Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite: The Snake Stone


At Cambridge, Jason Goodwin studied Byzantine history. After publishing The Gunpowder Gardens, Goodwin walked from Poland to Istanbul and wrote about the journey in On Foot to the Golden Horn. His next nonfiction book was Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. Following his success in nonfiction, Goodwin embarked on writing historical mysteries set in 19th century Istanbul and featuring Yashim as an amateur detective.

The Janissary Tree, the first book in the mystery series, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2007. The other books in the series include The Snake Stone, The Bellini Card, An Evil Eye, and The Baklava Club. Because Yashim is an excellent cook and also enjoys eating in the cafés in Istanbul, Goodwin has now written a cookbook that includes recipes for dishes mentioned in the mysteries: Yashim Cooks Istanbul. Below, see a picture of Fiery Eggs and Peppers, a recipe from Yashim Cooks Istanbul. The next picture is of the spice bazaar.

Goodwin is also a member of the Guild of Food Writers. His interest in the food of Istanbul, a melting pot of cultures and traditions, is evident in his writing. Learn more about Goodwin on his Web site: On the site, readers can find Goodwin’s blog as well. Here is an example of one blog post:

The focus of the review today is The Snake Stone. Each semester, I choose a theme and then find books to fit that theme – books that will create interest and discussion in the book club, not merely because they fit the theme. They must have some substance. The Snake Stone fits that bill because of the culture and history found in the story. While the mystery in the story is fun, it does not have to lead the discussion. The Times, London, praises Yashim and The Snake Stone as “the captivating return of Yashim, the eunuch investigator from the intelligent, elliptical and beguilingly written bestseller The Janissary Tree.

The Snake Stone involves Maximilien Lefevre, who says he is a French archaeologist, who enters Istanbul to locate lost treasures from the Byzantine era. Yashim meets Lefevre by accident when Lefevre invites himself to dinner at Yashim’s along with Yashim’s friend Stanislaw Palewski, the Polish Ambassador. Yashim and Stanislaw are put off by Lefevre and do not plan to see him again. Of course, the readers surmise that will not the be the case.

A short time later, Lefevre knocks on Yashim’s door again and is quite agitated and acts frightened. Yashim agrees to keep Lefevre safe and to find him passage to France. Yashim keeps his word and locates a ship which will take Lafevre out of Istanbul and on to France, though not directly. Yashim sees Lefevre into a small boat that will take him to the ship. At that point, Yashim thinks he has seen and heard the last of Lafevre.

Unfortunately, Yashim soon learns that Lafevre is dead and that his body has been mutilated by the roving dogs of Istanbul. Yashim finds that complicating the mystery of Lafevre’s death is a mystery surrounding the Armenians who are the watermen of Istanbul, caring for the intricate system of water cisterns in the city. The picture below depicts one of the Medusa heads guarding the underground water system. Of course, in 19th century Istanbul, the electric lighting was not in place. Yashim has to navigate the underground tunnels in darkness.


In trying to solve the mystery of Lafevre’s death and trying to locate a missing waterman whose family is staying at Stanislaw’s home, Yashim finds himself involved in danger from several angles. He turns to his old friend the Valide, the Sultan’s mother, for help with his investigation. The story becomes even more complicated when Yashim learns about “a shadowy society dedicated to the revival of the Byzantine Empire.” One of the characters in that plot is Dr. Milligen, the ill Sultan’s doctor. Ironically, Dr. Milligen was Byron’s attending physician in Greece when Byron died.

What are the connections between Dr. Milligen and Lafevre? Is Lafevre dead and is he using his real name? Yashim must discover the truth behind the secret society and also understand what has happened to the missing waterman.

As he travels about the city, Yashim treats readers to mouth-watering descriptions of food as it is being prepared and as he eats it. Simply the selection of the ingredients in the busy bazaar will entice readers to learn more about the cuisine of Istanbul.

Some readers may complain of a lack of real mystery in The Snake Stone. However, the story lives up to expectations in the colorful descriptions of the city, its people, and its food. The book is well worth reading for that sense of 19th century Istanbul.



The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Natural: The Word Collector


Let me begin by saying that I truly love children’s books, both picture books and chapter books along with many other genres. In doing some reading recently, I discovered Peter H. Reynolds and his collection of picture books. The Word Collector caught my eye, no surprise!

