Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Book Whisperer Reviews Yashim Cooks Istanbul


As a fan of Jason Goodwin’s Yashim series set in 1830s Istanbul, I have been eagerly awaiting Yashim Cooks Istanbul, a cookbook. In the stories featuring Yashim as detective, Yashim always treats his guests and himself to delicious food that he creates in his kitchen. Yashim Cooks Istanbul provides readers with the recipes for those delicious dishes.

For fans of the Yashim series, Goodwin has set the cookbook up by including recipes for dishes mentioned in each book. The Janissary Tree, for example, is the first in the series, so recipes from that book are first. Tempting dishes such as chicken with walnuts and pomegranates, spring pilaf, and kebab of pilgrim Osman are some of the recipes to tempt readers and cooks.

In The Snake Stone chapter, stuffed chard, a bass in salt, and hazelnut and lemon pilaf offer good choices. Each chapter is headed by the book title. They include The Bellini Card, An Evil Eye, and The Baklava Club.

Each chapter provides clear instructions for the dishes along with pictures to complete the recipe. In The Janissary Tree chapter, for example, the dish of fiery eggs and peppers shows the dish on the opposite page to the recipe, making it look quite tempting.


Yashim Cooks Istanbul has received a great deal of praise. Delicious Magazine says, “The genius of Yashim Cooks Istanbul is how it intertwines brilliant recipes with food-centric passages and nuggets of culture.” The New York Times is equally complimentary with this review: “One of the delights of Goodwin’s series of mysteries…was the culinary prowess of his detective. This handsome collection of recipes is accompanied by excerpts from the novels that inspired it.”

Not only does Yashim Cooks Istanbul contain tasty recipes, Goodwin has also included other bits of Turkish culture. He writes of Yashim going into the Egyptian bazaar: “The rich aromas of cinnamon and cloves, of cumin, coriander and pounded ginger made his head whirl. Mountains of vividly coloured powder rose on every stall, pungent spices gathered from all across the world, from the coasts of India and the mountains of China, from Persia and Arabia and the islands of the South Seas, brought here to this great entrepot of the world’s trade by dhow, by carrack, by camel train and mule train, over deserts, through wild seas, crossing the passes of legendary mountain ranges, bartered and bought, fought for and pilfered, growing ever more valuable and rare until, at last, they reached this market on the edge of Europe, and vanished into a soup or a dish of rice.”

The description above also gives readers unfamiliar with the Yashim series a sense of the talent Goodwin pours into the stories. The New York Times Book Review extolls Jason Goodwin’s prowess as a writer by telling readers “when you read a historical mystery by Jason Goodwin, you take a magic carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth.”

Later in Yashim Cooks Istanbul, readers are treated to a description of Yashim’s lovingly preparing a simple dish of lentil soup for the harem.

From Yashim Cooks Istanbul: “Yashim laid the ingredients out on the chopping board: onion, garlic, a long red chili, and a carrot that the man had scraped clean. He set the sultan’s pan on a gentle heat and covered its base with olive oil, adding a small knob of butter before he chopped the onion into very small pieces…. He scraped the seeds out of the chili and chopped it together with the garlic, admiring the balance of the knife and the slight feathered curve toward its tip.”

Jason Goodwin has not only written about the Ottoman Empire, he has studied the Far East and has taken a walking journey of over 2000 miles. He writes about that journey in Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire.

Explore Jason Goodwin’s Web site and blog:

The lentil soup recipe is the first dish Goodwin learned in Istanbul. Hande Bozdogan, founder of the Istanbul Culinary Institute, taught him.

Lentil Soup

Butter 75 g/3 oz                                  red lentils 200g/8 oz

Onions 2, finely chopped                    chicken or meat stock 1.5 litres/3 pints

Garlic 2 clove, finely chopped             salt, pepper

Potato 1 peeled and grated                olive oil

Cumin ½ tsp, ground                           mint small bunch fresh or 1 tbsp dried

Hot pepper 1 tsp

Melt the butter in a saucepan, and gently soften the onions to translucency. Stir in the garlic, potato and cumin, then add the lentils, salt, pepper, and stock. Simmer for 25 minutes, covered, until the lentils are soft. You can run the soup through a blender or leave it as it is.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, turn the mint and hot pepper together in the oil, and sprinkle evenly over the soup for serving.



The Book Whisperer Discovers Beatrice Stubbs, Detective


The Book Whisperer enjoys discovering new-to-her-authors. J.J. Marsh offers a compelling detective in Beatrice Stubbs.

Behind Closed Doors by J.J. Marsh is the first in a trilogy starring Scotland Yard’s Beatrice Stubbs. However, Beatrice is on loan to Interpol in Zurich with a team of detectives searching for a serial killer. Four well-known, influential, unscrupulous men have died in suspicious circumstances. The first death of an immoral banker is thought to be suicide until the second corporate mogul turns up dead and the same male DNA is present at his so-called suicide.

A team of detectives then works to discover the killer, but not before two more deaths. Beatrice heads up the team despite being in Zurich, Inspector Kalin’s territory. The team members are unknown to one another, yet they must forge a bond and work together to stop the murders. HOW? The team consists of experts with strong track records in finding criminals.

What is the link between these dead men? They are all wealthy and influential. They have made their money legally, but unethically. They are ruthless and stop at nothing to increase their own wealth. Is that why they are being targeted? Another connection is that though the men are married, they are always last seen with a beautiful woman.

