is late. Toad begins to worry and worry and worry. Where is his friend?! Where could he be?! Did something happen to him?! Does Frog need to be saved?! Frog arrives finally with present in hand. He was late because he was wrapping Toad's present. A peaceful Christmas is theirs at last.

I enjoyed this collection. While it isn't quite as magical as Frog and Toad Together, I would still recommend it!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Days With Frog and Toad

Days with Frog and Toad. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1979. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
Toad woke up. "Drat!" he said. "This house is a mess. I have so much wok to do." Frog looked through the window. "Toad, you are right," said Frog. "It is a mess." Toad pulled the covers over his head. "I will do it tomorrow," said Toad. "Today I will take life easy." Frog came into the house. "Toad," said Frog, "your pants and jacket are lying on the floor." "Tomorrow," said Toad from under the covers. "Your kitchen sink is filled with dirty dishes," said Frog. "Tomorrow," said Toad. "There is dust on your chairs." "Tomorrow," said Toad. "Your windows need scrubbing," said Frog. "Your plants need watering." "Tomorrow!" cried Toad. "I will do it all tomorrow!" Toad sat on the edge of his bed. "Blah," said Toad. "I feel down in the dumps." "Why?" asked Frog. "I am thinking about tomorrow," said Toad. "I am thinking about all of the many things that I will have to do." "Yes," said Frog, "tomorrow will be a very hard day for you."
This Frog and Toad book contains five stories: "Tomorrow," "The Kite," "Shivers," "The Hat," and "Alone." I really, really enjoy three of these stories.

Tomorrow is probably my favorite in this collection. (And it's useful for inspiration.) I love Toad's drat's and blah's. Toad has a choice to make--to do the work of each day on that day, to take the work with the pleasure, OR to put off all the work so he can have all the pleasure. But there is always a day of reckoning. So perhaps, it's best that Toad learns this lesson quickly!

The Hat is a delightful story. Frog gives Toad a birthday present, a hat. But the hat is much too big for his friend. He feels awful about that. How can he fix the hat without his friend realizing it?!

Alone is another wonderful story! Toad discovers a note on his friend Frog's door. A note saying that Frog wants to be alone for a while! Toad worries and panics a bit! Why oh why oh why would Frog ever want time away from him?! Does this mean that Frog doesn't want to spend any time with him? Does it mean that Frog doesn't want him as a best friend anymore?!

The Kite is a story about diligence and perseverance. The two friends are having trouble getting their kite to fly. One friend wants to give up, wants to just admit that their kite is junk and that it will never, ever fly. The other wants to keep trying. It's a playful story. And Frog and Toad do shine in it!

Shivers is about the two friends telling a ghost story and getting delicious shivers.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon. Daniel Keyes. 1966. 311 pages. [Source: Library]

First, I have to say that I am definitely glad I made time to finally read this one! It has been on my to-be-read list for way too many years. And I don't regret the time I spent with Charlie Gordon.

The book is the journal of the main character, Charlie Gordon. The journal consists of his 'progress reports.' The novel opens with him about to become the subject of a scientific experiment. If it works, his IQ will improve dramatically, radically. His IQ is high enough now for him to function living on his own. (He does janitor work.) But his IQ isn't high enough for him to really learn how to read, write, remember. What he does have in abundance: a big, big, big heart, and an ambitious spirit dedicated to learning and becoming. He doesn't know what he's missing, but, he knows he's missing something. He has no real actual memories of who he was, of his family life, of his childhood. His low IQ isn't just "robbing" him of a bright future, but, of his past as well.

Even though I don't usually love first person narratives, in this case, it works really well. Charlies growth is documented in his progress reports. And readers should make the effort to read between the lines some. It isn't that Charlie is an unreliable narrator, just, that he isn't always completely self-aware. (Who is?!?!) Readers are given enough clues to decide for themselves what Charlie Gordon is like.

Will the experiment work? What are the side effects? Is Charlie being used or taken advantage of by the scientists? Did he make the right choice?

I can't decide what is the most heartbreaking about this bittersweet coming-of-age story. I think though that I'll go with the way Charlie was treated by his mother. Those scenes when Charlie remembers his childhood, his mother, his father, his sister, that is what is heartbreaking. The way his mother mistreated him, and Charlie's straight-forward, matter-of-fact remembering. The way it's done is not manipulative at all, in my opinion. But it's very emotional.

The scenes that may just stay with me though are the ones about Charlie standing up to the scientists saying YOU DIDN'T MAKE ME. I WAS A PERSON BEFORE. YOU SHOULD HAVE ALWAYS TREATED ME AS A PERSON, A PERSON WITH FEELINGS AND RIGHTS. YOU DIDN'T GIVE ME VALUE BY MAKING ME SMART, I ALWAYS WAS VALUABLE. YOU TREAT ME LIKE AN OBJECT. I'M NOT AN OBJECT OF YOUR MAKING.

So yes this one is worth reading!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. The BFG

The BFG. Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. 1982. 199 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Sophie couldn't sleep.

Premise/plot: Sophie, an orphan, is "kidnapped" one night by a giant--a Big Friendly Giant. He's not interested in eating her, though there are nine other giants who love, love, love to munch and crunch on human beans. He has taken her with him because she has seen him, and he doesn't want any human beans to know that giants are real. He disapproves of the other giants, but, wants the existence of giants to be kept secret. Will Sophie help him see things differently?

My thoughts: I really, really enjoyed this one. I also liked the dream gathering and dream giving aspect of this one. The BFG was just so much fun to spend time with. I can see how mood might play a big role in this one. If you're not in the right mood to enjoy the silly craziness, then the giant's horrible grammar might be much too much for you to tolerate. It does have a lot of made up words in it. Personally, it worked for me!

Here's a quote: "Here is the repulsant snozzcumber!" cried the BFG, waving it about. "I squoggle it! I mispise it! I dispunge it! But because I is refusing to gobble up human beans like the other giants, I must spend my life guzzling up icky-poo snozzcumbers instead. If I don't, I will be nothing but skin and groans." (45)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Death by Food Pyramid

Death by Food Pyramid. Denise Minger. 2014. 292 pages. [Source: Library]

While I'm not so patiently waiting to read my library's copy of Eat Fat, Get Thin, I decided to read Denise Minger's Death by Food Pyramid. It was quite refreshing after reading Hank Cardello's Stuffed.

