2015 Challenge Wrap-Up

Every year, I check my blog to see if I met my reading challenge goals.  I was a little late in doing so this year, but I did want to see how I did.  Some years I am better at keeping track throughout the year, but this was not one of those years.

I’ll list the books for each challenge and link to the reviews below.

2015 Poetry Reading Challenge (Goal is to read 1 book or 20 individual poems):

  1. Joy Street by Laura Foley (review)
  2. Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price (review)
  3. WET by Toni Stern (review)
  4. Crow-Work by Eric Pankey (review)
  5. Doll God by Luanne Castle (review)
  6. Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust (review)
  7. The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey (review)
  8. Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny (review)
  9. Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones (review)
  10. Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote (review)
  11. Banned for Life by Arlene Ang (review)
  12. Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke (review)
  13. Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms (review)
  14. The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight (review)
  15. Looking for Potholes by Joe Wenke (review)
  16. Double Jinx by Nancy Reddy (review)
  17. Pride & Prejudice: Retold in Limericks by Seamus O’Leprechaun (review)
  18. Lost and by Jeff Griffin (review)
  19. The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise (review)
  20. Ohio Violence by Alison Stine (review)
  21. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko (review)
  22. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (review)
  23. Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow (review)
  24. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (review)
  25. Red Sox Rhymes: Verses and Curses by Dick Flavin (review)
  26. Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of the Seasons by Margaret Wise Brown (review)
  27. Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram (review)
  28. Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn (review)
  29. The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park (review)
  30. The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett (review)
  31. Strange Theater by John Amen (review)
  32. Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle (review)
  33. All the Words Are Yours: Haiku on Love by Tyler Knott Gregson (review)
  34. Underdays: Poems by Martin Ott (review)
  35. National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis (review)

2015 War Through the Generations – Read Any War (read any # of books about any war):

  1. After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson (review) WWI
  2. War’s Trophies by Henry Morant (review) Vietnam War
  3. The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson (review) WWII
  4. The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher (review) WWI
  5. Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote (review) Iraq Wars
  6. The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy (review) U.S. Civil War
  7. The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck (review) U.S. Civil War
  8. The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna (review) WWII
  9. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (review) War in general
  10. The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay (review) WWI
  11. Mireille by Molly Cochran (review) WWII
  12. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (review) WWII
  13. The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff (review) WWII
  14. The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton (review) WWII
  15. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch (review) Bosnia War
  16. Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North (review) WWII

2015 New Authors Challenge (read 50 New-to-Me Authors):

  1. Jewel Kats
  2. Henry Morant
  3. Deborah Johnson
  4. Mallory Ortberg
  5. Andy Miller
  6. Tony Stern
  7. Lorna Schultz Nicholson
  8. Dora Levy Mossanen
  9. Tim Butcher
  10. Rebecca Skloot
  11. Luanne Castle
  12. Mallory Kasdan
  13. Danielle Paige
  14. Jan Hahn
  15. Rebecca Foust
  16. Melissa Kwasny
  17. Parneshia Jones
  18. Frederick Foote
  19. Joe Wenke
  20. Melanie Simms
  21. Natural History Museum
  22. Marie Slaight
  23. Greil Marcus
  24. Nancy Reddy
  25. Jeff Griffin
  26. Seamus O’Leprechaun
  27. Erika Robuck
  28. Abigail Samoun
  29. Jillian Weise
  30. Jo Nesbo
  31. William Todd Rose
  32. Alison Stine
  33. Lisa Pliscou
  34. Paul B. Janeczko
  35. Claudia Rankine
  36. Charlotte Zolotow
  37. Jacqueline Woodson
  38. Richard Torrey
  39. Jo Baker
  40. Richard Fairgray
  41. Jonathan Lethem
  42. Margaret Peot
  43. Jim Kay, various
  44. Mi-ae Lee
  45. Ae-hae Yoon
  46. Judith Fertig
  47. Robert C. O’Brien
  48. Cassie Premo Steele
  49. Maria Grace
  50. Hee Jung Chang
  51. Molly Cochran
  52. Bryan Ballinger
  53. Lissa Evans
  54. Matthew Jervis
  55. Kim Norman
  56. Dick Flavin
  57. Gillian Flynn
  58. Geert de Kockere
  59. Susan Andra Lion
  60. Rachel Simon
  61. Meg Waite Clayton
  62. Lidia Yuknavitch
  63. L. Shapley Bassen
  64. Amber Tamblyn
  65. Hannah Sanghee Park
  66. Roxanna Bennett
  67. Bella Forrest
  68. Nuala O’Connor
  69. Anna Llenas
  70. Lauren Redniss
  71. Lisa Maggiore
  72. Martin Ott
  73. Joe Hill
  74. Anne Margaret Lewis
  75. Catherine Bailey
  76. Maggie Stiefvater
  77. Jean P. Moore
  78. Linda Ashman
  79. Beau North
  80. Terry Border
  81. Kate Louise
  82. Clement C. Moore
  83. Kimberly Knutsen
  84. Ree Drummond
  85. Alexander McCall Smith
  86. Jussi Adler Olsen

