Coming Soon: Confessions of a Bad Teacher

17016779Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

John Owens is an editor, journalist, and photographer. Formerly, he was the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he oversaw brands including Road & TrackPopular Photography, and Travel Holiday. He has made more than 100 national media appearances, including Good Morning AmericaCBS This Morning, CNN, FOX News, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

New Book Claims the Problem with American Public Education Is Not “Bad Teachers”

Author Exposes the War on Education: School Reform Earns an F for Cheating Children, Demonizing Teachers, and Mistaking Data for Learning

“John Owens’s book is an eye-opener about what happens in real classrooms today. It shatters many of the myths about ‘school reform.’” Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and bestselling author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Author John Owens left his lucrative publishing job in Manhattan to teach English at a public high school in New York City’s South Bronx, the nation’s poorest congressional district. He thought he could do some good. Faced with a flood of struggling students, Owens devised ingenious ways to engage every last one. But as his students began to thrive under his tutelage, Owens found himself increasingly mired in a broken educational system, driven by broken statistics, finances, and administrations undermining their own support system—the teachers.

“Everyone claimed that the kids were the top priority,” says Owens, “but the students were just cast members of a bizarre, heartbreaking drama that only looked like education.”

The situation has gotten to the point where the phrase “Bad Teacher” is almost interchangeable with “Teacher.” And Owens found himself labeled just that when the methods he saw inspiring his students didn’t meet the reform mandates. With firsthand accounts from teachers across the country and tips for improving public schools, Confessions of a Bad Teacher is an eye-opening call-to-action to embrace our best educators and create real reform for our children’s futures.

“Billionaires blame teachers for America’s educational problems and throw money at ‘fixing’ our public schools without understanding the dynamics of teaching,” says Owens. “Public education is a precious part of our democracy. Our families, our future, and our country are paying an unbelievable price as ‘reformers’ dismantle an education system that once was—and still should be—the envy of the world.”

As Owens points out in Confessions of a Bad Teacher, the real issues in American public education include:

  • Poverty, the leading cause of problems in schools, not the teachers trying to overcome issues beyond their control.
  • Test scores and other data used to evaluate student and teacher performance. Not only does a constant barrage of tests impede learning, but such a single-minded reliance also invites cheating.
  • Discipline, which is not taken seriously, and a system that forces teachers—and teachers alone—to handle even the most serious problems and most disruptive students.
  • Teacher evaluations, which vary widely from district to district, and focus on punishing educators rather than helping them improve.

Here is what one fellow NetGalley reviewer had to say about Confessions of a Bad Teacher:

This is my school, this is my experience, this is my career. And it’s all laid out far more succinctly and calmly that I could ever have done. This book is going into the school library if I have to pay for it with my own money. The teachers (and parents, if any of them pick it up) have got to see that what we are going through isn’t just us, it isn’t just an isolated situation. God bless John Owens, where ever he is.” –  Allison Dollar – School Librarian, Gallup, NM

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Book Review: Scrapbook of My Revolution

scrapbook_of_revolution_by_goweliang-d5norezScrapbook of My Revolution by Amy Lynn Spitzley (Curiosity Quills Press, 2013)

Genre: YA, dystopian, supernatural, romance

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Persuasive Essay, Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart, write the first chapter of the next book in the series
  • Social Studies: design an article that would appear in The Hanna Bay Express – follow the attention of the media from the book, paying attention to the audiences of both literary sources; create a propaganda poster or pamphlet; write a bill about Benign Indifference or Malian treatment/rights; stage a debate of Regular vs. Malian; relate the ideas espoused by RAMM to past historical events of similarity, with the outcomes of each event
  • Science: study of evolution; discuss the evolution of Malians

*Author’s Note: This book contains some controversial topics, and is centered around race. I have made some references to past historical figures or events in connection with some things that happen in this book. I do not support these past historical events. I, like the main character Amber, believe in equality for all.

I may as well say it up front. I’m Malian. Yeah, one of the freaks. I’ve got gold skin and the ability to read emotions. It’s great fun, too, believe me. Yeah, right. Anger. Frustration. Desire. Try reading those all day. But I’m not the only one who’s frustrated. We’re all mixed-up and sick of the bad press and attacks and everything else from Regulars. Things are changing, though. I’m getting other Malians in my school together. We might be able to show people that we’re just as human as they are…unless one of my best supporters is really public enemy number one. (Amazon)

Amber is a Michigan teen…but she’s no normal teen. She is Malian – a human with various and unusual skin tone shades, who also possess a supernatural ability. There are four types of Malians: Sensitive, Athletic, Camo, Manipulative. Each type, by definition, is extremely broad:

Sensitive – Any Malian whose skills lie in the mental region.

Athletic – Any Malian whose skills lie in the physical region.

Camo – Any Malian whose skills lie in the ability to camouflage themselves.

Manipulative – Any Malian whose skills lie in the ability to change the environment.

There were tons of ways for each “talent” to manifest itself, and each kid born seemed to have their own way of doing things. The kid down the street…could talk to animals, but technically she was a Sensitive like me.

Amber is unhappy not being a Regular; being different and being an outcast, with no explanation why, is a hard thing for a teen to digest. Even harder when you can read the feelings of your parents, and those feelings contradict their words. She is a Sensitive: she can read the emotions others around her feel. It is frustrating because she just gets the emotion, not the reason for the emotion. Kids at school often abuse this ability. It is very awkward when kids ask what the captain of the basketball team is “thinking” – and he’s thinking he has a crush on the math nerd across the room…who’s a boy. And the math nerd is totally homophobic. What’s a girl to say?