The woman does not always appear to be the same woman since her hair color changes, but that could be the result of disguises. And why the male DNA, not the victim’s, on one glass and a second glass washed and thoroughly cleaned?

Beatrice’s team slowly makes connections and traces each man’s path back to a common denominator. When Beatrice ends up at a drag queen show, she develops a breakthrough idea that leads to the killers and the reasons for the murders.

Unfortunately, Beatrice’s brilliance also leads her into the danger of being the serial killer’s next victim, a departure from the male CEO deaths. Obviously, the killer wishes to stop Beatrice from the pursuit. Beatrice often visits a coffee shop run by an ex-pat Briton. There Beatrice meets a beautiful American woman who also plays a part in the story.


Behind Closed Doors is fast-paced. Like so many other famous detectives, Beatrice has her own demons. In her case, the demon is not alcohol, but her own depression. In fact, when she goes to Zurich to head up the team, she is only recently back on duty from a suicide attempt because of her depression.

Libris Reviews describes the pleasure of reading Behind Closed Doors: “Behind Closed Doors crackles with human interest, intrigue and atmosphere. Beatrice and her team go all out to see justice is done. And author JJ Marsh does more than justice to the intelligent heroine who leads this exciting and absorbing chase.”

J.J. Marsh has lived in Wales, Africa, and the Middle East, but she now calls Zurich her home. She is a founding member of Triskele Books Collective. She is a reviewer for Bookmuse, the readers’ site with a difference:

Connect with J.J. Marsh and her detective Beatrice Stubbs on Facebook:

Find out more about Beatrice Stubbs and author J.J. Marsh:

Marsh has provided a study guide to Behind Closed Doors:

Click to access BCD%20Study%20Guide.pdf


The Book Whisperer & Hercule Poirot by Sophie Hannah


Agatha Christie’s estate, led by Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, has chosen Sophie Hannah, author of psychological novels, short stories, and poetry, to write new mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot. The first two books have been published: The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket. The Book Whisperer first discovered Sophie Hannah by reading The Wrong Mother, The Dead Lie Down, and Little Face. These are all compelling stories that keep the readers turning pages. Then came the discovery that Agatha Christie’s estate has sanctioned Hannah to write stories with Christie’s beloved Hercule Poirot.

Hannah’s fiction has been published in twenty-four countries, so she is already well-known for her work. She is a good choice to reproduce Hercule Poirot in new mysteries.

Alexander McCall Smith who writes mysteries that are quite different from Hannah’s wrote for The New York Times Book Review that Hannah’s Closed Casket is “addictive, ferociously clever, and packed with clues, wit, and murder.” Tana French, author of The Secret Place, extolls praise for Sophie Hannah’s treatment of Hercule Poirot: “Perfect…a pure treat for Agatha Christie fans.”

Closed Casket opens with Lady Athelinda (Athie) Playford, famous children’s author, telling Michael Gathercole, her long-time lawyer, “What I intend to say to you will come as a shock….” She repeats that same announcement at dinner when she has gathered her family, Gathercole, Rolfe, Hercule Poirot, Catchpool, Scotcher, and Sophie at dinner.

Lady Playford’s daughter is Claudia who is at Lillieoak, the Playford estate in Clonakilty, County Cork, Irish Free State, along with her fiancé Dr. Randall Kimpton. Claudia’s younger brother, Viscount Harry Playford and his wife Dorro are also in attendance. Harry, a rather uncomplicated individual, has inherited his father’s title, unfairly in Claudia’s estimation since she is the elder child, but Harry is the male child. Gathercole and Orville Rolfe are partners in the law firm which represents Lady Playford and her estate. While the estate below is not Lillieoak, Lillieoak could look quite like the one pictured.


Others present include Joseph Scotcher, Lady Playford’s private secretary for over six years who is dying of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disorder. Lady Playford has engaged Sophie, a nurse, to care for Joseph in the home. Hercule Poirot, famous detective, and Inspector Edward Catchpool, Scotland Yard, round out the guest list. Poirot and Catchpool have worked together on many cases, most recently the Bloxham Hotel affair in London.

Servants include Phyllis, the maid, Brigid, the cook, and Hatton, the nearly silent butler. Thus, readers discover ten people including the servants along with Hercule Poirot and Edward Catchpool. Closed Casket makes use of the estate with ten individuals who could be murdered or be the murderer. Obviously, Poirot and Catchpool will not be the murderer or the murdered, but who will be? And why has Lady Playford invited these people to her estate at Lillieoak?

At dinner, Lady Playford repeats, What I intend to say to you will come as a shock….” She tells the entire party what Gathercole already knows: she has changed her will leaving everything to Joseph Scotcher, her secretary, who claims to have only a short time to live since he has Bright’s Disease, an untreatable disorder of the kidneys. Why disinherit her children and leave everything to a man who will soon be dead? In the hubbub following the announcement, Dorro, particularly, Harry’s wife, becomes extremely agitated and says hurtful things to Lady Playford. Joseph protests that he does not want the inheritance and becomes quite frantic himself. At that point, Lady Playford exits the room and Randall hands Joseph a glass of water which Sophie administers.

Before midnight, one of the party will be dead and all the others save Poirot and Catchpool will have become suspects. Hannah uses Christie’s own methods as one would expect. The suspects are all within the home, but the reason for the murder is not clear at all unless Claudia, Harry, or Dorro, the disinherited children and daughter-in-law murdered Scotcher so that the estate would revert to them at Lady Playford’s death.

