How to Cheat at Everything // by Simon Lovell

A Con Man Reveals the Secrets of the Esoteric Trade of Cheating, Scams, and Hustles

//published 2003//

It’s possible that my love for reading nonfiction on completely random topics was inherited from my dad, who is the same way.  We are always reading books on obscure things and then recommending them to the other.  Dad read How to Cheat at Everything quite a while back and really enjoyed it, and it’s been on my list ever since.  It’s basically a back-stage pass to the world of swindlers.

Lovell sets up the book by introducing us to his friend Freddy the Fox.  Freddy is an expert in the world of scamming, but is now retired (mostly) and is willing to share his tricks and tips to the public, purely to help them avoid getting swindled.  Lovell emphasizes the foolishness (and illegality) of actually trying to perform these cheats yourself, and quite honestly while I think that you could learn and practice a few of things, like some of the bar bets (which also aren’t illegal), overall I doubt reading the instructions in this book would really enable you to learn how to stack a poker deck or load your own dice.

The book is divided into several broad sections:  bar bets, street hustles, fairs/carnivals, cons, cards, dice, and beating the system.  Some sections were more interesting than others.  For instance, I was quite intrigued by how a bunch of the fair games work, but found myself growing bored with descriptions of multiple ways to stack/fake shuffle cards.

The overall premise is sound:  con men consistently play on their victim’s greed.  They will present you with “fail safe” opportunities to turn a profit, be it a bet that seems like you can’t lose, a game that seems so simple, or the promise of a later reward.  Lovell repeated frequently that what will protect you from being a victim is your willingness to walk away from these types of “opportunities.”

It was super interesting to realize how swindlers really work, as far as gently leading their victims into the con with sweet talk.  I really enjoyed the section on the bar bets, which are probably the most harmless of the lot (usually very low money, and people don’t mind losing as much when they get to learn the trick), because not only are they fun, they are really more about the verbal set-up, persuading people that this is just a casual idea that has just popped into mind and convincing them how impossible it would be to, say, predict which side a match is going to land on.

My personal favorite bar bet, which actually made me get out of my chair and grab a tape measure and a glass, is for “Freddy” to casually begin musing as to whether the circumference of a glass or its height is a longer distance – at this point, it’s pretty obvious that it’s the circumference, but this is just the hook.  Pretty soon, Freddy slides a pack of cigarettes under the glass – what about circumference versus the entire height, including the cigarette package?  Basically, Freddy gets his victim hooked by just getting them intrigued about the answer to the question – and by the time there are multiple cigarette packages under the glass, it starts to look obvious that the height has overtaken the circumference… which is when Freddy starts taking bets.  The best part about this one is that there isn’t any trick – it’s just that the circumference of a glass is SO much longer than you think it is!  The pub glass I pulled out of our cabinet is 5 3/4″ high… and 10 1/2″ around!  Another glass I pulled out is less than 5″ tall, but over 11″ in circumference – so twice around as it is tall, which genuinely doesn’t seem possible.  It’s enough to make me want to head down to the pub on Saturday night and see if I can pull in a few extra bucks…

A disadvantage to this book is that it is a smidge dated.  A lot has changed since it was published 15 years ago, and it would be fun to get an expanded edition that talks more about internet scams (which weren’t touched on much in this edition) and doesn’t assume that everyone is carrying around a package of cigarettes (although maybe that’s just a sign of a con man).

Reading this book also really made want to watch The Sting again, as well as several other movies that Lovell mentioned in passing.  I also have a deep love for the Oceans movies (George Clooney <3), so maybe I’ll pull those out again.  These kinds of scams are always a lot more fun when you’re on the inside.

All in all, How to Cheat at Everything is a readable and interesting book that will help make sure that you’re the grumpy person everywhere you go, refusing to jump in on casual poker games, to attempt to win a stuffed animal for your child at the fair, or even to buy a train ticket for that nice old man who reassures you that he will mail you a check as soon as he gets home.  4/5 and recommended.

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June Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes – 3*

//published 2014//

In this P&P variation, the characters from that classic also meet up with the characters from Sense and Sensibility.  This was a book that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t.  It was boring, there wasn’t really any kind of villain, Darcy spent way too much time wandering around being morose, and the whole book was just kind of choppy.  It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.

