Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Oklahoma Mystery Writer


The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey is the first of now ten mysteries in which Alafair Tucker, farm wife of Shaw Tucker and mother of nine (soon to be ten), becomes an amateur sleuth. The story begins in January of 1912 in southeast Oklahoma, near Boynton and Muskogee. The mystery unfolds when Harley Day, near neighbor to the Tuckers, is found dead, assumed frozen in the January snow.

Alafair, always willing to help a neighbor, goes to the Day farm to help Miz. Day prepare Harley’s body for burial. In washing the body, Alafair discovers a bullet hole under Harley’s left ear. Obviously, Harley has not died of exposure alone; the bullet hole suggests another scenario.

Harley Day, a particularly unlikable fellow, has plenty of enemies who might have wished him dead. He’s a mean drunk and frequently mistreats his wife Nona and sometimes his children. As a farmer, Day leaves much to be desired. If not for his oldest son John Lee, now nineteen, the farm would be in complete ruin. To supplement his income and supply his own needs, Day has a moonshine still hidden on his property.

Harley and Nona Day have seven children living at home. Three have died as infants, and their oldest daughter Maggie Ellen has run away to Sands Springs or Okmulgee and married a bricklayer, according to the family. She had promised her sister Naomi she would return and take Naomi away too, but the family has never seen Maggie Ellen again.

Alastair becomes more involved in the mystery of Harley’s death when she realizes her seventeen-year-old daughter Phoebe is in love with John Lee Day. Upon discovering that a ladies’ pistol Alafair’s father has given her is missing, Alafair becomes worried that Phoebe knows more about Harley’s death than she is letting on. Alafair fears John Lee has shot his father and that Phoebe is complicit in the murder.


These fears prompt Alafair to question everyone despite the fact that her husband’s first cousin, Scott Tucker, is the sheriff. Alafair determines that she will find out the truth. Knowing that Phoebe is in love with John Lee, Alafair worries that John Lee will be found guilty of the murder. When John Lee runs away, Alafair becomes even more concerned. By watching Phoebe closely, Alafair discovers John Lee’s hiding place and waits until Phoebe is in school so she can question John Lee and assure him that she is working to find the real killer. Alafair does not believe John Lee has murdered his father, but she needs more information to prove his innocence and along the way protect her daughter as well.

Casey has written a first-rate mystery and peppered the story with colloquialisms of the time and place. She also includes a number of references to food since Alafair and Nona both have large families to fee. At the end of the book, Casey has included recipes for Josie’s Peach Cobbler, buttermilk biscuits, several variations on cornbread, and molasses pie. The picture below is of molasses pie. On her Web site, Casey has included a number of other recipes:


At the Web site, Casey also includes information on her other books along with a blog about her writing and her book tours. Casey provides background on how she began writing the Alafair mysteries. After doing genealogy research on her family in order to give the information to her siblings for Christmas, Casey began remembering stories her grandparents had told. In sharing those stories with her husband, he told Casey stories about his own ancestors in Oklahoma. With all the stories she collected from both families, Casey said to herself, “Donis, you have enough material here for ten books.” Thus Alafair was born.

Casey goes on to tell readers that she wantedto take the opportunity to try and evoke not just the events of the time, but the smells, the tastes, the sound, the hot and cold of it — the daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other life of a farm wife with nine children. I love the language, too. One of my uncles walked into our house one day and said, ‘What in the cat hair is going on?’ How could I let that fade into oblivion?”

That’s what readers will find in The Old Buzzard Had it Coming and the other Alafair mysteries, a taste of Oklahoma from 1912 and on into WWI.

Tony Hillerman, native Oklahoman and well-known author, praised Casey and Alafair. He said, “As an Okie farm boy of the dust bowl depression days, I can testify that Donis Casey sounds like she’s been there and done that. She gives us a tale full of wit, humor, sorrow and, more important, the truth. Her Alafair Tucker deserves to stand beside Ma Joad in Literature’s gallery of heroic ladies.”

Carolyn Hart, another Oklahoma writer, describes The Old Buzzard Had it Coming as “vivid and unforgettable as a crimson Oklahoma sunset.” Hart goes on to say The Old Buzzard Had it Coming “is a book to savor, lyrical, authentic, and heartwarming.”

Casey’s stories receive praise from Library Journal. Roundup Magazine, the Historical Novel Society, The Daily Oklahoman, Booklist, Chicago Tribune, and others.