Kirkus calls The Word Collector a book that “captures the beauty of words and the wonder of sharing them with others…enchanting.”

The book and its illustrations are enchanting. Reynolds begins with Jerome who is like many other collectors. Instead of collecting stamps, coins, rocks, or art, however, Jerome collects WORDS!


The book takes readers through the types of words that Jerome collects. Sometimes he collects a word because it simply catches his attention when he hears it. Some words JUMP out at him. Haven’t we all experienced that phenomenon? A word leaps off the page and into our hearts.


Jerome collects words that he knows are “marvelous to say.” Other words sound “perfectly suited to their meaning”: molasses, tyrannosaurus rex, torrential, smudge, bellow.

All in all, Peter Reynolds has created an engaging book about words and the power behind and within them. I recommend the book to everyone!


Peter H. Reynolds maintains a blog at this location:

To see Reynold’s complete Web site, follow this link:

The Book Whisperer Gives Thumbs Up to a Debut Thriller


Readers seeking a creepy, twisting, exciting book, should look no further than The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor.  Anderbury is a sleepy English village about twenty miles from Bournemouth. In the summer of 1986, Eddie Adams and his pals are twelve. Summer is nearing its end, and the boys are bored and looking for excitement. Usually that means building a hut from leafy tree limbs in the stand of woods at the village’s edge or riding their bikes to the school playground.

The gang consists of Eddie, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo, and Nicky, the only girl in the group. Fat Gav’s family is the most well-off as owners of a local pub. Eddie’s mum is a doctor who is in charge of the local abortion clinic; this fact will play an important part in the story as tension heats up over protests against the clinic in the village. Nicky’s father is the local minister, a fire and brimstone preacher who does not act in a very Christian manner toward his own daughter, often physically abusing her, leaving bruises on her arms. Nicky’s father also leads the protesters against the abortion clinic.

Metal Mickey’s mum is a cleaner, but their home is never very clean, almost like a hoarder’s house. Metal Mickey also has an older brother, Sean, who is a bully with his own gang of followers. Readers learn less about Hoppo.

Eddie meets Mr. Halloran, a new teacher who will begin teaching at the school when the holiday ends. Eddie is intrigued by Mr. Halloran for several reasons. He is new to the village, he is an albino, and he is an artist, but he teaches English.  Mr. Halloran shows Eddie some of his drawings of people. Eddie thinks to himself that he can almost smell the cigarette smoke curling off a man’s cigarette in one of the pictures.

Tudor tells the story in alternating time periods. Eddie, our twelve-year-old, is the narrator of the story in 1986. The grown-up Ed takes up the story in 2016. The events of that summer and early fall of 1986 color the lives of all the boys and to a large extent their families’ lives.

Tudor says her daughter received a tub of chalks for her second birthday. The two of them drew stick figures all over the driveway. After dark, Tudor looked out on the figures they had drawn and told her partner, “These chalk men look really creepy in the dark.” The idea for The Chalk Man was born.


Fat Gav’s parents throw him a lavish birthday party, inviting Fat Gav’s friends and their parents to an outdoor party. After Fat Gav has opened all the presents and everyone is in the garden enjoying the evening, the gang finds one present unopened. When Fat Gav tears into it, he discovers a tub of colored chalks which he takes to be a lame gift.

Later, the gang creates a secret code with each person having his/her own color. They would draw figures as secret messages to one another. One message might be from Metal Mickey that would tell the others to meet in the woods. Another might be from Eddie instructing the others to meet at the playground. In fact, Mr. Halloran has told Eddie he and his friends used to use chalk to leave secret messages for one another. Will this tidbit be important to the story?

The story heats up when a beautiful young woman is badly hurt at the fair because a metal piece comes flying off one of the rides. She lives, but she is disfigured. Later, another young woman is pregnant and unmarried, but she refuses to get an abortion. Who is the father? Her father, a police officer, claims Metal Mickey’s brother Sean is a rapist and the father of the unborn baby. Is that true?

Other events color the story. Eddie’s father develops Alzheimer’s. Metal Mickey is driving Fat Gav home after a party and has a terrible wreck which leaves Fat Gav in a wheelchair.  Nicky’s father is severely beaten in the church and left for dead, but he survives in a semi-vegetative state, living in a nursing home. He, too, is confined to a wheelchair, or is he?

