Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Book Whisperer is Disappointed


I chose to read The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan because I read some reviews that compared the book to Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop which I liked. I was disappointed, but finished the book.

Nina Redmond is a mouse of a librarian in a tiny library in a suburb of Birmingham. Like so many public libraries, the library system in Birmingham is struggling to survive. The librarians know the cuts are coming and wonder who will survive or who will wish to stay on anyway since the library system is changing to meet needs of patrons in different ways than promoting books. Nina’s branch will close and many of the books are simply being thrown away, so she packs up as many as she can and takes them home with her, much to her roommate’s chagrin.

Librarians must interview for the few positions left in the branches that will remain open. In Nina’s interview, the person hiring asks, “What will you do for the non-reader?” Nina, who is excellent at choosing just the right books for readers, is stumped. She says she would suggest titles for the patron, but the interviewer insists that is not the right answer. To the interviewer, Nina should have answered with help them with the technology they want, not encourage READING, for goodness sake!

Needless to say, Nina does not get the job. Instead, she sees an ad for a van for sale in Scotland. She has never been to Scotland, so she goes to see the van and buy it, thinking she will have a mobile bookstore in Birmingham. Wully, who owns the van, declines to sell it to Nina. His buddies at the tavern, however, convince Nina to come back. They will buy the van and sell it to her. They think she will keep the van in their village and take the mobile bookshop to other villages around the area. They do not realize she intends to return to the city.

More plans backfire once Nina has the van, however. Birmingham city refuses the permit for parking the van. That puts Nina in a quandary. She now has the van, but cannot park it at her home. In the end, she returns to Scotland and starts the mobile bookstore there as readers knew she would. The story is predictable in almost all ways.

Nina rents a beautiful barn that has been redecorated into a lovely cottage on Lennox’s farm. Lennox and his wife are getting a divorce; she had decorated the barn with the help of an interior designer and then she left with the interior designer. Nina and Lennox get off to a rocky start and the tension between them is palpable most of the time, another expected turn in the story.

The mobile bookshop takes off. Nina is good at finding the right book for people, and the people in the villages are starved for books. I found the title misleading since it is The Bookshop on the Corner, and Nina’s van does not necessarily park on A corner, but she takes it to farmers’ markets. I kept expecting her to find a real shop on the corner and sell the van.

A reader sums up my feelings well:

“Instead of my expectations, the story turns into a steamy romance complete with plenty of sex by the last few chapters. I loved this book and the concept of a novel written in dedication to readers until . . . the last few chapters. The author took a sharp turn from her little shop of books to the bedroom (and multiple other locations). At that point, the characterization faltered, the storyline shifted from meaningful to trite, and what began as a beautiful story was cheapened with empty sex. Why, oh, why did Jenny Colgan venture so far off course?”

Jenny Colgan was born in Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland. She has a number of published books, but I won’t be reading any of the others given the disappointment I felt from reading this one. She also writes under the pseudonyms of Jane Beaton and J.T. Colgan, so beware.


The Book Whisperer’s Latest Review


The Unraveling of Mercy Louis won the 2016 Alex Award, given by the American Library Association “to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.” The Kansas City Star also chose The Unraveling of Mercy Louis as its best book of 2015. Keija Parssinen has an impressive resume. She graduated cum laude from Princeton with a degree in English literature and received a certificate from the Program for the Study of Women and Gender. After receiving her MFA at the U of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she won a Michener-Copernicus award for her first novel, The Ruins of Us.

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is Parssinen’s second novel, published in 2015. It has received a great deal of acclaim from the Kansas City Star, Lone Star Literary Life, the American Library Association, Missouri Life, and Brazos Bookstore. She has written for a number of other publications as well: Lonely Planet travel-writing anthologies, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Slice Magazine, Salon, Five Chapters, the New Delta Review, Marie Claire, This Land, and Off Assignment. Currently, Parssinen is the Director of Cedar Crest College’s Pan-European MFA program, as well as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Tulsa.