A recipe from Donis Casey’s Web site is War Cake found below:

War Cake

1 cup molasses

1 cup corn syrup

1-1/2 cup water

1 package raisins (exact quantity according to preference)

2 TB fat (vegetable oil)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 cups rye flour

1/2 tsp soda

2 tsp baking powder

Boil together for 5 minutes the first nine ingredients. Cool, add the sifted dry ingredients and bake in two loaves for 45 minutes in a moderate oven. (I baked it at 350º F. – Donis)

I like to use golden raisins because they are tender and look nice. I use a 1/2 pound package from Trader Joe’s. The corn syrup I’ve used is plain old white Karo, but I’ve also used maple syrup (which is delicious), agave syrup, honey, and a combination thereof. It’s all good.

The recipe for Fruit Cocktail Cake below is from Donis Casey’s family. Alafair would not have made this cake in quite the same way since she would have used fruit she canned herself. Still, I thought this recipe worth including.


Fruit Cocktail Cake

1 ½ cups sugar                                    1 #303 can fruit cocktail

2 cups flour                                         2 eggs

2 teaspoons soda                                1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in order and pour into a 12X9 pan. Bake 45 minutes in moderate oven

Before baking, sprinkle top with ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup nuts.



The Book Whisperer Reviews Rabbit Cake



What form does grief take? How long does one grieve? What are coping mechanisms for grief? Ten-year-old Elvis Babbitt’s mother dies from sleep-swimming. At first, Elvis, who was born on Elvis Presley’s birthday, her father Frank, and older sister Lizzie know only that Eva/mom is missing. Frank, Lizzie, and Elvis know Eva is dead; they found her swim goggles on the beach in June. Her body turns up in August.


Usually when Eva went sleep-swimming, Frank would go with her and wait on the beach. The evening she disappears, however, he has been bowling with his friends and had too much alcohol, so he does not wake when Eva slips out of the house. Lizzie, 15, is herself a sleepwalker; unlike her mother, she generally stays within the house.

Now, Frank, Lizzie, and Elvis must learn how to live without Eva. Elvis narrates the family’s journey through grief. Her naivete leads her into uncharted waters. Her mom had been a scientist, so Elvis determines that she will research her mother’s death. Another task is to finish her mother’s book: The Sleep Habits of Animals and What They Tell Us Abut Our Own Slumber, called The Book for short.

Eva did not fit the mold for mothers in Freedom, AL. Elvis describes her as wearing “mostly black clothing, paired with red high heels or a zebra-print scarf. She loved lipstick in every shade, including electric orange, which made her lips look like two tropical fish swimming side by side on her face.”

Elvis is an introspective child and has no friends. Older sister Lizzie has friends and is quite the troublemaker. Her unbridled spirit has gotten her into a number of scrapes including being suspended from school. When she starts fifth grade, Elvis has Ms. Cassandra Powell, a teacher not only new to Elvis, but also new to the school. Elvis breathes a sigh of relief because Ms. Powell will not be comparing Elvis to the troublesome Lizzie as other teachers have done.

Because of Eva’s influence as a scientist, Elvis knows that she must research and verify her findings. Eva had been an excellent swimmer. Frank and Boomer, the family dog, usually accompanied Eva on her sleep-swimming jaunts. Unfortunately, Eva goes out alone on the night she disappears. Elvis knows Frank was drunkenly sleeping. What about Boomer? Why did he not go?

Elvis must see the elementary school counselor once a week. Elvis talks about her mother’s death and about her own research into animals, sleepwalking, and death. Over the summer, Elvis begins working as a volunteer at the zoo. She becomes especially fond of a giraffe there who is suffering from wasting disease. When he dies, Elvis is completely grief-stricken.


Lizzie becomes even more difficult following Eva’s death. She gets into a fight with her friend Megan and breaks Megan’s jaw in three places. Lizzie demands to be home-schooled after that incident. Frank gives in to Lizzie’s demands and orders home-school supplies. In addition, Lizzie’s sleepwalking intensifies and she also is sleep-eating. This increase in sleepwalking worries Elvis.


Like any scientist, Elvis is observant. She worries about her sister and often stays up at night to watch Lizzie when she sleepwalks, hoping to keep Lizzie safe. Lizzie is no appreciative of that concern, however. Her grief over losing their mother takes on an aggressive form. She lashes out at everyone, especially those who love her the most.

The title comes from their mother’s penchant for celebrating all events, large and small, with a rabbit cake baked in a rabbit-shaped pan and then decorated according to the event. The last cake Eva bakes which is for Elvis’ tenth birthday has quite charred ears. Instead of making another, Eva puts extra frosting on the cake and tells Elvis, “you like burnt toast.” Is the burned cake a bad omen?