But what’s more is that Amber is golden. Like a walking goddess dusted in gold. She attracts the attention of all the boys in school, who Desire her. Some of them are quite crude. Being a Malian and being a teen Malian is not an easy road, and it has manifested in Amber. She is not one for crowds, given her ability – but it’s hard to run around with her cousin Bree, who is insistent and pushy and slightly manipulative. She does it out of love, but sometimes she just doesn’t know when to let up.

f_0scrapbooking6The book is aligned almost with the beginning of the school year, kicking off with Amber’s birthday, and ending that same time the following year. Her Regular cousin, Bree, gives her a scrapbook to document meaningful things that year. The entire book was laced with newspaper clippings, receipts, notes, fliers and drawings, just the kind of things that Amber would put in the scrapbook Bree gave her for her birthday. After a couple of chapters it hit me like a Mack truck that the book is the scrapbook!

The principal of Amber’s school is of course a Regular, and is fearful of offending her Regular school population….causing her PC-ness to be discriminatory and honestly, racist, toward the Malian population. The previous year, an incident happened downstate at a high school gathering, which caused a riot between Regulars and Malians, dubbed the Grand River Halloween Riot. Jonny Marino, a Malian high school student, was blamed for the riot and expelled from the school. Turns out, a friend of Amber’s knows Marino, who shows up later in the book and causes quite a stir.

Given that back history, Principal Bardha has banned any kind of face or body paint at the upcoming Halloween dance, held every other year. Bree is justifiably infuriated about the principal’s fear and strict line of PC-ness, which is discriminatory to Malians. Bree and Amber both decide to take a stand to this discrimination: Bree dresses as a china doll with pale face paint and rosy red cheeks, and Amber dresses as an Amazon with minimal face paint and a few bands around her arms – which leads to a confrontation with Bardha and a dramatic Golden Goddess model walk that drops jaws. But we learn that other Regulars and Malians also took a stand and defied the principal to stand up for their rights, which is a big component of this book.

After the dance, while with Amber and Bree, a Malian friend is assaulted by a young, Regular boy. The girls all chase him and his friends down the beach, bellowing hollow threats. Bree is insistent that they report the incident to the police…but who would the police believe? It is a very real situation that women everywhere face: who’s going to believe me? It’s a hard thing to face, and it brings to light the very issues Amber and her fellow counterparts face in a world that is not only unaccepting, but fearful.

Everyone was waiting to see what we’d become…including us.

Additionally, a well-supported group, Regulars Against Malian Menace (RAMM), has formed and is very outspoken about their hatred of the Malians, the first generation of which are now Amber’s age. The RAMM leader uses terms like “The Malian Situation,” how Malians need to be “cured,” “eradicating the problem” and Malians being an “afflicted people.” So, the fact that Malians are a new make-up of the population is another hard thing Amber and her counterparts must face. It’s also scary to have someone saying such hateful things…things that the country had seen before with the Native Americans, and settlers nearly effectively eradicated them. And then there was slavery. It’s not hard to imagine how Malian teens feel about their future. and how they see things going down. The leader of the Michigan RAMM base is Abraham Baronson (ironic, no?), who has said the President is handling the situation with “kid gloves,” but the President is now requiring voluntary testing of Malian genetics…I’m not so sure how “voluntary” this movement is, and Amber and other Malians aren’t sure what they’ll find.

You wanna fly a kite?

kite_soaringAnd as always with YA dystopian fiction, there is always a kind of love triangle, one guy stuck with the old and one braving forward with the new. We’ve seen it in the popular series Uglies and Hunger Games. High school friend Cam (a Camo) is very quiet and hides in the shadows, and of course Jonny is an outgoing, outspoken rallying figure for political change for Malians. Cam is the one guy in school who has never overtly ogled Amber with Desire. Jonny is the kind of guy Amber is unsure if she can trust. There’s just something about him. Was he an innocent bystander at the Grand River Halloween party….or did he do something more, as prosecutors claim? There’s something sinister about him that doesn’t meet the eye.

Right before Christmas, an article is published alluding to the building ideas of the RAMM supporters, and the Malians – that both sides are building supporters…and warriors? The reporter states peace is no longer going to reign in the world, but that something akin to a war is brewing. Amber decides to do something before others do it and ruin it. She decides to start a Malian awareness group called Lake Michigan Malian Supporters, LaMMS.

Lambs and rams. Which one seems more gentle? Which one seems more…battering? Which image do you sympathize with – a gentle lamb or a battering ram? I don’t find Spitzley’s use of this a coincidence, although it is intended to be coming from Amber. But LaMMS puts Amber on display for all the world to see – and makes her an easy target. Seems it isn’t the first “incident” of Malian-directed malice by Regulars. With a rash of outbursts, beatings, break-ins (and who know’s what all else going unreported) against Malians, what does this hold for their future?

Even a revolution can start small.

Heads Up: this book does contain “foul” language. This book takes on a lot of controversial topics: evolution, superiority, fear, malice, anger, judgement. The book is divided into two sections, the first Innocence and the second Revolution. Those titles are very indicative of Amber’s attitude toward Jonny Marino.

After reading two pages on my Kindle, I didn’t think I could continue reading due to the smaller-than-normal font, in combination with the font text style. It was really hard on my eyes. But by page two I was into the story. Who cares about your eyes? Besides that, the only other thing that bugged me was the blatant overly conversational style of writing that Spitzley picked for this novel. I understand that this is a technique employed to connect with the YA audience, but I feel like it is catering too much to the kind of teens (like my brothers) who eye roll and mutter under their breath to friends after an adult speaks to them; the kind of kids who exude senses of entitlement. I don’t think that’s a positive. There were many sentences that ended with “you know?” and it just kind of turned me off, and it somewhat alienates non-teen readers.

Amber experiences a lot of growth in such a short time. She has matured past her young age, and her friends are following suit. They are walking a very fine line to promote their cause but not create waves. She realizes mistakes she’s made, and she tries to fix them and not make those same mistakes again. She is a natural leader, and a great role model. She has evolved as a person, used her influence for good, and she’s warmed and strengthened her relationship with her parents. I hope Spitzley’s YA readers see the changes in Amber from beginning to end, and the strong character she has become.

