Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Book Whisperer Provides a Service For Readers!

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Kirkus Reviews hooked me into reading The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall with this description: “Classic elements of Southern comedy—evil twins, people dropping dead, a faith healer, a river-rafting trip—[surrounding] a lovable pair of central characters. Unfortunately, The Book of Polly does not deliver as fully as promised. Oh, yes, the story does contain evil twins, people who drop dead, a faith healer, and a river-rafting trip; that much comes true.

The story simply misses the mark for me in other ways. Willow is an engaging little girl who grows from a worried ten-year-old to a worried sixteen-year-old over the course of the story. The story’s premise is interesting. On the day of her husband’s funeral, Polly discovers, at fifty-eight, that she is pregnant with her third child. That child turns out to be Willow.

Lisa and Shel, Willow’s older sister and brother, are long gone from home. Both have married and live in other states while Polly and Willow continue to live in Texas. Because of Polly’s age and because Polly insists upon smoking, Willow worries constantly about losing Polly.

Willow goes to great lengths to keep Polly alive, even hiding her cigarettes on the Great Smoke Out day, but Polly bullies Willow into showing where she has hidden the death sticks. Willow also exhibits other behavior I find strange. She wakes up in the middle of the night and stands in her mother’s bedroom doorway to watch her mother breathe. Willow frequently checks on her mom in this way, yet one night when Shel returns home after a nasty divorce, Willow is unaware of his presence until the next morning.

Some reviewers call The Book of Polly laugh-out-loud funny. I did find some amusing points, but not much laugh-out-loud humor. The story begins with Polly taking Willow to school to dispel for the school’s counselor that Willow is a liar. Willow has told several truth-stretching things about her mother to other children. Their mothers complained to the school; hence, Polly must take Willow and meet with the counselor.

Polly takes a borrowed falcon with her, having it perch on the leather arm cover because Willow has told her fellow classmates that her mother hunts with a falcon. Luckily, Polly knows someone who will loan her a falcon. Now, the story may be funny, but it is rather unbelievable. Willow has also said her sister is “with Jesus” which the children have taken to mean that Lisa is dead.

Polly explains to the counselor that Lisa is not dead, but she is with Jesus, meaning she is very devout. After several more explanations, the counselor gives up, knowing she cannot counter Polly’s arguments. The counselor ends the interview by saying she hopes never to meet Polly and Willow in her office again.

Willow and her mother are constantly at odds over a variety of things. Polly wants to chase all the squirrels out of the yard because they eat her pecans and garden vegetables. Willow does not want the critters hurt. Then surprisingly, Polly rescues a baby squirrel after a storm when its mother does not return. Willow is shocked that her mother would care for the baby squirrel so tenderly. Polly names the baby squirrel Elmer.

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Besides desiring to keep Polly alive, Willow wants desperately to know about Polly’s past in Bethel, LA and why Polly is so secretive about it and why she says she can never go back there. Feigning illness one Sunday, Willow stays home while Polly goes to church. Dalton, Willow’s neighbor and playmate, comes over to help Willow search Polly’s room for clues to Polly’s past.

Shel, Willow’s brother, has told Willow that he found some letters once from LA. Willow wants to know what he read in them, but he says he was only seven then and Polly scolded him soundly so he never tried finding the letters again. Certain the letters hold the clues to Polly’s past and most likely will help keep Polly alive, Willow searches the closet until she finds a shoebox full of letters. Before she can read more than an address and a first name, Polly returns to check on Willow.

Incensed, Polly takes the box of letters and a lighter to the backyard with Willow begging her to stop. Before her eyes, Willow sees the letters turn into wisps of smoke and blackened paper. That avenue is now lost.

Willow’s fears become heightened when Polly discovers she has cancer, but she calls the cancer bear. Fortunately, Polly’s treatment chases the bear away. Unfortunately, the bear returns, causing Willow even more grief.

In the end, Polly, Willow, and Phoenix, Shel’s childhood friend, all drive to Bethel, LA, to meet with a faith healer. Willow will finally discover her mother’s past.

Kathy Hepinstall has written five books including The Book of Polly; her other books are Blue Asylum, The House of Gentlemen, The Absence of Nectar, and Prince of Lost Places. The books differ widely from one another. Blue Asylum, for example, is set during the Civil War. The Absence of Nectar is a modern-day thriller.

Kathy Hepinstall maintains a Web site at this link: http://kathyhepinstallwriter.com/.

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews Nomadland

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Have you ever read a book that compelled you to continue reading even as you were horrified by the content? That’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century by Jessica Bruder. Bruder has interviewed people, mostly senior citizens, across the US. The people in the book form “a new low-cost labor pool: transient older Americans. With social security coming up short, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands, forming a growing community of migrant laborers dubbed Workampers.”

Many of the people find themselves in dire circumstances through no fault of their own. They simply do not have enough money to live, especially in areas where rents are very high.  People from many different professions and work histories find themselves with too little on which to live. As a result, they are making do by living in tiny RVs, always purchased second or third-hand and generally still in need of some repair and often on the verge of breaking down or needing tires replaced.