That’s it for me in 2015; now I have to really start thinking about 2016 challenges.

There will be a poetry reading challenge announcement soon!

Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North

Source: Meryton Press
ebook, 300 pgs.
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Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North, set in post-WWII America, touches upon the Deep South’s continued segregation, and the desire to maintain the old ways where women are concerned even though they stepped up in may cases to fill men’s jobs when they were away at war.  North has created a complex novel through which Will Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have very different lives and expectations.  Lizzie has locked her heart away after her time away at school in Charleston, while Darcy has struggled to keep his own passions in check as he builds his textile empire.  North has focused less on the class expectations and differences, and more on the societal changes and the implications of those changes on the Deep South.

Lizzie is as strong-willed and teasing as ever, and Darcy is as mysterious and aloof, bumbling around in society. However, dark secrets lay beneath Mr. Collins piousness, Charlotte’s practical nature, and Bingley’s ever-sunny disposition.  North goes deeper into these characters motivations, pulling out the truth behind the facade.

While there were things that seemed a little out of place — maybe just by a few years — they did not detract from the story.  Lizzie is a songstress with a captivating voice, and Darcy is at a disadvantage and is captured in her nest before either realizes how things have changed between them.  But North knows how to keep readers interested by blowing up the Austen world, rearranging it satisfactorily, and making it her own.  Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North is a wonderful addition to the Austen world, but it’s also much more than that.  It delves into the issues of segregation, women’s place in society, the rights of minorities, and post-traumatic stress disorder that accompanies so many soldiers home from war.

About the Author:

Beau North is a native southerner who now calls Portland, Oregon home with her husband and two cats. She attended the University of South Carolina where she began a lifelong obsession with English Literature. In her spare time, Beau is the brains behind Rhymes With Nerdy, an internet collective focused on pop culture. This is her first novel.  You can connect with Beau on Twitter, Facebook, or via http://beaunorth.merytonpress.com. If you’ve enjoyed this book, we welcome your fair and honest review on Goodreads and Amazon.










The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 336 pgs.
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The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton is riveting from the start and a careful blend of fact and fiction about WWII and the female reporters and photographers who were often relegated to the field hospitals and sidelines while their male counterparts were allowed closer to the front and on reconnaissance missions.  Clayton’s characters tough cookies, and they have to be as they face the possibility of death once they’ve ignored their orders to remain at the field hospital.  Liv Harper, an Associated Press photographer know for her blurred faces, and Jane, a reporter for the Nashville Banner, find themselves accompanied by Fletcher, Liv’s husband’s friend.  Fletcher is a British military photographer who often goes it alone in the field to gather intelligence with his photos for the Allied forces, but he’s had a flame burning for Liv ever since he met her.  This unlikely trio is determine to make it to Paris before the other reporters to photograph and tell the tale of its liberation.

“That was the way it was, covering war.  The little bits of detail you could get on paper or on film were just that, little bits that didn’t tell the whole story.  And you couldn’t possibly capture the whole of it no matter how far back you stepped.” (pg. 217 ARC)

Liv has secrets too, and only Jane is aware of some of them.  While Fletcher and Liv are striving toward the front as if chased by ghosts, Jane is tagging along, not so much for the good of her career as someone who cushions the blows that they receive along the way.  She becomes the sounding board for each of them, while she keeps her own council.  Jane is a strong woman, though timid, while Liv is a wild wire set to explode.  Fletcher has taken it upon himself to protect them both, though his desire for Liv often steers him into danger.  While Clayton’s triangle here could be construed merely as a romantic tug-of-war, it is isn’t.  There are more nuanced dynamics at play here, as WWII has touched Fletcher and Liv in very different ways and Jane is observing it as it plays out.

