I received a delightful surprise in the mail this week: a copy of An Unusual Friend by Michael Pellico and illustrated by Christina Berry. The book is published by Moonbow Publishing, a company created by Pellico. Pellico is a writer and producer of films and has entered another creative endeavor by publishing “quality children’s books that have adventure, comedy, excitement, and above all, lessons for life in a way that children will really enjoy.”
Pellico is the oldest of eleven children. In helping his parents by taking care of his younger siblings, Pellico entertained the other children by telling them stories. Now, he is pleased to report that his siblings are telling those same stories to their own children.
Christina Berry, illustrator, creates a colorful world for readers to match the text in An Unusual Friend. As readers and listeners move through the story, the vibrant colors hold everyone’s attention.
The story centers on siblings Sabrina and Stephen who live in the South Pacific because their parents are marine scientists doing research in the area. Sabrina and Stephen discover an injured baby shark after a storm has left the shark in a tide pool.
Sabrina and Stephen see the baby shark is injured, but they know exactly what to do! They rush home and get waterproof bandages and return to help the shark. The rest of the story unfolds with the deepening friendship between Sabrina, Stephen, and the shark. The ending of the story will surprise and delight readers—old and young alike.
Once again, I fell into a story with Enola Holmes. This time, it is installment six: The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye. Nancy Springer has created a beguiling character in Enola (alone spelled backwards) Holmes, the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock.
Enola continues to delight me with her intense desire to find her own way. In The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye, I can say without fear of a spoiler that Enola teams up with her brother Sherlock to solve a case. Then Sherlock determines that Mycroft must also accompany the pair as they seek to save the Duquessa del Campo, wife of Duque Luis Orlando del Campo.
By involving Mycroft with Enola’s blessing, Sherlock plans to demonstrate to Mycroft that Enola must not be sent to a girls’ finishing school and that Enola is more than capable of taking care of herself.
I thoroughly enjoyed this sixth book featuring Enola and continue to be grateful to my cousin Ronny for suggesting that I read the series. I await the most recent installment, just published: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche.
My library book club read The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez for our September discussion. We were fortunate to have Ms. Henriquez join us for our Zoom meeting. I had enjoyed and learned from reading the story. Having the author join us, however, enhanced my understanding and appreciation for the book.
I found many parts of the book difficult to read because of the treatment of immigrants coming into the US. Too, we currently have many issues with immigrants being turned away at our southern border. When people are fleeing their native countries out of fear and desperation, it is hard to see them being turned away.
Henriquez makes the story personal because as readers we become invested in the characters in The Book of Unknown Americans. I came to care deeply about Maribel Rivera and her parents. Then by extension, I also cared about the other people living in the apartment building with the Riveras.
The Book of Unknown Americans has been on my TBR list for some time. Having it chosen for the book club pushed me to read the book, and I am glad for that push. The stories of those characters remind us of the struggles that many people make to come to the US to seek a better, safer life.
Cristina Henriquez has also written a collection of short stories, Come Together, Fall Apart, and another novel, The World in Half. Her stories have appeared in a number of prestigious magazines such as The Atlantic. The New Yorker, and Ploughshares.
When my friend Theresa told me about The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams, I was immediately intrigued. I truly enjoy books set in libraries and bookstores, and I also like books about books! The Reading List, while not set completely in a library, does take readers there often and it takes readers on journeys with other readers.
Adams chooses to tell us the story through alternating voices. The two voices include Aleisha, a 17-year-old, and Mukash, an elderly widower, two people unlikely to meet much less be friends. Still, a library and a list of books will put the two together and provide readers with a moving story from both their perspectives.
Aleisha, though a good student, does not like to read other than her textbooks. At loose ends during the summer before she starts to the university, Aleisha reluctantly takes a job at Harrow Road Library, her local library. Aiden, Aleisha’s older brother, has always loved reading and he had worked at the library, so he encourages her to take the job.
Working at the library, Aleisha finds a handwritten list of books. Aleisha throws the list away as trash. Then as she “went to dump the whole lot in the bin, something stopped her.” Instead of throwing the list away, she tucks it into her phone case. This small act will become a turning point in Aleisha’s life; she just doesn’t know it yet.