For those who are interested, there is a more detailed review over on my P&P blog here.

Planting With Perennials by Richard Bird – 3*

//published 2002//

This is a really basic introduction to perennials.  If you literally aren’t even sure what a perennial is, this would be a great place to start.  However, if you’ve worked with them at all, you probably already know most of the information in this book.  There are a lot of photographs and some nice charts.  And since this book doesn’t claim to *be* anything other than an introduction to the topic, I can’t really fault it for being just that.

Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – 3*

//published 2015//

I love a good fake-relationship trope, but I have to admit that this one wasn’t really very good!  While it would have made decent sense for these two people who just met to pretend they were dating, pretending that they were engaged made legit no sense and just created all sorts of unnecessary drama.  I was also confused about why they both acted like they couldn’t make their relationship real…  like… nothing to lose??  You were total strangers a week ago, so even if the other person thinks dating for real is stupid, oh well??  Finally, in the end, they go straight into being really engaged, even though they’ve only known each about three weeks!  What?!

The thing is, despite the fact that this book was thoroughly implausible, I completely enjoyed it!  It was just so innocent and happy.  No sex, no swearing, just purely relaxing and adorable.  I actually really liked the characters a lot, and would have been willing to forgive a lot of the story if they had just started dating in the end (and then an epilogue where they are happily married a year later or something), but leaping straight into being engaged felt ridiculous given the short time frame.

For now, I’m giving the rest of this series a miss, but if I find myself yearning for some quietly innocent romance, I may pick the next one up!

This is Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Child by Fiona Barton – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I recently read and enjoyed The Widow by the same author, so when I saw she had another book with some overlapping characters, I checked it out from the library.  I picked up this book coming off a bit of a slump wherein I basically was reading nothing but terrible P&P variations, so it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found it engaging but not electrifying.  While I wanted to find out how things were going to come together, there was never really any sense of urgency.  There were also some reveals that felt just painfully obvious but took forever to get to.  In many ways, it felt like it didn’t really matter if the mystery was ever solved or not.

The reporter from The Widow, Kate, is the main recurring character, and I liked her even better in this book.  And while it was fun to read this story with the background of The Widow in my mind, this could definitely be read as its own book with no trouble.  All in all, a 3.5* read.  It looks like Barton is going to publish a third book early next year, so I’ll probably pick that one up as well.  Hopefully it will have a little more zip.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando – 3*

//published 2017//

This was a book that came in a book box, so it was a totally random read for me.  I kind of like picking up the book box books, because they get me a little out of my comfort zone.  This one was engaging, but the story was a bit scattered at times, and there was some inconsistency with the characters.  (For instance, the lady doing the interviews is presented in the end as though she is a “good guy,” but at one point earlier in the story she had obviously manipulated what people had said to make things more dramatic/imply things that weren’t true… and that’s never addressed, she just goes back to being a good guy…)  The conclusion was decent, and I definitely was kept unsure throughout the story as to whether or not the ability to control things with the mind was a real possibility.  All in all, I didn’t mind reading this book, but it didn’t inspire to find out what else Atlebrando has written.

 

The World of Captain John Smith // by Genevieve Foster

//published 1959//

I grew up in a house stuffed with books.  Both of my parents are readers, and I think that an excuse to buy lots more books may have been part of the reason Mom decided to home school us.  I mean, the public-school neighbor kids used to come to our house to borrow  books when they had to write reports.  I distinctly remember my best friend, who lived several houses down, telling Mom that she had more books about Abraham Lincoln than the school library did.  :-D

My family especially loves used books.  All of us are quick to rummage through boxes of books at yard sales and flea markets.  You just never know when you’re going to find a treasure for a quarter.  All of us are drawn, like moth to flame, to those booths in antique stores that are filled with books.  We’re the kind of people who find a box of books on the doorstep when we come home  because someone left them.  “I know you like books…” they say.

All this to say that when my great-grandma passed away (I was around 11), it was natural that we ended up with most of her books.  Grandma had been a teacher in her younger days, and still had several shelves of books with CEDAR HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY stamped in the front.  Two of these books were rather raggedy, over-sized hardcovers by Genevieve Foster.  And I quite distinctly remember picking up George Washington’s World and falling a bit in love.