I definitely see a series in progress here. I don’t think this is the end of Amber and LaMMS…or of Jonny Marino.

GUEST POST by J Daniel Parra

Available Now

Early last month I received an email from Angela Craft, a marketing and publicity manager for Diversion Books. She was sending out queries for those interested in participating in a book blog tour for a summer book about to be released, Pieces of Tracy.

Silly me, new book blogger who just jumped in feet first (which I don’t recommend!) had absolutely zero idea what a book blog tour even was! I fired off a response to Angela that I definitely wanted to be included…again, jumping in with my feet first. Don’t do it! So I asked a friend, my lovely co-writer at The Eclectic Bookworm, who’s been in the book blogging biz for a while. She explained about blog tours, and then I felt even sillier! I signed up for everything on this book blog tour: a review, a give-away, an author guest post and an interview with the author, J Daniel Parra. You can follow Daniel on Twitter and like him on Facebook for more about his debut novel.

I’ve guest reviewed on EBW, but I’ve never had a guest post on Girl of 1000 Wonders. J Daniel Parra, you hold the distinction and honor of being the first guest writer and the first author guest post! Welcome!

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J Daniel Parra

Some of the things I outlined that I wanted Daniel to focus on were suggestions for potential authors, as self-publishing has exploded like the .com of the mid-90s with the invention of the eReader and other digital reading devices. Lots of authors are bypassing the traditional route of being published with a large, well-known publishing house and going with small, independent presses, or self-publishing. It is definitely changing the world of books. This is what Daniel had to say about it…

Sweet Rewards: The Path to Publication

The path to publication is a bit like playing that old board game, Candy Land.  You have to make your way through places like the Gumdrop Mountains, the Peppermint Forest, and of course, Molasses Swap.  The rewards are sweet if you have the courage to tackle the colorful obstacles in your path.

As you work your way to the ultimate goal of publication, none of the pieces will click unless you start out with a good story that’s told in a compelling way with an original voice.  This could take years to accomplish, but it’s important to focus on your writing FIRST and to create the best possible product to send out into the perilous world of publication.

Once that crucial component is in place, you have to decide if you want to publish traditionally or self-publish.  These days, there are many great arguments for self-publishing and various self-publishing sites (like CreateSpace on Amazon or Smashwords) to help you on your way.  Self-publishing is particularly helpful for those who like a “hands on” approach to distributing their work.  In many cases it creates a higher profit margin.  It also requires the author to wear many hats, as editor, publisher, and publicist.  A traditional publishing house will expedite all these things, distributing the workload among various internal branches.  However, most publishers pay a modest advance for your work and then provide royalties based on sales.  Consider the pros and cons, do your research, talk to other published authors.  If you want longevity as an author, you might publish in a variety of ways over the course of your career and these days authors have more options available than ever.  Best-selling author Sylvia Day is an example of someone who has successfully used all possible options, publishing on her own, through publishing houses, in print and in Ebook.

Another helpful component to getting published is the community of authors and readers available online.  I recommend joining Goodreads or a similar site to get involved with your peers, to see what’s being published, read, discussed, and reviewed.  On Facebook and Twitter, follow your favorite authors and see what techniques they are applying to spreading the word about their latest works.  They are all building a readership and so should you.  The days of merely writing something and expecting it to catch on with the use of a few well-placed ads, blurbs, and reviews are long gone.  These days authors are engaging with their readers like never before and that’s useful all around, so take advantage of this accessibility and use it to learn how to create the framework for a sustained relationship with your readers.

In Candy Land, you often have to step backward before you move ahead.   The road to publication also requires patience and a thick skin.  We’ve all heard the stories of authors like Kathryn Stockett (The Help) who was rejected 60 times before finding a literary agent.   It’s a tough industry to break into and that means you should prepare for criticism and rejection.  This requires deep reserves of conviction and self-esteem.  In my process, my first published book isn’t the first book that I wrote.  I worked on a couple of books that will likely never see publication before arriving where I am today.  But I don’t consider those other manuscripts a waste of time.  They helped me improve as a writer and to get a deeper sense of my voice.  Without them and the rejection they received, I wouldn’t have become a published author.  I also learned to appreciate any advice I received from agents along the way. The best agents will reject you creatively and offer constructive criticism.  Embrace this criticism and don’t let your ego get in the way.

Candy Land ends when you arrive at the Candy Castle.  It’s every aspiring author’s goal to achieve publication and arrive at his or her own castle of sorts.  It will not happen overnight.  It will require overcoming various pratfalls.  But I can assure you, if you stick with it and follow some of the guidelines above, it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.

Here is my review of Pieces of Tracy – and you can enter the giveaway to win the book! Check out my interview with Daniel. 

Tomorrow’s blog tour stop for Daniel’s Pieces of Tracy will be with Cinta Garcia De La Rosa. Check out Daniel’s guest post at Indie Authors You Want to Read.  Monday, 7/22, the blog stop will be at Diary of a Mad Stitcher.

Author Interview: J Daniel Parra

Available Now

Early last month I received an email from Angela Craft, a marketing and publicity manager for Diversion Books. She was sending out queries for those interested in participating in a book blog tour for a summer book about to be released, Pieces of Tracy.

Silly me, new book blogger who just jumped in feet first (which I don’t recommend!) had absolutely zero idea what a book blog tour even was! I fired off a response to Angela that I definitely wanted to be included…again, jumping in with my feet first. Don’t do it! So I asked a friend, my lovely co-writer at The Eclectic Bookworm, who’s been in the book blogging biz for a while. She explained about blog tours, and then I felt even sillier! I signed up for everything on this book blog tour: a review, a give-away, an author guest post and an interview with the author, J Daniel Parra. You can follow Daniel on Twitter and like him on Facebook for more about his debut novel.

This is only my second interview, and I was uncertain what to ask, so I kept it relatively short compared to my interview with Linda Harley (Destiny’s Flower). I was very interested by the fact that this wasn’t Daniel’s first attempt at writing a novel. Find out more in our interview below!