Mukash is lonely since his wife’s untimely death from cancer. His three adult daughters try to control his life. One after another, the daughters will call and talk with Mukash or leave him messages if he does not pick up the phone.
When Mukash finds a library copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book that had been overlooked in his wife’s things, he sits down and reads the book. Strangely, getting acquainted with the characters in the book makes him feel closer to his wife. He even imagines the characters in his home.
Finding and reading The Time Traveler’s Wife leads Mukash to the Harrow Road Library. He is tentative and timidly asks for help. Aleisha is put out with Mukash’s questions and treats him rudely. After he leaves, she regrets her behavior.
As a way of atoning for her meanness to Mukash, Aleisha starts reading the first book on the list, To Kill a Mockingbird. She has decided she will read the book so she can recommend it to Mukash without guessing. Reading that first book leads Aleisha to read the other books on the list as well. She wants to be able to talk with Mukash about the stories. She, too, imagines the characters are with her.
Aiden and Aleisha are both caring for Leilah, their mother, who suffers from depression. She is a graphic artist, but she works only sporadically and often curls up on her bed refusing to do anything. Unfortunately, her two children are left to cope with her mood swings. Aiden has given up his dreams in order to earn a living for the three of them. Their father left several years ago and has started a new family.
The Reading List is a terrific book for a book club. Already, the members of a book club enjoy discussing books. Many of them will have read at least some of the books on the list and the list may prompt them to read the others. I have already written my own list titled with “in case you need it” as the list in the book is titled. To me, it would be fun to challenge other book club members to create their own list of eight books to share with others.
Sara Nisha Adams said in an interview that The Reading List “is very much inspired by my love of books and libraries.” She continues by saying that libraries bring “people together when we need companionship and community the most.”
Imagine being an ordinary suburban divorced young mom of two being mistaken for a hired killer! That’s the premise of Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano. Finlay Donovan’s husband has left her for the attractive real estate agent, Theresa, who sold Finlay and Steven their so-called dream home.
Now, Finlay and Steven are fighting over custody of their two young children and well as money. Finlay, a romance/mystery novelist, is behind on her promised book, deeply in debt, and angry with Steven for trying to take full custody of the children.
Finlay meets with Sylvia, her agent, at a Panera to discuss the plot of Finlay’s book which is supposed to be well underway. The conversation includes words like “contract,” “messy,” and “instruments of torture.” Perhaps the clincher for someone overhearing the conversation is this part of the conversation from Sylvia: “I don’t understand what’s so hard. You’ve got a beautiful, sweet, sympathetic woman who needs to be rescued from a really bad guy. The bad guy gets handled, our sympathetic woman reveals the depths of her gratitude, everyone lives happily ever after, and you get a big fat check.”
Sylvia receives a phone call and abruptly leaves Finlay at the table. When Finlay picks up her tray to clear the table, she finds a note under it:
49 NORTH LIVINGSTON ST
The note also includes a phone number. At first, Finlay holds the note over the trash, ready to throw it away. However, $50,000 intrigues her, especially since she is deeply in debt and Steven continues to hound her about taking the children away. That kind of money would go a long way toward her problems, but at what other cost? And who is Harris Mickler?
Instead of throwing the note away, Finlay tucks it into her pocket and leaves the Panera. Keeping the note sets Finlay on a path she never expects. She rehires the babysitter/nanny Vero whom Steven has propositioned and then fired. Finlay and Vero prove to be a fearsome duo.
Finlay Donovan is Killing It is a fast-moving story that will make readers cringe, laugh, and applaud in turns. Can Finlay, an ordinary mom and semi-successful romance/mystery novelist become a hit woman? How will she resolve her money problems and keep Steven and Theresa from taking her children? The story will entertain readers. For those in a book club, the mystery and Finlay’s dilemmas will provide fodder for discussion.
Nearly Gone, Elle Cosimano’s first book, was a 2015 Edgar Award Finalist winner. Her second novel was Holding Smoke which also won critical acclaim. After a career in real estate, Cosimano has become a novelist. Finlay’s next adventure, Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead, will be published in Feb 2022. I am looking forward to Finlay’s next escapades.
I am a sucker for animal stories, especially ones about dogs and cats and their lives with humans. I can’t say I was fond of How to be a Good Creature, at least not the first part of it, but that’s another story. I certainly did enjoy and connect with You Had me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam.
