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Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Spotlight: Teera: A Life of Hope and Fulfillment | Teera de Fonseka

Genre: Memoir
Paperback: 234 pages 
Perspective: First Person
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 22, 2015) 
Language: English 


SYNOPSIS:

Teera’s life was beautiful. Having grown up in the splendor of a beachside paradise, Teera settled down in a good home with the love of her life and their two gorgeous children. Filled with love, joy, and a promising future, Teera’s world was nearly perfect, until the night her husband was violently murdered while the two of them lay in bed sleeping. The assailant intended to kill her too, but Teera survived. Devastated by loss and disfigured from a gruesome facial wound, her infants still to care for, Teera learned to endure and to carry on. Yet the murder was only the beginning. It would be years before Teera escaped the turmoil she faced in Sri Lanka, finding refuge for her family in a far away land. This is Teera’s life of hope and fulfillment, a declaration of faith and of love. Honest, inspiring and heart-rending, Teera’s is an incredible saga set against an enchanting tropical landscape tainted by bloodshed and betrayal.

EXCERPT:

Sri Lanka was not always a place to escape from. In many ways, I wish I never had to leave. But I did, and that’s another story that I’m only beginning to address. When I was growing up, Sri Lanka was paradise. It was home, and I didn’t know anything outside of the little teardrop-shaped island off the coast of India that we called Ceylon. 

It is customary where I come from to name the home that your family resides in. A lot of families would proudly display the name of their first-born son somewhere near the door. Others would display religious tributes or anything else that might be relevant to their household. My family’s home has a wooden sign with the name “Sea Breeze” carved into it, a tribute to both the ocean we lived on, and the safe serenity that home granted our family. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

I don't have any rituals when it comes to my writing. I write whenever inspiration compels me. I want my writing to be natural and unforced. 

When I am not writing, I like to read, take long walks, and watch inspirational TV programs. I also listen to  spiritual leaders like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. They have brought a positive energy into my life. 

Additionally, I love listening to music and volunteering where ever my help is needed. I used to multitask, but these days I have learned to slowdown and do one thing at a time. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do something I love doing. I enjoy writing very much and found writing to be a great hobby to keep the mind alert. It is a great way to meditate, search the heart and soul. 

I don't have a tool to measure the success of a writer but I am convinced that a writer must have the courage to tell the truth, be ready to be silly, but clever and some who is willingly open to learn the simple and effective tools to complete the project with joy.

I can honestly say that finally life makes sense.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Teera de Fonseka is a mother, a grandmother, and a writer living in Los Angeles, California. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing and walking her dog, Tigger. Writing especially has become a hobby for Teera in recent years, as she has worked to publish her memoirs. She loves to spend her days, as she puts it, “writing her heart out.”

Writing has brought Teera a great deal of peace and she wants to encourage others to write their hearts out too. She hopes that her story can touch and inspire others. After having had a chance to tell her tale, Teera wants to keep helping people. She finds inspiration in the talent that she sees in the people around her. She wants to encourage these people to do everything that they can with these talents, and to live up to their potential; to trust in God’s plan for them.





Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hotel Cuba | Brian White

Genre: Fiction/Erotica
Number of Pages: 274
Perspective: First person
Location: Long Island/Cuba

Don has always loved his wife, but as a sex addict, he loves sex more. He dreams of making a resort in Cuba where married couples can go to live out their wildest fantasies together. For a complete summary, you can go here.

I know this is a book, but I’m going to compare it to some movies since I’ve never read a book like it before. You have a narcissistic sex addict, like in Don Jon—the lead character is also conveniently named Don…what’s with Dons? Then you have the indie film vibe that takes a behind the senses of strip club culture, like in Magic Mike—but with mostly female strippers. Then I kept thinking about the movie Couples Retreat. There are two islands: one island is for the couples to work on their relationship together, and the other island is crazy lusting and partying. This book is what the combo of those two islands would look like. 

