* “They Call Me Mom”

They Call Me Mom,” by Pete Springer is a real gem! Don’t be fooled by its easy readability; this book is jam-packed with powerful advice. What makes “They call Me Mom” so special? First, Pete Springer’s passion for teaching lights up the entire book. His core values are clearly articulated. But the real treasures in this book are revealed through thoughtful, funny, and honest anecdotes from his 30 year career.

Springer’s book is divided into the main issues faced by both new or experienced teachers: how to organize your class, work effectively with students and their families, and work collaboratively with colleagues. The chapters on frustrations and humorous events are yummy icing on the cake.

Pete Springer is not just a great teacher, he’s a natural writer. “They Call Me Mom” would make a perfect Christmas present for your teacher friends (or your kiddo’s teachers)! His blog is also a great read, with news about his successful efforts to publish, volunteer, and support educators. He tells some powerfully encouraging stories of the many reasons to be grateful in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Thanks again to Sally at Smorgasborg for introducing us to this awesome educator!

* A Measured Response

It takes a clever and imaginative mind to create a different time and place on Earth. Jim Webster has written a delightful series that both rang true and made me ponder. The Port Naain Intelligencer is part mystery, part fantasy. Benor Dorfinngil is a witty cartographer with amazing wall climbing skills and a taste for good food. In the course of his travels to Naain, he removes a gad grub from a girl’s cheek (OW!) and stumbles across a woman’s body. He’s one sharp dude with a very kind heart.

This is the kind of book you’ll want to race through, but I guarantee it’s best to savor it. You’ll mostly end up surprised and eager for the entire series. For more info, be sure to check out Jim Webster‘s page on Amazon. What a clever writer!

A special thank you to Sally at Smorgasbord for her intro to Jim Webster’s books! And visit Jim Webster‘s blog for up-to-date info on this fabulous fantasy writer!

* “The Van Gogh Deception”

Deron Hicks is the author of “The Van Gogh Deception” and I hope he turns this into a series! It’s a fast-paced mystery for upper elementary/middle schoolers, with a strong emphasis on art. In fact, the main character, Art, ‘wakes up’ in the National Gallery of Art, with no clue as to his identity. He’s suffering from trauma-induced amnesia and is quickly placed in emergency foster care. Mary Sullivan and her daughter, Camille, have no idea who they have welcomed into their home- or the danger they will face. Poor “Art” doesn’t even know if that’s his name.

The author uses QR codes to linked to works of art referenced in the story (although one of those didn’t work for me). “The Van Gogh Deception” pits Art and Camille against a criminal mastermind with clever plans to sell a fake Van Gogh. Suspending the reader’s disbelief just a little, Art is more than up for the challenge of staying alive. These two youngsters are chased all over Washington, DC by a team of operatives who are rather shocked (literally) by Art’s ingenuity. It’s a fast and fun read, with a lot of art history packed into the book.

* “Call of the Wraith”

Kevin Sands has created another winner in his Blackthorn Key series. “Call of the Wraith” is his fourth mystery featuring Christopher Rowe, apothecary apprentice living in the 1600s. Christopher is shipwrecked in Devonshire and suffering from amnesia. While Christopher is searching for healing, his loyal friends, Tom and Sally, are hunting for him across the wintry English countryside. Locals believe a phantom is kidnapping young children and the three friends end up entangled in this deadly scheme.

Visit the author’s page here.

Call of the Wraith” does not disappoint. The characters remain fascinating and the plot is amazingly complex. Readers are given a fascinating glimpse into an era of witch trials and piracy. Christopher is scared and hampered by his amnesia but still manages to use his love of explosives to full effect! Themes of courage, loyalty, and prejudice are well worth exploring through this book. It’s also a great way to introduce some Latin to your middle schoolers’ vocabulary!

* To prep or not to prep

I just greedily devoured the five Alex Fletcher books by Steven Konkoly. Ooh-rah! I am ready to stockpile food and water and toilet paper. In the first book, The Jakarta Pandemic, Alex struggles through PTSD to save his family from the collapse of American society. His innate paranoia kicks into insane levels, but Konkoly makes the plot eerily realistic. Just how do you survive a contagious virus that triggers mass hysteria and a loss of infrastructure? I’m thinking a chocolate stash…..

