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The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman follows Eva Cassidy aboard the Lurline on its way to Hawaii where she will serve as an army nurse in Pearl Harbor. She has secrets, and she’s hoping that despite her new name and faked documents, she will be able to use her nursing skills and send money to her sister, Ruby, who was struck with polio, in Michigan. Aboard the ship, she is immediately drawn to Lieutenant Clark Spencer, a man with secrets of his own.

“He reminded Eva of her father, who was always requiring her to answer her own questions and solve her own problems.” (pg. 29)

Ackerman’s WWII setting is well rendered, and the scenes where the Zeroes attack and the harrowing chaos of the hospital are vivid and frightening, especially viewing it from the point of views of her characters. Whether with Spencer trying to save himself and the men around him as bullets shower down on them or with Eva running from a lecture hall to the hospital.

“With fewer new injuries coming in, the nurses busied themselves cleaning up the place in between surgeries and tending the wounded. You could hardly see the linoleum under mud, soot, and blood. Beds and sheets were soiled, and so were the men.” (pg. 250)

The love triangle between Eva, Clark, and Billy — her hometown boyfriend who helped her get her job and wants to marry her — is wrapped up a little too neatly in the end. There also is a government conspiracy that is a little too thin, given that one of the key players is not as high level as one would expect, as well as some other nuances. None of this detracted from Ackerman’s lovely story about a woman wronged and looking to still fulfill her dreams and build a new life in paradise. The attack on Pearl Harbor looms large but it is not the heart of this story.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman’s well-researched novel is a delight in terms of its heart. The resilience of humanity and its ability to pull together in times of crisis are its main themes. Eva Cassidy is a strong woman who lost her compass — her father — only to find she’s as strong as she was when he was alive. She just needed to tap into her strength for herself and those around her.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Sara is the bestselling author of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com. Connect with Sara: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Source: Berkley
Hardcover, 400 pgs
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The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is a novel of lasting friendship — one that surpasses the bounds of culture and war, as well as separation. Elise Sontag, a German American, finds that life during WWII becomes increasingly complicated when her father is arrested by the FBI in Davenport, Iowa. When her father is gone for months, his bank accounts are frozen, and the family is left to fend for itself, Elise learns that her school chums can be less mean than the world around her. Although she’s shunned at school, the sneers of passersby and neighbors, as well as the distrust from her father’s co-workers, are far worse. Through it all, she must be strong for her mother.

“Months later, in the internment camp, Mariko would tell me she believed there were two kinds of mirrors. There was the kind you looked into to see what you looked like, and then there was the kind you looked into and saw what other people thought you looked like.” (pg. 28)

When the entire family is reunited in Crystal City, an internment camp, she learns that even among the perceived “sympathizers” there are more Americans like her. But camp politics can be hard to navigate as someone who doesn’t see how she is perceived by those in the camp. Her focus is on trying to return to a normal life at the Federal School in the camp and befriending Mariko Inoue, a Japanese American from Los Angeles, who also feels more American than Japanese.

Meissner tackles a lot of larger themes, but the theme running through Elise Sontag’s narrative is one of identity. When our home country considers us the enemy, how do we reconcile that with who we know ourselves to be? How can we retain the goodness of our souls without succumbing to the perceptions of others? Can we hold onto what we know about ourselves when others see us as the enemy and send us to a place we feel is hostile to us because they also see us as the enemy?

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is a stunning novel about the last year of World War II from the untenable situation of a young American girl thrust behind enemy lines by her own nation. It is about the friendship that can blossom amidst terrible and heartbreaking conditions. This is a WWII novel that will grip your heart, squeeze it and leave readers wanting more. (I personally would want to read Mariko’s story!)

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of  Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Visit Susan at her website; on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at Facebook.

Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester

Source: the poet
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester explores the degrees of fear we face throughout our lives as things change. The first section of the collection sets the tone for the whole, as each poem focuses on change — a desire to be something you’re not in “Mermaid to Woman” and a re-imagining of Beethoven as a whale in “The Making.” There is a certain fear in change, but Nester calls on the reader to see the beauty in being something different, something that evolves.