Here are a few things I loved about Death by Food Pyramid:

That the goal of the book was to educate you on how to read, understand, and interpret books (and articles) about health, food, and how the body works on your own. That the goal was NOT take my word for it, trust me, I'm an expert, I know everything there is to know, and, if you want to lose weight and be healthy, just follow my advice always no matter what. That readers should stand up, take responsibility for their bodies, and get educated, seek knowledge, seek understanding.

That the book was equal parts history and science. Part of understanding where-we-are-now and how-do-we-know-what-we-know is understanding where we've been, understanding all the steps and missteps along the journey, understanding how scientific research is done, and in some cases not only how it's done, but, WHY it's done. A lot of the book focuses on research done about heart disease, and, to some extent, diabetes and cancer. A lot of the book focuses on how the research was then interpreted. And how that interpreted research was then summarized and conveyed to the public at large. But it also focuses on invention. (For example, the invention of "trans fat" and Crisco.)

The book doesn't solely focus on "bad science," "bad government," "bad food industry," or "bad media." It focuses on educating you to make the best choices available for your health based on what we now know to be true, or what we now believe to be true. It is not about choosing "good" diets over "bad" diets. But knowing all the facts, and being aware that there is not one diet that is right for every single person.

The book is well-written, well-organized, packed with just-the-right of information to empower you to think for yourself. It is entertaining; It is fascinating. Some facts may shock you. For example, did you know that the government has known since 1968 that trans fats were dangerous, and, did absolutely nothing--except encourage their use--for decades?! (See page 157-158) I also loved all the chapters on various research studies. Including the Minnesota Starvation Experiment of the 1940s.
The men's physical and mental turmoil emerged on diets averaging 1,500 to 1,600 calories per day, plus consistent physical activity--levels well within the range of many crash-diet fats plenty of us follow today. More important though, the study shows what can happen when we deliberately and severely eat less than our body is asking for. Think about that for a minute. The same health authorities propagating food-pyramid wisdom also tend to fixate on cutting calories and increasing exercise--the "eat less, move more" paradigm. Sounds familiar, doesn't it. What if calorie restricting makes our bodies think we're starving? And what if what happened to the Minnesota men at 1,500 calories is what our government and the billion dollar diet industry has been selling to modern Westerners? The answer seems clear enough: we've set ourselves up to be a nation of disordered eaters, struggling against biology, when what really needs to change is the quality of our food. (91-2).
I love how the author believes the reader can be smart enough, and motivated enough, to learn. The book is very matter-of-fact. These are the words you need to know. These are the phrases you'll see in all the books, all the articles, all the graphs, all the news stories. Here are the definitions so you can know what is being said and evaluate it for yourself. Never automatically agree with someone's spin of it. Weigh all the evidence, consider all points of view, and decide for yourself.

I loved that the message was: YOU CAN DO IT. CHOOSE TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HEALTH. YOU CAN BECOME INFORMED. YOU CAN BECOME EDUCATED. Don't be a victim of circumstances. Don't say "Well, I didn't know any better."
If you choose to put a label on your diet, make sure it doesn't undergo a sneaky "mission creep" into the realm of your self-identity. Your current food choices may be low-carb, or lowfat, or plant-based, or any other number of descriptors--but you are not low-carb; you are not lowfat; you are not plant-based. You're a human being trying to make choices that best serve you and your specific goals at this point in time. You are not defined by the foods you eat. You are not a slave to an ideology. (243)
So why is it titled Death by Food Pyramid?! The Food Pyramid is more the work of politics and business than anything else. And that's keeping it polite. It is not actually representative of what is good and healthy for you to eat. In fact, just the opposite. Even though it has been "updated" or even "replaced," it still influences how people think about what to eat or not eat--at least for certain generations.

I loved learning about Luise Light who began working on the Food Pyramid in the 1970s. Her version never saw the light, you might say.
Unlike previous food guides, Light's version cracked down ruthlessly on empty calories and health-depleting junk food. The new guide's base was a safari through the produce department--five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. "Protein foods" like meat, eggs, nuts, and beans came in at five to seven ounces daily; for dairy, two to three servings were advised. Instead of promoting what would soon become a nationwide fat-phobia, Light's guide recommended four daily tablespoons of cold-pressed fats like olive oil and flaxseed oil, in addition to other naturally occurring fats in food. The guide kept sugar well below 10 percent of total calories and strictly limited refined carbohydrates, with white-flour products like crackers, bagels, and bread rolls shoved into the guide's no bueno zone alongside candy and junk food. And the kicker: grains were pruned down to a maximum of two to three servings per day, always in whole form. (The lower end of that range was for most women and less-active men, for whom a single sandwich would fill the daily grain quota.) Satisfied that their recommendations were scientifically sound and economically feasible, Light's team shipped the new food guide off to the Secretary of Agriculture's office for review. And that's when the trouble began. The guide Light and her team worked so hard to assemble came back a mangled, lopsided perversion of its former self. The recommended grain servings had nearly quadrupled, exploding to form America's dietary centerpiece: six to eleven servings of grains per day replaced Light's two to three. Gone was the advisory to eat only whole grains, leaving ultra-processed wheat and corn products implicitly back on the menu. Dairy mysteriously gained an extra serving. The cold-pressed fats Light's team embraced were now obsolete. Vegetables and fruits, intended to form the core of the new food guide, were initially slashed down to a mere two-to-three servings a day total--and it was only from the urging of the National Cancer Institute that the USDA doubled that number later on. And rather than aggressively lowering sugar consumption as Light's team strived to do, the new guidelines told Americans to choose a diet "moderate in sugar," with no explanation of what that hazy phrase actually meant. (Three slices of cake after a salad is moderate, right?" With her science-based food guide looking like it had just been rearranged by Picasso, Light was horrified. She predicted--in fervent protests to her supervisor--that these "adjustments" would turn America's health into an inevitable train wreck. Her opinion of the grain-centric recommendations was that "no one needs that much bread and cereal in a day unless they are longshoremen or football players," and that giving Americans a free starch-gorging pass would unleash an unprecedented epidemic of obesity and diabetes. (23-24)
Asking the Department of Agriculture to promote healthy eating was like asking Jack Daniels to promote responsible drinking: the advice could only come with a wink, a nudge, and a complementary shot glass. (25)
Folks with low genuine skill in their field [nutrition] suffer from double trouble: not only do they grossly overestimate their own abilities, but they also don't even have the knowledge necessary to realize what they're saying is inaccurate. (53)
Anyone who's certain they're right about everything in nutrition is almost definitely wrong. (53)
Out of all the food pyramid's victims, the most brutally slaughtered was fat--particularly the saturated form. (82)
The burden is on our own shoulders to stay educated, informed, shrewd, critical, proactive, and unyielding in the face of the Goliaths that loom before us. (247)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. I Am Malala