Konkoly draws upon his military experience for amazing realism in The Perseid Collapse, an “event” that forms the basis for the final four books of the Alex Fletcher series. This event crumbles the United States, which had barely recovered from the pandemic of a few years before. Alex is better prepared this time but the stakes are higher. The event, which many speculate is an EMP, or asteroid, leads to a collapse of all the major cities, electronics failure, and a flood of refugees. Alex is on a mission to rescue his son from Boston, getting trapped between hastily assembled marines and militias.

The final three books remind me of Tom Clancy’s or Robert Ludlum’s style in their complexity and global focus, with heroic characters giving their all as the world changes mightily after the collapse of the US. And Alex continues his single-minded focus on saving his family and friends. Konkoly creates a well-developed character in Alex Fletcher, along with a wide cast of supporting folks. An interesting theme in these books is the conflict between “government conspiracy” folks and the military. I don’t know how such an apocalypse might fall out (pun intended), but our house is not prepared for any of it. I’m off to buy some chocolate.

* More on the good news about misbehavior

I am still processing the excellent book, “The Good News About Bad Behavior,” by Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Lewis describes four types of parenting styles (and I like to think of them as teaching styles, too): authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and uninvolved.

If you are a parent or teacher, which style best describes you? Do you use punishment and rewards to control your kids? Do you try to be their best friend? Are you distant or spend most of your time at work or away? Are you mostly concerned about “covering the material” without connecting emotionally?

Lewis argues that an authoritative parenting style is most effective. Could you be described as a calm adult who holds kids responsible but allows them to learn from mistakes? Do you refrain from criticizing while allowing kids to experience natural consequences?

One important takeaway from examining parenting styles is that it’s okay to be our imperfect selves. When upset, we are more likely to regress to the type of parenting style we experienced, which may have been authoritarian or indulgent. If we are honest with kids, admitting that we messed up or missed what they needed, we teach them that we can learn from mistakes- and so can they. We are modeling a healthy response to imperfection.

Notice that communicating about problems is key to effective parenting and teaching. More on that next!

* “The Great Shelby Holmes”

ShelbyBookPage

The Great Shelby Holmes,” by Elizabeth Eulberg, is a terrific mystery for upper elementary and middle school students.  It’s a semi-spoof of Sherlock Holmes, but the characters and plot are definitely a stand alone.  Set in Harlem, John Watson and his mom (former army doctor in Afghanistan) are starting a new civilian life.  John’s parents have just divorced, he’s living off-post for the first time, and their arrival at their new apartment is met with a BANG!  Shelby Holmes, a 9-year-old prodigy going into 6th grade, has conducted a “harmless” experiment in her apartment at 221B Baker Street.  And it gets more complicated from there!

John is a budding writer who will be attending an arts-focused charter school.  Until he met Shelby, his journal had been bare for the past few months.  The changes in his life have been painful, he hadn’t made any friends, and school will start in a few weeks.  He is amazed at Shelby’s deductive abilities (so was I!) and ends up entangled in the mystery of a missing dog.  Their adventure reignites John’s interest in writing as he chronicles the amazing ups and downs of this complex mystery set in New York City.

John and Shelby could not be more different.  He is a social kid, eager to make new friends, and Shelby is an odd individual who appears to disdain social norms.  This mystery, with its hilarious events, uncertain relationships, and tender moments, is a life-changing experience for both Shelby and Watson (a moniker used by Shelby since he’ll be the third John in their class).  John must come to grips with his parents’ divorce, caustic remarks by Shelby, and the conflict surrounding this unusual mystery.  Shelby is also forced to confront her asocial behavior and perhaps admit that she actually needs John’s help.

