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1. Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain

Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peppa and George wake up one day and look out the window. IT'S SNOWING! Hurrah! They can't wait to go outside.

Premise/plot: Peppa Pig and her family (Mummy, Daddy, and George) spend a LOVELY day on Snowy Mountain skiing, skating, and sledding. Adventures and misadventures are had by all. Many characters are there on the mountain too. (For example, Madame Gazelle, Miss Rabbit, etc.)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. If you have seen an episode or two of the television series you know exactly what kind of comedy to expect. Peppa sings a song. Mummy and Daddy pig end up covered in snow. And there's a lot of laughing. For example, when Peppa and George want to sled down the mountain but don't have a sled, Peppa decides that DADDY PIG makes a good sled. Away they go.

Overall, this one is worth the read IF you already love Peppa Pig.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. How Many Sleeps Til Christmas

How Many Sleeps 'Til Christmas? Mark Sperring. Illustrated by Sebastien Braun. 2014. Tiger Tales. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One winter morning, before the sun had even woken, Little Pip climbed out of bed, padded across the floor, and "PSSST!" gave Daddy Grizzle a gentle nudge....

Premise/plot: Little Pip is a young cub who is so super-excited about it being almost-Christmas that he wakes his dad (Daddy Grizzle) up every morning convinced that Christmas is HERE at last. Every day, Daddy Grizzle tells him how many "whole sleeps" until Christmas. They are able to fill their days with fun and exciting Christmas-y activities.

My thoughts: I found this one ADORABLE. In part, perhaps, because of the illustrations by Sebastien Braun, but also because of the super-fun-and-adorable twist at the end of the book!!! True, I'm not sure that bears actually celebrate Christmas. But Little Pip and Daddy Grizzle are just adorable together. Love the enthusiasm and joy this one conveys throughout.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This prologue is brought to you by E Pluribus Hangman.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale shares with the British soldier (Provost) and hangman a story of when England and America will no longer be fighting each other but best friends and allies. This graphic novel is about World War I. It selectively, yet descriptively, tells of the war, year by year. It is action-packed, and yet one knows it's not exhaustive in its coverage.

Each country mentioned (both those fighting and those holding onto their neutral status) gets an animal assigned to it. So most of the illustrations are of animals at war with one another. Serbia is a Wolf. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a Griffin. Russia is a Bear. Germany is an Eagle. France is a Gallic Rooster. Belgium is a Lion. England is a Bulldog (since Lion was already taken). America is a Bunny (since Eagle is already taken). Australia is a Kangaroo. Canada is a Beaver. New Zealand is a Kiwi. India is a Tiger. Ottoman Empire is an Otter. Japan is a Raccoon Dog. Those are the countries I can remember.

World War I is a complex subject, there is a lot to digest. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books written by adults for adults seeking to explain the war and exhaustively cover every battle, every victory, every loss. So it is an ambitious project to condense the war into a middle grade graphic novel.
Nathan Hale: War is built and controlled by human hands--humans start it, humans stop it.
Hangman: Then WHY DIDN'T THEY STOP IT EARLIER--BEFORE IT KILLED EVERYBODY?! WHY DID THEY LET IT OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE!? THEY SHOULD LOCK IT UP AND NEVER EVER LET IT OUT!!!
Provost: Calm down, Hangman! There are times when war is a necessity. Tell him it is so, Captain Hale.
Nathan Hale: I'm not here to judge which wars were necessary and which wars weren't. I just tell the story. World War I is best summed up by those who experienced it.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. ~ John Steinbeck
My thoughts: I really thought this book was well done. Yes, it's a bit text heavy. Yes, there is a LOT of information packed into it, perhaps too much information to actually absorb and digest. But it's well-crafted and well-organized. I'm impressed by how Nathan Hale (the author) was able to break down all the information and present it in such a concise way. War is never glorified, yes, the Provost and Hangman sometimes get carried away with BATTLES, but, by the end, Nathan Hale (the spy) has moved them both with his story.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel. Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. 2014. Toon. 54 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother's time, or in her grandfather's. A long time ago. Back then, we all lived on the edge of the great forest.

Premise/plot: The book is an illustrated retelling of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. It isn't a picture book necessarily. Nor is it a graphic novel. Every two pages of text is followed by two pages of illustration. The illustrations are black and white and are by Lorenzo Mattotti.

