The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Thriller

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Having read and enjoyed The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl, both by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, I eagerly awaited their third thriller: You Are Not Alone. I won a copy from Reading Group Gold in exchange for an unbiased review. This review also contains no spoilers which would ruin the story for readers.

Shay witnesses a young woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. The incident certainly shakes Shay up and starts her on a trajectory she never imagined. Before she witnesses the suicide, Shay is already in a downward spiral, having to take temp jobs while she looks for full-time work. She is staying with her friend Sean in his two-bedroom apartment. Sean’s girlfriend Jody stays at the apartment more and more often, making Shay realize that Jody would definitely like Shay to move out.

Shay talks about what she has witnessed with Detective Williams who investigates the woman’s death. Shay learns the woman’s name is Amanda Evinger; she had been an ER nurse. Because Amanda and Shay are about the same age and because Shay has witnessed the violent death, Shay cannot stop thinking about Amanda and whether she might have been able to save her. When Shay learns Amanda’s friends are holding a memorial for Amanda, Shay decides to attend.

Choosing to attend that memorial puts Shay on a path she could not have dreamed of following. At first, Amanda’s friends Cassandra and Jane are welcoming to Shay and ask her how she has known Amanda. In fact, Cassandra and Jane find ways to meet with Shay and start folding her into their group, or so it would seem.

I found the authors’ choice of naming two main characters Cassandra and Jane interesting. Cassandra was Jane Austen’s older sister and outlived Jane by some years. Did the authors choose those names as a nod to the two Austen sisters? If so, Cassandra and Jane Moore could not be more different from Cassandra and Jane Austen!

After meeting Cassandra and Jane, Shay’s fortunes begin to turn around. She receives a job offer to work from home for a research company based in CA. She finds an apartment; it turns out to have been Amanda’s apartment. Should Shay have begun to see some red flags at that point? Alas, after so much bad luck and being made to feel she is unwelcome at Sean’s place, getting a new job and locating an apartment she can afford makes Shay feel her luck has turned.

Hendricks and Pekkanen provide readers with a cast of deceptive and dazzling characters who interact with Shay. Shay remains the main character, the one who analyzes data and figures out what is really going on, even when she is sleep-deprived and frightened.

You Are Never Alone will keep readers turning pages to see what happens next. Too, Shay’s obsession with data creates interest and adds depth to the story, particularly when it might incriminate Shay. The story is told through the eyes of the characters, with each chapter heading alerting readers to the narrator. Each of Shay’s chapters start with some bit of information she has gleaned.

At the back of the book, readers will be interested in “A Conversation with the Authors.” I had just commented to Theresa, a friend and fellow reader, that I would like to spy on Hendricks and Pekkanen as they work out their stories. In the conversation, they give us insight into their process.

You Are Not Alone became one of Newsweek’s, PopSugar’s, and SheReads’ Most Anticipated Books of 2020.

Greer Hendricks, http://greerhendricks.com/, and co-author Sarah Pekkanen will write the screenplay to The Wife Between Us which has been optioned for a film.  Before turning to full-time writing, Hendricks was Vice President and Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster.

Sarah Pekkanen, http://www.sarahpekkanen.com/, became a journalist after graduating from college. She began writing features for the Baltimore Sun. After her three sons were born, she left journalism to become a novelist.

The Book Whisperer Delves into an Ancient London Mystery

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The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Cozy Story

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After reading a number of books with heavy subjects, I found myself seeking a lighter read, a book that would take me away from sadness and give me an uplift. Somewhere in my constant search for my next book, I saw a description of The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller.

Guthrie, VT, a village, is the setting for The Late Bloomers’ Club. Nora Huckleberry owns and runs the Miss Guthrie Diner which is a hub for the townspeople. Nora has been a responsible adult long before she came of age. When her mother became ill with cancer, Nora acted as mother to her much younger sister, Kit. Their father ran the diner and the three kept the family together after the mother’s death.

