The Book Whisperer Reads a Thriller

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Admittedly, belonging to a book club pushes me to read books I might not otherwise read. Such is the case with The Guest List by Lucy Foley. To be honest, I tried listening to the audiobook and gave up. Then I read the book itself and finished it. It is a mystery, but I will be careful to offer no spoilers here. Jules Keegan, owner of Download, a famous, highly popular online magazine, and Will Slater, handsome adventurer, and star of TV’s Survive the Night, have chosen to be married on a remote Irish island.

The two appear to be the golden couple: madly in love, each successful, wealthy, beautiful, and handsome. As people gather for the wedding, the island itself becomes a character because it has not always been the place for happy events. The unpredictable weather also plays its part in the story.

Will’s groomsmen all came from the fancy boys’ school they all attended. Will’s family was not wealthy, but he attended because his father was headmaster. Johnno, Will’s best man, attended on an athletic scholarship. The men’s shared memories from their school days are important and play a decided part in the current story.

I should warn readers that the chapter headings are particularly important for two reasons. First, the story is not told in chronological order. It moves about, and readers will discover when the chapter takes place by reading the chapter heading. Second, the story is told through various characters’ eyes, so their names appear on the chapter heading when they are telling the story. Pay close attention.

What happens when a group of friends and family gather to celebrate the perfect wedding for the perfect couple? This is no spoiler: there will be a murder. The questions are who will be murdered, who will the murderer be, and why. I have a willing suspension of disbelief. I do think that is necessary for reading The Guest List. For people from various places, ostensibly unconnected to one another, to come together, each with a motive for murder and murder of one person, readers must be willing to suspend disbelief.

For a rollicking good read, The Guest List will fit the bill.  

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The Book Whisperer Discovers A Thoroughly Delightful Series Starring Veronica Speedwell

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Veronica Speedwell, foundling, unmarried, and raised by her two aunts, Nell and Lucy, finds herself alone following her Aunt Nell’s death since Aunt Lucy had died a few years before. After Aunt Nell’s burial, Vicar and Mrs. Clutterthorpe invite Veronica to the vicarage for refreshments. Mrs. Clutterthorpe tells Veronica that she has made arrangements for Veronica’s future by indicating she should marry a local widowed farmer and be mother to his six children. Veronica’s reply is indicative of her forthright manner: “I tilted my head and regarded her thoughtfully as I considered my reply. In the end, I chose unvarnished truth. ‘Mrs. Clutterthorpe, I can hardly think of any fate worse than becoming the mother of six. Unless perhaps it were plague, and even then I am persuaded a few disfiguring buboes and possible death would be preferable to motherhood’.”

Thus begins A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn featuring Veronica Speedwell and her adventures into the world. Since I don’t plan to give anything away, this review will be short and to the point. Veronica is a woman, well ahead of her time. She is a lepidopterist, a serious collector of butterflies and student of their lives. Even during her aunts’ lifetimes, she has been on expeditions to foreign countries in search of butterflies. Now, she plans to spend her life taking such trips all over the world.

Upon her return to her rented cottage after the incident at the vicarage, Veronica finds someone has not only ransacked her home, tearing up cushions and flinging things about, but the culprit is still in her home. She confronts the huge villain and means to drive him out when she is interrupted by the arrival of another man, a stranger to her.  The villain does flee. Veronica learns the newly arrived man is Baron Maximallian von Stauffenbach.

The Baron tells Veronica that she is in grave danger and asks her to come with him to London. She agrees because going in his carriage will save her the cost of a train ticket. On the trip, Veronica learns that the Baron knows who Veronica’s mother was and he says he will tell her the whole story of her birth and parentage in good time. Meanwhile, he leaves her in the capable hands of his friend Stoker, telling Stoker that Veronica is in danger and Stoker must guard her safety.

Stoker is also a scientist and collector of animals. Veronica and Stoker find themselves at odds almost at once. This relationship continues throughout the story. Sadly, before the Baron can tell Veronica about her parents, he is murdered. The story unfolds from there as Veronica and Stoker both encounter danger while they try to figure out why anyone wants to harm Veronica.

A Curious Beginning is suspenseful, funny, and witty. Readers will want to know why Veronica is in danger and the answers will be quite surprising. Readers may expect a relationship to develop between Veronica and Stoker, but they will have to read A Curious Beginning to discover what happens. Suffice it to say, that anyone who picks up A Curious Beginning is in for a treat. The story is also excellent on audio.