J Daniel ParraTell me about yourself.

I’m J. Daniel Parra, author of the debut novel, Pieces of Tracy, available now from Diversion Books.  I live in New York where I love running in Central Park and sampling specialty cocktails, though not at the same time.

Why did you choose a female as the lead character? Was it difficult writing from a female perspective?

I’ve always loved fiction with strong female protagonists and have never had trouble connecting with a female perspective.  As Tracy’s story unfolded, I realized that the best way to tell it would be to involve a protagonist who embodied the qualities to make this journey.  It all happened very organically but I don’t think I ever imagined a man at the core of this story.  It just made sense to do it with a female.  The key to writing about a woman for me was not to get too caught up in the obvious girlie things like hair and makeup and clothes and although those elements are there, I tried to make Tracy much more fully realized than that.

It took four years to finish Pieces of Tracy. Did you go back to Rome during the writing?

I managed to do all of my research in one trip where I kept a detailed diary of my experiences. At the time I didn’t realize how much of my diary would work its way into the book. A few things are invented, but for the most part the places and locations are as I experienced them, although I experienced them on a smaller budget than Tracy’s, I should add.

Your agent prompted the title of your debut novel. What was your original title?

That title is still in the book.  Non Basta Una Vita, which translates to One Life Is Not Enough. I stumbled in this phrase in the preface to Henry James’ Italian Hours and this notion that one lifetime is not enough to get to know Rome stayed with me and caused the spark that prompted the story.  All told, I think Pieces of Tracy (Many thanks to Melissa Sarver, my amazing agent!) is a much better title but I still have a sweet spot for One Life Is Not Enough.

The cover features the Roman Coliseum with New York transposed in the background. Is this a hint to Tracy’s choice in the novel?

What I love about the cover is that it beautifully represents Tracy’s dual attractions.  Whether the outcome of Tracy’s dilemma is in any way depicted there is up to the reader.

Before your trip to Rome that inspired this book, what did your day-to-day life look like? How has it changed?

I think on the surface my day-to-day hasn’t changed much. I still love my work and writing. But, as anyone who’s visited Rome can tell you, it’s a city that stays with you.  New York is much the same and that’s why I enjoyed juxtaposing these wonderful cultural capitals in one narrative.

Pieces isn’t your first attempt at writing. What happened to all the attempts prior to Pieces? Will we see any of those works come to life?

I’ve been writing fiction since high school.  That’s a lot of years spent getting it right!  I’m focusing so much on future works right now so I’m not sure if my previous efforts will see the light of day but I wouldn’t rule it out.

How did you get into writing?

I have always loved stories and story-telling.  I created stories for my younger sister’s stuffed animals which I did episodically.  I learned in front of an audience (of one) how to keep a story alive and to create characters that would best embody that story.  I was also a journalist for several years and that taught me the mechanics of language, words, punctuation, grammar, etc.

What are your suggestions for struggling writers (i.e. writer’s block, lack of inspiration/direction, etc.) ?

In my opinion, a writer’s best tools are inspiration and discipline. Let those pillars anchor you.  Maybe conviction is another pillar. But be prepared to work hard and to take criticism. Also: read, read, read!  I seriously learned everything I needed to know about writing by reading books.  The answers are all there.

Goodreads tells us that you’re working on a new novel. Can you give us an idea of what to expect next?

(Darting eyes coyly)  The only thing I will say on that topic is that if you enjoyed Pieces of Tracy, you’ll want to check out my next book.

It’s been a pleasure spending time with you.  Thanks for having me!

Here is my review of Pieces of Tracy – and you can enter the giveaway to win the book! To read Daniel’s guest post about publication, go here.

Tomorrow’s blog tour stop for Daniel’s Pieces of Tracy will be with Cinta Garcia De La Rosa. Check out Daniel’s guest post at Indie Authors You Want to Read.  Monday, 7/22, the blog stop will be at Diary of a Mad Stitcher.

Giveaway & Book Review: Pieces of Tracy

PiecesOfTracyPieces of Tracy by J. Daniel Parra (Diversion Books, 2013)

Genre: fiction, chicklit, romance, cultural influence

This is a very special review for me. I was contacted by a marketing/publicity representative for Diversion Books, who asked if I’d like to be part of a blog tour for a hot, new summer book. I had no idea what a blog tour even was, but I was indeed interested! I ended up signing up to do a review, have an author guest post, and author interview AND a book giveaway! I am happy and excited to be a part of this.

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J Daniel Parra

You can follow J Daniel Parra on Twitter and like him on Facebook for updates.

Meet Teresa Felicia Santana León. In New York, she’s Tracy León, a would-be artist and telemarketer who falls for an older tycoon, Bruce Babich. When Bruce’s mother sends her to Rome to find a stolen painting, Tracy assumes an alter ego, the zesty Felicia Santana. In Rome, she meets a younger artist named Mario Giordani who helps her on her quest. 

Before long, she is juggling two romances and two distinct identities: Tracy, demure trophy wife wannabe in New York’s high society, and wanton, thrill-seeking Felicia in sultry Rome. Against the backdrop of these exciting cities, she follows her divided heart, even if it leads her in the wrong direction. 

The secrets behind the stolen painting send her on an unforgettable journey that prompts her to re-examine her own talents and inspirations. As the pieces come together, Tracy faces a life-changing choice, one that will lead to surprising discoveries about love and her own identity.

Sounds exciting, right? I was very impressed with this debut novel based on the synopsis and had high expectations. I couldn’t wait to start reading, and I finished the book in a couple of days. I was so into this book! Let me tell you why….

New York
New York

Tracy Felicia Santana is a child of Texans, with big dreams of graphic design and putting her love of art to work in New York. She leaves the nest and moves to New York and gets started. She marries Diego Leon, a man in her realm of work. But Diego wants the limelight and a wife at home, not so much in the workforce. Tracy puts all her dreams and her graphic design classes out of her mind and does what Diego wants her to do. Instead of climbing the ladder in the art world, Tracy stays working in the circulation department for ArtHouse.

