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Monthly Archives: April 2019

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Desert Redemption–excellent mystery, intricate plot

Desert Redemption

by Betty Webb

Desert RedemptionCults and communes, terrifying memories, and learning to love and trust all take top billing in Betty Webb’s Desert Redemption.  I have read several other mysteries in this series, and this one is probably the best. The plot is intricate with difficult to determine motivations and victims found in various locations, but with similar causes of death. As P.I. Lena Jones has reasons to take the deaths personally, she gives more than one hundred percent of  effort to solving the cases. This fast paced mystery has a lot of excitement, some danger, and an unusual method of escape. There are interesting subplots involving Lena’s goddaughter and Lena’s relationship with her patient Pima boyfriend. Most important, however, is a thread that keeps popping up about a woman named Helen. This part of the tale occurs 35 years prior to the current action. At first the significance of the thread and its relationship to the main plot is obscure, but it broadens and develops as Lena remembers more of her past.

Desert Redemption is the tenth and last book in the Lena Jones Mystery Series. In it author Webb brings closure to Lena’s storyline—past, present, and future. Even though Lena’s story reaches a conclusion, the final novel just piques my interest to watch this talented P.I. at work on previous cases. The characters are interesting. I particularly enjoyed the relationship Lena has with Sylvie Perrins, her “frenemy” from the Scottsdale Police. They engage in humorous and biting repartee, but obviously have respect for each other. The Arizona desert backdrop is almost a minor character and one that makes the story more interesting. This is a book you will want to search out for its many good features, but especially to watch Lena solve possibly the most intricate puzzle of her career.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #10 in the Lena Jones Mystery Series, but will work as a standalone.

Publication:   March 12, 2019—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

I wouldn’t be a teenager again for all the money in the world. Everything was now or never, black or white, ecstasy or sorrow.

Downtime can be dangerous time for me, because when I have nothing to do, my mind acts up. It always wants to take me on a forced march down Memory Lane, where monsters dwelled.

We’d lost one of the great saguaros, though. It had been split apart by lighting, its skeleton scattered along the desert floor. A reminder that nature could be cruel as well as kind. As could people.

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Thunder of Heaven–the power of love

Thunder of Heaven

by Ted Dekker

Thunder of HeavenIn reading Ted Dekker’s Thunder of Heaven, I deviated somewhat from the types of books I usually read. My thirteen year old granddaughter recommended this Christian thriller, and I wanted to gain insight into her reading preferences. Having said that, I should clarify that Thunder of Heaven is not written for the younger reader; it is an adult novel without the inclusion of sex or vulgar language. I do not normally read thrillers; but, although suspenseful, this is not the kind of psychological thriller which will keep me up for nights to come. 

Shannon and Tanya have grown up in the jungles of Venezuela where Shannon’s parents are coffee farmers and Tanya’s parents are missionaries. Their blooming romance and happy lives are interrupted by horrific events in this action packed story that focuses on good versus evil, the sacrifices of love, and God’s bigger plan.

I had some confusion with the identity of the characters, but it eventually surfaces that the confusion is intentional and is resolved in the end. The plot is strong and intricate. The Venezuela jungle setting is interesting, well depicted, and perfect for the tale Dekker weaves.

Thunder of Heaven deals with some of the bigger spiritual questions. Can God use evil for good? Can a person become possessed by satanic powers? Can a Christian have a vision from God? What is the ultimate sacrifice? The exploration of these topics is not simplistic and is woven throughout the book coming to a head in the resolution of the conflict.

I am new to Dekker’s work, but Dekker is not new to suspense aficionados. A best-selling author, he has written over thirty books which have been translated into multiple languages. Two of his works have been made into films. His chosen genres for his storytelling are thriller and suspense, fantasy and speculative, and historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more novels by this author.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Thriller, Christian Fiction

Notes: Thunder of Heaven is book 3 of the Heaven Trilogy, but as the publisher says, “Each is a stand alone story that in no way depends on the other.”