The Book Whisperer Is Sadly Disappointed

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After reading several other books by Anthony Horowitz, I looked forward to reading The Twist of a Knife. I read with pleasure the first two books featuring Horowitz himself and the PI Hawthorne, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. I’ve read other books by Horowitz, all with enjoyment. As a result, I expected the same from The Twist of a Knife.

My displeasure with this new story is that Anthony Horowitz, the writer and a character in the story, is accused of murder. The rest of the book then details how Hawthorne figures out who is the real killer and solves the very real problem Horowitz faces. It seems a worn-out plot line to accuse a main character of murder. I’ve seen it too many times in British and American TV shows as well as forming the plot of many mystery novels.

As soon as Horowitz receives the gift of a sharp dagger from the producer of the play Horowitz has written, I knew the dagger would be the instrument that would haunt Horowtiz. It’s no spoiler to tell readers that Horowitz is arrested very early in the story and the evidence against him is staggering. It will take Hawthorne to figure out who has committed the murder and framed Horowitz.

This disappointment won’t keep me from reading other books by Horowitz. I hope that now he has the main character accused of murder out of his system, he will continue with his more interesting plots.

The Book Whisperer Suggests a Page-Turner

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Being in a book club does stretch readers, one of the reasons for being in book clubs. Other reasons exist as well: spending time with reading friends, learning about others’ perspectives, and sharing ideas. Recently, I read my first book by Lisa Scottoline, What Happened to the Bennetts. The member of the book club who chose the book has read other of Scottoline’s books. She says this one is much different from other works. I enjoyed the book because it is a page-turner.

What happens when an innocent family experiences an attempted carjacking that ends in their daughter’s death? When the police arrive, the action continues at break-neck speed. Immediately, the FBI becomes involved telling Jason Bennett, his wife Lucinda, and their surviving son Ethan that they must go into the witness protection program immediately.

The family has no time to tell anyone else about what has happened. They grab some clothes and a few precious items to take with them. They are whisked away to a secluded location. They are not allowed to go on the Internet or to leave the secluded property. Everything they need is provided and they have twenty-four-hour protection.

Still, secrets begin to seep out, causing a great deal of upheaval. While I have a willing suspension of disbelief, the story does beg one to question some of the events. However, that did not take away from my enjoyment of the story. I could visualize the action on the movie screen quite easily. Without giving anything away, I can say that What Happened to the Bennetts will take readers on a lively ride.

The Book Whisperer Discovers an Excellent Debut Novel

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Lately, I’ve had the pleasure of reading several debut novels that really grabbed my attention. My most recent entry into debut novels is Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks. It begins in 1957. I find the first few lines of the story appealing:  “The moon rises and sets, stitching eternity together, night by night. Love-spun thread binds family when even years, or blue skies, stand between one and another’s touch. Generations travel the same footprints, reach hands to the same climbing branches, and warm the same crown skin under the Alabama sun.”

The story continues from that opening to keep me reading. I discover Alice Young who is alone after her father’s recent death. Her sister Rosie has fled to Chicago, and Alice decides she will go there. Unfortunately, Alice does not have enough money to get out of AL, but less to get to Chicago. She buys a ticket to Birmingham, the furthest she can go on her tiny bit of money. Along the way, another passenger suggests that Alice should get off the bus at a stop to use the restroom and buy herself a Coke because the next stop is a long way off. He even gives her ten cents.

When she gets off the bus, Alice looks for the colored entrance to the bus station. She asks the shoeshine man where she should enter. He tells her to use the front door, but she is taken aback. Then he tells her she is in New Jessup, an all-Black town. Alice decides to stay there and finds help from Mr. and Mrs. Brown, a kind minister and his wife.

Alice can already sew by hand, but Mrs. Brown teaches her how to use a sewing machine. Soon, Mrs. Brown introduces Alice to Ms. Vivian Taylor Laramie, owner of the town’s dress shop. Ms. Laramie is impressed with Alice’s sewing skills and hires her. Alice starts a new life in New Jessup, but she still hopes to hear from her sister Rosie.

As mentioned earlier, it is 1957; the Civil Rights Movement is moving forward. Alice has no intention of becoming involved in politics, but life has a way of throwing the right people into situations at the right time. Alice’s involvement becomes almost necessary when she falls in love with and marries Raymond. He is an activist in the National Negro Advancement Society.

