Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Book Readers 8 – 12.


Sophie Anderson wrote The House With Chicken Legs for readers 8 – 12. As an eclectic reader, I enjoy reading books for all ages. Anderson, a geologist and science teacher by education, has written textbooks. Her interest in Slavic fairy tales helped her create The house With Chicken Legs, he debut novel. The House With Chicken Legs has been nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal and shortlisted in the 2019 Blue Peter Book Awards, so the book has garnered attention.

Baba Yaga comes from Eastern European folklore. In The House With Chicken Legs, Marinka, 12, lives with her Baba Yaga in a house that picks up and moves on its chicken legs. The house welcomes the newly dead. Baba Yaga feeds the newly dead and leads them to the gate in the house which opens up so they can pass through. Marinka is destined to become the next Yaga who will lead the dead through the gage.

Marinka, though, is becoming rebellious and wishes she could choose her own life rather than being destined to become the next Yaga. This rebellion pushes her to take some dangerous risks. One of those risks turns into an event that Marinka certainly does not anticipate and the results are devastating.

Marinka thinks she can reverse what she has done, so she sets out to discover how. Over the course of the next few weeks, Marinka learns more about being a Yaga and the importance of the work. Marinka also develops friendships. The first girls who befriend her turn out to be ugly in their actions. Then Marinka discovers true friends.

Anderson wrote that “the idea of death as a journey is an ancient one in lots of different cultures. I wanted that process of the death journey to be positive – filled with food, music, and memories – reflecting on your life. I was trying hard not to make it a scary thing.”

Sophie Anderson’s Web site offers more information including a teacher’s guide for The House With Chicken Legs:

Melissa Castrillion illustrated the front cover. See more of her work at her site:

Elisa Paganelli,, illustrated the story. She is a talented artist.



The Book Whisperer Discovers Charles Todd & Inspector Rutledge


CatherineTarrant tells Inspector Ian Rutledge that “you aren’t afraid until you’ve got something to lose. But when you love someone or something, you’re terrified – there’s so much at stake, then, so much at risk, you see….” Catherine’s statement becomes pivotal in Rutledge’s investigation into Colonel Charles Harris’s murder. A Test of Wills marks the first in the Inspector Rutledge series by mother/son duo Charles and Caroline Todd, writing as Charles Todd.

As noted before in this blog, I do love a good series. A series allows the authors to grow as writers. Another advantage is that the characters also develop fully as the series continues. Many books in a series can be read as stand-alone books. The plots are not intertwined and the newest book does not depend on the previous book for the readers to understand what is happening. However, reading the books in order does allow readers to see the characters’ growth. Occasionally, readers may also find references to past stories.

I have had a Charles Todd book on my TBR list for some time. On a recent visit to the library, I discovered my local library had A Test of Wills, the first in the Inspector Rutledge series, so I checked it out.

A Test of Wills takes place in 1919, following WWI. Inspector Rutledge has just returned to work at Scotland Yard following a rehab after the war. He still battles Hamish, a dead soldier who haunts him and taunts him. Rutledge must constantly work to keep Hamish at bay because of Hamish’s interference and negative comments.

Superintendent Bowles does not like Inspector Rutledge and hopes to see Rutledge discredited and fired from the force at Scotland Yard. As a result, Bowles sends Rutledge on a nearly impossible mission, one that Bowles hopes will completely disgrace Rutledge and even cause a scandal. The mission is to solve the murder of Colonel Charles Harris which occurred in the village of Warwickshire.

Colonel Harris’s murder has been brutal: a shotgun blast severed his head from his body as he rode his horse in the countryside near his estate. Rutledge discovers the villagers distrust him since he comes from London, so Rutledge must win their trust in order to solve the murder. Rutledge must piece together bits of information until he can see the whole puzzle laid out before him. Unfortunately, the pieces do not come in sequence, so he has blank spots to fill.