My thoughts: Hansel and Gretel isn't one of my favorite fairy tales to begin with, so my expectations were not very high. I wasn't disappointed perhaps because my expectations were realistic. I was surprised by how much I liked the illustrations. They are dark but expressive. This retelling by Gaiman isn't new and unique and full of extra-special clever twists and turns. It is traditional for the most part.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Another Day As Emily

Another Day as Emily. Eileen Spinelli. 2014. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Mrs. Harden nearly died today.

Premise/plot: Suzy, the heroine, becomes jealous of her younger brother, Parker, when he saves Mrs. Harden's life by calling 911 and becoming the town's "little hero." The situation continues perhaps because Suzy's mom can't resist supporting, encouraging, enabling the hero-complex--cape and all. Suzy's friend, Alison, is good for her, for the most part. But Alison doesn't love to read, and, doesn't really enjoy going to the library for tween-time. Suzy, likewise, doesn't really want to be an actor and audition for a play--but she does anyway. So--perhaps unrealistically--the library's tween program meets weekly (or even several times a week?) and has a theme of the 1800s. This library program has homework too. And not even reading club type homework--reading and discussing the same book. Suzy's project is Emily Dickinson. And in light of failure--as she sees it, she did not get a part in the play--she decides to become a recluse for the summer. She only wants to be called Emily; she only wants to dress in white; she will no longer do technology. This phase is worrying to her parents and friends. Will Suzy ever want to be Suzy again?

My thoughts: Out of all the elements in this one, I think I like her friendship with Gilbert best. Though that isn't quite fair. I also like Mrs. Harden very much. This verse novel is a quick read. Suzy's emotions are up, down, and all over the place. She just doesn't feel comfortable in her own skin most of the time. That part is certainly easy to relate to, I think, for readers of the right age. I don't necessarily "like" verse novels. But at least verse novels are quick reads.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Five Children on the Western Front

Five Children on the Western Front. Kate Saunders. 2014. 318 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The sand at the bottom of the gravel pit shifted and heaved, and out popped the furry brown head of a most extraordinary creature.

Premise/plot: For any reader who has read Five Children And It by E. Nesbit (and its sequels) will want to consider picking up Kate Saunders' Five Children on the Western Front. The book opens in 1914 with the oldest, Cyril, heading off to the Great War. Robert, Anthea, and Jane are grown up as well--mostly. Old enough to be away to school for their final years of education at least! Still at home are Lamb (aka Hilary) and Edie (Edith). On this life-changing day, Edie and Lamb discover (again) the Psammead. Lamb has no memory of the adventures his older siblings had, though he has grown up hearing all about the magic. There is a very happy reunion of sorts. If his being cranky and sarcastic doesn't take away the children's happiness. Soon, however, they realize that something is very wrong. He lacks strength and magical power. He has even lost the ability to be invisible. Edie, his primary companion, makes it her mission to get the answers he needs.

This mission takes most of them to London to visit Old Nurse and their friend the Professor. The Professor has a new, young assistant Ernie Haywood, a soldier who has returned home because of injuries. Anthea is quite smitten!

The book covers the war years.

My thoughts: Wow! Not disappointed at all. Not even a little bit! Loved Edie, the heroine, and loved the "humbling" of "Sammy." It was wonderful to spend time with the Pemberton family yet again. If there is a flaw, it is that we still don't really get to know the parents. Is that a flaw? Perhaps. I personally just loved the kids so much, I didn't care. I think readers are in on the secret--the magic--and the parents aren't and never will be.

Is the book sad? Yes in the same way that Rilla of Ingleside is sad and happy at the same time. In fact, that is the only book that really comes to mind. Both books star characters from series that readers would have grown up reading and loving. Both books cross into the ugliness of war, interrupting a blissful innocence. L. M. Montgomery was brave in that she tackled the subject herself so very soon after the war ended. E. Nesbit was older, and most of books were published before the war. Saunders did a splendid job with this sequel.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Seuss on Saturday #52

Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories. Dr. Seuss. 2014. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories contains "Horton and the Kwuggerbug," "Marco Comes Late," "How Officer Pat Saved The Whole Town," and "The Hoobub and the Grinch." These stories were published, I believe, in magazines throughout the 1950s.

