Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Book Whisperer Reviews Fly Girls

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Keith O’Brien has received high praise for Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied all Odds and Made Aviation History. O’Brien conducted meticulous research into the five women: “Florence Klingensmith, a high‑school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, an Alabama divorcee; Amelia Earhart, the most famous, but not necessarily the most skilled; Ruth Nichols, who chafed at the constraints of her blue‑blood family’s expectations; and Louise Thaden, the mother of two young kids who got her start selling coal in Wichita.”

O’Brien details the difficulties each woman faced, starting with simply learning to fly, then having access to a plane, and finding funding for flights. As readers learn about the five women, they also learn about the fledgling airplane manufacturing business.

O’Brien begins the “Introduction” with “in 1926, there were countless ways to die in an airplane.” Throughout Fly Girls, readers continue to learn about the ways pilots, crew members, and people on the ground died when wings iced over, propellers fell off, or planes lost altitude and crashed into the earth.

By 1926, women had fought for and earned the right to vote, but many avenues were still closed to them. O’Brien describes the ways that “gender roles were shifting, cultural norms were evolving, and the Great Depression had people questioning almost everything in America.”

Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden supported one another as their paths crossed over and over again in flying competitions and in promoting women as pilots. On one occasion, the female pilots all agreed to wait for a part to be flown in for Ameila Earhart so they could all take off together, not taking advantage of Earhart’s problem.

The women faced sabotage of their planes. Before one competition in Cleveland, the female pilots received a telegram with three words on it: “Beware of sabotage.” They found evidence of tampering when one woman discovered “every switch in the cockpit turned on, every throttle moved.” The women then sat up most of the night with the planes to avert any further damage. Thus, they started the race on only four hours sleep.

Swanee Taylor, announcer at Henderson’s air races, classified the women pilots into six categories: The Dependent Woman; The Athletic Girl; The Flapper; Little Lucy, The Timid Type;  The Talkative Woman, and the Good Egg.

Earhart was giving a talk to young women. She told them “two capital Ts stand in the way of their progress. One is Training – or lack of it. The other Tradition.” Earhart went on to say that “[a woman’s place] is wherever her individual aptitude places her. Or it should be anyway. And the work of married men and women should be split. She should taste the grind of earning a living – and he should learn the stupidity of housework.”

All of the women featured in Fly Girls are fascinating, but I was most captivated with Louise McPhetridge Thaden who came originally from Bentonville, AR, my home state. She has a page in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=30.

Thader

Mary Frances Files Silitch, my cousin, also a pilot and from Arkansas, has a page in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=6634.  Mary Silitch was the first woman editor-in-chief of a national aviation magazine. October 28, 2010, Silitch was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame. Silitch’s accomplishments follow on the heels of the five women featured in Fly Girls, showing that women have not slowed down in their pursuit of their goals.

Mary Frances

Book reviewers have called Fly Girls “exhilarating” and “riveting.” Those terms are both relevant in describing a book that chronicles the difficulties those pioneering female pilots faced and the obstacles they overcame in the ever-present face of danger and criticism.

Keith O’Brien is a regular contributor to NPR. He also writes for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Slate, and Politico. O’Brien has also published a young readers’ edition of Fly Girls which should encourage young girls today to dream, set goals, and accomplish those dreams and goals.

At O’Brien’s site, https://www.702wi.com/keithobrien.html, readers will discover additional material about Fly Girls along with a link a list of discussion questions found on Reading Group Choices.

 

 

The Book Whisperer Offers Some Suggestions for Good Reading

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Does your to be read (TBR) stack look like the one below?

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Perhaps your TBR stack looks like the next picture.

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Let me add to your TBR stack; see the suggestions that follow.

Readers are generally looking for that next great book to read. Today’s blog centers on a variety of novels. Out of the books described here, readers will find something of interest. Perhaps a contemporary love story gone wrong will be the ticket, or a book in which two characters in different countries become friends through letters will intrigue a reader. The books in this blog post cover a range of places, people, and time.

Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones received a great deal of praise. In An American Marriage, Celestial and Roy seem destined for great happiness throughout their married life. An up and coming young professional, Roy has such a good job that he persuades Celestial to quit her day job in order to be an artist full time. Without warning, Roy and Celestial find their lives turned upside down when Roy is not only accused of a terrible crime he did not commit, but he is also found guilty and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.  How can the marriage survive if the two cannot even be together? Even when Roy’s sentence is over-turned after five years, the damage has been done. Or has it? An American Marriage offers a compelling story of loss and recovery, although not the way a reader may expect at first.

Kiernan

The next book takes place in war-torn Normandy in 1944. Stephen P. Kiernan, author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity, has written a book about courage in the face of great danger, about optimism, and about the way humans overcome even the most horrid of terrors. The Baker’s Secret features Emma who is the village baker, having learned from Ezra Kuchen, a master baker. The Germans occupy the town and discover Emma’s fragrant bread. The Nazi leader gives Emma extra flour each day so she can bake a dozen baguettes. What the occupiers do not know is that Emma adds ground straw to stretch the dough even further. And Emma also works in resistance at great peril to her own life.