Rabbit Cake has received a great deal of praise. This review appeared in People Magazine: “[A] treasure. Books about grief are rarely funny and adorable―this one is.” Kirkus calls Rabbit Cake,
A brilliant book . . . How a whip-smart young girl handles the loss of her mother and the reorientation of her family; charming and beautifully written.”

Learn more about Annie at her site:

I became interested in reading Rabbit Cake after seeing Kevin Wilson’s review of the book: “Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake is fantastically original…. With this novel, she’s become one of my favorite writers.” I have read The Family Fang and Perfect Little World by Wilson, both quirky and intelligent books.



The Book Whisperer Reviews a Young Readers’ Book


Readers familiar with The Baby-sitters Club series will be well aware of Ann M. Martin who has written the series along with The Main Street Series and stand-alone books. Rain Reign is Martin’s most recent stand-alone book which stars Rose Howard and her dog Rain whose name Rose chose because it has a homonym: Rain/reign.

Rose loves homonyms. Her own name is a homonym: Rose/rows. Rose seeks out homonyms as often as she can and talks about them until her father tells her to be quiet or her teacher leads Rose onto another subject. Rose and her father live in a small house on a street with no other houses. Rose’s mother is gone; Rose believes her mother ran away because Rose has a diagnosis: Asperger’s Syndrome.

Rose narrates her own story and tells readers in Chapter 1 that she likes three things most especially: 1. Words (especially homonyms); 2. Rules; and 3. Numbers (especially prime numbers). Rose is almost eleven years old and in the fifth grade. Mrs. Leibler, Rose’s aide, sits by Rose and touches Rose on the arm if Rose is out of control, or Mrs. Leibler asks, “Rose, do you need to step into the hall for a minute?”

Mrs. Leibler has been teaching Rose some conversation starters to help Rose be more social with her classmates. Rose is troubled by the fact that Mrs. Kushel, the fifth grade teacher, and Mrs. Leibler have asked Rose’s father Wesley to have monthly meetings about Rose’s behavior. Wesley reads the notes that Rose brings home, and he impatiently blurts out, “Rose, for god’s sake, keep your mouth closed when you think of a homonym,” or sometimes he asks, “Do you see any of the other kids clapping their hands over their ears and screaming when they hear the fire alarm?”

As a result of her interests, Rose has no friends because the other children do not understand her obsessions. In fact, the grownups in her life do not either, not Mrs. Kushel, Mrs. Leibler, or Wesley. The one person who is sympathetic is Weldon, her dad’s younger brother. Weldon takes Rose to school every day and picks her up in the afternoon. His work in the office of a construction firm allows him to skip his lunch so that he can pick Rose up and take her home each day, and then he returns to work.

Wesley, Rose’s dad, is somewhat unreliable. He works sometimes at J&R Garage, but he mostly spends time at the Luck of the Irish pub, located just down the street from J&R Garage and Rose’s home. Wesley and Weldon grew up in foster homes; luckily, they never had to live in separate homes, but they spent a great deal of time moving from one foster home to another. The two brothers remain loyal to one another.

Rose’s story truly begins when her father brings home what he thinks is a stray dog as a gift to Rose. Rain is most likely a yellow Lab mix and she weighs 23 pounds. Because Rain has no collar, Wesley assumes the dog is lost and the owners are irresponsible. Rose is delighted with the dog and chooses the name Rain (reign) because her father found Rain in the rain behind the Luck of the Irish pub.


Despite her diagnosis, Rose is a reliable narrator. She likes rules and intends for everyone to follow them. She tells her story honestly, giving her own foibles as well as describing her father’s difficulties; she does so without judgment, simply stating what she sees.

The story becomes a mystery when Wesley lets Rain out into a storm to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, Rain’s collar is hanging in the kitchen. The storm turns out to be a dangerous one with trees down, electricity out, and flooding throughout the area. Rose, understandably upset, asks her father repeatedly why he let Rain out without her collar.


After several days of missing Rain, Rose develops a plan to find her. She draws up a list of all the area animal shelters and writes down the phone numbers. She calls the shelters, giving her name and a full description of Rain. Having to put herself forward is a struggle for Rose, but she knows that finding Rain is worth all her effort.

Martin has captured Rose’s voice effectively. Readers will be engaged with the story quickly and will be hoping all along that Rose will find Rain. What happens will surprise readers and show Rose’s great strength.

