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Monthly Archives: July 2016

From the Sideline–chick lit for football illiterates

From the SidelineFrom the Sideline.jpg

by Amy Avanzino

From the Sideline is the second book in The Wake-Up Series by Amy Avanzino. Many reviewers praised the first book, Wake-Up Call, as a very funny novel.  This is confusing because From the Sideline has humorous notes and certainly moments I can relate to, but they are more than balanced out by the difficulties, past and present, of the main character, Autumn Kovac.  In fact, the major problems in the lives of Autumn and her son Zachery are rather dark. My other point of confusion is that Wake-Up Call’s main character is Sarah Winslow, not Autumn Kovac.  While it is fine to write a series based on a theme rather than a character, there is a supporting character named Sarah (no last name given) in From the Sideline.  I guess I will have to read Wake-Up Call to find out if it is the same Sarah and to read a book with a more generous serving of humor.

From the Sideline combines a number of themes.  It focuses on an overly protective single mom, a survivor of several abusive situations, whose awkward, intelligent, and bullied son wants to play football. Autumn Kovac receives an in-depth, rapid introduction to youth football: terminology that seems like a foreign language, coaches who range from caring mentors to frustrated men trying to recapture the glory days of promising sports careers, enthusiastic football moms and dads, and pressured players who are really just kids who want to play.

Another theme is, of course, one that most people experience–the wake-up call.  Bad habits and ways of responding to others creep up on us, and Autumn learns to recognize that as well as how to disengage herself and make healthier choices.

Although circumstances vary, most women can probably identify with some parts of this story and engage with the main character who, like all of us, has some difficult choices to make.  It’s “chick lit,” and while I enjoyed this book as an entertaining read, I came away with food for thought as well.

I extend my thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Henery Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blood Brothers–a Satisfying Read

Blood BrothersBlood Brothers

by Rick Acker

Satisfying. Blood Brothers by Rick Acker is satisfying.  That may not sound like much of a compliment, but it really is–the same way that an excellent meal is satisfying. When I finished the book, I found the ending had come at the right time and in the right way without being predictable.  Through Acker’s writing I had experienced just the right amount of excitement and intrigue within a framework of our legal and investigative systems and a background of scientific research.  There was even a touch of history and the romance of a foreign country.

When I reviewed Acker’s book Dead Man’s Rule, I mentioned that the main character’s wife, Noelle, had only a minor role and was not well-developed.  That deficit was rectified in this novel as Noelle is presented as a three-dimensional character adding realism to the novel.

Blood Brothers deals to a great degree with relationships–mainly focusing on two rich brothers, Karl and Gunner, at odds over control of their pharmaceutical company and also on lawyer Ben Corbin and his spouse Noelle.  Private investigator Sergei Spassky, who is a new Christian, has to confront his feelings for FBI agent Elena Kamenev, a nonbeliever who shares his Russian heritage.  Together they have to face the ramifications of very different religious beliefs.

The intricacies of the lawsuit and countersuit were handled well including the reactions of a fairly new judge and the chosen jury.  Insights into the science trials were also interesting and included one loose end (a mistake made by a summer intern) that surprisingly was not included in the book’s resolution. I appreciated the brief afterword containing nonfiction information related to some of the technical aspects of the book.  I definitely advise reading it after you finish the book, however, as reading it in advance would spoil the story for you.

Rick Acker has written three legal thrillers for adults and two detective mysteries intended for a younger audience, but as is often the case with a well-written book for youth, several reviewers also recommend them for a fun read for adults.  I definitely was not disappointed by Blood Brothers, the second of Acker’s engaging tales for me and certainly not the last.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Waterfall Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Reflections on What Comes Around–with Content Warning!


What Comes Around

by Adair Sanders

What Comes AroundIn the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that I went to school with the author and I really wanted to like this book as much as I did her two previous books: As Sick as Our Secrets, the first in the Allison Parker Mystery Series and Biologically Bankrupt…Sins of the Father, a sad, autobiographical work.  What Comes Around is the second in her mystery series.  I think Sanders is a good writer: in terms of plot, characters, etc, I can easily award this book four stars (out of five).  The first chapter is particularly well written and drew me into the rest of the tale.

My reticence in wholeheartedly recommending What Comes Around  centers on its graphic descriptions of sexual violence. Everyone has a personal tolerance level for various aspects of fiction–horror, violence, even romance. I personally find this level of detail disturbing, but another reader may see its role in What Comes Around as essential to character and plot development.

Kudos to Adair Sanders who completed a successful law career and has jumped into a second successful career as a writer. I look forward to reading more of the Allison Parker Mystery Series.

How Do You Prefer to Write?

editingWhen you write a blog entry, do you go straight to the keyboard or do you put it down on paper first? If the latter, where do you do your editing?

