Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Book Whisperer Reviews Another YA Novel

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Eileen Cook has an impressive array of published books including the following: Remember, Year of Mistaken Discoveries, The Almost Truth, Used to Be, Do or Di, Unraveling Isobel, and The Education of Hailey Kendrick. Her latest book is With Malice.

With Malice opens when Jill Charron wakes up in the hospital hooked up to beeping machines and with her leg in traction suspended above her. She is uncertain where she is or why. The majority of the book takes place in the hospital and later in rehab where Jill, an honor student and Yale-bound high school senior, tries to regain her memory.

Suffering from temporary amnesia, Jill cannot remember the accident that put her into the hospital. She has a six-week gap in her memory. She last fully remembers the high school play her class performed. She has no memory of the long-awaited trip to Italy where the accident occurred.

Jill has the almost mandatory rich father with a second wife and a set of twins, leaving his long-suffering first wife, Jill’s mother, to raise Jill. Keith Charron hires an expensive lawyer, Evan Stanley, to protect Jill. Italian detectives fly to the US to interrogate Jill with Stanley present. The detectives are investigating the death of Jill’s best friend Simone who died in a car accident in Italy when Jill was driving a car. The students on the trip are not supposed to be driving while they are in Italy, so everyone is mystified about why the two girls are in the car.

Jill is the honor student and unlikely best friends with Simone who has potential as a student, but she is more interested in fun and parties. Jill says they are like two halves, complementing one another. They have been best friends since fourth grade. While Jill has already been accepted at Yale, Simone thinks she will take a year after high school to figure out what she wants to do instead of enrolling in the local community college.  The trip to Italy seems like a dream come true for the two of them, or does it?

Jill signs up for the Italy trip as soon as she learns about it. Simone is accepted much later. Does some friction occur between the two about the trip? While the group is in Italy, one of the local guides is a handsome young Italian man, one whom all the girls are swooning over, except Jill who continues to focus on the experience of the trip until she, too, falls for Nico. Does Nico create tension between the two girls?

When the Italian detectives question Jill, they show her a bloody knife they say is covered with Simone’s blood. Later, the detectives determine Jill’s fingerprints are on the knife as well. Has Jill stabbed Simone and then staged the car wreck to kill the two of them? What has happened on the trip in Italy?

In rehab, Jill rooms with Anna, a girl whose boyfriend pushed her down a flight of stairs, rendering her legs paralyzed. They are unlikely friends, from very different worlds, but they do become friends. Anna helps Jill come to terms with losing Simone, her best friend. Anna also helps Jill navigate the rehab center since Anna has been there longer.

With Malice may remind readers about Amanda Knox who was accused of murdering her roommate when they were both students in Italy. Certainly, the Knox trial and continuing sensational news stories would come to mind because Jill faces much the same kind of negative publicity. Cook also incorporates social media into With Malice. Between chapters, Cook has included posts from blogs and Facebook pages, often negative comments about Jill. Cook is not the only author to make use of social media as part of the story. In addition, Cook adds transcripts of interrogations between police and other students on the trip as well as the adult supervisors and Nico, who is a bit full of himself.

Eileen Cook’s books have been published in eight languages. Some of her books have been optioned for film and TV, so she is a YA author of note. I am not sure I will read another of her books; the ending of With Malice is a bit off-putting to me. Still, I don’t regret reading this one.  I did find Cook’s biography interesting. She grew up in a small town in Michigan, but lived in Boston and Belgium before moving to Vancouver, CA.

The Book Whisperer is Back

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No less than the New York Times describes Louis Bayard as one who “reinvigorates historical fiction.” Bayard wrote Downton Abbey recaps for the New York Times. He is also an essayist with articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Salon. He has taught at George Washington U and now is on the faculty of the Yale Writers Conference. Bayard has been a New York Times Notable author and nominated for the Edgar and Dagger awards. His adult historical novels include Roosevelt’s Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye, and Mr. Timothy. Lucky Strikes is Bayard’s foray into young adult fiction. And Bayard has hit a home run!