Of course, readers cannot expect the story to be that easily solved. Poirot must put “the little gray cells to work.” Catchpool, though of Scotland Yard, has no authority in County Cork, so local garde are brought in to question the suspects and discover the murderer and the motive.

Hannah employs Christie’s style and language appropriate to the time and the place, thus giving readers a rousing story with twists and turns to keep the readers guessing. As the story slowly unfolds, the pace picks up once more of each person’s story is told. Poirot and Catchpool, who narrates the story, eliminate suspects through their questioning even though Inspector Conree and Sergeant O’Dwyer, the rather bumbling local garde remind them they have no business interfering in the investigation.

In her autobiography, Agatha Christie said of her own writing thatplots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop…suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head.” Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, describes his grandmother as a “person who listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen.”

Sophie Hannah will produce two more Poirot mysteries with the next one to be published in September 2018.

Agatha Christie’s Web site offers a wide variety of information on Christie and her work:

Learn more about Sophie Hannah at her Web site:

The Book Whisperer Reviews A Twain Fairytale


Mark Twain was in Paris with his family in 1879. After working on the sixth floor floor writing all day, Mark Twain would go downstairs to the second floor suite where his family awaited him. His daughters begged for a story. Twain often told them stories, but he rarely wrote them down. The story that becomes The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain with help from Philip and Erin Stead is the one story Twain told his daughters and kept notes on even though he left it unfinished.


Clara and Susy would choose a magazine and then a picture from the magazine for Twain to use as the basis of the story. The girls would often choose unusual pictures. For the The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, Clara and Susy chose an anatomical figure drawing. Twain tried to persuade them to choose another picture, but they wanted that one. Twain says, “I bent myself to the task” and started the story of Johnny.

Clara and Susy liked the story so much that Twain continued it for the next five evenings. Later, Twain wrote notes on the story and continued adding to them for several years before abandoning the notes to his collection of writings. When Twain died, all the notes went to the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. John Bird, a Twain scholar, searched the archives hoping to put together a Twain cookbook. When he saw “Oleomargarine” in one of the lists, he thought it could help with his cookbook project.

Of course, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine turns out to have nothing to do with cooking. Dr. Bird did find references in Twain’s journal to the story.  When Dr. Bird showed the notes to Dr. Cindy Lovell, who was then Executive Director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CN, the two of them decided finding someone to complete and illustrate the story would be a wise idea.

That’s where Philip and Erin Stead, husband and wife team, entered the picture. The two had won the Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee, their first published book. Philip is the writer and Erin the illustrator. Below, see Erin and Philip at work in their studio.


Praise for The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine has come from many quarters. USA Today says The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine “will capture the imaginations of readers of all ages.” Words like graceful, humorous, and poignant all appear in the reviews.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine contains myth, dragons, talking animals, a missing prince, and Johnny, a lonely boy.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine beautifully illustrated by Erin Stead provides adults and children alike with a story brought down from 1879. Since it contains elements children over the ages have loved, it will continue to delight those who read it. The Washington Post reminds readers that The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine “should inspire readers young and old to seek further adventures with Twain.”

Erin Stead’s Website:

Philip Stead’s Website:

An Interview on NPR:


The Book Whisperer Reviews L’Amour’s Fallon


In order to add one more book to my 2017 Reading Challenge BINGO, I read Fallon by Louis L’Amour. I needed a Western to include even though I will fall short of my goal of meeting all the criteria for the 2017 Reading Challenge. Although I did not complete all the categories posed by the challenge, I read 21 out of 25. Overall, this year, I have read 75 books, so that’s not too shabby.

To meet my 2018 Reading Challenge BINGO, I have already begun, not by reading the books yet, but by choosing ones that fit the criteria. That way, I can get the books and start reading, not wasting time on finding the right book for the criteria. I was disorganized in 2017 regarding my reading plan. I will be a little more organized for 2018, but I will still read books that do not fit the criteria simply because they are books I want to read!

I chose Fallon by Louis L’Amour because I knew I could read the book quickly and my time to add to the 2017 Reading Challenge is running out. Louis L’Amour wrote too many books and short stories to give even a brief accounting here. Check out  the Website his family has built as a tribute to L’Amour:

At the site, readers will find an extensive biography, links to the books, pictures, maps, and other items of interest to L’Amour fans.  Oklahomans will be interested in Louis L’Amour’s time in Oklahoma. Read about L’Amour in Oklahoma on the archives of NewsOK:


While in Oklahoma, L’Amour was first published as a book reviewer for The Oklahoman. L’Amour walked among the blackjacks of eastern Oklaoma in the 1930s where he conjured up tales of the old West. He had come to Oklahoma to help his parent settle on some land near Choctaw. He said that “my intention was to see my parents settled” on 10 acres of land near Choctaw, then ship out to sea and write from faraway places.”

Fallon’s story is simple. Readers first meet him as he is surrounded by armed men on horseback. They are leading Fallon, also on horseback, but with his hands bound, to be hanged. Fallon, too smart for the hanging party, slips his hands out of the rope and flees on his fast black horse. The hanging party is in hot pursuit, but they are no match for Fallon and his horse.


Fallon’s biggest problem once he escapes the hanging is finding water for himself and his horse. Without water, neither will survive long. Just to set the record straight, Fallon has done nothing wrong, certainly not anything to justify hanging him. He is a stranger in Seven Pines and plays cards with some locals just to pass the time. After winning several hands, Fallon decides he will go to bed, but the locals want an opportunity to win their money back.