Bruder interviewed Silvianne who lives in a 1990 Ford E350 Econoline Super Club Wagon, formerly “a transit van for the elderly and a work vehicle for convict labor crews before she bought it off Craigslist, complete with leaky head gaskets, bad brakes, cracking power steering hoses, worn-out tires, and a starter that made ominous grinding sounds.” Silvianne calls the vehicle Queen Maria Esmeralda. Read her blog: https://silviannewanders.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/you-gotta-be-kidding/. There, you will find her story and her “Vandweller Anthem.” See Silvianne’s home below.

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An entire subculture has grown up around the Workampers, wur-kam-pers. Workamper News, https://www.workamper.com/workamping, calls itself “the #1 Resource for Workamping & Jobs for RVers.” The newsletter further defines a Workamper in the following: “If you work in exchange for something of value and sleep in a RV at night, you are indeed [a Workamper]. From coast to coast, there are many positions available for Workampers—or those still dreaming of an RV lifestyle—to work and play on the road. Let us put you in touch with the perfect opportunity to meet your Workamping needs.”

The newsletter includes these topics: destinations, featured stories, finding work, outside the box jobs, real life, Workamping, and Young Workampers. Readers will discover a number of tutorials such as how to set up a campsite quickly a well as explanations of what Workampers do.

That piece above makes the Workampers’ life sound inviting. No doubt, for many, the lifestyle is inviting. Americans have long been in love with the idea of the open road and the opportunities to travel that road unrestricted. Workamper News does provide a wealth of information for Workampers.

Workamping, http://www.snowbirdrvtrails.com/workkamping.htm, provides free listings of jobs. It also includes information such as staying at a campground free of charge in exchange for ten to twenty or more hours of work. Fellow Workampers add their own reviews of campsites and jobs, certainly helpful information. Here is a link to a video on how to set up an RV campsite: https://youtu.be/SYH7Ka7ZGmE.

The sites indicated above would lead the casual reader to think the Workampers’ lifestyle is one of adventure and fun. Bruder paints a different picture through the many people she interviews in Nomadland. Most of the time, those Bruder interviewed are living in the brink of exhaustion and fear of another breakdown—of their campers or themselves through ill health.

The part-time jobs are difficult. Amazon warns would-be Workampers “that they should be ready to lift up to fifty pounds at a time, in an environment where the temperature may sometimes exceed 90 degrees.” Amazon’s company slogan is “Work hard. Have fun. Mae history.” Working ten-hour shifts with two fifteen-minute breaks and a thirty-minute lunch break is hard work for those supposed to be enjoying retirement.

Bruder does explain that Workampers help one another. Linda May, a Workamper with whom Bruder spent quite a bit of time, was ill with bronchitis. She was unable to work or even to cook for herself. Fellow Workampers took food to help Linda. Bruder recounts other such instances when a Workamper needed help because of illness or injury. Other Workampers showed up to lend a hand. That sense of community is certainly uplifting, especially in today’s political climate.

Jessica Bruder ends her book with “Acknowledgments” in which she says, “You meet a lot of people in three years and 15,000 miles. This book exists due to their kindness.”

Workampers are new in the sense of living in the tiny RVs and involving both men and women. In the 1900s, men looking for work hitched rides on trains seeking work wherever they could find it. They often shared camps and whatever food they had. Today’s nomads have certain advantages over those earlier traveling workers, but they still exist on the periphery and often their existence is perilously in danger of collapse.

Learn more about Jessica Bruder and her work: https://www.jessicabruder.com/about-1/.

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Gift

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I received twelve free copies of The Hours Between Us by Carol Graf, so my book club will be discussing the book June 20, 2018. Graf, herself a psychiatrist, writes a novel about some of her own cases with all names changed or some people merged into a single character in order to retain the patients’ privacy.

The premise is certainly intriguing in that allowing readers an inside look into some of her patients’ lives as well as her own, Graf has an opportunity to engage readers with real life stories.

Kai Ingerson, sets up the story by beginning with her happy childhood in Muskogee, OK. Unfortunately, when Kai is five, her maternal grandparents arrive in OK to persuade Kai’s parents to move back to Charleston, SC. Her grandfather hopes Kai’s father will join him in his business so that the grandfather can then retire.

Living near family could be ideal; however, Kai’s grandmother, a woman almost as wide as she is tall, is more than a force. She is subject to rages and has an evil tongue, mostly unleased upon her daughter, Kai’s mother. Kai’s family, her father, mother, and her two brothers, are to live with the grandparents while their new home is under construction.

Sadly, almost as soon as the two men leave for work each day, the grandmother whom Kai in her mind calls Dumpling, berates her daughter, Kai’s mom. Finally, one day, when Kai’s father returns from work, Kai tattles on the grandmother. The grandfather, to avoid his wife’s rages and mood swings, works early until very late every day.