This is one of those books where I hated every single character, but I still liked the book. The characters lack depth and are all only focused on the present moment and themselves. You watch most of the characters completely self-destruct because they aren’t focused on consequences. 

I am not sure how to really classify this novel. On Amazon, the genre is Plays/Theater, which is definitely not accurate at all. From the beginning, I assumed that it would be an Erotica book since it was about a fantasy resort. The whole book was essentially about sex, and there are some graphic sex scenes, but I still have a hard time calling it Erotica. It definitely wasn't romance since there was no love story; if anything, it was an anti-romance story. All the love seems to fall apart. If it is an Erotica novel, then it was the best novel of its genre that I have ever read. Typically those are full of smut, horrible writing, and unrealistic romances. This book definitely had smut, but the writing was actually pretty good, and surprisingly, I thought that most of it was pretty believable. 

I was shocked with how businessy this book was. It is more about what it would take to build this fantasy getaway, than the place itself. It took awhile to get to the meat of the story, and the Hotel Cuba was really only the last sixth of the book. 

Overall, it was an interesting story. I was kind of over it by the time I reached the end, but I enjoyed it. I think it kind of takes a stab at other Erotica novels; it makes people realize that their actions do have consequences. You can’t live a fanciful life and give into all temptations, and expect nothing bad to happen. I would recommend it to adults (18+). If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it hereAfter you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 4/5 Stars
*****

o Amber Gregg




*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book, but it did not impact my review in any way.*



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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Q & A with Author Dr. Aaron Smith


After reading Dr. Aaron Smith's book Awakening Your STEM School, I needed to know more about this school and what inspires Dr. Smith. Check out our interview!

Why did you get into education?

I was inspired by two wonderful math teachers who taught math with enthusiasm. I enjoyed coming to class to learn which made a positive impression on me that led me to become a math teacher.

Does your STEM school offer non-STEM classes?

Yes, we do! We have English and Social Studies classes.

What is your favorite lesson that you have ever taught or seen?

When the students are in our Maintenance Lab and are working on their plane. While there, students circle together looking at the blueprint and then begin to work on the objective as one unit. The teamwork and pride seen here is truly priceless.

What is your favorite part about education?

Watching and working with kids to reach their fullest potential and seeing the fruits of their labor come to life are one of my favorite parts of education. In my career as an educator, it still reminds me why I needed to become an educator.

What is your least favorite part about education?

I’d have to say that when I work with students that don’t understand the value of an education and I cannot persuade them to take ownership in their work. As a result, their grades continue to drop, which makes it very difficult to get them back on track.

What inspired you to write a book?

I have always been someone who likes to try new things and felt like there was a story here at Aviation Academy. People don’t realize the power behind STEM and student engagement and when I was researching for ways to improve our program, I realized that there were no pioneers to combine both of these elements. So I began to jot ideas down based upon our work and grasped very quickly that this needed to be shared with our community and the rest of the world.

Please describe your process of writing and publishing your book.

First, I would say that I am not a traditional writer and it is still a learning curve to me. I begin each morning with a cup of coffee around 4:30 am and look at emails for the latest news, blogs and ideas to bring into our program. Then after thinking about how to create a model for our school, I would then blend it with our vision and core beliefs. From here, I would go home at night and reflect on the progress and write or edit as needed. This pattern would continue for months until I get a draft more structured.

Once I felt like it was at a decent state to share with others, I would ask for ideas to help with the content and flow. Upon the draft’s return, I would go back and edit more continuing to flush out the ideas and embed the newly worked ones that I have recently done.

This book actually took about six strong edits to be at the place where it was sent to the publisher for final review. Even after the publisher and editor provided me with the proof, I was still finding small typos and corrected as many as I saw before sending it back in for finalization.

What are your ambitions for your writing career? What would your career look like in an ideal world?

