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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Happy New Year! Changes Ahead in 2017!

announcement-001I am very excited to announce an expansion of the scope of this blog. It began as a way to express my concerns about education. Next I added book reviews, certainly a feature connected to education. Now I am excited to add posts about Mexico. This will not be a travel guide or a tutorial about how to move to Mexico. Each post will contain a picture or two taken in Mexico with a few notes. Although I expect to post “A Touch of Mexico” about once a week, I do not run my life or my blog on a schedule–one of the best parts of retirement! I hope you will join me in experiencing “un poco de México.”

Sunrise Canyon–guilt, secrets, and a family’s love

Sunrise Canyon

by Janet Dailey

sunrise-canyonThe sun rises on the Flying Cloud Ranch in Arizona, not too far from Tucson, with beautiful descriptions by Janet Dailey in Sunrise Canyon. The ranch belongs to Dusty, a cowboy in his seventies. Originally a working ranch, with the changing times Flying Cloud became a dude ranch and then evolved into a ranch for troubled teens.  Dusty’s granddaughter Kira is a licensed Equine-Assisted Therapist.  Together they manage the program and raise five year old Paige. The characters have complex backgrounds and relationships. Paige’s mother, Wendy, died in a car accident and her father Jake never returned for her after his last tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Kira and Jake both harbor guilt, but about different situations. The reader is gradually made aware of the causes as the story progresses.  Various interesting plot elements unfold as Jake and Kira get to know and trust each other and as the precocious Paige is drawn to the stranger Jake who has come to work on the ranch.  We also get a glimpse of the side stories of the teenagers who have suffered from trauma, bullying and dysfunctional home situations.

Sunrise Canyon falls right in between General Fiction for adults and a Romance. It is almost as if the genres are dancing, with the fiction storyline taking the lead and then bowing to the tension of the romance. They separate at times and then come to sway and twirl together. I prefer a good plot rather than emphasis on syrupy or steamy romance. I think Sunrise Canyon finds a nice balance with an interesting tale intertwined with  conflicting desires and needs.

Exciting and descriptive, Sunrise Canyon affords a view of PTSD, equine-assisted therapy, and Arizona ranch life.  I found the characters to be sympathetic and I wanted a satisfactory ending for them.  I got that along with some unanticipated adventure.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: 1. mild swearing and sex

2. If you like motorcycles, you will delight in that minor part of the story. (Telling more would be a spoiler for a nice surprise.)

Publication: Kensington Books — February 28, 2017

Memorable Lines:

His eyelids were growing heavy. He was drifting now, his awareness clouding over as if blurred by windswept sand…

The moon was a fading crescent in the western sky, the sun barely streaking the east with the colors of dawn.

The horrors he’d not only witnessed but taken part in were burned into every nerve cell in his body, and woven into the fabric of his soul. They had become the man he was–the man he would be for the rest of his life.

River City Dead–mystery with a Fiesta setting

River City Dead

by Nancy G. Westriver-city-dead

Setting is extremely important in River City Dead.  The title refers to San Antonio, TX, and the story focuses on the River Walk there during Fiesta week.  The author has done her homework in researching the historical and cultural background, and a lot of it is shared with the reader as Aggie, the heroine of this cozy mystery, takes her boyfriend Sam on a tour of the River Walk area. Some readers may feel the inclusion of this much background is too pedantic, but I enjoyed and appreciated it.

Aggie and Sam, a detective with the San Antonio Police Department, are set to take their relationship to the next level in a penthouse suite in a luxurious River Walk hotel.  Sam has arranged days off to be with Aggie for this special time.  As might be expected, things do not go as planned as a series of crimes occur requiring Sam’s attention and luring Aggie into sorting out mysterious events.

There is constant conflict as Aggie loves to get involved in investigative work and Sam tries to protect her. There are also limits she needs to put on herself to avoid hindering a police investigation.  Obviously this sets the couple up for relationship issues in addition to the trust issues Aggie already has.

The Aggie Mundeen Mystery Series is known for its humor.  This one starts off with a humorous chapter, but quickly deviates as the investigation unfolds.  I like the book, but I do have two criticisms. One is the frequent repetition of Aggie’s trust issues caused by someone in her past, Lascivious Lester.  Once that problem is established, I think the reader is ready to move on.  The other issue is how readily Aggie refers to and treats women she meets as “friends.”  It seems like an unrealistically brief amount of time–the length of a lunch or the sharing of a glass of wine. I consider those people acquaintances, not friends.

I must give special kudos to two parts of West’s writing.  One is the description of an elderly couple interacting in the swimming pool. It is absolutely beautiful.  The other is the technique of using her job in responding to “Dear Aggie” advice letters to help Aggie reflect on her own life and relationships. This approach works well because it is not overused.

This mystery has a lot of threads, an unusual method for murder, and an ingenious resolution.  I recommend it for cozy mystery lovers.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery & Thriller, General Fiction–Adult

Notes: This is number 4 in the series. I have read one other and have found that they may be enjoyed as standalones.