Kai’s father removes the family to an uncle’s boarding house to live until their home is finished. One odd detail about the house the grandfather commissioned to be built: it has no bedroom for Kai, the only girl in the family. The house has TWO bedrooms: one for the parents and one for the two brothers to share. Kai has a daybed in a corner of the dining room.

This backstory of Kai’s family sets her readers up to understand why Kai goes into psychiatry as an adult. Even as a child, Kai tries to protect her mother from the grandmother, usually with little success. Kai understands now that her own mother continually sought her mother’s approval even though it was never forthcoming.

After explaining her own early childhood, Kai describes her current living situation. She is divorced, having married, according to her, Peter Pan. She has two children: Andrew, 16, and Gracen, 13. She and her husband have shared custody, but the children primarily live with her.

Now, Kai moves into the majority of the book which deals with her relationship with a beautiful young graduate student who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Kai’s old medical school friend Rob Gellman asks Kai to meet with Stephanie, the young woman, to help Stephanie cope with the devastating treatments and their aftermath.

Stephanie is very bright and self-assured. She provides a contract that she gives Kai to outline their relationship. Stephanie is unlike any other patient Kai has had, and the two develop a strong bond quickly.

Graf does an effective job of describing the beauty in and around Charleston. She and Stephanie both enjoy the beach and find inspiration there.

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Kai takes her readers through the ups and downs of Stephanie’s treatments including having to be in a completely sterile environment. Kai gives Stephanie unprecedented access to her at all times by giving Stephanie her cell phone number as well as the office and home numbers.

Parts of the story are contrived and become bogged down. Other parts, especially when Stephanie and Kai are talking together flow smoothly.  The story will provide fodder for discussion. I doubt I would have read the book had I not received the free copies for the book club!

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Advance Copy

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Receiving a free book is a thrill. I received sneak preview copy of Make Me Even and I’ll Never Gamble Again by Jerrold Fine; receiving the free book in no way influences the following review. The book will be published in August 2018. Jerrold Fine worked in hedge funds in the 1970s and 1980s. That experience in the industry gives Fine particular insight in writing his debut novel starring Rogers Stout. The title is insightful for anyone who knows a gambler.

Rogers and his father have a particularly strong relationship, especially since Rogers’ mother died when Rogers was quite young. Dr. Stout is a highly respected physician who has many demands on his time. However, he and Rogers always have dinner together on Friday nights, just the two of them. This strong family relationship is important to the story.

The father and son also share a love of gambling. After their dinners, the two would return home from the club and they “adjourned to Dad’s study to prepare for our traditional post-Friday dinner gambleathon.” Their rules are simple: “Each combatant received $100 in chips — twenty-five white dollar chips, nine blue five-dollar chips, and three red ten-dollar chips.” No real money changes hands.

These gambling sessions suit both father and son because they spend time together and both enjoy the thrill of the games. Rogers is bright, understands people well, and enjoys taking risks. Rogers has the ability to count cards, accurately remembering what has been played. That ability serves him well.

Rogers’ father is concerned about his son because his high school academic record is spotty at best. Rogers does well as long as he is interested in the subject; once he loses interest or sees no real need for the subject, he shuts down. Rogers’ father takes the opportunity during their Friday night dinner to encourage his son to apply himself to all of his work, regardless of his interest.

Rogers wants to please his father, so he agrees to spend more time on his academic work. Dr. Stout would certainly like Rogers to study medicine and follow in his footsteps. However, he knows Rogers’ interests lie in another direction. To that end, he asks Julian Prescott of Prescott & Prescott, attorney and investment businessman, to interview Rogers for an internship for the summer between his junior and senior years.

Julian Prescott is impressed with Rogers when Rogers tells him “I want to chart my own course. I love numbers and I excel at math. More than almost anything, I enjoy putting that talent to work in practical ways. It’s true I don’t know a lot about stocks and bonds and investing, but I am a very thirsty young man.” Prescott sends Rogers on to a second interview with Andrew Stevens who will be supervising Rogers for the summer.

That internship changes Rogers’ life once he begins to make friends with others in the firm. One evening, to celebrate a big sale, Rogers goes with his colleagues. The older men take Rogers to a bar and to dinner and then to a gambling hall. There, Rogers impresses them with his card playing acumen when he wins after taking over his friend’s hand.

The internship at Prescott & Prescott leads Rogers to an interest in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Jerrold Fine’s alma mater.

Rogers does go to Wharton and graduates. He gets a job on Wall Street and continues his love with gambling. He is innovative and intuitive. Coming to Wall Street with a good education, but no experience allows Rogers to see the business with fresh eyes.

Along the way, Rogers meets both Elsbeth and Charlotte, two women who have very different outlooks. Should rogers choose one or the other? How will he make the decision?

Fine’s experience in hedge funds gives him an edge in writing Rogers’ story. Fine is also careful not to bog the readers down with information they would not understand from lack of experience with hedge funds. He does give enough of the flavor of the industry to make Rogers’ decisions clear.