Penny

A book set in contemporary Quebec is next on my list: The Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny, the latest Chief Inspector Gamache detective story. Chief Inspector Gamache is involved in yet another intriguing murder mystery. To add to the story, Chief Inspector Gamache is still under suspension for allowing a large supply of lethal drugs to slip into the country. His plan is to catch the supplier as well as the manufacturer of the drugs, not merely the one supply of drugs. Unfortunately, others do not share his vision and feel he has unleased a terrible plague on the city. In the Washington Post, Maureen Corrigan, reviewer extraordinaire, calls The Kingdom of the Blind “a spellbinder… another outstanding Gamache adventure… ingenious… what more could a mystery reader — or any reader for that matter – want?” And for those readers not yet introduced to Louise Penny, they have a treat in store if they begin with the first book: Still Life.

Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller takes readers on a journey in quite a different place from Quebec. Miller retells Circe’s story according to Alexandra Alter in The New York Times “recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right.” When Circe discovers her own witchcraft power, Zeus banishes her. Little does he know, that on that deserted island, Circe works to become more powerful. Circe has garnered a number of awards including being named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, and Kirkus.

Pearce

Another debut novel, Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce takes place in 1940 in London. Bombs are falling night after night. Emmy and Bunty, childhood friends from a village near London now live in London. Bunty works for the war office typing up memos. Emmy works in a law office, but she dreams of becoming a war correspondent. She answers an ad which she believes is for the newspaper. She learns the job is a typist for Mrs. Bird who answers questions that are then published in The Woman’s Friend, a magazine owned by the same company that owns the newspaper. Mrs. Bird is quite proper and insists that Emmy must throw away all letters containing anything unpleasant. Emmy feels those people with unpleasant questions are the ones who need help the most. Pearce found inspiration in reading letters to advice columnists in the 1940s, Agony Aunts, they are called. As one might imagine, Emmy cannot resist replying to some of the letters. Trouble, obviously ensues. In addition to her trouble at work, Emmy and Bunty must navigate the war-torn streets each day going to and from work and home. People suggests that fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will enjoy Dear Mrs. Bird. I agree.

Watch for more good fiction from the Book Whisperer in the next blog.

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The Book Whisperer Reviews a FAVORITE

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When I discover an author I like, I want to read all of that author’s books. Usually, I am happy with that decision to continue reading. Occasionally, I find an exception to that rule. With Phaedra Patrick, I am delighted more with each new book. I read The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, her debut novel, followed by Rise & Shine Benedict Stone with equal pleasure.

When I read Patrick would publish The Library of Lost and Found in the US in March 2019, I logged into my library account and requested the book which was still on order at the time. Two days ago, The Library of Lost and Found came available to me. I immediately went to the library to check out the book.

I started reading as soon as I got home. I quickly found Martha Storm to be a kind and loving character, but she had become a doormat for her friends and the library patrons at the library where she volunteered. She has little self-esteem and allows people to run over her. In her mind, she is doing favors for people who will look kindly upon her and be grateful.

Readers quickly realize people will take advantage of anyone and rarely show gratitude, acting as if they are due the favors. Still, Martha continues to accept the chores that her acquaintances do not wish to do themselves.

Giving up her fiancé and an opportunity for happiness in NYC with Joe, Martha remains in her childhood home caring for her increasingly more dependent parents, Thomas and Betty. The one bright spot in her life, her relationship with her Nana, Betty’s mom, has disappeared when Thomas tells Martha, 14, and her younger sister Lillian, 10, that their grandmother has died. Martha, especially, wishes to go to the funeral, but Thomas forbids it.

Nana has always encouraged both girls and has given them presents their father thought “inappropriate.” She would tell stories that Martha loved hearing and Martha would write her own stories to share with Nana and Betty. Lillian has always been more interested in the information in the encyclopedias her father brought home rather than fairy tales.

Martha volunteers at the local library, doing all the odd jobs that Clive, the library manager, does not wish to do. Clive also has an office off-site, so he pops into the library occasionally. Martha has applied several times when there has been a vacancy, but Clive has always chosen someone younger than Martha.

One day, a mysterious stranger leaves a package at the library door; it has Martha’s name on the outside. When she unwraps the package, she discovers a damaged book, but the inscription is written to Martha and signed with her Nana’s name, but the date is three years after her Nana’s death.

The book, much to Martha’s surprise, contains stories she wrote as a young girl along with stories she remembers her Nana and her mom telling her. Where has this book been? How can it be signed with her Nana’s name and dated three years after her death?

The book immediately throws Martha into the heart of a mystery and she must unravel it in order to learn about her own past and future. Martha discovers that Owen has left the book for her; he owns a used bookstore in the nearby village where he also restores old books.

Usually timid, Martha finds the courage to go to Owen’s bookstore in order to discover what she can about the book of fairy tales. As Martha learns more and more about the mysterious book, she also learns to stand up for herself and stop being trod upon by all and sundry; Martha-like, however, she lets people down gently.

In The Library of Lost and Found, along with Martha, readers meet other delightful characters who had charm to the story.

Nina George, another favorite author, said, “Phaedra Patrick understands the soul. Eccentric, charming and wise…. [The Library of Lost and Found] will illuminate your heart.” I agree.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper has been optioned by a Hollywood studio while Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone will become a TV movie in the US.

Phaedra Patrick is now a full-time writer, but she has worked in a number of jobs before her first success with The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper: waitress, stained glass designer, film festival organizer, and communications manager. She is a stained-glass artist as well.

Luckily for her readers, Phaedra Patrick is at work on her next book.

Discover more about Phaedra Patrick at her site: http://www.phaedra-patrick.com/.

Twitter: @phaedrapatrick

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Useful Writer’s Device

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A Senior Lecturer in Northwestern University’s English Department, Brian Bouldrey has written three novels, three nonfiction books, and has edited a number of anthologies. In 2000, he published The Autobiography Box which is literally a book in a box.

