The Book Whisperer Makes a New Demand: Read I Must Betray You!

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Ruta Sepetys does not shy away from stories that are hard to tell. She delves into history and researches some of the most devastating pieces of history to bring the stories to light. I Must Betray You, set in Romania in 1989, will take readers into a time of deprivation and difficulty, but the story will ultimately lead readers to the end of a dictator’s regime and freedom for the people of Romania.

I Must Betray You centers on Cristian Florescu, 17, who lives in Bucharest, Romania, and his family and friends. Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena, called “Mother Elena,” rule Romania by keeping the people subdued, hungry, fearful, and cold in the winter. The government lowers the power even on extremely cold days and nights as another way of controlling people. While the people live in poverty and deprivation, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu live in luxury.

By 1989, Communist regimes are falling. Cristian longs for freedom, but he knows the danger he faces for even considering a democracy. Like so many other citizens of all ages, Cristian is recruited to be an informer. Like others before him, he chafes under this requirement, but he has to comply. Cristian, however, believes he can use his status as an informer to make some positive changes.

Cristian has some advantage over other informers. His mother works as a cleaner for the Van Dorn family. Mr. Van Dorn was the American ambassador in Romania. Cristian often goes to the apartment to walk his mother home after work so she won’t be alone. As a result, Cristian meets Dan Van Dorn, the teenaged son of the ambassador. Cristian hopes he can use this opportunity of being in the Van Dorn home to leave some sensitive information.

Along with being forced into being an informer, Cristian worries about his beloved grandfather who is ill with leukemia and cannot get appropriate medical care. As an informer, Cristian is promised medicine for his grandfather, but Cristian knows better than to believe he will actually receive the medicine. Still, he holds onto hope. Romanians must barter for necessary items. They use Kents as their money when they need items or services.

Readers also follow Cristian in school and in his falling in love with fellow high school student Liliana. Cristian cannot tell anyone that he is an informer and yet he must betray the ones he loves when he is called in to report. He tries to keep the reports benign.

The story is horrifying at times. In December, 1989, demonstrations against Nicolae Ceaușescu began in Timisoara. Nicolae Ceaușescu planned to speak in Bucharest shortly after the news of the Timisoara riots. People gathered, ostensibly to listen to his speech, but they began protesting as well. A full-fledged riot broke out with soldiers shooting citizens of all ages and arresting others. Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu fled the country, but were quickly captured and returned to stand trial. They were both found guilty and executed immediately.

I appreciated the epilogue at the end of the book to give readers information on the lives of those who survived the riots. I Must Betray You will be a story that book club members will not quickly forget. It will also generate a great deal of discussion.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Perplexing Novel

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Stepping out of my comfort zone once again, I read The Other Side of Night by Adam Hamdy. Of his work, Hamdy says, “I write topical, thought-provoking novels that aim to entertain, and I love lived research, so the events in my books are often inspired by real events.” Novelist Karin Slaughter describes The Other Side of Night as “a surprising and cleverly constructed roller-coaster read.” I must admit to some confusion on my part at the beginning of the story.

Once I settled into the story, I followed the events easily. The characters include Harriet Kealty, a disgraced police officer, Ben Elmys, and David and Elizabeth Asha, both believed to be dead, along with Elliot Asha. Elmys has become Elliot’s guardian following the deaths of Elliot’s parents. The story becomes more complicated when readers learn that Harriet and Ben have dated. In fact, Harriet believes Ben to be her soulmate.

When Harriet finds a mysterious inscription in a used book, she begins an investigation into the reason for the note and the person behind it. The note reads as follows: “Help me, He’s trying to kill me.”

Since the story is not told in a linear fashion, readers may find the facts of the story confusing at first. Keep reading to discover the full story.

The Book Whisperer Insists You Read For Those Who Are Lost!

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To be candid, I had decided to take a hiatus from reading WWII historical fiction. I have read a great deal set before, during, and after WWII, so I thought I should branch out a bit. Then I discovered For Those Who Are Lost by Julia Thomas. The premise of the story immediately captured my attention. So I suspended my hiatus; after all, flexibility is the hallmark of a good reader!

Lily Mathews Carrelives on the idyllic island of Guernsey. She is married to a handsome, wealthy, well-respected man. On the outside, their marriage appears to be ideal. However, only Lily knows of the abuse behind closed doors. When Lily learns children are being evacuated from Guernsey in advance of impending German occupation, she determines she can leave Ian, her abusive husband, along with the children.

