Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Fierce Female

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I received an advance copy of Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, and I am delighted to have been chosen to be among the first readers. Caroline Bleeke, Senior Editor, Flatiron Books, wrote a note to readers at the beginning of the book. She says, “When Migrations slipped unobtrusively into my inbox, the pitch was so enthralling that I read the first sentence and that was so mesmerizing that I read the first chapter, and, before I knew it, I was convinced that if I didn’t publish this novel, I would never love another book again.” That’s high praise from someone who obviously reads a great many books. Bleeke goes on to record that “the experience of first reading Migrations was galvanizing.”

Occasionally, if I read such high praise for a book or a movie, I am immediately skeptical and wonder if the hype is deserved. In the case of Migrations, I would agree with Bleeke. The first two lines of Migrations follow here: “The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here.” Since we are in the midst of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, those lines are wounding. The news constantly reminds us of how many people have died from the virus as well as the climbing numbers of those catching the virus. Instead of people’s deaths, we see animals dying; however, if animals die, how much time is left for humans as well?

Set in the future, Migrations takes readers along with wanderer Franny Stone as she tracks the migration of terns in the Arctic Circle. Her goal is to be allowed on board the Saghani, a fishing vessel, so that she can follow the terns she has banded. Franny must prove herself worthy to be aboard the ship and must work just as the other members of the crew do to pull her weight.

Franny shares a tiny room with the only other female onboard the ship, Lea, who is none too happy to share her quarters with Franny. Other crew members include Basil, Malachai, Daeshim, Anik, and the Skipper Ennis.  Anik teaches Franny how to tie all the knots necessary for working on the ship and the reason for each one. Her fingers bleed from the constant tying of the harsh ropes, but she stays at her task as Anik quizzes her on each knot’s use.

To understand a bit about Franny and her quest, readers need some backstory. Born to Irish folk who had migrated to Australia, Franny and her mother, the husband and father long gone, reverse the migration and return to Ireland, years after their first ancestors landed in Australia. When Franny was ten, she decided to run away with a boy she met by the sea. She went with him and his family to the West Coast of Ireland, some distance from her home.

Franny realizes she needs to return home, and she starts walking, but the backpack she carries is full of books. She begins leaving them along the way to lighten her load. A kindly woman pays for a bus ticket and Franny returns to her home, but her mother is gone, vanished. Her mother has told Franny often enough that if Franny abandons her the way everyone else in her life has done, that will be the end. And now, Franny is both motherless and fatherless. Social services discover her grandmother in Australia and send her to the grandmother.

Franny is full of secrets which haunt her even as she works so hard on the ship that she falls into a deep sleep most nights. Occasionally, she has night terrors and wakes only to find sleep elusive. She writes letters which obviously go unsent.

In this future when animals are going extinct, Franny Stone searches for meaning and a hope for the future. McConaghy writes with power. This sample from a storm in the North Atlantic highlights the strength of her prose: “The Saghani is barely holding anchor in the gale-force winds and I can see ten-foot waves crashing onto the deck. It will be slippery as hell down there, the simplest thing in the world to be washed overboard.”

After Franny is attacked by a man when the ship is in port, Ennis rescues her. The rawness of the encounter and the danger Franny faces makes readers’ hearts race. After she is safe with Ennis, “we run, an adrenaline-fueled blur, feet slapping on boards and low voices giving urgent commands. I blink and I’m on the boat and the guys are working like madmen to get it moving.” Ennis reassures her, “You’re not alone, love. Be easy. You’re not alone.”

But that’s what Franny fights all the way through the story, being alone in her own head and trying to make connections.

Charlotte McConaghy, living in Sydney, Australia, is a screenwriter who has also published eight books. Migrations is her first book published in the US. Learn more from her Web site: https://www.charlottemcconaghy.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews Dear Edward

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Jenna Bush-Hager chose Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano for her February book club on the Today Show. Because she chooses hot-off-the-press books in hardback, I don’t read them until after the discussion ends because that’s when I get the books from the library. I wish occasionally she would choose a book already in paperback so I could participate in real time. I suppose that won’t happen, so here’s my belated look at Dear Edward.

The reviews both professional and personal of Dear Edward have been positive. The book is well written. Like so many other authors today, Ann Napolitano has chosen to tell Edward’s story in flashbacks before the plane crash and after as Edward learns to live a “new normal” with his aunt and uncle.

When 191 people die in a plane crash, only Edward, 12, survives. He becomes a person of interest, particularly to loved ones of those who died in the crash. At twelve, Edward cannot deal with other people’s grief; he struggles to comprehend his own and to figure out a way to continue without his parents and his brother Jordan.