Publication:   Henery Press–January 17, 2017

Memorable Lines: 

To calm the jumping beans in my stomach, I decided to make a quick detour to Barnes and Noble.  (Blogger’s note: it didn’t work out too well in the story, but I think it is great advice!)

Whatever else was happening in his life, as a law officer, crime tracked him like an insidious nasty aroma.

Integrity is knowing the right thing and doing it.

A Gathering in Hope–humorous tale

A Gathering in Hope

by Philip Gulley

a-gathering-in-hopePastor and author Philip Gulley captured my heart in the 1990’s with his Front Porch Tales.  Later he drew in many readers with his series about a small town in Indiana called Harmony where pastor Sam Gardner leads a Quaker congregation. Quite the storyteller, Gulley takes Pastor Sam to a new quirky Quaker group in the little town of Hope where the members of the fellowship are in conflict with each other as they discover that money bestowed on the group by a member who has passed away can be a burden as well as a blessing.

As Pastor Sam tries to mediate at committee meetings and deal with local endangered species issues, we find that he is anything but perfect.  He is trying to lead by following in Jesus’ footsteps, but he is human. He wishes he could “fire” certain members of his congregation. He would prefer to be at home with his wife rather than attend yet another interminable committee meeting. Like every other human, he sometimes regrets things he has said.

In A Gathering in Hope, Gulley has created another fun tale with eccentric characters, an interesting plot, and lots of good humor.  Come for a visit with Paster Sam in Hope and you’re guaranteed a great time.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Center Street for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Humor, General Fiction (Adult)

Publication:  Center Street–September 6, 2016

Memorable Lines:

“He’s better now, but it was touch and go for a while.  He went through withdrawal. You can’t eat five packages of Peeps a day for thirty years and then quit cold turkey.”

If they spent a half hour discussing paper towels, building a new fellowship hall would take decades. Jesus would return before the first nail had been driven.

He seemed a little crazy, a half bubble off center.

Admission of Guilt–a teacher tries to make things better for his students, but…

Admission of Guilt

by T. V. LoCicero

admission-of-guiltAdmission of Guilt by T.V. LoCicero is a page turning thriller set in a rapidly declining Detroit.  There is no easing into this story. The author immediately sets up his reader with sympathetic characters and then hits those characters and the reader with the reality of inner city life–poverty, children selling drugs, devastating budget cuts to education, gang warfare, and mafia control of the drug trade. Characters include an out of work teacher, a social worker, a P.I. and members of the country club set.

The characters find themselves making life and death decisions with moral, economic, and personal ramifications, and the reader is confronted with the age-old question of “does the end justify the means?” I guarantee lots of twists and turns to the plot that you just won’t expect and a book you won’t want to put down.

Admission of Guilt is Book 2 in The detroit I’m dying Trilogy but can be read as a standalone.

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, T. V. LoCicero, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thriller

Notes:  Warning–the language is not anywhere close to squeaky clean; it is appropriate for the characters in their culture and to change it would produce a dissonance between the characters and their reality.

Publication:   Smashwords–2013

Memorable Lines:

Spring leaves, already withering, scratched and whispered in the few Dutch Elms still standing on this dark, working-class street.  Birds chirped and chattered on the pre-dawn breeze, and a worn-out Plymouth whined slowly to a stop in front of one of these decrepit wood-framed flats.  A smallish figure slipped out, ran to a big front porch, then darted back to the street.

An Open Apology To Dolly Parton 

Dolly Parton has helped make readers one book at a time. Read this reblogged post if you do not know the story of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, her importance to the economy of Tennessee, or her generosity in the wake of the terrible fires.


Dear Dolly,

10040291_300x300I’ll be honest. I used to think you were a bimbo. I used to think you flaunted your big boobs, teased hair, tiny waist, and your syrupy-sweet southern accent to sell yourself and your brand as a country singer. Granted, I was raised in the Midwest and lived as an adult for many years in the Northeast. I didn’t get you, much less the South.

For example, I’d heard about your origins as a poor girl from the hills of East Tennessee, and when I learned you’d created a theme park in your native Sevier County I rolled my eyes. “Really, a theme park?” I thought. “As if rollercoasters will really help the people of rural Appalachia. Why not create something truly useful to give back to your community, like a library.”


You have created a library, actually, and possibly in a bigger and more magical…

View original post 708 more words

Pot Luck–title is a play on words, but I won’t spoil it for you!

Pot Luck

by Kendel Lynn

pot-luckPot Luck by Kendel Lynn is a cozy mystery with a fantastic plot–so many twists and turns, surprises, and suspects that it makes your head spin. Elliott (Elli) Lisbon is the Director of the billion-dollar Ballantyne Foundation.  Since she often finds herself in the middle of other people’s problems, she is also in “hot pursuit” of her PI license with only “four thousand hours” until she becomes official.

The story is sprinkled with humor through references to Elli’s OCD regarding cleanliness  issues and to her temporary responsibility for two adorable pug puppies, Colonel Mustard and Mrs. White, named for characters in the board game Clue. Interactions with other characters also provide amusing dialogue.