At the following link, read more about Jerrold Fine and Make Me Even and I’ll Never Gamble Again:

https://makemeevenbook.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Romance

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Julia Whelan is an accomplished actor and narrator on audiobooks. She played Grace Manning on the TV series Once and Again. In 2004, she started college at Middlebury College, graduating magna cum laude in 2008. Whelan spent her junior year abroad at Lincoln College, Oxford Her year at Oxford gives My Oxford Year credibility because Whelan certainly knows the place.

Clearly, Whelan is intelligent and writes well. Praise for My Oxford Year, however, far exceeds its merits. On the “Top Customer Reviews, one reader on Amazon calls itnothing short of a modern masterpiece! With vivid and yet poignant prose, Julia takes readers on a journey of unexpected strength and undying love.”

Perhaps if I had read that customer’s review before I read the book, I would not have bothered. The book is well written in that it does not contain grammatical errors or flaws in the plot. It is, however, predictable. Temple Hill Entertainment has begun turning My Oxford Year into a movie. The story will lend itself to becoming a movie: Rhodes Scholar, sex, alcohol, and a terminal illness. Did I mention that the narrator and main character Ella Durran is also an accomplished Washington, D.C. political activist even though she is still in graduate school?

While she spends her year at Oxford, Ella works as education consultant for a presidential campaign for Janet Wilkes whom Ella admires and who is making a very strong run for the presidency of the US.

At the beginning of My Oxford Year, Ella sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, arrives at Oxford where she drops off her bags and goes looking for food. She quickly finds the Happy Cod, the best fish and chips café in London near Oxford’ there, she meets Simon, the proprietor. Ella has a habit of introducing herself to people, regardless of who they are or how she has encountered them.

While she is eating her fish and chips, a handsome man comes in with a pretty young woman. Clearly, Simon knows the man who orders “two fish and chips and two fizzies.” The woman pipes up, “No chips for me. And make mine diet.” By not wanting the chips, the woman starts a debate on the merits of potatoes which leads to Simon’s discourse on the Irish and the Potato Famine. Ella senses that the pretty young woman is an air-head.

Ella, too, recognizes the couple as the ones who nearly ran over her as they sped along the street in a convertible. Then the man bumps into Ella as she gets condiments for her fish, spilling the plate of condiments all over her blouse, ruining it.

In the debate over the Potato Famine, the young man tells his girlfriend he will provide her with a home-cooked meal if she can tell him when the Potato Famine occurred. Ella heads for the door, but she cannot resist turning back to say, “The Potato Famine was in 1845. Asshole.”

Then who shows up as the professor for Ella’s first seminar? Ella has been expecting to study with Professor Roberta Styan, a noted literary scholar and whose work Ella has read in preparation for the seminar. Alas, Professor Styan enters and says she has been called away to other duties and introduces Professor Jamie Davenport as the new seminar leader.

Readers, you guessed it! Professor Jamie Davenport is the same guy from the convertible and the Happy Cod café. This coincidence should have been a clue about the rest of the story, but I persisted and read on.

The plot continues with extreme chemistry between Jamie and Ella. After their first night together, shortly after they meet, Jamie explains, “Unlike some, Britain is not a nation of Puritans when it comes to matters of carnality between two consenting adults.” He tells Ella this after she asks if students are off-limits as they certainly would be in the US.

Ella and Jamie agree that neither wants a relationship. She will return to the US after a year and pursue her passion of being a political education consultant and he will continue his work at Oxford. They agree then that they are “on the same page.”

Essentially, My Oxford Year is Love Story, the 1970 romantic movie, in new packaging and set in Oxford. Readers, if that kind of story is appealing, then My Oxford Year is for you. If not….

The Book Whisperer Begins With A Confession

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The Book Whisperer must begin the review of The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson by confessing that she has never read a Patterson book before. As a result, I started reading The President is Missing with no preconceived notions or expectations. The story is terrifying, and I read breathlessly, sometimes holding my breath, to see what would happen next. Five-hundred and thirteen pages fly by!

President Duncan, only recently having lost his wife Rachel to cancer, now is in a fight to save his presidency. The Senate wants to impeach him because of an incident involving terrorists. The book opens with a Senate hearing with President Duncan on the hot seat. The questions and answers are witty and stingingly sarcastic at times. In chapter two, we learn the hearing is a mock one to prepare Duncan for the real and impending hearing. Clinton and Patterson’s choosing to start the book as if Duncan is in the midst of the real impeachment hearing certainly engages the readers immediately.

In the first chapters, readers meet President Duncan’s most trusted advisors and learn about the threats to his presidency from the opposition. The terrorists’ plots unfold from the early chapters as well. Readers quickly learn the US is under a devastating threat.

That threat does not involve guns, bombs, or airplanes, but a devastating, incapacitating, and debilitating Internet virus that will take down the military, power grids, banks, everything connected to the Internet. With the implementation of the virus, the United States will become the largest third-world country on the planet. What can President Duncan and his advisors do to stop the powerful virus?