Kit, however, escapes the town and has great creative plans to become a script writer and film maker. She returns to Guthrie with Max, her partner, both of them broke and semi-homeless. They move into Nora’s tiny apartment with Nora. Nora, always the practical one, finds it difficult to accept Kit’s impractical dreams.

Then Peggy, the local baker of cakes, dies from a heart attack as she is making a delivery of cakes. After the accident, Freckles, her latest dog, escapes and hides away. Finding Freckles becomes Nora’s mission with help from the townspeople.

Nora’s life becomes more complicated when she learns that Peggy has left Nora and Kit her home and acreage which includes a vintage orchard. As Nora explores the grounds around Peggy’s home, she encounters sculptures of animals scattered throughout the overgrown orchard and on the banks of a small stream.

Additional strife arrives when a big box store sends Elliot Danforth, a representative, to purchase land in the area, specifically Peggy’s property, in order to locate a store there. Kit presses Nora to sell the land because she wants money to fund her film-making dream. Nora is not certain the store will be a good thing for the community. It will most certainly run the mom-and-pop businesses out because they will be unable to compete with the lower prices and volume purchasing.

My one objection to the story is the piling on of debt that Nora discovers she owes because Peggy has not paid her taxes, Peggy also paid for Elsie Coleridge’s nursing home fees, making Nora responsible, and Nora foolishly agrees to borrow $50,000 to give Kit and Max for their dream. Then when the Miss Guthrie Diner is almost destroyed in a kitchen fire, Nora finds herself in further debt since the diner will be closed until it can be repaired.

On the other hand, the story is full of the town’s characters whom readers will come to love. Readers may well predict the story’s outcome. That is not a detriment to enjoying the story along the way, however.

Louise Miller is herself a baker and includes several recipes at the end of the book. Her first book is The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. Miller also styles herself as “an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs.”

The Book Whisperer Is Mesmerized

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I discovered The Possible World quite by a lucky accident. It is Liese O’Halloran Schwarz’s second novel. To be candid, I listened to the audio version and I fell in love with Schwarz’s writing, so I bought a copy of the book so I could read along as I listened. As a result of how much I enjoyed The Possible World (and the number of people to whom I’ve recommended it), I could hardly wait for Schwarz’s next novel, What Could Be Saved.

Schwarz certainly engages readers in What Could Be Saved. Her prose is crisp and moving. While I will not divulge any spoilers, I will say Schwarz tackles some difficult incidents, those that we often do not wish to admit occur.

The Preston family, privileged and well-to-do, move to Bangkok, ostensibly for a year while Robert Preston works on a dam-building project. One year stretches into four. The dam continues to be a topic at work, but the actual dam does not ever appear. Readers discover in bits and pieces why Robert is in Bangkok; it is a complicated subject and is linked to the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, Genevieve runs the household, having grand dinner and cocktail parties for Robert’s coworkers. She is a casual mother to her three children: Bea, Philip, and Laura. She expects the children to behave and generally stay out of the way. Then Philip goes missing after the driver, whom they later realize is drunk, and Robert both forget to pick him up after his judo lesson.

What Could Be Saved is a book of secrets. What does Robert truly do for his job? What does he also hide from Genevieve? Then readers discover that Genevieve herself also has secrets. In what ways do both Robert and Genevieve deceive the rest of the world and themselves? The secret life both Robert and Genevieve are leading contribute to their losing Philip.

When Robert realizes they will not find Philip, he packs the family up and they move back to the US. Genevieve becomes involved in a charity which she founds to help starving children.  Her charity work takes her away from home frequently and for long periods. Robert remains involved in his work. Soon, Bea goes off to college, marries, and starts a life of her own. At age 42, Robert collapses at work at the end of the day and dies alone in his office.

Laura marries and chooses a career as an artist, a painter. The marriage does not last, but she continues the art. Genevieve uses her trips to continue looking for Philip; the constant searches are without success. He appears to have vanished completely.