Foster wrote several history books in the middle of the century, and her passion was for what she called “parallel history” – fitting various historical events into their world-wide context.  As a kid, so often you study history in narrow chunks.  Ancient history.  American history.  Ohio history.  European history.  Reading George Washington’s World was the first time that I ever remember realizing – really realizing, not just knowing – that the American Revolution didn’t occur in a void.  Instead, it was just one part of a rich tapestry of important events taking place all around the world.  What was happening in France and Prussia was actually  just as important to our revolution as what was happening in Britain and America.  Events occurring in China were impacting people in Spain.  What was happening in Russia was changing what was happening in Italy.  Everything was connected, and Foster opened my young brain to that concept.

Basically, her history books focus on a random important historical figure, divide his life into 10-20 year chunks, and then discuss what was going on around the world during that time.  This was actually my first time reading The World of Captain John Smith, and despite the fact that Foster’s writing is aimed for middle school readers, I was surprised at how swiftly I was caught up in the drama of kings and queens and commoners.  I didn’t even remember that much about John Smith himself, beyond the Disney-fied Pocahontas episode (here’s a spoiler – Disney got it so wrong), so just reading about  his life alone would have been interesting enough.  But throw in drama over the throne of France, religious wars, fleeing pilgrims, treacherous explorers, angry samurai, a murdered queen, and some shipwrecks, and you have a serious recipe for some engaging reading.  Apparently, a lot of history happened between 1580 and 1631!

Throughout, the book is illustrated with Foster’s own drawings – and they are perfect.  They add so much to the story and do a great job of breaking up the text.

There was a lot to glean from this book.  I was very intrigued by the reminder of how big of a player religion was in various wars and royal takeovers during this time period.  It was a good reminder that when our forefathers founded a country that would separate religion from government, this is what they meant – no more slaughtering people because they were Catholic (or not Catholic); no more fighting wars because people didn’t agree with the ruler’s religious edicts.  When people start fighting about whether or not it’s okay to have a moment of prayer before a football game at a public high school… I just really don’t think that’s what our founding fathers were concerned about!

One caveat is that Foster was writing mostly in the 1940’s and 50’s, so if you are they type of person who is offended when Native Americans are referred to as “Indians” or black people are referred to as “negroes,” this isn’t the book for you.  Foster never does so in a condescending or offensive manner – they are simply the words that were used at the time, and she uses them.

I actually had a high appreciation for Foster’s balanced writing.  She doesn’t really present us with good guys and  bad guys, as so many history books are prone to do.  Instead, on the whole, she tries to show us people and their context, so while you may not agree with someone’s actions, you can at least begin to get your head around why they did what they did.  She also doesn’t particularly favor one religion over another.  She writes about Catholics, protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and probably others that I’m not remembering right now all with the same respect – not afraid to discuss the inconsistencies of many of their followers, but without attacking or belittling the beliefs themselves.

All in all, if you are like me, and just looking for a very basic overview of world history as a sort of refresher course, or if you have a younger reader in your life who needs a bit of history heading their way, I highly recommend Foster’s books.  I’m delighted to say that they’ve been reprinted as paperbacks, with all of their original text and illustrations.  Six of her “parallel history” books are available in these reprints by Beautiful Feet Books (plus several of her other titles) – Augustus Caesar’s World, The World of Columbus and Sons, The World of Captain John Smith, The World of William Penn, George Washington’s World, and Abraham Lincoln’s World.  I have no idea if these are available as ebooks, but I would think that they would lose a great deal of charm that way.  They are big and bulky, but honestly I found this to be a great bathroom book – who doesn’t want a few chapters of world history every morning??  :-D

4.5/5 for The World of Captain John Smith, and highly recommended.

April Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me…

The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1964//

I really can’t believe that I never came across any of Goudge’s books as a child.  I had a very old-fashioned reading list, as my mom is an avid collector of old books (I come by it honestly), and I remember distinctly coming to a realization somewhere around middle school that nearly all of my favorite authors were long deceased.  This whole concept of finding an author who is still producing new things for me to read is kind of a crazy concept to me, actually.  :-D

Anyway, Goudge completely seems like someone my mother would love.  Her books are incredibly magical and perfect – gentle and kind.  There is no rush or slapdash action, but instead perfectly placed scenes and conversations, filled with characters one cannot help but love wholeheartedly.  I feel in love with every single person in The Runaways, even the bad guys.  This isn’t a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, or leaves you frantically turning the pages at 1am, but it is definitely a book I see myself returning to time and again, to immerse myself in the gentle and beautiful world of the young Linnets.  4.5/5

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1946//

Read The Runaways made me want to reread this one.  I had only read it once, a couple of years ago, and it was my first introduction to Goudge’s work.  (Her second book for me was The Scent of Waterwhich is one of the few books that I genuinely felt changed me as a person when I read it.)  The Little White Horse was just as delightful the second time around, with a heroine who isn’t quite perfect, and just enough magic to keep you wondering if this could really happen. 5/5

The Princess by Lori Wick

//published 1999//

I’m not going to lie.  This is one of my go-to books when I am in need of something relaxing.  This is definitely a love story that has very strong Christian themes throughout, but the story itself is strong enough that I think that even if hearing about prayer/God’s plan/etc. isn’t your thing, you would still enjoy it.  I love stories where people get married first, and then fall in love, and this is an all-time fave. 4.5/5

Come On, Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody

//published 1963//

This is one of those random books I’ve had on my shelf forever, that I probably bought as a kid because it was about horses, especially since I went through a stage where I fascinated with racehorses in particular.  But somehow, I’ve only just gotten around to reading it – and it was actually a total win!  I was completely invested in Seabiscuit’s life. It’s hard to believe that Moody wasn’t just making things up, as this horse’s life was incredibly dramatic and full of excitement.  I had genuine tears in my eyes when Seabiscuit finally won the Santa Anita Handicap.  I know that just a few years ago someone else wrote a book about Seabiscuit that was made into a movie.  I never got around to either of those, but after reading this book – a somewhat brisk biography, since it was aimed at children – I think I’ll definitely find the newer book and see what other details there are to read.  Overall a surprisingly fun and fascinating read about a horse who overcame some amazing obstacles and the people who loved him.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

//published 1941//

Reading the book about Seabiscuit made me want to pick up this childhood classic right away.  The real-life build up of the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral (grandson and son of Man O’War) reminded me a LOT of the race build-up between Sun Raider and Cyclone (and later the Black) in Farley’s tale.  Interestingly enough, the real race took place in 1938, while Farley’s book was published in 1941 – so it’s quite possible that the similarities between the two match races wasn’t just in my imagination!

The Black Stallion has always been a favorite of mine, for reasons that I can’t even fully explain.  The characters aren’t terribly well developed and the whole plot is rather ridiculous, but I still love this book.  I love Alec and I love Henry and I love the Black and I love Tony and I love Alec’s parents and this whole book just makes me happy from beginning to end.  I reread this entire series several years ago, back when I was still on Tumblr, and the books sadly got progressively worse as the series went on (culminating in The Black Stallion Legendwhich was unreasonably depressing), so I don’t see myself doing that again any time soon, but this original story is, and always will be, a definitely favorite.

The Man Who Made Lists // by Joshua Kendall

Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus

//published 2008//

I’ve always been passionate about words, and have had a fondness for Roget’s Thesaurus my entire life.  When I came across this biography mentioned in Slightly Foxed, I felt that I must give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed learning more about Roget’s life, the biography itself was mostly just alright.

Part of the problem was that Roget’s life wasn’t amazingly thrilling.  While he did have some adventures along the line, for the most part he was just an average guy who happened to be way, way into writing lists of things.  Kendall’s writing didn’t particularly lend itself towards making the everyday interesting, so there swaths of the book that were rather humdrum.  Kendall also spends what I considered to be a rather inordinate amount of time on the state of Roget’s mental/emotional health…  all well and good, except for the fact that it’s not as though Kendall was a close friend, so he’s basically just sort of making things up based on his own personal interpretation of Roget’s journals and letters:

Though Roget’s obsessions did help him cope with his stressful early life, they came at a cost.  Categorizing rather than experiencing the world has its limits.  Like his mother, Peter was incapable of looking inward.  Immersed in his own analytical observations, he was not particularly attuned to what others were feeling.