Horton and the Kwuggerbug
First sentence:
It happened last May, on a very nice day
While the Elephant Horton was walking they say,
Just minding his business...just going his way...
When a Kwuggerbug dropped from a tree with a plunk
And landed on Horton the Elephant's trunk!
Premise/plot: Horton makes a deal with the Kwuggerbug, but, it's a deal that he comes to regret making because the Kwuggerbug isn't exactly honest and fair. The deal is this: The Kwuggerbug will give Horton half the nuts off the Beezelenut tree, if Horton will carry him to the tree on his trunk. But a deal is a deal, right? Will justice be done?

My thoughts: This is the "second" Horton story. It was published in 1951 in Redbook several years before Horton Hears a Who. Horton is just as LOVABLE as always. I love, love, love Horton as a character. And this one is just as great as Horton Hatches the Egg and Horton Hears a Who! Definitely not as well known perhaps. But if it had been published as a book in the 1950s, no doubt in my mind that it would be just as beloved.

Marco Comes Late
First sentence:
 "Young man!" said Miss Block. "It's eleven o'clock! This school begins promptly at eight-forty-five. Why this is a terrible time to arrive!"
Premise/plot: Marco Comes Late is the sequel to And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. "Something" is happening on Mulberry Street once again, and this time it's on his way TO school.

My thoughts: This is a much shorter adventure for Marco. But I liked it. I don't think it would have been "enough" for a book of its own perhaps. But it isn't a disappointment either. It was originally published in 1950.

How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town
First sentence:
The job of an Officer of the Police
Is watching for trouble and keeping the peace.
He has to be sharp and he has to be smart
And try to stop trouble before it can start.
Premise/plot: This little story is all about TROUBLE and how it can start out small but grows and grows. That's what the "moral" of it is, I suppose. But it is GREAT fun in the telling. And it's set on Mulberry Street.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town. This story also appeared in Redbook in 1950. Seuss signed a contract to have Officer Pat published as a book, but it was later replaced in the contract with the publisher with Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Here's one little bit from the story:
The trouble with trouble is...trouble will spread. The yowl of that cat will wake Tom, Tim, and Ted, Those terrible triplets of Mrs. McGown. Then they'll yowl a yowl that'll wake this whole town. When trouble gets started, it always starts more! Those kids with their racket and ruckus and roar will frighten the bird, and the birds will come flapping down Mulberry Street with a yipping and yapping!
The Hoobub and the Grinch
First sentence:
The Hoobub was lying outdoors in the sun,
The wonderful, wonderful warm summer sun.
"There's nothing," he said, "quite as good as the sun!"
Then up walked a Grinch with a piece of green string.
"How much," asked the Grinch, "will you pay for this thing?"
Premise/plot: The Grinch is trying to sell the Hoobub a piece of string....will the Hoobub be deceived by the Grinch's clever use of words?

My thoughts: It may be short--just TWO PAGES. But don't underestimate it's cleverness. Not that I love, love, love it. But it worked for me!

Have you read Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

What Pet Should I Get? Dr. Seuss. 2015. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
We want a pet.
We want a pet.
What kind of pet
should we get?
Premise/plot: Siblings--a boy and a girl--have trouble deciding which pet to get. Their parents said, "yes" to one pet, but, not to two, or, three, or four. The problem? The kids have only to see an animal in the pet store, and, then they WANT it. This book is all about having to make up your mind...

My thoughts: I liked it. I didn't love, love, love it. But I liked it. It ends with the reader not knowing what pet they finally picked. I'm not sure I like the mystery ending. Is it wrong that I almost preferred the notes from the publisher to the actual text?! I found the notes from the publisher to be fascinating. In particular,
Dr. Seuss's first "pet" was a brown stuffed toy dog given to him by his mother. Ted--whose real name was Theodore Seuss Geisel--named it Theophrastus. Ted would keep Theophrastus for the rest of his life. The dog was often perched near his drawing board. In 1991, just days before his death at the age of eighty-seven, Ted gave Theophrastus to his stepdaughter Lea Grey. "You will take care of the dog, won't you?" he asked her.
Have you read What Pet Should I Get? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

I'll be posting a list of my TOP TEN books by Dr. Seuss later this week.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Review: How It Went Down

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Henry Holt. 2014. Review copy.