Mercy Louis lives in Port Sabine, TX, an oil refinery town. The area depends upon the refinery for income. Despite the accidents and the awful smells that accompany the refinery, life goes on. An explosion that killed a number of workers and maimed others has left the town in turmoil, dependent upon the refinery with many people resenting the refinery and all it brings. Mercy is a bright spot at the high school for her basketball prowess. She gives the town a focus of pride in her abilities and strength as a player and all-around good girl, a strong contrast to her best friend Annie who is daughter to the rich refinery owner.

Early in the story, a newborn baby’s body is found in a dumpster at the convenience store across from the high school. The town buzzes about who might have left the baby there. Was the baby born alive or did it die after birth? Speculation runs through the town about who left the baby in the dumpster. Meanwhile, Mercy tries hard to concentrate on her skills as a basketball player hoping to land a scholarship that will take her out of Port Sabine.  Jodi Martin, the girls’ basketball coach, pushes Mercy and the other girls hard to make them the best they can be, a reflection on her. She gives the girls meal plans to follow during the entire year, including summers and requires strength training as well. Mercy follows the rules to the letter until that fateful summer between her junior and senior years.

Mercy lives with Maw Maw, her maternal grandmother, and she has no knowledge of her mother, Charmaine except that Maw Maw has told Mercy that Charmaine did not want Mercy and chose drugs and other evils over her daughter. At school one day, Mercy receives a letter from her mother, but the letter arrives late and Mercy is not inclined to want to see Charmaine or even respond to the letter because Maw Maw has poisoned Mercy against her mom. The truth, revealed only at the end of the book, gives readers a much different picture of Charmaine than the one Maw Maw paints.

Maw Maw professes to be a seer who can predict the future. She is certain that Y2K will find everyone in Heaven or in Hell at the stroke of midnight. To that end, she admonishes Mercy to be ready, to be pure, and to be ever vigilant so that Mercy does not end up like her mother, pregnant and a drug addict.

Other families also harbor secrets, so almost everyone has something to hide. Illa, the manager of the girls’ basketball team, takes care of her mother who was injured in the refinery blast that also killed Illa’s father. Illa feels a strong connection to Mercy, a kind of hero worship, but Mercy can never see past Annie’s friendship to give Illa more than a glance now and then.

Parssinen tells the story in alternating chapters through Mercy’s eyes and through Illa’s eyes. Through the two of them, readers can fill in the gaps. Illa learns that her mother and Charmaine were high school best friends, but the two have lost touch until Charmaine starts sending letters to Meg, Illa’s mom, in hopes Meg will pass them along to Mercy. Instead, Meg reads the letters and hides them until Illa discovers them and tries to give them to Mercy. That action causes a deep rift between Mercy and Illa because Maw Maw has poisoned Mercy so against her mom that she does not even want the letters.

To complicate matters, Mercy and Annie have a falling out. They have been like twins, best friends all of their lives; now, they do not even speak to one another. Adding to the drama, Mercy falls in love with Travis, the first boy she’s ever allowed herself to even give a second glance because Maw Maw has drilled into her that all boys are evil and want only one thing. Mercy’s visits to Travis’s home show her a family such as she has never known. However, the relationship with Travis is fraught with danger and Mercy backs away from him, leaving him bewildered and alone.

Mercy looks forward to the last season of basketball and the prospect of a college scholarship to lift her out of Port Sabine. The summer before her senior year, however, Mercy starts experiencing strange movements in her arms and an inability to control her body as she has always been able to do. She hides the problems from everyone and trains all the harder, playing pick-up basketball with the boys in the evening at the park. Unfortunately, when basketball practice starts in earnest in the fall of her senior year, Mercy’s uncontrollable actions become known to everyone. In addition, other girls in the school begin to have similar symptoms, much like the girls in Salem during the height of the accusations against witches.

