Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Book Whisperer Reads a Christmas Romance Set in Cornwall


When I saw A Cosy Christmas in Cornwall by Jane Linfoot, I was immediately interested since I had spent a happy vacation in Cornwall, albeit in May. I hoped to see in the book places I had personally visited, or at the very least, mentions of places I had been.

The picture below is of Restormel Castle in Cornwall; perhaps the castle where Ivy spends Christmas is like this one. One can dream!

The narrator of A Cosy Christmas in Cornwall is Ivy Starforth. She describes herself as flawed. She lists a number of plans that have not quite gone according to her hopes including losing her steady boyfriend, George.

Now, though, Ivy is on her way to an exceptional Christmas in a Cornish castle.  Ivy works with Fliss, her friend, at Daniels, a family-owned department store in London. They  keep the windows looking attractive and inviting with merchandise. Ivy and Fliss build the displays; Ivy has done much of the work on her own the last two years because Fliss has had two pregnancies quite close together.

Fliss’s older sister is Libby, a woman who “is seriously driven.” Ivy describes Libby with these words: “Libby is one of the amazing multi-tasking entrepreneur super mums who started a decade ago with a new-born, a toddler, and a idea for a baby carrier, and went on to take over the world.”

Now, Libby has hired Ivy to stage the scene for her Christmas pictures, primarily social media posts, from the Cornish castle. Ivy must make sure the pictures are, well, picture-perfect. Ivy’s job, no pressure, of course, is to make Libby’s posts amazing. And that means all of them, not just some of them.

Ivy and her dog Merwyn arrive ahead of Libby and her children. Ivy believes she will have time to get the lay of the land and be ready for staging Libby’s fantastic pictures for posting to Instagram.

Given what little readers already know about Ivy—from her own descriptions—that her life is less than perfect and that she often makes the wrong decision, readers must be thinking what could possibly go wrong on this Christmas adventure.

Readers quickly learn than much can go wrong or at least not be quite right. Ivy meets Bill at the castle and realizes he is someone she knows and has not expected to encounter again. Another problem is that the wi-fi signal comes and goes; it is completely unreliable. Ivy’s sole reason for being is to stage the pictures Libby can send immediately then on Instagram. If that’s going to be a problem, then Libby will definitely be unhappy.

Ivy discovers the castle is not decorated for Christmas. Even more alarming, she finds that Bill will be on the premises the whole time to. He explains, “[the castle] is more of an Airnb model than a proper let.” As a result, he likes to be on hand “so when there are problems, I’m on the spot to sort them out.”

The word problems alarms Ivy. When she asks about the problems, Bill casually says there may be no problems, but the potential exists.

Thus far, Ivy sees only problems and wonders how she will cope with Libby’s demands. Readers find themselves on a merry ride as Ivy tries to stay ahead of any difficulties. Will the tension that has already developed between Bill and Ivy turn into something else? Read the full story to discover all the answers.

A Cosy Christmas in Cornwall provides readers with a charming story and an unconventional narrator. The characters are well-drawn and engaging. Jane Linfoot lives in Derbyshire. Discover more about Linfoot’s books at this site: She has published ten novels including one called Plotting for Beginners: A Novel for New Beginnings which she co-wrote with Sue Hepworth.


The Book Whisperer Gives a B-


For a book club and based on reviews I had read, I chose The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson, a debut novel. I find that Kirkus Reviews are usually reliable and offer good advice in choosing books. The Kirkus Review for The Bookshop of Yesterdays persuaded me to read the book: “A lovely look at loss, family, and the comfort found in a good bookstore.”

True, The Bookshop of Yesterdays does take readers into a family with secrets. I am frequently drawn to books set in bookstores or having some connection to bookstores, libraries, and reading. Meyerson includes several elements that I enjoy: references to books, authors, and a bookstore.

Miranda, the narrator, is a young history teacher in a private school in Philadelphia. She receives a package in the mail: a copy of The Tempest and a clue to a scavenger hunt. Until she was twelve, Billy Silver, her uncle, used to take her on elaborate scavenger hunts he devised. Miranda would find the first clue and have to decipher it to find the next clue and so on until she reached the end of the hunt and found the prize, whatever that might be. Now, sixteen years later, she learns Billy has died and she finds herself on the final scavenger hunt.

Miranda must return to Los Angeles to attend her uncle’s funeral and find the other clues to the scavenger hunt. What will those clues turn up? Miranda has just moved in with her boyfriend Jay, also a teacher at her school. She leaves Jay behind to return to CA for a week or so to attend the funeral and figure out the clues to the scavenger hunt. She expects to return to Philadelphia in time for school to begin in August.