Not everyone in New Jessup agrees that integration is the way to go. The story heats up as the Civil Rights Movement continues to create change. The story provides historical background and gives readers a portrait of people fighting for rights.

For book clubs, Moonrise Over New Jessup is a goldmine of topics. Jamila Minnicks, educated as a lawyer, has turned her talents to writing. She is an author to watch.

The Book Whisperer Enjoyed Friendkeeping!

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Thanks to my learned cousin Mary Frances who introduced me to Julie Klam and her writing. I started with The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters: A True Story of Family Fiction. Then I followed with You Had me at Woof, Most recently, I read Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. The blurb on the back tells readers that “Klam takes a funny and affecting look at making the most of our friendships in an age of isolation.”

I know that many people did not find the pandemic to be isolating. They were and are perfectly content to remain at home with books, TV, hobbies, and/or pets. I find that without my friends and book clubs, I am lost. Thankfully, Zoom filled the void when meeting in person was not a good idea and was not safe for any concerned.

Friendkeeping was published in 2012, well before the pandemic and very real fears brought by COVID. However, Klam offers useful tips on making and keeping friendships regardless of the time. My favorite chapter is titled “You’ve Got to Have Friends.” I concur. Klam gives readers a final group of thoughts on friendship, a summary if you will.

Clearly, “you have to be a friend to have a friend.” Klam goes on to explain that linking up with friends is a key to emotional well-being. We have to work on friendships; we cannot take friends for granted.

In Friendkeeping, Klam has provided funny insights into friendships. She is brutally honest about herself and her early attempts at friendship as a child. She does not pull any punches in describing what it means to be a friend and how much work that requires. In the end, those friends we have made buoy us up; they provide support in good times and in bad. Those are the true tests of friendship.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends Reef Road

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The Book Whisperer enjoys mysteries. That’s no secret. Reef Road by Deborah Goodrich Royce will keep readers on their toes as they breathlessly discover the rest of the story when a severed hand washes up on the beach in Palm Beach, FL.  Kirkus Reviews calls Royce “a wicked good writer.” I am only sorry that I just discovered this wickedly good writer and will be seeking her previous books: Ruby Falls and Finding Mrs. Ford.

While Reef Road is fiction, Royce tells readers that she found inspiration in the murder of her mother’s best friend from childhood. Combine the discovery of the severed hand in the wealthy Palm Beach area with the impending COVID pandemic, and readers will find a story that is both compelling and horrifying. Then add two women who enter the restricted area blocked off by police where the severed hand washed up.  That clandestine move to go beyond the police tape pushes the two women together.

Book club members will find a startling mystery in Reef Road, but they will also add family drama to their discussions along with what happens during a pandemic, a memory all too recent and unforgettable. Often, mysteries do not lend themselves to book club discussions. That is not true of Reef Road, however.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends Killers of a Certain Age

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Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie were recruited in their early twenties to be trained as assassins. They went to work for an organization called the Museum as a cover. Their jobs along with others in the organization included taking out incredibly bad people: corrupt judges, evil dictators, and others of that ilk. Now, the ladies are in their 60s and ready to retire. The Museum provides a luxury cruise for the four as a retirement gift, but is it what it seems, a parting gift for forty years of their diligent work?

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn will take readers on a roller coaster ride as Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie realize the organization to which they have dedicated their lives has put a hit on THEM! Putting all their collective knowledge and training to work, they must determine who proposed the hit and why to take out the person or persons after them.

Killers of a Certain Age will thrill readers with adventure as the women use their knowledge to save themselves. Readers will also find humor in the story even as the women prepare to kill those who would kill them. It is quite a story that will keep readers turning pages to find out if and how the women outwit those determined to kill all four of them. Buzzfeed calls the story “this Golden Girls meets James Bond thriller is a journey you want to be part of.” I agree!

The Book Whisperer Demands You Read a Debut Novel

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Dear Readers, if I asked you if you wanted to read a book that features a Giant Pacific Octopus as one of the characters and one who talks, no less, would you be interested? Further, Tova, a human character is in her 70s and works at night as the cleaner at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Does the description of that character pique your interest?  In my estimation, you should be interested in both characters and the story that develops. The book is Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.  It is a debut novel, and, without doubt, Shelby Van Pelt is an author to keep an eye on.