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton looks through the lens of journalists during one of the most sweeping, horrifying, and tense wars in our world history to provide an encapsulated view of the fighting, the discrimination against female journalists, and the battles dedicated people had to endure to achieve their goals.

About the Author:

Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times bestselling author of four previous novels: The Four Ms. Bradwells; The Wednesday Sisters; The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize; and The Wednesday Daughters. She’s written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Jose Mercury News, Forbes, Writer’s Digest, Runner’s World, and public radio. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Palo Alto, California.

Find out more about Meg at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.





The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff & Giveaway

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Source: Pam Jenoff
Paperback, 384 pgs
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The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff is a sweeping tale set during World War II, as a sixteen year old Adelia Monteforte comes to America to live with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia without her Jewish parents, who stayed behind in Trieste, Italy.  She feels like an outsider with the relatives she’s never met before, and she realizes that her limited English and mostly secular upbringing is not what they expected.  While she speaks English, she still feels as though she’s an outsider, until she becomes like a sister to the Connally brothers.  Despite their perceived differences in religion and upbringing, Adelia becomes Addie, molding herself in the cracks of the local family she meets at Chelsea Beach.

“Robbie turned to his mother.  ‘Can we keep her?’
‘Robbie, she isn’t a puppy. But I do hope you’ll join us often,’ she added.
‘Because we really need more kids, ‘ Liam said wryly.” (pg. 38)

Jenoff’s World War II novels are always captivating, full of missed chances and second chances, moments of horror and tragedy, but also moments of hope and happiness. These snippets of time are those that her characters treasure, and they provide that kernel of hope that readers hold onto until they reach the end. Addie is a young displaced woman looking for a home, and she thinks that she’s found it with the Connallys until tragedy strikes close to home and she’s left in the breeze. She has to decide what to do for herself for the first time since coming to America, and while she chooses to go to Washington, D.C., with a half buried hope of finding her childhood crush, she also wants to do something more.

The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff is an addicting read with its twists and turns and the realities of rationing and the closeness of war.  Jenoff is a master at characterization and romance in a way that is both fanciful, but realistic.  Her characters often have to struggle with more than the things that keep them apart, and for that, readers will be grateful.  Her books are not to be missed, and this summer read should be at the top of your lists.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff is the Quill-nominated internationally bestselling author of The Kommadant’s Girl. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master’s degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff’s novels are based on her experiences working at the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

U.S. residents, leave a comment below about your favorite beach activity by Aug. 26, 2015, at 11:59 PM EST.  Win a bag and book!









Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 288 pgs.
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Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans is an odd narrative in that it is disjointed at times and features a number of eccentric characters, including 10-year-old Noel, Vee, and Donald.  Noel is a young orphan evacuee who is sent to live with Vee, Donald, and Vee’s mother during WWII.  Noel’s a quiet boy who loves detective novels and is incredibly heart-broken by the time he reaches their home.  Vee, on the other hand, is struggling to make ends meet only to have a son who does little more than expect her to wait on him and barely goes to his job.  Evans captures the essence of these struggling residents during rationing and bombardments by the Nazis.  Readers will be fully engaged by the historical setting, but the pairing of this intelligent boy and this woman who is looking for the next get rich quick scheme, is unlikely and tough to take at face value until more than halfway through the novel.

“His teeth were regular and well-spaced, like battlements.  Noel liked to imagine tiny soldiers popping up between them, firing arrows across the room or pouring molten lead down Uncle Geoffrey’s chin.” (pg. 10 ARC)

“The day after that, all the children disappeared, as if London had shrugged and the small people had fallen off the edge.” (pg. 15 ARC)

Vee is impulsive and Noel is level-headed, and like Vee, Donald, makes impulsive decisions that often land him into trouble.  Evans has a way with imagery and she captures the tumultuous times deftly, but often the disjointed narrative can pull readers out of the story, especially when she moves from one perspective to another with little to no transition.  However, as the relationship develops between Vee and Noel, moving from a business relationship to a more familial relationship, readers will become invested in their struggles.  The story of Donald, her son, however, fades in importance, and by the end almost feels as though it was an add-on, not really integral to the story.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans provides a realistic look at life in London and elsewhere in England at the time of WWII when rationing was in full swing and bombings were a real concerns, especially for residents of London.  Vee and Noel are able to find a home among the wreckage, and while not everyone’s stories are wrapped up neatly, Evans develops a realistic picture of wartime England.

