Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant

Unlikely friendships was the theme this year in the One School, One Book reading program revealed in early March, when students learned the title of the book they have spent the month reading. Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 9.08.49 AM (1)

Approximately 400 kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Northfield Elementary School each received a copy of “Gooseberry Park” by Cynthia Rylant at an assembly March 5.

“We have fun things that go on during assembly, and the book is revealed on screen,” said teacher Lisa Bass. “As the children leave, they receive a copy of the book and a home packet. Activities begin that night.”

The assembly committee asked students if they had picked up on clues scattered around the school like displays of trees, acorns and a dog house. The music of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” played as the students entered the gymnasium and a slide show paired unlikely animals as friends.

Although clues were placed throughout the building about the book, teachers were careful not to reveal the title before the big reveal, Bass said.

“It’s very hush hush,” she said.

First grader Sedinam Vittor said she saw the acorns and trees but didn’t know about the dog.

“I saw the dog house but didn’t know it was about the book,” Sedinam said.

Fourth grader Alex Malafarina has read previous books through the program and has won a pig eraser, water bottle and finger puppets.

“We get to read two chapters tonight and do easy trivia questions,” Alex said after getting her copy.

Along with the book, students received a take-home packet with a reading calendar, trivia questions, a flat character, crossword puzzles, word searches and fun comprehensive activities.

Some of the items include vocabulary words, animal facts about each of the animal characters which include Kona a Labrador retriever, Stumpy a squirrel, Murray a bat and Gwendoyn a hermit crab. Students can write poems about the characters and learn to draw them.

“Reading aloud at home is valuable because it better prepares your child to be an effective reader, and it is also a fun, worthwhile family activity,” according to the Northfield Elementary staff in the letter home.

The program involves the entire school body, staff and community in reading one book at the same time, Bass said.

“This is the fourth year doing this,” Bass said. “The entire school reads the book with their family. Every family gets involved at their own capacity.”

The staff puts together a reading calendar for the students to read one or two chapters a night through March 29, Bass said. Students answer matching comprehensive trivia questions and turn them in the next day.

From Chapters 1 and 2, the trivia questions were “Who is about to become a mother?” and “What are Kona’s favorite animals?” If students answer the trivia questions correctly they are entered into a drawing.

“We have a prize committee that picks a winner from each class from the correct answers,” Bass said. “We try to have as many children as possible win prizes.”

In addition to prizes for correct trivia questions, there is a grand prize at the end of the program, she said.

The school with the support of the PTA has raised money for prizes from different events and they have asked for donations or gift cards from business partners, Bass said.

“It’s grown so big,” Bass said. “We decorate the entire school in the theme of the book.”

A Twitter account allowed readers to tweet out fun things about the book during the program, Bass said.

Businesses and organizations that supported the program include Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Great Clips, Pulp, Sky Zone, The Nailtique, Cinamark at Macedonia, Costco, Fun-n-Stuff, KFC, Pepper’s Fresh Market, The Goddard School in Macedonia, Northbrooke Tile Co., Westerman Group, William Davidson, DDS & Assoc., Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Home Depot in Macedonia and Fairlawn, and athletic events at Nordonia Middle School and Nordonia High School.

A couple of years ago the main character was Humphrey Hamster and a live hamster was kept in the school library, Bass said.

“Kids could visit him on their library days,” Bass said. “At the end of the program, a child won Humphrey, with the parents approval.”

To make the program a success, work begins in September with several committees working on each aspect of the program. The hardest part is keeping the book a secret until the open assembly when it is revealed.

Every single person in the entire building was involved in so many ways, Bass said. Co-teachers, administration, parents, the Northfield Elementary PTA, Northfield Schools Foundation, teachers, office, public library and many others in the community.

Closing assembly on March 29 will have lots of fun activities and grand prizes awarded, she said. As students leave assembly they all receive a secret surprise.

“And they keep their books forever,” Bass said. “It’s truly magical.”

Maternal Failure by Barb Baltrinic

Families keep secrets, but with DNA and genealogical searches, children are uncovering the mysteries their ancestors hid.SS Barb Baltrimic book

A Munroe Falls resident, Barb Baltrinic, 67, was an English teacher for 35 years at Ellet High School and worked seven years at the University of Akron in the College of Education. She has worked three years as an education consultant and written three books.

