Iowa City Book Festival 2017: Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter

Admittedly, the coolest thing about reading is the ability to connect. Connect to other readers online, in your book club or in your local community. Even cooler, the ability to meet the author of books.  I’d say this ranks up there with meeting famous movie stars, yeah? Either way, as residents of Iowa City we are incredibly fortunate. While Iowa City, IA may not have the population size of Chicago or New York we maintain some incredibly prestigious literary honors. One of which is our world renowned University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  The other is our designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.  Both of which allow us the ability to attract some pretty amazing authors, writers and other members of the literary community.

This year, on October 8-15th, Iowa City will host their annual Book Festival. You can check out the official schedule here.  This event brings out renowned authors for book readings, panels, galas, speakers and awards.

As we build up to the beginning of this festival, I wanted to highlight three local authors that will be attending the Iowa City Book Festival this year.  The first author is Jon Kerstetter, whom recently published his memoir: Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story.

Check back as I will be reviewing additional author spotlights in the weeks approaching the book festival:

  1. Crossing A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter
  2. The Follow by Eliza David
  3. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

Crossings A Doctor Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter

Rating: 4 Stars

Publication Date: September 5th, 2017

Jon or more appropriately, Dr. Kerstetter, is a man of many labels and successes, first of which is being an Iowa City resident, but also Doctor, Soldier, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Stroke Survivor and Author to name a few.

I was excited to read Dr. Kerstetter’s memoir as I am a child of both a Navy Veteran and Medical Professional. I was hoping I would achieve the ability to relate to his struggles of crossing between life saver (doctor) and life taker (soldier), but what I found was so much more.

This memoir could have been titled Resiliency as the author proved time and time again his ability to overcome, push onward and achieve.

Resiliency was achieved at every level throughout this book, from Jon’s childhood on a Wisconsin Indian Reservation to his later-in-life start in medical school to his enlistment in the National Guard as a husband and father of four, to ultimately, his stroke and strength to yet again achieve success and become an author. This story was empowering if nothing else. However, where I thought I would relate as a result of my parents, I actually related personally to Dr. Kerstetter’s inner drive. As a reader of Crossings, you will quickly note the author’s drive to achieve more and fear of complacency. Graduating with a degree in business, Jon decided that wasn’t enough so he obtained a masters in business (wow so far this is literally my life). Then after marriage and children, decided business wasn’t REALLY his dream and went back for a medical degree (don’t worry mom and dad I WON’T be doing this). But…even after, achieving a medical degree and practicing emergency medicine he found his career was mundane and sought opportunities to continue towards further success, this came in the form of joining the National Guard.

While Dr. Kerstetter’s career in the National Guard, his many successes and several deployments are incredible feats in themselves, what really moved me was the realness in which he portrayed his recovery from his untimely stroke. The latter portion of this book is dedicated to Jon’s recovery and realization that, as a result of the stroke, he would no longer be able to practice medicine or serve in the military. To be ripped of such a huge part of one’s identity is unfathomable, but Dr. Kerstetter allows the reader to see the truth in his struggle.

Stop by the Iowa City Book Festival Saturday, October 14th at 1PM: Author, Jon Kerstetter, will be reading from his memoir Crossings at Prairie Lights (15 S Dubuque St, Iowa City, IA 52240).

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by publisher, Crown, in exchange for an honest review.

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September Book Club: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Rating: 3.45 Stars

Publication Date: June 4th, 2013

I will be honest, NEVER would I have picked this book up on my own accord (but isn’t that the beauty of book clubs?). The Boys in the Boat is the classic rise from nothing sports novel; I will even go so far as to say, this sports story may trump many sports novels/movies that have come before it.

This is a book about the rise of eight men whom come together on the University of Washington’s eight man rowing team to win gold in Berlin, but this is not what makes this sport story trump all other sports stories. These men, especially Joe Rantz (whom is most closely followed in this book), came from NOTHING. Joe, who was ditched by his father and step-mother and forced to live on his own, rose from these ashes to arrive at University. His motivations for rowing were even simpler, he NEEDED the reputation that would come from being a member of the team to gain a job to pay for college, and he figured rowing was a good fit given his work ethic and experiences/muscles gained from living on his own.