I Am Malala. Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick. 2014. Little Brown. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

I wish I had known there were essentially two different books called 'I Am Malala.' I read, by mistake, the one adapted for young readers. I would have preferred to read the one written for adults. Not because I have a huge problem with adult nonfiction books being adapted for younger readers, I've never really given it any thought before. I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. But because I'm probably only going to read one, and, I'd want as full a story as possible. Now, I'm curious: how are the two different, and, what was left out of the younger reader's edition. But am I curious enough to seek out the other book and read the same story twice?! See. I'm torn now. I don't think I will...at least not now. But perhaps in a year or two, we'll see. (Has this ever happened to you, what did you decide?!)

So. This one is a biography of Malala Yousafzai. She is a believer in education for girls and women. Her outspokenness, her bravery angered the Taliban in Pakistan. Threats were made on her life, on her father's life. Eventually she was shot in the face on the school bus one afternoon. The book covers several years before the incident. One gets a sense of what life was like in Pakistan at that time--around 2008 or 2009, I believe, is when it opens. One especially gets a sense of what life was like in her household. Her father started several schools for girls; and he believed his daughter should have every opportunity to learn, to study, to be free to be herself. He supported--if not encouraged--her daughter to find her voice, and, to speak up for what she felt was right. Together they decided that it was worth the risk to their own lives.

Education is important. Girls need the chance, the opportunity for education just as much as boys do. An eleven or twelve year old girl should have the opportunity to go to school instead of being married off if her family arranges it. There should be more than one way to raise a girl, more than one option of how her life could go.

Malala is an advocate for education, for girls' education. Her message to the world did not stop after the Taliban shot her. In fact, if anything it magnified--amplified it. Her international audience grew much, much larger. Now everyone knew her, knew her story, knew what she stood for. There would be no stopping her now.

What I enjoyed about this book was how real it was. It could have easily been an issue book from start to finish. A book so passionately driven by one cause--one message--that it almost drowns in it. But that wasn't the case with this one. The way her story was told was very grounded in reality, very humble. This is one girl's story. And, yes, in some ways she is extraordinary. But in other ways she's ordinary too. The way that she describes her family life, the way that she describes having friends, it just felt very down-to-earth and genuine.

I would recommend this one. But as I said I wish I had known that there were two books to choose from. If you've read the adult one and the young adult one, did you notice any differences? Were the differences big?

My favorite quote:
My school was a heaven. Because inside the Khushal School, we flew on wings of knowledge. In a country where women aren't allowed out in public without a man, we girls traveled far and wide inside the pages of our books. In a land where many women can't read the prices in the markets, we did multiplication. In a place where, as soon as we were teenagers, we'd have to cover our heads and hide ourselves from the boys who'd been our childhood playmates, we ran as free as the wind. We didn't know where our education would take us. All we wanted was a chance to learn in peace. (34)
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Frog and Toad Are Friends

Frog and Toad Are Friends. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1970. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

Frog ran up the path to Toad's house. He knocked on the front door. There was no answer, "Toad, Toad," shouted Frog, "wake up. It is spring!" "Blah," said a voice from inside the house. "Toad! Toad!" cried Frog. "The sun is shining! The snow is melting. Wake up!" "I am not here," said the voice. 

I love Frog and Toad. I do. I just love them. While this isn't my favorite-or-best Frog and Toad book, it is still worth reading. It contains five stories: Spring, The Story, A Lost Button, A Swim, and The Letter.

My favorites from the collection include "Spring" in which Frog tricks his friend into getting out of bed by changing his calendar and "The Letter" in which Frog cheers up his friend by sending him a letter in the mail.

All the stories highlight this special friendship--highlights each character's strengths and weaknesses. I would definitely recommend any Frog and Toad book!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. A Baby Sister for Frances

A Baby Sister for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1964/1992. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It was a quiet evening. Father was reading his newspaper. Mother was feeding Gloria, the new baby. Frances was sitting under the kitchen sink. She was singing a little song: Plinketty, plinketty, plinketty, plink, Here is the dishrag that's under the sink. Here are the buckets and brushes and me, Plinketty, plinketty, plinketty, plee. She stopped the song and listened. Nobody said anything.

Premise/plot: Frances is having a hard time adjusting to her new baby sister, Gloria. She's still Frances, an imaginative badger that loves to make up her own songs, but she's finding it harder and harder to be noticed by her busy parents. And her parents don't have as much time to devote to keeping things in the house flowing smoothly. Frances decides it may be best to run away.
After dinner that evening Frances packed her little knapsack very carefully. She put in her tiny special blanket and her alligator doll. She took all of the nickels and pennies out of her bank, for travel money, and she took her good luck coin for good luck. Then she took a box of prunes from the kitchen and five chocolate sandwich cookies.
"Well," said Frances, "it is time to say goodbye. I am on my way. Good bye."
"Where are you running away to?" said Father.
"I think that under the dining-room table is the best place," said Frances. "It's cozy and the kitchen is near if I run out of cookies."
"That is a good place to run away to," said Mother, "but I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too," said Father.
"Well, said Frances, "good-bye," and she ran away. (12-13)
My thoughts: Essentially this one is like Noisy Nora, but, I think I like this one better because I like Frances so much. I enjoy this one. It's not my favorite Frances story--in fact, it's probably my least favorite--but that has more to do with the others being so great, so memorable.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. A Big Fat Crisis

A Big Fat Crisis by Deborah Cohen. 2013. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Deborah A. Cohen's A Big Fat Crisis to be a compelling read. Did I agree with the book? Well, that's another story. First, I want to say that her approach is different from those I've read before, read recently I mean. Her approach is more psychological perhaps.

