Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Book Whisperer Reviews a YA Book Set in Tulsa


Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning is a hard book to read. No, the sentences are not difficult, but the subject matter certainly is. Rowan Chase is a sixteen-year-old girl living in affluent Maple Ridge, Tulsa, OK. She is biracial; her mother is a high-powered black attorney and her white father comes from a long line of Oklahoma oil barons. Rowan’s mother wants the old servants’ quarters behind the house renovated because her mother says, “I won’t stand by and let a perfectly good building crumble to dust.” The home has been in Rowan’s family since 1922, but no servants have lived in the servants’ quarters for many years.

Rowan wakes up to the noise of the construction workers tearing into the building. Just as suddenly as the work began, it stops. Curious, Rowan dresses quickly and goes to see what has happened. The workmen have uncovered a skeleton wrapped in a tarp under the floorboards of the building. The workers flee, leaving Rowan a bit bewildered about what to do next. She calls her close friend James to come over immediately without telling him why. She tells him, “You’ll see when you get here.”

Rowan and James examine the skeleton and discover a gun with a name etched into the gun. The two see thin cracks in the back of the skull as if someone had hit the deceased with a hard object. Rowan takes a wallet out of the back pocket and hides it in the waistband of her shorts. At that moment, the police arrive along with Rowan’s parents. Clearly, the body has been under the floor of the servants’ quarters for some time. The obvious questions haunt Rowan from the beginning: Who is the dead man? Who killed him? Who put him under the floor?

Latham tells the story through Rowan in present-day Tulsa alternating with William Tillman’s account of 1921 Tulsa. William, himself is bi-racial; his mother is Osage Indian and his father is white. William’s father owns Victory Victrola Shop on Main Street in Tulsa. In those times, Tillman could not openly sell to black customers; therefore, he would arrange for them to come through the back door after hours to purchase a Victrola.

Rowan and James become sleuths because the police do not wish to spend much time on such an old death. The case starts coming together when Rowan discovers a receipt in the wallet; that receipt contains dates and payments by Joseph G to the Victory Victrola Shop and also includes the initials W.T. These clues lead Rowan and James through Internet searches to information about the shop and its owner. The land title to Rowan’s home also turns up interesting information: Stanley Tillman and his wife Kathryn Elizabeth Yellowhorse built the home; if they lived in the home at all, it was only briefly, however, because they sold it in 1922 to Rowan’s great-great grandparents, Flowers and Ora Chase. Members of the Chase family have lived in the home ever since.

Readers learn a great deal about both Rowan and William, from their own points of view. William, himself Osage Indian and white, is racist himself. We see him learn from his mistakes, especially when he befriends Ruby, a ten-year-old black girl whose brother Joseph is buying a Victrola for their mother. Throw into the mix Vernon Fish, a totally despicable Ku Klux Klan member who owns Vernon’s Tobacco Store near the Victory Victrola Shop.

As I said in the beginning, the book is hard to read because Latham is true to the 1921 times, using the harsh words and actions that made me cringe with shame for the way people were treated. The story may be fiction, but it captures the time and the ugliness and horror of the riot, the senseless killings, and the blatant racism.

A Kirkus Review reminds readers that “for more than 50 years, Tulsa’s schoolchildren didn’t learn about the race riot, and many outside of Tulsa remain unaware today. This masterfully told story fills this void.”



The Book Whisperer Reflects


As the Book Whisperer, I have taken on two reading challenges for 2017. To complete the 2017 Reading Challenge Bingo, I must read twenty-five books by the end of the year, meeting each requirement. I do have the option of exchanging one category, but only one. I have completed eleven out of the twenty-five categories, so I am well ahead of my target. The other challenge is Book Riots’ 2017 Read Harder Challenge. It has twenty-four categories; I have completed five in that challenge, so I am off target by a wide margin.