Baltrinic always wondered why her mother, Dorothy Clark, couldn’t love her. She had given her up for adoption and then reclaimed her, but not for maternal affection. It would take her years to find answers and in her third book, “Maternal Failure,” she shares the journey of her mother’s upbringing, her own horrific childhood, the resulting dysfunctional relationship and the search that unearthed the skeletons buried for so long.

“My mother made choices which would become the secrets she carried to her grave,” Baltrinic said. “I had been born illegitimately, put up for adoption, but at 9 months old I was taken out of the process when my mother married the man who eventually adopted me.”

Even though her mother took her back, she didn’t bond with her, Baltrinic said.

After marrying her husband, Michael, and her two sons, Mike and Mark, were born, Baltrinic began the research to find her two illegitimate brothers and biological father and to understand her mother’s inability to love her.

“After her death in 2000, I pursued uncovering all her secrets,” Baltrinic said.

“Maternal Failure” follows the many dead-ends, shocking revelations, and extraordinary twists and turns Baltrinic faced in her research.

“My mom never gave me the correct info,” Baltrinic said. “I remembered some things she said and put that into my detective work.”

Baltrinic discovered she did not have the only troubled childhood among her family members. Her mother and grandparents suffered from generational dysfunction influenced by poverty that created the inability to love their own children. Dorothy made the wrong choices, and she spent her life hiding them, she added.

“I share the dysfunction and behaviors toward me, the physical and emotional abuse in the book,” Baltrinic said. “I came to learn she [Dorothy] couldn’t love herself. I became her scapegoat for her unhappiness because I was a reminder.”

The cover of the book is a photograph of her mother Batrinic found in a drawer. Dorothy tore the picture apart and then taped it back together.

“I couldn’t figure out why she would tear up such a beautiful picture,” Baltrinic said. “But it’s symbolic of the mother and daughter relationship.”

Baltrinic found her mother’s intake papers [social worker’s notes] when she gave her three illegitimate children up for adoption, including Baltrinic. The attitude at the time toward unwed mothers was negative and both the mother and child were considered mentally deficient by social services, yet Baltrinic and her two brothers she found six years ago are very successful.

“I think my background helped me to become a good teacher for urban schools,” Baltrinic said. “I was a good role model and taught them to reach for what they wanted. Education is your ticket out. I knew that would get me out of where I came from.”

The paper trail answered some questions, but DNA revealed family members she never knew existed.

“It was finally DNA which uncovered the biggest secrets my mother kept hidden,” she said. “This book offers hope to others who seek answers about their adoption, finding bio-parents and bio-families, and using DNA testing to help solve the mystery of their beginnings.”

Baltrinic does not regret her search.

“My life is now incredibly rich with the answers I have found and embraced,” she said. “My search for answers helped me overcome my own feelings of frustration with my mother and her inability to love me. I now believe she did love me, but her many secrets blocked her ability to build a relationship with a daughter who only wanted her love.”

Part of the book is about the search for answers, and Baltrinic hopes others can follow her leads in their own family searches.

“I walk people through the journey of searching and finding family members,” she said.

With the popularity of ancestry shows and the availability of DNA testing, Baltrinic said her book appeals to those searching for long-lost family members. In addition, her book shows how she survived growing up in a dysfunctional home and had a successful life, she said.

Her sons did not know her story until they read her book, which was published in October of 2018.

“Both were appalled by what I went through,” she said. “It gives them a better appreciation for what they have in life.”

Writing the book helped Baltrinic forgive her mother.

“You don’t forget, but I forgave much of what she did and have come to peace with it,” Baltrinic said. “I had to wait [since the book’s publication] to be able to talk about it without getting emotional.”

Book launch set for March 4

Baltrinic will host a book launch at the Tallmadge Library at 6:30 p.m. on March 4 with a book sale and signing prior to and after her presentation from 6 to 7:30 p.m., which is open to the public. The book is also available on Amazon.