I’m curious if recording your thoughts is affected by age.  I would think that digital natives (those who grew up with computers in the home) might be more likely to compose directly on the computer.  Research shows that people who take notes, in a meeting or in class, directly on the computer retain less than those who use longhand. I have not seen research on how computer versus manuscript affects original writing. If you do other writing (i.e. professional documents, short stories, books), do you approach that writing differently?

If you would like to weigh in on this topic, to avoid revealing your age, just say whether you are a digital native or not and how you prefer to write.  If you want to give more details, go for it!

I am not a digital native. I did get in on personal computers with the Apple IIe and have always had some kind of computer ever since.  I was an elementary school tech teacher for 14 years out of my 34 years of teaching.  I write my blog entries in a notebook and do first editing there as well. This preliminary editing can vary from changing a few words to a major rewrite. My final editing is done on the computer and does not usually involve major changes (i.e. the thinking has already mainly occurred and what’s left is grammar, flow, and typographical errors.  When I wrote professional documents for work, I composed most of them on the computer and I am not sure why. Currently my only writing in retirement is blogging and informal digital communication which is, of course, written directly into whatever app I am using.

Review of The Discovery Saga Collection

The Discovery Saga Collection: A 6-Part Series from Lancaster County

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

At some point in time, I got on Wanda Brunstetter’s email list and received a freeDiscovery Saga download of The Discovery Saga Collection which was initially released as a series of six books.  It recently struck my fancy to read it.  I found it to be basically a sweet book, focusing on the power of being kind to others.

The setting of The Discovery Saga Collection is “Amish country” as that culture and religion holds a fascination for the author. I found the first part of the saga very slow paced as Brumstetter tells the story alternately through the thoughts of the husband and wife and their reflections are very similar (i.e. repetitive).  The plot picks up pace and interest at the end of the first part.

Brumstetter creates interesting characters and a fascinating, difficult situation that involves many characters and their relationships.  I did want to read to the end to discover the resolution of the various conflicts, and I got the ending I wanted–sort of.  Without spoiling the book, let me say that I liked the characters’ reliance on God and the book’s use of Scripture as well as a liberal sprinkling of Pennsylvania Dutch in the dialogues.  I found many aspects of the book simplistic and unrealistic.  If you long for a very clean novel with some romance, a tidbit of action, and a focus on the faith of the Amish as well as other Christians, you will be pleased with this laid-back novel.

Dual Purpose Blog?

children-in-class_booksIf you have been following my blog, you may have noticed a gradual transition from a focus on educational issues to a focus on book reviews.  Actually I have not dropped my interest in developmentally appropriate education, and you will continue to see posts on that topic in the future.

I began “Education Pathways” when I retired from teaching and still had a lot to say about education.  As I read the blogging efforts of others, I discovered many (mostly retired) educators saying a lot of the same things that I was saying.  Suddenly I was not the lone voice speaking up for children. What happened? Part of the reason for this phenomena was certainly that I had more time to read when I was not wasting time trying to please administrators who had really strange ideas, provided for the most part by highly profitable businesses, about what is good for children. The other big factor is that a large number of frustrated teachers with lots of years of experience all said “No!” at about the same time: “No, we will not go down this insane path that is damaging to children any more.” With retirement, we found our voice because we no longer were threatened and intimidated by our employers.  The result was a huge increase in the anti-CCSS (Common Core State Standards), anti-overtesting, anti-VAM (Value Added Model of teacher evaluation) blogging world.

At about the same time, I moved to Mexico (mostly) and discovered* which lets me preview books written in English, in an electronic format, for publishers in exchange for reviews.  After a few rusty efforts, I began flexing my critiquing joints and discovered that I really like recording my thoughts about books.  So, I set out on a different education pathway that involves reading and which I think intertwines quite nicely with my original focus of developmentally appropriate education.

a-pen-on-book_journalIn the future you will see posts about education and reviews of books for children with discussions of how they might be used with children.  You can also expect reviews of books for adults which are soon to be released as well as a few from my own collection or e-books from the Gutenberg Project.  My reviews contain little in the way of summaries.  Those are readily available from the publisher, online bookstores, and Goodreads.  I prefer instead to present my personal reflections on and reactions to a book. Since I can choose my reading material, I will only choose books I think I will like.  For example, I won’t be reading and reviewing a horror novel, but suspense and mystery will certainly have a place.  Please join me in the world of books as I continue the education that never ends.

*Many thanks to my daughter Tara for introducing me to She immediately recognized the problem I would have in Mexico of feeding my reading addiction and provided such a wonderful solution which has blossomed into reviewing as well.