 From "The Making" (pg. 3)

If Beethoven were a whale, he would
groan a song as monumental as his bulk,
one the waves would write -- always
in suspension. They would take an hour
to break along a shore so distant
none of us could fathom where it was.

Nester explores the changes that happen during childhood, traveling miles and moving to a new home, and how scary those moments can be. But there are times where the reader still sees the wonder of change as the narrator plays “capture the moon” with a compact mirror. Imagination takes center stage in the second section, and my daughter really enjoyed these poems when I read them aloud to her. She was reminded of the tents we made in our old house’s living room, and she began thinking up her own games to play in the car.

Section three explores the darkest reaches of fear, including a poem for the Sandy Hook school shooting. There’s also a lament for what America has become.

Sandy Hook (pg. 33)

...The teacher tries
to hide us, but bullets fly
so fast. Now she won't 
wake up, no matter how
I shake her. No crayon
could ever be that red.

In the final sections, Nester explores the fears of the past and places them into context. She broadens the scope beyond the fears of a younger self about her unruly hair and the wiser self who sees those imperfections as par for the course of life. “My past/quivers beneath the lens of memory,” she says in “Picture of a Life.”

Narrow Bridge by Robbi Nester is an exploration of life — its bumps and moments of joy — to find the light. She reminds us to push through and “recognize the stranger” in ourselves. She calls on us to reach beyond our fears and ourselves into the unknown to find beauty in the vacillation and uncertainty of change.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Robbi Nester is the author of three other books of poetry: a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and two collections—A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014) and Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017). She has also edited two anthologies: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an Ekphrastic e-book, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees—celebrating the photography of Beth Moon, published as an issue of Poemeleon Poetry Journal.

Lies I Tell Myself by Sarah Jones

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 37 pgs.
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Lies I Tell Myself by Sarah Jones is a chapbook of unsettling poems about the life in a mobile home park and beyond — travailing experiences of abuse (physical, mental, emotional, sexual) and the consequences of those experiences. The childhood explored in these poems is dark, but there’s also a strength in them — a sense that the narrator can look upon these terrible moments and be better than them. Moments of stumbling occur in teen years, but there still is a thread of light in the collection.

From "Beginner's Guide to Failing" (pg. 1)

Listen to your stepfather say
how much you look like your mother.
Look into a mirror and see
a white face too old to be yours.

There are no apologies in this collection of highly intense poems of survival.

 From "Souvenir de Mortefontaine Cinquain"

We are
not those women
who play with leaves and fruit.
We swing the axe. Blister. Splinter.
Ignite.

Jones’ poems range from outright frustration and anger to a deep sadness about a lost childhood. Her verse and images are striking throughout, and readers will feel the turbulence of the violence and the abuse. But “strength seems to make things buoyant,” the narrator says. Lies I Tell Myself by Sarah Jones is a testament to all of those people who have survived abuse and lived to see the beauty still in the world. The narrator is vulnerable but never weak in exposing her wounds to the world to tell her story and bear it all again.

Rating: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Sarah Jones is a poet and content specialist living in Seattle. She is the author of Lies I Tell Myself (dancing girl press & studio). She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her poetry has been featured on NPR and The Bridge. Her poems have appeared in New Ohio ReviewThe Normal SchoolEntropy magazine, Maudlin HouseRaven Chronicles, City Arts Magazine, Yes, Poetry, and many other places. She is a reader for Poetry Northwest, and her poem “My Mother’s Neck” was nominated by the New Ohio Review for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.

STONE, Empty Chair by Erica Goss

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 52 pgs.
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STONE, Empty Chair by Erica Goss is a collection of haiku celebrating the four seasons. The poems in the winter section cleave space and time into separate parts as the narrator looks to connect to the past and a time when her father was alive and reachable.