As noted in a recent blog, I read Klam’s latest book, The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters: A True Story of Family Fiction. I found the book to be fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed Klam’s writing style. Thus, I felt compelled to read her other books, so I found a copy of You Had me at Woof. (Now, I am an admitted book club junkie and have a book club Zoom meeting coming up VERY soon; I have not finished the book, but did that deter me from starting a different book? Readers, you fill in the answer.)
I grew up with dogs, small dogs, sometimes the Heinz-57 variety, but also Toy Manchester Terriers and for a time a pair of white Pomeranians. When Steve and I were living in Lawrence, KS, soon after we were married, we rescued a cat who quickly became part of the family. Since that time, we’ve been owned by a succession of cats, sometimes two at a time, but currently only one: Sylvie who is 17 years old. Our cats have had us trained within a week of their entering the household.
A brief digression: When I was growing up, we had a dog named Spicy, so named by me at age two because “all little girls are made of sugar and spice.” Not that our mother had too many occasions to use a switch, but on those which she did, Spicy would jump up and bite the switch into two pieces. The result was that Mother lost interest in using the switch on my sister and me. What an excellent dog!
So even though we continue to have cats in our house, I do like dogs and enjoy stories about them, especially as we learn from all animals—maybe more from some than others!
Klam opened by telling readers about her dream in which she had a Boston Terrier. The dream was so real that she set about making it come true. At the time, she was single, living alone, and a bit uncertain about the direction she would take. In the dream, the dog even has a name: Otto.
When she began her search for THE dog to fill her life, she found a rescue which sets her on a path that perhaps she did not expect. I really enjoyed her preparations before getting Otto. Once she learned she could get him, she set about buying all the necessary (and unnecessary) items she could think of including a comfy bed, toys, and food bowls. Of course, readers, you all know where Otto slept right from the beginning: in Klam’s bed with her!
When Julie Klam investigated the Boston Terrier rescue organization in order to see if she would like to be involved, she found another home for herself—in the sense of helping dogs be re-homed, fostering, or in finding the dog’s original home if it had been lost.
After taking Otto into her home, Julie Klam learned about herself as well as about caring for Otto and dogs in general. She tells readers that she “grew up.” During this time, she met and married her husband and they had a daughter, Violet.
We all know that our pets have only a period of time to spend with us. Losing a beloved pet is heart-wrenching because we become so attached to each other. Klam’s accounts of the deaths of dogs in her life, from childhood into adulthood, will tear at any sympathetic readers’ heart. The stories of loss will bring tears to most readers’ eyes, especially as they remember beloved pets of their own.
Readers will find You Had me at Woof to be funny, poignant, and well worth reading.
Enola Holmes is on another case and this one is very close to home—the home where she is lodging. Mrs. Tupper, Enola’s landlady, has been kidnapped and her home ransacked—all except Enola’s room. Flossie, the young girl who helps Mrs. Tupper, has been left tied up. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer is yet another delightful mystery with Enola at her best.
When Enola returns to the lodging, she discovers this mayhem. Flossie, understandably so, is so upset and frightened that she can hardly describe what has happened. At last, Enola gets enough from Flossie to know that two men, one with bad and missing teeth, burst into the house when Flossie opened the door.
According to Flossie, the thugs demand to know “what she ‘ad for the Bird.” Mrs. Tupper is completely unaware of what they want and frightened by their threats. After ransacking the house, they take Mrs. Tupper away with them, leaving Flossie tied to a chair.
Now, to go back a few days, Mrs. Tupper has shown Enola a note she received. Enola explains, “Slashed across thick paper in the most brutal handwriting I had ever seen, angular, and bristling and penned with weapon force.” The message read “Carrier Pigeon deliver your bird-brained message at once or you will be sorry you ever left Scutari.”
Mrs. Tupper exclaims that she knows nothing of a message and has no idea what bird the message means. Enola further learns that Mrs. Tupper as a very young bride had accompanied her soldier husband to Scutari where he died. Even then Mrs. Tupper was almost deaf, so she had a hard time understanding others.
A nurse at the camp, eventually rescues Mrs. Tupper, gives her some nice clothing, and sends her back to England. As Enola eventually works out from Flossie’s incoherent statements, that nurse turns out to be Florence Nightingale. Readers can start putting clues together along with Enola, but what message would be so volatile that thugs would kidnap Mrs. Tupper?