At the waiting bus, Lily sees her sister Helen, a teacher in the primary school, with some of her students. Lily offers to take Helen’s place in shepherding the children into England. Lily’s plan, ill-formed, is to get to England and make her way to Cornwall where she will build a new life for herself. Helen really does not want to leave Guernsey, so she agrees, although hesitantly, to Lily’s plan.

Lilly takes Henry, 9, and Catherine, 4, Simon to help them on the trip. Lily realizes that Catherine needs more protection than Henry, so she puts a ten-pound note into Henry’s bag and urges him onto a train to Manchester. Henry expects that Lily and Catherine will follow him aboard. Henry has promised his parents, Ava and Joe that he will take care of Catherine. Imagine his surprise when he gets on the train and Lily and Catherine are not behind him.

In a moment that will change her life forever, Lily takes Catherine’s hand and finds a way to Cornwall, assuring herself that she is doing the right thing in protecting a child so young and vulnerable. As indicated, Lily’s life will forever be changed, but so will Catherine’s.

Over the course of the story told through Ava’s, Henry’s, and Lily’s points of view, readers discover the full effect of Lily’s decision. Catherine becomes Lily’s daughter; then Lily falls in love and marries Peter Ashby, vicar at Holy Trinity Church in Saint Austell, Cornwall. Peter is a loving husband to Lily and a devoted father to Catherine.

At the end of the story, an adult Catherine picks up the thread and describes her life before Lily, with Lily and Peter, and after learning of her birth parents and her brother. This part of the story is equally as touching as the previous one.

For book clubs, For Those Who Are Lost will generate a lively discussion. Some will believe that Lily’s decision to separate Henry and Catherine is wrong and selfish on Lily’s part. Others will disagree. Lily’s secrets haunt her and that will certainly be a point of discussion.

For Those Who Are Lost is based on the true story of the many children who were evacuated to safer locations during WWII. I’ve read a great deal about children from London, particularly, but this story focuses on Guernsey and the children from there. It is a compelling story and highly recommended.

The Book Whisperer Finds a New Mystery Series

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Belonging to a mystery book club has opened my horizons to new authors. I enjoy mysteries and seek out new authors on my own, but the book club has added to my TBR list. The latest author to cross my path is Patricia Skalka whose novels are set in WI in Door County. For the book club, we read Death in Cold Water which is the third in the series, so I will have to go back and start with the first in the series to get the full picture. Skalka will soon publish book seven in the series starring Sheriff Dave Cubiak.

Cubiak, a former Chicago homicide detective, has been in Door County for four years, building a new life for himself. Like so many detectives, both PIs and police, Cubiak has tragedy in his past. What has been a routine day turns into an investigation involving the FBI as well as Sheriff Cubiak. Gerald Sneider, wealthy philanthropist and ardent Green Bay Football supporter, has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom.

Andrew Sneider, Gerald’s only son, reports that his father is missing. When Cubiak and his deputy Mike Rowe investigate, they find a ransom note inside Gerald’s home. The home is well-protected with an alarm system, so Gerald must have entered the code himself or given it to someone else.

As the investigation continues, Cubiak discovers much about Gerald Sneider. Is he the great man as proclaimed? What are the skeletons in his closet? As Cubiak learns more, his dog also discovers a human bone in the sand near the shore. Cubiak cannot shake his conviction that he needs to investigate this bone and see if there are others in the water near the shore.

As readers continue, they will discover the truth about Gerald Sneider and his greatness. The bones found on the shore also have a connection to Gerald which will turn the investigation on its head. The story opens slowly with Gerald’s disappearance. However, it picks up momentum quickly and pulls readers into a double mystery: why has Gerald been abducted and what do the bones found in the lake have to do with the story?

I enjoy books in a series because the reappearance of characters in the stories allows the author to show readers how the characters develop and grow over time. Patricia Skalka has created a good story with authentic characters.

I also discovered this information about Door County. It is on a peninsula that “juts out between the pristine waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan in northern WI.” Artists, musicians, outdoor enthusiasts, and tourists are drawn to the area each year.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

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Make no mistake, my reading friends, parts of The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman make for very difficult reading. At the same time, the story of Willowbrook State School is one that needs telling. Some readers may remember Geraldo Rivera’s expose of Willowbrook in 1972. Rivera exposed the horrors of girls being kept in conditions so bad that they rival that of a concentration camp.