The Chalk Man will provide enough twists to keep readers turning pages. The story is compelling all the way through, both the story from 1986 and the present day. All of the gang members’ lives reflect that story from their adolescence in one way or another.

Read an interview with CJ Tudor at this site:

Check out Tudor’s Facebook page here:

At this YouTube site, Tudor discusses The Chalk Man:



The Book Whisperer Reviews Gentle Death Cleaning!


I look forward to Connie Cronley’s book suggestions on Channel 6 in Tulsa, OK. Recently, she gave a brief review of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. The Swedish word döstädning means “you remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.”

Döstädning does not necessarily have to mean cleaning after a person has died, but it can be applied to any time one’s possessions overtake the home. Perhaps a dresser drawer is so full that putting one more item in it will not allow the drawer to close. Or a closet is full of clothes, but many of them are never worn. Döstädning can apply to those situations regardless of one’s age.

The Washington Post describes Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning as “a slim yet sage volume… While Japanese item-control diva Marie Kondo gave us strict instructions to only keep things that spark joy, Magnusson’s book is straightforward and unsentimental (with a bit of humor). The main message from this mother of five is: Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends.” Magnusson does provide humor a she describes way to help her readers clean and clear out possessions.

When she told one of her sons she was writing the book on death cleaning, he asked her if it would be a sad book. “No, no. It is not sad at all. Neither the cleaning nor the writing of the book,” she replied.  I will have to admit to feeling some sadness, however, upon reading the book. Since my older son died and my younger son is unmarried, I do not expect to have grandchildren, not that they would care about the stuff I have collected. Certainly, now, though, my stuff will be cast off. As a result, I know that I should be taking Magnusson’s advice and start my own process of döstädning.

Magnusson’s advice is clear and straightforward. She begins by describing the times she has already spent in clearing out other people’s possessions: her parents’ and her husband’s belongings. Starting with practical advice of checking the basement, attic, or cupboards by the front door, Magnusson reminds her readers that often they have stashed items there and never looked at or for them again. As a result, these are easy items to discard.

Reminding readers that photographs will be the most emotional, Magnusson has devoted a whole chapter to going through the photos. Magnusson says to start with clothes. In pile one, put items you wish to keep; in pile two, put the items you need to give away or throw away. Once you have discarded the clothing for pile two, go back through pile one and determine if some of those pieces you kept really belong in pile two for give away or throwaway.

Dwight Garner of The New York Times wrote: “A fond and wise little book… I jettison advice books after I’ve flipped through them. This one I will keep.”

The Book Whisperer Avoids Spoilers


The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, the first collaboration between the two authors, keeps readers turning pages as well as guessing about the characters. Greer Henricks was Sarah Pekkanen’s editor at Simon and Schuster. Some reviewers compare The Wife Between Us to The Woman in the Window with the latter coming out on top. Not having read The Woman in the Window as yet, I cannot say which is better. However, I will say that The Wife Between Us is a delicious, fast-paced read, just right for a cozy night with a book. Not all books have to be the best; they can provide entertainment and The Wife Between Us does just that. This review contains no spoilers.

The characters include a spurned wife, Vanessa, a wife-to-be Nellie, and yet another wife-to-be Emma. Richard Thompson is the man at the center of the drama. He is perfect – or is he? Richard is wealthy, a hedge-fund whiz, making a great deal of money. He dresses impeccably, knows all the right wines to drink, and listens to the most sophisticated music. He expects his wife to fall right in line with his tastes, even choosing just the right clothes for her.

Upon learning about Richard’s exacting tastes, many readers are, no doubt, beginning to wonder if he is indeed Mr. Perfect. In fact, Nellie has some nagging doubts herself, but each time a doubt enters her head, she chases it away by reminding herself of Richard’s caring nature.

Readers first meet Nellie who is preparing for her wedding to Richard. She is a preschool teacher in New York and rooms with her best friend Samantha. Nellie eagerly looks forward to her life with Richard, no more penny-pinching. She will have beautiful clothes, a lovely suburban home, and children to fill her life with Richard. All in all, Nellie is living the fairytale little girls dream of having.

