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Cruel Lessons (Lessons in Peril Book 1) by Randy Overbeck (Book Review)

On a school camping trip, fifth graders experiment with a dangerous new hallucinogen and die in a horrific accident, their deaths shattering the quiet town. Assistant Superintendent Ken Parks, hoping to redeem a fatal mistake from his past, grasps the opportunity to conduct the district investigation of how students are getting the drugs. Almost before he begins, the cops make a stunning arrest. But Parks battles on, convinced the real pusher is still out there, poisoning more kids until he receives an anonymous threat: if he continues, those close to him will pay. Is Parks willing to risk those he loves for a chance at redemption?

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

Cruel Lessons was a 457-page novel (print edition) that touched on a sensitive real-life issue: drugs in school. It’s common for young adults to experiment with pot, cigarettes, or alcohol. The age bracket partaking in illegal drugs exists well before high school. Cruel Lessons features the effects of drug use among 11 to 13-year-olds. Drugs are entering Foster Middle School, mainly a hallucinogen-inducing wolf tattoo. Once the young buyer presses the drug to their skin, their time is almost up. 

Cops witness numerous horrific crime scenes through their time on the force; the death of 4 young boys close to the science camp will haunt their dreams for a long time, maybe forever. 

The school board asked Ken to take point and find out how the kids got a hold of the drugs and discover if the school was liable for their deaths. The board seemed more interested if they would get sued or not. I wasn’t surprised people valued the bottom line over the loss of 4 lives. 

Ken, not a trained investigator, began to work the case. He interviewed staff members and students and enlisted the help of Bart (resource officer). His “meddling” was not appreciated by the dealer, “the doctor.” Lives were lost in the pursuit of justice. A popular teacher was fighting to prove her innocence. Through all the school drama, readers also watched love triangles unfold in the background. Wow, the cheating spouses drama could be its own soap opera. While I understand each purpose in the story, I wanted their faithful spouses to discover their misdeeds. I wanted more drama! 

The list of suspects was long. Who brought the tattoos into the school and how they did it might stun you. As you work the case with Ken and Bart, do not write off a suspect so quickly. At the end of the story, I had 75% of the resolution figured out. I was wrong about one prime suspect, which falls in the 25% category. 

Cruel Lessons will keep you guessing. When you think you figured it out, the author throws you a curveball. The uncertainty, the twists, kept me going back for more. Even though I loved the book, it left me with many unquestioned questions. To avoid giving out spoilers, I will refrain from elaborating on what puzzled me. 

If you like crime stories that take time to solve, this book is for you! 

 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score:  

Releases 10/11/23: Preorder (Amazon) Link

 

 

Meet the Author

Dr. Randy Overbeck is an award-winning educator, author and speaker. As an educator, he served children for more than three decades in a range of roles captured in his novels, from teacher and coach to principal and superintendent. His thriller, LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND (2012) and his recent mysteries, the Amazon No. 1 Best Seller, BLOOD ON THE CHESAPEAKE (2019), CRIMSON AT CAPE MAY (2020) and SCARLET AT CRYSTAL RIVER (2021) have earned five star reviews and garnered national awards including “Thriller of the Year”—ReadersFavorite.com, “Gold Award”—Literary Titan, “Mystery of the Year”—ReadersView.com and “Crowned Heart of Excellence”—InD’Tale Magazine.

As a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Dr. Overbeck is an active member of the literary community, contributing to a writers’ critique group, serving as a mentor to emerging writers and participating in writing conferences such as Sleuthfest, Killer Nashville and the Midwest Writers Workshop. When he’s not writing or researching his next exciting novel or sharing his presentation “Things Still Go Bump in the Night,” he’s spending time with his incredible family of wife, three children (and their spouses) and seven wonderful grandchildren.

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How to Fix the Smile of a Crocodile: An ocean wide hunt for kindness! by Rebecca Kurien (Book Review)

Dive into the depths of the ocean and meet Barry, the saltwater crocodile who is in desperate need of help. With a toothache so terrible it won’t go away, Barry sets out on a journey to find the most talented sea creatures in the ocean for help. Along the way, he meets

  • An octopus with 8 helpful arms
  • A sperm whale, the loudest creature on earth
  • A sailfish, the fastest fish in the ocean
  • A blue whale, the biggest creature on earth
  • A great white shark, the fiercest in the ocean
  • An orca known for their extreme intelligence

Through this heart-warming and inspirational children’s book, your child will learn incredible facts about sea creatures woven into the plot of the story and discover the value of kindness and empathy.

 

Featuring beautiful illustrations, lovable characters and an awe-inspiring twist in the end, this book promises entertainment for your child. Perfect for children between the ages of 3 and 7, this book is a must-have in any collection.