Rutledge interviews villagers, servants, and friends; all of them say that Colonel Harris was a good, kind man whom everyone loved. Rutledge comments, “Yet someone murdered him.” The most obvious suspect is Captain Mark Wilton, pilot and war hero, who is engaged to Lettice Wood, Charles Harris’s ward. Why would Wilton kill Harris, though? The men are good friends and both have been happy about the engagement.

Still, servants overhear a heated argument between Wilton and Harris following dinner the night before Harris is murdered. What have the two long-time friends argued about? How much does Lettice know about the argument? Rutledge runs into road blocks in questioning both Lettice and Mark. Neither is keen to talk about the argument. The servants can only say they heard raised voices, but could not understand what was being said.

Other villagers may also have motive, but several of them have alibis that Rutledge verifies. In addition to the pressure from everyone in the village, Rutledge faces pressure from Bowles and Scotland Yard to solve the murder. If he accuses Captain Wilton, a decorated war hero, Rutledge will face censure from the Crown as well as Bowles. Of course, readers know that’s exactly what Bowles wants since the accusation will discredit Rutledge.

Dogged perseverance allows Rutledge to keep seek information and putting the information together to find the killer. Is it Wilton? Is it Mavers, the loud, obnoxious villager who spews venom at everyone in the village? Or is it someone else? Will the key lie in the argument between Wilton and Harris the night before Harris’s death? Or is another reason the cause of the murder. Read A Test of Wills to discover who kills Colonel Charles Harris and to discover if Rutledge continues as inspector.

Charles and Caroline Todd write the Inspector Rutledge series together. The series now numbers 36 books. The two also write another series starring Bess Crawford, a battlefield nurse; those books now number 10 in the series. Bess Crawford has been compared to Jacqueline Winspear’s Masie Dobbs, a favorite character, so I look forward to reading one of the Bess Crawford books as well.


Caroline Todd earned a BA in English literature and history with a master’s in international relations. Charles Todd has a BA in communication studies, emphasizing business management and a culinary arts degree. Both Todds credit listening to “fathers and grandfathers reminisce” for their story-telling skills.

Read about both Todds and their books at this site:

The Book Whisperer Contemplates Comfort Reads



This gingerbread cake above could be comfort food, but the essay below covers comfort reading!

As I recovered from a recent and unexpected surgery, Don Mathieson suggested that I read some comfort books. Now, one might ask, just what are comfort books! I rarely allowed my comp students to use the old saw “according to Meriam-Webster….” I made exceptions when the word was unusual and therefore needed a definition. Comfort books fits that bill and needs a bit of definition here.

Merriam-Webster tells us comfort means “to give strength and hope; to ease the grief or trouble of.” When we add book to create the phrase comfort book, we mean books that give strength and hope and ease grief or trouble. We could expand that meaning to include a well-loved book or author we can read over and over again.

Books that become old friends are ones we like to re-read, especially in times when we are ill, out of sorts, or sad. Alison Flood wrote in The Guardian, “I’ve been doing rather a lot of comfort reading, rereading and easy reading lately. I return to something familiar, which – if I’m lucky, and it hasn’t crossed my rereading path for a while – I’ll probably have forgotten most of, so will be able to enjoy all over again.”

On the site Psychologies, I discovered an article about the appeal of comfort reading. The author reminds us comfort reading “might be something from your childhood or something you discovered more recently but chances are you’ve read it numerous times, and it warms your heart as soon as you open it.”

Book lovers will no doubt refer to those comforting books as friends. We know that we can open them and find acceptance and reassurance

Psychologist Dr. Shira Gabriel of the University of Buffalo wrote “books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a fleeting moment.” Dr. Gabriel “found in a recent study that we can derive a similar amount of life satisfaction from feeling that we belong to a fictional world as we can from belonging to a real-life group.”