During the hysteria about witches in 1692, nearly two hundred people were accused of being witches. By the time the hysteria ended, nineteen people were sentenced to death. Historians agree that the witch hunts developed because of mass hysteria, but causes for the hysteria remain theories.

Five of the theories causing the mass hysteria, particularly among teenage girls include boredom, a strong belief in the occult, disputes, rivalries, and personal differences, cold weather theory, and ergot poisoning.

In Port Sabine, boredom could certainly have influenced the girls who suffered from the hysteria. The town is small, leaving few opportunities for activities and entertainment for the teens.  The girls affected are all connected through the high school and their basketball team. Many of the girls’ parents strictly guarded them and limited what they could do. Girls, particularly, face severe restrictions. Note the stories that surround Lucille, the poor woman who sells her trinkets from a blanket on the sidewalk. The girls are ready to believe any story however fantastical about her. Mercy also focuses on the stories Maw Maw tells her, stories to scare Mercy into being a “good girl.”

The girls are rivals even though they are basketball teammates. Mercy is clearly the star, so the other girls are jealous of her even as much as they want their team to win. Also, the strong relationship between Mercy and Annie creates additional tension among the other girls. Annie’s father is the refinery owner, so Annie is rich, and she has always had a strong friendship with Mercy, making the other girls jealous.

Obviously, we can dismiss the cold weather theory as a possible cause for the mass hysteria in Port Sabine. However, the overarching refinery, its odors, and dangers could be substituted for the cold weather theory.

Finally, rye grains can become contaminated with ergot, a fungus. That’s another possible cause of the 1692 mass hysteria; those accusing others of being witches could have been having hallucinations caused by eating the contaminated grain.  Again, the girls in Port Sabine are not eating contaminated rye, but the overhanging and significantly strong chemical smells coming from the refinery could be substituted for the ergot poisoning. The girls are already susceptible, so the strong odors contribute to their hysteria.

What do you think, readers?




The Book Whisperer Reviews a Memoir of Life and Cooking



Sasha Martin wrote Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness, based on her own life and her desire to “cook the world.” She began the cooking and the blog to demonstrate how cooking meals from 195 countries helped her deal with a tumultuous childhood. Find the blog at this link:  She points out that cooking has healing powers. Food certainly brings people together. The act of cooking and eating together is bonding. Martin also contends that cooking dishes from around the world helps “families bond, empower, and heal.” In the current climate of dissension and suspicion of others different from us, cooking and eating dishes from around the world “creates compassion and understanding – which helps the world heal.”

Life From Scratch begins with Sasha Martin’s early life, being in and out of foster care until her mother asks Patricia and Pierre Dumont to take both Sasha and her older brother Michael as wards. Patricia had been Martin’s mother’s high school friend, but they had not been in close touch for years. Patricia and Pierre had three daughters, two of whom were out of college and a third daughter was a junior in high school when Sasha and Michael joined the family.

Martin tells of the closeness she had with her mother and brother in their tiny Jamaica Plain apartment. They lived on very little, but their mom made their lives adventurous, encouraging creativity, including with cooking even when Sasha was quite young.

Sadly, Michael commits suicide not long after joining the Dumont family. Sasha does not know for many years why Michael was so troubled. As an adult, she learns he had been abused by a priest in Boston, but he would never tell what happened. He kept Sasha away from the priest and suffered in silence until he could no longer deal with the pain.

Sasha’s life with the Dumonts was up and down. They provided well for her, taking her with them as Pierre moved from job-to-job all over the world. Patricia became more and more withdrawn from Sasha as if blaming the girl for something. Finally, after graduating from high school, Sasha applied for college and was accepted at Wesleyan University. Pierre told Sasha he would pay for her to attend college, but not to expect any more contact with him and Patricia. I found the relationship between Sasha and Patricia and Pierre hard to understand. They had taken on the job of raising two children unrelated to them and then did little to nurture Sasha after Michael’s death except provide physical needs: a safe place to live and food.