School Library Journal describes Rose’s story as “often heartbreaking, her matter-of-face narration provides moments of humor. Readers will empathize with Rose, who finds strength and empowerment through her unique way of looking at the world.”

Read about Ann M. Martin on Teen Reads:

For more information about Ann M. Martin and her work, visit

The Book Whisperer Considers


My 2018 reading challenge includes a book recommended by a librarian. I have several librarian friends who recommend good books. I also look to for suggestions. The January BookPage: America’s Book Review includes the “2017 Favorite of Favorites,” chosen from “the 110 books to make the LibraryReads list in 2017, here are the ten which received the most votes from public library staff across the country.” The ten books include the following:

News of the World by Paulette Jiles, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman, Glass Houses by Louise Penny, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Bear Town by Fredrik Backman and The Dry by Jane Harper.

Out of those books, I have read News of the World by Paulette Jiles, Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman, Glass Houses by Louise Penny, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. All of these books are excellent reads.


I read half of Bear Town by Fredrik Backman and gave up. I was disappointed that Bear Town did not keep my attention since I like Fredrik Backman’s other works. I first read A Man Called Ove and truly fell in love with the characters and the story. Liking A Man Called Ove led me to seek Backman’s other books. I read My Grandmother Asked to Tell You She’s Sorry. It is good, but did not grab me the way A Man Called Ove did. Then I read Britt-Marie Was Here. Britt-Marie is quite a fascinating character. She takes people very literally and she is punctual and follows rules. As a result, she expects others to be like her. Backman’s novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer gives us the story of an elderly man trying to hold onto his memories. I want everyone to read this book!


I did give Bear Town a fair trial. I did not like the way the teenagers acted, the drug use, the denigration of females, or the sexual assault. As a result, I quit reading half-way through the book. I will try Backman’s next book.

My genre of choice is fiction. However, I do read selected nonfiction books. I started reading Flowers of the Killer Moon by David Grann last fall. I found it difficult to read because of the atrocities and stopped, but I am now in a new book club that will be discussing the book in February, so I am giving the book another chance. I know the horrors have not changed. The book is important, so I am giving it another chance.


The Radium Girls certainly continues to garner a great deal of attention. I read about it and am interested in the story, so I will choose it for one of my nonfiction reads this year along with Killers of the Flower Moon.


Jane Harper’s The Dry has been on my to read list for some time. Recently, I was in my local branch library to pick up some books I had requested when I noticed a hardback copy of The Dry on the sale shelf in the entry to the library. I bought the copy, so now I must read it. I was somewhat surprised to see the book being discarded from the library since it is still in high demand.


This list of ten books gives me some pause for thought simply because the list is eclectic. Louise Penny’s stories featuring Chief Inspector Gamache and the lively cast of characters who live in Three Pines are certainly absorbing. I enjoy seeing the old friends in the stories. Glass Houses is particularly suspenseful and draws upon an ancient Spanish custom of shaming a debtor. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly held my attention. Eleanor has a mysterious past that readers discover in bits and pieces as the story unfolds.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a must-read book! The intricately woven story of two families and what happens when people keep secrets keeps readers interested to the end. Ng is a writer to watch. Anthony Horotwiz is a brilliant writer and TV producer. He has written Magpie Murders with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. The story within the story is captivating and great fun. Paulette Jiles’ News of the World is another captivating story of kindness to a young orphan. Johanna has been living with a band of Kiowa Indians after they killed her parents and sister. Now, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is asked to return Johanna to an aunt in San Antonio from Wichita Falls, TX. This story is well worth reading.

Regardless of where one finds recommendations, good books abound. Occasionally, simply browsing the shelves at the local library or bookstore will yield an excellent choice! That happened to me recently at my library. I was returning some books and did not have one ready from my request list, so I started looking at books on the shelf. A book a librarian had stood up stood out, so I checked it out: The Stone Wife by Peter Lovesey. That happenstance has led me to a series I am now reading.

The Book Whisperer Says READ This Book!


Often when books are named “runaway best sellers,” I shy away from them. Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere kept popping up in reviews and on sites where I read about books, and all of those reviews and sites praised the book highly. It is a “runaway best seller.” Finally, however, I felt compelled to request Little Fires Everywhere from the library. Despite the book’s popularity, I had to wait only a few weeks before it arrived. And am I glad I requested Little Fires Everywhere.