On her twelfth birthday, however, Miranda’s life changes dramatically. Billy leads her on a scavenger hunt which results in a stop at a pet store where he has arranged to buy her a dog. When they take the dog home, Miranda’s mother Suzy, is upset and refuses to allow Miranda to keep the dog. In the heat of the moment, Billy and Suzy, siblings, argue heatedly out of Miranda’s hearing. They say things that cannot be withdrawn. That night is the last time that Miranda sees her uncle.

Miranda tries repeatedly to get in touch with Billy, leaving him messages and imploring him to come see her.  He does not respond. In desperation, Miranda figures out the bus routes to take to go to Prospero Books, the book store Billy owns; she thinks she can see him there. Unfortunately, Billy is not in the bookstore. Lee, the manager, calls Suzy to come get Miranda.

Billy Silver is actually a scientist who studies earthquakes. He is a consultant who goes all over the world when there is an earthquake to study the results and help predict the future of earthquakes. Readers later learn that Prospero, the bookstore, had belonged to Billy’s wife, Evelyn Weston. Miranda has no knowledge of Billy’s having been married.

The first time Miranda sees Evelyn’s name, it is on a headstone next to the grave where Billy is buried.

Now, I know that families keep secrets. My own family unearthed a sixty-year-old secret last year. Meyerson takes readers on a very long ride in order to reveal the primary secret in The Bookshop of Yesterdays. While I am not sorry I read the book and I do think it will generate a good discussion in the book club, I did wish the story would move forward more quickly than it does.

Billy receives a diagnosis from his doctor that he has two years to live, so he sets his scavenger hunt up with letters, books, and quotations so that after his death Miranda will receive the first clue which will lead her to the next. Finally, she will have al the pieces of the puzzle to put the secret to rest. In those two years before his death, he could have contacted Miranda as well as contacting his sister Suzy. He does neither. He leaves all the clues for Miranda to find after his death.

Setting up the resolution to come after his death, Billy allows no opportunity for redemption. Miranda will find the secret. Is that enough when she can no longer confront Billy with what she learns? And perhaps confront is not the correct word. Because Billy is dead, Miranda can only come to terms with what she has learned and deal with it on her own.

I remind myself that The Bookshop of Yesterdays is a debut novel. Miranda thinks mainly of herself; she is distant from her parents in both miles and emotions, having moved to PA from CA. Even when they are together, they are tentative with one another; her father is particularly absent. Her boyfriend Jay is not well-developed. He’s a soccer coach, so the most readers learn about him is his involvement with his players as a coach. He and Miranda have a tenuous relationship at best.

In the beginning of the story, readers meet Joanie, Miranda’s best friend. At first, though, I thought she might be a sister since the relationship is not clearly defined until much later. Even that friendship is tentative and does not seem real.

Again, all these points will add to the discussion in the book club. I did enjoy the many references to books and authors.

Amy Meyerson graduated from Wesleyan University and the University of Southern California. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Southern California. Her Web site offers more information:

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Gem


I truly enjoy novels set in the South, Southern characters, and Southern authors. Though Heather Webber is not from the South, she has captured the charm and essence of a Southern story in Midnight at the Blackbird Café. Set in Wicklow, AL, a small town, Midnight at the Blackbird Café offers readers a good, solid story, characters to like, and a bit of magic as well. I should mention that I also like stories in which the title either appears smoothly as part of the story, or the title offers a clear insight into the story or characters.

Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a title that works well. Anna Kate Callow has returned to Wicklow, AL, leaving her plan for medical school at UMass in Boston on hold for the summer. Her grandmother Zee has died, leaving the Blackbird Café to Anna Kate with the stipulation that she must operate the café three months before selling or closing it. That’s just what Anna Kate plans to do, sell the café and return to her medical studies.

As the story continues, readers quickly learn that Wicklow has a way of holding on to people. Anna Kate has never been to Wicklow; her meetings with her grandmother have always been away from the town since Anna Kate’s mom, Zee’s daughter, left Wicklow, pregnant with Anna Kate. No one in town except Zee knows about Anna Kate’s existence.

A terrible car wreck occurred with a teenaged Eden, Anna Kate’s mom, driving. AJ Linden, Eden’s boyfriend (fiancé if readers wish to be honest), dies in the crash. The Lindens are the royalty of Wicklow. Seelie Earl Linden, AJ’s mom, has never liked Eden and did not wish AJ to date Eden, much less marry her. A predicable outcome of AJ’s death is that Seelie blames Eden for AJ’s death.