I would love to develop a series of books on STEM Education that would focus on particulars such as business engagement, student-centered learning, teacher facilitation, and more. This way others can learn from my achievements and mistakes so that they can replicate their own successes.
An ideal career for me would be one that is like a blank sheet of paper. I love something that has a target and yet can be fluid where I still work with other students, educators and businesses that truly care about our children’s futures. As long as I am having fun and making a difference that is all that means the world to me.

Who inspires you?

My family inspires me. They are the reason why I try to find new and innovative things to share with them and others.

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I am still doing some research on John Hattie and how it can be aligned to STEM.  I am also tinkering with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences and STEM as well.

How much research did you do before writing this book?

In terms of peer reviewed journals, I have not done a whole lot of research.  I usually get my ideas from blogs and site visits to companies where they are on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity.  From here, I try to replicate it based upon a derivate of their model.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest thing for me is to change from writing in passive voice to active voice. 

What is the easiest thing about writing?

Creating charts, tables, and models, which I have implemented into the book.

What is your favorite quote?

Being a sports fan, I have always been amazed at Vince Lombardi.  His speech (What It Takes To Be Number One) still inspires me and yet reminds me that things take time and hard work.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

They can visit my website at http://www.stemschooldr.com where I have a blog that I update weekly.  Readers can also follow me on twitter @stemschooldr and facebook (stemschooldr).  Outside of my personal life I work at Aviation Academy and our website is (http://avi.nn.k12.va.us )

Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you would like to include?


Thanks for the opportunity to share this with you and your readers.  I hope that we all continue to work together to make a difference in the lives of our children so that their futures are brighter than ever.

o Amber Gregg






Check out my review of Dr. Smith's book Awakening Your STEM School










Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread | Anne Tyler


“For years, she had been in mourning for the way she had let her life slip through her fingers. Given another chance, she’d told herself, she would take more care to experience it. But lately, she was finding that she had experienced it after all and just forgotten, and now it was returning to her.”

Genre: Women’s Fiction
Number of Pages: 368
Perspective: Third Person
Location: Baltimore, Maryland

A Spool of Blue Thread is a novel about three generations of one family. They fight, laugh, and cry together, but they embrace the unpredictable journey of life as a family. For a complete summary and to read an excerpt, you can go here.

This book is about nothing, and yet it is about everything. There is a loose plot, but the story bounces through three generations of one family. It’s not a happy book. It’s not a sad book. It’s just real. It is about family, love, and life.

I am always leery of books that are hyped up, but I was drawn into this book from the first page. The characters are all extremely different from one another. Some are stoic, some are quirky, some are dependable, some are flaky—but I grew to love each of them in their own way. Tyler really explores the relationships within a family and how they are ever evolving. She develops her characters beautifully. 

The story moved at a very slow pace, compared to all the popular action-packed novels and TV shows that we have grown accustomed to. That doesn’t really matter, though. She needed that time to make you understand and love this family. I think that everyone will see themselves in at least one of these characters. The characters all just felt very real. Which means that you may love to hate and hate to love some of them (perhaps like you would with your own family). 

I want to find something bad to say about this book, but the only thing I can think of is that two of the daughters were both married to men named Hugh. So that got to be a bit annoying and confusing. 

At first I really didn’t like how it bounced around in time, but by the end it all made sense. I think it was an intelligent decision by the author to reveal things in the order that she did. If she had gone in chronological order, I don’t think that I would have appreciated the present day family as much. You really have to understand where it all started. 

Immediately after reading this book, I felt at peace and content with the book. I planned on giving this book four out of five stars, but after reflecting on it, I really loved this book. I think it is a book that everyone should take the time to read, that is why I decided to give it my Best Book AwardIf you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it hereAfter you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“But it has occurred to me, on occasion, that our memories of our loved ones might not be the point. Maybe the point is their memories—all that they take away with them.” 