The author, Daniel James Brown, does a great job of following Joe while subsequently giving the reader insight into the University of Washington rowing staff and Joe’s boat team members. I found that despite knowing NOTHING about the sport of rowing I was excited following along with the descriptions of the team’s close finishes. Additionally, regardless of the non-fiction genre and the fact that I knew the ending (spoiler: they win the Olympics), this book maintained an air of excitement which was impressive given the usual bore that rowing generally produces on TV.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say rowing will be my new sport to watch (it is football season after all), this book certainly drums up excitement in an otherwise unexciting, forgotten pastime. Boys in a Boat shows the grit of the sport and the rise to an Olympic Gold of such deserving young men.

Candlewick Press: Three Reviews of Upcoming Books

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

Publication Date: October 10th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

A historical novel, set in Cuba during Fidel Castro’s campaign to improve the national literacy rate. Volunteer flyers are posted in Havana schools, where 13-year-old Lora sees that she fits the criteria (she can read and write) and wants to volunteer. Her parents are understandably concerned as she would leave home for a year and travel to impoverished, remote locations to teach citizens how to read and write. This is Lora’s story.

In reading this book I was hoping to gain more diverse insight into Cuba, as well as the historical time frame the story surrounds. This book takes place during a year of upheaval as Fidel Castro and his militia begin their rise. As is usually typical, the children do not necessarily fully understand the dangers of political turmoil like that of their parents, and while Lora acts bravely by wanting to sign up to teach, she did not seem to understand the full weight of her decision. It isn’t until Lora is thrown into the impoverished countryside that she begins to understand the fear, but by that time she feels more dedicated to the cause, and what a monumental cause it is.

What was most shocking about this novel is that STILL, in the current decade, Cuba boasts literacy rates well above 90% as a result of this campaign. Fidel’s goal was to skyrocket Cuba’s literacy rates by “enlisting” hundreds of thousands of literate individuals to teach those without access to schools. The “final test” for not only Lora’s students, but all students participating in Fidel’s campaign, was to write Fidel a letter and mail it to him. Even in the mid-1900’s Fidel sought citizen feedback and organized a “low-cost,” volunteer operated, educational campaign, something America of TODAY could certainly use more of.

I especially loved that the author, Katherine Paterson, was able to capture both the adult’s and child’s reactions to events. She exposed the reader to diversity, little known historical events (at least in my small corner of the U.S.) and, my favorite, the importance of education! I could not get enough of the palpable excitement Katherine emanated in her writing of the villagers. So many of the illiterate were excited for the opportunity to learn, children and adults alike. They so desperately wanted to be able to write their name, something I’ve personally taken for granted throughout my life, but meant so much to the people Lora encountered. Lora’s lessons even infected other villagers to spread the wealth and teach one another creating even more excitement and educational opportunities.

Ultimately, this book was a quick read, but a great book for intermediate age children to be exposed to.

*Disclaimer: This book was generously provided to be my Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.


The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Publication Date: September 26th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

This Wonderling by Mira Bartok is Matilda meets Zootopia/Narnia in a fable type book about overcoming labels, hardships and circumstances.

An orphaned fox, living in a home for unclaimed “groundlings (part human, part animal, i.e. Zootopia/Narnia reference),” ruled by a Mrs. Trunchbull type principal (i.e. Matilda reference), discovers a world he’s never known with the help of a bird that can’t fly, but tinkers and invents whimsical gadgets. Together, the fox and the bird, meet extraordinary characters and fight to save music across the land!

Throughout this book I kept rooting for “Number 13” (the fox). Ordinarily, this would not be a book I was drawn to given the fantasy-type world in which it surrounds, however, even with my uncreative mind I was able to easily follow along and picture all the characters and their adventures in my mind. An added benefit was that the author included such AMAZING illustrations throughout the book, I found myself excited to come across the next illustration as they tied into the plot of the book and helped the reader to picture the characters as the author intended.

Ultimately, I found myself cheering for “Number 13,” as I couldn’t put the book down hoping he conquered his quest successfully.

*Disclaimer: This book was generously provided to be my Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.


Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Rating: 4 ¾ Stars

Why I chose this book: I was fascinated by the name Carmel Fishkill. Carmel, or Fishkill as she later starts going by to be more “badass,” was named for the road sign her mother was passing as she gave birth to her in the backseat of her father’s pickup truck. While I personally cannot imagine the horrors of growing up with a name like Fishkill, I know that many kids grow up with worse. In Iowa City we are fortunate to house one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals. As a result, families from across the nation, rural, urban or otherwise travel to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for a wide range of treatment. As such, we are exposed to a WIDE range of unique names within our community, although Fishkill is not one I’ve yet come across.

As you can imagine Fishkill did not have a great home life, but she was fortunate to meet Duck-Duck (Duck-Duck is Christina’s “gang” name) at school and form a friendship, a friendship that included food at Duck-Duck’s house and love from Duck-Duck’s mom.

Why I liked this book: This book was so REAL. Despite the fictional genre, the author exposed the reader to situations that unfortunately are not uncommon for many children. The light shed on Fishkill’s circumstances and even Duck-Duck’s more “normal” (can we really define a normal family?) home life exposed the reader to some extremely deep situations without turning the book “dark.” Fishkill’s inner dialogue allowed one to understand what it may be like for someone with her familial background to suddenly enter Duck-Duck’s “normal” household. This book read more like an unfortunate adventure between friends than a “dark” look at childhood traumas, making it an appropriate read for a wide range of ages.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by LibraryThing Early Readers Program in conjunction with the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book to Big Screen: The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

This is 120 Hours (trapped climber) and any Nicholas Sparks book (classic love story) on steroids. You instantly fall in love with Ben’s love for his wife, while simultaneously rooting for Ashley’s survival, my feelings were constantly conflicted as I just prayed for them to live.

Publication Date: June 1st, 2010

Rating: 4.7 Stars

Two strangers meet coincidentally in an airport in Utah. One on her way home for her wedding, the other, a doctor hoping to return to his patients. The weather grounds their conventional flight, leaving them to seek private charter. In the air, through barren landscape and dreadful weather, the pilot suffers a heart attack and crash lands the plane. Ashley and Ben must fight to survive.

Why I chose this Book: I will be the first to admit I am a SUCKER for chick flicks, books, movies, doesn’t matter. Even better, I saw this book was soon to be playing in the theaters starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet and of course I HAD to read the book, especially before seeing the movie…because I will be watching this movie!

My husband is not a reader, he would rather watch Squawk Talk or SportsCenter to gain his news, than read it in a paper, online or otherwise. However, movies he never turns down…even if they are chick flicks. So, while I know he won’t read the book with me, he will accompany me to the movie, all the more motivation to read The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin for a later “date night” at the local theater.

Why I Loved this Book: Such a captivating novel. The author makes us fall in love with Ben’s love for his wife and root for Ashley as her sense of caring and humor makes you so attracted to her friendship with Ben. This is 120 Hours (trapped climber who cuts his arm off to survive) and any Nicholas Sparks book (classic love story) on steroids. The reader learns so much about survival, and more importantly love, from Ben, while simultaneously rooting for Ashley’s survival.  My feelings were constantly conflicted while I just prayed for them to live.

I cannot wait to see this movie when it is released October 6th.  Throughout the book I couldn’t help but picture Idris and Kate out there in the winter tundra, such great casting! There’s still time to read this book before purchasing tickets to see it on the big screen in October.  You can watch the movie trailer here for a sneak peek.

*Disclaimer: This book was so generously provided to me by Broadway Books in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review.

Two Reviews: Club Deception by Sarah Skilton & The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Club Deception by Sarah Skilton

Publication Date: July 25th, 2017

Rating: 4.25

Author Sarah Skilton gives readers a unique story about the lives of magicians and their secret clubs, as told by the WAGS (wives and girlfriends, or widows and girlfriends, given how you want to look at it). Rotating between a few women’s perspective (and even one up-and-coming male), readers uncover a deadly mystery in this new “whodunit” novel.

Why I Chose This Book: While the cover art nearly steered me away (it seemed a bit childish with the animation), the description sounded like nothing I had yet come across or read. Not many authors chose to write a plot line around the art of magic. I imagine even fewer chose to make such a story revolve around strong female characters.