Fallon obliges because he has been playing poker only for fun; he has money he needs for his journey. He thinks he can appease the men by allowing them to win some of the money back. Unfortunately, all does not go according to plan.

After he escapes from the hanging party, Fallon encounters a small wagon train stranded because of a broken wheel on a wagon. He formulates a plan to help them a bit and help himself a great deal. He promises them a new town that he owns: Red Horse. Red Horse originally is a town called Buell’s Bluff, now a ghost town, but a place with access to fresh water, so it could be made viable, at least for Fallon’s purposes.

After eating with the folks on the wagon train and getting water for his horse and himself, Fallon goes to the ghost town and tears down signs that say Buell’s Bluff. Fallon promises the people a new life in Red Horse. He even mentions gold, but he carefully tells the group, “gold is where you find it—and one never knows. It was said to be a great strike, but after the Piute attack it was deserted.”

Fallon carefully hedges any time he mentions the gold mines and potential gold strikes. Ginia Blane, a young woman traveling with her family, remains suspicious of Fallon. She tells him, “I don’t trust you, Mr. Fallon, and if you take advantage of us I shall find a way to make you pay.”

Not to add any spoilers, but readers may expect Ginia and Macon will have more encounters as they work to build the town of Red Horse alongside Ginia’s family and the others on the wagon train. The settlers must deal with Ute Indians, outlaws, uprisings, bad whiskey, and a dangerous flood. Read Fallon to discover the outcome.

Louis L’Amour, born LaMoore, has an extensive body of work. He received numerous awards for his writing of Westerns. In 1983, Mr. L’Amour became the first novelist to receive the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress in honor of his life’s work. In 1984, President Reagan awarded L’Amour with the Medal of Freedom. L’Amour’s family carries on the legacy and L’Amour’s books continue to be popular even though he died in 1988.

An interesting fact about L’Amour is that he did revolutionary work in pioneering audio publishing. When Bantam Audio Publishing, now Random House Audio, wanted to recreate some L’Amour short stories into audio, L’Amour insisted the stories have more than just an actor reading the stories. L’Amour and Bantam executive Jenny Frost recreated the stories complete with music, sound effects and multiple readers.

Louis L’Amour expresses his own delight in storytelling with this explanation to his daughter: “One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter – who was a child at the time – asked me, ‘Daddy, why are you writing so fast?’ And I replied, ‘Because I want to see how the story turns out!’”

L’Amour provides us with his own thoughts about his tales: “I think of myself in the oral tradition–as a troubadour, a village tale-teller, the man in the shadows of a campfire. That’s the way I’d like to be remembered–as a storyteller. A good storyteller.”

A little tidbit that might interest readers is that Louis L’Amour left school after the tenth grade, but he continued to be interested in learning. According to his biography, “He was a voracious reader and collector of rare books. His personal library contained 17,000 volumes.”

The Book Whisperer Recommends Berg’s New Book



Readers who are looking for a good Christmas book should look no further than The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg. It is heart-warming, but over and above the heartwarming story, readers will find a story of redemption and love.

About two-thirds into The Story of Arthur Truluv, Arthur asks his neighbor and friend Lucille, “Did you ever hear anyone say they wanted to be a writer?” Lucille responds with yes, many people want to be writers and Arthur agrees that Lucille is correct.

This conversation comes on the heels of Lucille’s telling Arthur that she is old and useless, implying that Arthur, too, is old and useless. Arthur disagrees with all his might; he explains that “we need readers. Right? Where would writers be without readers? Who are they going to write for? And actors, what are they without an audience? Actors, painters, dancers, comedians, even just ordinary people doing ordinary things, what are they without an audience of some sort?”

Arthur supports his argument: “See, that’s what I do. I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator, that’s what I do and that’s all I want to do. I worked for a lot of years. I did a lot of things for a lot of years. Now, well, here I am in the rocking chair, and I don’t mind it, Lucille. I don’t feel useless. I feel lucky.”

Arthur Moses, widower, visits his wife Nora Corrine, the Beauty Queen, every day at noon, sitting by her grave, eating his lunch, and talking to Nora. Unfolding his chair, Arthur sits peacefully telling Nora about his day. Often, before he moves on to Nora’s resting place, he stops at other graves and reads the headstones. Then he imagines the person’s life or how the person died.


Maddy Harris, a seventeen-year-old, frequents the cemetery herself, sitting under a tree. To escape the bullying and isolation she feels at school, Maddy flees to the quiet of the cemetery where she sits under a tree. Arthur has seen her in the cemetery and wonders why she is there. One day, he waves to her, but Maddy reacts strangely, throwing her hand up to cover her face as if afraid. Arthur feels terrible that he has frightened the girl.

On a later visit, Maddy walks over to Arthur at Nora’s grave and a tentative friendship begins between aged Arthur Moses and seventeen-year-old Maddy. Both suffer from loss. Nora’s death six months earlier has left Arthur alone except for Gordon, the cat, and occasional porch-visits with his also aging neighbor Lucille. Arthur has vowed to himself that he will visit Nora every day, rain or shine, cold weather or hot.

