The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Cozy Mystery With a Catchy Title

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Winner Cake All by Denise Swanson publishes on 29 September 2020, my birthday, so how could I not be interested in reviewing the advance copy I received from Sourcebooks? I also like cozy mysteries that have catchy titles. Winner Cake All is the third book in the Chef-to-Go series; the first two books also have terrific names: Tart of Darkness and Leave No Scone Unturned.

One might think nothing ever happens, at least nothing bad, in Normalton, Illinois. Yet, Dani Sloan, owner of a catering establishment, Chef-to-Go in Normalton, manages to find bodies and solve crimes as well as cook.

In Winner Cake All, Dani has a great opportunity to cater a large event for Yvette Joubert and her fiancé Franklin Whittaker. Because Whittaker, “rumored to be the wealthiest resident of Normalton, Illinois,” chooses Dani to cater the wedding events, Dani feels sure she will soon be swamped with other bookings.

Readers will enjoy the mouthwatering descriptions of pastries and other foods sprinkled throughout the story. For example, in the beginning, Dani prepares coffee and a “platter of mocha truffle brownies, orange brown-sugar raisin swirl coffee cake, and her secret weapon: chai latte snickerdoodles.” Now, who can resist those goodies? Dani does not rely completely on sweet treats; she also caters full meals and those descriptions are equally appetizing.

Of course, we readers know to expect a murder, but who is it? And more importantly, perhaps, who did it? And how will Dani solve the murder? Mixed in with the cooking and catering and hunting for a criminal, Dani also finds a bit of romance.

Unlike some other culinary cozy writers, Swanson does not include recipes in the book, but readers can easily satisfy cravings unearthed by descriptions on the book by checking cookbooks and the Internet for recipes.

Fellow writer Julie Hyzy says of Denise Swanson that the writing is “fast-paced and fun.” Readers will find that is true of Winner Cake All and along the way will learn not only who dies, but who is the killer!

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Book of Promises

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While I don’t have young children any longer and I don’t have grandchildren, I do have friends with young children. I also enjoy reading books for all ages. I Promise You by Marianne Richmond is a delightful book about promises parents make to children.

Richmond illustrates I Promise You in pastel colors using imagination to draw the readers’ attention to the words and the pictures. I am delighted that I received an advance copy from Sourcebooks in exchange for this unbiased review. The book will be available on 6 October 2020.

Some of my favorite lines from the book follow here:

“I promise you guidance and cheering and hugs when you’re fearing waves that are tossing the ship you are steering.”

“I promise you truth and reminding you of your infinite worth, built-in and boundless since your moment of birth.”

The best line of all, though, is this one: “And I promise you home in my heart and in my door.”

I Promise You is a delightfully illustrated book about a parent’s love for a child. Richmond has illustrated the promises throughout the book by choosing both boys and girls of various ethnicities to make the book relevant to all.

Marianne Richmond, http://www.mariannerichmond.com, maintains a robust Website with information about herself, her work, and her workshops. She has been writing for twenty years and has received awards for her books, and greeting cards.

The Book Whisperer Finds Disappearing Earth Compelling

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Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips has received high praise and a number of awards. Most of the professional reviews are glowing with journalists describing the novel with words like “emotional acuity,” “powerful,” and “complex.” Readers’ reviews are much more mixed.

Disappearing Earth, at its core, recounts the story the kidnapping of two young sisters, Alyona, 11, and Sophia, 8 from the shoreline of the Kamchatka Peninsula on the northeastern edge of Russia. Readers who read quickly and without reflection will assess the novel as a loosely connected group of short stories. However, those who read closely and reflect upon the stories will see many threads connecting the people, the narratives, and the lost girls.

Phillips begins the story in August as Alyona and Sophia wander on the sand at the edge of the water. They are ready to go home when a man whom they have seen walking and sitting on the sand some distance away asks the girls for help, claiming he has hurt his leg.  Because the man looks all right to the girls, they agree to help him to his car. Then, as thanks for their help, he offers them a ride home so they don’t have to wait for the bus. At first, Alyona, the older girl, is reluctant, but she decides the ride will get them home more quickly than having to wait for the bus, so she agrees.

The chapters, titled by month, begin with August and run through July of the following year. Each chapter features a story narrated by a different female. All of the stories contain references to Alyona and Sophia, the lost girls. More than that, however, the stories connect women through the hardships they endure: loss, domestic violence, degradation, disrespect, and dismissal.