Clearly, readers will be thinking that the fairytale must have some warts. Indeed, it does! Nellie having had a terrible experience in college, always looks over her shoulder, fearing someone is stalking her. This fear is fueled by the frequent phone calls she is receiving when she hears only breathing or the caller quickly hangs up. Is someone from that past incident stalking her? Is she in danger?

The New York Times Book Review calls The Wife Between Us “a fiendishly smart cat-and-mouse thriller.” Then what makes The Wife Between Us such a thriller? The story draws readers into the narrative because Nellie is such an engaging character. She has been living paycheck-to-paycheck as a preschool teacher and supplementing her income as a server at Gibson’s Bistro. Now, she’s set to marry Richard and will have all the money she could ever want for travel, new clothes, and a beautiful house.

In addition, Vanessa adds another dimension to the story as the spurned wife. She has found a job at Saks, selling expensive clothing to women like those with whom she used to socialize. In fact, occasionally one of her old friends shows up in Vanessa’s department, causing Vanessa grief.  As the discarded wife, Vanessa stalks Richard’s new bride-to-be. What does Vanessa intend to do? Is she dangerous? Will she harm the younger woman who is taking her place?

Other questions arise as well. Is Vanessa mentally stable? Is she an alcoholic? Is she a danger to herself and/or others?

In The Last Mrs. Parrish, readers meet a wife who is married to a wealthy man who gives her everything she desires. Their lives appear to be perfect. Then the cracks in the marriage begin to appear. Plots thicken as one of the characters seeks the world of wealth at whatever cost. As the book continues, readers discover quite another plot underway. A similar story is playing out in The Wife Between Us. You must read the book to discover all the plots, however.

The inside cover of the book contains this message:

“When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.”

Greer Hendricks’s Web site provides further information:

Learn more about Sarah Pekkanen on her site:

The Book Whisperer Reviews America’s First Daughter


Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have combined their love of history and storytelling to write America’s First Daughter about Martha Jefferson Randolph (Patsy), Thomas Jefferson’s daughter. Dray and kamoie have both written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Kamoie has a Ph.D. in early American history from The College of William and Mary. Dray is a lawyer and teacher turned novelist.

Read more about both Dray and Kamoie at their Web site: On the Web site, readers will find deleted scenes and why they were removed from America’s First Daughter. Other information on the site includes news and events about the two authors and their works as well. Readers can find a PDF guide to a Jeffersonian book club dinner:

Watch a brief YouTube video in which Dray and kamoie talk about America’s First Daughter:

Any student of American history knows a great deal about Thomas Jefferson—or should know! Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie spent hours and hours going through Jefferson’s and Patsy’s correspondence in order to write America’s First Daughter. In doing so, they have created a compelling story of important lives in American history, but they have also created a vivid portrait of family life along with the inevitable politics involved in Jefferson’s life and therefore his family’s lives as well.

Patsy is a strong woman, tall and red-haired like her father. She is intelligent, witty, charming, and generally wise. Dray and Kamoie admit that no record exists of Patsy’s or Jefferson’s being at his wife’s bedside at her death. Still, Martha Jefferson’s death changes the course of Patsy’s life in that she becomes her father’s most staunch defender. For dramatic effect, Dray and Kamoie have the dying Martha Jefferson extract a promise from Jefferson that he will never remarry. She says, “I cannot die happy if I know my daughters must have a stepmother brought in over them.”

Jefferson hurries to reassure her that “Only you, Martha. I swear I’ll have no other wife, only you, my love.” From that day forward, Jefferson carried this quotation with him: “And every time I kiss thy  hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.”

Dray and Kamoie are faithful to the timeline of history in telling Patsy’s story. Readers follow Patsy to Paris where she is educated in a convent and even for a time considers taking orders, much to her father’s dismay.

Patsy turns from a country bumpkin into a polished young lady accomplished in speaking French and playing the piano. She has inherited Jefferson’s intellect and understands politics well from observing her father’s business. In Paris, Patsy comes under the helpful tutelage of Abigail Adams who helps Patsy dress appropriately.

Jefferson not only takes Patsy to Paris, but he also takes Sally and Jimmy Hemings, slave siblings from Virginia. Jimmy, who insists upon becoming James once they are in Paris, is to learn French cooking.

In Paris, Patsy enjoys society. She dances with the Duke of Dorset who tells her, “You are a rare bloom in this garden of forward French flowers. Your simple manners, your enticing reserve, the radiance of your hair – I simply had to have your adorn my arm.”