How It Went DownThe Plot: Tariq Johnson, sixteen, dies from two gunshots fired by by Jack Franklin. Tariq is black; Jack is white.

There are many people who know Tariq, who know Jack. Who saw them before the shooting and after. Each has a their own story to tell, about what they know.

The Good: There is an old saying, that for every two people there are three sides to their story. Their versions, and the truth.

The problem, of course, is figuring out what that truth is and is not.

Here, there are those who say that Tariq was just a teen with a chocolate bar. And others who say he had a weapon. And some that say that Jack was justified. And others who say it was murder.

How It Went Down is told in many voices, friends, family, acquaintances. It's the story of Tariq's life and death and the aftermath, but we also find out about the lives of those who in telling Tariq's story tell their own. What I like about these multiple narratives is it doesn't give any answers of what really happened. It's up to the reader to decide who is right -- but the thing is, it's clear that everyone is right. Or, rather, everyone believes that they are right in what they know, what they saw, and what they believed.

And it's not just the shooting of Tariq, and whether or not it's the self defense that Jack claims. It's also whether, as the story unfolds, Jack's claim of self defense is made in part not because of anything that Tariq did or did not do but because Tariq was a black teenager and so Jack assumed and believed things about Tariq. And along with that is how the others react to Jack's claims, including the police who release him. And then the community reaction, because a black teenager is dead and the white shooter is released.

From the start, the reader knows that Tariq is dead. Knowing that doesn't lessen the impact of this death, or feeling the sorrow and grief of his family and friends. It does make one wish "if only, if only." And while this will be a good book discussion book because it allows for the readers to say what they believe happened, it's also a good book discussion book because it allows the reader to take a closer look at their own beliefs. Who do they believe? And why?

How does one's own perspective influence their memory? What they see? And what they believe?








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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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9. 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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10. 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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11. How To Be A Pirate

How to Be a Pirate. Sue Fliess. Illustrated by Nikki Dyson. 2014. Golden Books. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Ahoy, landlubber! Come with me. Board me ship upon the sea! Not a pirate? Don't know how? Ye can learn to be one now! Come in closer--I don't bite. A pirate ye shall be tonight!

Premise/plot: The title says it all, this book "teaches" how to be a pirate.

My thoughts: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. I like the rhythm and the rhyme of it. It gets that part right at least!!! The plot is simple enough, and, in a way it's predictable enough. There is just something joyful and fun about this one.
Rules for pirates?
Let's just say...
ye can throw all the rules away!
No more toothpaste!
Farewell, bath!
once ye choose the pirate path.
Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Diamond Mystery

Diamond Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #1). Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The streets were empty in the little town of Pleasant Valley.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are classmates and friends who have opened a detective agency out of Maya's basement. They live in the small, quaint town of Pleasant Valley. The book opens with Mohammed Caret hiring these two child detectives to find out who is stealing diamonds from his shop. Their cover will be that he has hired these two children to do some light cleaning and run a few errands for him. They meet the three employees that work for him. And after a day of close observation, they are ready to solve the case.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. It's an early chapter book. I'd say just about right for second graders. It's the first in a mystery series for children. It has been translated into English from the Swedish.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Hotel Mystery

The Hotel Mystery. (Whodunit Detective Agency #2) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Every year, on the day before Christmas Eve, nearly everyone in the little town of Pleasant Valley does the same thing: They all head to the holiday buffet at the town's hotel, where they find turkey, ham, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes and gravy, all served on big platters in the beautiful dining room.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are friends and classmates who formed the Whodunit Detective Agency. Over Christmas vacation, these two are working at the town's hotel. (Jerry's uncle works there.) The hotel is in great excitement because the hotel's best and most expensive suite has been rented out to a family, the Braeburn family. Making the new guests HAPPY is to be their top priority. But their stay is not uneventful, and before the book ends, Jerry and Maya will need to solve a crime.