The police do search for Alyona and Sophia along with many people who volunteer to help search. Soon, however, the police become convinced the girls have drowned and the searches stop. That does not stop people from discussing the case and wondering about the girls. Many people are convinced the girls are being held captive, but an equal number know that the chances of finding them alive are slim, especially as more days pass.

Adding to the story is the disappearance of Lilia, an eighteen-year-old native girl. She simply vanished months before Alyona and Sophia disappeared.

Phillips weaves into the stories solid information about native culture in Kamchatsky and the conflicts between Russians and natives. Laura Miller wrote in The New Yorker that “what appear to be fragments, the remains of assorted personal disasters and the detritus of a lost empire, is in truth capable of unity.” 

In truth, I approached the reading of Disappearing Earth with trepidation because I knew it involved the kidnapping of two little girls. I was not sure I wanted to read the book. Then a member of the Books Sandwiched In committee sponsored by the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Library nominated Disappearing Earth to be considered for the spring 2021 book talks. As a member of the committee, I read as many of the books nominated as I can. As a result, Disappearing Earth rose to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Having read Disappearing Earth and having taken time to reflect upon the stories, I see much more to it than if I had read quickly and dismissively. Read Disappearing Earth to learn of Kamchatka and its indigenous population. Read it to discover more about the plight of women all over the world. Read it for the story of loss and possible hope.

Julia Phillips, https://www.juliaphillipswrites.com/, has received many awards for Disappearing Earth: National Book Award Finalist, Finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and Finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award.



The Book Whisperer Takes a Look at The Inside Ride

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Donald Cohen, author of The Inside Ride: A Journey to Manhood, dedicates the book to his grandchildren. He also includes on the dedication page a quote from Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” That’s an apt quote for The Inside Ride since the book explores what it means to be a man and explores the relationship between father and son.

The book uses a letter format, letters between Donald Cohen, father, and Max Cohen, son, to discover what manhood and fatherhood mean. The letters are honest and forthright. For example, Max tells his father in a letter dated May 1982, “I was jealous of my friends with fathers who watched the ballgames on TV with them and discussed the sports page of The New York Times.” Max does go on to say in that letter that he Max, the son, also resisted his father’s trying to “reach me and take part in my life.” So Max is admitting this father-son relationship is a two-way street.

Most chapters begin not only with a time-line and title, but also with appropriate quotations. Here’s an example from the chapter titled “The Trials of Parenthood”: “A parent would say it is not easy being a parent and a child would say it is not easy being a child.” The other quote on that chapter is “People naturally brag about their successes and minimize or rationalize their failures.”

The Inside Ride would be a fitting book for a men’s book club or perhaps for a group of men from a church group who read together. It would generate a good discussion about what it means to be a father and to be a son. I am not a father, but I am the mother of two sons. I can see traits in them and relevance in the book to my sons and their father.

I received a copy of The Inside Ride from BookTrib in exchange for a fair review. My receipt of the free book did not influence my review.

Donald Cohen has an MSW from Columbia U and a PhD in clinical psychology.

The Book Whisperer Reviews The Grammarians

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I read one customer review on Amazon of The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine that begins with this question: “When was the last time you saw a more perfect book cover?” I would start this review by taking exception to the other reviewer’s notion of the perfect cover. Yes, the twin girls are cute and engaging, but they are supposed to have “dark red wavy hair” and other descriptions include “the dazzling red hair.” I don’t see that red hair on the cover; perhaps a hint at reddish.

Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, the identical twins who dominate The Grammarians, both love words and have since before they could talk. They, like some other twins, have a language of their own which others cannot fathom, not even their parents. This love of words is further enhanced when their father brings home a library, a gift from a client, and that large haul of books includes an unabridged dictionary with its own stand such as one sees in a library.

At five years old, Laurel and Daphne become even more fascinated by words and the dictionary. The dictionary maintains a place of honor in the home and the girls consult it often. Each chapter starts with a definition of some word from Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language. For example, one chapter beings with this definition “to swop. v.a. [Of uncertain derivation.] To change; to exchange one thing for another. A low word.” As one might expect, the word defined at the beginning of the chapter also plays a part in that chapter.