The day that Arthur meets Maddy, rain begins to fall and then to pound the earth. Arthur invites Maddy to come to ride the bus with him to his home to get out of the rain. This invitation further seals the budding friendship even though, Maddy, at first, is wary of Arthur and uncertain about going with him. Maddy does see in Arthur a man of integrity and caring. She tells him she has renamed him Arthur Truluv.

Maddy’s life is not easy; her mother died in a car accident when Maddy was only two weeks old. Maddy’s father unable to grieve properly for his wife, withdraws, caring for Maddy’s needs, but being emotionally absent. In school, Maddy finds herself an outsider, alone and friendless.  Maddy knows almost nothing about her mother; her father is closed-mouthed about anything relating to Maddy’s mom, leaving Maddy more in the dark.

Maddy also develops an unfortunate relationship with Anderson, a guy who works at Walmart and whom Maddy meets there. He is older than she, and readers quickly see that Anderson is a scoundrel. When Maddy tells Anderson she is pregnant, he denies being the father and tells Maddy not to contact him again. Maddy’s father reacts badly to the news as well, so Maddy runs away.

The story is full of other complications. Lucille, Arthur’s neighbor, a retired fourth grade teacher who never has married, reconnects with her high school sweetheart, Frank. More complications!

Arthur, Maddy, and Lucille, all grief-stricken for different reasons, band together to form a little family awaiting the birth of Maddy’s baby. Arthur still visits Nora’s grave every day, but he is becoming more and more frail. Lucille and Maddy both live with Arthur. Maddy is the housekeeper and Lucille is the cook. Lucille, a gifted cook, also teaches cooking classes in Arthur’s home.

Elizabeth Berg said in an interview that her inspiration for Arthur came because she “kept seeing the image of an old man in a cemetery, sitting on a little fold up chair by his wife’s grave, eating a sandwich. I wanted to know who this man was, what his life was like. I felt he had something to teach me, and I was right!”

Readers can learn from Arthur that life has meaning and particularly that meaning improves with relationships with others. Maddy, Arthur, and Lucille, all alone and lonely find a family together, not of blood or marriage, but of friendship.

Elizabeth Berg offer writing workshops in “a private home in Oak Park, Illinois, home of the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio. There are wonderful restaurants and stores here, and it’s a highly walkable town. For out of town participants, I recommend the Write Inn, which is walking distance to the workshop. The cost is $300, and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.” The workshops are limited to ten women. Wouldn’t that be a lovely way to spend a day?

Berg is the author of over twenty novels. She has won the NEBA Award for Fiction. She has also been published in Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, and The New York Times Magazine.

The Boston Globe provides this assessment of The Story of Arthur Truluv: “Elizabeth Berg’s gift as a storyteller lies most profoundly in her ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the remarkable in the everyday.”

Visit Elizabeth Berg’s Website to learn more about her and her work. She includes recipes, descriptions of her novels, and more:

At this link, read “Elizabeth Berg Remembers the Year She Ruined Christmas”:


The Book Whisperer Provides Some Suggestions for 2018


Looking for meaningful, thought-provoking, entertaining, and/or enlightening books for 2018? Wish to read a variety of books to meet a 2018 reading challenge? Read on for some delectable choices in fiction.

Chicago: A Novel by Brian Doyle fits the bill for being entertaining and a bit quirky. It is set in Chicago, no surprise there! The narrator is a recent college grad who has landed a job in Chicago. He rents an apartment in a building on the north side of the city on the lake. Over the course of his residency, the narrator meets and gets to know his fellow residents including a complex and capable dog named Edward. The apartment building is somewhat like an English village with its own cast of idiosyncratic characters. The city of Chicago is also a character in the story.

Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning provides a look into today’s Tulsa as well as a glimpse into the past during the 1921 Race Riot that portrays the terrible violence against black Tulsans. The story brings old prejudices to light and exposes injustices.


The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, another novel, like Dreamland Burning, is based on real events portrays the lawsuit brought against George Westinghouse by Thomas Edison. The question is who invented the light bulb and who will reap rewards from that invention? Lawyer Paul Crayath, newly graduated from Columbia Law School, acts as Westinghouse’s counsel. Westinghouse seems doomed to defeat since Edison has resources Westinghouse is lacking: private spies, newspaper support, and backing of J.P. Morgan. Other famous people figure in the story as well: Nikola Tesla, the eccentric, brilliant inventor, and Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer.


The Given Day by Dennis Lehane depicts two families, one black and one white, in the era of pre-WWI. Set in Boston in 1918, the story also includes a nod to Tulsa’s Black Wall Street in its heyday at the time. Babe Ruth also appears in the story. Lehane includes the birth of the NAACP as part of the story.

John Grisham’s The Whistler provides another page-turner. What occurs when judges, whom we expect to be wise and impartial, turn corrupt? While most cases of judicial complaints stem from incompetence rather than corruption, Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, does encounter such a case of corruption. Stoltz knows this case could be dangerous.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff gives readers a glimpse into a German circus during WWII. The story features Noa whose family has disowned her following the birth of a baby out of wedlock. She is not even allowed to keep the baby. She works in a train station as a janitor and has a small room in the station where she lives.  In freezing weather, Noa discovers a train car full of Jewish infants. In an instant, Noa has grabbed one of the babies and flees from the station. She has no idea where she can go or how she can care for herself, let alone an infant. Stumbling into the cold night, Noa does find help in a German circus. She trains to become an acrobat and finds comfort in the other members of the circus. The story is full of surprises as well as the terror incurred each time the circus is inspected by Nazi officers.