About the Author:

Lissa Evans, a former radio and television producer, is the author of three previous novels, including Their Finest Hour and a Half, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Crooked Heart was also longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize); it is her first novel to be published in the US. Evans lives in London with her family.  Find out more about Evans at her website, and follow her on Twitter.




Mireille by Molly Cochran

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 619 pgs
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Mireille by Molly Cochran is a sweeping novel that takes place near the end of WWII through the 1960s, and the title character is forced from her home at the same time she is forced to realize that her life must become an illusion in order for her to survive.  Mireille is an unusual beauty who finds herself caught in the web of her own lies later in life, and while she’s desperate to escape, she’s also careful to protect her family from harm, even if that means paying a heavy price.  Following the end of WWII, she makes the trek on foot to Paris and finds herself in even worse health and shape than when she ran from her home.  She learns quickly that kindness is hard to come by and that the only way she can provide for herself and survive is the become the best prostitute in all of Paris.

Cochran has dove deep into the world of Paris escorts, and the depravity Mireille finds there is something that she can only deal with by severing her actions from her true 17-year-old self.  She soon meets Oliver Jordan, a famous movie producer from Hollywood, but he’s darker than she ever could imagine.  He will remind readers of the Marquis de Sade driven by his baser instincts and clearly someone who knows nothing about love or emotional attachment.  He only understands manipulation, physical release, and ownership.

Mireille by Molly Cochran is a page turner that is neatly wrapped up by the end of the novel, and as long as readers can ignore the historical issues — such as actresses unable to earn a great deal because they were owned by their respective studios at the time in the novel and Mireille’s apparent wealth — the book will take them on a dark journey that will leave their stomachs turning.  However, as a book about perseverance, Mireille does have a will that will rival many — as she strives onward even in the most dire circumstances.  A solid read full of sex, profane events, and more.

***My apologies to Molly Cochran and TLC Book Tours for failing to review this in June.***

About the Author:

Molly Cochran is the author of more than twenty novels and nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestseller GrandmasterThe Forever KingThe Broken Sword, and The Temple Dogs, all cowritten with Warren Murphy. She is also the author of The Third Magic, and she cowrote the nonfiction bestseller Dressing Thin with Dale Goday. Cochran has received numerous awards, including the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, the Romance Writers of America’s “Best Thriller” award, and an “Outstanding” classification by the New York Public Library. Recently she published a series of young adult novels, LegacyPoison, and Seduction, and two novellas, Wishes and RevelsLegacy won a 2013 Westchester Fiction Award.





The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay


Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 304 pgs
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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay is an engaging way for young readers (age 10+) to learn about World War I through the touchstones and artifacts left behind by soldiers, their families, and the war itself.  From a writing case to a toy soldier, these stories draw inspiration from these objects, building a world in the past that could be as real today as it was then.  There are stories from Michael Morpurgo and Tracy Chevalier, and like many short story collections some stories shine brighter than others, with “Captain Rosalie” being bitter sweet and “Our Jacko” inspiring.  These stories will evoke deep emotions in readers, as they learn not only about the realities of war and loss, but also the connections we have to objects that come from our ancestors.

“I keep the compass shined up and the safety catch on so the little needle doesn’t swing and break.  When I hold it and let it go and hunt out north, it bobs around like anything, like something on water, and it’s hard to tell where you are or what it’s saying.  That’s because I can’t keep my hands still enough.  But my dad could.  He kept his hands steady all the way, and he found home.” (“Another Kind of Missing,” pg 27)

“For in order for a story to work, it has to have a purpose, a structure, a journey, and a resolution.  And in reality, war has none of these things.  War is simply a near-random sequence of horrors, and so to make a story out of war is to lie.”  (“Don’t Call It Glory,” pg 65)

“But for music, I might have just stayed there,
keeping time with the
swoosh, swoosh, swoosh
of my push broom
for always.

Maybe making something of yourself is about
just keeping time
but doing something of substance,
something risky,
something you couldn’t fathom having the
to do until
do it. (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 153)

Beyond the short stories told in this collection, there is one, long narrative poem, “A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” which mirrored the rhythm and blues played by the main character.  But it also highlights the desire to seize the moment when it comes, rather than wait until its gone to desire it.