In her grief over losing her son, Seelie becomes even more hardened and conscious of the Lindens’ place in Wicklow. In that grief, she neglects Natalie, her daughter, who is only five when AJ dies.

Now, Natalie and her baby daughter Ollie have returned to Wicklow just ahead of Anna Kate’s arrival. Natalie, a young widow, is trying to find her way after her husband’s death and finding herself in debt because of her husband’s gambling addiction.

People in Wicklow quickly see that Anna Kate resembles both AJ and Seelie. Now, Seelie has even more to anger her: Eden has kept Seelie’s granddaughter from the family since no one except Eden, now dead herself, and Zee have known about Anna Kate.

With Anna Kate and Natalie both back in Wicklow, the two are bound to meet. Readers will be glad to see a friendship develop as Anna Kate reveals to Natalie that they are related.

The women in Anna Kate’s family have been healers, not so much in the sense of medical healing, but in connecting people. Zee included a special ingredient in her blackbird pies which were really any kind of fruit pie with the special ingredient added. Anna Kate must learn what the special ingredient is and how to continue making it for use in the pies.

Those who eat the blackbird pie dream of dead loved ones—vivid dreams in which the loved one gives advice or tells the dreamer important information. Anna Kate must carry on this tradition, but how? The question becomes even more important since she plans to return to Boston after a short stay in Wicklow.

When Zee dies, the twenty-four blackbirds who roost in the mulberry trees adjacent to the Blackbird Café fly through the town in the middle of the day. That’s unusual because they usually make their presence known at midnight with their singing as they sit in the mulberry trees.

The unusual sighting of the blackbirds has brought a huge number of birders to Wicklow. Can the townspeople capitalize on these visitors to help revitalize their small town?

Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a good story. The characters come alive on the pages and their friendships add to the strength of the novel. If I have any criticism it is that the novel ends abruptly.

Heather Webber is a prolific author. Check out her Web site,, for more information on the stand-alone books she has written as well as the books in a series. She also writes short stories.

Webber also crochets and readers can purchase items she has created from her Etsy shop, Blue Dandelion Crochet: As one who also loves to crochet, I enjoyed Webber’s comment about crocheting: “My absolute favorite thing about crocheting, though, is looking at a ball of yarn and seeing its possibilities. To essentially take long strands of fiber and create something that’s not only beautiful but usable. A hat, a blanket, a scarf. It’s artistic…and incredibly rewarding…and a little bit magical.” See two examples of Webber’s handiwork below.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Radio Free Vermont


Interested in reading a funny story about a serious subject? Bill McKibben has written a number of books about climate change, maintaining a sustainable planet, and the consequences of consumerism. His first novel is Radio Free Vermont, a story with many funny moments, yet still providing a serious message.

Vern Barclay, 72, a voice on Vermont radio for decades, now hosts Radio Free Vermont. The slogan for Radio Free Vermont is “underground, underpowered, and underfoot.” Barclay, Sylvia, Perry and later Trance run a radio station that skims just under the radar of all the police entities looking to shut them down and arrest them.

For a time, only Vern is known to the police because he is the voice on Radio Free Vermont. He meets Perry, a young man with vast computer expertise and a wide knowledge of popular songs through the decades, at the opening of a Walmart Super Center. Their meeting is central to the rest of the story, so read the book to discover how they meet.

Sylvia’s home in the woods allows Vern to broadcast without being detected because Perry uses dial-up Internet which does not allow detection before he cuts the broadcast. Sylvia can come and go as she pleases, so she brings needed supplies to Vern and Perry and keeps them out of sight when her classes meet. She teaches those new to Vermont how to be Vermonters. Her lessons include among other survival skills how to drive in a Vermont snowstorm, how to cut wood, and how to act at a Vermont town meeting.

Perry speaks in rising intonation because all of his dialog ends in a question mark. He may be “on the spectrum.” Still, his computer knowledge allows Radio Free Vermont to continue broadcasting even though many agencies are trying to locate the site of the broadcasts and to arrest Vern.

Trance enters the picture when she shows up at Sylvia’s home asking for Vern. This encounter rattles Sylvia because Vern’s whereabouts are supposed to be a secret. He has, however, told his 94-year-old mother who in turn told Trance where to find Vern. We learn that Trance is to be trusted and that Vern’s mother is a tough old bird who will not let others know where Vern is hiding.

In fact, later in the story, when Vern, Perry, Trance, and Sylvia must leave Sylvia’s home, Vern’s mother hides them in her nursing home on the memory wing.