The girls were mistreated in every way imaginable. The so-called caretakers were downright cruel. The food was substandard and rationed to the point of nearly starving the girls there. These are the facts that Wiseman includes in the fictional story of Sage Winters who is searching for her identical twin sister Rosemary at Willowbrook.

For six years, Sage has thought her sister Rosemary had died of pneumonia when she was in the hospital. Sage’s mother and stepfather refused to allow Sage to attend the funeral. Now, six years later, Sage’s mother is dead; Sage has not heard from her biological father in years. Sage overhears her stepfather talking with his drinking buddy that Rosemary is missing from Willowbrook.

Sage is stunned to learn that her sister is alive, but that now she is missing. Sage knows little about Willowbrook State School except that it is a shadowy place. Determined to find out what has happened to Rosemary, Sage takes the bus to Willowbrook. That decision to find her sister places Sage in a terrible ordeal because the people at Willowbrook are convinced that Sage is Rosemary since they are identical twins. One sign of Rosemary’s illness is that she sometimes claims to be Sage. The people at Willowbrook will not believe Sage about her identity.

Unfortunately, while Sage is on the bus, someone steals her purse, leaving her no way to prove her identity. Sage is locked away as Rosemary and the nightmare begins. The story will horrify readers at the same time as they hold on to hope that Sage can find out what happened to Rosemary and also extricate herself from Willowbrook.

This is no spoiler to say that Sage does succeed in getting to the truth of what has happened to her sister and countless other girls under the so-called care of the staff at Willowbrook. Readers will discover a satisfying ending to The Lost Girls of Willowbrook.

For book clubs, members will certainly find a great deal to discuss: the mistreatment of girls, the horrible conditions, the cruel caretakers, but also Sage’s resilience and determination to succeed in finding out the truth about her sister.

I received an advance copy of The Lost Girls of Willowbrook in exchange for my unbiased review. Wiseman tackles tough subjects with a deft touch, using her extensive research to develop a fictional story based on what she has learned. She creates characters readers care about and root for. Wiseman also gives readers satisfying endings, not sweetness and light, but realistic endings about how the characters find the strength to persevere and to create good lives for themselves despite a difficult past.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village

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For all of us who love British TV shows, especially ones like Midsomer Murders, Father Brown, Sister Boniface, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot, to name a few, Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper is a MUST!

The book opens with a quote from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

The quotation from Doyle is followed by “A Note to the Gentle Reader.” That note warns the reader quite explicitly: “My advice: Stick to urban areas. Do not go to the countryside. Dispose of this book, and continue on with your life.” The authors further warn that by committing the information in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village could save your life should you persist in your fantasy of visiting a quaint English village!

The book is a pure delight and includes drawings reminiscent of artist Edwin Gorey. Johnson and Cooper have included diagrams of villages. Each page explains what happens in the places mentioned and warns the readers repeatedly to take heed! The book is deliciously fun.

The Book Whisperer Recommends More Up Lit

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Recently, I have been looking for Up Lit books. Now, I am familiar with Phaedra Patrick’s novels and have enjoyed all I’ve read. I discovered that I had not read The Library of Lost and Found by Patrick, so I set about remedying that oversight right away.

The Library of Lost and Found concerns Martha Storm and how she has let people run roughshod over her since she gave up the man she loved in her twenties to stay with her parents and take care of them as they aged. Other people in the village quickly learned they, too, could take advantage of Martha because she finds it hard to say no to any request.

As a result, since her parents’ deaths, Martha has accumulated a huge amount of junk and other people’s belongings because she agrees to help. She is hemming her nephew’s pants and her sister is not patient about the task. A papier-mâché dragon which belongs to the local elementary school nearly blocks the pathway into the house because Martha said she would fix it when she knows nothing of how to repair papier-mâché. And don’t even mention all the items her parents have left behind. Martha has been unable to clear out their things even though she asks her sister to come help. Lilian is far too busy with her family and her online business. She did not help Martha when the parents aged and were sick either.

Now, Martha volunteers at the village library, taking on all sorts of tasks. She especially enjoys helping patrons find the books they would like to read. She has applied for a full-time job in the library several times only to be turned down. Clive, the manager, always chooses someone younger and less qualified. Now, there is an opening, and Martha hopes this will be her chance at the job.