America’s First Daughter focuses mostly on the family life, but politics must enter into the story as well. Patsy is concerned for her father and does her best to be his hostess and protector. Discord erupts when James tells Jefferson he and Sally will remain in Paris where they are free. Jefferson promises James his freedom in America if he will return and teach someone else to cook as he has learned. He promises Sally her children (and his) will be freed when they are 21; he does not say he will free Sally, however. With these concessions, James agrees they will return to America with Jefferson, Patsy, and Polly.

William Short who has worked for and with Jefferson for years declares his love for Patsy and begs her to marry him and remain in Paris. Short hopes to become ambassador there or at least some other European country. Patsy tells him she cannot marry now, but she hopes he will wait and allow her to return. William delivers an ultimatum, marry now, or not at all. Patsy, broken-hearted, but hopeful William will change his mind and wait for her, returns to America with her father.


Upon their return to Monticello, Jefferson invites Thomas Mann Randolph to spend Christmas with them. Tom’s attention is quickly drawn to Patsy. They soon become engaged. Their married life is full of upheaval. They have thirteen children, eleven of whom survive to adulthood. Tom is devastated when his widowed father marries a seventeen-year-old girl who gives birth to a daughter and a son. To add to the injury, Tom’s father names the newborn son Thomas Mann Randolph, the exact name he had given Tom at his birth. Tom feels that he has now been erased from his father’s life.

Dray and Kamoie do not spare the details of history, the trouble in the newly formed America and the trouble in family life. Tom turns to alcohol and also domestic violence, striking not only Patsy, but also their son. Patsy and Tom’s daughter Ann also marries an abusive alcoholic who stabs Ann’s brother Jeff, nearly severing his arm and nearly killing him.

Readers learn of unwanted pregnancies, deaths of newborns, deaths of mothers, and deaths from disease. Life is difficult, money is tight, especially when crops fail, and disaster is always on the horizon. Still, the Jeffersons and Randolphs persevere.

Some highlights from the book include the fact that Jefferson popularized ice cream in America. He may have gotten the recipe from the butler in France, Adrien Petit. Jefferson wrote the recipe in his own hand. Jefferson also popularized French fries in America along with macaroni and cheese. Another favorite dish was deviled eggs covered with capers and anchovies.

The Book Whisperer Likes Winterhouse, a Mystery for 9-12 Year-Old Readers


Let me begin this review of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson by saying that I love the book. It is for 9 – 12-year-old readers. For those who like to read and enjoy word play, Guterson has outdone himself by providing a word ladder at the beginning of each chapter. In addition, Elizabeth Somers and Freddie Knox, both 11 and who meet at Winterhouse, are word lovers and enjoy challenging each other.

Part One of Winterhouse begins with this ladder of words:

Far to the North and plenty of







Winterhouse is the first of a planned trilogy. The Secret of Winterhouse will be out in 2019. The third book is planned, but no dates are mentioned as yet for its release.

In the first few pages, readers meet Elizabeth, an orphan, who lives with her distant relatives Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap. When Elizabeth was four, her parents died in a fireworks accident on July 4, according to Aunt Purdy. Elizabeth has no memory of the accident. Elizabeth goes to live with these distant relatives of her father’s; she calls them aunt and uncle.

Very like the Dursleys in the Harry Potter series, Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap resent having Elizabeth in their shabby, rundown home. Aunt Purdy constantly reminds Elizabeth that she costs them money. Aunt Purdy begrudges Elizabeth every morsel of food and every bit of clothing as well. As with Harry Potter, Elizabeth also has special powers, powers just beginning to manifest themselves.

On the last day of school before the Christmas holidays, Elizabeth arrives at Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap’s to find an envelope taped to the locked front door. The note states:

“We informed you several times we would be going on a three-week getaway and you would not be staying alone while we are gone, so you won’t be surprised to find this letter. The house is locked tight. There is a ticket for the 6:20 train north in this envelope. Catch that train, and when you get off in the morning at Sternhaven, there will be a ticket waiting for you at the bus station. Get on the bus that goes to the Winterhouse Hotel — they will be expecting you. Here’s three dollars in case you need anything on the way. You’ll get another ticket to come back after the new year. Don’t cause trouble for anyone. None of your nonsense!”