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

At some point, everyone will require help from a friend, family member, or stranger. It could relate to work, schooling, a flat tire, sewing a tear in clothing, a scrape from a fall, or carrying a heavy or bulky object. Barry, the saltwater crocodile, required medical assistance. He, unfortunately, was dealing with a terrible toothache. He couldn’t eat or sleep. The pain was making him downright miserable.

Tooth pain is no laughing matter. While humans can call a dentist, Barry didn’t have that luxury. Even though Cleo, a little bird, swore she could help him, Barry rebuffed her help due to her small stature and species. Instead, he ventured into the ocean, where readers will meet the most extraordinary creatures in bright, beautiful colors. I was highly impressed with the underwater images. Every page was more stunning than the last. It was movie-quality artistry. (illustrator: Eduardo Paj)

Rebecca Kurien’s children’s book had a balanced collection of new and familiar water friends. For example, depending on age, kids should recognize the great white shark, but maybe not the sailfish. As Barry talked to the six ocean dwellers, he learned an interesting fact about each. In turn, your child will gain fun facts, too, such as an octopus does not have teeth.

While the crocodile’s toothy situation wasn’t fixed during his adventure under the sea, the trip proved worthwhile. He met and gained knowledge about new animals. He also learned a valuable lesson. We should never discount someone’s worth based on outward appearance. Also, if help is needed, be open to a person’s ideas or assistance. You never know who has the right tool for the job. Finally, we should teach kids to help others in need.

Children will fall in love with the vibrant colors, the many animals featured, and (of course) Barry’s mission to fix his achy tooth. Parents: Buy a copy for your house. Teachers: Include it in your themed lessons. Librarians: You’ll want multiple copies because I see the book flying off the shelves!

 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score: ❤❤

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Meet the Author 

Rebecca Kurien is an Indian-Australian writer, lawyer, musician and perhaps most importantly, a mother of two. She has lived between Oman and India in her childhood, before moving to New Zealand and then Australia.

Her debut book, ‘How to Fix the Smile of a Crocodile’ was inspired by her son’s fascination with the ocean and its wondrous creatures. She wanted to create a book for her children that was based on science and fact, while still leaning on the charm and magic of storytelling.

It is her dream to fill children’s lives with the richness and amazement of the world that we live in, by showing them that the journey to learning is never complete.

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Do I have Something on my Face? by D.L. DiBenedetto (Book Review)

Step into the heartwarming world of Michael, a young man with Down Syndrome, and experience a delightful story from his perspective that will connect with children of all ages. This beautifully illustrated children’s book is a must-read for any young person who has ever felt different or struggled to fit in.

With its uplifting message of self-acceptance and positivity, it is perfect for anyone who wants to teach their children about empathy, acceptance, and the power of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Whether your child has Down Syndrome, autism or other challenges, this book with inspire them to focus on their strengths and see the positive in every situation. Get your copy today and embark on an endearing journey of everyday life through Michael’s unique perspective.

Our motto is: we laugh (a lot), sometimes we cry, but most of all we try!

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I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reedsy Discovery.  I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.

 

During those long months in the womb, our bodies grow and develop from zygote to baby. A fetus has no control of the process; they are just floating in the amniotic fluid, patiently waiting for the time they can greet the world. They do not select what color eyes they’ll have, how their limbs will form, how tall they’ll become, or decide if they’ll be born with 46 or 47 chromosomes. Michael was born with Down Syndrome; a genetic condition where a person is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21, meaning he has 47 chromosomes total. This extra chromosome affected how his brain and body developed but did not change who he was on the inside. 

Michael’s head and face structure may look differently than yours, but he still likes to do the same activities as you. He loves play video games, especially the dancing ones. He loves watching videos online and listening to music. He enjoys family trips, such as visiting the zoo or theme parks. Michael can not fly due to air pressure behind his eyes, but that’s okay. Many people avoid them due to a fear of flying. Moving floors are tricky, but I’ve seen people without Down Syndrome get tripped up by them. Michael has to adjust how he handles some obstacles, but don’t we all have something that is hard for us to do? I’ve known many children and adults without D.S. who find swallowing a pill impossible. I prefer liquid or powder over solid pills, too. 

Michael’s courageous story teaches children to treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t stare unless you like being stared at. And, just because a person looks or sounds differently than you does not mean they are unintelligent. Judge people on how they act, not how they look or sound.

Michael’s story will inspire all children with Down Syndrome, autism, or other challenges to focus on their strengths and see the positive in every situation. I recommend this sweet, inspirational book for children 4-10. 