A Killer’s Guide to Good Works–a cozy that tries too hard

A Killer’s Guide to Good Workskiller's guide

by Shelley Costa

I struggled a little with why I did not like the second book in the Val Cameron Mystery Series as much as I liked the first.  Lest you dismiss this book out of hand, please hear me out.  At no point did I entertain the idea of not finishing the book.  I wanted to watch the main character, Val Cameron, discover who murdered her best friend Adrian.  I could, however, put this book aside temporarily without regret–not a good sign.

A lot of A Killer’s Guide to Good Works seems forced (as does the title); I can see the author’s hand too much.  I was put off by Shelley Costa’s too frequent usage of unfamiliar words or phrases, some of which are not used to best advantage.  For example, the main character feels a “little frisson” three times in the course of the book. My distaste for the author’s application of her obviously extensive vocabulary is ironic because I love learning new words. Her manipulation of the characters within her plot structure are also too obvious.

I particularly enjoyed the character Tali, a young, orthodox Jewish teenage girl of independent and perceptive mind.  Although her role is minor, she adds spice and a little humor. There is also a character who is a Jewish professor. In sections involving these characters, there are a number of Hebrew words.  These references added interest for me and their usage seemed natural.

The weakest part of this plot is the cult that is the center of the mystery.  The fifty handpicked, highly educated followers are known as the High Council. They seem unaware of the cult doctrine which, besides the basic principle, is never actually expanded on for the reader either. I find that an unbelievable scenario. Costa presented no persuasive information to convince me that these people would follow their leader Animus, the “soul of their secret organization,” without questioning the soundness of his unorthodox and esoteric philosophy.

There are definitely gaps in this story for the reader to complete.  On the other hand, there are some interesting characters and good twists to the mystery.  One of the perks of A Killer’s Guide to Good Works is the further development of Val Cameron’s persona  and the introduction of Greta, the aunt who raised her. I liked the first book in the series well enough to give the author the benefit of the doubt and read a third before making a judgement about the series.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Henery Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Teaching: Hollywood Image vs. Reality

Get past the probably well deserved rant against TFA and read what teaching is REALLY like.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Dennis Ian, a regular reader and commenter on the blog, writes here about Teach for America:

Teach for America … little more than camp counselors without the pine trees on their shirts.

Imagine for a moment the instant promotion of butchers to surgeons … or deck builders to bridge engineers. Imagine Cub Scout troop leaders as military generals … or menu makers as the next classic authors.

Like any job, teaching is layered with misconceptions … and it’s further distorted by Hollywood fantasies.

Everyone is so seduced by Hollywood and tv-land that they actually think they could sail right into a classroom and every kid would sing the theme song of “To Sir, with Love”. And the world would cry because of their greatness.

Everyone seems to see that “To Sir, With Love” guy winning over the thuggery class and becoming a revered legend overnight. Or that Mr. Chips who…

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Dead Man’s Rule–Great Legal Thriller

Dead Man’s Ruledead man's rule

by Rick Acker

Some of the first comments I read about Rick Acker’s legal thrillers compared his work to that of John Grisham.  I, along with many other more qualified critics, consider Grisham to be in the top in his genre. I snickered a little at this appraisal of Acker and said to myself, “Well, that’s a little overblown.”  I am currently chewing away at my naysaying words. Grisham and Acker both write legal thrillers with interesting characters, exciting action, strong plot lines, and details arising from effective background research.  The legal situations are integral to the plot, not inserted as an afterthought because the author is also a lawyer.  Acker is not an imitator of Grisham; in fact, Acker is an excellent writer in his own right. There is always room for another good suspense writer!

Dead Man’s Rule had my attention right from the prologue, “A Relic of War,” which is not a typical background piece.  It pushes the reader into the story, ready or not.  The setting changes in the first chapter to Ben Corbin’s legal offices but the interest level doesn’t change, and immediately the reader begins mentally searching for the connection.

I like it when the main character is human (flawed but trying) and likable, and Ben Corbin fits into that category.  If there is a weak character as far as the writing goes, it is found in the depiction of Ben’s wife, Noelle. She is two-dimensional in a world of three-dimensional characters, but her role in the novel is fairly small.

The archvillain, General Elbek Shishani, is fleshed out by Acker so that he is not just some “bad guy” to be dealt with by the hero and his CIA and FBI associates.  The reader will probably not approve of Shishani’s actions, but the author does share how he became who he is.

Reader, be prepared to learn about legal procedures and an arcane law that becomes critical to one of Corbin’s cases.  Acker avoids getting too technical so the read remains exciting, but the reader can understand all of the legal complications and how they affect both the innocent and the guilty.  He also takes us into the world of bioterrorism and Russian and Chechen politics as well as the sometimes competing interests of the various law enforcement and investigative agencies in the U.S.

Dead Man’s Rule is my first experience with Rick Acker’s writing, but he has published four more suspenseful books.  I can’t wait to try another. If it is like Dead Man’s Rule, I’ll have trouble putting it down.

I extend thanks to and to Waterfall Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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