Through Tracy’s reminisces, if you can call them that, she makes it clear that Diego washed away her dreams and her motivation to pursue them. It’s a sad, downtrodden fact that a lot of women today face once they are involved in a new relationship or one that evolves into a hasty marriage, as Tracy’s did. She has low self-esteem and no direction for her life; she’s just going through the run-of-the-mill, day-to-day mundane routine, trying to stay afloat in pricey New York.

Since then, Diego has divorced her and married the woman he was cheating on Tracy with…and then he dies, suddenly. Somehow, Tracy and Diego’s second wife, Donna, become best friends. The antics of Diego draw them together. They reminisce about their time with Deigo, and the ending of the novel is very reflective of relationships and the past:

But only the good parts remain. Isn’t it amazing how kind your memory can be? Ultimately, you only remember the happy times. 

Donna is almost a foil of Tracy: she does not hide her beauty, she is an actress and she goes after new adventures. Tracy is content to stay in her little hole in New York. She doesn’t keep in regular contact with her family or “have a life.”

One day, Tracy’s boss at ArtHouse shares some more bad news. On that crappy day, she escapes to MoMA, where the art gives her an escape and lifts her mood. There she meets toy billionaire bachelor Bruce Babich, an Australian transplant, and they hit it off.

Map of Ancient Rome
Map of Ancient Rome

…And then enters Sophia Babich, Bruce’s socialite mother, as soon as Bruce shows interest Tracy. She gives Tracy an ultimatum: find and return a long-ago stolen painting of Sophia that was done by the famous Henri Matisse, or no Bruce. Talk about a hard assignment!

Where is Tracy even to start? She knows virtually nothing about the painting or the woman who stole it. She sets out for the only place that is connected to the woman: Italy. Little did she know what she’d find in Rome…or who.

Tracy discovers she is another person in Rome – and embraces it. She does as she’s asked, but experiences heartbreak and turmoil along the way. She got a hard bargain, but must pay up. But the secrecy and lies of Sophia Babich come to bite Tracy in the butt. It is indeed a twisted tale, very a-la Oedipus, that leaves Tracy in a very unexpected place.


OK, I said I had high expectations for this book. Tracy is a character who I’ve seen before in real life, but she gets a new lease on life, so to speak. Instead of fully using it, she squanders it.

All the moving around forced her to become a new person each time she had to fit in with a new class. 

About halfway through the book, I realized Tracy as a character was not going to really grow and develop. If she did, I would be shocked, so I think that was my biggest disappointment. As a military brat, Tracy was constantly moving and having to make new friends. She is used to taking on or creating new identities – it’s how she survived childhood and is very typical of women in new, unstable relationships. It is typical of women who have no sense of self, who latch on and become whatever it is their love source wants them to become. Indeed, Tracy finds herself in an identity crisis:

Who was she? At one time, she knew she could be anything she wanted to be. Right now, she only knew she did not want to be this person. Couldn’t she be more? 

 And in Rome…

She was her own creation here, despite loving Bruce and wanting to be with him. Bruce was an ocean away. This was Rome and she could be anything she wanted. 

She knew she was using Mario to get over Bruce. She had lost the man she truly wanted and in exchange, Mario served as the quintessential rebound man.

The Roman Coliseum
The Roman Coliseum

The ache from losing Bruce still gave her a great deal of pain, but now she had Mario, she reminded herself, a young stud with an amazing technique in bed. He served as a rebound man, not a partner or a man for always, just someone who would give her romance and passion at a time when she needed it most. 

But Rome was so good to Tracy!  In Rome, Tracy comes alive, exploring the very things she loves: the arts. Her life in Rome is the antithesis of her life in New York. She is bold, daring, exciting, sensual, sexual. She is willing to take risks, and she finds a man who supports her, gives her freedom and reign to be her own person, and who promotes and encourages her freehand sketches. Reading the bits about Rome through Tracy’s eyes made her endearing, and you just can’t help but root for her to follow her passions!

Later, when everything comes to a head, as these things always do, Tracy claimed to be “a victim of circumstance.”  This surprised me, since Tracy made conscious decisions, making several flights between New York and Rome. She gives insight to readers about her turmoil, leading up to the thought that she will make a definitive decision. But as things do when we humans weave our tangled webs, things did not go according to plan…and everything snowballs.

The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel

The end of the novel is tied up in neat little bows. It gives a pretty depiction of people, romance and romantic conflicts. People don’t act that way – at all! So that bothered me a bit. The only change in Tracy from beginning to end was she became more risky (hence, all the running away) and the thing I liked: she’s keeping up with her own art. Perhaps that’s a stepping stone to reclaiming herself, I hope.

I’m going to be bold and suggest that Parra is making a statement with this novel:

Be who you are.

Do what you love, what you enjoy.

Take risks, do something new.

Change your life.

Be strong.

And those things are very important to a full, happy life and are often overshadowed when new, unexpected things enter our lives.


Don’t diminish yourself by being two incomplete fragments when you can be one whole.

I want to share this book with certain women in my life who are like Tracy, to show them that they can be the person they were meant to be. This is a great read that gives a lot of cultural references about certain areas and aspects of Italy. Parra has infused this novel in rich Roman experiences, food, culture and art. If you want an in-house experience of Rome, but can’t afford the trip, this book gives a beautiful sneak peek to enjoy. Parra did a very good job including large amounts of Roman culture and life into this novel, and that’s not an easy thing to do. My hat’s off to you, Daniel Parra!

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win the book!

Want to know more about J. Daniel Parra? Toodle on over to my interview with him here. To read Daniel’s guest post about publication, go here. 

Tomorrow’s blog tour stop for Daniel’s Pieces of Tracy will be with Cinta Garcia De La Rosa. Check out Daniel’s guest post at Indie Authors You Want to Read.  Monday, 7/22, the blog stop will be at Diary of a Mad Stitcher.