In addition, Aunt Purdy had put “three of her shirts, two pairs of socks, a pair of pants, and some under garments” into a plastic bag and left it on the doorknob. Elizabeth has her school backpack and four library books the school librarian has allowed her to check out for the holidays. Elizabeth also carries a notebook and pen in her backpack.

Elizabeth keeps notes on a wide variety of topics; some of which are listed below:

Reasons Why I Do Not like My Aunt and Uncle

Top Ten Most Amazing Days of My Life

Things Uncle Burlap Says That Make No Sense

Things Aunt Purdy Says Are True, But Aren’t.

Elizabeth loves to read, is good at word puzzles, and enjoys anagrams.

Elizabet sets off for her adventure. She sleeps most of the night on the train. On the bus, however, she encounters two strange individuals who are riding the bus behind her. The man and woman are sinister-looking, dressed in dark clothing, and they look evil to Elizabeth. Much to Elizabeth’s surprise, the two get off the bus with her at Winterhouse.

Winterhouse is a large, beautifully furnished hotel. Elizabeth is greeted by Jackson, a bellhop, who escorts her to her room. She also meets Mr. Norbridge Falls, owner of the hotel. Norbridge shows Elizabeth the candy kitchen and gives her the famous Winterhouse candy called Flurschen which is much like Turkish Delight, but Flurschen is a special recipe made only at Winterhouse, a recipe perfected by Norbridge’s grandfather, the original owner of the hotel.

Elizabeth is delighted to learn the hotel has a library on the same floor with her room. She looks forward to exploring there.

The next day, Elizabeth is summoned to breakfast along with the other guests. She chooses a table at the back of the dining room, near the door. A boy her age sits with her. She asks him if that is his family’s table and if he wants her to move. He tells her he is alone in the hotel for the duration of the holidays and that he has spent the last several Christmases there in the hotel alone. His name is Freddy Knox.

Elizabeth learns that Freddy also loves word ladders and anagrams. They begin challenging each other immediately and find they are evenly matched. Thus, the friendship between Elizabeth and Freddy begins.

Of course, the hotel holds secrets. Naturally, Elizabeth begins to discover the secrets and involves Freddy in solving the mystery. On her first full day, Elizabeth discovers a book published in 1897: A Guide for Children: Games, Secrets, Pastimes, and More by Riley Sweth Granger. The book had slipped behind other books on the shelf, so Elizabeth pulls it out. For some reason, she feels compelled to take the book even though it is in the reference section and should not be removed from the library.

Elizabeth discovers the Vigenere Cipher in the book; Freddy is already familiar with the Vigenere Cipher, but the two of them use it to exchange secret notes.

As with any mystery, Elizabeth and Freddy do encounter some danger. Freddy asks Elizabeth to return Granger’s book to the library, but Elizabeth cannot quite make herself do it. She knows the book holds the key to solving a greater mystery surrounding the hotel. In the end, readers will not be surprised to learn that Elizabeth has some connection to the Winterhouse Hotel and to Norbridge Falls.

Ben Guterson taught high school and middle school students in New Mexico and Colorado for ten years. Then he joined Microsoft as a program manager. Winterhouse is his first book.

Guterson’s Web site yields more information on him and his work and includes his blog:

Reviewers have called Winterhouse “an enchanting urban fantasy … set in a magical hotel full of secrets.”

Chloe Bristol has illustrated Winterhouse with back and white drawings.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Chilling Debut: The Last Mrs. Parrish


Writing a review of Liv Constantine’s The Last Mrs. Parrish is tricky. How much can one tell about the book without giving away the whole story? This review will contain questions, but no spoilers!

Let’s begin with Liv Constantine who is actually two sisters: Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine, both authors of books under their own names. The Last Mrs. Parrish represents the first book on which the sisters have collaborated, mostly through FaceTime and email since they live three states apart. Lynne and Valerie credit their Greek grandmother for their ability to develop noir stories. They both say they spent hours listening to their grandmother tell stories.