Publication:   August 28, 2005—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“If your life made too much sense to you, you might forget about God altogether. It is man’s most prolific sin—to be full of himself. But your tormenting has left you soft, like a sponge for his words. It’s your greatest blessing.”

“We see only the terrible tragedy; he sees more. He sees the ultimate glory.”

Abdullah was no one to play with. His heart was the color of his eyes, Yuri thought. Black.

Father…dear God, I’m lost down here. Forgive me. I’m lost and lonely and confused. I hate this man and I hate that I hate him. And I don’t even know if that’s possible! What are you doing? What is your purpose here?

We Hope for Better Times–discrimination across the years

We Hope for Better Things

by Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better ThingsThis work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her?

Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to  an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home.

All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between.

Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story.

Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War.

This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 1, 2019—Revell

Memorable Lines:

I was getting less twitchy about not having internet access. I didn’t exactly miss hearing the constant beeps notifying me of texts and tweets and status updates. Out here it was just the ambling, quiet life of the country. A comfortable obscurity.

“That’s good money.” 

“What do we need it for? We’re making ends meet.” 

“Barely. We’re not getting ahead.” 

“Ahead of what? If you have enough to live, what do you need more for?”

“There’s no one right path that if you make the wrong choice you’re sunk. Whatever you choose to do, God can use that. Life is always a winding  path. It’s only in retrospect that it appears to be a straight and inevitable one.”

Benchmark Assessments: Weighing the Pig More Often?

As a practicing teacher, I always thought benchmark assessments were worthless and that I had more in-depth knowledge about a child’s progress than would be demonstrated on an exam. Boots on the ground are so important! This is an excellent blog post to explain the effectiveness of benchmark assessments.

Robert Slavin's Blog

There is an old saying about educational assessment: “If you want to fatten a pig, it doesn’t help to weigh it more often.”

To be fair, it may actually help to weigh pigs more often, so the farmer knows whether they are gaining weight at the expected levels. Then they can do something in time if this is not the case.

It is surely correct that weighing pigs does no good in itself, but it may serve a diagnostic purpose. What matters is not the weighing, but rather what the farmer or veterinarian does based on the information provided by the weighing.

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This blog is not, however, about porcine policy, but educational policy. In schools, districts, and even whole states, most American children take “benchmark assessments” roughly three to six times a year. These assessments are intended to tell teachers, principals, and other school leaders how students are doing, especially in…

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As Directed–pharmaceutical poisoning

As Directed

by Kathleen Valenti

As DirectedIf you have a master’s degree in pharmacology but come up on the wrong side of Big Pharmaceuticals, you might end up like Maggie O’Malley as a pharmacy technician working her way up to becoming a pharmacist. Along the way Maggie stumbles over dead bodies, gets wound up in several investigations, and finds that her deadly nemesis has been released from jail.

As Directed by Kathleen Valenti is a complicated mystery that makes you feel like you are in a maze. There are lots of victims and many potential criminals. Maggie makes an engaging main character, trying to do the right things but often stumbling along in the frustrating fog of post-concussion syndrome. Her ever supportive boyfriend Constantine is  always ready with IT help and amusing quips.  His pet hamster Miss Vanilla and a stray dog that the couple is “definitely” not going to keep make multiple appearances along with interesting characters who people the book. I recommend this book as a fascinating whodunit especially if you like mysteries with a medical bent.

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

Rating:  5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   March 12, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Levon Petrofina was particular to the point of rigidity, committed to not just following the letter of the law but alphabetizing each letter.

She used to think of the place where she shoved the uncomfortable, the painful, as the Wall. Now she realized she had added to her repertoire of denial, creating a blister around her heart that encapsulated the feelings and memories she wanted so desperately to avoid.

Broken out windows gaped like empty eye sockets. The front door, splintered and half off its hinges, sagged in a toothless frown.

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road: A Biker’s Devotional

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road

by Tim Riter

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open RoadI couldn’t imagine what a devotional with a motorcycle focus would be like. If you are a motorcycle rider or aficionado, then the answer found in Tim Riter’s God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road is fascinating, inspiring, and FUN. It could be read over the course of a year with one chapter per week, allowing the reader to absorb and apply the Biblical truths. One day I may do that, but for this reading I devoured, it not wanting to put it aside.