In this case, the twin girls sometimes switch places with one another and no one is the wiser. This “switcheroo” occurs more than once in the story, even when they become adults. Laurel and Daphne spend a great deal of time together, even continuing to dress alike as adults on occasion. When the words they love begin to drive them apart, readers will be surprised at their reactions.

As an English major, lover of words, and redhead myself, I was interested in the story of Laurel and Daphne. Of course, my love of words did not manifest itself when I was five years old; that came much later for me. I admit to being disappointed over the feud between Laurel and Daphne and the pain it causes their parents.

The last part of the story when Sally, their mother, describes what she believes will happen between her two lovely daughters, I felt the story let readers down. I also read The Grammarians because it was nominated as a potential book talk for Books Sandwiched In sponsored by the Friends of the Library. As I read, I imagined how a presenter would discuss the book and found the book falling short as a book talk.

Cathleen Schine, https://cathleenschine.me/, has a large body of work. Several of her novels have been made into movies. Schine says she began a graduate study in medieval history, but decided she had “no memory for names, dates, or abstract ideas.” Schine is a woman after my own heart because she “loves to buy shoes.”


The Book Whisperer Discovers a Children’s Fantasy Author

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Occasionally, I pick up a book simply because the cover is attractive or a voice in my head compels me to take a look inside the book. Such is the case with The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman. I confess that I saw the book on the table at Costco along with other featured books. As one who enjoys reading books for all ages, I was intrigued with the premise of The Silver Arrow.

When Kate writes a letter to her wealthy Uncle Herbert, who is estranged from his sister, Kate’s mother, she does not really expect him to respond by giving her a birthday gift. After all, she does not even know where to send the letter. Imagine her surprise when the next day, Uncle Herbert shows up with the Silver Arrow, a steam locomotive. Kate’s dull parents work too much and have far too little time for Kate and her younger brother Tom.

Kate’s mother is outraged by Uncle Herbert’s gift and demands that he take it back immediately. Instead, however, Kate and Tom board The Silver Arrow and train tracks stretch out before them, and they are off and running on the tracks in their lovely steam engine.

An adventure such as no other stretches out before Kate and Tom as they encounter not only train tracks that seem to come out of nowhere, but also a train that spits out messages in response to their questions and concerns and talking animals with tickets to board the train.

Horn Book deems The Silver Arrow to be a “scrumptious fantasy confection.” That description is hard to beat. The exotic animals boarding the train teach Kate and Tom lessons about themselves and their habitats. Readers, too, will learn as they travel along with Kate and Tom and The Silver Arrow. I will admit the venomous snakes did give me a few heart-stopping moments simply because I do not like snakes, nonpoisonous or poisonous.

Grossman leaves readers with this admonition from Uncle Herbert: “Get some rest. Tom’s birthday is coming up, and I’m thinking of getting him a submarine.” Is that a hint about the next book with Kate and Tom as the main characters?

Lev Grossman, http://levgrossman.com/, grew up in Lexington, MA. He is the son of two English professors. He’s written several best sellers: Codex, The Magicians, and The Magician King. No doubt, The Silver Arrow will follow suit and also be a best seller.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys Sweet Dreams

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I received a copy of Sweet Dreams: A Goodnight Lullaby by Sesame Street from Sourcebooks in exchange for a fair review. Lillian Janie’s words meld beautifully with Marybeth Nelson’s picture to delight children of all ages.

Elmo cannot go to sleep, so through the pages, readers will discover ways to fall asleep. Counting sheep has long been a way to fall asleep and counting falls in line with Sesame Street’s promise of “helping children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” Other Sesame Street characters are featured to depict ways to help Elmo fall asleep.

I especially like the song with the line: “Don’t let Twiddlebugs steal the blanket tonight.” At the end of Sweet Dreams, we see the Sesame Street characters all highlighted and sleeping. As the mother of two sons who were frequently reluctant to give up play and fall asleep, I can see parents and children enjoying these gentle reminders of how to fall asleep.

Sweet Dreams is a delight!

The Book Whisperer Reviews The Secrets We Kept

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Told from multiple points of view, The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott will keep readers turning pages and book club members talking as they sift through the story. The Cold War has produced any number of books about secrets, spies, and intrigue.