Don Mathieson shared his comfort books with me: the early Gerald Durrell books about his family and his animal collecting, particularly The Bafut Beagles and My Family and Other Animals. In polling other friends for their comfort reads, Barbie Slagle responded with Jane Austin and Winnie the Pooh, thus confirming that need to return to childhood books occasionally. Jocelyn Whitney escapes into fantasy life through Tolkien or Rowling because the stories “are not mentally taxing, but pure magical escape.” Constance Murray chose mysteries because “a mystery can usually so absorb me that I ‘forget myself’.” She also likes historical fiction. Amanda Blackman opted for historical fiction or an action/thriller. Kelly Rose likes Jack Finney’s Time and Again and Tolkien. Paula Rollings, another avid reader who responded to my poll, says historical fiction is her choice along with Jan Karon’s The Mitford Years, though not historical fiction, a comforting read.

Goodreads offers a list called “Popular Comfort Books Shelf”:

So what’s my comfort reading? I would choose Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series because the stories are warm and, yes, comforting. Other choices include a cozy mystery by M.C. Beaton, especially her Agatha Raisin series.

And for those of you who did not have an opportunity to respond to the poll, what is your comfort reading?



The Book Whisperer Also Bakes!


In perusing my local library cookbooks this week, I discovered Out of the Box Desserts by Hayley Parker, aka, The Domestic Rebel. Parker’s Web site,, provides this information about her: “My aesthetic is simple – baking fearlessly in the kitchen by using everyday ingredients and transforming them into extraordinary desserts!”

In looking through the cookbook, I would agree that Parker has taken box mixes to a sublime level. The contents include “Sweet-Inspired Cakes and Cupcakes,” “Brownies, Blondies, and More Sticky, Gooey Bars,” “Chewy, Crispy, and Everything Good Cookies,” “Cheesecakes, Chocolate Pies, and More Creamy Treats,” and “Brownie Bombs and Candy-licious Confections.” Parker has exceeded the mark in each category.

As a baker myself, I like finding new recipes or innovations to old recipes. I like making brownies and often add special ingredients to my favorite brownie recipe, one I found on a can of Hershey’s Cocoa a long time ago. I add dried cherries for a distinctive taste and the cherries also keep the brownies moist longer than usual—that is, if they last. I also like adding Andes mints to the brownies. The mint gives the brownies a zing.

My favorite recipe thus far in Parker’s book, though, is Gooey Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie Bars. The recipe starts with refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough slightly baked in a 13”x9” pan. Then a delicious filling of brown sugar, dark corn syrup, butter, eggs, vanilla, pecans, and more chocolate chips makes the gooey topping. Find the recipe in Out of the Box Desserts.

On Parker’s Web site, bakers will find her blog where she provides additional recipes such as Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Cake: See the picture below for purely decadent deliciousness.


Out of the Box Desserts provides bakers with a whole new world of recipes using some prepared or boxed ingredients. Take a look at the Shortcut Lemon Meringue Bars below. Parker’s recipe is on her Web site.





The Book Whisperer Delves Into a Japanese Novel


John Freeman, the editor of Freeman’s, a literary biannual published by Grove, and author of How to Read a Novelistand Maps, a collection of poems, writes “I think the riskiest kind of novel is the one that tries to rescue us from mundane existence – by taking a closer look at mundane existence.” Sayaka Murata, a part-time convenience-store worker herself, has written that risky novel in Convenience Store Woman.

Keiko Furukura, by her own admission, does not fit the norm of society. She is content to observe others keenly and then to mimic them without their even realizing it so that she appears normal, or like those around her. At 32, she has been working eighteen years at the same 24-hour convenience store, but only as a part-time worker.

Murata draws on her own experiences of working in a convenience store for the themes in her work, both short stories and novels: asexuality, involuntary celibacy, and voluntary celibacy. In Keiko, Murata creates a character who has made a place for herself in a world where she is a square peg in a round hole. While others question her, Keiko remains content in the world she has created for herself.

For a brief time, though, Keiko does wonder if there is not something else besides her existence as the part-time convenience store clerk. This self-questioning occurs when Mr. Shiraha, a discontented man, takes a brief job at the store alongside Keiko. Shiraha rants about women “all after snaring a guy who work at the same company. Women have been like hat since the Stone Age. The youngest, prettiest girls in the village go to the strongest hunters.”

Shiraha complains because he wants a wife who will support HIM. Yet, he is slovenly and unkempt, so no woman will look twice at him, not to mention that he does not want to work himself. He fuels his rage by continuing the rants against women. Not surprisingly, he is soon out of a job. Still, Shiraha’s brief time at the store unsettles Keiko, at least temporarily.

Keiko may not fit into society’s niche the way others expect, but she has found her place in the convenience store. She feels the store’s rhythms and understands the store’s needs. She is friendly  and respectful to the customers, often anticipating their needs by their actions or the temperature of the day.

In an interview, Murata explained why she wrote Convenience Store Woman: “I wanted to illustrate how odd the people who believe they are ordinary or normal are. They are the so-called normal people, but when you switch the direction of the camera, it is they who appear strange or odd.”


Convenience stores in Japan sell candy, soft drinks, and quick lunches much like Oklahoma’s own QT. However, at the Japanese stores, customers can pay their utility bills and buy tickets to concerts. The stores also sell shirts, socks, and underwear.

Murata’s Convenience Store Woman won Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize for literature two years ago. While it is her tenth novel, it is the first published in English.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite Series


Kingdom of the Blind is Louise Penny’s fourteenth mystery set in Three Pines. It is the book Penny almost did not write.  In “Acknowledgments” found at the end of Kingdom of the Blind, Penny tells readers that after her husband’s death, she did not think she could continue writing the Gamache series. Michael was the inspiration for the series and always her first reader. Penny was ready to return the advance to the publishers and end her writing career. Or so she thought.

Luckily for the passionate readers of the Armand Gamache series, Penny one day found herself sitting in front of the computer and typing the following: “Armand Gamache.” She followed up with “slowed his car to a crawl.” Kingdom of the Blind was underway and Armand Gamache, his family, colleagues, and friends continue their lives.

On her Web site,, Penny points out that “my books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.

If you take only one thing away from any of my books, I’d like it to be this:

Goodness exists.”

And that’s what we find in all of the fourteen books: Goodness does exist. Many fictional police detectives and PIs are deeply flawed characters. Extremely intelligent, they can figure out puzzles and put pieces together to solve terrible crimes. They often have difficulties forming permanent, strong relationships with other people, however, even their colleagues. They push themselves beyond ordinary endurance and are workaholics, rarely leaving the job behind.

While Armand Gamache exhibits all the intelligence and strength of those other fictional detectives, he also adds another important characteristic: real humanity and love. He works continually on a case, but he does not ignore family, friends, and colleagues in the process. He keeps his own counsel, but he is warm and loving to those around him. He is compassionate and kind. He exhibits goodness in the face of terrible evil.

Readers will remember that at the end of Glass Houses, Gamache made a fateful decision to allow a load of drugs to slip away. That was a purposeful decision in order to stop the larger manufacturing of the lethal opioids and ultimately save lives. The powers-that-be above Gamache do not see the big picture, however, and blame him for allowing the dangerous opioids to slip away. As a result, Gamache is on suspension in Kingdom of the Blind, but that does not stop him from being part of the investigation to locate the drugs and the manufacturing plant as well.

To complicate matters, Gamache, Myrna Landers, his long-time friend and neighbor in Three Pines, and Benedict Pouliot, a young man unknown to the others, all receive a letter from Maitre Laurence Mercier. Mercier asks that the three meet him at a remote farmhouse on a particular day and time. The invitation contains no other information. Out of curiosity, the three show up despite the winter snow and threat of additional snow.

When the three meet Mercier, they learn they are to be executors of Bertha Baumgartner’s will. All three claim never to have known Baumgartner. Myrna then remembers Baumgartner was a cleaner who had worked some in Three Pines for people. She called herself Baroness.

Penny delights her readers with this dual storyline of the strange will and even stranger choice of executors along with the search for the opioids and the opportunity to stop the dangerous drugs altogether.

Dangers abound on all sides from both storylines. Gamache must juggle the search for the opioids and discover the truth about Baumgartner. Secrets and lies from both stories keep the readers guessing. How much does one person know about another?

Through all the horror and the danger, Gamache remains a force for good and humanity. Gamache’s family life helps balance the horror on the streets.

Penny reminds readers that the themes of her books are “inspired by two lines from a poem by WH Auden, in his elegy to Melville. Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge/his terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it.”

Do not fear that Kingdom of the Blind is the last story from Three Pines. Happily, Penny tells her readers: “Lots of people have written, worried that KINGDOM OF THE BLIND is the last in the series. It isn’t. I plan to write about Three Pines forever.”

While Penny’s fans do not need to be reminded, others who have not begun the series featuring Armand Gamache and his friends should know that Penny has won many awards. Kingdom of the Blind alone was an “instant #1 New York Times Bestseller, a December 2018 Indie Next Pick, BookPage Best of the Year 2018, a LibraryReads Pick for November 2018, Washington Post’s 10 Books to Read This November, and One of PopSugar’s Best Fall Books to Curl Up With.”



The Book Whisperer Reviews Girl in Disguise


Choosing books for a book club can be daunting. READ, one of my book clubs (sorry, READ friends, we’re not exclusive!), allows me to choose the books we read. We read three each fall and spring and two each summer, so I read a great deal about books as I prepare to choose. Clearly, I must make choices in advance so that everyone can locate the books. We meet September, October, and November for the fall; February, March, and April for the spring; and June and July in the summer.

We agreed on choosing books that are already in paperback and available as e-books. Often bestsellers are difficult to borrow from the library because of high demand and are more costly to purchase since they are not available in paperback though they are most likely in e-book format from the beginning. Not everyone in the group likes e-books, however.

The other caveat is that I develop a theme and look for books to fit the theme or start with one book and create a theme from it. Luckily, many books lend themselves to a variety of themes; it becomes a matter of identifying one theme and then finding other books to match.

The 2019 fall theme was Strong Women, so I chose The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart, and Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister. When I made those selections, I had read Shattuck’s and Stewart’s books. I ran out of time before reading Macallister’s, but I needed to make a decision, so I did.

I am happy to report that Girl in Disguise met my expectations well. Based on the true story of Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton agent, Girl in Disguise gives readers a story based on truth with Macallister’s imaginings about some of the events.

Macallister did a great deal of research only to turn up a small amount of material about the real Kate Warne, so Macallister had to improvise a bit. The true events include Warne’s helping to ferret out Confederate spies, devising a plan to foil an early assassination attempt on President Lincoln, and locating a bank robber and murderer.

Girl in Disguise opens in 1856 with Kate Warne appearing at the Pinkerton Agency to ask for a job. She must convince Allen Pinkerton that he needs a woman as a detective and that a woman can help in cases when a man cannot. Pinkerton gives Warne an assignment as a test and she passes, so he hires her.

Many of the male Pinkerton agents are certain Warne will not last and they are angry that Pinkerton even gives her a chance. Warne does not allow those negative feelings to deter her from her job. She proves over and over again that she is a valuable asset to the Pinkerton Agency.

Booklist calls “Macallister’s story is a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read, with compelling characters, twisted villains, and mounds of historical details adeptly woven into the tale of a courageous woman who loves her job more than anything or anyone else.” I would agree with that assessment. I enjoyed the story and learning about Warne and her exploits as a PI at a time when women could generally be cleaners, cooks, and laundresses.

Greer Macallister is not only a novelist; she also writes poetry, short stories, and plays. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her first book is The Magician’s Lie which was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next Pick, and a Target Book Club choice. Girl in Disguise also won an Indie Next Pick and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review. Macallister’s next book Woman 99 will be available in March 2019: “A historical thriller rich in detail, deception, and revelation, Woman 99 honors the fierce women of the past, born into a world that denied them power but underestimated their strength.”

Greer Macallister maintains a Web site at this link:

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite!


I enjoy reading books in a series. One of my favorite series is by Alexander McCall Smith, a prolific writer of books in a series as well as stand alone books. I await the latest installment of the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books with great anticipation. The most recent book is The Colors of All the Cattle, book 19 in the series.

As usual, the story is slow-paced and, although a mystery, does not involve gruesome murders. Instead, like the other books in the series, Precious Ramotswe and her team focus on helping people resolve relatively small problems. One of the incidents the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has taken in The Colors of All the Cattle does involve a violent hit and run which resulted in severe injuries to Dr. Marang, a man from Mochudi, Mma Ramotswe’s home village.

To complicate matters, Mma Ramotswe’s good friend Mma Potokwane, who oversees the orphanage, persuades Mma Ramotswe to run for political office to become a member of the council. The only other candidate is the infamous Violet Sephotho, a frequent nemesis in the stories. Sephotho favors the building of a large new hotel next to the cemetery.

Mma Potokwane and Mma Ramotswe do not wish to see such a large and potential noisy hotel built where people go to mourn their late relatives.  At first, Mma Potokwane does persuade Mma Ramotswe to stand for office as an independent. The meeting of the group which includes Mma Potokwane, Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr. Polopetsi, Fanwell, and Charlie gives readers a few chuckles. Charlie insists on being literal when Mma Potokwane calls the meeting to order. Charlie maintains everything is in order.

When Mma Potokwane explains the “call to order” simply means the meeting will begin, Charlie wonders why she simply didn’t say that. The meeting digresses for a bit before the business is actually underway. Of course, Mma Makutsi despises Violet Sephotho and wants to write a scathing statement for Mma Ramotswe agains Sephotho.

Longtime readers will recognize that Mma Ramotswe allows Mma Makutsi to vent about Violet and then Mma Ramotswe gently turns the conversation. Mma Ramotswe will not make promises she cannot keep while Violet continues to promise everything from jobs to higher wages to better streets, all items she would not be able to accomplish.

Charlie works for Mr. J.L.B. Matekon, Mma Ramotswe’s husband, in the garage, but Charlie is also an apprentice to Mma Ramotswe in the detective agency. Charlie realizes he knows Eddie, a friend from school days in Mochudi. Eddie works for his uncle repairing cars that have been damaged in accidents. Charlie wants to ask Eddie if he can help locate the owner of the blue car that hit Mr. Marang and left him so badly injured.

That idea is a good one until someone throws a brick through the window of Charlie’s uncle’s home where Charlie rents a room. The brick could have hit the uncle’s two children who were playing in the room at the time. Charlie rightly feels threatened, so Mma Ramotswe invites him to stay in her home for a time. Mma Ramotswe realizes that Charlie has attempted to blackmail Eddie in an effort to get information. That effort has not yielded the information Charlie hoped to gain.

Mma Ramotswe in her wisdom understands that Charlie is trying. She advises him to “never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

In the end, all comes right as one expects in the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stories, and that is one characteristic I like about the stories! Other characteristics to like include the continuing growth of the characters as well as the introduction of new characters even if for one book only. Mma Ramotswe continues to be guided by Clovis Andersen’s book The Principles of Private Detection and her own good common sense.

Alexander McCall Smith has developed a robust Web site where readers can find information about all of his books and read a monthly story:

Some of my favorite quotes from previous books include the ones which follow below:

From In the Company of Cheerful Ladies: “A life without stories would be no life at all.”

From The Good Husband of Zebra Drive: “And if there’s bad behaviour,” Mma Potokwane went on. “If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love. That always works, you know. People say we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself. And what’s the point of that?”