  5/5 Stars
*****

o Amber Gregg












View my other Best Book Award recipients






If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:





Belong to Me










The Shore











The Language of Flowers



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Awakening Your STEM School | Dr. Aaron L. Smith

Genre: Non-fiction—Education
Number of Pages: 222
Perspective: First and third
Location: Coastal Virginia

Awakening Your STEM School is a book of ideas, examples, and tools for successfully running a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math education) school. Its main focus is preparing students to work in those fields. For a complete summary, you can go here.

I want to tell you all a little background about myself before I review this book. I actually live very close to the STEM school featured in this book in Coastal Virginia. I just recently moved here, but it is already very easy to why a STEM school would perform exceptionally well here. We have Navy bases with tons of Navy ships, plus large jets flying overhead, nearby airports, many science-related museums, crazy underwater tunnels, and an engineer's paradise. We actually moved here because my husband got a job working at an engineering firm. 

My background is in early childhood education, so I am not an expect in high school STEM, but I do know the importance of actual experiences as a learning process (versus reading textbooks and listening to lectures). So any time a school can provide hands-on experiences, it is sure to be a memorable learning event. I won’t get into the politics regarding magnet schools, but I can see how a school like this would be great for students who maybe didn’t feel like a great student in elementary school. Literacy is the main focus in the early years of education, so students who have more logical and mathematical minds, tend to feel like poorer students. So it is wonderful that a STEM school can give all the practical and logical students skills that are applicable in many high demand careers. 

Now back to the book itself. There are some personal narratives in this story, which tie everything together, but aren't the strong part of this book. The writing isn’t as remarkable as most books, however, to meet my point from above, this is someone with a math and science mindset, not a reading and writing mindset. So I can’t really discredit the book for that. 

The book is meant for business leaders who have a STEM high school, and there are definitely some tips that would only help those people (i.e. some of the business tips and marketing strategies). However, there are many ideas and examples that would work in any classroom, even at an elementary level. Some examples are: providing hands-on activities and bringing in community members that work in a STEM field. I also like how they give examples of how to be more efficient in your teaching and planning. There are also some great ideas about planning a successful STEM event at your school (which could really be applicable to any field of study). 

Some of the tips were a little vague and could have given a more thorough explanation, but most were very detailed and provided real world examples for implementation. There are also many specific suggestions for apps and websites that will help in incorporating STEM into classrooms. I think the only other thing that I wish was provided is a couple of detailed lesson plans to use. Overall, it was very informative and provided a lot of information for teachers, administrators, and STEM community members looking to get more involved in their local schools.

If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

  4/5 Stars

*****

o Amber Gregg


*Disclaimer: I received compensation for reviewing this book, but it did not impact my review in any way.*









Also, check out Dr. Aaron Smith's post about using blogs in the classroom!







If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:






Surrounding Saturdays











Life By Committee











My Beautiful Scoliotic Back






Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Longest Ride | Nicholas Sparks

"We shared the longest ride together, this thing called life, and mine has been filled with joy because of you." 

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Number of Pages: 398
Perspective: Alternating First and Third
Location: North Carolina

The Longest Ride is a love story that follows two different couples. One is a flashback of Ira’s marriage with Ruth as he is fighting for his life in the aftermath of a car crash. The second is Sophia, an art history major, who falls in love with Luke, a rodeo rider, who risks his life to save his mother’s ranch. For a complete summary, you can go here.

Nicolas Sparks has written a lot of books—a few really awesome ones, but he’s also written a lot of okay books. One thing is certain, the style of his books is definitely recognizable. Besides love, his books usually have a theme of tragedy for one person, so that another person can have a happy ending. They also contain strange cases of serendipity that bring those circumstances/people together. That is no different for The Longest Ride. However, I will say that this book has one of the most happy endings out of Sparks’ books—and perhaps a too unbelievably happy. I always try to guess the ending of books—a bad habit of mine—and I was able to piece together, mostly, the ending of this one. I think the only reason why I could guess it is because I have gotten to know Sparks’ predictable twists. 