Now, Genevieve is in the beginnings of dementia when Laura receives an email telling her a woman in Bangkok has found Philip. When Laura tells Bea, Bea wants Laura to ignore the message because she says the next message will be asking for money. Laura decides to answer the email and sets up a Skype call with the woman. When Laura sees the man in the Skype call with the woman who contacted Laura, Laura is convinced he is her brother. She sees the strong resemblance to their father, or does she imagine the resemblance because she wants the man to be Philip?

Against everyone’s wishes, Laura buys a ticket to Bangkok and goes to see if the man is really Philip. Is this another scam in an attempt to get money? Can she really have found her brother after all these years? If he is Philip, why has he not contacted the family? He was ten years old when he disappeared, old enough to remember his real name and his family. The answers to these questions are HARD and readers will find themselves holding their breath as they read the hard truths.

Anyone seeking a multi-layered story will find What Could Be Saved mesmerizing. Certainly, Philip’s disappearance has become THE defining event in the family’s lives.

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, https://www.lieseschwarz.com/, became an ER doctor before quitting to write full time. I was impressed that Schwarz shares her email with readers and offers to meet with book clubs via Zoom or Skype. She is currently at work on her next book. The two I’ve read have been quite different from one another. The hallmark of good writers is that they can tell wonderfully different stories. Iris Murdoch is one author who comes to mind in that regard. Her great body of work attests to her genius in being able to write widely different stories. Schwarz is moving toward that kind of diverse and varied writing.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Suspense Novel

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Admittedly, I am a sucker for psychological thrillers, mystery thrillers, and thrillers in general. When BookTrib offered me the opportunity to review Cate Holahan’s Her Three Lives, I jumped at the chance. Holahan has published other suspense novels: The Widower’s Wife, One Little Secret, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns.

Her Three Lives contains all the turns a reader could expect and more. I enjoy reading a suspenseful novel that keeps me guessing. It is satisfying to figure out an ending before hand in some cases. Still, a story that leads me down one path and then another without being artificial is thrilling especially when the ending reveals the truth. Holahan provides this quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.”

That quote fits perfectly with the title, Her Three Lives, of course, but it also fits into the story well. Jade Thompson has a terrific public life, really public, as a social media influencer. Her private life represents turmoil, however, when her fiancé Greg is brutally attacked in their home and left with a severe head injury. Finally, Greg becomes convinced that Jade also has a secret life.

Is the home invasion part of some sinister plot on Jade’s part? Are the invaders somehow connected to Greg? Will the invaders return? In a book like this where suspense is vital, a reviewer must walk a fine line to avoid spoilers. For those who enjoy books that will take them on rollercoaster rides, reading Her Three Lives will be a good choice.

Sometimes thrillers and mysteries do not make effective book club choices because once the readers figure out or discover the ending, there is not much to discuss. In Her Three Lives, members will find a lively discussion in whether the suspense rings true or whether readers feel betrayed or mislead by the author.  Character development is another talking point.

Cate Holahan, https://www.cateholahan.com/, has been a journalist, winning awards for her work in The Record, The Boston Globe, and Business Week. Readers will also be interested to know she was the lead singer of Leaving Kinzley, a rock band in NYC.

The Book Whisperer & a Novel About Early Humans & Dogs

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Upon first opening First Dog on Earth: How It All Began by Irv Weinberg, one might expect the book to be nonfiction. In fact, it is a novel which Weinberg calls “family friendly.” Weinberg provides background in the preface of the novel by explaining how cave explorers discovered prehistoric art in Chauvet Cave in Southern France. The pictures are more than 30,000 years old and well preserved. As astounding as the pictures, the explorers also found fossilized footprints of a boy and his dog. Once again, my connection with BookTrib has led me to read a book that would not have ordinarily crossed my path.

This find, the pictures and the footprints of boy and dog, provide the basis for Weinberg to begin the novel. From there, he starts with a wild dog giving birth to her pups. Next, readers will discover the connection between the wild dogs and humans.

Continuing through the story, readers will walk alongside dangers on all sides for both the humans and the animals. How will the two connect in order to begin the first taming or at least the first attempts at cohabitating?  