Suddenly, Martha’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of a book dedicated to her by her grandmother, Zelda. The book has been mistreated and has lost its cover, but the dedication is clear that it is to her:

 “June 1985

To my darling Martha Storm

 Be glorious always.

Zelda X.”

The problem is that Zelda died three years earlier! Now, Martha has a conundrum to solve. As Martha looks further into the book, she realizes the stories there are ones she had written as a child along with stories both her grandmother and mother wrote as well. How could this be?

The book sets Martha on a journey of discovery, not only about the book and its origin, but also a journey of self-discovery. She grows a spine and stops being the village doormat, accepting all tasks as a matter of course. She returns items to their owners whether they are fixed or not. She clears out her parents’ things. Her house takes on a whole new look—one of cleanliness and without clutter.

Of course, the story involves a great deal more than this change in Martha. Readers will have to read the book to discover the whole story. Suffice it to say they will find the story satisfying and rewarding.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Little Gem of a Novel

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After doing some research on Up Lit titles, I discovered Hotel Silence by Auour Ava Olafsdottir. Well, the title and the author’s name were both intriguing, so I sought out the book. It is a quiet, short novel providing readers with much to consider.

Jonas is divorced, not his choice. His mother is in a nursing home and suffers from dementia, sometimes recognizing Jonas and sometimes not. Then his ex-wife tells Jonas something that shocks him to the core. He feels bereft and decides that he will commit suicide. Then he considers that he does not want his daughter to find his body.

As a result, Jonas must come up with a plan for his suicide. He begins by getting his affairs in order. He sells the company he has inherited from his father and puts the money in his daughter’s account. He cleans out his apartment and the basement storage where he has left items untouched for a long time.

Keeping only a few items of clothing, Jonas books a stay in an unnamed war-torn country that has recently had a ceasefire. He will stay at the Hotel Silence. At the last minute, Jonas decides to take along a small toolbox in addition to the suitcase with his few belongings in it.

At the Hotel Silence, he meets May and Fifi, the brother and sister, who run the hotel, and Adam, the sister’s young son. Jonas discovers the hotel needs a great deal of repair. Still, the place is not completely run down. He cleans the shower head in his room, and the water runs clear and freely.

When May discovers Jonas has fixed the shower in his room, she asks him if he can work on showers in the other rooms. That small task morphs into many other tasks, some of which are too great for the small set of tools Jonas brought with him. Soon, others in the little town ask Jonas to help them with repairs. He barters with them for tools and food.

After meeting May, Fifi, and Adam, Jonas realizes he cannot commit suicide in the hotel because he doesn’t want May to find his body any more than he wanted his daughter to find it. He has to revise his plan again. Meanwhile, he continues to repair buildings in the village, including a house where a group of women will live once it is inhabitable again.

Readers can see that Jonas must continually revise his plan of suicide. By becoming involved with the community, Jonas finds purpose once again in his own life. I particularly enjoy stories that involve those who come together unexpectedly. This quiet story involves much for readers to consider. One of the most important points of the story is that sense of community that the people start building with one another after being torn apart by war.

The Book Whisperer Suggests Up Lit Titles When Readers Need a Distraction From Daily Life

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As an eclectic reader, I dip into a variety of genres. I don’t read horror, but I do read a bit of science fiction along with a number of historical fiction novels, general fiction, and young adult books. I also like to read books for children. Children’s literature was one of my favorite college classes. I even had the opportunity to teach children’s literature several times at MO State in Springfield years ago. This blog, however, will focus on uplifting, Up Lit, books I have read and recommend.

The first book in today’s blog that I recommend is Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I admit when I first started reading, the lack of pronouns annoyed me. Then as I continued reading, I recognized Backman’s ploy in keeping readers in suspense about the would-be bank robber by avoiding pronouns to identify the robber. The story is sad, funny, complicated, and ultimately uplifting.

Clare Pooley has written two books that I have enjoyed: The Authenticity Project and Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting. While the stories have quite different plots, they both focus on disparate characters brought together by unusual circumstances. I truly enjoy stories that feature found families. I consider both of those stories to fall into that category.

Another found family story is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Six magical children live in a home with Arthur Parnassus as the home’s director. Linus Baker, who works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, is sent to the home to determine if Arthur is doing a good job with the children there. Arthur may not always do things by the book, but he is an excellent father figure for the children in the home.