Her previous two historical novels, “A Founder For All” and “A Patriot’s Price” are set around the Revolutionary War period.

Dangerous Minds by Janet Evanovich

DANGEROUS MINDS by JANET EVANOVICH 2017

This is the second book in the series and Vernon has a larger part. He’s a hound dog and Lulu’s alter ego.

Knight and Moon team up with Vernon and a monk to find a missing island. Somehow Evanovich turns an unbelievable plot line into something rational. Again, the team saves the world. This series allows her to take the reader to exotic locations, and we travel to Yellowstone National Park and Hawaii. I’ve been to Yellowstone and her descriptions are accurate, making the story more believable. Knight turns travel guy and shares lots of little known facts just like Sheldon from the Big Bang. The bad guys are VERY bad and bodies pile up along the way. Moon hasn’t killed anyone but she wants to end the bad guy’s life. I’m not sure if Evanovich will allow her to kill. Stephanie killed the bad guy trying to end her life in the One for the Money but I don’t recall her shooting anyone dead again. The heat is building between Knight and Moon at a slow simmer which is fine if this series goes on like her others.

Curious Minds by Evanovich

CURIOUS MINDS by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton 2016

Riley Moon is a business lawyer who landed her dream job at Blane-Grunwald and is assigned to babysit rich, eccentric Emerson Knight. If you like Big Bang Theory, you’ll recognize the traits of Penny and Sheldon as Riley has to deal with Emerson’s analytical mind and child-like innocence. He wants to see his gold and breaks into the vault with Riley in tow. The Grunwald men are determined to take over the world by replacing the gold bars with fake bars and minting their own coins. It’s a crazy scheme that in today’s world is more realistic than you might think. Riley and Emerson witness a murder and go off the grid only to reach Area 51 where the Grunwald father orders his sons to kill them. It’s not as slapstick as the Stephanie Plum novels but there is plenty of humor and the plot is fast paced as this new duel saves the world.

Edgar Allan Poe mysteries

I have mentioned works of literature in my stories to set the time period – what were people reading like my characters? So in honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday in January and because his writings were mentioned in another book I was reading, I read some of Poe’s works, which I haven’t read since high school.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe published in 1841

I read this because Poe is credited as the first modern detective story write because of this story. He does establish a format. I found the killer in this story a bit unbelievable. An ape would have bitten the victims and torn their flesh and would not have tried to hide the body. That aside, let’s focus on the elements of the mystery story.

The narrator is the sidekick. He tells the story but is not the detective. Think Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes.

The story in this book was 23 pages long and Poe spends the first full two pages describing the analytical mind and the power of observation and inference and noticing details others overlook. I would not recommend starting any mystery novel this way.

On page 3 the narrator introduces us to Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, a poor gentleman who enjoys books. The two meet at a library interested in the same rare book, and the narrator invites Dupin to live with him in Paris. They enjoy strolling around at night. Dupin proves his powers of observation by telling the narrator what he is thinking about and then explaining how he came to that conclusion.

It is page 6 when the murder is introduced. The crime is described in the paper with a great deal of detail. The clues are revealed to the reader in random order and description. The furniture is broken and thrown about, a bloody razor in on a chair, long, thick tresses of gray hair are on the hearth, jewelry, silver spoons and gold are on the floor but not taken, a safe is open with the keys in the door, a corpse found in the chimney with scratches on the face and bruises on the neck and another mutilated corpse of an old lady in the back alley with her throat cut so deeply her head fell off.

Today’s newspapers would not have the details while the murder was under investigation, but writers find ways to place the amateur sleuth at the crime scene.

More information is revealed in a second newspaper article and cover interviews by the police. A French man is heard and another voice screaming. Another fact is revealed about 4000 francs being delivered to the home. Also the doors and windows were all locked after the crime. The bodies are described as being bruised and broken.

 Interviewing suspects fills most of a mystery novel. A big part of making a mystery work is the detective. Is it a hard-nosed detective who is reluctant to take the case? Or is it a nosy neighbor who was friends with the victim? The detective has to win the reader’s interest and confidence.

The narrator and Dupin obtain permission to visit the crime scene. The police have no motive for the violent murder where no valuables were taken. Also how did the murderers, since two voices heard, escape?