Summer Giveaways: Kindle Fire, PayPal Cash or Amazon Gift Card

Kindle Summer


Bloggers & Authors have joined together and each chipped in a little money towards a Kindle Fire HD 7″.

Kindle Fire HD 7″ Giveaway

The winner will have the option of receiving a 7″ Kindle Fire HD (US Only)

Or $199 Gift Card (International)

Or $199 in Paypal Cash (International)

Sponsoring Bloggers & Authors

  1. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
  2. Feed Your Reader
  3. New Adult Addiction
  4. Jessabella Reads
  5. The (Mis)Adventures of a Twenty-Somthing Year Old Girl
  6. Books Unhinged by StacyHgg
  7. S.A. Larsen – Writer’s Ally
  8. Author Inger Iverson
  9. The Geeky Gamers
  10. annakyss
  11. Everyday Word Magic
  12. Candance’s Book Blog
  13. Page Flipperz
  14. SMI Book Club
  15. Laurie Here
  16. Feed Your Fiction Addiction
  17. Phantasmic Reads
  18. The Book Bellas
  19. Please Don’t Remove MarGreat’s Glasses
  20. Author Jennifer Laurens
  21. J.C. Valentine
  22. Holly Hood
  23. Young Adult Novel Reader
  24. Author Heather Bixler
  25. Literary Meanderings
  26. Suspense Author Kim Cresswell
  27. Mother Daughter & Son Book Review
  28. Meredith’s Musings
  29. Auggie Talk
  30. Author Camelia Miron Skiba
  31. Author Lena Sledge
  32. LoriTheAuthor
  33. Author Dianne Venetta
  34. Curling Up with A Good Book
  35. MyLadyWeb
  36. Fae Books
  37. Bea’s Book Nook
  38. Girls with Books
  39. Ketch’s Book Nook
  40. Turning Pages
  41. Bookhounds
  42. Karey White
  43. My Devotional Thoughts
  44. Author Talia Jager
  45. Author Helen Smith
  46. Sher A Hart: Written Art
  47. Author MK McClintock
  48. Word to Dreams
  49. Buku-Buku Didi
  50. Tasty Book Tours
  51. Readerlicious
  52. Romance Bookworm’s Reviews

Giveaway Details

1 winner will receive their choice of a Kindle Fire 7″ HD (US Only), $199 Amazon Gift Card or $199 in Paypal Cash (International).

There is a second separate giveaway for bloggers who post this giveaway on their blog. See details in the rafflecopter on how to enter to win the 2nd Kindle Fire.

Sponsor a future Kindle Fire Giveaway by signing up HERE.

Ends 8/15/13

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the participating authors & bloggers. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Remember – Once you have posted you must enter your link into this form to be entered to win the 2nd Kindle Fire exclusively for bloggers who post this giveaway! Fill out this form to enter.

Book Review: The Snitch, Houdini and Me

cover art

The Snitch, Houdini and Me: Humorous Tales of Death-Defying Childhood Misadventure (2010) by Johnny Virgil (JV Enterprises, 2010)

Genre: memoir, humor

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author through BookBloggers in return for an honest review. If you would like to know more about Johnny Virgil, check out his blog, 15  Minute Lunch.

Amazon describes Virgil’s memoir…

“Go Out and Play and Don’t Come Home until it’s Dark.”

Growing up in the 70’s wasn’t easy. No internet or smartphones, video games or HDTV — nothing but time to kill and the endless potential of a summer day. Only parental threats and a newly-developed sense of right and wrong could steer Johnny Virgil and his two younger brothers away from trouble…or directly into it.
Join Johnny on this hilarious and irreverent romp through his childhood as he recounts the stories that made him what he is today – an unimportant cog in a vast, corporate financial services machine. But he wasn’t always this way, and this book is proof.
Booby traps, severed deer legs, runaway bulldozers, young love and fresh cow pies — all this and more, brought to life by Johnny’s sometimes twisted, sometimes touching but always hilarious tales of suburban childhood. If you have kids of your own, these are the stories you don’t want them to read.  If you like to laugh even when it’s wrong and long to return to a more innocent yet treacherous time, this book will leave you wishing Johnny’s childhood had never ended.

When I signed up to review this book, I knew it was right up my ally. I grew up with three younger brothers, two older male cousins, two additional male kids of close family friends and tons of boys at my annual summer camp, which was a big prankfest. Talk about shenanigans! I was prepared for this book…or so I thought. I was amused at the stories Virgil shared, and felt that I was an observer of those events. I highly recommend this book!

If you are a mother, especially of boys or a daughter who was a tomboy, read this book. If you’re a boy (over the age of 21 so as not to get any “bright” ideas), read this book.

If you spent your childhood days growing up pre-2000, read this book. It will bring memories flooding back…and maybe provide some pointers or ideas you never dreamed of fulfilling to scare the beejezus out of that big kid bully.

If you ever feared being “in deep shit,” read this book. Warning: the farther in you read, the more adult the language becomes. There is a PG version available for Kindle readers.

This book is hilarious throughout, with never-ending shenanigans and covert missions, usually involving one of Johnny’s two younger brothers, The Snitch or Houdini, their neighbor Markie or best friend The Slug. Virgil shares some stories that could have been disastrously dangerous for his little band of boys. He is very keen to point out he doesn’t know how he survived childhood without killing himself, or someone else, at every opportunity. And he’s right: after reading some of the boys’ grand schemes, you will be surprised to know they usually escaped supreme and disastrous trouble usually unscathed, with only a few cuts.

Johnny and his gang didn’t have the best of everything from back in the day. They didn’t get what they wanted. They essentially had hand-me-down bikes that came home as a box of bike parts. Yeah. The kid down the street had a mouth-watering go-kart…so Johnny and the boys created their own version, and they were happy with it. Imagination and invention were the game plan.

