You Better Move On

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The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen (Spiegel & Grau, $30.00, 381 pages)

When I mentioned to a couple of Rolling Stones fan that I was reading the new book by Rich Cohen, they asked, “What’s new in the book?” I told them I didn’t know, as I had not finished reading it. Now that I’ve finished, I can answer the question. There’s nothing new here; it’s the same band bio as you’ll find in any book about the Stones or Mick Jagger. And it’s told in chronological order, so you can guess what’s coming up next even if you have just a smattering of knowledge about the old boys.

In theory, Rolling Stone reporter Cohen was going to tell a new and unique story because he spent some time with the group on tour. But that information is minimal and far from being substantively interesting. In fact, the only new factoid I came across is Cohen’s claim that Eric Clapton unsuccessfully auditioned for the group after Mick Taylor’s departure. According to Cohen, Ron Wood was selected because it was felt he would fit in better with the band’s quirky personalities. Well, maybe this is factual and maybe not.

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There are factual concerns. For example, Cohen writes that Jagger destroyed all of the outtakes of “Brown Sugar.” But anyone who owns the Russian-made Melodiya CD of Sticky Fingers possesses two outtakes.

Cohen makes a bold attempt at arguing that the Stones were “even greater than the Beatles” – clearly appealing to fanatics who might purchase his account. But he rather quickly dispenses with this, first admitting that Their Satanic Majesties Request was “terrible, a disastrous by-product of an overripe era.” And he proceeds to quote multiple sources regarding how sloppy and undisciplined the band is in rehearsals. So, he set up a straw man only to knock it down. Yawn.

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All in all, there’s not much to see here, folks. You better move on.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Have Faith

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The Body in the Birches: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page (William Morris, $24.99, 242 pages)

Prolific author Katherine Hall Page places her title character, Faith Fairchild, into the middle of an extended family squabble over a lovely Maine vacation home called The Birches. The Sanpere Island retreat has been in the Proctor family for many generations, its value increasing with each passing decade. The death of Priscilla Proctor Maxwell was the triggering event in the squabble. Priscilla, a pragmatist, left specific instructions in her will that nixed the notion of sharing the retreat among the various family members. She felt that would only lead to friction around who would use it, and when, and who would pay for the upkeep and repairs.

Paul Maxwell, Priscilla’s widower, has been directed to gather the extended family during July with the intent of selecting the best recipient of The Birches. The second most important character, Sophie Maxwell, a lawyer who’s taking a break from corporate legal life, goes to The Birches at the urging of her mother. Sophie and her mother are contenders for the retreat. The rest of the family runs the gamut from greedy to vicious.

Faith Fairchild, daughter of a minister and wife of a minister, is in the midst of a remodel to the modest Sampere Island vacation home that she, her husband and children cherish. During the remodel, Faith and the children are staying with a dear friend who happens to live next door to The Birches. Surprise, Faith stumbles across a dead body in the woods that separate the two houses. Thus begins Faith’s sleuthing.

Along the way, there are accusations, suspicions and the involvement of the great-nephew of Paul Maxwell that spice up the interactions of the characters. No spoiler alerts here!

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The Body in the Birches is a worthy read for a summer vacation at the beach or in the mountains. The author does an excellent job of creating a sense of place and peoples it with well-developed and interesting characters.

Well recommended.

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The Body in the Wardrobe: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page (William Morrow, $25.99, 237 pages)

This installment of the series features Sophie Maxwell as she begins to acclimate in her new hometown of Savannah, Georgia. Sophie has taken up residence in a house that is being fixed up by her new mother-in-law. Yes, Sophie has married. No, I’m not going to reveal who she has married as that will be a definite spoiler for readers who are working their way through the series and haven’t yet read The Body in the Birches. All you need to know is that Sophie is surrounded by a very tight clique of locals who delight in reminding her of her outside/Yankee status.

Savannah is possibly best known as a city with ghosts and spirits that haunt older homes. There are several references within this story to the wonderful book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. Sophie has her own up close and personal encounter with a dead man in the large wardrobe upstairs in one of the bedrooms of the house where she and her husband are living until they find a place of their own to purchase.

Sadly, few of Sophie’s new acquaintances, and most-notably her husband, do not believe that she has found a dead body. That’s because it vanishes before the police arrive in response to her call for assistance. There are more instances that set Sophie’s nerves on edge and she reaches out to her new friend Faith Fairchild for moral support and assistance. Faith is having a tough time dealing with her kids and husband. Together, Faith and Sophie bolster each other’s morale and get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the disappearing body.