Readers who want a truly quirky novel should look no further than Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson. Can a child psychologist’s study of a “perfect little world” work? What will happen if children are raised communally, not knowing who their parents are until the children are five years old?


Readers who like bio-fiction will find historical facts woven into a fictional version of Ida Chagall’s life in The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich. Marc Chagall, the artist, is Ida’s father. She grows up in luxury, pampered by her parents. When the Chagalls flee Russia for France, they think they will be safe forever, but they do not count on WWII and the Nazi invasion into France.

Many novelists like to take historical facts and use them in their own fashion to create a story. The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill does just that by telling the story of a father and his thirteen-year-old son who steal gargoyles off buildings in NYC. The father’s goal is to save these gargoyles because they are in danger of being destroyed through urban renewal.

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde tells the story of two brothers whose father entrusts them with a stranger, August Shroeder, a school teacher, for a trip to Yellowstone. August plans to take his son’s ashes to Yellowstone where he will leave them. The boys’ father will repair August’s RV in exchange for August’s taking the two youngsters on the trip. The father is scheduled to spent the summer in jail, so he thinks entrusting the boys to August’s care will keep the boys out of foster care. August and the boys forge a life-long friendship, creating a touching and warm story.


Eleanor Oliphant Is Perfectly Fine by Gail Honeyman is a jewel of a novel. Eleanor works in an office and expects to slip through life not calling attention to herself. Having to ask for help from the office IT personnel entangles Eleanor in a web of unexpected and not always wanted adventures, but adventures nonetheless which take Eleanor into the real world of relationships and friendships. The story is well worth reading.




The Book Whisperer Discovers a New PI


The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan introduces readers to Ashwin Chopra, his wife Poppy, and Baby Ganesh, the elephant sent to Chopra by his uncle. Two important events occur on the day Inspector Ashwin Chopra is to retire from his job as police inspector and chief of his substation in Mumbai. The first is a letter from Uncle Bansi, Chopra’s father’s brother, telling Chopra he will receive a baby elephant as a gift. Uncle Bansi admonishes Chopra to take care of the elephant, for it is no ordinary elephant. I can almost hear you readers thinking how can Chopra care for an elephant and live in the city and in an apartment on the fifteenth floor no less.


Once Chopra arrives at the station for his last day, he discovers a woman crying, screaming, and creating a scene in front of the station. Her son has been found drowned in a few inches of dirty water in a latrine. She complains that because she is poor no one will care about her son’s death.  Since Chopra is handing over the command so he has little authority on this last day. Still, he feels he must look into the young man’s death, so he requests an autopsy.

The day ends with festivities to celebrate Chopra’s illustrious career, and Chopra leaves for home and Poppy. His heart is heavy as he takes one more look “at the station, its whitewashed outer wall, the barred windows, the little palm tree in the terracotta-tiled courtyard, the sun-cracked, hand-painted sign above the permanently open saloon-style front doors on which was displayed the station’s name…. Twenty years! he thought. Twenty years in a single posting.”

By the time Chopra arrives at the Air Force Colony apartments, baby Ganesh, the elephant is in place and causing quite a stir. Mrs. Rupa Subramanium, the self-appointed President of the Air Force Colony Managing Committee, has discovered baby Ganesh and is raising a fuss. The officious Mrs. Subramanium spouts the rules at Chopra: “I was just explaining to your wife that pets are not allowed in the complex. You will find this clearly noted in part 3, subsection 5, clause 15.5.2 of the building regulations, as I am sure you are aware.”

Chopra has never seen this book of building regulations, but Mrs. Subramanium happily quotes from it whenever she is displeased with residents’ behavior. Poppy becomes indignant and says the elephant is “a member of the family,” not a pet. Poppy has challenged Mrs. Subramanium on more than one occasion and has won; now the two are at a standoff.

Chopra and Poppy have a permanent guest in their home, Poornima Devi, Poppy’s spiteful mother who never seems happy. Of course, her son-in-law is not good enough for Poppy. Poornima Devi wanted Poppy to marry a landowner, thirty years older than she, a man known to be a drinker and a womanizer. Those facts did not bother Poornima; she saw only the fact that he was a landowner.

Chopra does not take well to retirement. He has been a policeman all of his adult life, so he finds himself wondering what he can do to keep busy. He decides he will go to the station to see what news of the dead man’s autopsy. When Chopra arrives at the office, Surat, a junior officer, is standing guard outside Chopra’s old office. Surat tells Chopra that no one may enter the new inspector’s office. Impatient, Chopra pushes his way into the office regardless of Surat’s protests. Once in the office, Chopra sees the desk chair is empty. Then he notices a “pair of very large black shoes protruding from behind the desk.” Inspector Suryvansh, who has taken over Chopra’s job, is lying on the floor. Fearing Suryvansh is ill, Chopra bends down to check the inspector’s pulse. Then he notices the distinct odor of liquor.

Chopra learns that his order for an autopsy for the young man found the day before has been rescinded. Feeling as if something about the young man’s death is not right, Chopra goes to the area where the body was found. The area is poor; a beggar asks Chopra for food. After inspecting the area where the body was found, Chopra heads for the hospital. Homi Contractor, the senior police medical examiner, Chopra’s friend, agrees to complete the autopsy on the body of Santosh Achrekar. Homi says the station will have to pay a fee for tests. Chopra tells Homi the station is not involved and that he will pay the fees himself.