Perry hacks into the local middle school’s computer system and substitutes Vern’s own questions about Vermont rather than the history questions their teacher has written. Here’s an example of the questions Vern substitutes:

Greetings, Young Vermonters, this day, the 21st of January, 2018, is the birthday of

  1. Ethan Allen, hero of Ticonderoga and captain of the Green Mountain Boys
  2. Gov. Leslie Bruce, hero of nothing
  3. Ben
  4. Jerry.

Early in the story, Sylvia organizes the theft of a truck loaded with Coors beer by placing detour signs so that the truck driver finds himself on a dead-end road in the deep country. Masked men unload the Coors and dump out. They replace it with Vermont microbrew and send the driver back on his route.

Radio Free Vermont details other acts of what the authorities call terrorism.  The group never fires a shot or make a threat. The Washington Post sums up Radio Free Vermont with this statement: “A little comic story with a big political message.” The story is full of comic moments, but the serious nature of the message is never obscured.

Bill McKibben’s Web site,, describes McKibben as “author.educator.environmentalist.” More information about his work is available on the site.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a True Winner


Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show audience voted to read Ask Again, Yes for the Tonight Show summer read. That fact interested me, but I knew I could not get the book from the library in time to participate in the online discussion. Then my friend Theresa read the book and told me it was the best book she had read all year. She has never steered me wrong in recommending books. Therefore, I had to rethink my decision about requesting Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane.  Also, Maureen Corrigan, another reviewer whom I respect, describes Ask Again, Yes as “one of the most unpretentiously profound books I’ve read in a long time…modestly magnificent.”

Obviously, I needed to read the book for myself. When I put my name on the reserve list at the library, I was #36 on 30 copies. Still, I expected my wait to be several weeks. Imagine my surprise when Ask Again, Yes became available within two weeks!

As soon as I got home from the library with Ask Again, Yes, I began reading. From there, it was difficult to put the book down. The characters grabbed my attention from the beginning, and I began to care about them as quickly too. If I do not care about the characters, I find it hard to keep reading a book.

Start with two police cadets who meet in the NYC Police Academy. Francis Gleeson has come to the US from Ireland; Brian Stanhope was born in the US, but he is “Irish back a ways.” The two rookies are paired for their first patrol. They do not work together very long before they are separated, but they continue to see one another even when they are assigned to different areas of the city. They are not friends, but coworkers.

Francis marries Lena, a Catholic girl, but not Irish. Her heritage is Polish and Italian. Brian marries Anne, Irish and Catholic. In fact, she, like Francis, is a recent immigrant to the US. Anne is visibly pregnant when she and Brian marry at city hall. Anne would like a priest to marry them in a church ceremony after the baby’s arrival.

The Gleesons and Stanhopes both purchase homes in Gillam, a suburb; in fact, the houses are next door to one another. The adults are not friends and rarely see or speak to one another. The real friendship develops between Kate Gleeson, the youngest of the three daughters, and Peter Stanhope, Brian and Anne’s only son. Sadly, the child Anne was expecting when she and Brian married was stillborn. No doubt, that’s one reason Anne becomes overly protective of Peter.

Lena has always lived in the city, so moving out into the suburbs means quite a change for her. At first, she feels lonely and overwhelmed, especially having three small daughters so close together. Still, the Gleesons are a loving family, enjoying each other’s company.

The Stanhopes do not fare quite as well as a family. Readers quickly learn that Anne has problems. Is she mentally ill? Self-centered? Bipolar? Depressed? Readers must follow the story as it unfolds to learn more about her personality and her quirks. Soon after Brian and Anne move in next door, Lena recognizes that Anne is pregnant, a few months ahead of Lena.

Lena offers Anne a baby swing, thinking that Anne’s baby can use it and then when Lena’s baby arrives, Anne’s baby will have outgrown the swing. At first Anne takes the swing, but then she abruptly returns it saying disdainfully, “I can take care of my own baby…. Are you listening? I don’t want [the swing]. If I need something for my son, I’m fully capable of buying it.” That exchange certainly lets Lena know that she and Anne will not be friends and will not be swapping baby stories over cups of coffee.

Although the adults are not friends, Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope become fast friends. Peter is just slightly older than Kate, so they are in the same class at the Catholic school. They become friends and share a bond that the parents cannot break.

Just as Kate and Peter are nearing their eighth-grade graduation, the two sneak out at midnight to see one another since Anne has forbidden Peter to talk with or see Kate. Unfortunately, Lena is wakeful and she also found Peter’s note asking Kate to meet him.