Throughout this collection of stories, readers can watch Johnny grow up from the leader of two little brothers through that awkward teenage stage, learning about girls and dating, cars, and eventually a few excursions with the bottle. Included in the beginning chapters are drawings Johnny did as a child in grade school, and one or two photos.

Virgil shares a time when being a kid was OK, but when you cross the line there are consequences from your parents. Neighborhood kids with tag-along siblings, generally left to their own devices during summertime. Friendly-fire neighborhood gangs battling over turf, sometimes just on principle. The fear of getting in trouble. It’s something that’s rarely seen today, back when a pinky swear meant something.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

cover art
cover art

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2007)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: design an issue of The Daily Prophet or The Quibbler – follow the attention of the media from the book, paying attention to the audiences of both literary sources; create a propoganda poster or pamphlet; studies of various types of government and policies
  • Math: “Design a Map” – based on information provided from the book of where Harry, Hermione and Ron travel

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try to stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

Spoilers from Book 6 – Read at Your Own Risk!

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

The final book of Harry Potter has come! It is bittersweet. I started prepping this post, and then started reading the book. And then I started debating whether or not to even post a review of the book. I was afraid that I was going to give too much away, because there was SO much I wanted to share about the book…and then I finished the book and was in even more of a dilemma. It was a hard decision.

The last book gave readers quite a shock. The title referred to Severus Snape, who had been playing the double agent role for The Order of the Phoenix and Lord Voldemort. He also made an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco Malfoy…and he killed Dumbledore with the Killing Curse. Was it because Malfoy was there? Because that was Malfoy’s task from Voldemort, and he choked? I surmise we’ll have our answer in this last book.

Where will this leave Harry and the Order? And what about Hogwarts? When I finished Book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was overwhelmed with questions and anger and fear. And I hurt for Harry, for his loss and the loss of the Wizarding world. Rowling has spun a wonderful series, creating strong, relatable characters – and she also did a miraculous job as an author creating a bond between her readers and the characters she’s created.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part IRowling set us up in the last book to know that Harry plans to leave Hogwarts. Dumbledore gave Harry hope to defeat Voldemort – and the way to do it: Harry will need to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes that Voldemort has stored his soul within. He knows that there are seven pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and that his current body houses one piece, leaving six remaining. Harry destroyed Riddle’s diary with a basilisk fang in HP and the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore destroyed a second Horcrux piece – the Slytherin ring, accounting for his injured and shriveled hand in the last book. But there’s so much more to that story…The third known Horcrux was the locket Dumbledore and Harry set off to destroy in the last book, and it had been stolen – replaced with a replica and a note signed by R.A.B. Who is R.A.B.? Harry needs to find the remaining four, potentially five, Horcruxes.

This book opens during the summer, with Harry grounded at the Dursleys’. A plan has been hatched to safely transport Harry and also the Dursleys, as time is running out on the charm that protects him at the Dursleys. The moment he turns 17 or no longer calls the Durlseys house his home, the charm is broken and Voldemort will come a-knocking. The plan is somehow breached, with all the members of the Order being attacked by Death Eaters throwing around Killing Curses like candy at a hometown parade. Needless to say, the Order suffers some serious loss, with one going missing. However, the Order will suffer more down the line. Get the tissues handy.

This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. 

Readers learn that once again, the Ministry is keeping Azkaban escapes hush-hush, and other internal problems such as Death Eaters still working within the Ministry and gaining intel. The Daily Prophet is also suspiciously quiet. And a teacher (whom we’ve never heard of before, but who’s apparently been at Hogwarts for years) has strangely resigned…after leaving Hogwarts. I’ll give you three guesses as to what’s happened to her.

DH1_Albus_Dumbledore's_signature_with_Deathly_Hallows_symbolRowling has never left any of her books without action, and this one is definitely jam-packed – and mortally dangerous for Harry. The Ministry has been compromised entirely, Snape is in power at Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s name and memory are being tarnished salaciously…and Muggles are fearing for their lives like never before. The annoying Rita Skeeter has taken full advantage of the situation of the Wizarding world, and published a book The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, using The History of Magic textbook ‘s author Bathilda Bagshot as a source. It does contain some questionable content, and has Harry heavily questioning his relationship with Dumbledore. This snowballs and leads them onto some interesting discoveries about the past, all while still on the run. They also discover a symbol in the book Dumbledore left Hermione, and also found it on a grave in Godric’s Hollow. It is the same symbol Luna’s father, Xeno Lovegood, Quibbler editor, wore to Bill and Fluer’s wedding…a symbol that Krum identified as Grindelwald’s mark, a mark of very Dark Arts and other sinister sentiments.

Through their journey to find the Horcurxes, Harry, Hermione and Ron traverse the dangers of the Ministry to steal back the Slytherin locket that Voldemort used for a Horcrux. It was quite a nail biter. They take turns wearing the locket, but it holds a great power over the wearer, causing the wearer to act strangely…. and restricts the wearer in certain ways, posing a very strong danger. It’s almost as if Voldemort can see the situation and control the locket.

Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.

They learn that a group of Hogwarts students, including Ginny and Luna, tried to steal the Gryffindor sword from Snape’s new headmaster office. So it’s transported to a “safe” place….but it was a fake! The real sword, which is determined to contain basilisk venom, can destroy the Horcurxes. Like the locket, they now need to find the sword.

The trio learn of items that could make the owner the Conquerer of Death. Harry already has one, one is destroyed, and Voldemort is fiery pursuit after the final object: an old, powerful wand with a bloody past. Given that Harry and Hermione are wanted by the Ministry, and Ron would probably be taken on false charges, they go to the one person who knows the meaning of the symbol: Xeno Lovegood. He relates the long-held belief of The Deathly Hallows, and the three objects. It all stems from a fairy tale of three brothers. Through the strange connection between Harry and Voldemort, he learns that a wandmaker, Gregorovitch, had the Elder Wand, but it was stolen long ago by Grindelwald, but the most recent owner is someone dear to Harry.