As President Duncan and his advisors race against time, Duncan talks with Liz, a member of his trusted inner circle, from his hideaway. When Liz asks if she “may speak freely,” Duncan responds: “Always, Liz. I’d be upset with you if you didn’t.” He continues thinking to himself: “There is nothing I value more in subordinates than their willingness to tell me I’m wrong, to challenge me, to sharpen my decision making. Surrounding yourself with sycophants and bootlickers is the surest route to failure.”

In addition to the virus, Duncan, his closest advisors, and the Secret Service must contend with very active threats on Duncan’s life.  Of course, the intrigue must also include a mole. Who in Duncan’s close circle, one of his most trusted inner-circle members, has betrayed not only him, but also the country as well?

Many questions arise as the story progresses. What other country or group is behind the virus? Is it Suliman Cindoruk, leader of the Sons of Jihad? Who is Bach, the female assassin, who can change her appearance in a matter of seconds? What about Nina and Augie? Where do they fit into the story? What is the safe word that will kill the virus and, more importantly, can Duncan and his team discover the safe word in time? Who leaked the code word Dark Ages?

The President is Missing is the kind of story one must read. No spoilers here.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Gem of a Novel

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick popped up in an article I was reading in 2016. When I read about Arthur’s discovery of his late wife’s charm bracelet and that the book would cover his quest to discover what the charms meant to his wife, I was intrigued. Indeed, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper lived up to the descriptions I read. It reminded me a bit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce in that Harold, too, begins a quest quite by accident.

Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone is Patrick’s most recent novel. From reading about it, I expected some similarity to The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper: quirky characters, village setting, and a satisfactory ending. I have not been disappointed. Kirkus Reviews calls Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone “heartwarming.” That is an accurate characterization.

Library Jounal’s review compares Phaedra Patrick’s work to novels by Antoine Laurain, Gabrielle Zevin, and Fredrik Backman, all of whom I have read and enjoyed. Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone does fulfill its promise.

Benedict Stone is old at forty-four. Estelle, his wife of almost twelve years, has moved into a friend’s apartment while the friend is away in the US. She has told Benedict she needs some time to think, time away from him. Benedict knows he has pushed Estelle away in his intense desire for them to have a child. Unfortunately, after many doctors’ visits, the only diagnosis is “unexplained infertility.” Because of the focus on having a child, everything else in Benedict and Estelle’s relationship falls away.

Benedict is a jeweler and owns a shop in Noon Sun. The shop, like Benedict himself, is colorless. The walls are pale gray; the place displays no color and the walls are bare. Benedict is a talented jewelry maker, but he makes the safe, same designs over and over.

Benedict is awakened in the middle of a rainy night by someone banging on his front door. When he opens it, he sees a sixteen-year-old girl, a stranger, standing on his doorstep. She is soaking wet. The girl quickly tells him she is his niece Gemma, come from America for a visit. Benedict and his only sibling, Charlie, have been estranged since Charlie left for American eighteen years ago.

Benedict is eight years older than Charlie. Sadly, their parents, both jewelers, had died in a tsunami in Sri Lanka when Benedict was eighteen and Charlie was ten; the two boys were in England when their parents died. Benedict immediately assumed the role of parent to Charlie and took over his parents’ jewelry store.

Benedict is predictable and solid, even somewhat overweight. He eats cakes an doughnuts for breakfast and at teatime too. Gemma’s interruption in his life is unwelcome; in fact, Benedict wants only to call her father and tell him his daughter has arrived unannounced. Gemma has other ideas; she is running away from something, but she is reluctant to tell Benedict much. She accuses him of prying when he asks questions.

Gemma tells Benedict her father knows she is visiting and that Benedict should not worry. She also says she has lost her cell phone and passport when someone stole her purse at the airport. When Benedict asks how to contact her father, Gemma is vague, giving only the name of the farm in Maine where she has been living with her father and his girlfriend. Amber, Gemma’s mother, left Charlie and Gemma when Gemma was quite young.

Gemma is curious about Benedict and her grandparents. She wants to meet Estelle, but Benedict is reluctant for the two to meet. In a small village, however, Benedict knows that inevitably everyone will soon know about Gemma’s arrival. Benedict does take Gemma into the attic to explore a trunk where he placed items that belonged to his parents, her grandparents.

Among the items, they discover a journal Joseph Stone, Benedict’s father had kept about gemstones. Benedict gives it to Gemma. Gemma has also brought a small bag of gemstones, the same bag of stones that Benedict had given Charlie when he and Amber left for America eighteen years earlier. Gemma discovers some lovely pieces of jewelry Benedict has made years earlier under his mother’s tutelage. Gemma wants to display them in the jewelry store, but Benedict, a perfectionist, feels they are inferior.

As one would expect, Gemma turns Benedict’s life upside down. She forces him to eat more sensibly and even to like the fruits and vegetables she prepares. She persuades him to walk on the moors, a place Estelle has always tried to get him to go with her. Estelle is a painter and she likes walking on the moor and sketching what she sees there for her paintings.