I am constantly drawn to novels centering on female characters, particularly female characters that aren’t ultimately portrayed as “victims,” and while this book may have started out indicating a female “victim,” said female was incredibly confident and certainly not the victim in the end.

Why I Liked This Book:

  1. Strong female characters, including one that ran a successful (albeit secret club) in the shadow of her husband.
  2. A unique plot surrounding magicians – not only does this book revolve around magic, but it also shows the magicians as “sexy” rather than “nerdy” AND combines this with a murder mystery plot.
  3. Every child has experienced at least ONCE in their life the “wow” factor of magic. Whether from a magic trick they saw in person or on one of the many circulating TV shows (Criss Angel Mindfreak & David Copperfield come to mind). This book does a great job playing into this feeling and includes strong character development with some very mild sultry scenes to seal the deal on a great book surrounding the art of magic.

Why I Dislike This Book: Simply the cover art. The cover did not draw me into this book. It does not seem to fit the style or message the book should be sending. It seemed to be the “cartoony,” animated artwork that nearly caused me NOT to pick this book up.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Publication Date: January 9th, 2018

Rating: 4.0

Whoa…I can’t even begin to explain the sheer number of emotions I experienced during the course of this book. I was invited to read this book by the publisher, and since reading I have been searching for a book, any book, within this genre that does a better job of throwing me on my head while causing me to feel so much emotion toward the characters, author, writing style, etc. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen make one heck of a writing team!

Part one (of three) was so woven, you seemingly navigate between two women. Then, just before you enter part two you are SHATTERED. Throughout Part two you gain more history, flipping between the past and present day. While part three wraps it all up, albeit NOT NICELY as my emotions are still recovering.

I honestly started getting mad at this book because I thought “I’ve got this figured out I don’t want to even read on, this plot is so predictable,” only to literally get RIPPED apart. I definitely did NOT guess correctly. Even the epilogue left me gasping (and I must reiterate, DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOGUE OMG, did not see that coming!!!). Despite “thinking” I knew what was coming, I was SO WRONG.

This book was such an engrossing read, I know it is cliché but I could not put it down and finished it in record time. One will not be disappointed they picked this book up if they like suspenseful, husband & wife/cat & mouse type books.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ripping the Band-Aid on Two Book Reviews: Parent Teacher Association & Conversations with Friends

Parent Teacher Association by Jennifer Soosar

This story had so much potential!! But, the reader is so bogged down by Lizanne’s day-to-day happenings, not enough time is spent developing the IMPORTANT story pieces.  Although, mother of pearl, with about 100 pages left, the book started to get juicy. 

However, overall I felt this book was rushed to execution making it rather hard to read. 

Publication Date: June 24th, 2017

Rating: 1.75 Stars – Rounded to 2 stars

Why I Chose This Book:  I first was turned on to this book when I saw it in a Goodreads Giveaway.  The description held the recipe for a perfect novel.  While I didn’t win the giveaway, I was so attracted to this book I reach out directly to the publisher.  The book didn’t have many reviews (to date it only has 5), so it was relatively unknown/widespread.

This book is about Lizanne, whom is fresh out of a mental hospital looking for a teaching job and struggling, given her gap in work history.  She receives a teaching job in a small town with an interesting history.  The school has seen two students die in the last two years, and interestingly enough the town houses an infamous cult leader.  The bulk of the plot centers on Lizanne’s struggles with a parent of one of her students and PTA president, Naomi.

Given this description, I was excited to read a classic suspense novel set within a classroom.  This book sounded like it held all the pieces to be an extremely engrossing novel.  What I actually was a half-cooked story with so many underdeveloped plot arcs.

I would have liked to see Lizanne’s “boyfriend” removed, the storyline surrounding her “boyfriend” seemed an unnecessary distraction.  In fact, at one point I forgot he was even part of the book.  I would have also loved to see more chapters dedicated to evolving Naomi and even her son, Sebastian.  There were a few instances the author devoted a few paragraphs to their thoughts that were intriguing and provided significant character development.  Additionally, little background was given on Lizanne’s family or reason for her stay in the mental hospital, I would have enjoyed seeing this expanded upon.  Further development of Lizanne’s character would have provided me, as the reader, more hook and significantly more engagement in the story.