Having logged more than 240,000 miles on two wheels in 46 states, Tim Riter loves short rides, long rides (including Iron Butt), hot and cold rides, solo and group trips. He loves God and sees a strong connection between motorcycling and his faith. The chapters in God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road are formatted to begin with personal anecdotes from Riter’s many motorcycle trips. Then he finds lessons in the stories and connects them to spiritual truths. He finishes each section with “Kick-Starting the Application,” encouraging readers to challenge themselves.

Come along with God and Tim on motorcycle adventures, some painfully hilarious stories by a master storyteller, and some life changing lessons. You will be glad you did.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harvest House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religion and Spirituality

Publication:   April 2, 2019—Harvest House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Why does God sometimes rescue some of his people and not rescue others? I have no clue….But I do trust his love even more than I trust his power. I suspect that’s the key. God’s omniscience trumps our finite knowledge. I’ve seen enough of his love to have faith in it.

Honda’s engineers want to provide the best riding experience. The closer we follow their design, the better we ride. God wants to provide our best life experience. The closer we follow his design, the better we live.

Frankly, leaning on God sometimes makes no more sense to our finite minds than does leaning a bike into a curve at speed. But that lean allows us to get through the curve. And reminding ourselves that God loves us in all of our trials and failures, that he always works for good, allows us to survive the curves of life.

Trip North of the Border

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Bienvenido a Casa!

Welcome Home!

This little lady and about 20 more greeted us on our arrival at our cabin in Northern New Mexico last week.20190402_155707_resized

We have returned a little early due to some events north and south of the border.  It is not the pretty scene of midwinter with everything covered in a white snowy dress. The  display is piles of dirty snow, some ponds where there were none, and muddy areas with deer prints. Although it is not pretty, it is a welcome relief from the drought of recent years. As soon as the temps rise, we should see a lot of green as the trees and grass spring to life.

But backtracking a little, we had four long days of travel with 2 dogs in tow to get from the middle of Mexico to Northern New Mexico. We spent 3 hours inching along in our manual transmission pickup at the border crossing into the U.S. Here are a few pictures of the Plaza de las Culturas (Plaza of Cultures) as you exit Mexico at Tres Piedras to cross over into Eagle Pass. We have crossed there before, but I hadn’t really noticed the replicas of ancient temples, because in the past we had zipped right past them.

One highlight of the trip for me was the small Texas town of Eldorado. On our trips from New Mexico to east Texas, we have fun finding the doughnut shops as we pass through little towns. We don’t eat at all of them, but Eden, for example, has delicious fresh doughnuts. On this trip, the doughnut shop in Eldorado appeared to be closed. As my husband turned around to tell me the bad news, a sheriff’s vehicle pulled in. We had a friendly conversation, and he shared that the doughnut shop was now part of the liquor store in town. He not only gave us directions, but when I pulled out to go there, I found he was at the stop light waiting for us and gave us an escort! As in many small towns, for purposes of survival, the shop (called A’s) was not only a doughnut and liquor store but also a short order grill and convenience store with some of the nicest owners you would want to meet. Texas friendliness at its best! 

As we were leaving town, we pulled over for GPS adjustments and I hopped out and snapped some gorgeous 

Bluebonnets!

As my lack of inactivity on my own blog and those I follow demonstrates, the last few weeks have been hectic–preparing for the trip, making the journey, and transitioning into life in the U.S. again. I am so far behind, that I will probably alleviate the stress of unread blogs by deleting most of my email notices. My apologies. The good news is that, perhaps, due to a new tower and Internet provider in my rural area, I may actually have a good connection this summer. I am currently using a loaner device and it is fabulous. Under past “normal” conditions, I would be unable to make this blog post. If my actual connection is only half of what I am currently getting, I will still be happy. I find I have less time in the U.S. for reading and reviewing as I have a different lifestyle here, but the future looks bright!

 

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