The story flip flops between three main characters. What doesn’t make sense to me, is that Ira’s story is in first-person whereas Luke and Sophia’s story is told in third person. Since Luke and Sophia’s stories are told by a narrator, why bother alternating between the two? I felt as though it was unnecessary to flip-flop.

I also didn’t care as much for Ira’s story. I understand why it was required for the overall storyline, but it was a  summary of his entire relationship with Ruth. It felt choppy and I didn’t have a connection with them. Since Luke and Sophia’s relationship was told over a shorter period of time and in more detail, it was easier to feel more present and interested in their story. It also helped that I loved the setting of Luke’s ranch. It made me want to get my own plot of land and live the country life. 

Overall, it was just another love story for me. It was easy to read and kept me interested, but it really wasn’t anything that blew me away. I prefer Sparks’ The Lucky One and Safe Haven, but if you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it hereAfter you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“Do not worry about tomorrow until you have to.”

  4/5 Stars
*****

Amber Gregg 





If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:






Belong to Me





The Choice





Friday, August 14, 2015

We’re Human Therefore We Tell Stories

This is a guest post by Lydia Sherrer.


“Stories are as hard to create as they are inevitable; good ones are as elusive as they are necessary to hungry souls” – N.D. Wilson

Theories abound as to what makes us different from animals (some would say we're not). It's not that we have society, or technology. Animals have both of those, in some fashion or another. Some would say it's our intelligence. But wouldn't that just make us really smart animals? So what's different? What makes us human?

The answer is more simple, and profound, than I ever imagined myself before I became a writer. We're different because we tell stories. We imagine, we revel in the made-up, and we use stories as tools just as much as a hammer or a nail.

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." - Rudyard Kipling

We are a story-telling species, from authors to reporters to your ordinary mom and dad telling bedtime stories to their kids. Why are we this way? I believe it's because we're made in the image of a storytelling God. All of history is one big story, a story he fashioned from the beginning. We revel in our connection to him by doing what he taught us -- telling stories. Now, whether you share my belief or have your own explanation as to why, the fact remains that:

“…we tell stories to know who we are–to understand ourselves and our place in the world. It’s as though all of our stories are a way for the imagination to poke at the human condition, testing its borders and depths, looking for ways to understand the why behind the what of our lives…” - Mike Cosper

And stories don't just tell us about our lives, they don't just help us understand. They change us. You are, in part, shaped by what you read, watch, and listen to. Stories have the power to change history.

So what are we, as writers, to do with this knowledge? First of all, it should put on our shoulders a weight of responsibility. Not a responsibility to write any certain thing. Rather, a responsibility to remember that our words have the power to change, and we want that change to be positive.

Theme, as all writers know, is an important part of any story. It's essential to know what your theme is, and to express it clearly throughout the tale. Whether you're writing for a cause, for your own pleasure, to be famous, or answering the call of hungry fans, your theme speaks to the purpose of your story, and theme is what connects to the human heart. Theme and meaning can be found in every single genre and story type, from horror to comedy and from literary fiction to sci-fi/fantasy.

My personal tag line is "Changing the world, one story at a time." I use stories to entertain, while also teaching important life lessons, encouraging questions, and the seeking of answers. My goal is for each reader to finish my stories a better person than when they started. Or at the very least, one step closer to understanding who they are and who they were meant to be. That's a pretty lofty goal, and every day I despair of living up to it. But I'm a writer. What I do helps shape reality, society, and history, so I refuse to give my readers anything less than they deserve.

Who are you as a story-teller? What are your goals, and what are you trying to say in the stories you tell? Words have power, and we are responsible for how we use them. So speak, and write, with a purpose.






Lydia Sherrer is a published author who does a bit of everything from archery to art, to music and costuming, though her main passion is writing fantasy fiction. To learn more or subscribe to her blog visit www.lydiasherrer.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.