To add to the reading challenges, I also have a list of thirty-five books nominated for the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries Books Sandwiched In fall 2017 series. I do not have to read all of the thirty-five books, but I need to read as many as I can before the July meeting to select the books for the fall series. I have read six and am almost finished with two others. My goal for that challenge is to read fifteen from the list which includes fiction, nonfiction, and biography/memoir. Whew!

The two books I am completing for the Books Sandwiched In series are Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, both absorbing reads. Reviews will appear on this blog for both of the books soon. Next on that list will include The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa and Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart, whichever arrives first at the library from my request.

A few books overlap in the three challenges listed above, but many do not, especially those for the Book Riot 2017 Read Harder Challenge. So what is the Book Whisperer supposed to do? Read, read, read!

Throw into this mix that I am choosing three books for a long-time book club for the September, October, and November meetings. After choosing memoir as the theme, I easily found two books to fit the requirements and recently found the third: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin, and Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. I have completed all three of those books, so that’s done.

Time to get busy reading

The Book Whisperer Reviews a YA Novel


Ant To Eagle by Alex Lyttle opens in the summer of Cal’s eleventh year.  Cal is bored and lonely with only his six-year-old brother Sammy as his companion since their parents have moved the family from London, Ontario, to the small town of Huxbury, a farming community. The boys are further isolated because the family lives in a farmhouse outside of the village. Cal does not know it, but that summer will change the family’s life forever.

Cal, as the big brother, loves Sammy; still, Cal cannot help teasing Sammy and persuading Sammy to do all sorts of tasks in order to reach a new level. Cal dreamed up the levels in order to convince Sammy to do any number of things such as destroy a bees’ nest by the house or capture one-hundred live ants or make one-hundred basketball goals. With each task Sammy completes, Cal advances Sammy to a new level with eagle being the highest, a level Cal has already achieved by awarding it to himself without completing the tasks he sets for Sammy, but Sammy does not know that. Being only six, Sammy worships his older brother and believes everything Cal tells him.

At church one Sunday, Raquel and Aleta Alvarado and their dad come into the service late. Cal is immediately struck by Aleta’s quiet beauty, especially her green eyes and dark hair. She looks to be about his age and Raquel a bit older. Cal becomes consumed with meeting Aleta; luckily for him, Sammy innocently devises a plan. Sammy suggests that he and Cal should take the girls some homemade cookies since they live within biking distance.

After a bit of a rocky start, Aleta and Cal become friends and begin spending a great deal of time together, ignoring Sammy. Sammy spends the summer lonesome and alone with his mom. Sammy, always a bit chubby, begins losing weight and feeling tired. His mom takes him to the local doctor several times, thinking Sammy has mono. Meanwhile, Cal spends as much time with Aleta as he can, especially in their special place overlooking a placid lake and surrounded by trees.

When school resumes in the fall, Cal promises to help Aleta, protecting her from the Riley brothers, the school bullies. On the first day of school, Sammy is shooting baskets against Joey Riley when Sammy falls to the ground and clearly is not getting up. Cal immediately becomes concerned and tries to help Sammy; teachers push the children away and call an ambulance.

That incident on the playground marks the beginning of life as the family has known it. Sammy is very ill and must be poked and prodded by a number of doctors who determine after many tests that Sammy has leukemia.  In the hospital, Cal and his parents meet other families all dealing with serious childhood cancers, some with better chances of survival than others. Oliver, age sixteen, becomes a friend and gives Cal advice since Oliver himself has been in the hospital over six-hundred days. Oliver tells Cal, “The only thing worse than dying is living without hope.”

Sadly, the leukemia has already moved into his brain, hence the seizure Sammy has on the playground. In spite of the doctors’ best efforts, Sammy does not respond to the massive and toxic chemotherapy.  Cal can stay with Sammy in the hospital room on the weekends. Along with a bed for one of the parents, Cal sees a small cot which he knows is for him. Being able to spend that time with Sammy is comforting even though Cal continues to feel guilty for having ignored Sammy much of the summer. While Sammy is in the hospital, Cal learns what has made Aleta so sad and why her family has moved to Huxbury. Raquel and Aleta’s mom died in a car accident and Aleta was badly injured, but survived.