People, The Washington Post, Bustle, Esquire, Southern Living, The Daily Beast, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Book of the Month, Paste, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible, Goodreads, Library Reads, and others all named Little Fires Everywhere as the best book of 2017.

What makes Little Fires Everywhere such a good book? Celeste Ng is a terrific writer, so the prose engages readers from the first page. Ng, pronounced ing, opens with the Richardson home in flames. The family members are all safe, but the house is burning from little fires set in every bedroom and there are five bedrooms.


As the family watches firefighters get the fire under control, they speculate about who started the fires because it is evident the fire is arson. Only one family member is missing: youngest daughter Izzie.

Chapter two takes readers back to the previous June, well before the fire and introduces Mia Warren and Pearl, her teenaged daughter. Mia is an artist; she and Pearl move from place to place, never staying put long. Mia finishes an art piece that she works on in that place and then goes somewhere else to start again. Shaker Heights, Ohio, however, will be different, Mia promises Pearl. They will remain and put down roots.

It will not be a spoiler to say that Mia and Pearl do not put down roots because in the first chapter besides learning about the house fire in the Richardson home, we also see Pearl leaving the keys to their rented duplex, owned by Elena Richardson, in the Richardson mailbox early in the morning before the fires are discovered.


Mia and Pearl provide quite a contrast to Elena Richardson and her family. Elena and her husband met in college, married, and moved to her home town of the planned community of Shaker Heights. Mr. Richardson is a lawyer with a thriving practice. Mrs. Richardson has always wanted to be a journalist, so she has worked for the Sun Press in Shaker Heights since college.

Elena’s plan included moving to the Cleveland Plain Dealer after learning the ropes at the Sun Press. However, she also wants a big family, so with four children now, Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzie, all about a year apart, Elena continues at the Sun Press. She covers the openings of stores and happenings at school and the library.

Mia is a single mother; Pearl knows nothing of her father. Mia passes off her questions in a joking fashion, so Pearl never pursues the questioning. Mia and Pearl live with very little unlike the opulence at the Richardson home. Mia meets their needs, but they never have too much and Mia can pack all their belongings in the VW Rabbit that used to belong to her brother. When they move to a new place, they shop thrift stores and check for castaways others discard.

The Richardsons have a perfect life: a beautiful home, bright children, and good jobs. What could interrupt this perfect world?

Immediately, Moody, the third child and second son, is intrigued with Pearl. She is different from the friends he has known all his life. They are in the same grade, so he shows her around and they become good friends. Pearl likes Moody, but her attention is drawn to Tripp, the older brother. Pearl begins spending most afternoons after school at the Richardson home. The Richardson kids love watching The Jerry Springer Show and having heated discussions about the guests.

Elena and her family play by all the rules. They have a lovely home; Elena is a good cook who feeds her family nutritious food; the children are all good students. Well, of course, we must have one exception: Izzie, the youngest child and second daughter.  Izzie wants to play by her own rules.

Izzie could be the catalyst that produces the change in everyone’s life. There is also another catalyst. Mia works part-time at Lucky Palace, a Chinese restaurant that does mostly a take-out business. Mia meets Bebe, a Chinese immigrant working at Lucky Palace. Stories start to intertwine once Mia learns Bebe has left her infant daughter May Ling at a fire station because Bebe could not care for herself let alone an infant.

Elena persuades Mia to work as her housekeeper and cook, thinking she is doing Mia a favor; Mia finds she cannot refuse the offer, but working in the Richardson home will come with its downsides. Mia learns Elena’s childhood friend Linda McCullough and her husband Mark are adopting a Chinese baby who was found abandoned at a fire station.

Mia connects the dots and realizes Bebe’s May Ling is soon to be Maribelle McCullough. When Mia shares this knowledge with Bebe, the relationship between Mia and Elena turns very ugly. Elena, wishing to protect her life-long friend, starts digging into Mia’s past. What she uncovers will change lives in all directions—creating little fires.

Ng fills Little Fires Everywhere with secrets and deceptions. Lexie uses Pearl and abuses her by using Pearl’s name. Still, Pearl is enamored with the Richardson children, especially Trip. And Izzie becomes devoted to Mia because Mia shows her kindness when Elena only criticizes her youngest child.

As Elena digs up Mia’s past, readers discover what has happened to Mia to make her flee from one place to another. They also learn about Pearl’s father and about Mia’s family including her mother, father, and younger brother, Warren.