Cohen basically tries to persuade readers of two things: 1) that people who are obese are victims and they cannot possibly be held responsible for what they consume or how much they consume 2) that people who are obese are obese because of their surrounding environments and that if the environments changed, then, their behavior would most likely change as well as they adapt to a new normal.

Let's look at these individually first.

People are obese because they naturally lack the will power to say no to food that is easily, consistently available; people are obese because of an inability to think things through and make good-for-them-in-the-long-run decisions. Her argument is essentially that people fall victim to their environment, and, they physically--psychologically--can't help succumbing to cues from their environment. People aren't smart enough to 'see through' or 'see beyond' the obvious tricks of the food industry. They are fooled one hundred percent of the time, at least, that is what Cohen argues. She dismisses the third of Americans that are not overweight or obese as almost abnormal, inexplicable phenomenons. (Because their existence disturbs her findings about what is natural for humans, they're largely ignored or dismissed. What could she possibly learn from people who have self-control, when, clearly she argues for hundreds of pages that self-control isn't natural and can't be taught?!)

Let's slow it down. Is this true? Do we want this to be true really? Do we really want to argue that no one is ever responsible for their behavior, and, that they are just following the cues of their environment, and they don't have any other choice but to do what they're led to do? Think about what this argument means for all areas of life where decision making is involved--which is essentially everything.

I don't think this is true. This "excuse" may temporarily give you a "feel good" feeling if you're overweight or obese, but, isn't it also slightly insulting and condescending. At least one or the other. You can't change. You can't do it. You're not capable. It's beyond your ability or capacity. The only way you could ever change is if a lot of other people come together and act on your behalf by changing "the environment" so that you stand a chance. Isn't it better to be honest and say, "You know I understand exactly how difficult and tough it is. BUT. You can do it. It may be hard. It may mean always choosing the more difficult path before you. But you know what, you can do it. Some days will be easier than others. There will be moments of doubt and despair. But it is doable. You'll have to change how you think, how you react, how you cope. You'll have to rewire your brain and change your lifestyle. But it isn't as impossible as it sounds."

What do you think? If you struggle with weight would you rather be told that you're a victim and that it is actually impossible for you to do anything to "fix" the situation yourself OR would you rather be told that you can do something, that you can start taking steps right here, right now to be healthier?! I do want your opinions!

The second half of her argument is that the environment must be changed on behalf of the overweight/obese in society. The environment should be changed through both regulations (I'm assuming legislation?) and voluntary submission to new health guidelines. She's talking about making-over a country so that workplaces, restaurants, supermarkets, and stores of all sorts will no longer prove "a threat" to the nation's health.

Let's look at some of her ideas for restaurants. Standardized/regulated portion sizes across the nation. Most entrees--if not all--should be 700 calories or less. So that no one "accidentally" eats more than a third of their daily calories. Require 10% of a restaurant's menu to be healthy, following current government approved nutrition tips. Train waiters on health and nutrition, so they can warn customers about the risks and dangers of ordering certain things off the menu.

Let's look at some of her ideas for supermarkets. Smaller supermarkets, for one. Fewer choices overall, perhaps. All unhealthy food will be available, but, put in places where you really have to search it out to find it. Stores arranged by meal: a breakfast area, a lunch area, a supper area. If "fruits and vegetables" end up being in two or three places, all the better, in her opinion. Stores should have cooking demonstrations, lots of free samples, give out recipe books, and teach about meal planning.

Essentially, her idea is that if you happen to change the environment so that it is easier to eat healthy and more difficult to eat unhealthy, then health will probably most likely improve because people will always do what is easiest and takes the least amount of thought. Though she admits that she has no idea if changing the environment would actually work and solve the nation's obesity crisis because no one has attempted it yet, not even in a few small, "trial" areas.

Do I agree with the second half of her argument? That's a tough one. Do I think it's a good idea for waiters to start lecturing customers on what they're ordering and telling them that they shouldn't eat that because it will make them fatter?! Of course, that's an exaggeration. Cohen is not arguing for rude behavior. But still.

I do think this half of the argument isn't quite as flawed. I do wish that every restaurant had actually healthy options. Not pretend-healthy options that are slightly healthier by comparison. I do wish that restaurants were perfectly straightforward about what is in each dish and how it's prepared. I do think it's a good idea to portion things better. For example, instead of over-portioning you on carb-heavy items like rice and pasta, they'd give you exactly a serving size: half a cup. Of course, carbs aren't the only things that need to be portioned. (For example, I know a restaurant where the chicken-fried steak meal is TWO battered-and-fried steaks topped with gravy. Two is *the* portion. You have to ask for the "child's plate" or the "senior" plate to receive just ONE steak.) I would REALLY, REALLY love to see vegetable options in restaurants that aren't fried, creamed, covered in gravy, or buttered-to-death. And I would really, really, really love to see fresh fruit as an option in restaurants. I agree with her that I think it is really difficult to stay out of restaurants all together. She mentions work-related and family-related gatherings at restaurants, and, it can be tough to find that "one" healthy option at a restaurant that is doable some of the time.

As for grocery stores, they are in the promoting-and-selling business. And I'm not sure that "free samples" of vegetables are going to sell more vegetables. Though I do believe that vegetables *can* be prepared in yummy, yummy ways. I eat a LOT of vegetables myself. I don't think it's a lost cause, and, that vegetables and fruits should be neglected so scientists can work on futuristic foods that are "healthy and taste good too." (Can you tell I'm still annoyed by reading Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat?!)

