Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Book Whisperer Discovers a YA Unreliable Narrator

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Juliette West Williams, Jule, “knows the more you sweat in practice the less you bleed in battle, so she became the kind of woman it would be a great mistake to underestimate.” As I read Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, I could not help but reflect on The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine, a book reviewed earlier on this blog. Lockhart’s book is for readers ninth grade and up while Constantine’s novel is for adults. Still, the two have similarities. Jule wants what others have and so does Amber Patterson in The Last Mrs. Parrish.

How the two go about getting what they want, money, prestige, power, remains similar. Jule turns to training her muscles to be strong and taking martial arts classes. At the same time, she learns how to mimic accents and sound like someone else. She can memorize words and numbers quickly and retain them. She uses that skill to her advantage as well. In The Last Mrs. Parrish, Amber reinvents herself to become a polished, sophisticated woman.

Both Jule and Amber lie easily. They make up new backstories about themselves and carefully repeat the stories until they themselves believe them. The departure between the two lies in that Jule ruthlessly pursues her goals even resorting to violence.

Genuine Fraud delves into what constitutes self and identity. The story revolves around Jule and Imogen, a friend she makes, a friend who has all that Jule wants: money and family. Imogen herself is not happy with her life, though. Despite having money, beautiful clothes, the ability to travel, and a flat in London, she seeks pushes people away from her. She has been adopted by a loving couple who want the best for her.

Readers can never be certain about Jule because she tells one story and then another about her background. She reveals her ability to cheat, steal, and commit violence. How much can readers trust her?

Lockhart tells the story in backward fashion so that readers find the beginning at the end. That ploy works well with the story since readers can never be certain about what Jule tells them. Entertainment Weekly calls Genuine Fraud “compulsively readable.”

Lockhart has written a best seller called We Were Liars; other books include Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, the Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Real Live Boyfriends, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet.

On her Web site, Emily Lockhart provides resources for teachers and students: http://www.emilylockhart.com. Her blog link is http://www.theboyfriendlist.com/.

Genuine Fraud is also on Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=cD7cDQAAQBAJ.

The Book Whisperer Reviews An Absorbing Debut Novel

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Jasper Wishart, 13, has face blindness and synaesthesia. He cannot recognize faces, even his father’s face. Synaesthesia is the ability to see colors from produced when he hears words and other noises. People with synaesthesia are synesthetes. Often, synesthetes are unaware that they differ from others until they mention that they see colors when they hear letters and numbers, and in Jasper’s case, other noises like barking dogs and car noises. Too, synesthetes often are autistic. Jasper’s mother also saw colors when she heard words, so Jasper feels his mother understood him. Sadly, his mother died when Jasper was only nine.

When The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder opens, Jasper, 13, is convinced that he has killed his neighbor Bee Markham. He feels certain that he has stabbed Bee to death, even though she has been his friend. Before he stabs Bee, however, Jasper also stabs himself in the stomach. Jasper is equally certain his father has cleaned up the crime scene and has hidden Bee’s body somewhere in a wooded area.

Readers are familiar with unreliable narrators, and Jasper certainly fits that category since he perceives the world differently from those around him. First, he is autistic and understands people’s words literally. Second, he is face-blind in that he cannot recognize people’s faces, only their voices. And those voices also appear to him in colors, either vibrant or muddy depending upon the person and the situation. For example, a cold can obscure the proper color of a person’s voice, thus making it difficult for Jasper to recognize the person.

Jasper is obsessed with wild parakeets which have taken up in the trees in his neighborhood. He loves their vibrant colors and watches them with binoculars his father has given him. In addition, Jasper keeps meticulous records about the parakeet sightings. He draws the colors he sees as he watches and listens to the parakeets.

When lovely, blonde Bee Larkham returns to her mother’s house in the neighborhood following her mother’s death, Jasper is immediately taken with her because he sees her words in sky blue, very close to his favorite cobalt blue which represents his mother’s voice. Bee has returned from Australia to clear out her mother’s house, renovate it, and sell it.

Meanwhile, she offers music lessons to the area school children. She also plays lovely music very loudly, causing trouble among the older neighbors who have long been there. In fact, several of them lived in the neighborhood when Bee was growing up.