Amelia, Melia to her family, is a no-nonsense heroine. Her mother dies in the opening of the book, leaving Melia and her siblings, Janey and Earle orphaned. Melia does not know who her father is; Janey and Earle’s father is in prison. Their mother Brenda had not married either of the men. Like Melia, Brenda is a tough, strong woman until the unnamed illness strikes her down. Melia, fifteen, must figure a way to keep her siblings together and keep them from going into foster care, especially if that means splitting them up.

Need I mention, the story takes place during the Great Depression in a small town with a looming bad guy in the form of Harley Blevins? Melia, Janey, and Earle live at Brenda’s Oasis, a service station right off the highway. Mr. Blevins wants to buy Brenda’s Oasis to add it to his growing monopoly of other Standard Oil Stations. When he learns of Brenda’s death, he immediately makes Melia an offer, thinking he can befuddle her since she is just a teenager. Little does Mr. Blevins know, but he has more than met his match in the resourceful and quick-witted Melia.

Melia realizes she and her siblings need a father. When a bum drops off a truck after a stop at the gas station, Melia sizes him up and recruits him to be the missing father. His name is Hiram Watts; like many hobos of the time, Hiram has been all over the US and done all kinds of jobs from acting in Shakespearean plays to cooking, or so he says. Melia strikes a deal with him. He is not to drink alcohol and she will give him three meals a day and a place to sleep in exchange for pretending to be her long-lost father.

Melia’s friend is local lawyer Chester Gallagher who does all he can to help Melia even at the risk of losing his law license. Complicating matters further, Melia is developing a crush on Dudley, Harley Blevins’ nephew.

Like Brenda, Melia is quite a mechanic. She can diagnose mechanical problems and fix them. Still, the business is failing until Hiram throws in some good ideas. He proposes that he will stay inside in the store and persuade customers to spend a little more money by suggesting items to them. Brenda and Melia have been trusting customers to pay what they owe on the honor system inside the store while the two of them work outside. With Hiram standing watch and also suggesting other purchases, the till in the store continues to increase. Melia realizes some of their customers have been less than honest. Hiram also dreams up other ideas to attract business. Still, Harley Blevins is a threat because he will stoop to all sorts of meanness to get what he wants, even if it means stomping three children and a pretend father.

The Book Whisperer Reaches Back to 1919

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Christopher Morley was born in 1890 into a distinguished and well-educated family in Bryn Mawr, PA. His father was a mathematics professor at Haverford College while his mother was a violinist. Morley credits his mother with instilling him a love of music and literature. After graduating as the valdictorian from Haverford College, Morley went to New College, Oxford for three years on a Rhodes scholarship where he studied modern history. After several moves around the northeast, Morley and his wife Helen Booth Fairchild bought a house in Rosyln Estates, NY. They called the home Green Escape. Morley built a cabin on the property; he kept The Knothole, as he affectionately called it, as his office.

Morley’s body of work is extensive. He was a journalist, novelist, essayist, and poet. He lectured extensively on college campuses; some of those lectures were later complied and published.

The Haunted Bookshop, published in 1919, follows Parnassus on Wheels which features a traveling bookseller, Roger Mifflin. In the second novel, Roger has left the traveling book sales behind to become the owner of the haunted bookshop.

Aubrey Gilbert, a young advertising copywriter and seeker of new business, enters Roger and Helen’s used bookstore in Brooklyn. He hopes to persuade the proprietor to purchase advertising for which Gilbert would write the copy in his job for Grey-Matter Advertising. Gilbert encounters this sign over the door:

PARNASSUS AT HOME

R. AND H. MIFFLIN

BOOKLOVERS WELCOME!

THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED

Readers might be misled into thinking The Haunted Bookshop is a ghost story, but that would be the wrong assumption. The word haunted refers to “the ghosts of all great literature.” The story takes place shortly after the end of WWI and that fact becomes important in the story as it unfolds.