One thing that she doesn't really mention needing to change is television. She does mention the Food Network, saying that if grocery stores offered cooking demonstrations and cooking classes then people would benefit after all they love to watch the Food Network. The Food Network is not in the business of creating/teaching healthy recipes designed to help people watch what they eat, to lose weight, to prevent chronic diseases. You hardly ever--if at all--see them caution you against using too much salt, too much cream, too much butter, too much sugar, too much white flour, etc.

Some ideas seemed potentially good--ideal. But I'm not sure all of them are. And even the good ideas seem like it would be an uphill battle to achieve implementation. Not that that reason alone is worth giving the matter all up. But it is asking us to potentially place a lot of trust and power/authority into the government.

Am I convinced that all of society needs to be rebuilt/redesigned with the overweight/obese victim in mind? I found it an engaging read. But it read more like a dystopia to me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago. Boris Pasternak. Translated by John Bayley. 1957. 592 pages. [Source: Library]

Doctor Zhivago is one of those books that I've "been meaning to read" for years now. Once I decided to actually read it, it took me just five days. "Actually" is a great little word, I've found.

So is the book like the movie? Or. Is the movie like the book? The book is a lot more complex than the movie, in my opinion. The movie seems to make everything about Dr. Zhivago and Lara, and the depths of their oh-so-amazing love. That is not the case in the book. (That's not to say that Lara isn't one of the major characters in the book, but, the book doesn't revolve around her.)

So essentially, the novel covers a little over three decades of Russian history. And those three decades are turbulent, bloody, terrifying, cruel. Probably three-quarters of the novel is set between the years 1910-1920.

If you come to the novel expecting a ROMANCE, then, chances are you'll be bored. It is "about" so much more than how a man feels about a woman.

Featured prominently in the novel: war, politics, revolution, religion, philosophy, economics, ethics, friendship, and, perhaps then love, romance, marriage, and family.

The main character is Doctor Zhivago (Yurii Andreievich Zhivago; aka Yura). Readers are first introduced to him at his mother's funeral. They learn that his father abandoned him and his mother. He'll be looked after by an uncle (Uncle Kolia). (This definitely varies from the movie.) As a teen, he and a friend (Misha Gordon) live with the Gromekos family. Yura later marries into this family, marries Tonia Gromeko. The start of World War I in 1914 disrupts his happy home.

Lara (Larisa Feodorovna Guishar) is another main character. While in the movie she is without a doubt the one and only love of Dr. Zhivago's life, in the book she plays a subtler role perhaps. Readers do spend some time with her through the decades. But then again readers spend a good amount of time with Tonia as well.

There is a third woman in Dr. Zhivago's life. A woman that the movie fails to portray at all. His "third wife" Marina (Marinka). He spends the most time (day-to-day, routine) with this 'third' family. They have two children together, and, he's there for the raising of them for the most part.

Some of his friendships are stabler than his love life. Though to be honest, this isn't completely his fault! Like when he's compelled (kidnapped) into the army during the Revolution. He was forcibly separated from his family, from returning to his family. (Part of me does wonder, if he hadn't been on the road--returning from the town to his country farm, returning from seeing Lara-- would he have been kidnapped? Would they have sought him anywhere he happened to be, since they knew there was a doctor in the region?) After he escapes, and the escape isn't quick in happening, he learns that his family has been deported to France. He's not exactly able to join them, and, yet, one wonders once again...IF he could join them, if he was granted permission from the country and allowed to leave Russia, and if he had the money to do so...would he? Or would he choose to remain in Russia and start a new life with Lara.

The story and the drama are certainly complex enough. At times I felt the characters were complex as well. At other times, I thought they were a bit flat and idealistic. I never really felt like I could "understand" the characters--understand their thought processes, motivations, and such.

I'm not sure I "liked" any of the characters in the traditional sense. But at the same time, I felt the story compelling enough. Especially if you go into it not expecting a romance. Plenty of tragedy, I suppose, if you want to look at it like that.

I don't think Dr. Zhivago's life turned out like he planned or hoped or dreamed. His life was interrupted and disrupted by outside forces, perhaps. In some ways, Doctor Zhivago reminded me of Gone With The Wind.

I am glad I read it. Have you read it? What did you think?
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. A Birthday for Frances

A Birthday for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1968/1995. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was the day before Frances's little sister Gloria's birthday.

Premise/plot: It is Gloria's birthday. And Frances decides--a bit reluctantly--that she should buy something for her baby sister with her allowance. She decides on one Chompo bar (chocolate bar) and four gumballs. But it isn't easy for Frances to keep her mind made up. The more she thinks about it, the more she thinks that she should keep the Chompo bar for herself. The gumballs, well, they already met their fate. By accident, Frances claims. Will Gloria receive a Chompo bar for her birthday? Or will Frances be selfish and eat it herself?!

My thoughts: I just LOVE and ADORE A Birthday for Frances. It is so quotable.
Mother and Gloria were sitting at the kitchen table, making place cards for the party. Frances was in the broom closet singing: Happy Thursday to you, Happy Thursday to you, Happy Thursday, dear Alice, Happy Thursday to you. "Who is Alice?" asked Mother. "Alice is somebody that nobody can see," said Frances. "And that is why she does not have a birthday. So I am singing Happy Thursday to her." "Today it is Friday," said Mother. "It is Thursday for Alice," said Frances. "Alice will not have h-r-n-d, and she will not have g-k-l-s. But we are singing together." "What are h-r-n-d and g-k-l-s?" asked Mother. "Cake and candy. I thought you could spell," said Frances. "I am sure that Alice will have cake and candy on her birthday," said Mother. "But Alice does not have a birthday," said Frances. "Yes, she does," said Mother. "Even if nobody can see her, Alice has one birthday every year, and so do you. Your birthday is two months from now. Then you will be the birthday girl. But tomorrow is Gloria's birthday, and she will be the birthday girl." "That is how it is, Alice," said Frances. "Your birthday is always the one that is not now."
This book has the delightful Chompo Bar song in it:
Chompo Bars are nice to get.
Chompo Bars taste better yet
When they're someone else's.
I would definitely recommend this one. Do you have a favorite Frances book?