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This book will be appreciated most by readers who love the South and have an acquaintance with Savannah. The author knows her topic and presents it seamlessly while putting her characters through their paces.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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School Days in America

You can hear the pinewood burnin’/You can hear the school bell ring/Gotta get up near the teacher if you can/If you wanna learn anything… – Bob Dylan, “Floater (Too Much to Ask)”

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In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better by Richard DuFour (Solution Tree, $34.95, 256 pages)

Money Where the Mouth is

In the “old days,” Mr. Zimmerman’s conventional wisdom might have been considered the best advice going on how to do well in school. Conform, comply, raise your hand, turn in your work on time, please the teacher, memorize facts, get your “A” – and away we go. Some will go to college, some will not, and que sera sera. But times have changed. We know better now, and the stakes are too high to continue to proceed in a business as usual approach. Despite this, far too many schools and districts across the country – much less policy makers and elected officials, refuse to address culture, adjust practice, and change education policy in ways that establish systems and funding mechanisms to support a changing profession.

Imagine if you went to a doctor who butchered your knee instead of performing a simple scope? Yet, all too often emotion and nostalgia, not knowledge, drive decision making in public education; the system goes limping along. Then, when low results do not coincide with high expectations, it’s blame the teacher and fire the superintendent time.

The title of Rick DuFour’s latest book, In Praise of American Educators, is a tad deceiving. While he does indeed laud educators for their many accomplishments – such as record graduation rates – he also addresses the urgency for improvement. However, unlike many who criticize for profit or personal gain, DuFour actually offers a solution. Not surprisingly, that solution is Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

PLCs are not a structure or a program, but, rather, a way of life focused on professional collaboration and capacity building in which it is unacceptable for some students to fall short of mastery. Learning targets are clearly identified, student progress monitored in real time, and a system of interventions and enrichment for all students institutionalized. DuFour cites the top research from leaders in the filed, most notably Fullan, Hattie, Marzano, Hargraeves, Stiggins, McTighe, and Darling-Hammond.

For educators who have embraced DuFour’s work, many of the concepts will be familiar. But while the approach and presentation is unique and insightful at times, I don’t think this book was primarily written for educators. I think the intent of this book is to move a larger audience to both sensibility and action. Though many educators will read and enjoy this work, like Diane Ravitch’s mea culpa The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn’s Coherence, or Sir Kenneth Robinson’s classic TED talk, How to Escape Education’s Death Valley, the book’s greatest impact would be if those in positions of power and the general populace actually read it, and – even better yet, listened.

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DuFour is battling cancer. In the Acknowledgments section of the book he writes, “It is because of them (his professional colleagues) that I know the number of educators embracing PLCs will continue to grow and flourish long after I am gone.” For the good of the kids, and for the good of the country, let us hope he is right, as he has been so many times before. Oh, and thanks, Rick.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of the Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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We’re All Alone

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Delta Lady: A Memoir by Rita Coolidge with Michael Walker (Harper, $25.99, 225 pages)

In the Acknowledgments, Rita Coolidge states that from the age of four she “dreamed of writing a book.” Sadly, this memoir does not read as if it was written. It reads as if it was dictated onto audio cassettes and transcribed by the writer whose name is found beneath hers in small letters. There’s simply no voice, no style present that gives it personality; thus, one never feels like time has been spent with the singer-musician.

Coolidge concedes that people usually think of her as the woman who was once married to Kris Kristofferson. Those wishing to find out something about that marriage may be satisfied with what they read in these 219 pages. But those wishing to learn more about her life in or out of the music trade may be left wanting.

One frustrating thing is that Coolidge makes bold statements before walking them back. For example, she’ll state that musician Joe Blow used too much cocaine, and then retract that by saying it’s not for her to say what too much is. Tentativeness in a “tell all” is so unsatisfying.

It seems like Coolidge waited decades to tell her story and then hedged in the telling.

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Note:

Delta Lady could have used assistance from a strong editor. There are awkward statements and content throughout. For example, at one point we read this about Janis Joplin: “She drank too much than was good for her…” And Coolidge tells us that after her mother died, “I had a gig on the eighteenth and knew she wouldn’t want me to not do that gig.” Ouch!

There’s also noticeable repetition in the account. For example, one particular background singer did some work with the Rolling Stones. So every time her name is mentioned, we’re told – with but one exception – that this woman once sang with the Rolling Stones. These may seem like small points, but they’re not so small when you’ve shelled out $26.00 for a finished work.