For dog lovers everywhere, First Dog on Earth will provide a portrait of how dogs and people came to cohabitate and even to love one another. Book clubs can discuss the taming of wild dogs into pets, the importance of animal companionship, and the protection that dogs provide. How does the relationship with dogs change both the dogs and the humans; that’s another topic for conversation among book club members. Other topics will include the importance of healers in the ancient world and of people who carried the tribe’s knowledge and taught it forward.

Areas of difficulty may involve the unusual names. A glossary or family tree would be useful for readers. However, readers will quickly recognize the characters and the animals and understand which names apply.

First Dog on Earth is Weinberg’s debut novel. He has worked in marketing and advertising for more than 30 years. As an avid reader, I am often interested in an author’s background. What leads a successful marketing and advertising man into writing a novel about the first dog? This line in Weinberg’s biography, “as an entrepreneur, Irv co-founded Poochi, the world’s first pet fashion company and the force behind America’s ‘dress your pet’ craze, now a global phenomenon,” intrigued me and possibly explains as much as anything why Weinberg chose to write The First Dog on Earth.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Winner

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After writing about difficult subjects recently, I am happy to report that When Harry Met Minnie by Martha Teichner is a lovely story about friendship between two women and love between two dogs. The blurb at the top of the book reads “a true story of love and friendship.” Just the story I needed to read.

Martha Teichner ran into an acquaintance on an early morning when she was walking her dog Minnie through the farmers’ market. Minnie is a bull terrier. The friend mentioned to Teichner that he knew a woman who also had a bull terrier and needed someone to take her dog. Carol, the dog’s owner, had terminal cancer and wanted a good home for her beloved dog, Harry.

After some thought, Teichner agreed to meet Carol and Harry.  At their first meeting, Minnie took a look at Harry and “plopped down with her backside to his face.” Harry paid no attention to the slight and nosed in Martha’s pocket for a treat. The second meeting took place inside Teichner’s apartment rather than outside. Harry and Minnie did not fall in love immediately, but over time they became inseparable.

Teichner does not tell this story chronologically and only about Harry and Minnie. She weaves other stories into the mix, particularly stories involving other friends and other pets over time. She gives readers glimpses into friendships.

Anyone looking for a warm and inviting story should read When Harry Met Minnie. Even non pet lovers will find the story engaging. When Harry Met Minnie is just the tonic I needed after reading some really heavy books!

Martha Teichner, a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, covers breaking news as well as culture and art. She has won twelve Emmy Awards and five James Beard Foundation Awards.

The Book Whisperer Has A Change of Heart

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Of late, I’ve read too many books about dire subjects: war, mistreatment of women and minorities through the ages, inequalities in justice. These are all important subjects and must be addressed. At some point, however, I need a break from tough subjects in order to read something a little lighter. The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames is not that book. It definitely falls in to the categories of the subjects above. So I will have to look for my lighter read in my next selection.

I read The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna for a book club. Full disclosure: I did not read the last book for that book club because I simply could not get immersed in the story. Thus, I felt pressure, self-imposed, to read The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna.

I like to read a book without reading too much about it ahead of time. I started The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna with an open mind. I quickly discovered the story involves a wide mistreatment of women in a number of ways. Some of the scenes stick in my mind’s eye and leave me feeling sad and haunted.

The story is tough to read because of the terrible treatment women receive.

In the Jackson-Clarion-Ledger’s review, I discovered the reviewer felt “the writing is so good and the book flows along seamlessly, revealing a mastery of storytelling, sense of place, a touch of magical realism, and unforgettable characters that you will love and hate. This book is worth getting lost in.”

When my book club met, Juliet Grames met with us. She is generous with her time and enthusiastic about her subject. She did a great deal of research on Italy and the area from which her grandmother came. I enjoyed learning about the history and its affects on generations down the line.

Juliet Grames comes from an Italian-American family in CT. After attending Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford, Grames graduated magna cum laude in history from Columbia College. She is working with SoHo Press in NY, editing literary fiction, crime fiction, and literature in translation.