Ng is a talented writer. Here is a sample from Little Fires Everywhere: “Mia understood exactly where [Pearl] drifted to. To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.  You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’s been and the child she’s become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin.“

Little Fires Everywhere  is Ng’s second book. I am truly looking forward to the next one. Learn more about Celeste Ng:

The Book Whisperer Likes Radio Girls


What was it like to be working at the BBC Radio when the now broadcasting giant began? What could be more relevant to today’s world than Hilda Matheson’s words from 1933:

“If we have the sense to give [broadcasting] freedom and intelligent direction, if we save it from exploitation by vested interests of money or power, its influence may even redress the balance in favour of the individual.”

Sarah-Jane Stratford wrote Radio Girls featuring the fictional Masie Musgrave, a Canadian-born transplant to London via New York City. However, Stratford includes the very real Hilda Matheson who maintained strict order in the Talks Department of the newly formed BBC. Her goal was to ensure that the programming be trustworthy and challenging. She brought authors like Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, and E.M. Forster to provide book reviews.

When British women won the right to vote, Matheson developed a series of programs for the Talks Department on Parliament, candidates, and issues to provide women with the knowledge they needed to vote intelligently.

Timid Masie Musgrave needs a job. She applies for a job as junior secretary at the BBC, the fledgling radio broadcasting company. Luckily, Masie gets the job. At first, she is working for Miss Shields, a no-nonsense secretary to the boss, Mr. Reith. If Masie gets the job, she will be working at a desk in the same room with Miss Shields who will keep a sharp eye on Masie.

Luckily, Masie does get the job. At first, she is hesitant about everything. She keeps her head down and does the best job she can; primarily, she hopes no one notices her so that she can simply work. Clearly, Miss Shields does not like Masie and does not feel she is worthy of the job she has received.


Part of Masie’s work load is to report to Hilda Matheson in Talks to help with typing and other duties as needed. After some months, Hilda persuades Mr. Reith that Masie should be Hilda’s permanent secretary and he agrees. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Masie begins to blossom because Hilda encourages Masie to think and to express her opinions.

Masie becomes more and more outspoken in helping Hilda in Talks. When Hilda cannot meet a famous author, who is coming in to broadcast on the BBC, she sends Masie to be the author’s escort. Thus, Masie’s social skills also improve as she must talk with these famous people on an equal level.

Radio Girls has a large cast of characters, those working with Masie at the BBC, famous people coming into broadcast, and the girls with whom Masie lives in a rooming house. Because Masie is intelligent and learns quickly, Hilda gives Masie more and more responsibility. Masie responds by dreaming up topics and suggesting them to Hilda. Masie also stumbles upon a meeting of Fascists and infiltrates to discover what she can. When Masie confides in Hilda what she has learned, Hilda engages Masie in espionage to discover additional information.

I will admit that I grew tired of Masie’s timidity in the beginning of the story. I wanted to tell her to square her shoulders and get on with her work. Finally, when she transfers to the Talks Department and works only for Hilda, Masie comes into her own. Clearly, she is intelligent and hard-working. If she lacks knowledge, she goes to the library and researches to find what she needs. As she gains confidence, she also will ask experts to fill in her knowledge gaps.

When she begins to stand up and express her opinions and share her ideas with Hilda, Masie comes into her own. She reads the Radio Times, the bulletin produced by the BBC. In time, Masie begins writing for the Radio Times herself as well as developing ideas for Talks.


Radio Girls would make a terrific series for BBC TV. The issues of women’s rights, gay rights, and equal employment are all relevant today. The story is engaging as it portrays strong women who work hard to achieve their goals. Kirkus Reviews calls Radio Girls “an intoxicating look inside a world of innovative new media.”

Read about Hilda Matheson at his link:

Vita Sackville-West wrote an article about Hilda Matheson following Matheson’s death:

Sarah-Jane Stratford has written essays for Marie-Claire, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Salon. She looks forward to Skyping with book clubs about Radio Girls.

Learn more about Sarah-Jane Stratford: and on her Facebook page:


The Book Whisperer Reviews a Classic


Sense and Sensibility is Jane Austen’s first published book. It features Elinor, the sensible elder sister, Marianne, the impetuous second sister, and Margaret, the youngest sister, who is rarely part of the story. The girls’ mother Mrs. Dashwood has the misfortune to become a widow, thus losing her home to her stepson, son of her husband’s first marriage. The home has belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood and their three daughters only as long as Mr. Dashwood lives.

During his illness, Mr. Dashwood calls his son John home and presses upon him the need to care for his stepmother and three half-sisters. John promises his father that he will look after the ladies.

