Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Fever Dream / Take Heart by Valyntina Grenier

I first had the pleasure of encountering Valyntina Grenier’s work through Sunspot Literary Journal’s Single Word contest. Since then, this talented artist was picked up by Cathexis North West Press.

Fever Dream / Take Heart is a doubled poetry book. Two chapbooks have been produced in a flip-book format. Bound in the  tête-bêche style, Fever Dream and Take Heart provide two forays through this poet’s feverishly delicious style.

Lifting off from nature, Grenier leaps intuitively between images that comment on humanity’s impact on the climate, corrosive politics, and all that is ferociously feminine. 

Leap anywhere into these works and emerge with your senses swollen and your will to enact change fortified with iron.

FDTHCover75

Valyntina Grenier is a poet and visual artist living in Tucson, Arizona. She was born in Lancaster, California, and educated at The University of California, Berkeley, and St. Mary’s College, Moraga. Graduating with an MFA in poetry, she is self-taught as a painter, installation and Neon artist. In both language and visual art, she pushes the boundaries of representation and abstraction to create a vantage from which to view violence and prejudice. An LGBTQIA artist and activist, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lana Turner, High Shelf Press, JuxtaProse, Sunspot Lit, Bat City Review and The Impossible Beast: Poems of Queer Eroticism. Find her at valyntinagrenier.com or Insta @valyntinagrenier.

Fantastic Books to Help the Environment

You really have to see TREE and RIVER, both from Blotter Books, an imprint of The Blotter literary magazine. Each title contains a poem that has been lavishly illustrated by members of the Orange County artists’ community.

$25 each; available in Chapel Hill / Carrboro at the North Carolina Crafts Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, FRANK Gallery, and indie bookstore Flyleaf Books.

Online orders, contact m_k_smith@yahoo.com.  If you order online, the shipping is free!

Soulful Book Offering Gifts from the Ocean

Sweet LifeI’ve been following the journey of a particular book called The Sweet Life from creation through to its final version. The book, which offers up gifts that originate deep within the ocean, is fascinating.

It started years ago when a group of women were called to travel to various places around the world. They set up sacred stone circles in many places, and the sites can be visited by readers who want to experience the journey themselves.

The book is now available on Amazon for those who want to hear from the very special beings who protect our planet and all humans on it. Guaranteed to be a deeply moving read, and perfect for book clubs.

Tin House to Close; Sunspot to Open

books-2158737_1920June of 2019 will see the last Tin House literary magazine roll off the presses. After twenty years publishing original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Tin House is saying goodbye.

The move was done in the face of mounting costs associated with print publishing. Rob Spillman, the co-founder and editor, is moving on to other areas. The closing brings an end to a very long stretch of quality contributions to the literary arena.

While some new works will still be published on Tin House’s website, the loss of yet another print publication is difficult for writers. Much of the industry still gives more weight to credits in print publications, so the loss of even one magazine can be bad news.

There is a bright spot, however. Sunspot Literary Magazine is launching in January of 2019. For the first year, one print edition will be published. The magazine hopes to add additional print editions in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, digital editions are scheduled for every quarter. The founder is also considering adding frequent special editions that focus on a single author or a single category.

The magazine’s mission is to “change the world through words,” and is open to new and established authors and artists. Submissions of short stories, flash fiction, poetry, essays, art, interviews, and reviews of books, movies and galleries are being accepted through Sunspot’s Submittable portal.

This is an excellent opportunity to be heard and to enact the change you want to see.

Wind, Waves, and Wonder: Where Dolphins Walk

Where dolphins walk_CoverToday is the first day you can buy Where Dolphins Walk. This memoir from a commercial airline pilot who has traveled the world brings a level of thoughtfulness and meaning to how we move through the world…not only while traveling, but in our daily lives.

With profound consideration and lively stops in a number of the world’s most beautiful countries, Douglas Andrew Keehn gives readers a global cultural tour. The weight of his experiences happen in South America, where he eventually lived for a time before returning to the US.

Throughout his journeys and the book, Keehn returns time and again to the message conveyed by the subtitle: A Memoir of Bridging National Lifestyles, Positive Change, and the Powers of Silence. 

Destined to become the modern-day A Year in Provence for South America’s many jewels, Where Dolphins Walk connects readers with the global harmony that Keehn so clearly feels is not only possible, but is present for everyone who wishes to engage respectfully with other cultures.

Read this over the holidays, and you’ll know exactly where you want to go for your vacations…and possibly for the rest of your life.

Keen CockpitDouglas Andrew Keehn was an avid saltwater angler and deckhand as a teenager. Born in NYC, he was raised in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. He began flying at age seventeen, and has been a flight officer for a major commercial airline for thirty-three years.

After crossing numerous U.S., Canadian, and Mexican cities, his travels shifted south to Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. He resided in Florianopolis, SC, Brazil for more than six years.

Book Review: Dark Winds Rising by Mark Noce

Dark Winds Rising by Mark Noce. St. Martin’s Press, December 2017.

DarkWindRising_FBCover_onsaleFinally, finally, the wait is over! You can–if you haven’t already–get a copy of Dark Winds Rising, the second in the epic historical series about a Welsh queen who stepped into her power in order to help her people.

The first book in the series is Between Two Fires. That work shows Queen Branwen’s strength of intellect and the strength of her heart as she accepts that the man she married is not her true love.

Now, in Dark Winds Rising, she must face the Queen of the Picts when raiders land on the shores of Wales. A mysterious assassin intent on killing her young son haunts her trail as she moves between different areas. The leaders of various areas would rather maintain their petty feuds with each other than join forces against the enemy, so the queen has her hands full.

Oh, and by the way, she’s pregnant. Provides a whole new angle on that modern mom thing, right? Even though sometimes young kids make it feel like Pictish raiders are marauding through your home!

Well, Queen Branwen never shirks her duty to her people or her country. Although taking her son with her on the road exposes them both to additional dangers, the assassin leaves her no choice.

The scenes in camp between her and her husband, Artagan, are some of the best in this book. They show the real dynamics between men and women during the medieval times while providing Branwen with enough room to move in her own direction.Dark Winds Rising

 

Plus, the touching moments with the family are heightened outside stone walls. Readers participate in very warm and moving interactions between parents and children. And yet the tension never gives way, which of course gives those intimate scenes all the more impact.

This second title in the series is pitch perfect from front to back. You won’t a single place where you lose interest or where you feel lost. You will be thoroughly immersed in Branwen’s world, her time, and the rugged beauty of Wales.

 

Perfect Gift for a Special Teacher

Essential Knowledge for Teachers: Truths to Energize, Excite, and Engage Today’s Teachers by Barbara D. Culp
Rowman & Littlefield
978-1-4758-3132-0

Culp TeachersThrough Writer’s Resource, I helped this author bring this idea into the world. So I know firsthand that this is a perfect gift idea for that special teacher!

Educators build the future of our world by nurturing one mind at a time. If you want to say thanks in a really thoughtful way, give a copy of Essential Knowledge for Teachers by Barbara Culp to the teachers in your school.

This book was selected as a finalist in the Education/Academic category of the 2017 Best Books Awards by the American Book Fest. Something like 2,000 entries were received, so this book rose to the top percentile in order to be classified as a finalist.

It’s such a great gift, you might buy more than one for each of your children’s teachers, or for more than one teacher you want to thank. So, try Jet.com because when you buy two, you get a dollar off the price of each!

Here’s a link to the book on the publisher’s website.

If you have Amazon prime, it’s available for free shipping here.

And for folks who don’t have a local indie bookstore to order it from, here it is at Target.

 

Cutest Dual-language Picture Book!

English-Spanish Hardcover resizedJuvenile author Wendy Gilhula has sent me a copy of her debut work. Pika Bunny and the Thunderstorm has some of the sweetest illustrations I’ve seen in a long time!

Gilhula and I worked together some years ago on prose and poetry she had written. The ideas she had just would not let her go. One of them was a series of stories about a bunny named Pika.

Pika Bunny explores the world and illustrates the most touching elements of the parent-child relationship. After Gilhula put her ideas down on paper, she found a publisher who wanted not just one of the works, but several.

Today she is celebrating because Pika Bunny has found life in several formats. The debut story is available in paperback and hardbound versions. There are also English-only and Spanish-English editions, for a total of four versions!

When I received my copy, I reread the story that had demanded the author’s time and focus. Pika Bunny is frightened by a thunderstorm. Then he learns all the good things about rain and thunder. Pika Bunny triumphs over his fear!

PikaBedWashFrom the first page, I really was taken in by the illustrations. Adrianna Allegretti is the illustrator here.

Like most children’s books, the illustrations stay focused on the characters. In a few places, however, Allegretti opts to draw only the storm or other elements of nature.

The combination of the characters in nature, in their cozy interior spaces, and the ones that allow nature to roam free across the page lend this work a particular feeling readers will love.

One of the coolest things about Pika Bunny is that the work is available in a dual-language version. The story is told in Spanish and English, with the same text running in both languages on the same page.

The work has been nominated for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI’s) Golden Kite Award. 

Of special note is the dedication in the front of the book. Gilhula thanks a number of individuals, all by listing their first names and the first initial of their last name. These are all kids who were her beta readers!

She wanted to honor the contributions of these dedicated fans. And here she has, while also preserving their identities and therefore their safety.

Want more of this cuteness and sweet words? Tune in next week for an interview with author Wendy Gilhula!

Another Great Deal for Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance Thriller

Last week, I told you about a great preorder deal from Kim Petersen. Now I want to let you know that you can get another book from the same author for a great price.

This one, usually $3.99, has “steamy scenes and dark themes.” Grab it now at this great lower price! It’s called Millie’s Angel. Here’s the description:

Betrayal is always the last place you expect.

When her mother decides to leave, Millie’s life is turned upside down as she faces life with a father who has a mysterious dark pallor shrouding his countenance. Millie grows up relying on her own strength and the comfort that comes from a friend and a romantic connection that has her heart smitten.
As she struggles to make sense of life, Millie discovers her growing thirst for love while learning to overcome the adversity that plagues her family.
When Millie discovers the dark secrets surrounding her birth, she realises the unthinkable acts of her father, and finds herself battling between love and hatred while finding a sense of balance through a powerful bond with an angel.
When her mother contacts her a decade later, Millie visits with her just in time to realise her own angelic gift, when she finds she is not alone in discovering her mother’s whereabouts. With evil lurking between the cracks in her family, the appearance of Millie’s gift – a phenomenon that will heal and shine brighter than she could ever have imagined – changes her family’s perspectives and the direction of their lives forever.

And here’s the link to the discounted ebook.

 

Free Sample and Slashed Preorder and Launch Price on Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance Thriller

A&D coverI’ve just come across a great deal for all you urban fantasy and paranormal romance thriller fans. This is the latest from Kim Petersen, who has several novels out already. That’s great because once you’ve seen this one, you can binge read all her books!

Angels & Vixens has it all: a brother lost in dreams, a budding romance, and the reappearance of old troubles with a black witch conjuring for the dark side.

Here’s the description:

Her love has no limits.
His vengeance knows no bounds.

With her brother Ace dangerously lurking in her dreams, Millie finds herself captive in a delicately woven love-triangle between past desires and her faithful fiance. When she finally decides to follow the path which beckons her heart, Ace and his black witch lover sweep into town; leaving a poisonous trail of death and vengeance in their wake.
Millie’s life blackens as her brother’s vendetta becomes her reality and she is drawn into a savage game where the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined. Can she save her brother from the evil that clutches his heart before he is lost to her forever?  And will the men in her life learn to accept her truths?

Now, if you’re like me, you want to read a bit to make sure the book is for you. So, the author has provided samples from the beginning here.

Stay tuned for another great deal from this author posting on Sep 25. Mark your calendars!

 

 

 

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!

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.