The box contains The Autobiography Box Owner’s Manual: A Step-by-Step Kit for Examining the Life Worth Living and four sets of cards: Discover, Remember, Dramatize, and Structure.

One of the exercises on a Discover card reminds writers to excise dead language. Bouldrey knows “words that don’t really mean as much because they are overused and tired.” He gives concrete ways to locate and remove that dead language.

Turning over a Remember card, I discovered this prompt: “Write about the first time you went away from home alone.” These remember cards give writers specific ideas from which to start writing. Oftentimes, just knowing where to begin allows a writer to start the creative juices flowing. Then other ideas follow.

The first prompt I read on a Dramatize card provided an excellent idea for writing about a memory. It suggests writing “a memory as an exchange of letters between you and a friend or you and your mother.” That idea appealed to me, especially since I just read a delightful novel written in the form of letters between two people: Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson.

The final stack of cards is titled Strucure. The first card I read recommends shuttling “between past and present.” Bouldrey goes on to explain that a writer might see a pattern that “keeps repeating itself.” If that’s the case, the writer could “juxtapose a series of events from one time [the writer’s] life against a more recent series, to compare and contrast how much [the writer] has learned.”

The Owner’s Manual, the book in the box, begins by asking the writer to fill out a family tree. Then it goes on with other questions and prompts. It continues with suggested resources and a space for journaling. Bouldrey includes quotations from famous writers as inspiration. The Autobiography Box is an entirely useful and user-friendly way to begin writing about one’s life.

 

 

The Book Whisperer Discovers Soonish & Learns About the Future–Maybe

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A cartoonist and a researcher team up to write a book. Does that sound like the beginning of a joke? Well, it isn’t! The Weinersmiths, Kelly, a science researcher, and Zach, a cartoonist, have collaborated in writing and illustrating Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything. Amazon tells us that Soonish became an “instant New York Times bestseller.” The Wall Street Journal and Popular Science both call Soonish the “best science book of the year.”

We have long seen predictions of what the future will bring. Some of those predictions have been outlandish, and others have been right on target. For example, in the 1950s, Time magazine ran an article about the coming square tomato. Also, in 1950, Popular Mechanics published an article called “Miracles You’ll See in the Next Fifty Years.” The author of the article predicted houses would be made of metal, sheets of plastic and aerated clay because brick, stone, and wood would be too expensive. The article continues by explaining that plastics would be made from fruit pits, soybeans, straw, and wood pulp. Not only that, but sawdust and wood pulp would be changed into sugary foods.

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On the other hand, John Elfreth Watkins, an American civil engineer, wrote “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years, an article for Ladies’ Home Journal in 1900. In the article, Watkins made the following predictions which have come true: digital color photography, rising height of Americans, mobile phones, pre-prepared meals, TV, and bigger fruit.

In Soonish, the Weinersmiths tackle such topics as “Cheap Access to Space Travel,” “Asteroid Mining,” “Fusion Power,” “Programmable Matter,” “Precision Medicine,” and “Brain-Computer Interfaces.” Some of the sub-headings are equally intriguing: “Fusion Power: It Powers the Sun, and That’s Nice, but Can It Run My Toaster?” My favorite is “Programmable Matter: What if All of Your Stuff Could be Any of Your Stuff?”

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Readers interested in the future of what may or may not come to pass should read Soonish. It is bright and funny and interesting.

At the end of the book, the Weinersmiths write, “We hope that, unlike so many books, we have not tried to sell you on a philosophy of futurology, or on a vision of the future. To our way of thinking, it’s probably impossible and it’s certainly not necessary. It’s exciting enough to know that right this second, people far smarter than us are working out how to probe your thoughts one neuron at a time or to pry open distant alien minerals.”

A side note: Weinersmith is a combination of Kelly Smith and Zach Weiner, forming Weinersmith when they married. Kelly tired of looking for her scientific articles under the name Smith because there were so many. When she researched articles by scientists named Weiner, she encountered the same problem. As a result, Kelly and Zach created their own last name: Weinersmith.

Kelly, an adjunct assistant professor at Rice University in BioSciences, studies how “host behavior influences risk of infection with parasites, and how parasites subsequently change host behavior.” Find out more at her site: http://www.weinersmith.com/.

Zach Weinersmith blogs at this site he calls The Weinerworks: http://theweinerworks.com/. Readers will find his sense of humor embedded in all his work. Here is the description from the site:

“The Weinerworks used to be a blog where Zach posted occasionally thoughts and essays. Now that he has two children, he no longer thinks, and the blog had fallen into dereliction.

Zach realized that having no thoughts made him an ideal critic, so he began writing book reviews of the various things he was reading. These were posted on various sites and were more popular than he would have guessed. So, he decided they should have their own site.”

Find more of Zach Weinersmith’s cartoons at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: https://www.gocomics.com/saturday-morning-breakfast-cereal/2014/07/14.

 

The Book Whisperer Finds a Comfortable Story

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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan has been on my TBR list for quite some time. I even bought the hardback book and then put it into a stack of books I intend to read. Recently, I pulled it out of the stack to read it because it was chosen for a book club I attend.

Ryan tells the story primarily in the form of diaries and letters and the occasional newspaper headline. Mrs. Tilling, the local nurse, begins the story with her journal entry. Readers will note the entries give a date which is helpful in locating the story in time. One theme of the book is evident on the first page: “But there’s a war on. … We women have to take on extra work, help the cause.” Mrs. Tilling is a widow in her mid-forties; David, her only child, has joined the air force and will leave the village soon for his first post.

Mrs. Tilling writes that she has begun her journal so she can pour out her thoughts. Often, she keeps her thoughts to herself. When she heard on the radio that “keeping a journal can help you feel better if you have loved ones away.” Even today, one can find articles on the benefits of keeping a journal. Here’s a link to one, for example: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/.

The vicar has posted a sign at the church disbanding the choir since no men are left to sing in it. Several of the women become upset with this arbitrary decision and argue that the village needs the choir more than ever and that the women can certainly sing as well alone as with the men. Mrs. Brampton-Boyd, teasingly called Mrs. B. by the villagers, much to her chagrin, believes in tradition and is willing to go along with the vicar’s edict.

The villagers have gathered for the first funeral of the war; Edmund Winthrop, son of Brigadier Winthrop and wealthy landowner of Chilbury Manor, has been killed in the war and brought home for burial.  At Chilbury Manor, Brigadier Winthrop has a maid show Miss Edwina Paltry into a back parlor where he joins her. The Winthrop estate is entailed, so it must go to a male heir. Following Edmund’s death, Brigadier Winthrop has two daughters, Venetia, 18, and Kitty, 13. His wife is pregnant and the hopes for a boy are pinned on the coming child.

Brigadier Winthrop is not willing to let chance be in control. Miss Paltry is a local midwife, not known for her scrupulous behavior. Winthrop promises to pay her if she can ensure he has a son. That is, if his wife’s baby is a girl, Paltry will find a baby boy and swap the children. Miss Paltry seeing dollar signs quickly agrees to the arrangement.

Other intrigue ensues when Kitty is certain she has seen Mr. Slater, a newcomer and an artist, involved in some illegal activity. Meanwhile, Venetia schemes to make Mr. Slater fall in love with her. As might be expected, Venetia and Kitty, the two sisters, are often at odds with one another and do not appear to like one another much at all.

The choir assembles with only women and it does bring a great deal of comfort to the ladies themselves and the village. In fact, the choir becomes the link that holds them together. It also provides a way for Ryan to disseminate information throughout the village through conversations, both overt and covert.

Below, see a map of the village of Chilbury and a house very like the ones in the village.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, and the book is quick to read. The story ends as one might expect with all of the knotty problems worked out, possibly not all as one supposes. Still, all of the story lines are neatly tied up, mostly happy. The village has seen its terrible share of hardships in being bombed by the Germans, deaths of villagers in the bombing, and in losing sons to the war. Kitty Winthrop writes in her diary after one of their choir practices that “it’s about finding humanity in the face of this war. It’s about finding hope when everything around us is collapsing.”

Mrs. Tilling’s gives Kitty some advice at the end of The Chibury Ladies’ Choir: “It’s what we have to do these days, Kitty. You need to find where you fit in this world, where you are happiest, where you can make a difference. And don’t be afraid of change.”

Jennifer Ryan’s Website: http://www.JenniferRyanAuthor.com. Ryan’s Web site provides a wealth of information including a PDF book club guide for The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. Book club discussion leaders will find questions, an interview with Ryan, recipes from WWII, a map of Chilbury village, and more.

Ryan explains that her grandmother would tell stories about WWII which sparked Ryan’s interest in the time period. As a result, both of Ryan’s books, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Spies of Shilling Lane, are set in WWII England.

 

The Book Whisperer Enjoys Dear Mrs. Bird

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What can the Book Whisperer say about Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce? Plenty! Dear Mrs. Bird is delightful, touching, enjoyable and more than a bit frightening, but ultimately utterly charming.

Set in 1940 London with German planes bombing London almost nightly, Emmeline Lake and Bunty, her best friend from childhood, live in London in a house owned by Bunty’s grandmother who is in the countryside. The two are doing all they can for the war effort.

Emmy wants desperately to become a war correspondent. Meanwhile, she works a day job as secretary at Strawman’s Solicitors and at night volunteers at the fire station to take calls and send out the fire-fighters and paramedics to locations hit by the bombs. Then Emmy sees an ad that changes her life:

JUNIOR WANTED

Part-time Junior required at

Launceston Press Ltd., publishers of

The London Evening Chronicle.

Must be capable, enthusiastic, hard worker

With 60 wpm typing/110 wpm shorthand.

Letters soonest to Mrs. H. Bird,

Launceston Press Ltd., Launceston House,

London EC4

Can this be her entry into her dream job of war correspondent? She applies immediately. When she reaches the Launceston Press offices for her interview, she finds she is to go upstairs to a warren of offices on the fifth floor. Still, she is in the building with The London Evening Chronicle. Mr. Collins, features and editor at large, interviews Emmy. She is prepared to answer all sorts of questions about current events, but Mr. Collins surprises her by asking, “Are you easily scared?”

Obviously, Emmy thinks this is it! I will be hired as a war correspondent and Mr. Collins wants to know if she has grit. He goes on to quiz her about her typing speed and diction. Then he surprises her with another question: “Are you any good with cantankerous old women… in fact utter old boots?”

Mr. Collins hires Emmy; only then does she learn she is to be a part-time typist working for Mrs. Henrietta Bird. Emmy must also sign a confidentiality agreement and never breathe a word of the letters outside of the office. Only when Emmy signs the confidentiality agreement does she learn she is not working for the Chronicle, but for Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs. Bird answers subscribers’ questions in The Woman’s Friend, a magazine also published by Launceston House. Emmy takes the job because it still puts her closer to her goal of working as a war correspondent for a newspaper while she continues her volunteer job with the fire services.

Mrs. Bird is a large, imposing woman wearing a fur coat. Not only does she answer questions for the magazine, she also does good works throughout London; these good works take up a great deal of her time.

When Emmy reports for work and meets Mrs. Bird, Mrs. Bird is immediately put off by Emmy’s entrance into the office. Readers gain an understanding of Mrs. Bird by some of her remarks to Emmy upon their first meeting. Mrs. Bird tells Emmy, “In terms of children, four is ample. More than that and one veers into the working classes or Catholicism.” Mrs. Bird jumps into explaining Emmy’s job.

Emmy will open the letters received and “at the first sign of Unpleasantness it’s into the wastepaper bin. Is that clear?” When Emmy is not helping Mrs. Bird, she will type up material for Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bird is quite full of herself and says Emmy “will find I am quite busy. This is not my only commitment.” Below is an acceptable letter Mrs. Bird would answer, but her answer would be a bit more direct. Mrs. Bird does not mince words.

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Emmy also works with Kathleen Knighton who works for the magazine as well. Emmy recognizes quickly that Kathleen fears Mrs. Bird; often, Kathleen speaks in whispers and glances about nervously as if expecting Mrs. Bird to jump out and yell at her.

Pearce gives readers a clear picture of what living in London under the nightly threat of Nazi bombing raids is like. Bunty and Emmy keep their windows dark and often they must walk past bombed out buildings, thinking about people they used to see in those areas or shops where they bought items. Life is difficult and dangerous, but they are both doing their best to help the war effort and carry on.

Emmy cannot understand Mrs. Bird’s orders that “any unpleasantness” must be discarded; a spouse’s loss of interest, and parents’ disapproval of a suitor are all topics that people need addressed, yet Mrs. Bird says cut the letters up and throw them away. After a throwing away several such letters, Emmy opens one that she feels must be answered; the writer has enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope for a private reply.

Emmy types up an answer to the letter and signs Mrs. Bird’s name to it. With trepidation, she mails the letter back. When she tells Bunty about answering the letter, Bunty is livid and tells Emmy she must never do it again. Well, dear Readers, what story would we have if Emmy listened to that advice?

Clearly, Emmy feels she must answer other letters. Then she becomes really bold when she learns that Mrs. Bird NEVER reads the finished magazine. Emmy decides to slip a letter and her own answer into the magazine. Mrs. Bird writes her answers and gives them to Emmy to be typed and then they are sent on to be set up for the magazine. Since Mrs. Bird does not look at them again, Emmy feels she will be safe.

Naturally, complications must arise in the story. Emmy who has been engaged to Edmund, a young man from her home village now serving in the war. She receives a telegram from Edmund saying he has met a nurse, they have fallen in love, and they are getting married. Bunty becomes angrier at Edmund that Emmy is. Bunty also has a beau from their hometown, the more loyal William who was rejected for the service, so he is a fire fighter in London.

When Emmy, Bunty, and William along with other friends are supposed to be celebrating Bunty and William’s upcoming wedding, the street where the party is being held is bombed. Terror ensues and a death occurs. Emmy, foolishly blames herself, and she and Bunty become estranged.

The story then deals with the sorrow both young ladies feel. Readers must know that Emmy’s meddling in the letters will eventually come to light and with what results?

Dear Mrs. Bird is a delight to read. Pearce has captured the language of the day as well as the anguish and horror of war in London. After reading letters in women’s magazines during WWII, Pearce used the inspiration found in those letters to write Dear Mrs. Bird.

The Guardian review sums up novel well: “Dear Mrs. Bird proves as hilarious as it is moving…. The novel’s spirit is madly winning, and its foregrounding of wartime women seems spiffingly modern.”

A.J. Pearce’s Web site provides further insight: https://www.ajpearce.com/.

 

The Book Whisperer Discovers Much About Hedy Lamarr

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Marie Benedict, http://www.authormariebenedict.com/, was a 24-year-old corporate lawyer in NYC in the mid-1990s. As a result, Benedict was often the only woman in the room. Thus readers can understand the title of her most recent book, The Only Woman in the Room about Hedy Lamarr, bio-fiction.

The only woman in the room has a dual meaning to me. First, Hedy Lamarr would be the only woman in the room because of her beauty and presence. Second, she was often the only woman in the room of men because of her first husband’s business dealings. She was the ornament; little did Friedrich Mandl know of her superior intellect and her ability to remember conversations. Mandl was interested in possessing her because of her beauty.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in 1914. Her parents were well-to-do; her father was a banker. Her mother, Gertrud Lichtwitz Kiesler, gave up a promising career as a concert pianist when she married Emil Kiesler, a banker. Hedy was their only child, doted upon by her father while her mother kept Hedy in check with her negative comments. As a result, Hedy felt a chasm between her and her mother.

Benedict begins the book with Hedy on stage starring as the nineteenth-century Bavarian empress Elizabeth. At the end of the performance, a parade of ushers starts toward the stage, all of the ushers holding bouquets of flowers. Hedy feels quite alarmed by the “grandiose gesture with its inappropriate, very public timing.” She cannot think who would be so unwise as to single her out in such a public way. She is not only alarmed, but also embarrassed. Hedy realizes too that the flowers are hothouse flowers, obviously expensive. Below is a picture of Empress Elizabeth.

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When the audience sits down after a thunderous standing ovation, one man is left standing “in the center of the third row, the most prized seat in the theater.” He is staring at Hedy. She presumes the flowers are his ostentatious gift to her.

The card on the flowers let Hedy know they are from Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy munitions manufacturer. Mandl is heavy-handed and knows what he wants. He wants Hedy Kiesler, so he pursues her in this showy manner. He continues sending flowers, but after the first night, the flowers go direclty to fill Hedy’s dressing room. Mandl asks to take Hedy to dinner, but she does not answer him; she knows Mandl’s chauffer is waiting at the stage door, so she slips out another door.

Soon, Mandl sends a letter to Hedy’s parents asking for the opportunity to dine with their daughter. Reluctantly, Emil, Hedy’s father, tells Hedy that she must have dinner with Mandl. Emil fears the growing unrest in Europe and the strikes against Jews will be coming closer and closer to Austria. He knows that Mandl can protect Hedy and possibly her Jewish parents. Emil also fears the repercussions that Mandl could wield against him and his bank if Hedy refuses to dine with him. The family is in an intolerable position. And did I mention that Hedy is only 19 years old?

Hedy does have dinner with Mandl and then more dinners follow. Quite soon, he asks her to marry him. She is captivated by his charm and wealth; he treats her well. She finds herself attracted to him despite the age difference and the fact that he is not really a handsome man. She agrees to marry him, so he takes her and her mother to Paris to buy a wedding gown and other dresses. She finds a wedding gown she thinks is perfect, but he refuses it and chooses another one himself, one in black and white. Anything is lovely on Hedy, so she agrees to the dress.

Early in the book, Hedy reveals she has made a movie, Ecstasy, in which she is nude and plays a vividly realistic love scene. She regrets having made the movie even though at the time she thought the nudity and love scene fit the script. In returning to live theater, Hedy hopes to put Ecstasy behind her. She almost succeeds until one evening when she and Mandl are entertaining some high-powered business associates, Mandl decides to show Ecstasy over Hedy’s protests. Mandl does not know about the nude love scene.

When that scene comes on, Mandl is apoplectic and turns the projector off. From that moment on, Hedy is his prisoner. He has extra locks put on the doors and she has no access to keys. He allows her out only with him or only when he has advance notice that she will visit her parents or go shopping, but always chaperoned.

As readers can imagine, Hedy chafes at this imprisonment and her feelings for Mandl change. Not only does he keep her a prisoner, but his attitude toward her has changed. He regards her as his possession and rapes her, treating her savagely. Naturally, Hedy plots to escape from him. Her first attempt fails, mainly because the servants are spies and they betray her.

With her intellect, however, Hedy will not be denied. She plans more carefully, even hiring a young maid who, in certain lights, will look like Hedy. Before she can put the plans into effect, Mandl hosts a dinner to which Hedy is not invited, but she slips into the hallway and determines who some of the guests are; one of them is Hitler.

Hiding in the hallway, Hedy overhears a conversation between Hitler and Mandl when Hitler says, “I alone decide whether someone is Jewish. I have decided that you will be granted the title ‘Honorary Aryan,’ which means that whatever Semitic blood stains you bear have been washed clean. You are no longer a Jew. I feel certain that, without the besmirchment of that blood, you can, and indeed, have, fully adopted our faith in one Germanic country.”

Outraged that Mandl has sold out to Hitler, Hedy realizes she must set her plan into action. When Mandl is out of Austria on a business trip, Hedy drugs her young maid who resembles Hedy, grabs a hastily packed small bag with only a few of the gorgeous dresses she owns and a set of Cartier jewelry Mandl purchased in Paris as a surprise for Hedy on that wedding dress shopping trip.

Taking the maid’s car keys, to a car Hedy had purchased for the maid to use for shopping errands, and dressed in a maid’s uniform, Hedy grabs her bag and slips out the back of the house. She escapes to Paris and then to London and on to the US. Before leaving, she had visited her mother and begged her to go along, but her mother refused. By this time, Emil, Hedy’s beloved father, had died.

In Los Angeles, Hedy quickly finds success. In London, she meets Louis B. Mayer and his wife; they are also on the ship to the US together. Hedy negotiates a contract with Mayer, refusing his first lowball offer; not surprisingly, Mayer acquiesces to Hedy’s higher salary demands because he can see she will be a star and make him a great deal of money. Mayer says she must have a new name though because anything sounding Germanic would not be acceptable. Mrs. Mayer suggests Hedy Lamarr, so thus the name was chosen. Below is a publicity photo of Hedy Lamarr.

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Hedy Lamarr quickly became a star in Hollywood, but she wanted more than the fame of being a movie star. She had overheard many conversations while married to Mandl about munitions and particularly about radio-controlled torpedoes and how the enemy could jam radio frequencies, thus throwing the torpedoes off course.

In Los Angeles, Hedy meets composer George Antheil and persuades him to join her in inventing a way to stop the enemy from jamming the radio signals. When he goes to Hedy’s home to work with her on the project, Antheil is surprised to see Hedy reading Radiodynamics: The Wireless Control of Torpedoesand Other Mechanisms by B. F. Miessner. He confesses, “I confess that I thought the place would be scattered with pots of makeup, jewelry, and gowns.” Instead, he finds Hedy has spread the table with notes she has been developing for the project.

Antheil and Lamarr DO develop a way to stop the enemy from jamming the radio-controlled torpedoes by making the frequency hop. They received a patent on frequency-hopping spread spectrum, US Patent 2,292,387 on 11 August 1942. They took the idea to the US Navy and they were rejected.

Hedy responds: “No matter the sexism that I knew well permeated the very fiber of my world, I couldn’t believe [the Navy Commander’s] words. These men were rejecting a system that would enable a plane or ship to steer a whole fleet of torpedoes against the enemy vessels with perfect accuracy, without any capacity on the enemy’s part to jam the necessary radio signals.” And why? Because Hedy Lamarr is a woman.

Only in the 1960s did the Navy incorporate the technology that Lamarr and Antheil had developed. However, Bluetooth technology uses a similar method, so many devices today rely on Lamarr and Antheil’s invention.

The Only Woman in the Room captivated my interest from the first page. Benedict starts each chapter with a date and place. That technique helps ground the story in time and space. Readers follow Hedy through that disastrous first marriage in Austria into to Hollywood and her ultimate success as a star. Hedy Lamarr, though, is much more than a pretty face. Her intellect knew no bounds.

Not only did she and Antheil receive a patent for their work on radio-hopping frequencies, she suggested to Howard Hughes that airplanes be streamlined instead of being made in a square formation so that they would have greater thrust and be more efficient.

Kirkus Reviews includes this statement about The Only Woman in the Room: “A captivating story of a complicated woman blazing new trails.” That is a good way to sum up the story of Hedy Lamarr.

Oct 14, 1939 Los Angeles CA: “My European friends and I assembled not to drink away our distress, but to share information. We’d learned that little of the truth was reported in the newspapers.”

Marie Benedict, a lawyer by education, has turned to full-time fiction writing. She published The Other Einstein about Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife who was also a physicist. Her next book was Carnegie’s Maid about the woman “who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie toward philanthropy.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reads a Juvenile Novel

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Many of us remember being awkward teenagers, often feeling out of place and friendless. Suzy has a best friend in Franny; they meet at age five when their mothers took them for swimming lessons. They are the last two children to jump into the pool. The swim teacher tells the girls they must “join the class.”

Suzy is ready to say no, but Franny looks “right at me, and I see your pink lips part. A smile. Then you take a deep breath and lower yourself into the water.” Suzy follows. At that moment, Suzy knows she has found a friend. Suzy thinks to herself that “making a friend, and having one, seems like the easiest thing in the world.”

Until near the end of sixth grade, Suzy and Franny are the best of friends. Then Franny changes and starts hanging out with the popular girls. When Suzy tries to fit in with them, she bungles the opportunity badly, leaving her more lonesome and alone than ever. Even if she sits with Franny and her new friends at lunch, Suzy is not part of the group; she is an outsider, not privy to the jokes and little catch-phrases.

Suzy spends the summer between sixth and seventh grades alone. Then the horrible news of Franny’s death by drowning comes just a few days before the beginning of school. Suzy cannot believe that Franny could drown because she is an excellent swimmer. Suzy feels guilty because she and Franny had parted with harsh words and now they cannot rebuild their friendship.

Early in the school year, Suzy’s class takes a trip to an aquarium. While the other children are throwing things at one another and generally acting like seventh graders, Suzy wanders to another part of the aquarium and ends up in the jellyfish display area.

As she reads about jellyfish, she becomes more and more interested. She learns that a tiny jellyfish called the Irukandji jellyfish, a deadly jellyfish only 2.5 centimeters in diameter, lives in Australia.  It is known as “the most venomous creature in the world.” Suzy also reads that it is spreading out of its native waters to other parts of the world.

This information leads Suzy to wonder if Franny had been stung by an Irukandji jellyfish, thus causing her death. She becomes obsessed with learning more about jellyfish. When Mrs. Turton, her science teacher, gives the class an assignment to give a class report on a science topic. This assignment gives Suzy the perfect opportunity to research jellyfish further and use the information for her report.

Suzy is grief-stricken over Franny’s death and that they parted on bad terms. Also, Suzy’s parents are now divorced; Suzy has dinner each Saturday night with her dad at Ming’s Palace. Aaron, Suzy’s older brother, lives with his partner Rocco, but they are in the same town. After Franny’s death, Suzy decides to become mute, speaking only when absolutely necessary such as occasionally in class.

Suzy’s grief is palpable. She cannot explain to anyone else how she feels; she thinks she is alone and friendless. Despite her parents’ heart-felt desires to help her and Aaron’s and Rocco’s kindness too, Suzy falls more deeply into her grief. Her parents decide that meeting with a psychologist will help Suzy learn to deal with her grief and help her find her voice again.

Suzy finds that choice ironic; she has chosen to be mute, yet her parents want her “to talk” to someone.

Readers follow Suzy’s story through her memories of times with Franny, starting at age five; interspersed with her memories, we learn of her present-day isolation at school along with her research about jellyfish. Suzy first looks for experts in the study of jellyfish. After reading about several, she chooses Jamie Seymour who lives in New Zealand.

Suzy methodically studies about the various experts on jellyfish, writing the pros and cons of contacting each one. She has rejected the first three when she decides that Jamie Seymour is the perfect choice. She writes draft after draft of letters and emails, but does not send them. She hopes with his help she can prove that Franny has died of a jellyfish sting rather than drowning.

School Library Journal in its starred review of The Thing About Jellyfish says “Benjamin has crafted a smart, funny, and deeply felt coming of age story that middle schoolers will relate to and find themselves ruminating on….A witty, tender, and utterly engaging modern school story that draws on the
wisdom of the ages.” The Thing about Jellyfish does take readers on Suzy’s journey with sensitivity and care. Suzy feels strongly that she needs to prove Franny has not died by drowning.

Much of the time, Suzy feels she herself is drowning. Mrs. Turton, her science teacher, reaches out to Suzy and invites her to spend her lunch hour in Mrs. Turton’s classroom. Soon, Justin, a classmate, joins them as they watch science videos and often eat their lunch in silence. Justin gives Suzy a nickname: Belle. Slowly, their friendship grows.

Suzy continues her research on jellyfish and gives her report to the class, finally using her voice in the classroom if not elsewhere except occasionally.

Then Suzy hatches a really daring plan: she will fly to New Zealand and talk with Jamie Seymour in person. This decision means she must be devious. She secretly copies the information from her father’s Visa card when they are at the Ming Palace and her father leaves it on the table when he goes to the restroom. She will use the information to purchase her airline tickets. She breaks her piggy bank and discovers she has over $200, but she knows she will need more cash for taxis and hotel when she reaches New Zealand.

She starts taking small amounts of money from her mother’s purse without her mother’s knowledge. She is careful not to take too much at one time. Suzy is thorough in her research and discovers that children over twelve can travel alone. She wants everything planned to the tiniest detail to ensure her success. Unfortunately, she overlooks one tiny detail which will derail her plan.

Still, even with the plan derailed, she discovers that she can come to terms with the terrible loss of her friend and that she can find new friends once more.

The Thing About Jellyfish provides an effective story about a heart-broken young lady who seeks to understand a terrible loss. That she is in seventh grade and does not fit the norm of the other girls because she is a bit awkward and has unruly hair will resonate with many young readers. My only criticism is that the story ends abruptly. Even with that criticism, I am glad to have read the book, and I look forward to reading The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin which will be published 16 April 2019. I have received an advance copy and will be reading it soon.

Oddlot Entertainment will make a film of The Thing About Jellyfish. Gigi Pritzker will produce with Bruna Papandrea and Reese Witherspoon. Ali Benjamin says she grew up in New York City in a haunted house. Her attraction to nature including bugs and frogs is evident in The Thing About Jellyfish because she includes a great deal of accurate information about jellyfish, all told through Suzy’s research.

Ali Benjamin’s Web site is at this link: http://alibenjamin.com/site/.

Readers can read the first eleven chapters of The Thing About Jellyfish free at this link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Thing-About-Jellyfish-PREVIEW-Chapters-ebook/dp/B0112T51WE/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+thing+about+jellyfish&qid=1554671035&s=books&sr=1-2.

The Book Whisperer Takes a Look at an Oklahoma Writer

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James Myers (Jim) Thompson was born in Anadarko, OK, shortly before statehood on September 27, 1906. In Roughneck, published in 1954, Thompson gives readers an inside look at the trials of this life, not holding back on his foibles.

Destined to be a writer, Thompson sold his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Over his career, he wrote twenty-nine books including Roughneck, a memoir. In addition to his novels, he co-authored two screen plays for Stanley Kubrick: The Killing and Paths of Glory. Both American and French directors have made Thompson’s novels into films including The Killer Inside Me, After Dark, and The Grifters.

Library Journal reminds readers that Roughneck is “another of Thompson’s autobiographical titles and supposedly true; fans know that half of [Roughneck] is inseparable from his crime writings.”

Jim Thompson had too many jobs to mention here. He tried his hand at a number of jobs from newspaper boy to plumber’s helper. He lived paycheck to paycheck and often had a few cents to no money in his pocket. In Roughneck, readers can follow Jim as he moves from OK to TX to NE and back to OK.

One of his best jobs came when William Cunningham, director of the Oklahoma Writers’ Project, hired Jim. It was not only a steady job, but it also involved his first love, writing. Thompson and his team published a Guide to Tulsa and a Calendar of Annual Oklahoma Events. As always, though, disagreements and arguments haunted Thompson and the projects he wished to complete. Because Thompson had joined the Communist Party, he lost the job when Gov. Leon Phillips rooted out the Communist members of the writers’ project. Still, Thompson had tried to resign four times before that, so he simply moved on to the next job.

As part of the federally funded writers’ project, Thompson taught workers who were “poorly educated” and “others who had no work experience.” He taught classes after work: spelling, typing, shorthand, and business etiquette. He proudly explained that many “unemployables” then found jobs.

Roughneck is an entertaining look at Jim Thompson’s life. He does not gloss over his struggle with alcoholism. In fact, some of the benders he describes would certainly have killed many other people. He writes about eating at soup kitchens and about “signs offering new shoes for a dollar, complete men’s outfits (slightly used) for two-fifty, and clean hotel rooms for five dollars a month.” Often, however, he did not have even a quarter in his pocket, so he had to be resourceful in finding food and lodging. He always landed on his feet, however.

I found myself wondering how Thompson lived to be 71 years old because his early life certainly was difficult.  His difficulties about finding and holding onto employment, his smoking and alcoholism make it is easy to see that he could have died a young man. Roughneck is an honest ad open portrait of a writer not afraid to take a hard look at himself.

The Web site Biography offers an extensive look at Jim Thompson: https://www.biography.com/people/jim-thompson.

To learn more about Jim Thompson, read about him at The Oklahoma Historical Society:

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=TH013.