My thoughts: This is the second book in the Whodunit Detective Agency series. It is an early chapter book with a lot of colorful illustrations. These mysteries are simple and straightforward. The characters aren't exactly complex and intriguing. But. I think for the intended age group, these mysteries are fine reading material.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2014. Candlewick. 383 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. I did. (I didn't expect to 'love' it. I didn't know a lot about it going into it, hadn't read a thousand gushing reviews or anything. I would rather be surprised by how good a book is than be disappointed in how bad it is. So my thinking: always try to keep expectations moderately low.)

What you should know: 1) It is YA speculative fiction. I'd say somewhere between dystopian and post-apocalyptic. Post-apocalyptic because it is set hundreds of years after 'the reckoning' that almost destroyed the planet and wiped out humanity. Dystopian because of the ordered--often cruel--society or government that has restructured the world. So if you like or love either genre, then you should pick this one up. 2) It is complex--purposefully, strategically structured to keep you always guessing and a bit unsure. Some people love this, I think; some people don't. I enjoyed it very much! 3) The premise is simple perhaps to make up for the complex storytelling and intense plot. The premise? Well, some people are born with special powers or abilities. These abilities manifest themselves over time, so, you essentially grow into your power/ability. Strength (intensity/power) and control (ability to direct, use at will) vary from person to person. These people are labeled 'illegal' and are targeted by the government. 4) The book is about the conflict between Illegals and the Powers That Be. Questioning Authority and Being True To Yourself are some of the themes explored. 5) I love the world-building. Not everything is explained upfront, and, I love that about it. I don't think everything should be revealed from page one. I like the mystery and suspense and the gradual unfolding of how things are as you orient yourself to Ashala's world. It almost is better because it is slow and gradual. 6) The characterization. Like the world-building, characters aren't nicely introduced in a telling, usual way.

Ashala Wolf is one of the leaders of the tribe, a group of Illegals living in the Firstwood, living on their own as far away from society as they can get. Firstwood is a unique, fantastical setting. I never quite pictured or imagined it fully, but, that didn't stop me from loving this one. It didn't feel "less real" because of that. It almost felt "more real." In the opening chapter, readers learn that she has been captured, perhaps even betrayed by the boy, the young man, that she can't help being drawn to. She's essentially a prisoner at a detention camp, and, because she's a leader, and a defiant leader at that, she most likely is facing torture.

Actually, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf reminded me of first season Alias. There's intensity, action, and confusion all at the same time. I could just as easily compare it to LOST or Once Upon A Time. You may not know everything you want to know, but, you know just enough to know you want more, more, MORE.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever Afterby Stephanie Perkins. Dutton Books for Young Readers. 2014. Library copy.

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterThe Plot: Isla is starting her senior year at her boarding school in France. She's had a crush on Josh for ages and ages, but he didn't even seem to know she was alive. (Considering how small her school is, that seems impossible.... and yet.)

But this year... this year may be different. Isla may be getting her happily ever after.

The Good: ajdlkjas;djs;ldjf;sd

That's not a type.

Yes, this came out last year, but I was saving it. Saving it for when I needed it.

And oh, I'm so glad I did. This is a companion to Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door; it's a true stand alone. I confess, I remembered Josh from Anna; but I didn't remember Isla at all. I need to reread....

I also need to go to Paris, right away. Like, yesterday. So any advice on super cheap airfare, and super cheap yet still nice places to stay?

Oh, right, topic. So Isla. Isla is a middle daughter, a good girl, a top student. She has one best friend. And she's been in love with Josh for ages. Even though he's a slacker, and doesn't seem to care about the rules, and had a really, really serious girlfriend the previous year.

And what is beautiful and wonderful about Isla and the Happily Ever After is that it's about Josh and Isla seeing each other and falling in love.... In Paris. I'm so jealous I could spit.

He's a bit of the bad boy to her good girl, or at least that's how some see them. But really, he's the boy who isn't sure he even wants to be there, and she's the girl who does as expected. So he gets detentions and she gets As. And the main tension I felt, as this sweet, wonderful, love story unfolded is the fear of just what Perkins was going to do, what was going to be the problem that stopped Isla from getting her "happily ever after."

I feel compelled to say the next thing because it was a fear I had (and I'd avoided spoilers so...): NO ONE DIES. And there is something which separates these two, something out of their control. And what does one do, when there is a barrier to one's happily ever after? Do you go over, under, around...or do you quit?