Reading Ant To Eagle became difficult for me, not because I have lost a sibling or a child to cancer, but because of the recent death in my own family. The story is touching, warm, honest, and yes, sad. In the end at Sammy’s funeral, Oliver reads Mary Elizabeth Frye’s poem: “Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep,” a poem my family chose for our son’s memorial.  Ant To Eagle is a story that will grip the readers and not let go until the last word is read.

The Book Whisperer’s Latest Review


As a member of the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries Board and a member of the Books Sandwiched In committee charged with choosing books for the fall 2017 Books Sandwiched In series, I have a list of over thirty nominated books from which to choose. Committee members are asked to read as many books from the nominated list as they can between April and the middle of July.  Then the committee will come together to choose six books for the Books Sandwiched In series. The discussions at these meetings are lively with advocates for each book offering reasons for choosing it. Sometimes, too, members will explain why they think the book is not a good candidate for the review series.

The list of over thirty books includes fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. I will admit to a bias toward fiction, so I have focused my reading on the books from the fiction list. Still, I have read one of the nonfiction books and will read at least one other!

Some of the books on the current list the Book Whisperer has already reviewed. Today’s review concerns Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. In The Washington Post, Eleanor Brown, herself an author, reviews Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Brown calls Small Great Things, “the most important novel Jodi Picoult has ever written.”

Essentially, the story takes readers on a rollercoaster ride with Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse, accused of negligence in a newborn boy’s death. The complicating factors in the story include the fact that Ruth, an exemplary nurse for over twenty years, is black; the newborn’s parents are strident members of the white supremacists.

When Ruth goes into the room where Brittany and Turk Bauer are holding their newborn son, she does not at first notice the hostility that fills the room. She takes Davis, the baby, and begins the ordinary checks she has done hundreds of times before. Her back is turned to the Bauers. Suddenly, Turk asks Ruth to leave the room and requests to see her supervisor, a white nurse.

Marie speaks with the parents and then puts the following PostIt Note into the baby’s chart: NO AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT. Ruth feels shaken to the core; she is a good nurse with a degree in nursing from Yale, yet here she is being taken away from a patient’s care because of the color of her skin.

Still, Ruth stays away from the Bauers. Then after working a double shift for someone who has called in sick, Ruth finds herself alone with Davis Bauer when she sees his skin has turned ashen and he is struggling to breathe. She feels torn about what to do, but her nursing instinct takes over and she unwraps the baby trying to stimulate him into breathing. When she hears others coming, she wraps him back up and stands back as she has been told to do. Sadly, the baby goes into full distress and Corrine, another nurse, Marie, and Ruth all try to revive him. A doctor arrives and continues the effort, but baby Davis dies.

Turk and Brittany lost in grief over their child immediately believe Ruth has murdered their son in retaliation to their not wanting her to care for the infant.

The police break down Ruth’s door, handcuff her and her eighteen-year-old son, ransack the house and take Ruth to jail. She is still in her nightgown and bewildered by this treatment. She has always done everything correctly. She has been an excellent student, parent, and nurse. Now, she is thrown into a situation she cannot understand. Enter her defense attorney, public defender Kennedy McQuarrie; defending Ruth in the murder trial will be Kennedy’s first murder trial.

Ruth’s mother has worked for many years for Mina Hallowell, wife to Sam Hallowell, the well-known TV announcer. Mr. Hallowell is deceased, but Ruth’s mother continues to work for Ms. Mina in the fancy apartment. Ruth first thinks the Hallowells will help her, but Christina, the daughter anRuth’s long-time friend, is married to an aspiring politician; he forbids Christina to do anything to be associated with Ruth. There goes that long-time friendship—no loyalty whatsoever.

Ruth is adamant that the money set aside for her son Edison’s college education cannot be used in her defense. Ruth is a widow; her husband died in Afghanistan when Edison was eight. The two of them, Ruth and Edison, have managed just the two of them since.