Dupin rules out murder suicide by the old woman because of her lack of strength to shove the young woman up the chimney.

Mystery writers eliminate the obvious or explanations that don’t fit the crime. This allows the writer to focus on the details of the actual crime.

Dupin focuses on the voices and the fact no one could name the language of the shrieking voice. Dupin eliminates the door and windows in the front of the apartment as the way of escape and focuses on the back where he discovers a window with a broken nail or latch that closes automatically. Dupin spends several pages describing the mechanism of the window and the shutters outside to explain the escape.

Mystery writers need to explain how the killer committed the crime.  Dupin focuses on the strength of the killer and the violence inflicted on the victims. He notes the size of the hand needed to inflict the bruises, much larger than an ordinary man. He uses science to explain the clues and when the narrator thinks the killer is an escaped madman, Dupin in a detective’s patience with the ordinary man, explains the killer wasn’t human. A piece of ribbon identifies the Frenchman in the room as a sailor.

Dupin shows the narrator and advertisement in the newspaper written by Dupin describing the capture of an Ourang-Outang which can be claimed by its owner to lure the Frenchman sailor to their apartment and tell them his role in the crime.

The sailor obtained the Ourang-Outang from a fellow sailor who died. He locked the ape in a room but upon returning to the room, the animal had a razor in his hand trying to shave his lathered face (this image is rather comical). The sailor used a whip to calm the animal (this seems counterproductive) and the ape flees. The sailor follows the ape to the apartment of the victims who are putting papers in the open safe. The ape pulls the old woman’s hair and cuts her throat. The sight of blood drove the ape into a frenzy and he chokes the young girl, who is laying still on the floor.

Upon seeing the sailor, the ape is remorseful and hides the evidence shoving the girl up the chimney and throwing the old woman out the window.

Dupin and the sailor confront the police with the truth, embarrassing the police Prefect because he could not solve the crime. The amateur sleuth is wiser than the professional.

The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe

The Purloined Letter is a sequel to the Murder in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and has C. Auguste Dupin and the narrator smoking in the dark in their shared apartment when the Prefect of the Parisian Police arrives with a problem. A letter delivered to a woman of importance was stolen by a minister who is blackmailing her. The Prefect searched the minister’s home for the letter and had police search the minster but they have been unable to find it.

After a month the Prefect returns and writes a check to Dupin for the letter which he recovered. Dupin then tells the narrator how the Prefect did not put himself in the position of the minister to figure out where he was hiding the letter. The minister had altered the letter’s appearance with tears, dirt and different initials on it but it was placed in a bag on the mantle in plain sight. Dupin hired a man to fire a shot in the street to distract the minister and Dupin took the letter, replacing it with a similar looking letter. The lady is no longer in fear of the minister revealing her secret and leaves a clue for the minister to realize he was the one who took the letter.

What does Poe teach us about mystery writing? The police have routines and do not deviate from them so they overlook clues or do not see the obvious such as any detective created by a writer. Also it is quite all right for a detective to take reward money or offer his services to the police. In addition, the detective likes the villain to know he’s been outwitted.

The Gold-bug 1843 is a treasure hunt story. A man finds a gold bug and wraps it in parchment that turns out to have invisible writing on it. When his friend holds the parchment near fire, a skull appears and he discovers a cipher that leads him to Captain Kidd’s buried treasure.  Poe spends a lot of time explaining the invisible letters and how he solved the cipher.

The two poems I read were The Raven 1845 and Eldorado 1849 which are my favorite of his poems.

Hardecore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich

HARDCORE TWENTY-FOUR by Janet Evanovich 2017

Diesel is added to Stephanie’s list of men making her heart flutter in this book which has her babysitting a boa, fighting zombies, and breaking gnomes. Stephanie also ruins two cars, one with a dead raccoon as the agent of destruction. Not for anyone with a full stomach. Morelli is kept busy trying to find heads missing from corpses, Ranger makes a bet with Stephanie and wins, and Grandma Mazur gets a puppy to mend a broken heart. Par for a Stephanie Plum novel. This book is pure escapism and only has the reader worried for one page at the end. Fans will enjoy the ride and the book is a fast read. 

The Husband List

THE HUSBAND LIST 2012 by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

Set in the gilded age heiress Caroline Maxwell is being groomed to marry an English titled aristocrat only her heart is set on Jack Culhane. Although the story set up begins slow it picks up pace and runs to the ending. Caroline and Jack first deny their feelings. Jack is a confirmed bachelor but when they admit their love, they see no future with her mother’s unwavering plans to see her wed to Bremerton, a man in need of a fortune but a heart as cold as ice. When her mother leaves her alone in Bremerton’s ravished estate and, she discovers he most likely murdered his first wife, who had lied about having a fortune, she takes matters in her own hands. The story has colorful characters like the heiress chasing Jack; the maids and governesses helping Caroline; and Caroline’s family, reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett’s.

Mysteries by Les Roberts

The Cleveland Local by Les Roberts 1997

Milan Jacovich is a private investigator whose police buddy, Marki, dumps a murder case on him because attorney Joel Kerner Jr. is killed on a Caribbean Island. His sister wants answers. Jacovich begins to ask questions and a lot of people want the case ignored. The Cleveland setting allows for unions, mobsters, and real estate deals and almost everyone is a suspect and yet no one seems likely.

Jacovich is an old time detective who meets and talks with his suspects face to face. He gets roughed up more than once and his life is threatened in the end with a struggle with the bad guy. Roberts gives Jacovich plenty of heart by revealing his personal life in exposed pictures as he solves the case. Cleveland is front and center and anyone who loves the city, will love this series.

Whisky Island by Les Roberts 2012     Gray and Co. Publishers in Cleveland

Milan Jacovich is private investigator training ex juvenile delinquent and veteran Kevin O’Brannion KO. They both acquire new girlfriends during story. Convicted corrupt councilman Bert Loftus claims someone is trying to kill him. He is just trying to gain sympathy for sentencing but they take his case. It leads to corrupt landlords, a lot of political corruption and a call girl, who was taping her clients to blackmail the County Prosecuting Attorney. She is murdered bringing in the police and KO is kidnapped. Jacovich puts his life in peril to solve the case. Cleveland, its landmarks, and the different cultures add to the story. Roberts uses internal dialogue to reveal true feelings and add personality to his hard-nosed detective.

Full Blast by Janet Evanovich

FULL BLAST 2004 Janet Evanovich with Charlotte Hughes

In this follow-up to the previous Full story, Jamie Swift is missing Max Holt, who hasn’t called in three weeks. She is trying to protect her heart from falling in love with him because he has made it clear his first wife turned him off to marriage – possibly forever. Jamie has her hands full with her hometown of Beaumont where the heat has everyone acting strange, even Vera, her surrogate mother and assistant editor. Psychic Destiny, who can see ghost, arrives looking for a job as a love columnist, and Jamie’s Personals section is linked to a murder. Jamie calls Max and they try to solve the murder before Destiny’s prediction of another death comes true.

This book is a blend of Evanovich’s crazy characters, hot for each other couples, and murder. It reminds me of J.D. Robb’s Eve and Roarke, especially since Max is rich and into high technology. The crimes are more light-hearted but the ending builds to a life-threatening situation that keeps the pages turning. This “Full” series is one of Evanovich’s best efforts.

Dark in Death by J.D. Robb

The best book about fan obsession, in my opinion, is Stephen King’s “Misery,” but J.D. Robb takes a fan’s obsession to a new level when she doesn’t like the eighth book in a series and decides to copycat each crime, ending with the writer’s death. Eve is determined to stop her and uses all her friends and Roarke’s library to beat the killer to the next victim.

Eve is all about standing for the victim and the cop being the hero, much like the written novels being copied, but the killer wants to be the hero and the psychology of that behavior could have been interesting. Robb touches on it, but writes the killer off as crazy. But was she? The killer’s dream of becoming a writer like her idol was crushed. When dreams die, how does that impact the dreamer? This book could give other writers ideas about taking on the psychology of murder. Why do people kill if not for money, jealousy, or revenge?