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Body of Truth

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight--and What We Can Do About It. Harriet Brown. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Harriet Brown's Body of Truth to be a thought-provoking read. Did I agree 100% with everything she said on every page? Probably not. But did she give me something to think about, something to consider, something to take away from reading the book? Definitely.

True or false: Our society is obsessed with weight, and, has been obsessed with weight for decades. This obsession has its dangers no matter your size at the moment.

True or false: Health is important, without a doubt, we should all strive to be healthy--healthier. But is it right--is it accurate--to say that your health is completely determined by a number on the scale or by your BMI?

I think every person--every woman especially--could probably relate to this book. Whether you end up agreeing with it or not, I think it's worth reading. Harriet Brown is one more voice in the conversation about obesity. And some readers will no doubt disagree with her conclusions.

She challenges readers to consider the fact that the number on the scale--the size clothes you wear--may not be "the determining factor" in your overall health, in predicting how long your life will be. Thin does not automatically mean healthy. Fat does not automatically mean unhealthy.

She also challenges readers to consider a few things.

She has PLENTY to say about diets and dieting. Diets don't work most of the time. If by "most of the time" you mean keeping the weight off your body for longer than a few months. Every time you "diet" you end up weighing more than you started. As frustrating as that is, she insists that diets damage your health, the way your body is able to function. She suggests that maybe just maybe "fat people" tend to be unhealthy because they've spent so many years dieting. Of course, that's just one theory. She's not saying she has ultimate proof of this.

95% of people gain back every pound they lose on a diet. Most gain a few extra pounds. Each time you start out to diet, your body has a harder time of getting it off, and a harder time of keeping it off. 5% of people are able to keep the weight off for three to five years. But most do not. I consider these fighting words! (I will be in the 5%. I will do whatever it takes to be in the 5%.)

Stressing about weight could also be a contributing factor to poor health, she argues. Stress is not good for you. We know that. People who spend decades obsessing about their weight, dieting on and off, never happy, always hating their bodies, are decidedly more stressed than people who aren't this occupied, this obsessed with their weight.

Being active is good. People who feel good about their bodies, and "accept themselves" as they are, are more likely to be active, to exercise. If you spend a lot of time beating yourself up about how you look, how "big" you are, hating yourself for eating, hating yourself for gaining weight, hating yourself for failing, then, she argues that you are less likely to be active, to exercise, to make an effort. Is this the kind of statement that IS true or does it just sound true? One point she makes in the book is that you can be classified as overweight and obese on the BMI chart and STILL be active and fit.

People come in all shapes and sizes. A healthy "right" weight for one person may not be a healthy, "right" weight for another person. We do not all have to weigh the same--around the same--to be healthy. For example, 160 may be "just right" for one person, one person's best effort at "thin and healthy." It is difficult to judge health by appearances. One should never assume that a thin person has healthy eating habits and a fat person doesn't. You cannot tell WHO is a vegetable-eater based on appearances alone.

By all means, strive for health in your life. But don't stress with numbers, with comparing yourself with others, with this racing after ultimate perfection. Be you. Be a healthy-you. But don't try to be someone else's idea of healthy.

Some people read the book, I believe, and see the premise: She's telling me I never have to diet again and that I'm healthier if I don't diet. Oh happy day, let's go to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

I don't see it in those terms exactly. I see instead: health is hard to define, and, it isn't so black-and-white as your BMI, or, your number on a scale. How do you feel? How active are you? Is your weight holding you back from living life? Or is your obsession with weight holding you back from living life? What can you let go of? What should your focus be on instead?

I agree that guilt and shame and name-calling are not good motivators to lose weight and keep it off. I know that the only true-and-right motivation has to come from within. And without that inner motivation, it's a waste of time, effort, energy. And without that inner motivation, without that true deep-down commitment you probably are just making yourself unhealthier in the long run by dieting.

Am I pro-dieting? Am I anti-dieting? That's oh-so-tricky.

I personally define diet differently than most, and a lot differently from the author. I see diet not as "what I eat in order to lose weight, or, what I restrict myself from eating in order to lose weight" but as "the food I regularly eat." My advice is simple: NEVER GO ON A "DIET" THAT YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO BE ON FOR LIFE. You could easily eliminate a lot of diets that way. It isn't just losing the weight. It is maintaining and keeping the weight off. (And as one contributor said, maintenance takes up a lot of mental real estate.) If you eat "diet food" the moment you start eating "real food" or "normal food" again, the weight comes back on. You don't need to diet. You need to commit to changing the way you eat not for weeks, not for months, not for years, but for life.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Quotes:
We're in the midst of an epidemic, one that's destroying both the quality and the longevity of our lives. It affects not just us but our children, and likely their children, too. And while this epidemic has been around a while, it's growing at an alarming rate, not just here but around the world. You'd be hard-pressed to find a twenty-first century culture that didn't struggle with it. I'm not talking about overweight or obesity. I'm talking about our obsession with weight, our never-ending quest for thinness, our relentless angst about our bodies. Even the most self-assured of us get caught up in body anxiety: 97% of young women surveyed by Glamour magazine in 2011 said they felt hatred toward their bodies at least once a day and often much more.
We're so used to that constant inner judgment, we don't even think to question it.
Many of us spend a lot of our waking hours on a hamster wheel of self-loathing. We're screwed up about food, too; one recent survey found 75% of American women report disordered eating behaviors.
Each of us thinks our obsession with weight and body image is ours alone.
As health--or at least the perception of health--has become a social and moral imperative, judging other people's health status has become not just accepted by expected.
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it--not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four, or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule your proximity to food, and your feelings. ~ Ellyn Satter
If each of us is willing to just consider the possibility that what we think we know about weight and health isn't as simplistic and clear-cut as we believe, we'd have the beginning of a truly constructive conversation.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Churchill: The Power of Words

Churchill: The Power of Words. Winston S. Churchill. Edited by Martin Gilbert. Da Capo Press. 536 pages. [Source: Library]

Churchill: The Power of Words is a compelling read for anyone interested in history, British history in particular. It isn't a biography exactly. Instead it's a chronological arrangement of (select) quotes taken from his writings and speeches that give you a sense of who he was. Each quote is introduced by Martin Gilbert. On the top left-hand corner, readers find the year, and, on the top right-hand corner, readers find Churchill's age. I found this layout to be wonderful. There are no chapters, no natural stopping places. I tried to use years as goal-setters. But once World War II started, I found it too compelling to read it just a year at a time. I read greedily.