Complications continue to develop. Benedict fears Estelle is falling in love with Lawrence, an art dealer arranging an art show for Estelle’s paintings. Gemma continues to persuade Benedict to make changes in his life and routine. She devises a plan she calls Operation Win Estelle Back, which she calls WEB, leaving off operation because WEB sounds better. Gemma wants to help Benedict. Benedict certainly wants Estelle back, but he is uncertain about Gemma’s methods.

Gemma persuades Benedict to don a fancy hat with a feather in it and carry a sword to pretend he is Romeo and ready to woo Estelle. As one might imagine, the attempt goes awry. Gemma is undeterred, though, she has other plans for WEB.

Over the days that follow, Benedict learns a little more about Gemma, mostly from what she writes in her grandfather’s journal along with his notes about gemstones and their properties. When Benedict questions her too much, Gemma becomes defensive and evasive, often developing a migraine, thus effectively shutting off the questions.

Benedict begins making changes in his life because of Gemma. Though he is reluctant to follow her lead, he does. Not only does Gemma make a difference in Benedict’s life, but she also makes changes in the lives of villagers by giving them gemstones that will help them with their particular problem. That part of the story reminds me somewhat of Like Water for Chocolate or The Language of Flowers.

In Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone, each chapter’s title is that of a gemstone with the explanation of that stone’s properties:

Chapter 1: “White Opal” — hope, desire, fidelity

Chapter 2: “Ruby” — visualization, dynamism, vibrancy

Chapter 3: “Moonstone” — release, empathy, intuition

And my favorite, the last chapter: “Rose Quartz” — unconditional love, forgiveness, trust.

Because of Gemma’s influence, Benedict returns to his creative designs. The examples below are similar to the new pieces he creates.

In the UK, Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone is published under the title  Wishes Under the Willow Tree. Read the book to discover why that title.

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Phaedra Patrick’s Web site:

http://www.phaedra-patrick.com

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Novel of Secrets & Intrigue

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Readers looking for a book with a strong storyline that also engages the emotions should look no further than The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies. Love, loyalty, distrust, racism, jealousy, secrets all play a part in what at first appears to be a picture-perfect life for Laurence and Gwendolyn Hooper in British controlled Ceylon in the 1920s.

Gwen arrives in Ceylon at nineteen, recently married in England to Laurence Hooper, tea plantation owner and widower. Gwen and Laurence are very much in love and Gwen is prepared to take over the running of the household, even at the tender age of nineteen.  Laurence does not like to talk about Carolyn, his late wife. Only through time does Gwen learn that Carolyn took not only her own life, but also her infant son’s life.

The plantation home might have looked like the picture below.

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Readers meet Verity, Laurence’s much younger sister. She is willful, privileged and resentful of Gwen. Verity, of course, means truth, but we quickly learn that Verity is anything but truthful. In fact, she is deceitful and does her best to create discord. She is also a thief.

Ceylon provides the perfect backdrop for the story. The countryside is lush and beautiful. Gwen explores the house and gardens, meeting the staff and taking over the household accounts. For some time, Gwen puzzles over the household accounts because she cannot figure out some discrepancies.

Gwen often comments on the colorful saris the women pluckers wear. The picture below is much like what she would have seen.

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Other characters enter the story. On the day her ship is docking in Ceylon, Gwen meets Savi Ravasinghe, an attractive Sinhalese man. When the ship docks and Laurence is late in arriving at the port, Savi helps Gwen by taking her to a British hotel where she can get out of the sun and have tea. Savi will be a major player in the story.

In addition to Verity, Gwen meets Christina Bradshaw, beautiful American widow of a banker. Immediately, Gwen is suspicious of Christina’s relationship with Laurence. Are they only business partners? Christina is beautiful, rich, and sophisticated, and she has known Laurence much longer than Gwen has.

Very soon, Gwen is pregnant; both she and Laurence happily look forward to the birth of a child. Gwen’s doctor suspects she may have twins. On the night she gives birth, Laurence and Verity are away. The doctor also cannot attend the birth, so the ayah Naveena delivers the babies. Hugh, a perfect little boy arrives first. Several hours later, Liyoni, a little girl arrives. She is colored! Immediately, Naveena wraps the baby and leaves the room with her without allowing Gwen to see the baby.

When Laurence returns, Gwen tells him she has had only one child. The excessive weight gain is due to water retention. He accepts that explanation because he has a beautiful son in Hugh.

Gwen insists upon seeing the baby and is horrified by the baby’s obvious mixed race. She thinks back to a night in Nuwara Eliya when she drank too much alcohol and felt sick. Savi helped her to her room and sat with her for a time. She believes he took advantage of her drunkenness and that Liyoni is his daughter. She knows she cannot allow Laurence to see the baby. Naveena provides the solution; she will take Liyoni to a family to raise. Gwen will provide support for the girl every month.