To be candid, I did not like the format of flashing back to the characters on the plane, but that is a necessary part of the book as readers will discover.

After the plane crash, Lacey and John Curtis, Edward’s maternal aunt and her husband, immediately fly to CO to the hospital where Edward is recovering from his injuries. When he is well enough, he goes to live with them in New Jersey. They are childless after Lacey has suffered numerous miscarriages.

When Lacey and John show Edward his room, the one they had intended for a baby, he knows he can never sleep there. He makes a really strange move of walking next door to Besa and Shay’s home. Shay is Besa’s daughter and Edward’s age. Edward makes his way into Shay’s room and sits in a chair by Shay’s bed where he sleeps.

Edward continues this bizarre behavior of sleeping in Shay’s room for months; he does move from the chair to a sleeping bag on the floor. Finally, Besa’s mother says he can no longer sleep there and Lacey and John fix up a room in the basement for Edward.

Even though he has a room in the basement, Edward continues his night-time walks; he cannot go back into Besa’s home in the night, but he walks the neighborhood even in the cold weather.

Lacey, John, and Besa make sure that Edward and Shay are in the same classes when school resumes in the fall. Edward depends upon Shay in somewhat the same way he depended upon his older brother. Edward and Shay form a strong bond because Shay does not demand anything of him and she is honest with him, not treating him as if he were a china doll.

Principal Arundhi is kind to Edward and looks for ways to help him without hovering over him. Arundhi invites Edward to come to his office on Wednesday afternoons to water and care for the ferns in the office. In one exchange between Arundhi and Edward, the principal tells Edward, “When in doubt, read books. Educate yourself. Education has always saved me, Edward. Learn about the mysteries.”

Edward’s story is heart-breaking and redemptive.

Read about Ann Napolitano at her Web site: http://www.annnapolitano.com. Dear Edward is her latest book; previous titles include A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach.

The Book Whisperer Finds a Ghost Story, A Mystery, & a Resolution

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After reading a great deal about The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James, I finally got my hands on the book, shortly before my library closed for two weeks because of the coronavirus. Thank goodness, the book arrived in time! I have since devoured the book, finding it difficult to put down.

Simone St. James worked in TV for some time before turning to writing. I learned from her Web site, http://www.simonestjames.com/, she “is addicted to sushi, old 1970’s Gothic novels, rainy days, coffee, and My Favorite Murder.” I don’t remember sushi turning up in The Sun Down Motel, but certainly readers can find evidence of the influence of Gothic novels, rainy days, Carly’s (one of the main characters) need for coffee.

Not being familiar with My Favorite Murder, https://myfavoritemurder.com/, I looked it up. It is “the hit true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgraiff and Georgia Hardstark.” Obviously, now, I will have to listen to some of the podcasts. Who could resist this combination of these descriptors “true crime comedy”? Listen at your own risk.

The Sun Down Motel, like a number of other contemporary stories, gives readers a story from 1982 and a connecting story in 2017 with the stories told in alternating chapters. In 1982, Viv Delaney, 20, leaves her home in Illinois after a fight with her mother. Viv tells herself she is on her way to NYC to become an actress. She has a little money she’s saved from selling popcorn at the local movie theater.

Instead of landing in NYC, Viv finds herself in Fell, NY, a small town. She finds a job as night clerk at The Sun Down Motel, a rundown motel on the outskirts of town. She thinks she will save money and then go to NYC. The job suits her because she does it alone even though some nights feel spooky and create unease. Are there ghosts lurking on the property? Viv even finds a roommate, Jenny Summers, who also works nights. The two share an apartment, but one could hardly call them friends. They simply share a space.

Viv learns Betty Graham had been murdered in 1978 and her body dumped on the site where the Sun Down Motel now stands. Her murder remains unsolved. Then Viv learns o another murder in December of 1980 when Cathy Caldwell, a young mother, is murdered. (An aside, since my birth name is Caldwell, it is creepy to read about someone with my last name who was murdered.) Her murder, too, is unsolved.

Then Victoria Lee is murdered while jogging in August of 1981. Her boyfriend is convicted of the murder, but Viv discovers Victoria did not jog on a regular basis, so Viv has questions about the conviction. Viv becomes obsessed with weird events at the Sun Down Motel too. A traveling salesman checks in periodically, but he signs a different name each time he checks in. Viv finds that odd.

Along the way, Viv meets Fell’s first female police officer, Alma Trent, who also works the nigh shift. They first meet when Viv calls 911 when two truckers get into a fight on the parking lot. Viv also meets Marnie, a black, female PI, who parks in the motel’s parking lot and takes pictures to catch a cheating wife for a client.