Harry becomes consumed by the story of The Deathly Hallows, certain that he is the descendant of the youngest brother. He wants to throw the search for the Horcurxes to the wind, thinking of the Deathly Hallows and the prophecy. He thinks having all the Deathly Hallows will ensure that he can defeat Voldemort. Ron and Hermione quickly need to snap him out of it.

This book is gripping. It reveals so many histories and connections of the past, and true loyalties of many. In this book much weighs on Harry, least of concern to him his life. Harry exudes selflessnes, kindness and quite a bit of logic and reasoning. Dumbledore’s Army has come back full force. All is explained and comes full circle, but it may leave readers with a slight pain in your hearts.

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Who will prevail in the end?

A Nurse: On the Other Side

I’ve tried keeping this blog strictly review & book related, and this post kind of fits into this category.

Last year, I started dating this sweetheart of a guy. The sweetheart I almost dated in high school…but that bitchy ex crawled out of whatever hole she had crawled into, fangs and talons barred. We all know someone like that, right? Yeah. But through D. I have inherited a wonderful group of his friends.

One of these newly inherited friends is the lady who got me into book blogging. She had no qualms about me guest writing for her blog, The Eclectic Bookworm. She has welcomed me with open arms and helped me get started. I would not have had the opportunity, the resources or the gumption without her and her support.

high school sweethearts
high school sweethearts

Mandi is a Texan by birth, but she grew up in Pittsburgh and moved back to Texas a few years ago. Last year was a big year for her: she turned thirty, and a few short months after that she married her high school sweetheart. They met in the old-school chat rooms, came together and then life happened. They both married other people and had a child. They both realized their marriages weren’t the marriages they’d intended. Mandi was a victim of rape and domestic violence.

Mandi and her HS sweetheart both filed for divorce. They decided that they had both met the person they were supposed to be with a long time ago, and moved to Texas together. Since then, they have troubled the murky waters of child custody and unpleasant dealings with their ex’s. None of that is ever easy, even with one parent dealing with it in a new marriage. They had both! Despite that, they have tried very much to bridge their families, and they have two wonderful, adorable children.

But through all of those life events, Mandi has suffered with the pain of fibromyalgia and horrible migraines. She was diagnosed when she was 23, just when she was starting to enjoy “adult life.” Many Americans suffer from this painful condition, and there are more studies and active research into this condition that affects over 10 million in our country alone.

wedding day
wedding day

Mandi has dealt with her fibromyalgia for eight years now. She graduated college with a nursing degree and pursued her calling: helping others who can’t help themselves. She was a nurse and she loved it. Growing up she learned compassion in almost the same way as I did, and she put this to use in her field.

But last year, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. The very week of her wedding, she started getting sick. Her doctors diagnosed her with two things: a systematic auto-immune disease called sarcoidosis, and an auto-immune disease in her eyes called pars planitis. Sarcoidosis is the very disease that caused the death of the humorous Bernie Mac. Since the pars planitis is only in her eyes, the only way to definitively find out anything conclusive is to cut open her eyes. Obviously, that’s not a route she can take.

Due to the rare nature of her case of pars, there is no specific medication for treatment. Her doctors have been trying to find something that works. She went on chemotherapy drugs and steroid injections, some directly in the eyes. Methotrexate (the chemo drug) had to be discontinued because it was causing liver toxicity. After a year of being on steroid injections, they are causing cataracts to form, creating a more dire need for laser eye surgery before the year is out.

getting an eye injection
getting an eye injection

The combination of these drugs and the shockingly high dosages have taken a toll on Mandi. In August/September of last year, she was forced to leave her job as a nurse for Hospice Austin. She is now on the other side of the health equation. Since leaving her job due to these mounting medical reasons, she could no longer afford her skyrocketing healthcare coverage. She cannot qualify for Medicaid to alleviate some of the medical bills. Her husband is diligently working two jobs to hold down the fort, and neither of them offer health insurance.

Thankfully, Mandi had some help from her parents throughout this past year. But the clock keeps ticking, she’s not getting substantially better and the money is running out. Her medications and dosages have changed, she’s put on a lot of weight due to the medications and her relationships and marriage are strained. Just a few weeks ago she was in the emergency room twice within the span of a few days’ time, with over $3,000 in those bills alone.  She is missing out on other aspects of her life due to the steadily mounting medical bills and her declining health.

Mandi's beautiful family
Mandi’s beautiful family

Mandi started doing serious book blogging as a hobby not long after leaving her job. Often she reads late into the night and early morning hours and posts during  that time from her bed, due to her insomnia. Once the new year rang in and she started feeling a little better, she got on board as a writer for Her focus is on gun rights, issues, laws and anything gun-related in Texas. Although this is supplying her with a little income and she can do it from home, it is not even a drop in the bucket. She gets paid based on the traffic to her articles and through the ads that Examiner uses, *if* readers click on the ads. She is currently debating about obtaining a part-time job once she knows how her new medications will affect her. But even then, she won’t be able to drive. It would need to be a flexible job, and we all know it is like finding a needle in the haystack to find a flexible PT position.

post eye injection
post eye injection

After much deliberation and family strife, Mandi has created a GoFundMe page to try to reduce her medical debt. It has not been a well-received idea from her family, but she is running out of options. Due to all of the medical bills, other bills are also mounting. She is also owed over $8,000 in child support and medical bills for her daughter. She is not sure how long she and her family will be able to stay in the apartment her daughter calls home.

post eye injection
post eye injection

I implore all of my subscribers, followers and readers to please share this post on all of your social media sites and blogs. It will take the kindness of strangers to help Mandi. Please, go donate something, even $5, to help Mandi. Go to her GoFundMe page. Anything will help in her desperate time of need.

To find out more about Mandi, her medical battles and her day-to-day struggles and joys, keep up with her on her True Life Is Stranger Than Fiction blog.