Tova Sullivan, 70, lives in Sowell Bay, WA. Her husband Will died five years ago. Sadly, years ago when he was only 18, their son Erik disappeared and is presumed dead, drowned in the ocean. Some even suggested that Erik committed suicide, but Tova cannot believe that story. Now, Tova lives alone; to keep herself busy besides the twice-monthly meetings with the Knit-Wits, a group of long-time friends, Tova works nights part-time at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. There, she enjoys making the Aquarium neat and tidy for the visitors who will visit the place the next day. She also becomes quite interested in Marcellus, the giant Pacific octopus, one of the main exhibits

Van Pelt has chosen to let Marcellus and Tova tell the story, starting with Marcellus. Marcellus tells readers that “octopuses are remarkably bright creatures.” The plaque next to his enclosure indicates that fact. Marcellus is quite adept at getting out of his enclosure at night when no one is there except Tova. He finds all sorts of items which he hides away in his den, a place where even those who clean his enclosure cannot find them.

One night, though, on his adventure, Marcellus gets into a jam when he gets tangled in some electrical cords in the employee break room. Tova sees him and recognizes what needs to be done to release him from the cords. She unplugs one and that allows Marcellus to be free and make his way back to the safety of his water. He knows just how long he can stay out of the water without “suffering the Consequences.” He also recognizes that his time on earth is drawing to a close. The average life span for a giant Pacific octopus is four years. Marcellus knows he does not have much time left.

The story becomes complicated when Cameron Cassmore shows up in Sowell Bay looking for the father he has never known. His aunt raised him after his mother left when Cameron was nine. Although Cameron has never wanted to examine the few items his mother left behind, one day his aunt pushed a small box of his mother’s belongings into Cameron’s hands and insisted he take it. Then Cameron, 30, aimless and without ambition although he is quite bright, loses yet another job. His girlfriend is fed up and kicks him out of the apartment in classic style by throwing his meager belongings over the balcony of the apartment to the grass below.

When Cameron finally opens the box while staying with long-time friends, he discovers a picture of his mother with a young man who has his arm draped across her shoulders. Convinced the man is his father, he identifies the man from a high school yearbook where he knows his mother went to school, Sowell Bay, WA. He also discovers the man is wealthy. At that point, Cameron determines he will leave CA and find the man making him pay for years of back child support.

When Cameron starts his journey to Sowell Bay, the story does, indeed, become far more complicated. Cameron and Tova will intersect when Tova injures her ankle and is forced to take some time off from her cleaning job. Cameron fills in, but Tova feels compelled to check on the work and on Marcellus, of course.

I hope this brief description will entice readers to pick up a copy of Remarkably Bright Creatures. It is a joy to read. In fact, the Washington Post calls it “an ultimately feel-good but deceptively sensitive debut…. Memorable and tender.” I concur.

Readers of this blog may remember that I enjoy stories of found families. Remarkably Bright Creatures features a found family as well as blood relatives. It is a book to cherish and one that book club members will find not only enjoyable, but also full of topics for discussion.

The Book Whisperer Is Enamored with a New (to Her) Series

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I recently discovered the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency series by Jen Turano. Turano writes several series, but an inquiry agency run by a motley crew of women caught my eye. To Steal a Heart is the first in the series. I am sure one could read the books in any order, but I like to start with the first in a series. Indeed, in To Steal a Heart, readers learn a great deal about the characters and their backgrounds. Indeed, my first thought was to use this sentence in describing the book: In To Steal a Heart, much is revealed and much is promised for the future.

Gabriella Goodhue known as Gabe in her youth is now a young lady living in a boarding house and working in an upscale dressmaking shop in NYC during the Gilded Age. The story is full of intrigue. As readers become acquainted with the various characters who live in the boarding house, they will find themselves falling in love with them. To help Jennette, a fellow boarder, who has been woefully, wrongfully accused of theft, Gabriella and her friends decide to clear Jennette’s name, thus is born the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency.

As Gabriella attempts to discover who the real thief is, she encounters Nicholas Quinn, her old friend and a fellow thief from her youth. They have both moved far away from that life, Gabriella by chance when she is sent by the police to an orphanage. Nicholas fares even better when Professor Cameron takes Nicholas to raise and tutor and even makes him his heir, calling him his nephew.

To say the plot thickens would be an understatement! Readers must read the story to discover all the intrigue and the results of the ladies’ inquiries. I will say their success in solving the mystery of the theft for which Jennette is accused brings a wealth of business to the newly formed Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency. Those cases lead to more intrigue and more frequent encounters with the handsome Nicholas.

Readers who delve into To Steal a Heart will find characters to love and hate. The story is a delight!