As a result, both sets of parents are alerted to the midnight rendezvous. Anne becomes furious. The Gleesons try to defuse the situation, but Anne is impossible. No one expects what happens next when an act of violence occurs, violence so horrific that everyone in both families will suffer from the aftermath for years to come.

This violence separates Kate and Peter because his parents split up and Peter and his dad go to live with his dad’s younger brother, George. Readers must read the story to understand the full destruction of the families that occurs and to discover if Peter and Kate will ever see one another again.

Keane develops her characters with great kindness and depth. If I have any complaint it would be that Kate’s two older sisters, Natalie and Sara, are peripheral characters only. I do understand that having to develop all the family members completely can be unnecessary. George, Brian’s older brother, is not fully realized as a character until Brian and Peter share his small apartment.

George becomes Peter’s father when Brian opts to move South. He does not exactly invite Peter to go with him, nor does he suggest that Peter stay in NYC. Brian simply abdicates as a father. I found George to be an entirely sympathetic character and one to admire. Though not Peter’s biological dad, George certainly becomes Peter’s dad in reality.

When he graduates from a prestigious high school with excellent grades and recognition as a track star, Peter thinks about going to college, but he worries about paying for it since the cost would be a drain on his uncle and/or Peter would end up in debt. When Peter tells George about his concerns and says he is thinking of not going to college, George offers no nonsense advice: “The point is you’ll have gone and educated yourself. You’ll have seen a little of what things are like for other people and why they think the way they do. And you’ll meet people who have careers that we don’t even think of as careers.”

Ask Again, Yes delves into pain, both physical and emotional, love, kindness, forgiveness and redemption. In other words, it is a story of about humankind, a story well worth reading.

Mary Beth Keane has published three novels: The Walking People, Fewer, and Ask Again, Yes. She maintains a Web site at this link: Watch Mary Beth Keane and Jimmy Fallon field questions from Tonight Show viewers:

The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Memoir


Nine years ago, one of my book clubs chose a series of memoirs. One of those books was Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. In Tender at the Bone, Reichl describes her early life and learning to cook as a defense mechanism because her own mother was a terrible cook. Eventually, readers learn her mother was bipolar which accounts for her mood swings and her inability to stick to one thing for very long.

In her most recent memoir, Save me the Plums, Reichl describes being offered the job as editor of Gourmet magazine. She describes being courted to take the job despite her reluctance and even belligerent answers of “NO!”

Eventually, Reichl does take the job as editor of Gourmet; Save me the Plums details her beginning at the magazine through to its closing. She had to learn how to be the boss, how to make decisions that affected others, and how to turn Gourmet into a magazine a wide variety of people wanted to read. When Reichl’s young son learned that if his mother took the job at Gourmet, she would be home each evening, he encouraged her to take the job. He missed seeing his mother in the evenings because as a food critic, she was out most evenings.

In Save me the Plums, Reichl gives readers additional glimpses into her early life with her parents.  She describes a winter day when she returned home from school to discover her mother had purchased a “large dead birch tree” which workmen were hoisting up to their eleventh-floor apartment.  She made other extravagant purchases the family could not afford: a house in the country, a boat, a fur coat, and a large painting. When the items had to be returned, Reichl’s mother was heartbroken. She would often take to her bed and stay there for months.

Reichl’s father was the anchor who held the family steady. He loved his wife and stood by her with whatever scheme she devised. Sadly, he could not give her all the money she wanted for fine things.

Reichl moves into her job as Gourmet’s editor by describing the people she works with and the terror she feels at taking over such a massive job. She has an office which she is allowed to decorate with the bright colors she loves. She has a budget she could only have dreamed about and a car, clothing allowance, and travel money.

Save me the Plums is a vivid account of Reichl’s ten years with Gourmet. In the end, as the magazine lost revenue, Reichl knew there would be changes. She writes, “I’d fortified myself against the pain of being fired, but this was worse: They had murdered the magazine.”

Readers can feel Reichl’s pain over the loss especially as they look back over the beginning of Save me the Plums where Reichl recounts her first encounter with Gourmet. That story, in itself, is enough to get readers interested in the rest of Reichl’s memoir. A few recipes sprinkled throughout the book also add to the story.

Ruth Reichl is host of PBS’s Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth. At her Web site,, discover more about Reichl, her books, and her other work.

From Reichl’s Web site: ” This is one of America’s best-loved fall desserts. And for good reason. Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, it has been tweaked by any number of people. Including me.”