Readers will not be surprised to learn that Achrekar’s death is not a natural one. Clearly, someone has pressed on his back with a large foot to keep his head in the water until Achrekar stops struggling. Additional bruising on the neck also indicates violence not associated with simple drowning. Toxicology reports show “a cocktail of benzodiazepines.” Homi tells Chopra that benzodiazepines are not the drug of choice of even hardened drug users because they are sleep inducing. Achrekar shows no other signs of being a drug user.

Now, Homi and Chopra conclude that Achrekar has been murdered. Why? This question leads former inspector Chopra into a dangerous world of mob bosses and human trafficking. Chopra starts his investigation by talking with Achrekar’s parents and searching the young man’s room. He also goes to Achrekar’s place of employment to ask questions where he meets much hostility.

Chopra is fully involved in the investigation into Achrekar’s death, but he also must deal with baby Ganesh, the elephant. Ganesh is down-cast, refusing to eat. Chopra worries about him, so he consults with a veterinarian and also buys two books about elephants and their care.

The investigation becomes dangerous because Chopra has stumbled upon a large human trafficking ring that involves Nayak, a crime boss Chopra has thought dead. Without any thought to his own safety, Chopra pursues the investigation which takes him into seedy and dangerous areas of Mumbai.

In the end, no spoiler here, readers will find that former inspector Chopra has solved the murder of Achrekar as well as put a large hole in a human trafficking ring and brought down a number of corrupt politicians. Also, Inspector Suryvansh is relieved of his new post.

Chopra knows that he cannot simply retire; he decides to open two new businesses: Poppy’s Policeman’s Bar and Restaurant and the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency. Chopra has been secretly working on the restaurant for some time and now is ready to unveil it for Poppy.  The idea for the detective agency only came to fruition in Chopra’s mind once he actually retired. The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency will be located in the restaurant. Baby Ganesh has an enclosed, comfortable area behind the restaurant, thus relieving Mrs.Rupa Subramanium of her worries about baby Ganesh being at the Air Force Colony apartments.

Khan infuses the story with humor, intrigue, danger, and kindness. The UK’s Sunday Express compares The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra with Alexander McCall Smith’s own quirky characters and story lines. The Sunday Express goes on to say the “debut Mumbai-based ‘cosy’ – complete with baby elephant – keeps things heart-warming while tackling corruption at the highest levels and violent crime at the lowest. Endearing and gripping, it sets up Inspector Chopra – and the elephant – for a long series.” Indeed, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra has several sequels already: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star, and Murder at the Grand Raj Palace.

Vaseem Khan, born in London in 1973, studied finance at the London School of Economics. He then spent ten years on the subcontinent before returning to England. Khan has three passions: great literature, cricket, and elephants. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was chosen for a Times Bestseller list and an Amazon Best Debut. The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown received a Shamus Award for Best Original Private Investigator Paperback.

See the links below for more information about Vaseem Khan and his work.


Watch a YouTube video:

Follow him onTwitter:


The Book Whisperer Reviews Mr. Churchill’s Secretary


I belong to a book club of three members: my friends Sheryl, Sue, and I meet monthly to discuss a variety of books. We all suggest books for the book club which we have named McBooks since we meet in a MacDonald’s inside a Walmart! Sue suggested our latest book for discussion, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is a debut book starring Maggie Hope, but MacNeal has followed it with seven more in the series with Maggie as the star. Some of the other titles include Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, and Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante. The latest book will be published in August of 2018: The Prisoner in the Castle.

Maggie Hope is British by parentage, but she grows up in the US with her Aunt Edith as her guardian. Maggie believes both of her parents have died in an auto accident in England and that her grandmother, too old to care for an infant, has allowed Edith to take Maggie to the US to live. Maggie is bright with a degree in mathematics, graduating summa cum laude from Wellesley College. Maggie is also fluent in French and German, assets that will turn out to be extremely useful. Maggie has put off graduate school in mathematics at MIT for a year, she thinks, to sell her grandmother’s home in London since the grandmother has left the house to her instead of her own daughter, Edith.

In order to sell the house, Maggie must go to London; now, however, England is at war with Hitler and soon the bombs will be dropping in London. With her mathematics background and her expertise in solving knotty problems, Maggie hopes to work for the war effort. However, like so many other women, she is looked upon as a pretty face and bright enough but incapable of much more than being a typist.


Maggie interviews with Richard Snodgrass for a job as private secretary, but Maggie cannot have the job despite her rather impressive credentials because those private secretary jobs go to MEN. A few months later, however, Maggie’s friend David persuades her to become a typist in the pool for Churchill. Maggie is resentful that the men “did the research, drafted reports, and ventured opinions, while women took dictation.” Maggie and we readers are also unaware of undercurrents of other issues that will come to light in the story.

Despite her reluctance to take the job as typist, Maggie soon finds that she can work directly for Mr. Churchill and often types up documents of great importance. She also notices code being embedded in pictures in the newspaper and works out the meaning. At first, the men do not take her code-breaking seriously, but it will become important, even life-saving as the story continues.

When I first began reading Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I became impatient with the number of characters and the shifts in the story from one plotline to another. Besides the war with Hitler, MacNeal introduces issues with the IRA and bombings unrelated to war with Germany. Some of Maggie’s friends are involved, unbeknownst to her, in conspiring to work with Germany to defeat England, so the plots thicken!