Obviously, Gwen’s mind is in turmoil. She must give up her daughter, keep a terrible secret, and try to continue with a normal life raising Hugh and loving Laurence.

Now, Gwen has a dreadful secret coupled with whatever secrets Laurence harbors. Readers will be intrigued by these secrets and how they will play out as the story continues. Also, remember Verity and her conspiracies to steal, lie, cheat, and generally cause trouble.

In addition, Ceylon’s British citizens face growing unrest among the natives seeking to govern themselves. Nick McGregor, the plantation overseer, rules the workers by old rules, flogging, firing, and docking pay. Laurence has good intentions and opens a school for the workers’ children and provides minimal health care. Gwen wants him to do more. Her wish to help the workers causes friction between her and McGregor who accuses her of not knowing what she is about.

McGregor tells Gwen, “this is the sort of thing that happens when somebody interferes with the way of things.” He refers to a fire in the cheese house that Gwen has built next to the main house. He believes one of the workers deliberately set the fire. McGregor and Gwen have tangled more than once already, always over workers’ rights and their care.

When Gwen accuses McGregor of being prejudiced because of “the color of their skin,” he snarls, “This is nothing to do with color.” Gwen responds: “Of course, it’s to do with color. Everything in this country is to do with color. Well, mark my words, Mr. McGregor, all this will come back to bite you one day and on that day none of us will be safe in our beds.”

Is Gwen talking only to McGregor, or is that speech for her as well?

The American stock market crash extends its reach into all parts of the world, including Ceylon. Because Laurence has made investments in copper mining on Christina’s advice, he is in danger of losing money. To try to salvage some of his fortune, Laurence must go to New York, leaving Gwen and Verity in Ceylon. The two have never gotten along well, and strife between them continues to grow as Gwen now suspects more and more that Verity is stealing from the household accounts.

When will the secrets be brought into the open? Gwen and Laurence both have secrets that affect their relationship. Verity has her own secrets as well. The exposure of all these secrets will either be the undoing of the family or bring the healing necessary for them to continue.

The Tea Planter’s Wife reminds me of “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin. The short story set in the pre-Civil War South tells the story of a love much like Laurence and Gwen’s until a mixed-race baby is born. Sadly, in that story ends badly.  Read The Tea Planter’s Wife to get the full story and see how it ends!

The Book Whisperer Reviews Amy Dickinson’s Memoir

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As a member of the Friends of the Library and the Books Sandwiched In committee, I am privy to a large number of nominations of books for the book reviews each fall and spring. The committee members are voracious readers who nominate books in all genres. As a result, I often read books I would not otherwise choose on my own. As members of the committee, we need to read as many of the books as we can between the time they are nominated and when we gather to choose the six or seven books for the reviews.

That means that often, we have 25 – 35 books nominated. Naturally, members cannot read all of the books nominated, so we have to pick and choose. I have already read and reported here on Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Goodbye Picadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, and Educated by Tara Westover. See the Book Whisperer’s earlier blogs for reviews of those books.

Today’s review covers Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson, “Ask Amy” columnist. Dickinson is brutally honest in her memoir, not sparing the warts in her family, particularly in regard to her father, Buck who never held a steady job, but always found it convenient to blame someone else for his losing or leaving a job.

As a result of Buck’s lack of steady employment, the family moved frequently. To illustrate that fact, Dickinson tells her readers: “My mother gave birth to four children in five years. She lived in ten different houses during that time.”

Jane, Dickinson’s mother, had planned to go to college, but she met Buck who changed her plans. They were married at age 20. Years later, when Buck had left the family for good, Jane went to college and earned a graduate degree. Jane became a professor at Cornell and later taught at Ithaca College.

Dickinson chronicles her own troubles with love when she describes meeting Andrew and falling in love with him. Following her graduation from college, she followed Andrew to NYC where they were married. Andrew worked for a TV station in NYC while Dickinson worked for another station. Andrew was ambitious and on the rise.

By their fifth anniversary, Andrew and Dickinson had decided to divorce. They had a young daughter, Emily by then. They lived in London where Andrew worked as news correspondent. Andrew had already found another woman whom he later married.

Amy Dickinson returned with Emily to Freeville, NY, her hometown and stayed with her mother for a time. Freeville, according to Dickinson “is mostly a town of leavers and stayers — and [Dickinson] managed to be both. Dickinson went away to college and lived in Chicago, New York, London, and Washington, D.C.” She returned to Freeville and has maintained a home there ever since. Below, see the Freeville, NY Post Office where the townsfolk gather and also the Freeville City Hall.

 

From Freeville, Dickinson travels to Chicago once a month to check in with her The Chicago Tribune, which syndicates her column. While there, she also appears on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

The picture below is from Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things to give readers a bird’s eye view of Freeville, NY, population 520. Arrow points to Florida because a number of residents or former residents either spend the winter in Florida or have moved there permanently because of “the blizzards that rip through the region from Halloween to Mother’s Day.”