To read about Liv Constantine, check out the sisters’ Web site:

To learn about Lynne, visit her Web site:

Valerie’s Web site is

The Last Mrs. Parrish has received a great deal of praise from newspapers, journals, and authors. Publisher’s Weekly describes Amber Patterson, the first storyteller in The Last Mrs. Parrish as another addition “to the pantheon of Gone Girl-type bad girls.” Library Journal concurs by saying of The Last Mrs. Parrish: “Deliciously duplicitous… equally as twisty, spellbinding, and addictive as Gillian Glynn’s Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train.”

The words duplicitous, thrilling, captivating, and shocking all describe The Last Mrs. Parrish and Amber Patterson’s concerted efforts to destroy Jackson and Daphne Parrish’s seemingly perfect marriage so that Amber can become the final and lasting Mrs. Parrish will anger readers because of Amber’s duplicity. They will also be curious about Amber’s next move and next move.

After doing quite a bit of research, Amber Patterson joins a fitness club where she knows Daphne Parrish works out regularly. Amber has decided she is tired of being poor and overlooked. She wants what Daphne has: a wealthy husband, a home overlooking the water at Bishops Harbor, Connecticut. Only Daphne and the two bratty daughters stand in Amber’s way. They are mere distractions, however, for Amber will not be swayed from her plan.

To ingratiate herself into the Parrish family, Amber accidentally bumps into Daphne while walking on a treadmill, and Amber drops the magazine she has been reading. Daphne picks up the magazine, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and she asks Amber, “Are you reading this magazine? Amber explains that her sister Charlene has died of CF.

Amber lowers her eyes to make herself look sad. Immediately, Daphne is taken with the slight young woman. Readers also learn at that moment that Amber has no sister who has had CF; her three sisters are alive and well, but Amber has not seen or spoken to them in three years. Daphne, who lost her sister Julie to CF, does not need to know Amber’s truth if Amber’s plan is to take root and grow. Readers know from the beginning about Amber’s plans and are privy to the ways that Amber carries out the plans to become Mrs. Parrish.

From this chance encounter and exchange of information about sisters who have died of CF, Amber begins her inroad into Daphne’s home and marriage. Amber’s first goal is to gain Daphne’s confidence and be invited to join Julie’s Smile, the CF foundation Daphne runs in her sister’s name to help CF families.

Amber is cunning and careful; she lets slip only bits of information and continues to play upon Daphne’s own loss in order to keep insinuating herself into the Parrish household, ultimately wishing to meet, seduce, and marry Jackson Parrish, wealthy real estate developer.

To all outward appearances, Daphne and Jackson Parrish are the ideal couple, still madly in love after two children. Jackson buys Daphne expensive presents. In their household, they have a French nanny who cares for the children, a full-time cook, and a weekend babysitter. To anyone such as Amber, Daphne has everything that Amber wants and Amber is determined to get it regardless of the cost to Daphne and her daughters.

The Last Mrs. Parrish is told in two parts. The first half of the book provides readers with Amber’s story, so we see the event only through her eyes and her desires. Amber is certain Daphne is a control freak. After all, one has only to look at the contents of the refrigerator to see that. All of the foods are lined up according to height and carefully placed in the refrigerator. The children are not allowed chips or candy, only healthful snacks. Amber sneers at the rules she believes Daphne lives by.

Constantly, Amber sees the lavish Parrish estate as hers. She imagines herself sitting on the deck eating breakfast and admiring the expansive view. All the while Amber is putting her devious plan into action, she continues to befriend Daphne, the woman she wishes to hurt the most by replacing her as Jackson’s wife.

The second part of the story is Daphne’s story. Having read nothing about The Last Mrs. Parrish except that it was Reese Witherspoon’s December pick for her book club audience, I was surprised when Amber’s story ends and Daphne’s picks up.

Having the two women tell their stories independent of one another in the two halves of the book is a terrific plot device. Readers become completely absorbed in Amber’s tale – whether we like her or not, we wonder about her future. Then we have a complete turnaround and see the same story from Daphne’s point of view.

The Last Mrs. Parrish keeps readers guessing until Daphne’s own plot becomes clear. And what is that plot? Is Daphne plotting to expose Amber for the lying hypocrite she is? Or does Daphne have her own diabolical scheme underway?

I would agree with author Karin Slaughter who write “The Last Mrs. Parrish is an addictive and twisty debut.”


The Book Whisperer Reviews an Oklahoma Author


Carolyn Hart, Oklahoma author, has published fifty-eight books and still going. She has created several mystery series: Henrie O, Death on Demand, and Bailey Ruth Raeburn. In addition to the series novels, she has written a number of stand-alone novels. Letter from Home falls into that stand-alone category.