Bonus: because this is at the same school as Anna, and Josh was friends with Anna and Etienne, there are a ton of references to them. And a couple, also, to Lola. And when Anne and Etienne do show up, just, sigh. Lovely. A wonderful end to the book and to the series.

Also? I really liked Isla's approach to sex, a mix of common sense and love.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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16. The Crossover (2014)

The Crossover. Kwame Alexander. 2014. HMH. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First, I owe this book an apology. I've been purposefully avoiding it, despite it winning a Newbery, simply because it was about basketball. You see, I don't necessarily "like" reading sports books. I wasn't trusting enough, perhaps, that a book could be about basketball and so much more than basketball at the same time.

The Crossover is an award-winning verse novel starring Josh Bell (aka, Filthy McNasty) and his family. Josh and his brother Jordan (aka, JB) both play basketball. Their father, at one time, played professional basketball. But an injury ended all that, and now his focus, his full-time focus, is on his boys, his family. Their mother's almost full-time focus is on the health of her husband who absolutely refuses to go to the doctor. Though, of course, she loves watching her sons play basketball too.

The novel has its ups and downs...especially for Josh. Things are changing, always changing, and he doesn't like it. His brother is distancing himself from the family, from him, and even from the game itself at times, because he's head over heels in love with 'the new girl.' The more besotted his brother becomes, the more disgruntled Josh becomes. And Josh's choices, well, they aren't perfectly good and right. (Whose are?) Still, the two brothers will be tested as never before when their mother's fears prove correct...

I wasn't expecting such an emotional journey. But that's exactly what I got. This one has depth and substance to it. The characterization was very well done. And the narrative verse worked really well.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Are You My Mommy?

Board Book: Are You My Mommy? Joyce Wan. 2014 [December] Scholastic. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mommy! Mommy! Where is my mommy? Are you my mommy? No, I'm a chicken and my baby is a...chick!

Premise/plot: A baby bunny goes in search of his (or her) mommy. The search takes place on the farm, of course, and the bunny will encounter several different animals before finally finding MOMMY.

My thoughts: I like this one. I don't love, love, love it. But I like it. There is just something charming about Wan's illustrations. I like the die-cuts on the pages which provide some clues for little ones.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Ship of Dolls (2014)

Ship of Dolls. Shirley Parenteau. 2014. Candlewick. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Did I enjoy reading Shirley Parenteau's Ship of Dolls? Yes! I adore historical fiction, and this one was a satisfying read.

Lexie Lewis is living with her grandparents (paternal grandparents) in Portland, Oregon. She wishes she was still living with her mother, but, her mother has remarried; that in addition to their big dreams of show business makes it inconvenient to have Lexie with them. The novel is set circa 1926 and 1927.

Lexie's school is participating in the Friendship Doll Exchange with Japan. Lexie is very involved in this. She longs to be able to touch the doll, hold the doll. But, of course, this isn't allowed. The teacher can't let her students play with the doll that is to be sent to Japan later that year. When Lexie breaks a rule, she is "punished" by her teacher. (Does the teacher really view this as punishment, or is she sympathetic to young Lexie?) Her punishment is that she has to sew an outfit for the doll to pack in her trunk. True Lexie can't sew and she's never made a pattern before, but, Lexie will get to be more involved with the doll than her classmates. For anyone who sews knows that you have to take measurements and try on the garment(s) throughout the process.

In addition to being about the doll exchange, the novel is very much a coming-of-age story focused on family, friendship, longing and belonging.

Lexie learns early on in the novel that whoever writes the best letter (for the assignment) gets to travel with the doll to San Francisco. She MUST win. Not because she's obsessed with the doll. But because her mother now lives there and if she wins she could spend some time with her...

I enjoyed spending time with Lexie. But I also enjoyed spending time with her grandparents. I really did. This one was definitely a character-driven novel. It is relatively slow-paced.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Duck in the Fridge

Duck in the Fridge. Jeff Mack. 2014. Two Lions. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Daddy, why do you always read me Mother Goose before bed?" "Well...it all started when I found a duck in the fridge."

Premise/plot: A young boy asks his dad, WHY, he always reads him Mother Goose every night before bed. Readers probably may not be expecting the explanation they get. Though the title itself is a good indication that the story may just get a little WILD. I won't say too much more because really this too-wild-to-be-believed explanation is more than half the fun of this one.

My thoughts: Did I like it? Yes and no. I'm not sure. Do I have to decide now?! Well, let's see. I liked seeing the dad as a little boy himself. And it was something to see how the story goes from slightly strange to completely BIZARRE in just a few pages. This is a pun-filled book, for better or worse. And it had its gloriously fun moments. I think this one is best shared one-on-one with a child. The text can get a bit busy, same with the art. But it was a spirited, quirky read. Did I like it? I'm still not sure!

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Meet Veronica Walsh

All Things Murder. Jeanne Quigley. 2014. 411 pages. [Source: Library]


Did I enjoy Jeanne Quigley's All Things Murder? Yes, for the most part!

Veronica Walsh is the heroine and amateur-detective in All Things Murder. Before Walsh lost her job--on a soap opera, the soap was CANCELED and replaced with a talk show about FOOD--she was happy and successful and doing exactly what she wanted. Life was GOOD. Everything was just-right. True, she never found 'true love' and married. But her character had SIX HUSBANDS. So she never really felt she was missing out all that much. Between her character, Rachel, and herself, she'd pretty much experienced all that life has to offer--good and bad. But she begins to feel lost AND OLD within a few weeks of being out of work. So she heads to her hometown, and considers restarting her life there.

What she finds is that she did NOT leave the drama behind. For soon after her arrival in town, her next-door neighbor is murdered. And she is the one who finds the body. She didn't know her well, but, just in the few days before her neighbor's murder (Anna is the victim's name), Veronica witnessed PLENTY of drama. Without anyone spilling anymore gossip, Veronica already has a handful of suspects: people with motive and/or opportunity to have killed Anna...

Like many cozy mysteries, this one mixes in a little bit of romance. (The romance didn't overshadow the mystery, in my opinion.)

I like this one. It is a light read, not that heavy or complex. It was fun too. I liked meeting all the people who lived in the town. Some characters were quite interesting, and, I'd like to see more of them in the future.

Overall, I liked this one. If the second one was available, I'd want to read it!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Review: Of Monsters and Madness

Of Monsters & Madness by Jessica Verday. Egmont USA. 2014.



The Plot: It's 1824 and Annabel Lee, 17, has moved to her father's death following her mother's death. The world of Philadelphia, and her role of daughter of a doctor, is very different from a childhood spent in Siam. She lacks the freedom she had there.

There are secrets in her father's house -- including her father's two assistants, handsome Allan and cruel Edgar. Including her father's scientific experiments.

And there are the gruesome murders....

The Good: I'll be honest: I read Of Monsters and Madness about a year ago, when it first came out, enjoyed it, but just didn't get around to writing anything up.

Then I saw the movie Crimson Peak (review tomorrow) and began to wonder about possible read-a-likes for teens who may go see the movie and want a taste of Gothic horror and romance. And I remembered Of Monsters and Madness.

The setting, early nineteenth century Philadelphia, is wonderfully shown; Annabel is a strong young woman who has been raised away from her father and his family. She wants to connect with them and please them, but her desire for independence and to pursue studying is at odds with their perceptions of what a proper young lady is. Plus, Edgar Allen Poe as a hot young man!

And plus there are references / homages to works by Poe as well as other writers. So this can lead to wanting to read more Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and Oscar Wilde.

Of Monsters and Madness was published by Egmont USA, which, sadly, no longer exists. So when I went to the author's website to write this post, I was very pleased to learn a few things: first, that it's available on Kindle; second, that for a limited time it is $1.99; and third, that Verday has included the sequel, Of Phantoms and Fury, in the Kindle edition so you are getting two books for one.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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22. Katie's London Christmas

Katie's London Christmas. James Mayhew. 2014. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was Christmas Eve, and Katie and Jack were fast asleep at Grandma's house.

Premise/plot: Katie and her brother help Father Christmas deliver presents in and around London. They are helping because Father Christmas has a horrid cold. Readers are along for the journey, and thereby learn a little bit about places to go and see in London.

My thoughts: I liked this one well enough. I didn't love it. I didn't find it oh-so-charming. But I liked it. I have a vague memory of meeting Katie in other picture books. That is one reason why I checked out this new book. But I seem to remember liking the other Katie books better. Perhaps if your child really enjoys the author's other books, then this one would be a good match.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. The Scorpion Rules: Review + Erin Bow dinner + giveaway

You get two for the price of one today–Layla has a review of The Scorpion Rules for you, and Wendy has a giveaway + recap of the Erin Bow event she attended awhile back! Review: I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I have been in the middle of a fairly severe reading slump (and am also reading nonstop for my dissertation, so you know, take that into account, too) and The Scorpion Rules is one of the few books that have successfully broken through the haze of grumpiness I’ve been in for the last few months. But The Scorpion Rules really worked for me. From what I can tell, though, it seems like it’s been a fairly divisive read – you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Luckily for me, I am firmly on Team Scorpion Rules (and Team Talis!). If you like dark humor, morally ambiguous AIs,... Read more »

The post The Scorpion Rules: Review + Erin Bow dinner + giveaway appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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24. Review: The Kiss of Deception

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles) by Mary E. Pearson. Henry Holt & Co. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Kiss of DeceptionThe Plot: Princess Lia runs away from an arranged political marriage.

She finds a small village to live in, finds a job and a place to live, and embraces her non-royal life.

Two men are following her: one, the jilted prince. The other, an assassin.

The Good: I'm sorry to say that I read this over a year ago, should have blogged it then, but didn't. But I loved it so much I didn't want to just say "oh, too late now."

Lia does something selfish, by running away and abandoning her obligations to family and country. But so what? Seriously. Lia isn't asking for much -- she has no say in her future, her spouse, no choice at all. All her choices have been taken away from her. So she runs. So she needs time to figure out who she is and what she wants. She needs time.

Meanwhile, there are the two following her: one, a prince who is upset about her leaving and who recognizes that the marriage is of political necessity. The other, an assassin loyal to his own and whose job is to make sure that political marriage doesn't happen. Here's the thing: while the reader knows one is a prince, one is an assassin, the reader doesn't know which of the young men we're reading about is which.

Is Lia falling for a prince or her killer? Is the prince or the assassin falling for her? I kept on going back and forth with my guess.

What else does this have? Twists! Adventures! Turns! Questions! Cliffhangers! Romance! Secrets! Betrayals! Death!

And yes..this means it's a Favorite Book of 2015.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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25. Review: The Great Greene Heist

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. Review from library copy.

Great Greene Heist, TheThe Plot: Jackson Green has a reputation for cons and schemes, like his brother and grandfather before him. His father has taken the family talent to work on the side of good. But after getting caught in the principal's office, kissing a girl -- well.

That's all behind him. Eighth grade will be different.

Until he finds out that the Gaby de la Cruz, the girl he likes, is running for school president. And that the election may be rigged -- against her. And that the person running against her may be doing it to get rid of most of the school clubs.

What's a guy to do?

Oh, and the girl he was caught kssing? Wasn't Gaby.

The Good: I love a good con! Movies like Ocean's 11 and TV shows like Leverage, and book series like Heist Society.

The Great Greene Heist is set in middle school, and at it's heart the interests of Jackson and his friends (and enemies) are those of other eighth graders: school elections, clubs, friends, family. It's familiar, in the best possible way.

One thing that makes a good con story, for me, at least, is that the people pulling off the con are on the side of good. Or, at least, against the bad. Here, Jackson wants Gaby to win the election and it's pretty clear from page one that a, Gaby is the better person, and b, forces are against her to manipulate her opponent winning.

Also, while Jackson has a well-earned reputation, it's also -- well, things done for the greater good. Things done because they are fun. And it's not about cheating - even though the accusation is made. I say that not as a spoiler, but because to me, it matters whether or not Jackson's cons are things like cheating on tests or engaging in illegal acts. Often, it's just about doing things because they are fun, or because it's a clever puzzle, or because Jackson is the type who thinks a few steps ahead of those around him.

Other things that are good: while this is Jackson's story, it's also about an ensemble. He gathers a group of friends around him to pull of his latest caper, and they're a diverse bunch of kids. It's a reflection of the real-life classrooms of the kids who will be reading, and loving, this book.

And yes, it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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