Category Archives: Book Reviews

Books for Back to School Needs!

Culp Parents

Here are six fantastic books just in time for your back-to-school needs. If you’re a parent or a student, Dr. Barbara Culp has written books specifically for your needs. Teachers, principals and superintendents of public and private schools–and anyone interested in understanding how schools work so that you can help your kids achieve the best academic results–can dive into a lot of wisdom in books targeting their needs.

The series of six books, published by Rowman & Littlefield, distills forty years of experience into practical, affordable tips. By mining her broad educational background, Dr. Culp provides support, inspiration, and empowerment.

This series is a true “must read” for aspiring, new, and seasoned educational professionals, parents, and students. Rich with real-world examples, each title contains user-friendly tips that lead to solutions, resolutions, and effective action.

  • Essential Knowledge for Teachers: Truths to Energize, Excite, and Engage Today’s Teachers keeps professionals focused and relevant in today’s changing educational landscape. 
  • Trusted Knowledge for Parents: Tips to Prepare, Position, and Empower Today’s Parents provides clarity, inspiration and support for raising compassionate, respectful, and productive children.
  • Choice Knowledge for Students: Words to Empower, Enliven, and Enrich Your Life enhances the confidence, maturity, and motivation that drives success.
  • Vintage Knowledge for Principals: Keys to Enrich, Encourage, and Empower School Leaders and Empowering Today’s Principals provides authoritative solutions, resolutions, and actions for school leaders.
  • Culp StudentsThe Art of Appraisal: Effective Tools and Streamlined Process to Boost Teacher Performance distills the evaluation process into a structured, step-by-step system developed by Dr. Culp.
  • Key Knowledge for Success: Solutions to Augment, Fortify, and Support Today’s Superintendents provides simple and effective knowledge that will supercharge district success.

Stay tuned because next week, I’ll have an interview with Dr. Culp. She’ll tell us more about her writing process, and provide exclusive tips for authors and readers!

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Book Review: Federal Prison Handbook by Christopher Zoukis

Book Review for Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons by Christopher Zoukis.

Published by Middle Street Publishing, January 2017.

Hands down, this is the single most useful and informative book you’ll ever find on what it’s really like inside the federal prison system. Not only is it packed with information, it’s written in the personal voice of a prison rights activist who is currently serving time at a federal facility.

Author and advocate Christopher Zoukis is an incredibly prolific writer. He regularly appears on Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He’s able to break down the bewildering volume of rules, regulations and details so that anyone—a convict new to the federal system, their family and friends, and even individuals who’ve been in for years—can learn everything they need to know to survive behind bars.

In addition to providing a nearly encyclopedic review of the official regulations, Zoukis tells readers what others won’t: how to navigate prison culture. Family members and friends discover exactly what their loved ones are going through along with different ways they can help. Personal anecdotes and the stories of other inmates make Federal Prison Handbook an intimate, honest, and compelling read.

Tomorrow, an interview with Zoukis will be posted. As an award-winning author who has been honored by the PEN America Center, he has a lot of tips to offer other writers of fiction and nonfiction. Meanwhile, link here for his website and here for the Federal Prison Handbook.

Book Review: Free to Be Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Teri Kanefield

Book Review: Free to Be Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Story of Women and Law by Teri Kanefield.

Armon Books, 2016

What an amazing book! This biography of the second woman ever to sit on the US Supreme Court shows how a single woman implemented sweeping changes that made life better for so many people.

From an early age, it was clear that Ginsburg was brilliant. Even though the legal profession allowed women only in a tiny number of select (i.e., low-level) roles, this woman rose through hard work and dedication to the highest court in the land.

Offering more than simply a narrative of Ginsburg’s life, Kanefield harnesses the strong prose for which she is known to draw a compelling portrait of a woman who continued to reach for her dream despite all the odds.

Considering the current political and social climate, Free to Be offers a true story of triumph and hope to every reader concerned about where America might go now.

Kanefield is a prolific author who has written a number of biographies. She is also an exceptional fiction author; a different blog post that reviewed one of her lovely novels can be found here.

 

Book Review: Reparation

I’m sharing this book review that came in for Reparation, my latest novel. It won Honorable Mention in a contest, and this is what the judge had to say. A description of the story is pasted below the review.

[The] language has a well-crafted poetry, an impression that is immediate and indelible. And [the] backstory is quick-moving…so heartbreaking.

This continuing balance between old ways and modern life is a fascinating tension. Manitou’s character grows and grows in complexity [while the] hero [goes] through absolute hell. It’s a huge and compelling struggle.

Just a beautifully written book. The theme is endlessly compelling and I enjoy the genuineness of the cultural knowledge. It’s a fascinating fusion of forms and, when it comes down to it, a hugely suspenseful thriller with a fascinatingly complex villain.

–Writer’s Digest Judge, 4th Annual Self-Published Ebook Awards

Shortlisted for Three National Fiction Awards

In this compulsive novel that marries the spirit stories of Louise Erdrich (The Round House) with the fantasy tinged realism of Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a short vacation turns into a sinister game to save a sister.

“Whatever is dangerous, let me do it…I am supposed to die.”

The words from an ancient warrior’s song ring through the centuries to find Aidan Little Boy, a Lakota Sioux man intent on rescuing his sister from a religious cult.

When Aidan Little Boy visits his sister at her church’s South Dakota headquarters, he hopes the minister’s reputation as a faith healer is real. But Gidgee Manitou is something far more powerful…and more dangerous.

As the Reparation ceremony draws near, secrets long buried rise to the surface like souls plucked from their graves. The ghosts of warriors past chant the sacred Tokala song, telling Aidan that in this battle, lives must be lost to save the innocents.