Viv encounters Betty Graham’s ghost, an angry woman who causes the lights to flicker and go out at the motel. She also sees a six-year-old boy often near the unused pool or on the second-floor landing. She discovers he drowned in the pool the second year the motel was open; the owners simply closed the pool thereafter. Viv also smells cigarette smoke when she is in the office and no one else is around. She can never pinpoint the origin of the smoke and she knows no one is outside. Later, she finds the manager who was on duty when the boy drowned died of a heart attack in the office six months after the drowning. Is his ghost the smoker?

Then one night in November 1982, Viv Delaney disappears, leaving her purse in the office and her car in the parking lot. She simply vanishes. Four days after she goes missing, Jenny Summers, her roommate, reports Viv missing. Jenny had been out of town when Viv went missing, so that’s the explanation for the delay in looking for Viv.

Fast forward thirty-five years, and Carly Kirk, Viv’s niece, appears in Fell looking for answers about her aunt’s disappearance. Carly’s mother, Viv’s sister, has died from cancer and Carly feels at loose ends. Her mother would not talk about Viv, her leaving the family, or her disappearance. Carly drops out of college against her brother’s wishes and goes to Fell to see what she can discover.

Carly, age twenty, finds herself in a time-warp because Fell seems to have stood still since 1982. In investigating her aunt’s life, Carly goes to the building where Viv lived with Jenny. There, Carly meets Heather who lives in the very apartment where Viv and Jenny lived. Heather is looking for a roommate, so the two agree to sharing the apartment.

Then Carly sees the Sun Down Motel needs a night clerk, the same job Viv held before her disappearance. And she applies. With no competition, she gets the job. Readers, at this point, will begin to feel the ghost of the past swooping in on Carly.

Carly becomes obsessed with the unsolved murders of Betty Graham, Cathy Caldwell, Victoria Lee, and Tracy Waters, yet another murder victim from Nov 1982, just two days before Viv disappeared. Victoria Lee’s boyfriend’s conviction has been overturned because the court learned he had an alibi and could not have committed the murder. Of course, Carly’s primary concern is what has happened to Viv; she believes Viv was yet another victim of the unknown murderer.

The current owner of the Sun Down Motel is Chris McNamara, son of the original owner Janice McNamara. Carly meets Nick Harkness who is staying at the motel after returning to Fell. Nick has his own family tragedy. His father, a lawyer, killed Nick’s older brother and intended to kill Nick, but Nick, then fourteen, heard the shots downstairs and escaped out the upstairs window. Nick, like Carly and Heather, suffers from insomnia. Yet, he finds he sleeps well and soundly at the Sun Down Motel, a very creepy place.

Carly, Nick, and Heather begin looking into the deaths of the women. They start making connections that fit, showing that the same man has murdered all of them and possibly Viv as well even though her body has never been found.

The Sun Down Motel will hold the readers’ attention. It is a mix of ghost story, murder mystery, and disappearance. When Carly, Heather, and Nick find a car in an abandoned barn outside of town, the story heats up considerably, especially once a body is discovered in the trunk. Is it Viv’s body?

I admit to figuring out one tiny piece of the puzzle, but I was completely blown away by the other pieces of the puzzle when they came together at the end. That surprise creates a satisfying ending to a good read.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Book of Inspiration

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I discovered 642 Tiny Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, so I had to take a chance on it. On the Writers’ Grotto Web site, https://www.sfgrotto.org/, I found this explanation: “The Writers Grotto is an affordable co-working space and creative community in downtown San Francisco. We’ve been around for 25 years, and our more than 100 members include writers of all stripes. We are always looking for serious storytellers to join us in the work.”

Writers and would-be-writers will find a number of resources on the Web site. Those offerings range from classes on memoir to screenwriting to poetry. Some of the classes are offered online. Members and those who take classes at the Grotto also have readings of their work.

Other books are available from the Grotto as well. Some of those titles include 642 Lists to Write, 642 Stories to Write, and 642 Things About You (That I Love).

The book I chose, 642 Tiny Things to Write About, is small, 4.4 x 0.9 x 5.2 inches. The pages provide a prompt at the top and a place to respond to that prompt. Sometimes, writers will find two prompts on the same page; thus, the response will be shorter for those items.

Here are some of the prompts, chosen randomly from the book:

“Think what you ate for breakfast this morning. Write a recipe for how to prepare it.”

“What is number three on your top list of places you want to go?”

“How’s it going? Write the honest answer here.”