Spring is a focus on rebirth, but how does someone become reborn in their later years when family has passed away. The narrator learns through trial and error that time moves forward and things change whether we want them to or not. There must be a letting go.

digging
roots in damp soil
white hair

Summer has a heavy atmosphere of nostalgia as the narrator explores her childhood, moments with family, and the wonders of nature.

Fall comes and the reader is thrust into the loneliness of time passing — a lone heron swimming, zinnias on the verge of death, a deceased monarch. Even amidst this loss, there is a moment in the final haiku in which the narrator is still looking — searching for something beyond that horizon, a moment of hope for the future.

end-of-summer wind
scattering of empty chairs
nothing moves the stone

STONE, Empty Chair by Erica Goss is a gorgeous collection of haiku that does not hinge solely on nature to propel the narrative. These haiku are more personal.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Erica Goss served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California from 2013-2016. Her latest poetry collection, Night Court, won the 2016 Lyrebird Prize from Glass Lyre Press. She is the author of Wild Place (2012, Finishing Line Press) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (2014, Pushpen Press).

As Poet Laureate for Los Gatos, she organized the first St. Patrick’s Day Poetry Walk, created Poems-in-the-Window (local businesses displayed poems during National Poetry Month), recorded The Poetry Podcast (50-plus recordings of poems in a variety of languages), established the first Los Gatos Poet Laureate Scholarship, and launched The Poetry Kitchen, a poetry reading series at the Los Gatos Library.

Erica’s work is featured in numerous anthologies and journals, including Pearl, Ekphrasis, Main Street Rag, Café Review, Perigee, Dash Literary Journal, Eclectica, Up the Staircase, Lake Effect, Consequence, Stirrings, Convergence, Passager, Atticus Review, Gravel, Tinderbox Review, Caveat Lector, Rattle, Zoland Poetry, Spillway, San Pedro Rover Review, Comstock Review, Contrary, and Innisfree Poetry Journal. She received the Many Mountains Moving Prize for poetry in 2011. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010, 2013, and 2017, Best of the Net in 2016 and 2017, and received the first Edwin Markham Prize for poetry, judged by California Poet Laureate Al Young. Wild Place was also a finalist in the 2010 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Contest, and received a special mention from Jacar Press’s 2010 Chapbook Contest.

Erica was the host of Word to Word, a Show About Poetry, on KCAT Cable TV in Los Gatos, and wrote The Third Form, a column about video poetry, for Connotation Press. She is the co-founder of Media Poetry Studio, a poetry-and-film camp for teen girls. In 2018, Erica founded Digital Storytelling of the Pacific Northwest, an arts education program for teens and adults. Erica lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches classes in poetry, memoir and video.

A Compass for My Bones by Diana Smith Bolton

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 39 pgs.
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A Compass for My Bones by Diana Smith Bolton, who read at the DiVerse Poetry Gaithersburg Reading, is a chapbook of poetry that examines identity by digging below the surface of the skin. The first part of her collection focuses deeply on faith and how it applies to our actions in childhood — begging us to turn away from curiosities that call us into temptation.

Communion

We might be sisters, she whispered.
The lines of our bodies were as empty

as the priest's gesture, wiping
the chalice's lip with white linen.
from "Three Scenes from Biloxi Beach"

I've seen black-and-white movies about sexy.
Like Lana Turner! she adds. I trot to the frothy water,
forbidden to touch it, and stare into the murky dark
as I stare at my life from four feet up.

There’s an ebb and flow in these beginning poems — a magnetic pull on the narrator leading them toward something and away from the child self s/he knew. When the section ends with “The Deer by the Lake,” the reader knows that the narrative has entered into an uncharted territory. Bolton uses the remainder of the collection to explore life through the eyes of characters and historical figures from Ophelia to Emily Dickinson, who had journeys into the dark and led to sadness.

A Compass for My Bones by Diana Smith Bolton is an exploration of the self and identity — the stumbles we take on life’s journey and how we handle them. Our internal compass is our guide after our parents have guided us through childhood. What of those who never made it through childhood or were never born alive? How do they find that compass. Bolton’s images are stunning.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Diana Smith Bolton is a writer and editor in the Washington DC metro area. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Bolton studied literature at the University of Southern Mississippi and creative writing at the University of Florida, where she earned an MFA. She writes poetry and prose, and her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and collections. As founding editor of District Lit, a journal of writing and art, she is passionate about publishing meaningful work and collaborating with other writers.

Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field is an illustrated transition book from beginning readers as move from picture books to chapter books. Bear is a kind animal who is woken up from hibernation, but Rabbit is a disgruntled creature who has some bad habits, like eating his poo.

When the characters are introduced, you expect to see who robbed bear of her food, since the robber supposedly stood on her nose, but the robber seems to vanish in thin air. The illustrations in this story are gorgeous, right down to the wisps of snow falling. Bear calmly handles Rabbit’s cranky retorts and doesn’t even blink at being called “Idiot.” Personally, this household shies away from those words because they are hurtful and can have long-lasting effects, but kids in my daughter’s school and at her age certainly do use that word and others that are far worse. While I don’t like the use of it, I can see how it mirrors a child’s reality on the playground — only here the kids are animals and the playground is the forest.

My daughter reached for this book the moment it entered the house and started reading while eating breakfast. She didn’t eat much before school that morning. She was too absorbed in the story and she easily read the first pages on her own. Because it still has pictures, it helped keep her engaged with the story.

Talk of gravity and digestion, as well as how to build the best snowman, pepper the pages. Kids will learn something while laughing at the antics of these animals, and they’ll be thankful they did as they find Rabbit is later in peril.

Despite a few initial bumps, Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field ended up being a good story about overcoming initial differences and finding a friendship based on caring and giving.

RATING: Quatrain

Mother Earth’s Lullaby by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 36 pgs.
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Mother Earth’s Lullaby: A Song for Endangered Animals by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer, is a delightful bedtime story read for younger kids. The rhymes make it easy for kids to be lulled into sleepiness. Each page has a cuddly illustration of an endangered animal nestling down with their family or in a cozy den. Each of the endangered animals featured in the book are described in the back pages, providing kids and parents information about where the animals live and how much they weigh, etc., as well as why they have become endangered.

My daughter read this one on her own, which was great to hear. She learned new words along the way, like slumber and wallaby, and she loves the words that mimic sounds, like flutter-flap. The book provides a gentle reminder to kids that they can feel safe falling asleep with their families and that the darkness will not harm them. It would be interesting to have a singer sing this lullaby on an accompanying CD to enrich the experience for kids.

Mother Earth’s Lullaby: A Song for Endangered Animals by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer, is beautifully illustrated and the rhymes were spot on. I liked that it was easy for my daughter to read for the most part, though there are some unfamiliar words that she had to work at.

RATING: Cinquain

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold, explores the various styles of painting from a number of masters, including Leonardo da Vinci. In the opening pages, young readers are treated to a step-by-step outline of how to draw a stegosaurus in crayon. Many kids begin drawing with crayons, and this opening page highlights how they can draw their own dinosaur before asking them what it would look like if a famous painter and/or artist used dinosaurs in their paintings.

Through imaginative renderings of famous paintings, the author and illustrator work in tandem to engage young readers in an exploration of artistic styles, famous works of art, and playful pretend games. In one instance, kids are asked to find how many dinosaurs are hidden in Diego Rivera’s painting. This was a great way to introduce my daughter to some famous works of art and she was stunned to learn that a can of soup became a famous piece of art. She asked if she could sell the soup from our pantry to make lots of money, and I told her that art is in the eye of the beholder. So we did have a good discussion about that.

One quibble I had as a parent with a young reader is that there are no pronunciation keys for some of the harder to pronounce names. These could help parents sound out the names with their children. I prefer these in books because it demonstrates that like my daughter, sometimes I need help pronouncing names. This helps her to feel less frustrated.

Not only is drawing explored, but also painting, stamping, and more. Art is what you make it. In If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold, kids can see how art is transformed with dinosaurs and it will get them thinking about their own art work.