Picoult tells the story by choosing Ruth, Turk, and Kennedy to give portions of the story in turn. Readers are sympathetic to Ruth because she is being so unjustly targeted. The Bauers are grief-stricken over the loss of their first child. Kennedy is caught up in trying to free Ruth and be a mother to her daughter Violet and wife to her husband Micah. All of the characters are complex and fervent in their beliefs.

The trial is the most compelling part of the story. Much of the outcome hinges on the medical issues discovered in the baby’s blood tests. The baby, born on a Friday afternoon, would have had a better chance had he arrived on Wednesday. The medical laboratory the hospital uses for its critical medical tests is closed on the weekends. Therefore, Davis’s medical tests won’t be back until the following Tuesday, too late to help him and too late to keep Ruth from being on trial for murder.






The Book Whisperer Reviews a Poet/Friend


How do we identify a poet? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a poet is “one who writes poetry; one who displays imagination and sensitivity along with eloquent expression.” Perhaps we could sum up the definition most succinctly with these words: A poet is a writer of poems! That makes as much sense as trying to define the beauty found in a rose or the wonder found in a baby’s smile.  A poet looks like a colleague, a neighbor, a minister. A poet simply IS.

We can continue this conversation by asking ourselves to define poetry. The obvious first answer comes from Emily Dickinson who wrote, “”If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.” Dylan Thomas provided us with his definition: “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.” We can define the word poetry; however, even in defining it, the word loses meaning. Poetry simply IS.

As a student of literature and language and a lover of reading, I am well acquainted with poets throughout the ages and from other cultures. I am privileged to know three excellent poets. Their willingness to share their gift of poetry with others makes them vulnerable; it also allows us mere mortals who cannot create the beauty of poetry grateful for that willingness to be vulnerable.

Shelby Scott has shared his poetry in Gather up the Fragments published in 2016. Shelby identifies himself as “poet, priest, and sailor.” All of those qualities show up in various ways throughout his poetry. In the forward, Shelby says, “The needle spins around the compass rose and it’s easy for us to lose any sense of direction. What we make of that swirl is in some mysterious way a measure of our lives.”

Truly, we can lose direction in our lives for any number of reasons: a sudden death of a loved one, an unexpected change in health, or a poor choice made for what seemed like good reason. That’s when poetry can help us by providing solace, delivering laughter, and/or offering a new look at an old problem.

In reading through Gather up the Fragments, I found memory, looks forward, and comfort. In “Lament,” Shelby writes of parishioners who move away, remembering the times together and the promises of expected return. Readers can interpret the poem more broadly to include loss of loved ones, family or friends who move far away or who pass away, lost to us in the moment, but still very real in our hearts and memory.

“Grandfather Spindler” is a poem based on a photograph of a man in a naval uniform from the Spanish American War. The poem describes what is not known, but also what is known:

“What I do know is that you were the gentle grandfather

Who played checkers,

Ushered at the Methodist Church,

And discreetly slipped Life Savers to your granddaughter.”

For those looking for a reflection of themselves, “Black Shoes” is the poem. Who doesn’t have a story to tell about dressing hurriedly and accidentally choosing two different shoes, or of putting two colors together and later realizing they clash, or discovering too late that a shirt has a small tear in the sleeve? The feelings that accompany those little mistakes vary according to how we learn about the flaws—from our own recognition or someone else’s.

Another poem, “Winter Wind,” brings vividly to mind that “Wind sounds different in the winter…. It is the emptiness of cold.” Such lines take readers into that cold wind in a way that prose never does. That’s the beauty of a poet: the ability to say succinctly what we readers wish we could.

Finally, I would bring readers’ attention to “Cocoon.” The use of the word cocoon itself to form the basis of the poem draws readers into the story.

“The arms of the letter ‘C’ wrap around forming

A nice warm envelope.”

The image continues through “Cocoon” developing in the end to the contentment of two who “cuddle in the boat the way we do at night.”

If we begin by trying to define poets and poetry, we must end the same way. A poet, unnamed, has explained a poem as “a thought, caught in the act of dawning.” Perhaps the best way to end the discussion is with this definition also by an unnamed poet: “Poetry is a pheasant disappearing in the brush.”

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Cozy


The Book Whisperer took a vacation with friends to see Mount Rushmore and other attractions in South Dakota including Wall Drug in Wall, SD. We had to stop there since we saw the signs for MILES and MILES before we reached Wall.  We enjoyed seeing buffalo, wild turkeys, mountain sheep, pronghorns, mule deer, white-tailed deer, grouse, and prairie dogs. Our encounter with several buffaloes was up close and personal since one young male decided to lick the car from front to back before two adult females pushed him aside and we could slowly move forward. We assume he found salt on the car since we had been on Rushmore where it had snowed the night before our arrival.

I am challenging myself in 2017 by attempting to meet two reading challenges.  One of the challenges requires me to read a cozy mystery. That in itself is not a hardship, but choosing one out of many is difficult. Finally, I just picked up a book and started reading: Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor. It is the first in a series O’Connor plans to continue; in fact, she has already published the second installment: Murder at an Irish Wedding.

Murder in an Irish Village is set in Kilbane, County Cork, Ireland, a tiny village. Siobhan O’Sullivan has four younger siblings for whom she is guardian along with caring for her older brother James who has suffered from alcoholism following their parents’ untimely and unexpected death in a car accident a year ago.

The O’Sullivans run the family bistro called Naomi’s Bistro and try to carry on their lives in the wake of their parents’ tragic death. The story begins to take shape when Niall Murphy returns to the village after being away for a time. Niall’s brother Billy is in prison for killing the O’Sullivans’ parents in the car accident because he was drunk and driving. Niall is convinced that Billy has been wrongly accused and should be released from jail. He makes several attempts at blackmail in order to obtain money for his brother’s defense. He even includes Siobhan in his scheme to extort money. She has no money to pay him and she has no interest in helping him free Billy because she is convinced Billy is responsible for her parents’ death.

Early one morning, Siobhan discovers Niall dead in the bistro, sitting at a table. He has been stabbed and left sitting as if waiting for his food order. Siobhan instantly becomes a sleuth trying to figure out who has murdered Niall and put him in the bistro. She quickly determines he must have been murdered elsewhere and place in the bistro to incriminate the O’Sullivans. Because she sees no blood in the restaurant, she realizes the body has been moved from the murder location.

To complicate matters, Siobhan is attracted to Garda Macdara who will be investigating the murders until higher authorities from the city arrive to continue the investigation. James becomes the number one suspect because he has had an altercation with Niall in the pub after James fell off the wagon following months of sobriety. Because James became so drunk, he cannot remember the night Niall died. James also has Niall’s blood on his shirt. Still, several of the locals say James has been in no shape to murder Niall and move the body because of the amount of alcohol he has consumed.

Siobhan noses around asking questions and getting into Garda Macdara’s way, but the attraction between them is apparent to all. Whenever Siobhan discovers any evidence, she tells Macdara; he takes the information, but continually chastises Siobhan to stay out of the investigation. Still, she feels she must show her brother’s innocence.

Along the way, several other villagers become suspects for a variety of reasons.


O’Connor sprinkles the story with Irish phrases that are easy to figure out from the context of the story and add to the flavor of the setting. O’Connor also provides a brief glossary to the Irish terms too, including how to pronounce many of the characters’ names.

Readers will want to know if James is shown to be innocent and who actually has murdered Niall. Also, a young, handsome American has come to the village and is buying up property in the village. What is his role in the village and possibly the murder? Will Siobhan and Macdara finally realize their love for one another and act on that? Murder in an Irish Village is a quick and pleasant book to read.

Carlene O’Connor’s Web site does not provide much information about her. Check out her information and her blog at .