A profoundly moving story about the abiding love between siblings and the strength of romantic love, Reparation is both a gripping page-turner and an emotionally charged journey through the brittle first tendrils of love into the power–and destructive capabilities–of love in its many forms.

 

Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

January 2016 Penguin Random House

What a beautiful and spare book. This latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Strout knocked me off my chair!

When a woman goes into the hospital for a long stay to combat an illness the doctors cannot pinpoint, she is separated from the family she has built: her husband and children continue with their lives while her life stays in limbo.

In this strange, liminal space between the healthy world and the world that tends to sickness, Lucy considers her life. She records it in a memoir or journal; we’re never quite sure whether what we’re reading is intended for publication or if she will hold these thoughts only for herself.

And the review intermingles her childhood under an uncaring and sometimes cruel mother and father with the family she has built. We discover early on that the friend who brings her children to visit will eventually be the woman her husband selects. He, meanwhile, doesn’t visit her at the hospital, another form of cruelty and neglect she grapples with during these months.

At some point, her mother quite unexpectedly appears for a visit. For five days, her mother sits next to her hospital bed, always refusing the cot the nurses offer to sleep sitting up on the chair. It is a mournful waiting, much like a wake, and brings things to the surface that Lucy has never faced.

She faces them now but not through clashes with her mother. Instead she considers them carefully, shifting between a criticism of her own writing through what she learned during a writing workshop and how the author who conducted the workshop responded to her work and that of others.

By the time she leaves the hospital, Lucy has lost quite a bit. But she has found herself.

Truly a touching and quiet novel that you’ll speed through…and think about long after turning the last page.

For another contemporary novel about family relationships, try The Family Made of Dust.

5 stars!

I received an ARC from the publisher so that I could write this review.

Book Review: Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets

February 2016 Berkley

If you’re not familiar with this title and you like strong female protagonists, you should be. Especially since the book divides the lead role between two equally tenacious individuals, and because neither of them are perfect.

Interested yet? Then pick up Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets. The author has made some interesting choices here, so if you’re a writer and read to see how others do their jobs, you’ll want to get this book, too.

Readers will find chapters that alternate between following Amy Raye, a woman who gets lost in the woods, and Pru, an archaeological law enforcement ranger who has been trained–and who has trained her dog–in search and rescue techniques.

When Amy Raye goes missing during an elk hunt, Pru is called in to help. What follows is a long search (I won’t say for how long because that might spoil the read for some) on Pru’s part and a battle for survival on Amy Raye’s part. Bears, cougars, snow, starvation…all the usual issues present for both women.

What isn’t as usual is the history both women bring to their individual struggles. Pru was left a single mom when a casual affair ended before she knew she had become pregnant. Amy Raye has different difficulties that revolve around men and a childhood spent growing up on a farm.

As the search continues, both women look deeply into their pasts. They try to fit themselves into the lives they have built, looking always for some sort of redemption. Their goals are never guaranteed, and not until the very last chapter do readers discover whether they succeed or fail.

The interesting choices made by the author include making Amy Raye a hunter…hunting is generally frowned upon–sometimes quite strongly–in America, and having a woman take on the role potentially means that some readers will dislike her from the start…or simply not pick up the book.

A second is Amy Raye’s history, which she struggles with even in the midst of struggling to survive. I can’t reveal that but let’s say it’s not anything a woman is “allowed” or encouraged to do, unlike men who tend to get away with the same behaviors quite easily.

Finally, the author has loaded in quite a bit of technical information. It was wearying after a bit (for me, anyway) to learn the exact types, weights, and other specifications of the equipment each woman used. It really dragged the pace.

However, I can also defend the author’s choice. Since the characters are women, readers might need more of that information to be convinced that both of these women know what the hell they’re doing. We all know that women in fiction are not as respected as male characters, so the author might have needed to compensate by loading in much more than she might have given a different story.

All in all, however, this is a strong presentation of a story that will captivate readers…even if they don’t like hunting, even if they have never set foot in the wilderness.

If you love strong female leads, try Beloved: A Sensual Noir Thriller, which features a female FBI agent.

4 stars!

I received a copy from the publisher so that I could write this review.

Book Review: The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

April 2016 Random House Children’s Books

OK, all you YA fans, listen up because this book review is for The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas…and it’s one you’ll want to read.

The teaser line on the front cover reads, Everyone has something to hide. The truth is that everyone in this novel is hiding something, including Tessa, the main character.

When she and her friend Callie were young, they were called to testify against a man charged with killing a young woman. There had been a series of deaths in the area, all done in the same method…so they had been murdered by a serial killer.

But both Tessa and Callie harbor secrets about what they saw, and what they did later. Now their lives have supposedly moved on but both are trapped in that night and the aftermath. Until Tessa comes back to say goodbye to her dying father, who is in jail for unrelated crimes, it seems that they will continue on in that limbo, never fully living but knowing that their secret could destroy what little they have built if it comes out.

Plenty of suspects here, and Tessa is a strong young woman, so she’s not going to allow any of them to pass by without taking action. The book scored points with me on those notes. Still, I thought it would end up as at 4 stars…well written and interesting but nothing truly special.

Until I hit the part around 80% through the book. Then I went, oh, wow! I can’t tell you what happens then but it’s a twist I never saw coming. And with that, the book shot from 4 to 5 stars.

If you like books with plenty of twists and lots of elements flying around, try Reparation, in which a young man must save his sister and his new lover from a cult.

5 stars!

I was given a copy by the publisher in order to write this reviews.