Jasper’s dad reminds Jasper to follow the script they have devised about Bee Larkham and her possible murder. Jasper must follow the rules, especially when talking with the police.

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The whole story of Bee’s murder, if she has been murdered, hinges on past events. Jasper does become friends with Bee and she allows him to watch the parakeets from her second story bedroom because that gives an unobstructed view of the birds. Conflicts arise when Bee does not keep promises she has made to Jasper. If Bee says he can watch the birds for an hour four afternoons a week, then he expects her to keep that promise. He does not understand people who break promises or lie or use metaphors and similes. We cannot say his view is black or white because it is indeed full of colors!

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Harris, a journalist, has written about autism for various journals. She has researched the connection between autism and synaesthesia as well. Thus, the story rings true even for someone who has no knowledge about either. Publisher’s Weekly reviews The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder this way: “In this fantastic debut, Harris enters the technicolor mind of thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart…Readers enamored of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Rosie Project will delight in Harris’s sparkling novel.” Having read and loved both of those books, I would agree.

Harris heightens suspense by not telling the story in chronological order. She moves back and forth between the past and the present. Readers have no difficulty, however, in keeping up with the parts of the story and understanding the timeline. Readers will be sympathetic to both Jasper and his dad. Jasper becomes frustrated with people who do not understand him. His dad is trying hard to be the father Jasper needs, but he experiences his own frustrations too.

In The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder, Sarah J. Harris has written a compelling novel that introduces readers to an unusual boy with an unusual condition, synaesthesia, and has woven both into a fascinating story. On her Web site, Harris provides information about her interest in synaesthesia: https://www.sarahjharris.com/. Below is the book’s cover as published in the UK.
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The Book Whisperer Reviews With No Spoilers: The Word Is Murder

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Anthony Horowitz is a polymath: “A person of encyclopedic learning.” He writes for television, creating Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, and New Blood. His teen spy series Alex Rider is immensely popular. Because of his reputation and his talent, the Conan Doyle Estate and Orion Books asked Horowitz to write two new Sherlock Holmes novels: The House of Silk and Moriarty. Both books achieved international success. More recently, the Ian Fleming Estate has requested that Horowitz write a James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis.

The Book Whisperer reviewed Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz last spring. It was also included in the Books Sandwiched In spring series at the Tulsa City-County Library. The story provides readers with great fun: a mystery within a mystery. Today’s review centers on The Word Is Murder.

Horowitz has cleverly devised a new scheme in The Word Is Murder. Daniel Hawthorne, a discredited police detective, shows up unexpectedly at Horowitz’s home. Although Hawthorne is no longer a police detective, he consults with the police on difficult cases. Hawthorne has an odd proposal for Horowitz. Hawthorne wants Horowitz to document Hawthorne’s solving of murder cases; in other words, Horowitz will be Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock, in essence a ghost writer.

Not only does Hawthorne make this outlandish proposal, he demands that Horowitz and he split the profits 50/50. Not only that, Hawthorne has taken the liberty of choosing a title for the book as well: Hawthorne Investigates. Horowitz is taken aback by Hawthorne’s brash nature, but he also remains intrigued with the prospect of working closely with a detective on a high-profile case. Hawthorne is not unknown to Horowitz; they have worked together peripherally when Hawthorne consulted on some Midsomer Murder episodes.

Hawthorne is brusque and dismissive of other people. Horowitz knows Hawthorne will be difficult in their working relationship. In the first place, Hawthorne rarely shares anything about his personal life; yet, Horowitz feels he should know about Hawthorne in order to write effectively.

Additional problems come to mind. Horowitz is used to developing the plot and then working out the details as he goes along. Hawthorne’s case will present itself fait accompli. Horowitz then must determine how to tell the story without simply reciting facts.

The murder case Hawthorne wants Horowitz to write about first involves the death of Diana Cowper, a wealthy woman who is also mother to the famous actor Damian Cowper. Damian now lives in LA where he is a highly acclaimed movie star.

The facts surrounding Diana Cowper’s murder are strange indeed. She goes to Cornwallis and Sons Funeral Parlor on Fulham and South Kensington where she talks with funeral director Robert Cornwallis. She wishes to arrange the details about her own funeral. Such a request is not uncommon. Many people want the details of their funerals and burials organized so that the family will not be burdened. Also, by giving the undertaker her wishes, Diana Cowper can be assured that her funeral will be as she wished.

Diana Cowper is satisfied with the arrangements. Then sadly, she is murdered the same evening after visiting the funeral home. Did she know she would die so soon? Was she expecting someone to kill her? Readers will have many questions at this point just as Anthony Horowitz does.

Of course, the case has mitigating circumstances. Ten years ago, Diana Cowper ran over twin eight-year old brothers on her way home from a golfing afternoon. The boys were with their nanny at the seaside in Deal. They ran across the road, leaving their nanny behind, because they wanted to go to the ice cream store after being on the beach.

Jeremy survived the accident, but he is severely diminished because of it. He requires constant care. His brother Timmy died at the scene. Diana Cowper left the scene of the accident and went home, but she and her son Damian, still an aspiring actor at the time, went to the police station where Diana explained her actions.

At a trial, Diana Cowper was acquitted of any wrong-doing, but she gave up her car and never drove again.  Readers have to ask themselves if that accident has something to do with Diana Cowper’s death. Would Judith and Alan Godwin, the boys’ parents, have killed Diana Cowper ten years after the accident?

As one might expect, Diana Cowper’s murder is not the only one in the book. Readers also discover intrigue in the form of an affair, a love story gone wrong, and long-held grudges.

No spoilers here! Read the story to discover the turns and twists Horowitz and Hawthorne take readers on. Other characters come under suspicion. Horowitz thinks he is a step ahead of Hawthorne which gets him into serious trouble.

The Word is Murder is intriguing, funny, tongue-in-cheek, and captivating. Throughout the story, Horowitz continues to second guess his decision to write Hawthorne’s investigation. Each time, he decides to back out, however, he becomes involved again because, like the readers, he wants to know what happens.

Check out Anthony Horowitz at his Web site: https://www.anthonyhorowitz.com/.

The Book Whisperer Gives Thumbs Up to Pachinko

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As a member of the Books Sandwiched In committee sponsored by the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries, I read a number of books being considered for the review series. My go-to reading is fiction, but I do venture out into other areas, especially for the Books Sandwiched In committee. This summer, in the nonfiction category, I have read Educated by Tara Westover, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson, and Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. See the Book Whisperer’s reviews on all of them.

The fiction nominees I have read include the following: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Goodbye Picadilly: War at Home, 1914 by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay, and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Another nominee is the work of Sue Grafton, the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries. I have not read the entire series, but I have read through S.

Being a member of the Books Sandwiched In committee causes me to stretch in my reading habits. I admit that I did not tackle several of the nominated books because I was not interested or they were hard to get from the library. Some of the books on the list that I did not read are quite interesting to me given the time and access: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and 4th and Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire by Douglas Miller and Steve Gerkin.

For this review, my focus will be Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. The book chronicles the lives of poor Koreans living in Japan where they are considered visitors, non-citizens, regardless of whether they immigrated or were born in Japan.

Pachinko begins in the early 1900s in Korea, though the main characters soon move to Japan, and takes readers into 1989 still in Japan. Sunja, the beloved daughter and only child of a fisherman in Korea, is a shy sixteen-year-old. Her father has died, leaving Sunja and Yangjin, her mother, to survive on their own. The two of them run a boarding house near the sea.

One evening, Sunja returns home from marketing only to be accosted by several young Japanese thugs who undoubtedly will rape and beat her since she is alone and in an isolated spot. Koh Hansu, a fish broker happens to be walking along the area and sees the young men harassing Sunja, so he steps in to rescue her. He scatters the men and warns Sunja “to be careful not to travel alone or ever be out at night. If you go to the market by yourself, you must stay on the paths. Always in public view. They are looking for girls now.”

Sunja does not understand what Hansu means, but he goes on to tell her that someone who looks safe may offer her a job in China or Japan, but she must be careful. The person means only harm. Sunja continues to be puzzled because she has no intention of leaving her mother. Of course, Hansu means that an evil person may offer her a job making what to her would be a great deal of money. In reality, the job would be prostitution and she would be badly used, abused, and thrown away.

Hansu lulls readers into seeing him as a kind, somewhat older man who has protected Sunja and offered her good advice. He contrives to see her again and persuades her to meet him. For the first few times, he is content to talk with her and admire her for her youth and quiet beauty even though she is not traditionally beautiful, perhaps.

Then Hansu’s desires cause him to lead Sunju astray. Sunju, naïve, thinks he will marry her, especially when she tells him she is pregnant. That’s when he reveals that he is married in Japan and has three daughters. Still, Hansu says he will buy a house for Sunju and will take care of her and the child. Sunju is horrified and tells Hansu she will never see him again.

Obviously, Sunju must tell her mother about the pregnancy before too long. Baek Ksak is a lodger who has been staying at the boarding house. He arrived very ill with tuberculous. Sunju and her mother have nursed him and he has regained his health although he remains thin and weak. Baek is a missionary on his way to Japan to live with his brother and beautiful sister-in-law where he will be a minister in a Presbyterian church.

When Baek learns of Sunju’s dilemma, he decides that he will marry her in order to give the baby a name and that he will be the baby’s father. He realizes that Sunju someone has taken advantage of her naivete. Sunju and her mother agree to the marriage.

Yangjin knows the marriage means she will lose her only daughter, but she also recognizes that the marriage will save Sunju and the child. Sunju and Baek marry and leave for Japan where they live in a tiny shack in an area with other Korean immigrants in Osaka. The interior of their home is clean and better kept than most of the other houses. Yoseb and Kyunghee own their home, but they are careful not to act as if they are homeowners. Most of their neighbors rent their shacks and often they live with livestock in the house with the people.

Yoseb, Baek’s older brother, welcome Baek and Sunju. Sunju is eager to be helpful to her sister-in-law. Yoseb and Kyunghee have no children of their own. Kyunghee especially looks forward to becoming an aunt and helping to care for the child. She quickly calls Sunju “sister” and the two women share the household duties.

Pachinko is a sweeping story. Because of the length of the book, Lee has had the opportunity to develop each character fully. Sunju and Kyunghee work tirelessly to earn a little money to help the family get by. Yoseb is well-liked at his job and does the work well; because he is Korean, though, he receives less than if he were Japanese despite his hard work and talents.

Baek and Sunju have son and six years later another son. Baek earns a little money from the church, but he is arrested for being a Christian and kept in jail for two years. When he is near death, he is thrown out of the jail and sent home.

Sunju and Kyunghee make kimchi to sell from a cart; they take turns caring for the children. One day Kim Changho, a restaurant manager, approaches the women and offers to buy all the kimchi they can make. He wants them to work in his restaurant. At first, they are reluctant because they want to make the kimchi at home and deliver it to him. However, he says they must make it in the restaurant and the salary he offers the two of them is too great to ignore.

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The story is full of turns, some of which readers will expect, perhaps. Others come as surprises. The little family prospers despite losing Baek. WWII begins and Hansu reappears. He tells Sunju the family must leave for a farm outside of town. He has arranged for the women to work and for Yoseb to go to Hiroshima to work as a foreman.

The family survives the war although Yoseb is badly burned and will never be able to work again. Still, Sunju and Kyunghee and now Sunju’s mother who has come from Korea all work together to keep the family going.

Lee describes the difficulties of the family just trying to survive. They endure hardships, but their strength lies in their devotion to one another. Hansu does help them, surreptitiously, until Sunju discovers he has been behind some of their success.

Pachinko is Min Jin Lee’s second novel. Her first published book is Free Food for Millionaires. She has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. In addition, she has written for a number of journals.

 

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Juvenile Winner

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I first discovered Dave Eggers when I encountered A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In it, Eggers writes of the deaths of both parents to cancer, a matter of weeks apart. Eggers, then a college student, must now become guardian to his eight-year-old brother. Later, I read What is the What, another nonfiction book, that tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of civil war in the South Sudan.

Eggers has written other books as well. In addition, he is the founder of McSweeney’s, independent publishing company. McSweeney’s publishes McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, a journal of new writing in addition to publishing books and a monthly magazine, The Believer.

Not content with writing his own books and promoting the writing of others, Eggers is also cofounder of 826 National which is a group of “eight tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible.” Whew! Eggers is a busy man.

Not only is he a writer, Eggers is also an artist. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the Nevada Museum of Art, and other galleries. His awards are too numerous to mention, but they include the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

He has begun writing books for young readers: Her Right Foot, This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, and The Wild Things.

The Lifters, published in 2018, stars Gran Flowerpetal and his family. The story opens with Granite Flowerpetal, Gran, moving from his home on the ocean to his father’s birthplace, many miles away. His father is unable to get work as a mechanic where they live, so they move in hopes of finding work. They also have a house in Carousel, the town where his father has grown up.

Gran decides that in his new town and new school, he will become Gran instead of Granite because he tires of explaining how he got his name. His father’s explanation is that with a surname like Flowerpetal, Granite needs a strong name. The family consists of father, mother, Gran, and younger sister Maisie. Mother is in a wheelchair, but Gran does not know the cause of his mother’s paralysis. He can remember when she could walk, but he has no memory of when her legs became twisted or why.

Gran walks Maisie to her new elementary school and then goes on to his middle school. School has already been in session for a month, so Gran is behind his classmates. In addition to being new, Gran feels left out. In fact, he feels invisible to both students and teachers.

One afternoon, he decides he must really be invisible, so he walks into the school’s decidedly hard wall outside. Gran realizes “the pain of bricks against one’s head cannot be overstated. Given that bricks are quite solid.” Catalina Catalan, a classmate, rescues him from the wall and wipes the blood off his face with her flannel shirt.

Catalina states, “You just walked into a building” as if Gran does not realize what he has done.

Gran has noticed Catalina in history class. She always wears the same clothing: a Ruth Bader Ginsberg t-shirt, jeans, a flannel shirt tied around her waist with the sleeves dangling, and (usually) dirty boots. At first, Gran does not know whose face is on the t-shirt, but he later realizes it is Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

At that moment, Gran becomes acutely aware of Catalina and wants to know more about her. She is, after all, the only person in school who has noticed him. When Gran tries following Catalina, she disappears as if into thin air.

That disappearance only intrigues him more about Catalina. On another day, he follows her again. This time, he is certain she uses a handle to open a door into the hillside and that she disappears into the tunnel of the hill. He even sees the tiny twinkling lights like Christmas lights in the tunnel.

Gran also makes another discovery in the school building when he walks into an unlocked door where all sorts of equipment and furniture are stored. There, he meets El Duque, the Duke. The Duke invites Gran to stay and eat his lunch in the room. Since the Duke represents one of the few people who seem to see him, Gran stays. This meeting of the Duke will be important later in the story and Gran continues to visit the Duke at lunch time on school days.

Gran sees carousel horses and the poles which attach the horses to the carousel itself in the Duke’s rooms. When he asks the Duke about them, he learns that the town has been dependent upon the Catalan Carousel Company.

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Gran’s real obsession, however, is Catalina. He sees she DOES open the hillside with some kind of handle. He then decides he needs a handle in order to open the door and follow her. He spends his savings of $18.00 at a flea market to purchase a handle only to find it does not work. Then he remembers the old trunk in the attic of the house his great-great-grandfather built. It contains a “mess of old tools and scraps of metal. There were dark metal fragments of a dozen shapes and tools that neither Gran nor his father had ever seen before. There was a giant C, about the size of Gran’s hand.”

Gran remembers that C and rushes home to take it from the attic. In his heart, he knows it will be the handle he needs for opening the door where Catalina goes.

In his meetings with the Duke, Gran learns the town of Carousel used to the world-famous home of carousel horses made by Catalan Carousel Company. Everyone in the town worked for Catalan in one way or another. Then rollercoasters came along and carousels became outmoded. The townspeople fell upon hard times. People feel depressed, buildings begin collapsing, and work is hard to find.

Will Gran discover how and why Catalina Catalan slips into the seemingly impervious hillside? What will become of the town and its people? Eggers has written a tale for the third to sixth grade readers that will capture their imagination as it did mine. Eggers also infuses the story with humor. The fact that Catalina wears a Ruth Bader Ginsberg t-shirt is amusing. The dialogue is also fresh and often funny.

Dave Eggers maintains a Web site at this link: https://daveeggers.net/dave-eggers/.

The Book Whisperer Is Not Thrilled by This Cozy Mystery

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Jenn McKinlay, http://www.jennmckinlay.com, has written nearly forty books including romantic comedy, Library Lover’s Mysteries, Cupcake Mysteries, London Hat Shop Mysteries, Good Buy Girls Mysteries under the name Josie Belle, and Decoupage Mysteries under the name Lucy Lawrence. McKinlay has a loyal following.

McKinlay receives a great deal of praise with terms like “exuberantly entertaining,” “tender cozy full of warm and likable characters,” and “a deliciously thrilling mystery.” Sadly, I am not a fan. Death in the Stacks is the second in the Library Lover’s Mysteries. Amateur sleuth and full-time librarian Lindsey Norris has promised herself and her boyfriend Sully, a tour boat captain, that she will no longer get mixed up in solving murders. That’s because she nearly dies in Hitting the Books, the first in the series as readers learn in Death in the Stacks.

When I see books set in libraries and bookstores, I am always willing to give them a chance. Some live up to expectation while others do not. The dialogue in Death in the Stacks tries too hard. Far too many puns appear in the conversations with characters trying to out-pun one another. Puns form terrific humor in small doses.

Another flaw in the book lies in too many characters. Keeping track of who does what becomes difficult. The romantic entanglements in the book are stilted and don’t ring true to me.

Death in the Stacks begins when Lindsey finds Olive Boyle, newly elected library board president, sitting at Lindsey’s desk using her phone and holding up a finger as if to say, “Wait!” Lindsey is chagrined, but she maintains her composure, interested in what Olive will say about being in the office.

Readers soon learn Olive is a vindictive and hateful cow. Although the library board acts in an advisory capacity since the town council really regulates the library, Olive is under the impression that she is in charge. She wants the library staff to wear black and white uniforms as if they are servers in a restaurant. She wants Paula, one of the staff members fired because Paula has tattoos and purple hair. Olive also hints that Paula has a criminal past.

Olive is the kind of bull that carries its own china shop around. She noses into everyone’s business and discovers people’s secrets in order to control them and get what she wants. At the biggest fund raiser of the year, dinner in the stacks at the library, Olive is stabbed to death in the library stacks near the end of the evening when most people have left. Paula discovers the body and even picks up the knife. Obviously, she is the killer because Olive has wanted her fired and has publicly announced that fact.

Right? Of course, that would mean the end of the book on page 69 at the beginning of chapter 8 and we have 17 chapters to go. Clearly, too, Lindsey must get involved in solving the murder along with her friend Robby, the British TV and movie star.

The Library Lover’s Mysteries continues with seven more volumes currently. For those who want a cozy, quick mystery, Death in the Stacks will fit the bill.

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Winner on a Friend’s Recommendation

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Recently, I have read two debut novels by women in their 40s. Gale Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, worked in administration at a university where she wrote before work, on breaks, and after work. See the Book Whisperer’s review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Eleanor has been damaged by an unknown incident in her childhood. Readers must read the book to discover what has happened in her past. She is quite an interesting character.

Then on my friend Sue’s recommendation, I began reading The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard, another debut novel by a woman in her 40s. What a delightful choice to make too.

Ellie, 27, who has a Condition lives with her mother, 71, in a quiet neighborhood. Neighbor Sylvia is a kind woman who visits Agnes and Ellie. Trevor, Sylvia’s husband is less kind, but he generally keeps his dislike of Ellie to eye rolls and comments she does not understand.

Readers will quickly determine that Ellie is autistic. She recognizes that she is different; she also knows that she is not stupid. She knows a lot of facts about animals and about cookies, her favorite topics.

Once she finished school, her mother has kept her at home. Ellie loves routine. She can cook and clean the house and has a schedule for her duties. She also goes to Asda, the large supermarket on her own on the bus, and to the library for her mother.

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Ellie’s father is now dead, but she believes he had been in the Secret Service. He was an engineer who would disappear for stretches of time. When he returned, he would bring Ellie presents like the Japanese notebook she is now using to keep track of questions that are plaguing her.

Ellie and Agnes, her mother, have a routine. Suddenly, Agnes has a stroke which requires Ellie to become Responsible. Ellie calls for an ambulance and then calls her neighbor Sylvia. Sylvia goes with Ellie to the hospital. Ellie is convinced her mother will be all right and their lives will return to their normal.

However, that is not the case. Once Agnes is stable, she goes to a rehab center and then must enter a nursing home. Sylvia helps Ellie locate nursing homes that will be an easy bus ride from her home. Once Ellie has settled on the nursing home she likes, Agnes is moved there. Ellie visits twice a day. She tries very hard to talk with her mother; Agnes can say only “Not that way!”

Ellie knows how much her mother loves opera, so she buys an iPod and loads it with the music her mother loves. Now, Agnes can listen through the earbuds and find some semblance of her old life.

Meanwhile, Ellie is becoming even more responsible by taking care of the household. She and Sylvia meet with Agnes’s lawyer. Fortunately, Agnes has a trust fund. Agnes has also prepared for emergencies such as her illness or death. All the plans are clearly laid out. Ellie does not have to worry about money; she can concentrate on taking care of herself and visiting her mother.

Agnes has always told Ellie that she cannot hold a job because of her Condition. Agnes has held Ellie back, but now Ellie must figure out how to do more than simply cook, clean, and stay home. She learns about an animal rescue shelter where she can volunteer. She also gets help at the library on using a computer and buys one for herself to use at home.

Ellie is navigating the world much better than her mother ever expected, but, of course, Agnes knows nothing of Ellie’s progress. The progress is not smooth and not without its back steps as well as forward ones. Still, Ellie is progressing. She decides to use the red Japanese notebook to record her questions and then she develops seven rules to help her understand the NeuroTypicals and their world:

THE SEVEN RULES

Rule 1: Being Polite and Respectful is always a Good Idea.

Rule 2: If you Look or Sound Different, you won’t Fit In.

Rule 3: Conversation doesn’t just Exchange Facts – it Conveys how you’re Feeling.

Rule 4: You learn by making Mistakes.

Rule 5: Not Everyone who is Nice to me is my Friend.

Rule 6: It’s better to be too Diplomatic than too Honest.

Rule 7: Rules change depending on the Situation and the Person you are speaking to.

Sylvia praises Ellie for developing the rules: “A lot of sense in these, pet. How clever of you drawing them up yourself!” Sylvia goes on to remind Ellie that “you can never say too many pleases and thank yous or sorrys.”

As Ellie becomes more confident in herself, she explores some areas of the house that her mother has kept off limits. She goes through an old chest in the living room and discovers some disturbing newspaper articles. Many of the discoveries are disturbing. They shatter her beliefs about her father. Not all the discoveries end badly, though.

Ellie is a delightful character who learns and grows despite her limitations. Agnes had simply not allowed Ellie the freedom to learn and make mistakes. Now, on her own, Ellie must cope with the world and figure out how to be part of it instead of being a bystander. She makes mistakes, but she remembers Rule 4: You learn from Mistakes.

Read The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr to fall in love with Ellie as she learns to be part of the world.

In an interview, Frances Maynard responded with her own seven rules:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Don’t blame – find the reason for the error/conflict and work to stop it happening again.
  3. Don’t let the past or the future colour the present.
  4. Don’t let other people’s expectations of you define your life. (Elvira has to learn this)
  5. Don’t let your life be defined by your job. Life outside work is important.
  6. Have the courage to tell people how much they mean to you before it’s too late.
  7. Don’t look like prey – meaning if you appear vulnerable, unfortunately you may be taken advantage of.

Frances Maynard has taught English part-time to adults with learning difficulties. Her experience with students with Asperger’s helped her write Ellie’s character so she is authentic and likeable.  Discover more about Frances Maynard at her site: http://francesmaynard.co.uk/.

In England, the book is published under the title The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr.

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The Book Whisperer Reviews The Nightingale

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Occasionally, the Book Whisperer becomes obstinate. That’s the case with reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Often, when I hear a great deal about a particular book, I am eager to read it. On the other hand, sometimes, I just stop short and refuse to read the book so many are reading and discussing. I also put Kristin Hannah in the romance writer category, not generally what I read: romances. Then one of my book clubs chose it for the July discussion.

Now, I have to change my attitude and read the book. So I did and I have: change my attitude and read the book! The Nightingale has lived up to the hype about it.

The story opens “April 9, 1995, The Oregon Coast.” The unnamed narrator is an elderly woman who is moving from her long-time home to an assisted-living apartment.  To do that, she goes up the “flimsy stairs” which “wobble beneath my feet as I climb into the attic.” She wants to find a trunk, one of the few things she really wishes to take with her from her home. Her son, also unnamed at this point, finds her in the attic and reprimands her for climbing up the rickety stairs.

The narrator takes out a “small, passport-sized photo of a young woman. Juliette Gervaise.” She tells her son she wishes to take the trunk with her when she moves. He wants to repack the items into a smaller container, but she insists on having the entire trunk: “I love you and I am sick again. For these reasons, I have let you push me around, but I am not deal yet. I want this trunk with me.”

Readers will not discover who Juliette Gervaise is for some time. Is she the narrator? Is she someone else? What secret has the narrator withheld from her son, Julien?

At the end of the chapter, readers learn the son’s name is Julien. Hannah is creating a mystery of who the narrator might be.  Chapter two shifts to “August 1939; France.” Now, we have Vianne Mauriac telling the story from her tiny village of Carriveau in France. Vianne, her husband Antoine, and her daughter Sophie live the perfect life in their village until the Germans march into France.

Antoine conscripted by the army, leaves his little family at home. German soldiers occupy the village as quickly as France surrendered to the enemy. Readers also meet Vianne’s much younger sister, Isabelle, who is expelled from yet another school. The tension between Vianne and Isabelle is strong. Vianne has married young, the only man she ever dated. Both girls suffer from their father’s indifference and their mother’s early death. Vianne has her husband and daughter, but Isabelle still longs for her father’s approval. Being cast out by both her father and Vianne leaves Isabelle rebellious and impetuous.

Isabelle’s father tells her to go live with Vianne and Sophie while Antoine is away in the war. Isabelle does not wish to go, but she decides she must. She walks along with many, many other Parisians who are fleeing the city. Along the way, the hordes of people run out of food and water; those in vehicles also find there is no more fuel, so they, too, must walk. In addition to the long walk without food and water, German planes begin strafing the crowds. The situation is dire.

Both Vianne and Isabelle must make difficult choices. They take different paths, often leaving one another without saying how much they care for one another because their natures are so different. They usually end with a fight and then regret that during one another’s absence.

Isabelle quickly joins the resistance and provides a valuable service in helping downed British and American pilots find their way to Spain and back home. Obviously, she risks her life every time she finds, hides, and leads these pilots to safety.

Back home her village, Vianne simply tries to keep her daughter safe and hope for Antoine’s return. A German soldier, Captain Beck, is billeted with her and her daughter. She has no choice but to allow him to stay. Luckily, he is a kind man who has a young family of his own in Germany. Still, he is the enemy.

Vianne begins helping save Jewish children whose parents are being taken away by the German soldiers. Her actions are fraught with danger too because she could be shot for creating false papers for the children and for hiding them among other children in a Catholic orphanage.

It will not spoil the novel to say that Antoine does return, damaged, but alive. When he has been home a few months, Vianne tells Antoine they are having a baby. Before Sophie was born, Vianne had suffered through several miscarriages. Antoine tells her: “We won’t lose thisone. Not after all of this. It’s a miracle.” When Vianne says Antoine has been though a great deal, he responds with “We all have. So we choose to see miracles.”

Hannah writes about the terrible deprivations war brings. She also does not stint on the descriptions of the horror brought on by the German soldiers. She describes children being separated from their mothers and mothers being shot if they protest. Late in the story, Vianne describes seeing the bodies of Frenchmen hanging in her village, their bodies bloated and turning dark. The horrors of war are much too realistically portrayed in The Nightingale.

The Nightingale is full of secrets which cannot be revealed in a book review because that would spoil the reading for someone who has not read the book. Suffice it to say that both Isabelle and Vianne put themselves in harm’s way in order to save others. Some secrets will go with Vianne to her grave.

At Hannah’s official site, https://kristinhannah.com/, readers will find a wealth of information about Hannah herself and her books. She has written more than twenty. Hannah suggests other books readers who like The Nightingale might also like. The Nightingale is being made into a movie.