RATING: Quatrain

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories by Sarah Lerner

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 192 pgs.
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Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner is deeply moving and filled with passion — a passion for making a difference and a passion for the lives that were cut too short and should be remembered. From students to teachers, these essays, poems, photos, and drawings will make you an emotional mess. Reading through this collection, you can tell how scared these kids were when the shooting occurred on Feb. 14 , 2018. The lives of these unsuspecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was upended by one school shooter.

The initial reaction was disbelief because many thought the second fire drill was just routine, but the rapid fire soon became the scariest thing they had ever heard. Many lamented they didn’t stick to their routines and wait for friends, while others wanted to have done more to save their friends. There was the interminable wait for their friends to respond, but the silence was deafening. The heavy weight of sadness was soon wielded as a weapon against those who dare not to talk about gun reform, with many kids marching and lobbying for change still.

From “Can’t You Hear?” by Alyson Sheehy

You can blame what you want, pull on whatever thread
Bully us into silence and treat us like we don’t matter.
However, don’t forget there is no future when all of us are dead
Although it seems that is still not enough for all lives to matter.

Can’t you hear the screams now? Cause they are only growing louder.

The speech from Emma Gonzalez is widely known, but it bears repeating.

From “We Call BS” speech by Emma Gonzalez

“The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in closets. The people involved right now, those who were there, those posting, those tweeting, those doing interviews and talking to people, are being listened to for what feels like the very first time on this topic that has come up over 1,000 times in the past four years alone…”

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner must have been a cathartic experience for the writers, artists, and photographers who participated in sharing their stories, emotions, and trauma with readers. It’s a must read for anyone who does not understand the movement toward gun control. Our world has changed, our children are no longer safe in school, and more guns are not a viable solution.

Rating: Quatrain

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, Illustrated by David Bucs

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, is a delightful read full of adventure and riddles for young readers to solve. A trio of friends, including the birthday boy Mason, are invited to have a sleepover at the museum. This is an adventure that they will never forget, as it tests their knowledge of history, evolution, and biology. These friends work well together solving the riddles and in the process Mason gets to imagine what it would be like to sleep in each of the rooms at the museum. Which one will he actually pick, is something readers will have to find out for themselves.

This was a book that my daughter and I read together over several days as she did her nightly reading. There were some large words like “biodiversity” and “behemoth” that were a challenge for an early reader, but sounding out smaller chunks helped her get through them. She loved reading the riddles with Mason and his friends and even figured some out on her own. She was very proud that she knew some of the answers. The images are detailed and colorful and will have kids looking at everything all at once.

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, will test kids’ imaginations and knowledge, as well as ensure they strengthen their vocabularies. My daughter was thrilled with this book, and enjoyed following Mason on his birthday trek through the various parts of the museum.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Karen LeFrak is a creative and philanthropic New Yorker. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Mt. Holyoke College. Karen continued her education earning an MA in Music History from Hunter College. Her thesis “In Search of the New Classics,” which surveyed the commissioning activity of the New York Philharmonic from 1842-1986, won the Dean’s Award in Arts and Humanities. Karen’s education also includes courses in archival management and historical editing at New York University. In 2010, in recognition of outstanding achievement, the Hunter College Alumni Association elected her to the Hunter College Hall of Fame.

About the Illustrator:

David Bucs studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. After working in the animation industry in Los Angeles as an art director and character designer, David moved to Beijing, where he was a designer in a 3D animation studio. He loves to create characters, bringing them to life through strong expression using digital media. David is the illustrator of Sleepover at the Museum by Karen Lefrak (forthcoming from Crown/Penguin Random House). He has also created artwork for Capstone, Highlights magazine, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt leveled readers. David lives with his wife and young son in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where life is sweet. Find him online: @davidbucs / davidbucs.com.

War Reading Challenge 2019

Yes, I have another reading challenge to announce! Anna and I decided that 2019 would be another year of reading about any war you wanted in nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and other genres.

We hope you’ll join us and share your reviews and thoughts.

Here’s the post to link up.