Aubrey becomes interested in Roger Mifflin’s philosophy of books and remains to chat even though Roger assures Aubrey that Roger is not interested in advertising his business. Aubrey provides a willing listener, so Roger explains his advertising is written by the “snappiest copy-writers in the business.” Of course, Aubrey thinks Roger means Grey-Matter’s competitors, Whitewash and Gilt. Roger explains, “Not at all. The people who are doing my advertising are Stevenson, Browning, Conrad, and Company.” Alas, Aubrey does not recognize that company! Roger then decides to enlighten the poor uneducated chap and invites Aubrey to dinner in the apartment above the bookshop. Helen is away visiting her brother, so Roger cooks and serves the meal, all the while expounding on his philosophy of books and book selling. Roger invites Aubrey to the Corn Cob Club, a group of men who meet monthly in the bookshop. Ironically, the group includes Mr. Chapman, of Chapman Daintybits Company, whom Roger has invited after becoming acquainted with him in the store. Now, it just so happens that Aubrey has written the copy for a very successful ad campaign for prunes, a Daintybits product. “We preen ourselves on our prunes” is Aubrey’s slogan for Daintybits. Aubrey goes on to say, “We have made the Chapman prunes a staple of civilization and culture.” Readers quickly find humor throughout the book, but they have to be able to recognize it!

To complicate matters, Mr. Chapman has asked Roger and Helen to take his nineteen-year-old daughter, fresh out of finishing school, as an apprentice in the bookshop. Mr. Chapman wants Tatania to learn the bookselling business, but he wants to move her away from the nonsense of finishing school and into the real world. Tatania knows only that Roger and Helen will give her a room in their apartment and pay her $10 a week from which her room and board will be subtracted. Meanwhile, Mr. Chapman will pay the Mifflins $20 a week to teach his daughter.

Aubrey tells Roger how much he has enjoyed the evening of book talk and the meal and promises, “I’m going to come again and study your shelves.” Roger reminds Aubrey that the information about Tatania is to be a secret because “I don’t want all you young blades dropping in here to unsettle her mind. If she falls in love with anybody in this shop, it’ll have to be Joseph Conrad or John Keats!”

Astute readers will already see what is coming in that Aubrey and Tatania will meet and fall in love, but the story is much more complicated than that. Readers will find intrigue, a bomb threat, a mysterious disappearing and reappearing copy of Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, and a threat to Aubrey.

Readers will enjoy the references to books from throughout the ages. The story also gives Roger an opportunity to expound on what he loves the most—books and book selling. Roger and Helen married in mid-life, and they are well-suited to one another. Helen reminds Roger to come down off his lofty literary heights and rejoin the real world; she also enjoys their reading aloud times in the evenings when they are alone. They enjoy each other’s company and are welcoming to others.

Readers can find the book online at this link: http://fullonlinebook.com/long-stories/the-haunted-bookshop-chapter-1-the-haunted-bookshop/vrcf.html

 

 

The Book Whisperer is Busy!

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Recently, I wrote about Lisa Jewell’s The Third Wife which I found quite a good read. Since then, I have read The Girls in the Garden. Her titles include Ralph’s Party, Thirtynothing, One Hit Wonder, A Friend of the Family, Vince and Joy, 31 Dream Street, The truth About Melody Browne, After the Party, The Making of Us, Before I Met You, The House We Grew Up In, and I Found You. Readers can read in any order since the books are not connected except that Lisa Jewell is the author of all.

The Girls in the Garden sports a wide cast. The first characters we meet are Clare Wild and her daughters Grace, 12, and Pip, 11. They have just moved into a tiny apartment in a Virginia Park, a garden community in London. Virginia Park becomes a character in the novel as well because the neighbors all meet there on the community property. The neighborhood is diverse with families, single-parent homes, and the elderly.  Readers quickly learn the apartment is a come-down from the Wilds’ former home.

A prominent family living in a large apartment near the Wilds includes Leo and Adele Howes along with their three girls: Catkin, Fern, and Willow. Adele and Leo are great believers in living simply and eating healthily. Adele homeschools the three girls.The Howes’ home is a magnet for all the children and many of the adults in the park.

Dylan, Tyler, and Max are other neighborhood children who have long been friends with each other and the Howes’ girls. Dylan is a sensitive boy who goes to a private school. He and Tyler, whose mom neglects her most of the time, have been friends since early childhood. Max, nine, is somewhat younger than the other children, so he figures only peripherally in the story. As outsiders, Grace and Pip take some time to fit into the tightly knit group.