Just… if someone was to take an analysis of my personality based only on my journals, they would probably say that I am pretty unemotional as well, as much of my journaling is also lists and/or brief accounts of what is going on.  I don’t have a lot of spare time to sit down and pour out all of my feelings onto paper.  (And maybe, in fairness, I am unemotional?  I don’t have a lot of inner turmoil to sift through!)  Basically, in places Kendall came through as very judgy about Roget’s “lack of emotion,” which I felt was rather unfair over a century after he was alive.  Just because Roget didn’t dash all over the place proclaiming his feelings doesn’t mean that he didn’t have any.

On the other hand, Roget did once write a paper entitled “Description of Moving the Knight over Every Square of a Chess-Board Without Going Twice Over Any One,” so many Kendall was onto something after all…

Kendall was also incredibly dismissive of Roget’s religion/beliefs, basically just shoving them under the title of “Stupid Stuff People Used to Believe Because They Didn’t Know Any Better.”  Any and all of Roget’s claims that he pursued scientific research because of his interest in God and understanding the mechanics of God’s creation were quite belittled, Kendall even going so far as to suggest that if Roget were alive today he wouldn’t be bothered with such nonsense.

When recounting the death of Roget’s wife, Mary, Kendall says:

Roget also looked forward to “a heavenly reunion” with Mary – one of the major comforts that Christianity offered to the grief-stricken at the dawn of the Victorian era.  Spending eternity with departed loved ones was a common fantasy.

Excuse me??  That’s really an astounding amount of officious condescension to stuff into two sentences!  (1) Christians still exist, Kendall.  (2)  They still believe in eternal life.  (3)  Christianity isn’t the only religion that has beliefs about eternal life.  (4)  To call someone’s deeply-held personal beliefs a fantasy is just amazingly offensive.  …And that was basically Kendall’s attitude towards religion throughout.

Still, despite my annoyance at Kendall that surfaced from time to time (and since we’re apparently okay with deriving someone’s entire personality from their writing, I imagine Kendall to be rather a pompous ass), overall I enjoyed learning more about Roget.  I was particularly interested that the Thesaurus was actually one of his final contributions to the world.  He wrote many other scientific papers (mostly, unsurprisingly, involving sorting things into categories), and also expanded the basic slide rule into the tool that was widely used until the advent of the pocket calculator in the 1970’s.

Despite Kendall’s insistence that Roget was an emotionless and basically boring person, that wasn’t the impression that I got from Roget’s writing, inventions, and thoughts.  Instead, he seems to have been a man who held his cards close to his chest and enjoyed observing and understanding the world around him.  As someone passionate about words, lists, and general orderliness myself, I felt a strong connection to the man who wanted to make precise language accessible to the masses.

March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

George Washington’s Secret Six // by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

//published 2013//

Regular readers of this blog will know that I quite enjoy nonfiction that focuses on something random and/or obscure.  While it’s always good to read a history book that is sweeping in its coverage in order to get a big picture idea of what is happening, it’s also quite fun to focus a magnifying glass on something specific and really delve in.  This is what Kilmeade and Yaeger have done in this book by focusing on the spy ring George Washington established in New York during the American Revolution.

I quite enjoyed this book, which was easy to read and completely engaging.  The pacing was excellent, and I found myself reading it as anxiously as I would a modern thriller.  Despite the fact that I know that Benedict Arnold did not succeed in his ploy – I was still somehow on the edge of my seat!

The British occupied New York City and environs during the overwhelming majority of the Revolution.  A key port and a critical location in the middle of the colonies, Washington needed to know what was going on inside of the city and in the area surrounding it.  The authors do a great job of explaining what was going on, why Washington needed the spies, and how the spy ring was established – including initial failures.

I really loved the way the book started – the preface of the book is actually about a man named Morton Pennypacker, a historian in the 1920’s, who desired to learn the names of Washington’s six New York spies.  Because yes, at that time only the names of four of the individuals had been established.  Talk about some serious secret activities!  The name of spy #5 was discovered virtually by accident when Pennypacker received some letters dated just after the Revolution – and recognized the handwriting!  Even today the identity of spy #6, a woman, is unknown.

All in all, while this wasn’t a book of great depth, it did a great job introducing the Culper Spy Ring and putting into context.  4/5 and recommended.