I found it fascinating and thought-provoking.

Favorite quotes:
One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision. (1896) p. 14
As I think Ruskin once said, 'It matters very little whether your judgments of people are true or untrue, and very much whether they are kind or unkind,'... (1899) p. 29
What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? (1908) p. 63
We did not enter upon the war with the hope of easy victory; we did not enter upon it in any desire to extend our territory, or to advance and increase our position in the world; or in any romantic desire to shed our blood and spend our money in Continental quarrels. We entered upon this war reluctantly after we had made every effort compatible with honour to avoid being drawn in, and we entered upon it with a full realization of the sufferings, losses, disappointments, vexations, and anxieties, and of the appalling and sustaining exertions which would be entailed upon us by our action. The war will be long and sombre. It will have many reverses of fortune and many hopes falsified by subsequent events, and we must derive from our cause and from the strength that is in us, and from the traditions and history of our race, and from the support and aid of our Empire all over the world the means to make this country overcome obstacles of all kinds and continue to the end of the furrow, whatever the toil and suffering may be. (1914) p. 88.
To fail is to be enslaved, or, at the very best, to be destroyed. Not to win decisively is to have all this misery over again after an uneasy truce, and to fight it over again, probably under less favourable circumstances, and perhaps alone. (1915) p. 108
Before a war begins one should always say, 'I am strong, but so is the enemy.' When a war is being fought one should say, 'I am exhausted, but the enemy is quite tired too.' It is almost impossible to say either of these two things at the time they matter. (1918) p. 138
'What shall I do with all my books?' was the question; and the answer, 'Read them,' sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition. It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young. A man once told me that he had read all the books that mattered. Cross-questioned, he appeared to have read a great many, but they seemed to have made only a slight impression. How many had he understood? How many had entered his mental composition? How many had been hammered on the anvils of his mind and afterwards ranged in an armoury of bright weapons ready to hand? Choose well, choose wisely, and choose one. Concentrate upon that one. Do not be content until you find yourself reading in it with real enjoyment. (1925) p. 178-9.
We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi Power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. (1938) p. 202
You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That Power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy. (1938) p. 203
Whenever we speak of 'bloodless war' it must not be supposed that it is not attended in every country in this anxious, melancholy time by strain, by loss, and, in some countries, by a very severe degree of privation and suffering among the mass of the population. Moreover, the bloodless war is becoming intensified. There is hardly a day when the papers do not show it is becoming intensified. The strains resulting from it will in this year, still more if it is prolonged, test not only the financial and economic strength of nations but the health of their institutions and the social structure of their civilization. (1939) p. 211-2
We must not underrate the gravity of the task which lies before us or the temerity of the ordeal, to which we shall not be found unequal. We must expect many disappointments, and many unpleasant surprises, but we may be sure that the task which we have freely accepted is one not beyond the compass and the strength of the British Empire and the French Republic... It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man. (1939) p. 224
Of all the wars that men have fought in their hard pilgrimage, none was more noble than the great Civil War in America nearly eighty years ago. Both sides fought with high conviction, and the war was long and hard. All the heroism of the South could not redeem their cause from the stain of slavery, just as all the courage and skill which the Germans always show in war will not free them from the reproach of Naziism, with its intolerance and its brutality. (1940) p. 233-4
Very few wars have been won by mere numbers alone. Quality, will-power, geographical advantages, natural and financial resources, the command of the sea, and, above all, a cause which rouses the spontaneous surgings of the human spirit in millions of hearts--these have proved to be the decisive factors in the human story. (1940) p. 236
You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. (1940) p. 243
We are moving through a period of extreme danger and of splendid hope, when every virtue of our race will be tested, and all that we have and are will be freely staked. This is no time for doubt or weakness. It is the supreme hour to which we have been called. (1940) p. 259
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (1940) p. 264
We have but one aim and one single, irrevocable purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime. From this nothing will turn us--nothing. (1941) p. 285
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Secrets from the Eating Lab

Secrets from the Eating Lab. Traci Mann. 2015. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

Traci Mann's Secrets From The Eating Lab is divided into four parts: "Why Diets Fail You," "Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle," "How To Reach your Leanest Livable Weight," and "Your Weight is Really Not the Point." In the book, Mann argues three things: diets do not work, dieting is bad for your health, being obese does not shorten your life.

The first subject she tackles is that diets do not work. Essentially, she argues that "there are two problems with saying these diets work: people don't lose enough weight, and they don't keep it off" (4). She argues that there is a huge discrepancy between how any (sane) person would define success, and, how the diet industry defines success. Sure, diets work if you lower the standards and measures of success enough. For example, a diet is "successful" if the dieter loses 5% of their body weight (their starting weight) and keeps it off three to six months. Does that sound like success to you? Say you weigh 250 pounds. Would losing 12 pounds and keeping it off three to six months...before gaining ten to fifteen pounds back...be your idea of success?

She spends some time discussing dieters expectations, how dieters themselves define success. She presents research from a study--not her own--that look at various weight goals: "Ideal weight," "dream weight," "goal weight," "acceptable weight," and "disappointed weight." Ideal weight is a now out-dated concept of a chart at the doctor's office telling you what you should weigh based on your gender, your height, your frame. Dream weight is self explanatory, I think! "Acceptable weight" is not their goal weight, where they really want to weigh at the end of their diet, but, it's a weight they could come to terms with being. "Disappointed weight" was defined as being less than their starting point, but, not enough to view as successful in any way. The study reveals that 47% fail to reach their disappointed weight. 20% reach their disappointed weight. 24% reach their acceptable weight. 9% reach their goal weight. I think you'll agree that there is a big discrepancy in how people selling diets define success and how people buying diets define success.

She spends equal amount of time talking about regaining weight lost during dieting. She writes, "the fact that diets don't lead to long-term weight loss isn't new to diet researchers. In 1991 researchers stated that "it is only the rate of weight regain, not the fact of weight regain that appears open to debate" (15).