However, readers must expect that John will not long keep his promise after his father’s death. Perhaps John would have stood by his promise except for his hard-hearted, selfish wife, Fanny, who persuades him that the widow and her daughters really do not need any financial assistance. Carefully leading her husband from his decision to bestow a thousand pounds on each half-sister to giving them nothing, Fanny exults in saving all money for herself and her son.

Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters must leave the family home at Norland, the only place the girls have known. When Sir John Middleton, a distant relative, offers a home at nominal rent to Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters, they accept the offer and move with two servants to Devonshire. Elinor leaves behind the man she has fallen in love with, Edward Ferrars, brother to her sister-in-law Fanny. Nothing has passed between them except pleasantries, so Elinor must leave with no expectations.

Readers will have to determine if sense, that is reason, represented by Elinor, the older sister, or sensibility, emotion, found in Marianne, is the better quality. Clearly, though, both sisters exhibit both sense and sensibility, though Elinor is much more pragmatic and realistic than Marianne.

Sense and Sensibility takes readers through the move from their birthplace to Devonshire where the Misses Dashwood make new friends and develop new attachments. The story is witty and charming while also being quite annoying at times. Reading the histrionics of a seventeen-year-old who believes she will “never love again” becomes tiresome at times.

Of course, today’s readers know that the paramount object in Sense and Sensibility is to find good husbands with at least a modest income for each Dashwood daughter. That search for the perfect husband is fraught with obstacles: potential mothers-in-law who object, disdainful sisters of those suitable men, and, of course, downright scoundrels.

Jane Austen’s novels are important reminders of how far women have come. Marriage and an inherited income are not the dominant objectives of women today—well, perhaps for some!

The Book Whisperer Reviews P.D. James’ Short Stories


P.D. James, author of twenty detective stories, died in 2004. Often P.D. James wrote a special short story for Christmas at the behest of newspapers and magazines. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories is a collection of four of those Christmas stories, published in 2017 for the first time in a collection. The four stories include “The Mistletoe Murder,” “A Very Commonplace Murder,” “The Boxdale Inheritance,” and “The Twelve Clues of Christmas.”

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories begins with a foreword by Val McDermid, a formidable mystery writer herself. McDermid, obviously a P.D. James fan, writes James “applied her keen intelligence to what she read and developed a genuine expertise on the subject [of the Golden Age of mysteries].” McDermid goes on to state that James “understands that murder is nasty and brutal, that it is fueled by the most malevolent of motives, and she’s not afraid to face that darkness head-on.”

At the same time, McDermid reminds readers that P.D. James “understood the importance of respectability.” McDermid writes of P.D. James’ ability to locate her stories in a specific time and place. James provides thorough descriptions.

McDermid’s foreword is followed by a preface written by P.D. James herself. James was a scholar of the Golden Age and lectured on several of the most famous of the mystery writers of the age: Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. James wrote that Eric Ambler identified Poe as the father of the detective story, but “it was London that fed it, clothed it, and brought it to maturity.” James says Ambler was thinking of the genius of Conan Doyle, creator of the most famous detective in literature.”

The first two stories in The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories do not feature Adam Dalgliesh, but the last two do. As any P.D. James fan would expect, all four stories are delightful, engaging, and carefully written.  This review does not need to describe the stories. Readers should engross themselves in the book and read the stories!

The stories are surprising, filled with secrets, and thoroughly enjoyable. The Sunday Times reminds readers that P.D. James is “the greatest contemporary writer of classic crime.”


The Book Whisperer Reviews a Winner


Joan Silber writes in The New York Times Book Review that Kent Haruf’s “great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject. . .. [Our Souls at Night] runs on the dogged insistence that simple elements carry depths, and readers will find much to be grateful for.”

In the opening of Our Souls at Night, Addie Moore, a widow in her early seventies, pays a visit to her widowed neighbor, Louis Waters, also in his seventies. She tells him she would like to make a “kind of proposal,” but not of marriage. He responds that he does not think that is what she means. After a bit of hemming and hawing, Addie spits out her proposal: “I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.”

Louis wants an explanation, so Addie continues by saying, “I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in the bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst, don’t you think?”

Addie goes on to remind Louis that they have known each other a long time even if not well. They are both alone. Louis is intrigued with the idea of spending time with Addie even if her proposal is a bit out of the ordinary. That evening after dark, he puts his pajamas and toothbrush in a paper sack and goes to Addie’s back door.