One aspect I especially enjoyed about this book is its racial perspective.  Readers with the “white privilege” perspective may be surprised that John is black.  And just as I often hear white folks describe that “black doctor” or that “black kid,” John does refer to “white kids” but makes no special reference to black folks.  It would be perfect if none of us felt the need to make those distinctions, but it’s refreshing to see the world through nonwhite eyes.  More on that in the next book in this series, “The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match.

I highly recommend this entertaining and thoughtful book.  It will keep you guessing- and laughing- throughout!

* Panda-Monium

Panda-Monium, the 4th mystery in Stuart Gibbs’ FunJungle series, tops them all!  Teddy Fitzroy is back, this time with a girlfriend, in another hilarious and complex plot.  FunJungle is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Li Ping, a panda on loan from China.  Imagine their horror when the carefully designed truck arrives and Li Ping has disappeared!  This time, Teddy is relieved to take a back seat to the FBI investigation.  Or so he hopes.

Teddy’s nemesis, Marge O’Malley (the security officer who has been forever accusing him of every mishap at FunJungle), blackmails him into searching for solutions.  Marge is desperate to show up her pompous and condescending sister, FBI agent Molly O’Malley.  What are the odds that these two would end up at the same crime scene?  Teddy has faced black mambas, tigers, and sharks in previous FunJungle books, but Panda-Monium takes danger to a whole new level.  And the catastrophes are truly uproarious.  Although written for middle schoolers and above, I was also laughing wildly at Teddy’s adventures with dolphins and polar bears.

Stuart Gibbs continues to weave in other topics of interest to his readers, including bullying, friendships, and school cultures.  All of these are painted with the same outrageous humor but keep the book grounded in relevant topics.  Teddy is at his most determined, insightful, and clever, but I’ll leave you to enjoy the unveiling of the villains.  I will say that one of my favorite scenes was Marge driving a golf cart wildly through FunJungle, with poor Teddy and Summer hanging on for dear life.  Or maybe it was the polar bear disaster, which reveals a better side of Marge while still reminding us that she is clueless.

Panda-Monium has “perfect-for-a-movie” written all over it.  I hope you enjoy it!

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*** I only review books which I can highly recommend.  I read a lot of 3 -and 4-star books, but it’s the 5-star winners which make it to my blog. ***

* Before you self-publish

By Derek Haines on Just Publishing Advice: Before you self-publish your new book, make sure you are ready Too often, new authors get carried away with all the excitement of becoming a published author and rush way too fast into self-publishing. When this is done, without working on building the necessary marketing and promotional tools […]

via What You Need To Do Before You Self-Publish Your First Book… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Thanks to Chris The Story Reading Ape for sharing this helpful post.  I’ve read a number of books that completely skipped step one- ouch!  That error ruins a book for me.

* “Blood on the Tracks”

Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks” is a gripping thriller by Barbara Nickless.  It’s the first in a series featuring Sydney Rose Parnell, a Denver railroad police officer (and who knew that occupation even existed?).  Sydney Rose is not your average cop.  For starters, she was a Marine who served in Mortuary Affairs in Iraq.  That meant scooping up what was left of soldiers after IEDs.  In her case it also meant PTSD, which included seeing the ghosts of those who died.  When her special ops boyfriend had been blown to shreds, she inherited his Malinois, Clyde, a military working dog also suffering from PTSD.

Sydney Rose is on the trail of The Burned Man, a badly scarred veteran aimlessly riding the railcars of the west.  He is suspected of murdering Elise, a kind-hearted woman who befriends hobos.  Sydney Rose teams up with Detective Cohen in this page-turning, heart-pounding novel.  The author skillfully weaves a memorable story through and around the Iraqi war and its fallout.

Each chapter begins with a written quote from Sydney Rose, usually a paragraph from her journal, a newspaper interview, or a class paper.  Written in first person, we see the world through Sydney Rose’s compelling lens.  She is a courageous woman, invariably employing dark humor in her fight for sanity, her quest for normalcy.  “Blood on the Tracks” will challenge and grip you, right to the end.  Enjoy!

*** I only review books which I can highly recommend.  I read a lot of 3 -and 4-star books, but it’s the 5-star winners which make it to my blog. ***