Rhea, an elderly neighbor, has a mean cat which she brings out to the community property in a cage, but she also has a huge Flemish rabbit on a lead. Pip quickly becomes friends with Rhea and takes Fergus, the rabbit, on walks around the park. Rhea and Pip become friends because Pip is willing to sit and talk with Rhea while the other children dismiss her. Rhea has lived in her apartment many years and watched Leo and his two brothers grow up. In fact, Leo and Adele live in the apartment where Leo grew up. To add to this mix of characters, Leo’s father Gordon, the octopus, has come to stay with the Howes while he has an operation to remove his foot, complications from diabetes.

Another character who figures into the story died twenty years ago at age fifteen in the park: Phoebe Rednough. Her death remains a mystery. Was she murdered? Did she die of an overdose? Her sister Cecelia Rednough is Tyler’s mother; she and Tyler live in the same apartment where Cecelia grew up.

Pip writes letters to her father, not knowing if he will receive them. In the letters, she tells him about the new apartment and all the people who live there including her growing concerns about her sister Grace.

Another important detail involves Chris Wild, Grace and Pip’s father. He is a well-known and award-wining documentary filmmaker, but he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is currently in a hospital for treatment after the burned down the Wilds’ home thinking it was overrun with alien rats.

After the Virginia Park annual picnic in the park which also coincides with Grace’s thirteenth birthday, Grace goes missing. Pip, in fact, discovers Grace lying in the grass in the park, all but dead. She summons help and Grace goes to the hospital where she lies in a coma. At this point, Chris Wild is out of the hospital, so Clare contacts him to come to the hospital to see Grace.

Everyone in the neighborhood becomes a suspect, especially to readers who know all the neighbors’ quirks. Has Grace been beaten? Sexually assaulted? Drugged? Will she survive? Jewell is a master at leading readers along as she bleeds out bits of the back story.

If you are looking for a fast read, The Girls in the Garden will be your cup of tea. I finished it in one day since I wanted to see what happens!

 

 

The Book Whisperer Finds A New Author

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I had such good luck in choosing Peter Lovesey’s The Stone Wife from the library shelves recently that I decided to try my hand again. This time, I picked up Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet. I had never read Malliet or even read a review of her books, but I have come to find, to my delight, that she has several other books which will now be on my list. Malliet has won a number of prizes for her work. Kirkus Reviews chose Death of a Cozy Writer as one of the Best Books of 2008. Death of a Cozy Writer introduces readers to Cornish Detective Chief Inspector St. Just and Detective Sergeant Fear as they investigate a murder at an English country house. Does that plot sound a bit like Agatha Christy? Readers will certainly see similarities, but Malliet’s book stands on its own two feet.Mystery readers will enjoy the references to Christy.

Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk is a famous and popular mystery author who lives on an expansive estate. He takes great pleasure in tormenting his four adult children, all of whom have their own demons besides their father. Sir Adrian is long divorced from Chloe, the children’s mother, but he enjoys his barbs at her as well. He constantly rewrites his will to leave one or another of the children and his ex-wife out of the will.

Now, Sir Adrian has a new scheme: a new wife. The children all assemble for the wedding at their father’s estate. They discover he has already married Violet, who is not the kind of woman they are expecting. Since they have not met Violet nor heard anything about a wedding until shortly before they arrive for the wedding, they are expecting some young gold-digger. Violet is an attractive woman slightly younger than their father. Then the siblings learn Violet was accused of murdering her much older husband some years ago. The murder caused quite a scandal, but the culprit was never caught.

Suffice to say, murders occur at the country house, thus bringing Detective Chief Inspector St. Just and Detective Sergeant Fear to investigate. Much as we see in Christie’s mysteries, Malliet makes us wonder about all of the characters since they all appear ready to murder for one reason or another. Violet has already been accused of murdering her first husband, so she becomes a likely suspect. However, the four siblings all have motives for murder as well, except, of course, that the mean-spirited Ruthven, the eldest son, dies first.

Then readers must consider the cook, Mrs. Romano, though she seems an unlikely murderer. Sir Adrian has rescued her from a dreary hand-to-mouth existence after her husband’s death. Sir Adrian hires Mrs. Romano to be his cook and pays well. She brings her son the creepy Paulo who acts as a butler, but constantly slinks around corners and listens to conversations, thus increasing readers’ concern that he may be the murderer. Watters, the ancient gardener, does not appear to be a likely murderer, but readers have to reserve judgment! Finally, Sir Adrian’s American secretary, Jeffrey Spencer, offers readers another suspect. Spencer has managed to hang on to his job when a number of other secretaries did not because he can read Sir Adrian’s messy handwriting. Spencer transcribes Sir Adrian’s stories and corrects his spelling.