One of her chapters focus on WHY diets don't work. She discusses our almost inescapable environment, our biology, and our psychology. One thing she mentions is that while you know you are on a diet, and, there is a purpose to your actions, your body itself doesn't. It thinks you are starving and goes into survival mode, making it increasingly difficult to lose weight and oh-so-easy to gain weight. But. It isn't just a matter of "survival." She talks genes. She writes that 70% of our weight is determined by our genes. There is nothing we can do with that 70% we've inherited. We may have some say on the remaining 30% of variables. You cannot make yourself fatter than your genes think you should be--and sustain it--and you cannot make yourself thinner than your genes think you should be--and sustain it. Every person has a set range--of about thirty or perhaps forty pounds--of what they can weigh naturally, comfortably without effort or stress.

In addition to going into survival mode, our body can turn our hormones--did you know that fat cells play a large role in producing the body's hormones?--against us.

And then there's metabolism. She writes, "When you lose weight, even if starvation has no effect on your metabolism, your body will still burn fewer calories, simply because it is now a smaller body to run. This means that the number of calories you ate to lose weight eventually become too many calories to eat if you want to keep losing weight." (23) Essentially, "A person who loses weight to reach 150 pounds, for example, is not the same physiologically, as a person who normally weighs 150 pounds. To maintain 150 pounds after dieting down to that weight, dieters must eat fewer calories per day than people who were 150 pounds all along (not to mention fewer calories per day than they ate to get to that weight) or else they will gain weight" (24).

She also looks at stress. That shouldn't come as a surprise--that stress makes you gain weight, and, that all diets involve a good amount of unavoidable stress.

She next turns to self-control or will power. And debunking the myth that the way to best control weight is to use will power.

In the second part of her book, Mann focuses on several things. First, that diets are in fact bad for your overall physical health. They leave you in worse shape than you were originally--in terms of health, not exactly appearances. Second, that one's health is not a matter of how much or how little one weighs. There are a lot of factors and variables in being healthy. One's weight is just a small factor, and, not the most important factor. She acknowledges--at some point--that unless you're in the 6% that qualify as Obese Class III--you are not at any more risk for a shortened lifespan than a normal weight person. Being stressed is bad for your health. Smoking is bad for your health. Being inactive is bad for your health. You can be healthy and overweight. If you're active and overweight. If you're an active, nonsmoker who is overweight. Third, diets aren't just bad for you physically. Diets are also bad for your mental and emotional health. Perhaps IF and only IF diets were successful--you could lose the weight AND keep it off forever, it would be "worth" doing for your health. But since 95% of diets end in you weighing more (and more and more and more and more) than when you first went on the diet, you'd be better off not dieting. (Consider how many people have dieted by the time they're in high school. People spend decades of their life dieting. Each diet that fails ends up harming your body, your health.)

The third part of the book focuses on smart regulation principles for helping readers reach their own leanest livable weight. There are twelve strategies in all shared through five chapters. I'll share just a few to give you an idea of what to expect:
  • Encounter Less Temptation By Creating Obstacles
  • Make Healthy Foods More Accessible and Noticeable
  • Be Alone With A Vegetable
  • Eat with Healthy Eaters
  • Don't Eat Healthy Food Because It's "Healthy"
  • Turn Healthy Choices Into Habits
  • Don't Eat Unhealthy Food For Comfort
The fourth and final part of this one focuses on being okay with your body AND striving to be healthy with the body you have. Part of being healthy is to be as active as possible, to make exercise a part of your daily routine. Her message is not exercise to lose weight and lose weight so you become model-thin. Her message is that exercise is good for your health: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and, PHYSICALLY. Even if you don't lose a pound, exercise is worth doing. Don't equate exercise with reaching your dream weight or goal weight. Focus on health for health's sake. She shares three reasons why everyone--no matter their weight or shape--should exercise. She writes, "Exercise prevents death. Not forever, of course, but it does increase your life span" (170).

I personally would have loved it if Mann's book had included research on gut flora--or microbiomes--as to how it relates to health and weight. I do believe--strongly believe--that a happy gut is the key to health and happiness. And when your bad "buggies" outnumber your "good buggies" then your weight is definitely effected! The gut rules your brain, essentially--in terms of *what* you eat and *how* you feel. I'd love to read a book--or article--discussing what this might mean--or does mean--in terms of sustainability. If your body no longer "craves" and feels "hungry" are you more likely to keep the weight off? You might not ever be model-thin. But could a healthy gut keep you from regaining the weight you lost?


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Best Friends for Frances

Best Friends for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1969/1994. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was a fine summer morning, so Frances took out her bat and ball. "Will you play ball with me?" said her little sister, Gloria. "No," said Frances. "You are too little." Gloria sat down and cried. Frances walked over to her friend Albert's house, singing a song: Sisters that are much too small To throw or catch or bat a ball Are really not much good at all, Except for crying.

Premise/plot: It was easy for Frances to dismiss Gloria as an unworthy playmate, but when Albert (and later Harold) dismiss Frances, well, Frances learns that sometimes a sister can be a friend--a best friend. It's summer and Frances loves to play with her friends. One day Albert rejects Frances because it's his "wandering" day. And the next day, Albert and Harold reject Frances because she's a girl, and girls can't play baseball as well as boys. But Frances is not to be stopped. Even if it means playing with her little sister, she'll show Albert what is what! If Albert wants a no-girls-allowed club, then she'll start a no-boys-allowed club.
"Do you want to play ball?"
"All right," said Gloria.
"If any boys come, they can't play," said Frances, "and I think I will be your friend now."
"How can a sister be a friend?" said Gloria.
"You'll see," said Frances.
"For frogs and ball and dolls?"
"Yes," said Frances.
"And will you show me how to print my name?" said Gloria.
"Yes," said Frances.
"Then you will be my best friend," said Gloria. "Will it just be today, or longer?"
"Longer," said Frances. (20-21)
My thoughts: I do like this one. But Frances isn't always nice in this one. Then again neither is Albert. Or Harold. The only one that is nice all the time is Gloria.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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