Friday, January 6, 2012


by Joseph M. Rinaldo

REVIEWED BY: Books4Tomorrow

After surviving life in a violent Chicago street gang through his high school years, Darnell Jackson’s future appears promising. A football scholarship gives him the chance to escape the thug lifestyle. 

During his first year in college, Darnell safely resides in a small Kentucky town, playing Division Two college football and trying to make something of himself. Adjusting to the new surroundings proves tough, but a teammate and a girl give him hope that his future will be better than his past.

In the summer after his freshman year, he returns to the old neighborhood to be with his mother. The gang reasserts its hold on him, and the leader orders Darnell to kill a member of a rival gang. Nearly dying in a gang fight, Darnell shoots an enemy gangbanger. This forces Darnell to re-evaluate his future. As a result, he lies to the mercurial leader of his gang, claiming he completed his assignment. After “doing work” for his gang, Darnell receives permission to head back to school and the security of small-town life. 

When the head gangbanger learns of Darnell’s lie, the small Kentucky town isn’t so safe anymore.


When I read the blurb, and looked at the fantastic cover for this book, I thought that it sounded a lot like the movie “The Blind Side”, so I was very curious to see what twist the author would put on such a similar theme. The only problem is, I kept falling asleep during the first few chapters of the book! Most of the first chapters are very much a football play-by-play. I’m not a sports fan and didn’t find much enjoyment in reading this; therefore I think guys would enjoy reading it a lot more or even readers who understand American football. The terminology went way over my head, but I got the impression that Mr Rinaldo certainly knows his stuff when it comes to football.

I’m sure the author had a great idea for this book and it was apparent that he attempted to write characters with depth, but the writing style was more that of a sixth grader, and thus I couldn’t relate to the characters or immerse myself in the events in their lives, at all – which is a pity, because the author is on to a great story here. The only character whose story line I found fascinating was that of Eric’s – a boy with Down Syndrome. He was sensitively portrayed as a person with a disability, but not as someone who are to be looked down on.

One of the things that started irritating me after awhile, was one of the character’s uses of the word “like”. Like every fourth or fifth word in her dialogue, like contained the word like, which just like got on my nerves after awhile and it later like had me gnawing my teeth. Yes, she used that word like that many times! Was it maybe meant as a characteristic of that specific character? I don’t know, and I fully understand that this is the way many young people talk today, but it was overused with this specific character and the reader just ends up disliking her for it.

I’m not trying to slam the author here, as while reading “Hazardous Choices” it was clear to me that Joseph M Rinaldo has more than enough talent to write masterpieces; and with the right guidance he will be able to successfully accomplish what he set out to do in the first place with this book, and that is to write a novel that will touch readers on different emotional levels. In my opinion he only needs a little more practice and direction on how to convey fantastic plot ideas, without spoon-feeding it to the reader and leave a little for the reader’s imagination.

I’m hard-pressed to give this book a 3-star rating instead of 2 stars - but I’ll go with 3 stars. Why? Taking everything I said above into consideration, it’s not a terrible book (if you don’t mind the abrupt ending). I recommend it for young adult readers (over the age of 16), especially boys who are into football and other sports. Also, the storyline was quite good and one that I believe most readers would enjoy, especially once you’ve gotten past the first five chapters. So have a go at it, and let me know what you think.

BOOKS4TOMORROW star rating3/5


“Hazardous Choices” by Joseph M Rinaldo has 8 reviews on GoodReads. View it here –


Owensboro, Kentucky, is my hometown and the setting for the majority of Hazardous Choices. Growing up, I rooted for the local college.  My wife worked at the college and helped me set up an interview with the football team’s Head Coach. The fictional Western Kentucky State University Darnell Jackson attends is based on this college.

After high school in Owensboro, I graduated from The Ohio State University with a BSBA with a concentration in Finance. Finishing fifth in the College of Business earned me the distinction of Magna Cum Laude. Later, I received an MBA from Western Kentucky University.

One of the characters, Eric Rotteli, has Down syndrome, a form of mental retardation. My daughter also has Down. Knowing her and coaching Special Olympics basketball enabled me to make this character realistic.



Q: What motivated the storyline for “Hazardous Choices”?

A: I live just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and gangs and gang violence are ubiquitous in this area. Coming from a small town in Kentucky, I found this frightening and extremely fascinating.

Q: Who designed the cover and how much input did you have regarding the design?

A: The webmaster who designed my website also designed the book cover. He is truly gifted. He also designed the cover for my first ebook, A Spy At Home. His name is Ivan Rattliff.         

Q: Are experiences in “Hazardous Choices” based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

A: The experiences related to gang life are based on my experiences only in that I live in an area infested with gangs. The story line about the family with a son who has Down syndrome, however, is very close to my own experience, as I have a daughter with Down. I am also a rabid college football fan.

Q: Did you learn anything from writing this novel and what was it?

A: I learned that it is very difficult to mimic the dialogue of characters who have lives and experiences so different from my own.

Q: “Hazardous Choices” ended with a cliff hanger ending. Are you planning a follow-up book to “Hazardous Choices”?

A: Not planning one, but you are not the first to ask, so…….

Q: What were the challenges involved in bringing “Hazardous Choices” to life?

A: I read a great deal of newspaper coverage about gangs in our area, and I interviewed a homicide detective who was able to share his insights with me regarding the gang violence in and around Nashville. Again, I was challenged to write a novel that focused so closely on a culture so different from any I had personally experienced.

Q: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

A: There are two contradictory messages, I believe. The first is that a person can change his life if he truly believes in himself; the second is that you can never really escape your past.

Q: What are your hopes/expectations for this book?

A: I can see this book being made into a powerful movie, and that is my highest expectation for Hazardous Choices.



Website –  (currently under re-construction)
Twitter - @jmrinaldo

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