So who is the murderer or murderers? Read Death of a Cozy Writer to discover the truth. You will not be disappointed in this mystery. Malliet follows Death of a Cozy Writer with Death and the Lit Chick, a scathing look at mystery publishing.  I hope Detective Chief Inspector St. Just and Detective Sergeant Fear have a long career in front of them.

The Book Whisperer’s Latest

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I’ve written in general about Rhys Bowen, but today’s review is about a specific book: Malice at the Palace, a Royal Spyness Mystery, starring none other than the irrepressible Lady Georgina Rannoch, thirty-fifth in line for the British throne. The Queen summons Georgina to be a companion for Princess Marina of Greece who is engaged to marry the Queen’s youngest son, George. Of course, Georgie continues to be plagued by having no money and no ready means of earning any since it is unseemly for members of the royal family to have a job. Luckily, though, being Princess Marina’s companion comes with some perks. While she is Marina’s companion, Georgina can simply show a letter directing restaurants and shops to send the bills to Buckingham Palace for payment.

Unfortunately, Georgie stumbles upon a body shortly after Marina’s arrival. Sir Jeremy Danville of the Home Office and Detective Chief Inspector Pelham from the Special Branch, Scotland Yard, come to investigate the crime. The dead woman is Bobo Carrington, a well-known party girl and drug user. The police must first determine if Bobo has died of a drug overdose or been murdered. To make matters worse, Bobo has been George’s mistress. With the royal wedding coming up soon, the police must be discreet in their inquiries, so they enlist Georgie to help them. Sir Jeremy and Georgie have worked together previously in another murder case, so he is comfortable having her do some careful questioning. Detective Chief Inspector Pelham is not so convinced; in fact, he, at one point, thinks Georgina is the murderer.

The story features the clumsy Queenie, Georgie’s lady’s maid who continues to create havoc with Georgie’s few clothes, but Georgie has a soft heart and keeps Queenie employed despite Queenie’s faults.  Irmtraut, Marina’s cousin and traveling companion, also provides comic relief with her lack of understanding of English idioms. She is very stiff and formal and unused to any levity.

To thicken the plot, Georgie’s fiancé Darcy is implicated in the murder, but readers soon learn the reason for his involvement with Bobo. Bobo is known to have given birth to a full-term baby recently, but no one knows who the father is or where the baby is now. Given Bobo’s party ways and her frequent liaisons with a number of well-known and highly placed men, Bobo’s secrecy is understandable. That also makes the job for the police much more difficult. Bobo lives in a fancy apartment for which she has paid cash and lives a lavish lifestyle. How does she afford to live as she does? Is she involved in selling drugs? Or is she involved in some other underhanded business?

Rhys Bowen has won a number of awards. She writes the Molly Murphy series featuring Molly as a young Irish immigrant to the US. Bowen has written thirteen of the Molly Murphy mysteries. Now, she has written nine starring Lady Georgina. Both Molly and Georgina are delightful characters, but I favor Georgina’s stories over Molly’s. Bowen pokes fun at the English class system and injects a great deal of humor in to the stories.

 

The Book Whisperer’s Discovery

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My habit of late has been to find books I want to read by reading various online blogs and recommendations from sources I have found reliable. Then I request the books from the library. When a book becomes available, I dash into the library, pick up the reserved book, and check it out. Recently, I returned some books, but I did not have a new one ready to pick up, so I browsed the shelves in search of something intriguing. One of the librarians had stood Peter Lovesey’s The Stone Wife up on the end of a shelf to showcase it.

The book caught my attention, so I read the blurbs on the back. The first was by Sara Paretsky, a particular favorite author of mine: “I’m jealous of everyone discovering Lovesey and Diamond (the detective superintendent of the series) for the first time—you have a wonderful backlist to catch up on. Me—all I can do is wait for the next book.” That’s the place in which I find myself now since I started with the next to the last book in the Diamond series.

The Stone Wife features a stone carving recognized as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath; it has been languishing in storage for many years, but now is up for auction. The auction becomes heated with a number of bidders finally whittling down to only a few who keep upping the bids. Suddenly, three masked men dash into the auction with a dolly and try to take the stone. Unfortunately, the most ardent bidder, Professor Gildersleeve, a Chaucerian expert, tries to push the robbers aside. In the melee, one of the robbers shoots Professor Gildersleeve in the stomach. The robbers flee without the stone, leaving the professor lying in a pool of blood.

Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond arrives to investigate the crime. He has to learn about Chaucer in his attempt to solve the crime. In 1391, Chaucer became Deputy Forester in the Royal Forest of Petherton Park in North Petherton, Somerset. His son later took over the job. It was a real job, not a sop to Chaucer for service the king as so many positions were at the time.  Thus, Chaucer had a connection to the area where the stone had been stored, and the stone’s value increased.

The story becomes more involved as the police try to determine the motive behind the attempted theft and the resulting murder. A number of characters become suspects. Detective Ingeborg Smith goes undercover to see if a local crime lord is connected to the attempted theft and murder. That subplot offers a bit of diversion, especially when Smith has to overcome being imprisoned by the crime lord. Also, an overeager young cop, Gilbert, not knowing Ingeborg is under cover, goes to the crime lord’s house and encounters a vicious Doberman pincer guard dog on the grounds. Readers are left to worry about Gilbert’s safety for several chapters.

Eventually, Diamond works out the story and realizes who the killer is. He sets up a similar scene to the ones Hercule Poirot sets up by bringing characters together in one place and then revealing the murderer. Diamond simply does it in an outdoor setting with participants on their way to spread the dead man’s ashes rather than as Poirot would do in an elegant country house.

I look forward to starting with the first book in the series, The Last Detective. The Stone Wife stands on its own, but I am sure starting with the first book will give me greater insight into the characters. In The Stone Wife, I learned that Peter Diamond is a widower. Brief references to his late wife occur throughout the story; apparently, she was murdered. I enjoy reading a series because the author can develop the characters more fully as the series continues.

Peter Lovesey has received a number of literary prizes for his novels. He has published sixteen volumes in the Peter Diamond series. He has also written other titles not related to the Diamond series. Lovesey has also written scripts for TV and movies. He was a consultant on the popular BBC series Rosemary and Thyme, one of my favorites. Discover more about Lovesey at his Web site: www.peterlovesey.com.

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Friend’s Book

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Beverly Beldin Litzinger

My long-time friend Beverly Beldin Litzinger has written a book called Talking to the Trees: Big Time Epiphanies of a Small Town Girl. Beverly and I met when we were fresh out of graduate school and hired to teach English at then Southwest Missouri State, now Missouri State, in Springfield, MO. Beverly came from Kentucky while I was from Arkansas. Both of us were new to full-time teaching and new to Springfield, so we quickly became friends. We newbies were hired for three years on a non-renewable contract, a way to keep costs down and keep a rotating faculty. Thus we spent three years teaching together; then we went separate ways, though keeping in touch through the years. Eventually, I found myself in Broken Arrow, OK, while Beverly remained in Northwest AR, so we were not so far apart once again and our friendship could pick up.

Since that time of teaching together at Missouri State, Beverly has gone on to use her degree in English and her outgoing personality in a number of enterprises. To name a few of her innovative activities, Beverly has acted in Community Theater, been a United Methodist Certified Lay Speaker, and tutored AR Razorback football players.

Talking to the Trees: Big Time Epiphanies of a Small Town Girl contains six divisions and includes a touching dedication to Bev’s Aunt Wanda. The essays have such titles as “There’s No Place Like Home,” “Of Birds, Frustrations, Grace, and Beauty,” “A Salute to Friends and Their Essence,” and “Finding Myself in California.” Those titles tell readers that the stories Bev tells are personal, but also universal.

Bev writes about motherhood, about travels with family, and about fears and joys. Many of us can identify with those topics. And, of course, readers can find ways to connect with the stories even if their lives are very different from the events described—because that’s what we do as readers, find relevance in what we read whether the stories mirror our experiences, or whether the experiences are quite different from our own.

To end on a personal note, I have to say thanks to Bev for writing about the small town girl and her experiences!