As always, Enola must figure out clues that others would overlook. Because the clothes were so fine that Mrs. Tupper receives from Nurse Nightingale, she has kept them. Of course, two men would never think the clothes hold any clues to what they seek. Not so Enola; she studies the dress and finds it unremarkable, but the crinoline is another story.
Suffice to say that Enola finds herself also contending with her brother Sherlock in this mystery. Enola’s success rate in solving mysteries large and small is 100%. Will she keep up that streak? Readers will enjoy The Case of the Cryptic
OM! To say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters: A True Story of Family Fiction by Julie Klam would be a big understatement. Now, I will be reading Klam’s previous books as well. Her writing style captured my attention and my imagination. I laughed out loud at times and felt teary at others as she encountered one roadblock after another as she researched information on the Morris sisters, her grandmother’s first cousins.
My cousin Mary recommended that I read Julie Klam’s most recent book. I told her I had put a hold on the book at the library, but I was way down the list since other readers, already familiar with Klam’s work, no doubt, had beat me to the punch. Mary relayed this information to her friend, Julie’s mom, or to Julie herself. A few days later, I received a special copy of The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters inscribed as follows: “Dear Dorothy, forget that waiting list! Hope you enjoy. Julie 1/19/21.” What a gift!
I immediately opened the book and began to read.
In family lore, what is true and what gets passed down from one generation to another being embellished or slightly changed as the information passes from one relative to another? Klam remarks that stories being passed down are much like the game of gossip. As a person whispers the message. The one listening hears it correctly or incorrectly and passes it along so that by the time the message is revealed, it may not resemble the original message in the least. So it is with family lore.
Klam begins with a family tree which is a decidedly helpful tool for the readers. She follows the family tree with “A Guide to the Morris Sisters” which gives a quick look at each sister in birth order. She does also occasionally mention Samuel, the oldest child and only male in the family. Once the siblings were adults, the sisters moved to NYC while Samuel moved to TX, so they lived widely separate lives.
As I read, I marked several passages that I wanted to highlight or simply remember. Early in the book, Klam explains that she considered hiring a researcher, but decided that “she wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for and partly because I knew that sometimes you found information you didn’t expect to discover when you looked yourself.” That line struck a chord because my book club had read Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Abbott met with us via Zoom. She made a very similar statement in answer to a question about her research.
The next line of interest is on page 68. Klam tells the story of one historical novelist who had been trying to find a gravestone in a large cemetery. After searching without any success, she was tired and “asked the universe for help.” Soon after asking for help, “a bright red cardinal [landed] on a gravestone.” Of course, it was the stone she sought. Klam also experienced such help from the universe from time to time. I found plenty of other lines that are meaningful to me, but two will suffice here.
In seeking information about the Morris sisters, Klam ran into a number of roadblocks. Sometimes that meant the information could not be shared because of privacy issues—which seems a bit odd since she is related to the women and they are deceased with no direct descendants. Other times, the information was simply missing. Klam went to St. Louis where the sisters grew up; the sisters had spent some time in a Jewish orphanage there. Her experience in St. Louis was mostly heartwarming because of Midwestern hospitality and the willingness of people to help. She also went to Romania where Guerson and Clara Schneirer Morris were born and where four of the five children were also born.
The Morris family of six went from Romania to England where they caught a ship to NY. The family then traveled to St. Louis where Ruth, the youngest child was born, the only sibling born in the US. The family stories Julie Klam grew up hearing said the family landed in Montreal and then went to St. Louis. Those stories contained a great deal of misinformation, but readers must read the book to find out what that information is. Along the way, readers will follow Klam as she seeks information in St. Louis, Romania, and NY.
Klam’s journey on this road to information about the Morris sisters provides readers with her methods of research, her frustration, and her elation at finding some gems of truth. Take the journey with her; you will be glad!
The Almost legendary Morris Sisters by Julie Klam will make an ideal book club selection. Not only can I imagine the discussion of the book itself, but also of members’ own family stories – true or not!
And special thanks to my cousin Mary, a journalist, who takes credit for my career as an English professor (and rightly so) and to Julie for a perfectly delightful read.
I enjoy reading memoirs, so I chose from BookTrib’s August offerings Hollywood to the Himalayas: A Journey of Healing and Transformation by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati as one of my selections. In several promotions of the book, Saraswati is described as “a reluctant spiritual leader who finds her true self and lifelong calling when she travels to India.”
Saraswati earned a PhD in psychology from Stanford. Although she had suffered from an eating disorder and childhood trauma, she thought felt comfortable with her life and the direction it was taking. Then at her husband’s insistence, she took a trip to India.
I was struck by the conversation with Pujya Swamiji she recounts in the prologue. She explains, “Fear runs my life. I have a sense of anxiety all the time, even when I don’t know what I’m afraid of.” That line resonated with me because of recent losses I have experienced and compelled me to continue reading.
Parts of Saraswati’s story are incredibly hard to read. I really hate reading about child abuse, and Saraswati suffered not only “childhood sexual abuse and abandonment,” but also “struggles with bulimia.” The chapter in which she describes her biological father’s abandonment of her and his total disconnection from her is more than difficult to even understand. How a parent could be so callous and totally disregard his child is beyond my comprehension.
In “The Greatness of Forgiving,” Saraswati has explained her relationship with her biological father and all of its trauma. Yet she ends the chapter with forgiveness. The title of the chapter is certainly a clue, but she recounts how she arrived at that forgiveness by letting go of “the grip on my identity as a victim.”
Now, Saraswati lives at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh giving “daily spiritual discourses, teaches meditation, provides spiritual counseling and mentoring, and oversees myriad charitable and humanitarian projects and activities.” Learn more about her and her activities on her extensive website: https://www.sadhviji.org/.
Book club members will find much to discuss if they choose to read Hollywood to the Himalayas. They will find themselves questioning some parts of the story which will lead to greater discussions of topics. Saraswati has written a powerful memoir in which she chooses possibility and trust over loss and being a victim.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel is an engaging story about Eva Traube Abrams and her work as a forger of documents during WWII in occupied France. Readers find the story unfolding through two time periods: the present with 83-year-old Eva and the young Eva in France during WWII.
A picture of an ancient book in a Florida newspaper where she lives now starts 83-year-old Eva on a journey through her own past when she was a young woman who escaped from Paris along with her mother to an outlying French town close to the Swiss Alps. Eva and her mother are Jewish; Eva’s father has been taken by the Nazis while Eva and her mother are away from their apartment or they would have been taken as well.
Eva has forged documents for her mother and herself to help them get out of Paris. Their plan is to escape to Switzerland and hope they can find Eva’s father and reunite the family. While in Aurignon, a mountain village in the so-called Free Zone of France, Eva enters the clandestine world of forging documents to help Jewish children escape into Switzerland and safety. Working with Pere Clement, the Catholic priest of Aurignon, and Remy, a young man, who is also a forger, Eva works tirelessly to create new identities for the children who are being escorted to safety in Switzerland.
Eva wishes she had some way of recording the children’s real names so that they are not lost forever. Remy gives her a way to record the names in code so that only they know what the code means. He hands Eva a book titled Epitres et Evangiles, “a thick, faded guide to weekly masses from the 1700s.”
Remy explains a system of marking letters with tiny black stars and dots over letters. This code records the names of the children who are being spirited away to safety. No one would ever guess the code or even wonder why dots and stars appeared over letters in the book. That book is pictured in the newspaper Eva sees.
Kuhn, the man in the photo holds a copy of Epitres et Evangiles and is quoted as saying, “This religious text is my favorite among the many mysteries that occupy our shelves. Published in Paris in 1732, it’s a very rare book, but that’s not what makes it extraordinary. It is unique because within it, we find an intriguing puzzle: some sort of code.” Kuhn would like to return the book to its rightful owner. He would also like to know what is behind the code.
Epitres et Evangiles is one of many, many books Nazis looted from libraries across Europe. And many of those books are still in libraries in Germany.
Eva travels against her son’s wishes to Germany to retrieve the book that means so much to her. On her journey, she recounts her past to the readers. Readers will discover many heart-stopping moments as Eva, Remy, Pere Clement, and others find ways to save Jewish children.
Book club members will enjoy the story of The Book of Lost Names, but they will also find much to discuss. Harmel has done her homework, researching about forgers during WWII and the methods they used. While the book is fiction, the elements of truth inform the story.