“So I won’t waste it:
War can break a man.
Slam him down on his back in the
dark.” (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 166)

Each of these pieces brings forth some of the hidden feelings of those left behind by soldiers and those who are less than eager to fight, but they also illustrate the complexity of war and its allure.  Kay’s illustrations are in black and white and give the collection just the right amount of gruesome horror, but these are accompanied by facts about the war from women entering the workforce and the types of jobs they assumed to the conditions of the trenches.

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay would be a great addition to any classroom willing and able to go beyond the traditional teachings of just WWII and other wars.  WWI was an important part of history that should not be forgotten, as it illustrates not only the brutality of ambitious people, but also the realities of bravery and cowardice, particularly through the eyes of children who are left behind.





The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 85 pgs
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The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, which was our June book club selection and my second reading (I haven’t read this since college), is a nonfiction analysis of different types of principalities and how a prince can keep them when factions or people move against him.  The work is considered a classic and it is an examination of what traits make principalities hard to maintain or easy to keep, as well as what characteristics a prince should foster in himself to hold onto his principality.  Although this is a slim volume, the economy of the language makes it quite dense and oftentimes dry.  Many often attribute the sayings of “the ends justify the means” and “might makes right” to Machiavelli, though they are not necessarily accurate interpretations of what he espoused.

It is clear that his life experiences as a civil servant in Italy, which had been far from unified under one government and was operated more through a balance of various factions and the strength of the truth.  It is clear that Machiavelli viewed political success from a practical standpoint, without an emphasis on morality.  More accurate attributions of wisdom to him might be that you can gauge the intelligence of a prince by those he has around them or that it is better to be feared than loved.

“The main foundations of every state, new states as well as ancient or composite one, are good laws and good arms; and because you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow … ” (page 40)

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli has become a guidebook for many leaders, and has been perverted by others, including Hitler and Stalin.  Whatever readers may take away from his advice on principalities, Machiavelli is clearly a keen observer of human behavior, especially among rulers.  It is highly humorous that he would give this book as a gift to a new ruler of the Medici family in the hope of gaining favor with the new government, especially since the book tends to provide a framework for governing as if the reader would need pointers.  How many rulers would take to that kindly?

What the book club thought:

Everyone seemed to agree that this was almost like a how-to guide on how to become a prince and maintain the power they gain, regardless of the political or geographical situation.  One member expressed the opinion that Machiavelli seemed to focus on his own ambitions, despite his couching of his advice as something to help Medici, who was currently in power at the time the book was written.  Others did not see that, and I mentioned that he was incredibly disappointed that his political and civilian government life had come to an end too quickly and that he was motivated to ensure his return to that life.  Overall, most people found the book interesting and though that it would be interesting to see what Machiavelli would have written about the U.S. presidency or if his guide would work in today’s modern world.  The book generated a great deal of discussion, and most were surprised that it was not more evil than they expected.

About the Author:

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian political philosopher, musician, poet, and romantic comedic playwright. He is a figure of the Italian Renaissance and a central figure of its political component, most widely known for his treatises on realist political theory (The Prince) on the one hand and republicanism (Discourses on Livy) on the other.

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 336 pgs
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The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna is a World War II novel set in the Wisconsin around the time of the cherry harvest, and for a novel focused on the home front of the war, the tension is still great.  As rationing affects the nation’s farmers, but not those like the lighthouse keeper, readers will get a sense of the tensions that wars bring for those at home and not just fighting the battles.  The narrative is split between Charlotte Christiansen and her daughter, Kate, and as two strong women, they struggle with what is right for their family, right for the town, and right for themselves.  Thomas Christiansen is a bookish man who gave up his university studies to take over the family farm, and he married a good woman from a local dairy farm who could make some award winning pies.  When the war begins to take the immigrant labor from the farm, his wife hatches a plan to save their upcoming harvest because without a plan of action, their son Ben may not have a home to come to when the war is over.