DJ, a reviewer on Amazon, wrote the following in a review: “I am going to leave​ this journal with my final documents. I hope that my grown children might read it and learn some things about me after I am gone.” That reviewer convinced me to purchase the book for myself. My only hesitation is that I have terrible handwriting, so parts of what I write may (probably will be) illegible to another person (and sometimes to me!).

Still, I have already found inspiration in 642 Tiny Things To Write About and others will too.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends Such a Fun Age, a Debut Novel

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Such a Fun Age—where do I begin? I waited for Kiley Reid’s debut novel to be available to me from the library for several weeks. Luckily, the library purchased a number of copies, so my turn finally arrived to read Such a Fun Age. Before I held the book in my hands, I had read a great deal about it, heightening my anticipation. I was not disappointed.

Kiley Reid graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she received the Truman Capote Fellowship. She lives in Philadelphia, the primary setting for Such a Fun Age. Discover more about Ms. Reid at her Web site: https://kileyreid.com/. I was intrigued by a statement in “Acknowledgements”: “I crafted the first chapters of this book in Arsaga’s coffee shop in Fayetteville, Arkansas (the one on Church and Center) and I couldn’t ask for a sunnier, quieter, more judgement-free zone.” As a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (at a time when one did not have to add Fayetteville to U of AR), I wanted to know more about Ms. Reid’s stay in Fayetteville.

Ilana Masad, on NPR, reviewed Such a Fun Age on 28 Dec. 2019. In her opening of the review, Masad writes, “The title of Kiley Reid’s debut, Such a Fun Age, works on so many levels it makes me giddy — and, what’s better, the title’s plurality of meaning is echoed all over the place within the novel, where both plot and dialogue are layered with history, prejudice, expectations, and assumptions.”

Such a Fun Age tackles a number of issues with humor, empathy, and a bit of surprise. Emira Tucker, a recent college graduate, seeks to find her place in the world. The other members of her family are all creative and industrious in their own endeavors. Emira majored in English, but she has not decided what she will do with her life.

Currently, Emira is babysitting for Alix Chamberlain and working as in transcription as well, barely scraping enough together to pay her rent and live. Alix, who is white, is well-to-do and hires Emira, who is black, to babysit Briar, Alix’s young daughter.

The story opens with a dramatic scene which a number of other reviewers have described. Alix calls Emira at 10:51 PM in a panic and asks if Emira can come get Briar and take her to the nearby grocery story for a bit. An incident has occurred at the Chamberlain home and the police will be there. Alix wants Briar out of the house while the police are in the house.

Emira is with her friends celebrating Shaunie’s twenty-sixth birthday. However, she agrees to Alix’s strange request because Alix promises to pay her double and pay for a cab to and from the Chamberlain home. Emira needs the money, so she leaves the party and heads to the Chamberlain home.

All is well until a well-meaning middle-aged white woman shopping at the store decides to alert the security guard that Emira is not Briar’s mother. The shopper is apparently concerned that Emira has kidnapped Briar. A confrontation ensues. Another shopper, a young man, begins videoing the incident on his phone. After Briar’s father arrives to sort out the confusion, the young man, Kelley Copeland, offers to send her the video so she can use it to sue the store and/or the security guard.

Emira has no desire to sue anyone at this point. She wants only to go home and forget the incident. She urges Kelley to send her the video and delete it from his phone. He does both of those things as Emira watches. She still has no plans to release the video to anyone or event to watch it herself.

Alix feels terrible about what has happened to Emira so she determines she will find out more about Emira and will befriend her. Emira is wary of Alix and doesn’t understand Alix’s sudden interest in her, asking all sorts of questions. Emira likes her job and the money Alix pays, but she also truly loves Briar and enjoys the time they spend together. Emira recognizes that Alix pays little attention to Briar, often taken up with baby Catherine who looks very like Alix.

Emira does re encounter Kelley Copeland on the subway; he persuades her to go on a date. Emira continues to be wary of him at first, but she soon finds that she likes him a great deal. This chance meeting in the grocery story turns into a romance. Then readers discover another connection Kelley has with another character.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will leave out the character’s name. This coincidence of Emira’s meeting Kelley and his connection to another character may give some readers pause. Still, Reid has done a masterful job of connecting points of the story.

Is Alix well-meaning or self-serving in her desire to know more about Emira? Through the story, we watch the relationship between Alix and Emira grow despite Emira’s wariness. It still remains mostly lopsided in Alix’s favor.

Emira’s friends Shaunie, Zara, and Josefa also play a major role in the story. Readers enjoy watching the four friends as they help one another through hard times. They also party together and encourage one another.