Letter from Home won the Agatha Award for Best Mystery of 2003. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers. Hart has received numerous other awards for her other fiction. In 2003, at the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington, DC, Hart was included as one of ten mystery authors for Letter from Home. She received the same honor again in 2007 for Set Sail for Murder, seventh in the Henrie O series.

A native Oklahoman, Hart graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. Hart continues to live in OKC.

As a guest blogger on Dear Reader,, Carolyn Hart writes about being a child during WWII. She tells readers, “The war dominated our lives.” As a teenager and adult, Hart has continued her interest in WWII, reading about it and writing about it. In fact, Hart has written novels centered around WWII: Escape from Paris, Brave Hearts, and Letter from Home.

Hart also developed a love of newspapers and became a reporter herself, if briefly. Her love of reporters and newspapers has helped her create several journalists in her stories. Letter from Home combines both of Hart’s interests in WWII and newspapers.

Set in hot, dry small-town Oklahoma in the summer of 1944, Letter from Home tells the story of Gretchen Grace Gilman, 13 (almost 14), who becomes Gazette reporter GG Gilman. Gilman goes on to become a famous newspaper reporter. A letter from a long-ago friend has brought GG, now a successful journalist, wife, mother, and grandmother back to her small Oklahoma hometown. Thus, readers see the story through Gretchen’s eyes from 1944.

Who has written the letter which summons Gretchen from her happy, successful life in CA back to OK? Readers see bits and pieces of the letter as Gretchen visits the cemetery where so many from her early life lie buried: her cherished grandmother, her father, Mr. Dennis from the Gazette, Faye Tatum, and Clyde Tatum. As she looks at the graves, she remembers that last summer she spent in her hometown, looking back on the terrible events that culminated in two deaths, a lack of justice then, and also her beloved grandmother’s death from a heart attack.

The hot Oklahoma summer adds to the mystery surrounding Faye Tatum’s death and her husband’s disappearance. Because Faye has been visiting the Blue Light night club in town while her husband Clyde is away serving his country, gossips believe she has been cheating on Clyde. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that Clyde in a fit of jealousy has killed Faye and then fled. Small town gossip feeds that theory. Faye and Clyde’s daughter Barb insists her mother has been faithful to her father. Her mother has gone to the Blue Light only because she likes to dance.

As he writes his story, Cooley, writer for the Gazette tells Mr. Dennis, Gazette editor, and GG that “Faye Tatum … danced every dance. But with everybody. You know what I mean, no particular guy…. She danced with a bunch of guys.”  Even though Faye does not single out one guy with whom to dance, the gossip continues. Besides being a wife and mother, Faye is an artist. That’s enough to add to the suspicion surrounding her because she is not like the other mothers in town.

As people press the police to find the murderer, presumably Clyde Tatum, the Oklahoma heat presses down on the town. Hart describes the heat well throughout the book. As Gretchen and her grandmother walk to the Tatum home on their way to Faye’s funeral, readers feel the heat: “Blazing heat pressed against them. Every patch of shadow from the thick-leafed oaks was a welcome respite, a fractional lessening of the heat’s burden.” In the church, the description continues with “the heat was suffocating, thick and heavy as the dusty purple velvet curtains at each end of the opening into the chapel.”

Gretchen’s grandmother’s last name is Pfizer; she still speaks with a heavy German accent. Often, she forgets and lapses into German phrases in speaking to others. Occasionally, in grandmother’s café, some stranger remarks about the German even though grandmother has changed the name from Pfizer Café to Victory Café and keeps pictures of local men serving in the army at the register.

Gretchen is a precocious, responsible young lady, wise above her thirteen years. She helps grandmother in the Victory Café and writes grownup articles for the Gazette. She is even well on her way to solving the murder when she suddenly must leave her hometown following her grandmother’s heart attack and subsequent death.

Hart has captured the heat of that 1944 summer in small-town Oklahoma. Letter from Home forms a good mystery with an unexpected twist at the end. Does Clyde kill the love of his life out of jealousy? Could someone else be the murderer? Will justice be served?

Carolyn Hart has an extensive Web site where readers can learn about all of her books and more: