A lengthy but thorough and valuable treatment of living in China.


An American records his daily experiences as an English teacher in China.

“China is still China; crazy and fascinating.” That’s the upshot for Joe Brennan after six years as an English teacher in Beijing. Brennan started his second career in 2004 when transitioning from 25 years as a Silicon Valley technical writer. The teaching program prepares students to attend Western universities. The entire account is in journal format, which records daily happenings, samples of student papers, English signs, speeches and dialogue. A daily submission might be several paragraphs or simply stated in one line. There are entries for ongoing matters, such as pay negotiation or bargaining a taxi fare, but also for single incidents, as when the teacher is given an apple that’s stolen by another student. The diary format seems mostly unedited, so the final product often reads like a raw travel guide. Observations glossed over in more conventional guidebooks receive more consideration here. The reader thus learns more about public nose-picking or same-sex affection. These discussions often fall under several categories or themes familiar to the global traveler. These themes combined with Brennan’s wry humor and the sometimes good-natured communication between guest and host, and the result is a sardonic take on world affairs. Where else could one find amusement in the stereotyped Westerner as a “wealthy foreign devil.” This humor however, is balanced by Brennan’s more serious views on issues like China’s raging pollution or their high suicide rate. The author’s purpose in writing is never explicitly stated, so it might be difficult to determine a well-defined audience. At 300-plus pages, the journal format has its benefits and drawbacks. The dozens of entries over a six-year period will offer impressive insight to someone considering the same vocational or lifestyle path, whereas an extended vacationer reading the account would gain plenty of knowledge but might be hard-pressed to read such a lengthy treatment. Absent also is storytelling in the tradition of beginning, middle and end; however, the unrefined conveyance is still thematic and coherent enough for an unconventional framework.

A lengthy but thorough and valuable treatment of living in China.

Pub Date: July 23, 2011


Page Count: 508

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2012

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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