The setting is a beach resort area, Sea Pine Island, near Savannah, providing both exotic beach life and glimpses of higher and lower echelons of Southern society. There is a love interest for Elli as former FBI agent Nick Ransom, who is currently working as a lieutenant in Sea Pine Island, interacts with Elli.  Tight lipped, he is actually not a valuable resource in solving cases, but Elli is attracted to him and is not deterred in her investigative work by his efforts to discourage her for her own safety.

There is a subplot involving Lucy, a former friend of Elli’s, who is currently working as a PI. The backstory may be explained in a previous book as this is the fourth in the Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series. In Pot Luck they have a strained relationship, and Lucy has an deep resentment of Elli. She blames Elli for not keeping in touch over the years, but their issues seem to go deeper than is explained in this book.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thriller

Notes: The author included several phrases that I found irreverent. One example is “For the love of Jesus in a jumpsuit.”  I realize this would not bother all readers and is mild compared to that found in many books. It actually would not keep me from reading another book by this author, but I did not appreciate its inclusion nor did I think it added authenticity to the work. It seemed strained.

Publication: Henery Press–December 13, 2016

Memorable Lines:

My thoughts were jumbly which set my very mild OCD on edge.  Like the very sharp edge of a very tall cliff over a very deep canyon.


The Red Queen Rules–timely themes

The Red Queen Rules

by Bourne Morris

the-red-queen-rulesBourne Morris’ first mystery surprised her by becoming a trilogy. The Red Queen Rules is the third in the set of books called the Red Solaris Mystery Series.  The saga of Dean of Journalism Red Solaris could acceptably end at the conclusion of The Red Queen Rules, but with some persuasion the author could also reasonably extend the series.

Sexual slavery is one of the themes of this book as Red, so nicknamed for her red hair, tries to help a university student locate a cousin and persuade her to leave her pimp and enter rehab. Red’s hunky boyfriend goes undercover to help and all of the characters are in danger as they interact with the murky underworld of drugs and pimps.

Another theme deals with freedom of speech as a group called The Purists invite a radical leader to speak at their university.  Administrators, such as Red, have to deal with free speech issues versus hate speech.  They have to decide if students should be protected from differing ideas or taught to listen and respond constructively.

Danger lurks in every corner in this fast moving story.  Its characters are well-developed and its themes relevant. This is the second book I have reviewed this month that involves sexual slavery, an issue which until recently was ignored, distorted, or denied in many circles.  The story takes place in Nevada in a small university town as well as in Reno.

My only criticism is tongue in cheek. Just as the “Gilmore Girls” are always eating junk food, the characters in The Red Queen Rules are always drinking–coffee at a café, sodas and water at meetings, hot tea with friends, and the occasional glass of wine.  They never lack for a good beverage!

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thrillers

Publication: Henery Press–December 6, 2016

Memorable Lines: 

Three notions really bugged me.  The first was that college students were so fragile that they needed to be spared from hearing ideas and opinions that might offend their personal sensitivities. Second was the use of someone else’s race, religion, sexual orientation or physical appearance as a weapon in a dispute. And third was the difficulty too many people have distinguishing between one and two.

“College is supposed to be a place where you encounter upsetting ideas and theories. And learn to deal with them.”

McNamara’s Folly: the Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War

by Hamilton Gregory

This is a fascinating presentation by Hamilton Gregory (author, public speaker, educator, and journalist) at a college book signing for a book he wrote about using low-IQ soldiers in war. He draws on his own experiences in the Vietnam War as well as extensive research. His goal is to give a voice to those who were not able to speak up for themselves and to their families whose warnings were not heeded. In the prologue he says:

“While I was in the Army (1967-1970), I got to know some of McNamara’s substandard soldiers, and I vowed that someday I would tell their stories and give the historical background. This book is the fulfillment of that vow.”

Rating: 5/5

Category: Military History

Notes: Hamilton Gregory is my brother. I am aware that current protocol for reviewers is that they should not review the works of relatives. I, however, do no advertising and I make no money from this blog. I am retired, and this blog is my personal space for reflection on education and on books. I feel strongly that this is an excellent book and tells a tale that needs to be shared. I do highly recommend that you read it. You don’t have to be interested in military history; you just have to care about people. For official reviews and recommendations, I suggest you visit where people who are experienced experts in the field and are more qualified than I am have posted reviews. From my non-military viewpoint, I am amazed at the way the author intertwines data with the stories he gathered to make a compelling argument that our country should never let this happen again.

mcnamaras-follyPublication:  Infinity Publishing–June 2015

Memorable Lines:  “Freddie’s death hit me hard.  I remembered how he was always sighing–an indication of the tremendous anxiety he experienced in Special Training.  I remembered how he lacked the mental quickness to qualify with the M-14 rifle. I felt enormous anger, which I still feel decades later.  He never should have been drafted.  He never should have been ‘administratively passed’ at Special Training.  He never should have been sent into combat.”


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