Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Debbie Wiley | Back to School with Books

August 12, 2021

A new school year is starting, and thoughts typically would be on the fun new school clothes, the location of one’s locker, the squeak of tennis shoes on the gym floor, or if a best friend or favorite teacher is in one’s classroom. Instead, we find ourselves stuck with another wave of Covid and so many uncertainties about what to do and how to stay safe. I work in the school system and the fear and uncertainty are real, especially for someone like me with an underlying health condition that already impacts my breathing. Rather than focusing on the negative, and all of the things that are out of my immediate control, I’ve instead indulged myself in reading and enjoying books centering around the school system.

Any time favorite books featuring a school theme are mentioned, Denise Swanson is the first author who comes to my mind! Denise Swanson was a school psychologist before she became an author, and her wealth of knowledge and empathy for students and teachers shows in each one of her books (with the exception of that horrid social worker in MURDER OF A ROYAL PAIN lol). BODY OVER TROUBLED WATERS features school psychologist Skye Denison-Boyd returning to work after her maternity leave. It’s never a good school day when an impromptu staff meeting is called first thing, never mind when the superintendent shows up. Of course, things go downhill as we have a lockdown and then the superintendent is murdered. Skye is also the psychological consultant for the police department where her husband, Wally, is the police chief, and they are neck-deep in school and community politics with BODY OVER TROUBLE WATERS. I love how Denise Swanson includes tidbits about the school system all throughout her books, as she reminds me that the students and the parents are worth fighting for even when the frustration mounts- and this is something I need to keep in mind this year with all the crazy political shenanigans in Florida over education right now.

In contrast, ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS by Roxanna Elden highlights just how ridiculous and damaging much of the political rhetoric about education is to teachers, students, and schools as a whole. Roxanna Elden perfectly nails the education system in one of the most insightful satires I’ve ever read. ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS is a fascinating foray into the challenges faced by teachers at a struggling high school, including the drama and fights, to high school students reading at a fourth-grade level, to the sheer inanity of some of the various educational slogans and programs thrown at them. As a school social worker for 15 1/2 years, I couldn’t help but empathize with the teachers even as I laughed uproariously at some of the ridiculous standards imposed on the teachers. On a deeper level, however, Roxanna Elden points out just how far away from actually educating students we have gotten as a society and points out that the quick fix solutions often praised by politicians and the media have nothing to do with the actual inner workings of the educational institutions they purport to be helping. ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS is a must-read for anyone who cares about our public education system and wants to get a glimpse of the trials, tribulations, and potential hope that our educators deal with on a daily basis.

On a different note, SECRETS FROM THE PAST by Jane M. Choate focuses on a deadly school bus crash fifteen years ago. Someone is killing the survivors from that crash and Liam McKenzie is determined to find out who. SECRETS FROM THE PAST is an inspirational romantic suspense story full of action. School buses are a vital part of our educational system, and the deadly accident involving one had huge ramifications on the lives of the small community. It brought back memories of my own days riding a school bus, including the fact that high school students used to be our bus drivers! SECRETS FROM THE PAST is fast-paced with a lot of action and a lot of delving back into the high school days of the characters involved and a great fit for my reading theme this month!

Kylie Logan tackles the issue of a dead teacher in THE SECRETS OF BONES. Jazz Ramsey is an administrative assistant at St. Catherine’s, an all-girls private school. She’s also a cadaver dog handler and training her new puppy, Wally, at home. What sounds like a fun option for Career Day takes a dark turn when Jazz’s borrowed cadaver dog, Gus, finds a real dead body instead of just the bones she’d hidden for his demonstration. Dogs and the school system? How can you go wrong with reading THE SECRETS OF BONES when you get the puppy cuteness of Wally mixed in with a darned good mystery centered around the school system?

And speaking of dogs and schools, Laurien Berenson’s PUP FICTION features teacher Melanie Travers and a mystery surrounding Graceland School’s summer camp. With Dalmations and Standard Poodles aplenty, dog lovers will relish both the antics and the competition pieces of the story line. It’s fun to see a teacher as the amateur sleuth, although I have to admit that the dogs steal the story!

And lastly, I can’t forget to mention Leigh Perry’s Family Skeleton mystery series! I’ve only read the first couple books in this series featuring adjunct college professor Dr. Georgia Thackery and her skeleton companion, Sid. Yes, you read that right. Sid is a walking, talking, and thinking skeleton who rescued Georgia as a young girl and has been her lifelong best friend since. Leigh Perry’s take on the cozy mystery theme and schools is an absolute hoot, and I particularly love that Sid gets to play the role of the skeletal head of Yorick in THE SKELETON TAKES A BOW!

What books do you read with a school theme? Or, what books inspire you for the school year?

Debbie Wiley is a senior reviewer at Follow her on Twitter, @debiw781.

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