Finally, there may be some issues with factual accuracy. Coolidge states that the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour left Joe Cocker physically and financially impoverished. Other accounts note that Cocker’s poor physical state was due to alcoholism. And the Mad Dogs and Englishmen double-album made Cocker rich. It was the second-best selling album in the U.S. when it was released, and was very likely the best selling recording on college campuses. A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss stated, “‘The Letter’ (from the Mad Dogs album) was the first hit for Joe… The record went (Top 10) platinum and sold well… That whole group was incredible, and it was an amazing experience – what they did live and on record was magnificent. After that success, we were able to get Joe back in the studio to make more great records.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Ride the High Country

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High Country Nocturne: A David Mapstone Mystery by Jon Talton (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 326 pages)

Well my heart’s in the highlands… I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go.” Bob Dylan, “Highlands”

In John Talton’s High Country Nocturne, Mike Peralta, a former sheriff, is implicated in a diamond heist. David Mapstone, a private investigator and former business partner of Peralta, becomes embroiled in a classic good guy-bad guy morality tale; however, for the greater part of the novel one can be excused for being unclear in terms of who the actual good and bad guys are.

When it comes to “Strawberry Death,” there is no ambiguity. She is an evil sociopath who sends Mapstone’s wife, Lindsey, to the brink of mortality. The FBI is involved and Mapstone becomes “re-deputized,” but the story is a manhunt to avenge Lindsey’s perpetrator, solve the mystery of who is behind the diamond smuggling, and navigate Mapstone’s conscience so that he can restore and repair relationships with those who matter in his life.

For those familiar with the geography of Arizona, there is just enough in the book to cultivate some regional interest.

Talton has written 11 novels. High Country is above average in most areas: dialogue, voice, storytelling, character development, intrigue, etc. It will likely be an enjoyable read for most fans of the genre. The tale began with great potential but falls somewhat short of being a truly excellent piece of writing.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Magic Unleashed

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Unleashed: A Kate Turner, DVM, Mystery by Eileen Brady (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 266 pages)

Animal lovers get set for an adventure-filled mystery from Eileen Brady, the second in her Kate Turner series (Muzzled was the first book). Toto, a wire haired Cairn terrier owned by artist Claire Burnham, is left an orphan in the care of Dr. Kate Turner, the vet in Oak Falls, New York. Claire’s death is an apparent suicide but the prologue of Unleashed sets up the death as a pre-meditated murder.

The cheerful easy-going narrative of Kate’s life as a small town vet is engaging and her relationships are consistent with the first book in the series. Kate and her assistant, Mari, make house calls when emergencies or problems with non-portable pets such as potbellied pigs occur.

Kate’s wide circle of friends and clients provides her with several potential alternatives for Claire’s “suicide.” Readers will be brought along as she works through each of her suspicions about Claire’s demise.

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Brady’s journal quality writing brings the reader along during Kate’s work and off-hours. There are many fascinating veterinary cases presented throughout the text. This book has much to offer.

Well recommended.

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The Magician’s Daughter: A Valentine Hill Mystery by Judith Janeway (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 236 pages)

Next up is the first in a series featuring an aspiring magician named Valentine Hill. Valentine is a young woman who is working as a magician’s assistant in a casino in Las Vegas. Her first person narrative is brisk and fast-paced. Her status as an actual person is tenuous because her mother has withheld Valentine’s birthdate and the name of her father. Yes, this is an odd situation for anyone and is especially so due to her mother’s habit of running scams and flitting from one duped mark to another.

There’s a fine line between a quirky story and a silly one. Author Janeway has mastered the art of telling a really good story, albeit one definitely off the beaten path. Valentine moves from Las Vegas to San Francisco in search of her vital statistics as she follows clues to her mother’s whereabouts. The folks she encounters along the way provide the reader with an inside look at a segment of society (hustlers and buskers) that is not part of most mysteries.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Down the Drain

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Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss, & The Decline of a Detroit Dynasty by Frances Stroh (Harper, $25.99, 336 pages)

“The house (my father had purchased in New York City when I was six) and most of its contents would soon be gone, just as the brewery was. We’d somehow allowed ourselves to be pinned into place by these things; and in our search for freedom, some of us had self-destructed.”

Despite the title, this poor little rich girl memoir offers no insight into the brewing industry. That’s because Frances Stroh, a one-time partial heir to billions of Stroh Brewery dollars – all of which vanished into thin air, was far removed from the family’s management (and mismanagement) of the company. As with most of these memoirs, Frances did not realize early on how rich her family was. In her bored teen and early adult years she carelessly used and abused alcohol and drugs. And as a grown-up she learned to mourn the fortune she would never acquire.

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However, the rich are different. Even as Frances writes about Stroh’s going down the drain, she makes sure to inform the reader that she flies first class; she lives in a fine abode in San Francisco. And when her spendthrift brother came to visit her in The City, he’d rent out entire floors of swank hotels for parties and feast on the best food and drink from room service.

Stroh’s was a “beer giant… in the eighties and nineties…” But Frances has no explanation for the Detroit company’s rapid downfall other than to admit, “we’d simply blown it.” Indeed.

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Beer Money is a pointless, meaningless tale of privileged denial.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: According to Forbes magazine, the Stroh Brewery Company blew through $9 billion in profits. That’s a lot of beer money.

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