 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score: ❤❤❤❤❤

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Meet the Author

I’m a software program/product manager juggling work while being a caregiver for my bedridden mother and my nephew, Michael, who has Down Syndrome. Michael’s experiences, and musings have inspired the creation of this book. He truly inspires, and challenges me every day to be a better person.

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The Ghastly Mr Denton and the Handsome Miss Jane by D.L Richards (Book Review)

The town of Dolton, surely voted the country’s most mundane. The townsfolk herded about their days, lives cemented in tradition and a rigid social hierarchy – in which the top tier could be defined in a word: ostentatious. Their importance did not permit the acknowledgement of plebeians, who they generally agreed were more animal than civilised. Until the arrival of Mr Denton, that is. His barbaric display at the Dolton Women’s Club ignites Miss Jane’s long-dormant rebellious spirit – while utterly humiliating the avaricious widow Ms Greer.

Will his questionable behaviour lead to an uprising – or leave Dolton devastated.

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I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reedsy Discovery.  I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.

 

The Ghastly Mr Denton and the Handsome Miss Jane would make an excellent bedtime story. Why, you may ask? Well, sadly, it had me yawning and ready for a nap. There were moments when readers might chuckle, such as when Mr Adams grabbed and lifted Miss Jane’s foot without permission, and she smacked him. Intelligent men know it’s never wise to touch a lady without explicit permission. In years past, it was imperative one stay in their social class lane. He acted without thought and was too forward, cueing the two slaps heard around the manor. People might smirk at Mr Adam’s cavalier attitude towards a bank robbery or his attempts at charming Miss Jane. He was quite the scoundrel.

The Ghastly Mr Denton and the Handsome Miss Jane did have an unexpected murder mystery, but by the time we got to it, I frankly didn’t care who killed the victim (name withheld on purpose) and why. The jailhouse visit did capture my interest, delivering quite eye-opening revelations by more than one person. For those mic-drop confessions, this story salvaged itself. They almost made me forget the story’s grammar mistakes. 

The Ghastly Mr Denton and the Handsome Miss Jane does precisly what its summary promises; it presents a mysterious and unconventional stranger who strolls into town and disrupts the rigid and boring social order. While I was expecting a torrid love affair from two members of opposing social classes, what I got instead was better. Readers will be stunned and speechless by the ending. It was so juicy, came out of left field, and almost tempted me into rereading it. 

Even though this historical novelette didn’t wow me, DL Richards (the author) did a fantastic job delivering a twist that made me stop and say, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” 

The Ghastly Mr Denton and the Handsome Miss Jane is under 50 pages, perfect for those who want a quick read during their lunch break or tea time. 


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Tilly and the Sleepyhead Sun by Emily Pray (Book Review)


Come along with Tilly the owl on the adventure of a lifetime as she tries to wake up a sleepyhead sun who forgot to rise with the morning. With funny, silly, and noisy efforts, will Tilly save the day?

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I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reedsy Discovery. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.

 

In the middle of a little village rested a tall clock tower, and at its tip lived a little brown owl named Tilly. Tilly maintained the clock. She polished the bell until it was shiny. The owl would sound the bell in the morning, alerting the villagers it was time to start their day. She had a significant role in making the day run smoothly, more than she ever realized.

One day, Tilly was sleepy and decided to stay in bed longer than usual. Little did she know, so did the sun. The village remained dark without the sun’s rays, and the residents stayed asleep. The town was quiet from everyone snoozing the day away. Even the birds weren’t singing. 

Tilly attempted to wake the sun in several different ways. The dear, sweet owl tried to coax the sun awake with delicious, smelling foods that might make readers’ mouths water. She used loud instruments and slipped on a pair of tap dancing shoes. Nothing worked! 

Tilly brainstormed ways to wake the sun, so the day could officially begin. Before you read how Tilly finally woke the sleeping sun, ask your young listeners what other ways might work. Get your child engaged in the story by having them grab maracas, pots and pans, party blowers, or any other loud instrument, and join Tilly as she tries to wake the sun using loud sounds. Have them get up and stomp or dance with Tilly. 

Tilly and the Sleepyhead Sun by Emily Pray is an interactive storybook with lovely illustrations. (Artist: Emma Slawson). It has silly moments and images that’ll appeal to any size audience: home or school. I particularly loved the snoring sun and the tap-dancing owl. 

I recommend Tilly and the Sleepyhead Sun to children from three to nine years of age. 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score:  

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Meet the Author

My name is Emily Pray, and I’m the author of Tilly and the Sleepyhead Sun, my debut children’s story. I’m a therapist, mother, and artist living in Missoula MT with my family.

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