At the heart of The Secrets We Kept is the task of smuggling Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR so it could be published. The second part of the mission includes smuggling printed copies back into the USSR. In the prologue titles “The Typists,” readers learn what the female typists had to endure. The narrator says, “Most of us viewed the job in the typing pool as temporary. We wouldn’t admit it aloud—not even to each other—but many of us believed it would be a first rung toward achieving what the men got right out of college: positions as officers; our own offices with lamps that gave off a flattering light, plush rugs, wooden desks; our own typists taking down our dictation.”

The typing pool

That dream rarely if ever materializes for the typists. They stay in the job until they marry and then they quit to stay home. Whether they were college graduates or high school graduates, their education matters little to the men doing the hiring.  Even more surprising is that women who had completed dangerous and important missions during the war are relegated to the typing pool after the war, ignoring their accomplishments. Virginia Hall is one example of a woman who did much behind enemy lines in France to defeat the Nazis and yet she returns home to be a typist. A recent biography of Hall, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, gives readers the full picture of Hall’s success in dangerous missions.

Interspersed with the story of the typists in DC, readers also learn of the illicit love affair between Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya, his mistress and muse. Looking back, we know of the injustices women faced in all manner of jobs: the menial pay, the degradation they faced, and the inability to break out of the cycle.

Prescott does a masterful job of showing the day-to-day workings of the typing pool and the back-biting nature of some of the women. She also portrays the difficulties the women faced in sexual harassment, low pay, and lack of general respect.

Lara Prescott has an impressive educational background which lends credibility to her story. She has an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the U of TX. In addition, she studied political science at American U in DC. She has worked as a political campaign consultant. Discover more at her Website: http://www.LaraPrescott.com.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Good Picture Book

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Isabella: Girl in Charge by Jennifer Fosberry takes children on a lively series of famous women from the first female mayor to the first female Supreme Court Justice. Mike Litwin’s colorful illustrations will delight parents and children alike as they read the story.

Through reading Isabella: Girl in Charge, girls and boys can learn about famous women and their accomplishments in being in charge. At the end of the book, Fosberry provides additional information on the women mentioned in the story. Thus, parents and children can learn more about Susanna Madora Salter, first woman mayor and Nellie Tayloe Ross, first woman governor. Other women are also featured.

On the last page, Fosberry adds other books and Websites of interest. Fosberry’s Website is http://www.jfosberry.com/ where readers can learn more about her work. She calls herself “a science geek turned children’s book writer.”

Mike Litwin’s Website, http://mikelitwin.com/books.html, is whimsical and displays much of his artwork on a variety of books including those with Isabella as the main character.

Isabella: Girl in Charge is a good book for both boys and girls to read with parents.

I received a free copy of Isabella: Girl in Charge from Sourcebooks in exchange for this unbiased review.

The Book Whisperer is Pleasantly Surprised!

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Okay, full disclosure begins this review. I received a copy of Witches Protection Program by Michael Okon from BookTrib. I accepted the book with some trepidation since I had reviewed Okon’s Monsterland for BookTrib earlier in the year. It had a bit too much gore for me. Still, Witches Protection Program is not a sequel or even related to Monsterland except they are by the same author: Michael Okon.

I know without a doubt that one should not judge a book by its cover, but more than that, one should not judge a book without reading a least a bit of it. Gulity! That is, until I began reading Witches Protection Program. I was not prepared to like the book. Well, that will teach me and other readers to make judgments only after reading!

Readers encounter hapless Wes Rockville who has always been outdistanced by his perfect older brother and his perfect sister. Their domineering father constantly compares Wes to his siblings and Wes always comes out on the short end.

Witches Protection Program opens with the senior Rockville giving Wes a severe dressing down over a botched assignment—his first with the department. Mr. Rockville rants, “You were cherry-picked for this department. The youngest recruit. I personally vouched for you.”

Wes must hand in his badge, but he is not being fired, simply transferred. His first assignment in the new job is to protect Morgan Pendragon who is in danger from her aunt who seeks to take away Morgan’s billion-dollar business, a cosmetic company.

The Witches Protection Program is full of wit, intrigue, mystery, and a bit of romance. The question remains whether Wes can prove himself worthy of the Rockville name and change his father’s expectations of him. The main thing, though, is that Wes learns to believe in himself.

Michael Okon,  http://www.michaelokon.com/, has a degree in English and later earned an MBA in business and finance. Okon has always loved stories and storytelling as a way of entertaining others.