The Book Whisperer is Disappointed

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When I read the title No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to read Virginia Ironside’s first US publication. As one who does enjoy being in book clubs (yes, plural—book clubs), I thought the book would be fun. Sadly, I was disappointed in the characters and the story. I expected a light-hearted romp, and others may see that in the story. I did not.

Our main character, Marie Sharp, divorced with one adult son, is approaching sixty. She is glad to be nearly sixty because she is determined to do nothing from there on out. I have trouble understanding or even wanting to know more about someone who is basically giving up—not wishing to learn anything new, not wishing to meet new people, and not wishing to do anything. Is that any way to live?

Of course, Marie does not simply lie down and stop doing. She takes in a new lodger, a young French woman. Then before she is sixty-one, her son and his girlfriend have a son and Marie falls in love with her grandson after fearing she would hate him. She also goes out to eat at a number of different restaurants with friends and shares meals with other friends in their homes and hers. So these actions belie what she keeps saying about doing nothing.

While Marie is not interested in starting a relationship with anyone, she keeps thinking about Archie, the boy she had a crush on when they were fifteen and in school together. She knows Archie has recently been widowed, but she continues to push away any thoughts of him. They even have dinner together, but he soon starts dating a woman of thirty-five, so Marie shoves all thoughts of Archie aside. Readers will have to read the book to see what happens between them if anything. Given Marie’s initial attitude, readers may not expect much.

I had high hopes for No! I don’t Want to Join a Book Club. Unfortunately, those hopes did not pan out. I don’t like writing negative reviews. I also know that not every book is for every reader. To counteract some of my comments, I’ve included some reviews from those who have differing opinions.

The Washington Post reviewer felt that “[Ironside] has done for her readers a wonderful service in giving us the fictional Marie Sharp. USA Today calls No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club “screamingly funny.” And finally, The Herald Sun describes No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club as “a light romp. Marie shows great heart and wisdom as she experiences joys and sorrows.” Readers must draw their own conclusions.

Virginia Ironside, http://www.virginiaironside.org/, began as a journalist and agony aunt and then turned to novel writing. Her columns regularly appear in The Independent and The Oldie. In addition to novels for adults, she has written children’s fiction as well.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Another Tween Gem

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang tells the story of Mia Tang’s family who came from China to the US seeking a better life. At the beginning, their hard work produced almost nothing except more hard work. The little family tried hard to survive and thrive in the US.

Mia, ten-years-old, moves with her parents into a motel owned by Mr. Yao, a Taiwanese-American businessman. They will receive free lodging in return for running the motel, which includes cleaning the motel.

Mia often sits at the front desk to check in the guests. She also becomes friends with the weeklies, the people who live week-by-week at the motel. They are all kind people who like Mia. Mr. Yao is another story. He is a hard businessman and looks for any way he can to cheat Mia and her folks. If there is any problem, he takes the repair out of their wages. One of the most egregious problems occurs when the washing machine breaks down. Mr. Yao blames them and makes them purchase a new washing machine.

Mia is learning English and becoming better and better at writing in English. She turns this skill into writing letters which get attention and succeed in helping Hank, one of the weeklies, and another Chinese immigrant, a friend of her parents. Mia makes good suggestions about putting up security cameras in the office, but, of course, Mr. Yao shoots them down as costing money.

Mia receives an unexpected tip from a couple whom she checks into the motel, so she sets up a tip jar, but only when she is working the desk alone. She manages to save quite a bit of money for a ten-year old. Unfortunately, two thieving thugs break into the motel and beat up Mia’s mom. She offers the money to her parents so her mother can go to the ER for help. Of course, the money Mia has won’t cover a fraction of the cost of that visit.

Kelly Yang’s own family came from China to the US. They lived in CA and worked for a number of motels just like Mia and her parents. At 13, Kelly went to college and graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Instead of pursuing a career in law, however, Yang has become a writer. She also founded The Kelly Yang Project, a writing and debating program for children in Asia and the US.

Front Desk is a heart-breaking novel that also contains some funny incidents and a satisfactory ending. Mia is a resourceful little girl who helps her parents as they work to become successful in the US.