During her years in college, Sasha continues to have off and on visits with her mother. Her mother discovers the reason for Michael’s sadness and his suicide and receives a settlement from the Catholic Church. She gives the money to Sasha who decides to go to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) for two years. That decision leads Sasha into her journey of cooking the world, but that occurs a few years down the road. After her first year at CIA, Sasha takes a four month internship at Bama Pie in Tulsa, OK. That internship changes Sasha’s life.

After the four-month internship ends, Sasha decides to stay in Tulsa. She finds a job, buys a house, and purchases a motorcycle. Buying the motorcycle puts her in touch with a riding club where she meets her future husband and begins her cooking around the world and her blog. Read the book for the details of how Sasha overcomes much in her early life to develop into a strong mother, wife, and cook.

On her blog ( , Martin provides a “Start Cooking the World Today” section which includes a 45-page guide:

  • Tips for Starting Your Adventure
  • Getting Everyone involved
  • Ideas for Potlucks & Parties
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Suggested Reading
  • List of Countries *by Continent)
  • List of Countries (A-Z)
  • Get Social (How to Connect with other Global Table Adventurers)

If you are ready to start on your own global cooking adventure, you would do well to check out Turkish cooking classes at Raindrop Foundation:



The Book Whisperer’s War and Peace Blog 2


Second installment

In reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I am also reading about Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I found an interesting article by Philip Hensher in the Guardian: “War and Peace: The 10 Things You need to Know (if You Haven’t Actually Read it).”

Hensher’s first item is that people change. That sounds like a good premise for characters in real life and in a novel. Those who remain static and do not change do not grow or learn. His second point is the story has “no hero and no heroine.” That point could seem counterproductive to a novel, but it works for War and Peace because the story deals with a whole collection of characters within a culture. War and Peace explores ideas. As Tolstoy works through the characters, he shows an understanding of people’s behavior, or, at the very least, writes to show readers why the characters act as they do. How much of this examination transfers to the readers’ understanding of human behavior and contributes to change in the readers and the characters depends upon the individual readers. Just as in real life, characters in the book act in a certain way that even they may not be able to explain for some time later. Third, Tolstoy uses the characters to observe what is happening and then showing the readers through various observers, so that the perspectives will change. Hensher declares War and Peace delves into events of the recent past, all stories that would be clear and memorable to Tolstoy’s readers of the time. Tolstoy is not writing history, but he is examining those then recent events in order to understand and make sense of them.

Hensher also contends that readers will become frustrated because a well-liked character, and this well-liked character will differ from reader to reader, will disappear for a time. By the end of the book, readers will have determined the characters they most like. War and Peace tackles a number of human subjects, including love. It never occurred to me that a reader might choose to skip one section or another. For example, Hensher says those who choose to skip the parts about war and read only about peace will be “idiots.” Hensher also reminds us that reading War and Peace at one age and then again later will provide the reader with a different memory of the book. That is true of any really good book!

About the length of the book, Hensher tells us that War and Peace is “not absurdly long.” He goes on to describe some longer novels including The Man Without Qualities which Hensher took seventeen years to read! Hensher also points out that “[War and Peace] is a book that will argue with you.” Isn’t that another hallmark of a truly worthwhile book?

Finally, Hensher’s tenth point is that War and Peace “has the worst opening sentence of any major novel, ever.” Then Hensher goes on to write that the last sentence is “the very worst closing sentence by a country mile.” Here is that sentence: “In the first case it was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist, and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.”

Hensher makes effective points about ten things he believes are essential to recognize about War and Peace. Watch for future installments—all the way to that very last, according to Hensher, awful sentence.


The Book Whisperer’s War and Peace Blog 1


When my friend and fellow reader Lu Ann challenged me to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace in its new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, I resisted at first. After all, I HAVE read War and Peace, once upon a time, a long time ago. Do I need to read it again? Apparently, the answer to that is yes, since I agreed to join her in this project of reading 100 pages a week, completing the book in May. She challenged herself to read it and blog about it for her students on their Blackboard page. I will be blogging as I read on my own blog site. We will meet at the end in May for the final discussion!