Why I (Sort Of) Liked This Book:  The last 100 pages the story really started moving.  The reader started to understand why the author included what felt like otherwise unnecessary story arcs (like Lizanne’s boyfriend).  Although, I’m still not convinced enough time was dedicated to these plot developments and I believe the story could have still come to the same conclusion without them leaving the book feeling like it was only half-baked.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

This book became more of a “hurry up and rip the Band-Aid off” novel.  After I started, I just wanted it to be over with and while it was well written the storyline failed to engage.  

Publication Date: July 11th, 2017

Rating: 1.25 Stars

Why I Chose This Book: I will admit I judge books by their cover.  I wholeheartedly believe cover designs are important, just like first impressions and appearances are important.  That said, I chose this book because of its gripping and bright cover.  It led me to believe it was a happy, beach-y, easy read.

Why I Disliked This Book:  This story is set in Dublin, although I didn’t really know that without reading the book’s description.  The characters, Frances and Bobbi, are college students, so I was hoping I’d be able to relate to them.  Throughout the book I kept HOPING I would find something I could attach to and relate to that would hook me into this book, but the only thing I was able to come up with was that Frances kind of reminded me slightly of an old friend of mine…kind of.  Overall, the book was well written, but the story was dull and certainly was NOT happy, beach-y or anything of the sort.  I was willing to overlook this, but the characters were easily forgettable, un-relatable and the storyline failed to engage.

Jacob Appel: The Ordinarily Engaging Author You Wish You’d Found Sooner

I recently had the pleasure of reading two of Jacob Appel’s novels, The Mask of Sanity, his most recent work, published March 31st 2017 and The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, published September 1st 2014, and as indicated in the “about author” section of the book, his debut novel.  While I realize calling an author “ordinarily engaging” may not be the average compliment, but compliment it certainly is.  Both of these stories revolve around seemingly ordinary characters, characters that could be your neighbor down the street, with the awesome yard, or the doctor you regularly see for your annual check-ups, but the stories he weaves them into turned out to be anything BUT ordinary.

The Mask of Sanity

The story of a successful doctor, with an average life, whom stubbles upon his wife’s affair unbeknownst to her and releases his inner sociopath.  The author asks the question whether everyone is born with good and bad inside of them, waiting for a triggering event to set off their “bad” side, this is certainly the case in this novel.

Rating:  3.8 Stars

This book was the thriller novel I didn’t even know I needed.  Lately, I’d been reading a lot of deeply woven suspense books that keep you on your heels, twisting in and out of character perspectives as you untangle the mystery within…you’ve read many similar thrillers, right?  Well, The Mask of Sanity was a refreshing read from your intricately woven thrillers.  The character development is scary relatable, especially when it turns out the character is an immense sociopath.  Dr. Jeremy Balint seems like your average doctor, but the internal narrative Jacob gives his characters uncovers disturbing, high functioning, immoral humans hiding in plain sight.

Jacob Appel keeps his writing “light,” engaging and detailed, but not distracting, while keeping the reader HOOKED.  I especially loved how he ended his book, which you will have to read to find out!

The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up

The story of your everyday neighbor, the one with the awesome garden, you know them right?  Well, imagine this neighbor goes to a Yankee’s game and doesn’t stand up for a patriotic song.  Now inject this seemingly ordinary act with media frenzy and give it a Jacob Appel twist and you are in for an entertaining read.

Rating: 3.4 Stars

Despite this book having been published in 2014, it still remains incredibly relevant today, given the recent kneeling during the National Anthem and other media outrages.  You can’t help but feel like this story could have happened to anyone.  I enjoyed uncovering the MANY themes the author, Jacob Appel, intertwined within the book, including the pressure being in the spotlight can place on a person, a look at whether spouses should fully support your EVERY decision, how far the media will go and how inevitably we succumb to the labels placed on us.  Whether these themes were intentional or not, it certainly caused me, as the reader, pause.

In keeping with the writing style witnessed in The Mask of Sanity, Jacob Appel provides an entertaining read with story lines you want to laugh at but subsequently cry at how plausible it could all be.