Addie asks Louis why the back door and he responds, “I thought it would be less likely for people to see me.” Addie immediately tells Louis, “I don’t care about that. They’ll know. Someone will see. Come by the front door out on the front sidewalk. I’ve made up my mind I’m not going to pay attention to what people think. I’ve done that too long — all my life. I’m not going to live that way anymore. The alley makes it seem we’re doing something wrong or something disgraceful, to be ashamed of.”

Indeed, people do see Louis coming and going from Addie’s home. The first time Louis encounters a comment occurs with a group of friends he meets every other week at the local bakery. Louis is enraged with the man’s snide comment, so Louis returns the favor by telling the man off.  The man could hardly believe Louis has bested him, so he leaves the bakery without paying for his coffee. Louis pays for himself and the nasty man as he leaves!

Addie and Louis decide to put the town’s talk to rest or stir it up further, they don’t care which, by going to the café on Main Street for lunch on a Saturday, the busiest day of the week. They sit side-by-side and hold hands on the table as they wait for their food. Now, let the townspeople gossip!

Issues become more complicated when Addie’s son Gene calls and wants his mother to take Jamie, her six-year-old grandson, for a time because Gene’s wife has left for California, and Gene is struggling with his business in Junction City, CO. Addie readily agrees for Jamie to come stay with her; he is her only grandchild. She is not certain how Jamie’s being there will affect her new arrangement with Louis.

Addie and Louis decide to take things slowly with Jamie by introducing him to Louis. The three become fast friends with Louis buying baseball gloves for Jamie, Addie, and himself so they can play catch. Jamie is frightened of the dark and often slips into bed with Addie. When Louis is there, he sleeps between Addie and Louis.

Louis is quiet and kind. He shows Jamie a nest of baby mice, just born, still hairless and blind. The two watch the mice as they grow and then disappear from the nest in the shed. Jamie helps Louis with weeding and watering in the garden. Quietly, the two are building a friendship based on mutual respect and love.

When Louis suggests getting a dog for Jamie, Addie is unsure and certainly does not want a puppy. Still, the three go to an animal shelter and Jamie picks out a female border collie mix about five years old. She is calm and licks Jamie’s hand, so the trio takes the dog on a walk outside the shelter. Her name at the shelter is Tippy, but Jamie decides to call her Bonny.


Bonny helps Jamie get over his fears at night; Louis suggests that Bonny stay in the room with Jamie. Of course, right away, Bonny is on the bed with Jamie, and Addie agrees the dog is a good choice for them all. Now, the trio has become a foursome. They go on an overnight camping trip together. All is going well.

Of course, we must introduce some drama. Holly, Louis’s daughter in Denver calls and is outraged that her father is sleeping at Addie’s home. One of Holly’s high school friends still living in Holt calls to tell Holly. Louis tells her he is fine and not doing anything wrong.

Then Gene, Addie’s son, comes home to chastise his mother about her behavior with Louis. Gene’s more insensitive than Holly because he fears Louis is seeking to get Addie’s money. Of course, Gene himself is the culprit who wants Addie’s money since his business is failing.

At first, Addie and Louis weather the storms caused by their children. Will that last and will Addie and Louis be able to continue their very comfortable arrangement? Readers will have to read the story to discover the end.

I was immediately taken with Addie and Louis’s story. Our Souls at Night is a quiet story that tugs at the heartstrings from the beginning. Why shouldn’t Addie and Louis spend time together? They are both alone; their children live in other cities and rarely visit. When Jamie comes to visit, he is frightened because his parents have been fighting and his mother has left the home. A six-year-old cannot find his own place if he feels threatened and alone. Addie and Louis along with Bonny, help Jamie feel safe, secure, and loved. What’s more important than that?

Near the end of Our Souls at Night, Addie tells Louis about an advertisement for a play in Denver at the Performing Arts Center. She says to Louis, “Did you see they’re going to do that last book about Holt County? The one with the old man dying and the preacher.” That’s a reference to Haruf’s Benediction. It must have amused Haruf to include this line then: “They did those other two so I guess they might as well do this one too,” Louis says. Louis refers to two of Haruf’s other books: Plainsong and Eventide.

On his way to becoming a writer, Kent Haruf, son of a Methodist minister, worked on a chicken farm, a construction site, a rehab hospital, a presidential library, and an alternative high school, all in various states around the country. Hauf’s novels garnered him such praise as “a novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader.”

Library Journal described Haruf’s work as “honest storytelling that is compelling and rings true.” Those are words intriguing enough to entice readers into Haruf’s novels.