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated a number of important works, mostly from Russian, but also French, Italian, and Greek. They have received numerous awards for those translations, particularly for Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov.

Pevear was born in Waltham, MA and has a degree from Allegheny College with an MA from University of VA. He has taught at a number of universities and has received teaching awards for his work.

Volokhonsky was born in St. Petersburg, and she graduated from Leningrad State U with a degree in mathematical linguistics. She worked and traveled extensively in Sakhalin Island and Kamchatka, but she moved to the US in 1975. She began collaborating with Pevear, her husband, in 1985.

Look for subsequent blogs on War and Peace itself.



The Book Whisperer’s Latest Review


I am not sure if News of the World fits into my 2017 Read Harder Challenge, but I had already checked it out of the library, so here’s the review.

Paulette Jiles has written a number of books including The Color of Lightning, Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, and Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma Kola. The latter may be the most intriguing title of the list. Her latest book is News of the World.

News of the World begins in Wichita Falls, TX, in 1870. Brett Johnson, a freed black man, asks Captain Kidd, a seventy-year-old man, to take Johanna, a ten-year-old girl, back to San Antonio to her aunt and uncle. Johanna is an orphan; Kiowas killed her mother and father near San Antonio and took Johanna at age six into their tribe. Now, the Kiowas have sold her for some blankets and Johnson wants Kidd to take Johanna some four hundred miles over rough and dangerous terrain back to her kin near San Antonio.

Johnson knows as a black man traveling with a white child will earn him more trouble than he wishes to experience. He convinces Captain Kidd to take Johanna back to her kin. Kidd has raised two daughters himself and is now widowed. He travels back and forth across Texas setting up in halls to read the news to the illiterate people living in the small towns across Texas. He agrees to take Johanna back to her aunt and uncle and receives a fifty dollar gold piece for his trouble.

And trouble is the right word to use here. In the first place, Johanna does not want to go anywhere with anyone. She wants to go back to the Kiowa tribe because those are the only people she knows and the only life she knows. She has forgotten her original language which is German. After agreeing to take Johanna to San Antonio, Kidd asks some women in Wichita Falls to clean Johanna up. She is dirty and her hair is full of lice. The women scrub the very reluctant Johanna and throw away her Kiowa clothes, dressing her in heavy skirts that drag the ground and shoes and socks which she promptly removes once the women turn her over to Captain Kidd.

Captain Kidd is a kind and generous man. He does his best to communicate with Johanna, teaching her some simple words and uses signs to help her understand other needs. When Kidd points at her and then himself and says words, she is horrified because she thinks that is evil. Johanna becomes worried about the pointing, but she finally decides that she is safe with Kidd. Over the course of their journey, she even remembers a few of her German words and calls Kidd opa, German for grandpa.

Kidd and Johanna develop a wary friendship at first. Over the course of the trip and the trials they experience, Johanna learns she can trust Kidd and comes to respect him as well. Outlaws attack the pair, and Johanna works with Kidd to outwit the bad guys and escape safe from harm. At each town, Kidd tacks up his flyers and rents a hall so he can read the news to the townsfolk for ten cents a head.

Eventually, Kidd and Johanna reach San Antonio and Kidd locates Johanna’s aunt and uncle. A local man warns Kidd that leaving Johanna in the aunt and uncle’s care will mean a harsh life for Johanna, working as a slave for the aunt and uncle and without any kindness from them. Kidd feels he cannot keep the girl, so he reluctantly leaves her in their care. Before he heads out of San Antonio, however, he goes back to the aunt and uncle’s farm and sees Johanna, a ten-year-old girl, with a yolk around her neck trying to get the horses to return to the barn in the early evening. Captain Kidd realizes he cannot leave Johanna there to be beaten down by the aunt and uncle and never to hear a kind word. He tells her to drop the yolk and get into his wagon.

They spend the next few years with Johanna as his assistant, helping him collect the money for his readings. When Johanna marries, he is there to give her away.

One of the most poignant descriptions from the story comes early on when Doris, a friend of Kidd’s, is helping watch over Johanna while Kidd does his readings. Doris gives Johanna a doll. Jiles writes, “Doris’s eyes burned suddenly with tears and she lifted the back of her hand to her eyes…. The doll is like herself, not real and not not-real” (81).  Johanna does learn to live in the white world again, but she forever straddles two worlds.




The Book Whisperer Takes on Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge


I am taking Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, At the link, readers will find the challenge and a PDF for keeping track of books read to meet the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. To begin the challenge, I chose a graphic novel with a female main character and that led me to Squirrel Girl, thanks for friends Steve St. John and Larry Straining whose advice I sought.

Ryan North, author, and Erica Henderson, illustrator, have teamed up to create Squirrel Girl graphic novels. I read volume one: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I have read a few other graphic novels, so the genre is not entirely new to me.

Squirrel Girl chooses the name Doreen Green as her alias when she enrolls in college. Squirrel Girl is irrepressible and enthusiastic. She is extremely positive in her nature and aims to find the best solutions to fight bad guys. Those solutions do not always mean exterminating the bad guy, but helping him to see the error of his ways.

Squirrel Girl hides her big squirrel tail by concealing it in her clothing. As she says, she “just happens to appear to have a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” Doreen meets her roommate, Nancy Whitehead, who has three main rules: Do not “make fun of my last name, criticize how I decorate, or talk smack about Mew.” Mew is Nancy’s cat who will live with the two in the dorm. Soon, Doreen adds Tippy Toe, her pet squirrel to the mix. Doreen and Nancy agree that breaking the rules is important because “obeying an unjust law is itself unjust.”

Squirrel Girl’s adventures actually begin before she gets to her dorm room and meets Nancy. One of them involves Nancy who is being held hostage along with other students at the bank on campus. Nancy quickly figures out that Doreen and Squirrel Girl are one and the same.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is fun and upbeat. Squirrel Girl is inventive and resourceful.

Ryan North) created Dinosaur Comics, is co-editor of the Machine of Death series, and the author of To Be or Not To Be, the choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet. He also writes Adventure Time comic and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for Marvel Comics.

He also once reviewed the novelization of Back to the Future, page-by-page, which was crazy. I think you can buy that book on this site too. It’s called “B to the F”. Maybe check it out!!

He lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife Jenn and his dog Noam Chompsky!

Erica Henderson graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and currently lives in Boston. She is a senior artist for Zynga Boston as well as a freelance illustrator and independent comic creator. See Erica Henderson’s web site,





The Book Whisperer’s Non-Recommendation


I read about Jonathan Evison’s This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! The reviews made the book sound interesting. Elderly Harriet is widowed and learns her husband won a cruise to Alaska, but he had never picked up the voucher. Harriet decides to take the trip and invites her long-time friend Mildred to join her. At first, Mildred is on board, but she backs out at the last minute without explaining why. Then Mildred has her son give Harriet a letter to be opened on the trip.

Evison tells the story in flashes back to the past as early as Harriet’s troubled childhood with disinterested, wealthy parents. The story is not chronological in any sense of the word, skipping from Harriet’s privileged childhood to various times in her life up to the present. I like the format and found the story easy to follow even though I am sure some readers would object to the jumping around. However, each chapter title gives the time period along with Harriet’s age for that time, so keeping up with the story is easy.

Despite my liking the format and feeling optimistic about the story, I am not recommending it even though Jonathan Evison is known as “a best-selling author of award-winning novels.” In fact, his book, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is being filmed starring Paul Rudd. Evison has all the right credentials as a writer for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and National Public Radio.

I am withholding my recommendation because the story does not live up to its potential, and it involves child abuse that continues over a long period of time with no one intervening. I cannot abide that. Too many awful secrets destroy this story. So readers beware!