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Dickinson writes honestly about her life as a single parent, primarily raising Emily alone. Andrew had two daughters with his second wife; Emily spent little time with them. Dickinson took care of her mother and Emily while continuing to write her column, but she admitted to being lonely.

In her return to Freeville, Dickinson reconnected with old school friends, especially Bruno whom she had known in high school. She first contacted Bruno about renovating her mother’s home. Bruno told her she would be better off to raze the place and start over because the cost of remodeling would be too great.

The two of them, Dickinson and Bruno, dance around their feelings for one another until Amy Dickinson declares to Bruno that she has a crush on him. Bruno is divorced and raising three daughters while his oldest daughter lives with her mother.

After finally admitting to one another that they have fallen in love, the two decide to keep the engagement a secret for three months. Dickinson is honest in telling about the reactions from all the daughters, hers and Bruno’s. However, over time, the daughters are won over and Bruno and Amy marry.

For fans of “Ask Amy,” Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things will be like an in-person visit with Amy Dickinson. For those who don’t know her work, they will enjoy her honesty and her forthright manner, so evident in her columns. To read some of her columns, go to this link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/askamy/.

Look for other reviews of books from the Books Sandwiched In committee and then plan to attend the series which begins in October, 2018 at the Central Library, downtown Tulsa.

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews The Women in the Castle

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The Herald Extra calls Jessica Shattuck’s The Women in the Castle “…a wonderfully rich story of the strength of the soul and terrors of war.” Shattuck’s grandparents were German. They, like her character Ania and Rainer, ran a youth lager. Shattuck draws on stories from her grandparents to weave a fictional tale of three widows of resistance fighters who died in an attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Marianne von Lingenfels makes her mission in life after WWII to rescue and protect other wives who are now widowed. To have a place for the widows, Marianne returns to her husband’s ancestral home, the Lingenfel Castle, itself damaged in the war.

First, Marianne finds Benita, a poor, uneducated, but beautiful, woman who marries Connie, Marianne’s dearest friend from childhood. Connie meets Benita during the war and inexplicably falls in love with her and marries her. They have a son, Martin who has been taken to a children’s home in Berlin. Marianne finds both Martin and Benita, who have been separated and takes them to the castle. The castle below is Hohenzollern Castle, but I imagine Lingenfel Castle to look like this one.

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Next, she locates Ania and her two young sons and takes them to the castle. Marianne has connections, a little money, and an education. Too, she has promised her husband and Connie that she will take care of the women and children. Marianne takes her charge very seriously.

Now, the three women, Benita with her son Martin, Ania with her two sons Anselm and Wolfgang, and Marianne with her three children Elisabeth, Fritz, and Alice, form a family fighting for survival in post-War Germany. Food is in short supply following the war; luckily, the women have a garden and they barter for eggs from a nearby neighbor.

Marianne continues with her resistance work of writing letters and writing about her husband’s work in the resistance. She rarely compromises which is one of her strengths, but it is also a weakness when she cannot see beyond the black and white of an issue. In her assurance, she does make mistakes.

The story is complicated as one might expect with the three women living together, all damaged by the past and the present. The story is compelling and shows the women’s strength as they work toward a normal existence following the war. Over the course of the novel, readers learn about each woman’s background and what has brought her to the present. Learning about the women enriches the readers.

Shattuck is a talented writer. Ania thinks about the Smeltz family, her childhood neighbors: “Ania misses her friend. And at night, she lies in her silent bedroom and attempts to recall the music his family used to play. It makes her heart ache. She knows it is her own fault the music has disappeared.” Some of the lines are amusing: “Sophie, the second-oldest Gruber daughter, had married an American soldier and moved to a place called Kansas. This was both marvelous and galling to Benita.”

The paragraph below, late in the novel when Ania is visiting her daughter Mary in America, also speaks to Shattuck’s talent as a writer to evoke pictures with her words:

“Outside the window, American life flew by—the giant cars, the eclectic, colorful signs for gyms and clothing stores and fast-food restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations with inflatable balloon figures bobbing goofily in the wind. As well as the boarded-up concrete bunkers of obsolete supermarket chains, failed Chinese food shops and electronics outlets, left standing like rotten teeth in an otherwise healthy smile. It didn’t matter. There was room for everything. It was a free country. The past was nothing to be ashamed of here.”

The Women in the Castle is a hard book to read at times because of the brutality the readers discover. While the story takes place after WWII, in order to understand fully what has caused the women to be as they are, Shattuck takes readers back into the war at times. So much of the time, Americans read about WWII from the Allies’ perspective. Shattuck gives readers an in-depth look at Germans who resisted and paid dearly for that resistance and then their endurance as they struggled to put their lives back together after the war.

Mary Pol of The New York Times sums up The Women in the Castle with this assessment: “Moving…. This is definitely not a story of plucky women banding together to fix up a chilly home.”

Jessica Shattuck talks about The Women in the Castle in this video: https://youtu.be/cmUlIL6GM5g.

Jessica Shattuck’s Web site offers more information on her and her work: http://jessicashattuck.com/.