Maggie wants to do all she can for the British war effort; at the same time, she desires to learn about her own family. A trip to the cemetery where her parents are supposedly buried yields some troubling information. She finds her mother’s grave, but she cannot find her father’s. This disquieting fact leads Maggie into a great deal of trouble as well and a continuing conflict with Aunt Edith, the woman who has cared for Maggie since infancy.

Once I sorted out the characters and became used to the shifts in the story within the chapters, I found I could not put Mr. Churchill’s Secretary down. As readers may expect, Maggie comes into her own as a bright, thoughtful young woman who does convince the men that she knows of what she speaks.

Maggie puts herself in harm’s way to help stop the Irish plots to bomb parts of London and, in fact, to kill Mr. Churchill. Maggie even helps in defusing a bomb by deducing which wire to cut to stop the timer. After those tense moments, Frain, MI6, looked at Maggie and Archer. He says, “Well, Mr. Archer, Miss Hope…. Well done.” Maggie recognizing “the enormity of what has almost happened pressing upon her for the first time” asks the most English of questions: “I don’t suppose anyone has any tea?”

Critics compare MacNeal to Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry. MacNeal weaves intrigue of the most serious kind, espionage, betrayal, murder, and spying to create an absorbing story. I look forward to continuing MacNeal’s series and finding out more about Maggie. Of course, the fact that Maggie is red-haired as nothing to do with my interest.

Follow MacNeal on Facebook:


The Book Whisperer Has Mixed Feelings About Culliton’s Debut Novel


Paperback Paris reviews The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton: “The satire throughout the novel is pointed, funny, and relentless as Marion shatters one taboo after the other: she leaves her children and feels no remorse. In fact, she feels relief. She steals. She lies. She is out only for herself and her happiness. It feels shocking and exhilarating and radical.” The description in the Paperback Paris review provides the reason for my ambivalent feelings about The Misfortune of Marion Palm.

Other reviewers call Culliton’s debut novel “wildly entertaining” and “a witty, sneakily feminist kind of crime story.” Perhaps Marion’s lack of feeling for her daughters or her desire to own what belongs to others bothers me so that I cannot give an unqualified high rating to The Misfortune of Marion Palm. The story disturbs me and yet I hope for Marion’s success in staying out of prison for her crimes of embezzlement. Therein lies the problem. I do not like Marion, but I do not wish to see her in prison.

Marion’s own mother has not been kind to Marion. Now, Marion mistreats Ginny and Jane, her daughters, in a completely different way. One day, she takes them out of their expensive private school for a hamburger lunch at a café, skips out on the bill, and leaves her children at a CVS, telling them she is going to visit her friend Shelley for a week. The girls go home, surprising their father who has thought Marion is in the house with him all morning.

Marion thinks “a homely woman is an invisible thing. This is her and her disguise. Her heart recognizes she is on the lam and beats harder for her. This is a natural progression of criminal behavior. She us wrathful and sad that she must go on the lam. She will miss her daughters.” I am not so certain that last part about missing her daughters is true. Marion manages to leave rather easily.

Marion begins embezzling at her first job as a waitress in a café. After a time, the café owner trusts Marion enough to make her the night manager and to allow Marion to place orders. Marion quickly realizes how easy it is to skim off the orders and pocket a little extra money because, after all, she deserves it.

While working at the café, Marion meets Nathan Palm, a trust-fund recipient who writes poetry. At first, Nathan is simply a customer. Then he asks Marion out. She is delighted to learn he has money and thinks a future with him will be a comfortable one. They marry and buy a brownstone building which Marion renovates and decorates, clearly oblivious to costs.

Nathan helps Marion secure a part-time job at the prestigious private school where he went. Later, their daughters Ginny and Jane also attend. Once again, Marion employs her considerable skills at embezzling from the school to steal $180,000 over time. She uses the money to take her family on European vacations and make other changes in their home. Cautiously, too, Marion hides away $40,000 for safe measure. Over and over, Marion thinks of herself not as a thief but rather as a “woman who embezzles.”


Marion learns the school financial records will be audited, so she realizes she must make a quick exit. For the first time, her embezzling will come to light. Thus, Marion takes Ginny, 13, and Jane, 8, out to lunch and then leaves them. Marion has prepared for this eventuality by stashing the $40,000 in an old backpack. She has also destroyed her cellphone at home and left all credit cards and identification cards hidden in the basement.

Mix into this story, the story of a missing autistic boy who wanders away from his school. Jane hears about the boy and focuses her attention on trying to find him. In the eight-year-old’s mind, finding the boy would also bring her mother home.

Culliton has written The Misfortune of Marion Palm in brief chapters, mostly two or three pages at the most. For those who like to finish a chapter before stopping to read, The Misfortune of Marion Palm is perfect. The book consists of 115 chapters over 282 pages.

Gregory Cowles of The New York Times Book Review calls The Misfortune of Marion Palm, “a witty, sneakily kind of crime story…. Half of the delight in Emily Culliton’s wholly delightful debut novel lies in the way the book, like its title character, defies expectations at every turn.” Cowles compares Marion with Bernadette Fox in Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I have similar ambivalent feelings about all three novels.

Like her main character Marion Palm, Emily Culliton grew up in Brooklyn. She received an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Currently, Culliton is a PhD candidate at the University of Denver, earning a degree in fiction. He is working on a second novel, also about “another woman behaving badly.” Clearly, Emily Culliton is a talented writer. Perhaps I will adjust to women behaving badly.

Read an interview with Emily Culliton: