Monthly Archives: September 2019

The Book Whisperer Departs From Her Usual Fare

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Credence, Colorado becomes the setting for The Trouble With Christmas by Amy Andrews. Although Andrews is from Australia, she has a knack for capturing the essence of Credence, CO.

Suzanne St. Michelle, New Yorker, artist, and beautiful woman, arrives at Grady’s ranch, planning to spend December listening to her music and painting in the quiet of the ranch. Suzanne is struck by the quiet the moment she exists her vehicle: “And it’s so quiet, no horns or traffic or blinking lights or sirens or crowds, or people for that matter. No background hum of chatter all around you. It’s so…serene.”

Right away, readers sense that despite all the quiet, Suzanne is a talker, rambling on and on while Grady, her landlord stands looking at her thinking there went “[my] serenity.” Since Grady does not respond, Suzanne starts up again. Then she makes another mistake besides her being too talkative: she calls Grady a cowboy.

Grady’s dignified response is “I’m a rancher.”

Suzanne then asks if Grady will show her to her cottage, a separate building from Grady’s living quarters. Grady is caring for the ranch for his uncle who has retired and has given the ranch to Grady. Burl, Grady’s uncle, has rented the cottage to Suzanne.

Suzanne discovered the cottage because her friend Winona had come to Credence “after the first single-women campaign had gone viral and decided to stay.” Winona currently lives in Credence; she is having a cabin built on the lake. Winona convinced Suzanne a complete change of scenery would be good for her artistic talents.

Suzanne, whose mother is a true artist, copies famous paintings, having given up trying to paint anything original. Then she arrives in Credence and meets Grady. She becomes obsessed with the need to paint him.

The tension between Suzanne and Grady continues to mount. Whenever they are together, they act like teenagers trying to figure out who has the upper hand, clearly not liking one another at all.

On the other hand, when they are apart, each thinks of the other. This constant contrast continues to grow even as the reader keeps hoping they will give in to their desires for one another.

Like another book I just finished, a lie becomes a prominent part of the story. Suzanne tells her high-powered, wealthy parents that she wishes to remain at the ranch for Christmas because she has fallen in love with Grady, the rancher. At the time of the lie, of course, this story is untrue. Her mother tells Suzanne that in two weeks, she cannot have fallen in love, so Suzanne compounds the lie by telling her mother she met Grady earlier through Winona and that they have been corresponding by phone and email.

Suzanne’s mother feels extremely disappointed and reminds Suzanne they have never spent a Christmas apart. Then, the unthinkable happens: Suzanne’s mother says, “That’s fine…we’ll come to you.” Suzanne searches desperately for reasons her parents should not come to Credence: lack of accommodation, chance of blizzards, distance to the town.

Then Suzanne’s mom drops a bombshell. She explains that “things aren’t so good between us and …I just want one last Christmas where we’re all together.”

Now, Suzanne must deal with the lie she has told because her parents are coming to Credence for Christmas. She must convince the prickly Grady to pretend to be her boyfriend/fiancé while her parents are in CO.

Grabbing a bottle of wine, Suzanne steels herself for her encounter with Grady. Knowing they have agreed to stay in their separate lodgings, Suzanne realizes it will take convincing to make Grady go along with the charade. Even though Suzanne says, “I come in peace,” Grady already has his guard up.

As Suzanne explains her problem and her solution, Grady responds, not surprisingly, “You told them what?”  After a bit more explaining and cajoling, Grady reluctantly agrees to pretend to be Suzanne’s boyfriend while her parents are in CO.

Readers will look forward to how the story plays out. And there are surprises along the way.

Amy Andrews is a nurse and has always been a writer. Her mother wrote romances, so as a child, Amy thought of herself as a writer as well. She has written a large number of books, both stand alone titles and books in a series. She has also collaborated with other authors. Discover more on her Web site: http://amyandrews.com.au/.

Andrews now lives in the “pretty little coastal town of Yeppoon where she gets to stare at the ocean all day.” I would like to read one of her books set in Yeppoon if such a one exists, so I will be checking.

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The Book Whisperer’s Latest Debut Novel Review

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What happens when a person tells what seems to be a harmless lie? Does the lie build and build, taking on a life of its own? How does the person then extricate himself/herself from the lie? In How Not to Die Alone, Richard Roper examines what happens when Andrew, his main character, tells a lie in a job interview and then has to continue with that lie or be undone.

Andrew does not have in his head to lie to Cameron, his new boss-to-be. The lie begins innocently enough, but quickly takes on a its whole backstory. Thus, the lie is perpetuated and strengthened.

The title, How Not to Die Alone, takes on several meanings. Andrew works for the Council, sorting out the final affairs of people who die alone. Sometimes the bodies are not discovered for months after death because the people live alone and often have few or no family or friends with whom they are in communication. Additionally. Andrew, himself, is alone, and that status becomes a focal point of the story.

The New York Times Book Review of How Not to Die Alone describes Roper’s debut novel well: “[A] winning debut novel….Roper illuminates Andrew’s interior life to reveal not what an odd duck he is, but what odd ducks we all are.”

To add to Andrew’s oddities, not only does he live alone, but he is a model train collector and spends time with online buddies who are also model train collectors. Andrew has a sister whom he loves; sadly, they are estranged and see each other only sporadically. Soon, readers learn that the song “Blue Moon” is a trigger for heartache, sadness, and even physical illness for Andrew. In the end, Andrew’s lie is revealed along with why the association with “Blue Moon” has become so painful.

Andrew takes his job seriously and does his best to find next of kin or at least a friend of the deceased. He has to enter apartments that are spotlessly clean and ones filthy with debris and rotting food, clearly a hoarder’s home. Regardless of the state of the apartment, Andrew must sift through personal items to try to locate next of kin. Andrew sorts through the person’s life looking for anything to give him a clue to another person.

Although attending funerals is not part of his job description, Andrew does attend each funeral for those who die alone. Often, only he and the vicar are in the church for those final words. Occasionally, a few friends or distant family member may attend.

In his own life, Andrew wishes for some kind of connection to others. Yet he goes to work and returns home, continuing in his lonely path day after day. Cameron, his boss, repeatedly devises plans that he says will bring the office staff together, make them more of a team. Meredith and Keith make up the rest of the team until a new hire, Peggy, joins them.

Cameron teams Andrew and Peggy so that Andrew can show her the procedure for examining a dead person’s apartment and where clues are often hidden. Peggy is outgoing and fun to spend time with even though their work can be grim. Andrew soon learns Peggy has two daughters and an alcoholic husband. On the other hand, Peggy learns little about Andrew’s personal life. The lie stands in the way of Andrew’s being open with anyone.

Cameron’s idea that the office members all meet at each other’s homes for dinner is the one that will bring Andrew’s world crashing down around him. And when it does, readers finally learn the reason for the lie and more about Andrew’s loneliness.

Other reviewers use words like darkly funny, wryly funny, and quirkily charming. I can agree with those assessments. I see How Not to Die Alone also as an examination of loneliness and how to turn that loneliness into a meaningful relationship by taking a chance and by giving up a lie that quickly got out of control.

Richard Roper is a nonfiction editor at Headline, https://www.headline.co.uk/, founded in 1986. Its goal is “to publish the books people want to read.” Headline counts Neil Gaiman among is stable of authors.

How Not to Die Alone is Roper’s debut novel. Roper calls himself “an unapologetic sentimentalist at heart.” Roper says he read an article about government workers like Andrew who take care of the affairs of those who die alone, without next of kin. That article inspired him to create Andrew and the story that followed.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a True Story About Slavery

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Never Caught is a captivating story of Ona Judge, a slave owned by Martha Custis Washington and brought to her marriage with George Washington. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the author, is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. Professor Dunbar has received fellowships from Ford, Mellon, and SSRC. Her first book is A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City.

Watch a YouTube video book talk with Professor Dunbar on Never Caught: https://youtu.be/b39sm0WjIf0. She maintains a Web site at this link: https://ericaarmstrongdunbar.com/. There, readers will find information about Professor Dunbar’s work as a writer, historian, and lecturer.

Dunbar provides a biography of Ona Judge, a dower slave, owned by Martha Parke Custis, brought to her marriage with George Washington. Dower slaves were held in trust for Martha’s children or grandchildren. Technically, they did not belong to Washington, but he owned slaves in his own right.

When George Washington became President of the newly formed United States, he had to move his family first to New York City and then Philadelphia from their beloved home at Mount Vernon. The Washingtons chose a small number of slaves to take with them as servants in both NY and PA. Ona Judge was one of those who moved with the family. Betty, Ona’s mother, was a favored slave in Martha’s household.

Ona became very much like a lady’s maid, dressing Martha and combing her hair. Ona also had to repair any damage to Martha’s clothes, so she became an expert seamstress. Martha depended upon Ona a great deal. Ona would even make social calls with Martha, staying in the background both at home and on visits to other homes in case Martha needed Ona.

Dunbar describes Ona’s duties well and also reminds readers of the perils young female slaves faced. Apparently, the Washingtons treated Ona well, giving her new clothes and treating her kindly, but she was still enslaved and at their beck and call.

Once the family moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons had to take the slaves back to Mount Vernon or to the neighboring state of New Jersey every six months or the slaves could be declared free. The Washingtons wanted to keep this knowledge from the slaves, but, no doubt, the information did leak out.

When Martha’s granddaughter Elizabeth Parke Custis, also called Betsey and Eliza, married Thomas Law, a man twenty years her senior, Martha bequeathed Ona Judge to the granddaughter. Elizabeth was known to have a stormy temper and to be unpredictable. Ona definitely did not wish to become her property even though it meant returning to her family in the South.

At that point, Ona made up her mind to run away. Runaway slaves had a difficult time and were often caught. Rewards from $5 to $10, a lot of money in those days, were offered for the capture and return of the slaves.

Ona found passage on a ship with Captain John Bowles who took her to Portsmouth, NH. The passage was difficult and Ona was seasick on the ship. Once she got to Portsmouth, she had to find a job and lodging. She managed both of those tasks, taking a job as a domestic.

Below is the first newspaper ad posted seeking Ona Judge’s return:

In living with the Washingtons, Ona had had an easy life in terms of work, but she was on constant call. As an escapee, she had to do very hard work as a laundress and housekeeper. In those days, the jobs were not only difficult, but also dangerous.

One day in Portsmouth, Ona is on her way to work when she comes face-to-face with Senator Langdon’s daughter. Ona does not acknowledge the young woman, but she recognizes Ona and tells her father that she has seen Ona. At that point, readers imagine that Ona will be taken back to the Washingtons or that she will flee to another city.

In effort to find Ona Judge, Washington wrote a letter to Oliver Wolcott: “I am sorry to give you, or any one else trouble on such a trifling occasion. The ingratitude of the girl, who was brought up & treated more like a child than a Servant ought not to escape with impunity if it can be avoided.” Clearly, he missed the points that Ona was not a child and was not free.

Ona remains in Portsmouth and she remains free of capture, but she does experience some terrifying moments. Washington’s nephew Burwell Bassett is sent to retrieve Ona, but he fails. Others also try to return Ona to the Washingtons, but without success.

In Portsmouth, Ona met Jack Staines and they were legally married in 1797. Staines was a free black man, seaman who was often gone at sea. Unable to marry in Portsmouth, Ona and Jack went to the nearby town of Greenland where they were married. Ona later found refuge in Greenland with a free black family when Jack Staines died.

Dunbar gives readers background on the times, the ways people began looking at slavery and groups which formed to abolish slavery. In NY, for example, the New-York Manumission Society was founded in 1785 by John Jay and others “to promote the gradual abolition of slavery and manumission of slaves of African descent within the state of New York.”

In Pennsylvania, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage was the first American Abolition society, founded April 14, 1775. Later, it was reorganized and became the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage with the short name of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Benjamin Franklin became the president of the organization and took the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia killed almost 5000 people between Aug 1 and Nov 9. No one knew that mosquitoes transmitted the fever until that fact was verified in the nineteenth century. The yellow fever epidemic ended with the frost that killed the mosquitoes. Doctors thought African-Americans were immune to yellow fever, so many were recruited to care for the sick and bury the dead. Of course, they were not immune and many became ill and died.

Washington did struggle with the morality of slavery, but he did not free his slaves during his lifetime. Washington’s will “stipulated that aged slaves, those who were unable to work or support themselves, receive assistance and that they be ‘comfortably clothed and fed’ by the Washington heirs after their liberation took effect.” He also decreed that the slaves be taught to read and write and taught a useful occupation in preparation for their freedom.

Dunbar provides readers with a well-rounded look at slavery through the life of one slave: Ona Judge.

The Book Whisperer Reads Another New-to-Her Author: Cleeton

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About a year ago, I joined a book club at my branch of the Tulsa City-County Libraries. Kelli McDowell, library manager, chooses the books and leads the discussions. I am finding this book club a welcome respite because my responsibilities are to read the books chosen and be prepared for the discussions —and occasionally to bring refreshments.

Over the time I’ve been in Beyond the Book, Ms. McDowell has chosen books I’ve already read, books I would not have chosen on my own, and books I’ve been eager to read. I’ve read all of them regardless of whether I had already read the book—a refresher is always good. The books I would not have chosen have been intriguing and fun to read. Since I choose books for another book club (or two?), I like having someone else choose for this one.

The book for September is Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. I knew that Reese Witherspoon had chosen it for her book club and had the book on my TBR list, so it is a welcome choice. I looked up information on Chanel Cleeton since I am not familiar with her work.

She has written a number of romance novels and a thriller and now this semi-political novel set in Cuba, Next Year in Havana. As I read about Cleeton, I discovered that she wanted to explore her own heritage since her family had escaped from Cuba in 1960 and landed in Florida. She has listened to her grandparents reminisce about their lives in Cuba, but they are reluctant to talk about some of the deprivation they suffered after Castro took over. Cleeton says her grandfather, similar to people who grew up in the Great Depression, cannot bear to see food wasted because food was in such short supply.

Like many writers, Cleeton gives her readers the Perez family’s story told in two parts: then and now. She also tells the story through two characters, Elise Perez and Marisol Ferrera, Elise’s granddaughter.

Marisol’s parents divorced when she and her sisters were small and their mother moved away, leaving the girls in their father’s care. His mother Elise, the girls’ paternal grandmother, steps in to help her son with his daughters. Elise and Marisol share the closest bond and are much alike. When Elise dies suddenly in her 70s, she leaves instructions for Marisol to take her ashes back to Cuba. In the instructions, she says that Marisol will know where to leave the ashes once she is there.

Thus, Cleeton sets up a mystery for Marisol to solve so that she knows the right place to leave her dear grandmother’s ashes. Marisol is a freelance journalist, so she has a reason to visit Cuba now that restrictions are somewhat relaxed and Americans can visit there. She does not know when she sets off on her journey that she will discover family secrets and a love.

Ostensibly, Marisol is in Cuba to write about tourist spots for a magazine, and she does plan to do that too. She has to smuggle her grandmother’s ashes into Cuba in a cosmetic jar and she hopes the jar won’t be opened during her entrance into Cuba at the airport.

Marisol has made arrangements to stay with Ana Rodriguez, Elise’s neighbor and childhood friend. Ana still lives in her family home next door to the old home where the Perez family lived, now occupied by Russian diplomats.

Luis Rodriguez, Ana’s grandson, picks Marisol up from the airport and takes her to his grandmother’s home where he also lives with his mother and his ex-wife. Luis is a history professor at the University of Havana. Immediately, sparks fly when the two meet, but Marisol is wary. She is in Havana for a few days only and she has much to do.

In Elise’s story, readers learn about the revolution and the factions trying to defeat Batista. Elise and her family live the lives of the very privileged. They are wealthy and feel untouched by dangers around them until all comes crashing down. Their father has supported Batista, so that puts the family in immediate danger when Castro takes over.

The Perez family manages to leave Cuba for the US as if going on vacation. Elise and her three sisters can take only one suitcase each and must leave valuables behind. Elise buries a box containing items precious to her in the backyard and enlists her friend Ana in the middle of the night to witness where the box is buried. Ana later digs that box up and keeps it safe without opening it until she gives it to Marisol.

Elise’s treasures in the box lead Marisol into some danger and Luis is right beside her. Readers also learn that Luis blogs under an assumed name and his blogging could get him into serious trouble with the government. He reminds Marisol that as an American and someone staying with the Rodriguez family she is being watched.

The Malecon in Havana which plays an important part for both Elise and Marisol

To discover all the political and romantic intrigues, read Next Year in Havana. One of my reading quirks is that I like to discover that the writer has used the title of the book somewhere in the book. The caveat is that it must appear naturally; it can’t be forced or just dropped in inexplicably. Cleeton meets my expectations in that regard. Cubans who fled Cuba after Castro took over, end their toasts with “Next year in Havana.”

Cleeton maintains a robust Web site at this link: http://www.chanelcleeton.com. Readers can also sign up to receive her newsletter: http://www.chanelcleeton.com/mailing-list/.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Lovely Debut Novel

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When I finish a book, I usually head to the computer (I still like working at my desk top despite having a small laptop) to write out and share my thoughts about the book. September 5, 2019, I finished reading Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior. For some reason, I did not immediately write my review. I am correcting that oversight now because I truly enjoyed the book.

Hazel Prior, https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/, has been playing the harp for a long time. She has performed at the Ferrara Music Festival in Italy, at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol, poetry readings, and Medieval banquets. And she has played the harp at a number of weddings including her own. On her Web site, Prior gives several examples of her harp skills: https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/blank-cjg9.

Ellie and the Harp Maker is a debut novel; Prior is already at work on her second book and has also written short stories, poems, and children’s stories. Her writing is warm and inviting. She creates characters that readers care about and wish to see successful in their endeavors. In Ellie and the Harp Maker, the story plays out simply, unfolding slowly as readers come to know Dan Hollis, the harp maker, and Ellie, the Exmoor housewife.

On Hazel Prior’s Web site, readers will see this proclamation about Ellie and the Harp Maker:

”This heart-warming, funny and quirky love story features . . .

86 plums

69 sandwiches

27 birch trees

a 17-step staircase


a pair of cherry-coloured socks

and a pheasant named Phineas.”

After reading that description, how could I not wish to read the book?

The story begins simply enough when Ellie, the Exmoor housewife, takes an impulsive trip down a wooded lane and discovers a barn where Dan Hollis makes Celtic harps. Dan most likely has Asperger’s; he says of himself that he does not always understand social situations. He prefers working on his harps in the solitude of his barn where he can let the wood tell him how to make the harp.

When Ellie finds the barn, she goes in and views the beautiful harps all over the barn, some completed and others Dan is still working on. As she admires the harps, Ellie tells Dan she wishes she could play the harp, a goal before she turns forty.

Dan admires Ellie’s bright, cherry-colored socks, so he gives her a harp of cherry wood. At first, Ellie protests and tells Dan she cannot possibly accept the harp as a gift. Dan insists that she take the harp and helps her load it into the back of her car with a blanket to cushion it for the trip to her home.

Once she is at home, Ellie still feels she should not accept the harp and her husband echoes that sentiment insisting that she return it. Her husband is sure Ellie misunderstood Dan and tells her they cannot afford to pay for the harp or harp lessons.

Sadly, Ellie returns the harp to Dan who tells her the harp belongs to her, Ellie, the Exmoor housewife. He assures her he will keep the harp in a little room up the seventeen stairs to his living quarters and that she can come there to play. He even tells her of a harp teacher, his girlfriend, who will teach Ellie.

Dan’s gift of the cherry wood harp to Ellie marks the beginning of a friendship between the two. The story is heartwarming and full of kindness. Oh, yes, there is strife and discord which we hope will be resolved. To discover the warmth of a kind soul and an act of generosity that turns into a friendship and more, read Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior.

Ellie and the Harp Maker would make a delightful choice for a book talk for Books Sandwiched In with a harpist who could talk about the book and play the harp!

The Book Whisperer Chooses 4 Picture Books for Crime Stoppers

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During the month of September, the Tulsa Press Club is collecting books for readers age 8 – 14. The Tulsa Press Club, https://www.facebook.com/pg/TulsaPressClub/posts/, will give the books to Tulsa Crime Stoppers for distribution through revamped Tulsa World dispensing boxes; the boxes will be in various places around Tulsa. Children are then encouraged to take a book from the box and read. Also, Tulsa Police officers will be reading to children in a variety of places around the city. People are invited to donate new and gently used books for readers age 8 – 14. These locations are accepting donations of books: Tulsa Press Club, Tulsa Crime Stoppers, and City Vet.

Since I have always enjoyed reading, I like to promote reading among all ages. When I learned of the book drive, I wanted to contribute. I purchased four picture books from the South Broken Arrow Library’s book sale to donate.

The middle picture is of Diana Cohn and the third picture is of Amy Cordova.

Namaste! by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova is a beautiful book about Nima Sherpa, a little girl who lives in Nepal where Mt Everest looks down on her village. Nima’s father is a tour guide for many foreign visitors who come to see Mt. Everest, called Chomolongma by the villagers.

Namaste! follows Nima on her journey through the village. As she meets people, she “brings her hands together with her fingers almost touching her chin, bows her head slightly, and says ‘Namaste!’”  Namaste means “the light in me meets the light in you.”

Through Nima’s journey, readers see other villagers and learn about life in Nima’s village. Amy Cordova’s illustrations are colorful and delight the eye.

At the end of the book, readers will find information about Nepal, the Himalayas, the Sherpa people, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and preserving mountain cultures. Namaste! is truly a book to savor and from which to learn.

Diana Cohn has published seven books for children and has received awards for her work. She continues to have a strong interest in social justice and environmental issues.

Amy Cordova is an artist and art educator. She has won awards for her work as well.

John Stadler’s Catilda takes readers on a journey to find a lost toy, a stuffed bear. Father tucks Catilda into bed and leaves her singing “a song about Ollie,” her bear lost on a trip to the city. Stadler illustrates the book as well. The drawings are whimsical and inviting. The colors are muted shades on one page and darken on another.

Catilda misses Ollie and wants to find him. Unbeknownst to her mother and father, she goes on a night-time journey to find the lost bear. Through the story, we see Catilda being bandied about by a giant wave only to land on a flagpole. She finally reaches The Statute of Liberty and then we see her clutching Ollie to her heart and smiling as she floats on a cloud. See more about John Stadler at this link: http://www.johnstadler.com/.

Haircuts at Sleepy Sam’s by Michael R. Strickland and illustrated by Keaf Holliday portrays three brothers off to get a Saturday haircut. Mother gives them money and hands them written instructions for the barber: “Trim. Keep the hairline natural. Clean back of neck. And please – not too short on the top!” Mark and Randy beg for a different cut saying, “We’re tired of Afro cuts.” Mom is not budging, though.

Before the boys reach the barber shop, they look across the street at the candy store and debate the merits of going there first. They decide, however, they should get to the barber shop first.

Sam calls Mark to sit in the barber’s chair. Sam wants to give the boys a different cut, but they remind him of their mother’s instructions.  However, “Sam smiles to himself and goes to work.” When all three boys have had their haircuts, they return home.

Mom looks at her sons and “a slow smile appears. She laughingly says, “That Sam…. He gave you guys just what you wanted!” The boys have “a bald fade” hair cut and all of them are happy.

Keaf Holliday has created realistic pictures of the three boys and the people they meet on their way to the barber shop. The colors are soft. Each boy is distinctive, but share features as brothers would.

Do All Bugs Have Wings? And Other Questions Kids Have About Bugs by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cary Pillo will thrill young readers with information about bugs. The format is simple. On each page, we see one or more questions posed by children whose first names and ages appear with the questions. This touch add realism to the questions.

The pages are full of facts, but not so overwhelming that readers will become bored. For example, in answer to the question “how many insects are on Earth today?” readers will discover this answer: “Too many to count! Scientists think there are about 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects in the world. There are about 6.8 billion people on Earth. This means there are 1.5 billion insects for each person!”

The book is one to be read and reread. Cary Pillo has illustrated the book with drawings of a wide variety of bugs. The drawings are fun and yet fit with the information on each page.

Suzanne Slade has written a number of children’s books—more than 100! Her background is in mechanical engineering; she wishes to share her passion for science with young readers. See more of her work at this link: https://www.suzanneslade.com/.

Cary Pillo is an award-winning illustrator.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite: Penny’s Latest Gamache Novel

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On a recent visit to Central Library for a meeting, I stopped to check the Quick Pick (QP) table just to see what was available. Imagine my surprise to find six copies of A Better Man, Louise Penny’s latest in the Armand Gamache series. It was published in August, 2019!

Not surprisingly, A Better Man has already received accolades from a number of reviewers. The Times of London named it a book of the month while The Christian Science Monitor named it one of the best books of August.

Louise Penny’s fans expect her to provide a good story. A Better Man certainly has a strong storyline.  All of our favorite characters from Three Pines are included along with the police agents we’ve come to know.

Besides investigating a murder, Gamache and Beauvoir and the police crew must deal with several other issues: Gamache’s return to homicide after a suspension and a catastrophic potential flooding across the province.

After a nine-month suspension, Gamache returns to the Surete’ demoted to second in command of homicide under his son-in-law, now named Chief Inspector Beauvoir.  Of course, long-time Penny fans will remember that Beauvoir will soon be leaving Quebec for Paris and a safe job, no longer a police officer. How will Gamache act when he is no longer in charge? What about the other officers, the subordinates?

The other difficulty that will involve police and other first responders is the potential for flooding caused by the April thaws and continuous rain. Rivers are threatening to burst dams and flood the province.

Gamache has mentored Beauvoir through his career and his rise to Chief Inspector. In the process, the two have become related through Gamache’s daughter’s marriage to Beauvoir; even more than being related, the two have developed a mutual respect and love for one another as brothers in arms and human beings.

As the story moves forward, I enjoyed seeing Beauvoir engage in many of the behaviors he has observed in Gamache over the years. Gamache is a calm man, a man given to defusing situations with a quiet word and a calm demeanor even when he faces a man holding a gun on him. Beauvoir finds himself thinking like Gamache and quoting lines of poetry or literature—if only in his own head.

The main investigation involves a missing pregnant woman who happens to be Agent Lysette Cloutier’s goddaughter. Several years earlier, Gamache had brought Agent Cloutier from accounting into homicide so she could help with tracing money as part of criminal investigations. Superintendent Isabelle Lacoste is also back following her recovery from a shooting in a drug operation of nine months earlier.

Annie, Gamache’s daughter and Beauvoir’s wife, is about the same age as Vivienne, the missing woman. Annie, too, is pregnant, so Gamache and Beauvoir think about how they would feel if Annie were missing.

While trying to locate Vivienne, the team encounters resistance from Carl Tracey, Vivienne’s abusive drunken husband. Thus, Tracey becomes the prime suspect in Vivienne’s disappearance.

The threatening weather conditions also play a vital role in the investigation. Other issues that intrude on the investigation include tweets denigrating Gamache and saying he is unfit for service. I found those tweets to be disturbing because they clearly are being sent out by people who do not know Gamache and have no respect for him because they do not know the full story.

Another side story concerns Clara, the artist resident of Three Pines. Her latest exhibition has been savaged by art critics. She feels personally attacked and deflated because of the terrible reviews.

In the end, Gamache and Beauvoir determine what has happened to Vivienne and who is responsible. The results are surprising. A Better Man is certainly a satisfying read.

Louise Penny’s Web site, https://www.louisepenny.com/books.htm, gives readers insight into the characters and the setting of the Gamache novels. Readers can also subscribe to her newsletter which keeps them updated on Penny’s work.

I learned on the Web site that Penny is a great supporter of literacy programs. In addition to being actively involved in literacy organizations, Penny has written a grade 3 novella: The Hangman. The story is set in Three Pines and features Chief Inspector Gamache. The book is designed to engage “emerging adult readers.” Anyone who works with adult learners knows that finding appropriate reading material at a level that the readers can understand as they are learning, but also appeal to an adult audience, is difficult.