“Worry? In addition to all they had to do before, lighthouse keepers are now charged with protecting our shores from the enemy.  The shores of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.” She leaned in.  “And you think a few prison guards can protect us from that madman Hitler, who’s bent on controlling the world?” (pg. 30 ARC)

Kate is struggling, too.  Her dreams of attending university seem to be thwarted at nearly every turn as her mother takes the one possession she has to sell to pay for college and uses it to feed them, and as she learns she needs additional help with math in order to pass the entrance exam.  But beyond these trials, she realizes that life is moving forward without her in many ways, with her friend Josie already planning a wedding to Ben, even while he continues to fight overseas and his likelihood of coming home is slim.  As she finds out what kind of woman she wishes to become, Kate uncovers her own compass and learns that she needs to rely on her own courage to achieve her goals.  This self-reliance is something she learns from her mother, even as Kate comes to the realization that her mother is not perfect.

Sanna has created a dynamic cast of characters for this home front novel, but where it lacks strength is in the twists of plot.  Some situations come from left field or are simply there to check a box in what a WWII novel should have — including two star-crossed love affairs and battles between Americans and Nazis, though not on the battlefield.  Additionally, Charlotte’s character is a bit all over the place — one minute she wants the Nazis to be used as labor and in the next minute she wants them no where near her family.  Her hypocrisy is part of her undoing, but readers also may find that some things are left to unresolved to be satisfactory.  There are certain situations that did not jibe well with the character development, which made the fallout of those situations difficult to believe.

Where The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna shined was in its depiction of troubled economic times because of the war, the tensions between those in the same town over those troubles, and the impact of war on soldiers and the uncertainty among family how to act or react to those soldiers coming home.  Had the novel a more refined focus, Sanna would have hit one out of the park with this one.  Due to the plot issues and other issues, this was a mixed read for me in the end.

About the Author:

Lucy Sanna has published poetry, short stories, and nonfiction books, which have been translated into a number of languages. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Sanna now divides her time between Madison, Wisconsin, and San Francisco. The Cherry Harvest is her first novel.

Find out more about Lucy at her website and connect with her on Facebook. (Photo Credit: Hope Maxwell Snyder)





The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

Source: Penguin Random House
Hardcover, 416 pgs
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The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck is word portrait of Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s courtship, marriage, and family, as well as the tensions that arise from two artists balancing their passions with their family.  Spoken in the voice of Sophia Peabody, readers are given a glimpse of her passionate painting and love of life despite her debilitating headaches before she meets Nathaniel, an aloof writer who feels the inadequacy of his words on paper.  From the 1830s to the U.S. Civil War, readers are taken through their early romance and their marriage.  While readers will find Sophia passionate about her work, she still finds joy and love in being a wife and mother, though she does miss her painting.  Despite the vacillation between poverty and moderate wealth, the Hawthornes are a family unit that loves deeply and remain loyal to their friends.

“One hand is open, overflowing with an abundance of joy and vitality; the other is a fist, clutching a void so desperately that the nails dig holes in the skin.” (pg. 247)

Like many artists there are period of abundance and times when the land is fallow, and this is true in terms of both writing and painting artistry as well as the funds they earn.  Sophia is a headstrong woman, but she quickly learns how to navigate her husband’s moods and comfort him in the best way she can for a reserved man.  Nathaniel is an enigma, but we get to see him through Sophia’s loving eyes, which can help soften some of his more anti-social behavior that others may see as mean or aloof.  It is wonderful to see the circle of friends the Hawthorne’s have and how those relationships evolve over time, particularly in light of the coming Civil War between the North and South.  From the drifting away from the Emersons to the effusive complements of Melville, the Hawthornes remain a tight knit family and rally around each other in times of loss and suffering.

“Our country simmers like a covered pot over the issue of slavery, and while Nathaniel and I do not approve of owning slaves, we cannot imagine what a division or even a war between the Northern and Southern states would do to our young nation.” (pg. 264)

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck is a stunning narrative that illuminates the often overshadowed life of Sophia Hawthorne and demonstrates how two artists can live together and build a life despite their differences and their own need for solitude and succor.  The novel raises questions of self-identity, self-expression, compromise, and the desire to create and have it all.

About the Author:

Historical fiction writer, book blogger, voracious reader. Erika’s first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING was self-published. Penguin Random House published HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and a short story anthology to which Erika contributed, GRAND CENTRAL: ORIGINAL STORIES OF POSTWAR LOVE AND REUNION. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE will release on May 5th, 2015.

Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Hemingway Society, the Millay Society. and the Hawthorne Society.