Matt Cain also captured my heart and attention with The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle. Albert, approaching 65, has been a postman since he left school. He lives alone in the house where he grew up. His father was a policeman. After his father’s death, Albert stays on to care for his ailing mother until her death. Now, he has a cat as his only companion. In December, shortly before Albert is to turn 65, he experiences two things that cause him to turn his life upside down in a good way. This story continues to make me smile as I remember it.

The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick is another Up Lit story. When Essie Starling, famous and wealthy writer, disappears, Essie’s attorney tells Liv Green, Essie’s cleaner, that Essie wants Liv to complete the 20th novel in Essie’s Georgia Rory stories. Now, Liv is no ordinary cleaner. She loves reading and has entertained the idea of becoming a writer herself, but she has simply not had the opportunity. Now, the opportunity has presented itself to her.

For those uncertain about what Up Lit is, here is a definition from Fictionophile: “Up Lit is described as a trend for books with an emphasis on empathy, books that are uplifting and life-affirming, and which explore themes of family bonds and the human spirit. These types of novels focus on kinder, gentler human connections, but have an element that preserves realism. They do not shy away from dark themes or real-life issues; they just preserve an element of hope.” And isn’t that something readers need, a preservation of hope? Some other characteristics of Up Lit include “quirky, and offbeat and sometimes curmudgeonly, characters.” They also focus on relationships, both platonic and romantic, life lessons, and uplifting, optimistic vibes.

The Book Whisperer Rediscovers Phaedra Patrick

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I enjoyed The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick. When The Messy Lives of Book People came available, I jumped right into the story. Once again, I found charming characters who have a few flaws along with good hearts, an appealing story, and enough turns of the plot to keep me reading well past bedtime.

Olivia Green, Liv, is married to the love of her life, Jake, and is mother to two sons, Mack and Johnny. In order to help her mother, Liv left school at 16 after her father’s untimely death. Her father had been a university English professor and had instilled a love of reading in Liv. Liv also harbored secret thoughts of being a writer.

Live’s jobs as wife, mother, and cleaner, however, keep Liv from pursuing her dream of writing. She still reads often and also listens to audiobooks as she works. She starts early in the morning cleaning an office building with other janitors. Then she moves to a job with a family followed by her favorite cleaning job for Essie Starling, famous writer of the Georgia Rory novels.

Liv can hardly believe that she took a chance three years earlier and applied for a job as Essie’s cleaner; she never expected to get the job. Yet, now, she finds herself spending afternoons with the great author herself. Liv has read all of Starling’s novels several times, all 19 of them. When she stumbles upon the current manuscript as she is cleaning, she cannot resist sitting down to read. Unfortunately, Essie discovers Liv reading the new book.

Liv is certain she will be fired; instead, Essie asks for some advice from Liv. And Liv provides a straight answer that intrigues Essie.

Starling often disappears as Liv is working. Liv never knows how Essie manages to simply vanish only to be in the lavish apartment the next time Liv arrives. One day Liv notices a suitcase in the bedroom and the next day Essie is gone. Essie’s attorney contacts Liv and proposes a interesting and totally unexpected request.

The attorney tells Liv that Essie has died following complications from a surgery and that Essie has left instructions for Liv to complete the 20th novel in the Georgia Rory series. At first, Liv feels completely inadequate to tackle such a big job. As she stops to think about Essie’s strange request, Liv feels this is her chance to become a writer herself.

Liv must keep Essie’s death a secret for several months and complete the manuscript by Nov 1 when Essie’s death will be announced to the public. Essie is sworn to secrecy even keeping the secret of Essie’s death and her own involvement in writing the latest book from everyone including her husband, children, and mother.  Naturally, that promise of secrecy becomes a huge part of the plot.

As the story progresses, readers receive glimpses into lines from previous novels starring Georgia and the current one as well.  Near the end of the book, I found the following lines from one of the stories: “I hate saying goodbye,” Georgia said defiantly. “It’s so final, like reading ‘The End’ when a book is over. I want to think there’s going to be another chapter, another story and a chance to say hello again. I prefer to say, until next time, friends….” Those lines are quite telling for any avid reader.

For readers looking for an uplifting story, but one that also has substance, they should look no further than The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick.  For book clubs, the discussion will center on the important secret that Liv must maintain along with the domestic issues in Liv and Jake’s marriage.