The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

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Source:  TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy is a dual narrative in which Eden and Sarah both deal with a personal dilemma.  Sarah lives during a time of turmoil for the United States, when the Underground Railroad has flourished and ensured the escape of slaves to the North and civil unrest has taken something most dear to her.  Eden lives in the modern day and she and her husband have moved into New Charlestown to start a family and slow life down a bit.  Unfortunately, their plans are sidetracked and disappointment and self-loathing are Eden’s dominant emotions, until one day she finds the head of a porcelain doll in her root cellar.

“The Old House on Apple Hill Lane shuddered against the weighty snow that burdened its pitch.  The ancient beams moaned their secret pains to the wintering doves in the attic.  The nesting duo pushed feathered bosoms together, blinked, and nodded quickly, as if to say, Yes-yes, we hear, yes-yes, we know, while down deep in the cellar, the metal within the doll’s porcelain skull grew crystals along its ridges.  Sharp as a knife.  The skull did all it could to hold steady against the shattering temperature for just one more minute of one more hour.” (pg. 1)

McCoy is a gifted story-teller who immediately captures the attention of her readers with detail and mood.  Her books always transport readers to another time and/or place, and her characters are strong and flawed, like most of us.  Readers can connect with their struggles because they too have struggled similarly or know someone who has.  Eden’s modern problem and Sarah’s are the same, but how they deal with it is very different.  Eden shuts down and tries to cocoon herself against the pain and the disappointment, while Sarah takes her time and accepts it, giving up the one she loves in the process for a greater cause. Eden looks within herself for far too long and has alienated her life, but Sarah seeks an outward cause to turn her energy toward.  And the mystery that ties these women together is well woven and readers will enjoy unraveling it with Eden.

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy is wonderful, and beautifully written.  It had me reading into the late hours until I finished!  McCoy’s book is brilliantly told and chock full of research about the Underground Railroad.  But at its heart it’s about learning what family is and how much that one word can include, particularly outside of one’s immediate relations.

***Another contender for the Best of 2015 list!***

***If you are in Gaithersburg, Md., you’ll be able to catch Sarah McCoy live at the local book festival on May 16, 2015.






To win a copy, please leave a comment below by April 30, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. EST.  U.S. and Canadian residents only.

About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote

Source: NetGalley & Grayson Books
eBook, 82 pgs
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Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems from a retired U.S. Navy physician, who also is the director of the Warrior Poetry Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Beneath the carnage depicted in many of these poems, there is a compassionate undercurrent.  Some of these poems are about the battle scars — physical and emotional — that shape today’s warriors, but they also are about sacrifice, discipline, and human comfort spawned from work on the hospital ship Comfort and the care of sick and wounded Americans.

From “Mountain Burial”

knowing we can’t retrieve
this well that’s now gone dry.
She lives in a field of green
whose thousand blades wave free,
scattered from us by war,
the ender of destinies.

From “Uncle Jim”

They say everything’s been written; it hasn’t.
Darkness and light are vast, and poets have barely begun.
Even when it hides, the hand knows when it’s writing a final death.

Foote’s narrator is a compassionate medic, but he is well aware of the carnage of war, facing it daily in surgeries and helping soldiers come to terms with the losses they have suffered. There is compassion for the soldiers as well as for the enemies, particularly those also marred by war. These poems are less trying to make sense of war, but geared toward demonstrating compassion and understanding. They pay homage to the dead, a way to honor their collective and individual sacrifices. Foote also includes some great notes about the different terms used, including Fedayeen, which refers to a generic fighter, and Mujahadeen, which refers to someone fighting for a religious cause. There also are great tidbits about events that occurred during the war that many may not know, including villagers who tossed unwanted children — particularly those with cognitive disabilities — onto Medevacs to get rid of them (“The War Child”).

Wife on the ICU

I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird
the monitor shows a thin green line
I walk at night and watch at dawn
not knowing the end of the road I’m on
down which, possessed by a voice unheard
I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems that is less focused on battles and who the enemy is and more on the compassion necessary to treat those men, women, and children who are scared by war — whether they are soldiers, bystanders, or the enemy. Some poems are better paced than others, but there are some gems that will have readers looking at war with a new perspective.

About the Author:

Frederick Foote is a poet and physician who lives in Bethesda, MD, USA. His work has appeared in Commonweal, JAMA, The Progressive, and many other journals. Click the tabs for a sample of these poems.