Then the video Emira sought to keep contained is leaked. The world crashes down on Emira. She feels certain Kelley has lied to her and that he released the video. The truth turns out to be far more insidious and it turns the rest of the book on its head.

The story is compelling and hard to put down. I waited a long time to get the book and read it quickly. Now, someone else has an opportunity to read it.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Delight

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In looking for some resources for Poem in Your Pocket Day which is April 23, 2020, I discovered The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. An educator had posted some activities for children which started with having the children read The Word Collector by Reynolds. Naturally, I had to read the book for myself. And I am glad I did!

The book begins by reminding readers that people collect all sorts of things: stamps, coins, rocks, art, bugs, and baseball cards, for example. Jerome, however, collects words. Jerome collects words he hears, sees, and reads. Clearly, Jerome can find words everywhere.

He collects words that catch his attention, long words, short words, and multi-syllable words. Some of his favorite short words include spark, bloom, and drift. A few of his favorite multi-syllable words are kaleidoscope, symphony, and guacamole, all lovely words to sound out.

Sometimes, Jerome discovers new words, completely unfamiliar to him. They delight him as he learns both to pronounce them and understand their meanings.

Jerome reminds readers that powerful words do not have to be big words. Words like “I understand,” “I’m sorry,” “thank you,” and “you matter” may be small, but they are potent.

Jerome collects his words into books; then one day he takes the collected words up the “highest hill” and frees “his collection of words into the wind.” Children run about the field below the hill grabbing the words which makes Jerome happy, so happy, in fact that he “had no words to describe how happy that made him.”

The Word Collector is a purely delightful book and one that children and adults should read.

Peter H. Reynolds maintains a splendid Web site: http://www.peterhreynolds.com/. There, readers can discover more about Reynolds and his work including the fact that he has a twin brother named Paul.

Reynolds has a delightful Web site as you can plainly see from this screenshot.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Charming Book

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Are you looking for a charming and delightful book that affirms life, friendship, hope, and kindness? Here it is: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Mackesy started his career as a cartoonist for The Spectator and became a book illustrator for Oxford U Press. He has exhibited his work in London, New York, and Edinburgh.

Thanks to my friend Theresa for recommending The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse begins with an introduction by Mackesy who tells readers he is impressed by their reading of the introduction since he often starts in the middle of a book. He explains “the boy is full of questions, the mole is greedy for cake, the fox is mainly silent and wary because he’s been hurt by life. The horse is the beggest thing they have ever encountered, and also the gentlest.”

The illustrations are lovely, mostly black and white drawings with bits of color here and there throughout the book. The conversations among the four friends are life-affirming. For example, the boy says, “Sometimes I worry you’ll all realise I’m ordinary.” The mole reassures the boy with this kind statement: “Love doesn’t need you to be extraordinary.”

Another piece of advice noteworthy for all can be found in these lines: “When the dark clouds come… keep going. When the big things feel out of control… focus on what you love right under your nose.” That’s good advice for anyone.

Near the end, when the boy complains that the group still has far to go, the horse reminds him of how far they have come. So an improbable quartet of friends travel together and offer each other hope and kindness. The mole also hopes for cake.

Discover more about Charlie Macksey at this Web site: https://www.charliemackesy.com/.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Memoir

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Belonging to a book club offers many benefits. Members get together with other readers to discuss books. What’s better than that? In addition, members will often read books they would not have chosen on their own or perhaps never even have heard about. Such is the case with I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan, imprisoned Turkish novelist. Because of a book club to which I belong, I just read Altan’s memoir.

I Will Never See the World Again was published in 2019 and quickly named Best Book of the Year by Bloomberg News. Amazon also named it Best Book of October 2019. The New York Times describes Altan’s memoir thus: “The title of Mr. Altan’s book is the statement of a brutal fact, rather than a cry of despair. There is not a smidgen of self-pity in the memoir’s 212 pages. What emerges is this: You cannot jail my mind, and you cannot shut me up.”

In fact, Altan himself notes that the prison walls cannot confine him. At the end of his memoir, he writes, “I am writing this in a prison cell. But I am not in prison. I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not. You can imprison me but you cannot keep me here. Because, like all writers, I have magic. I can pass through your walls with ease.”

Altan is a novelist, not a politician or a lawyer. The Turkish government charged him first with “sending subliminal messages” on a TV show the night before the military coup of July 15, 2016. However, in the courtroom, Altan was not questioned about the subliminal messages, but about a newspaper he had founded ten years earlier, but had resigned from in 2012. Quite suddenly, then Altan is charged with participating in the coup of 2016.

When Altan questioned the judge, he received this answer: “Our prosecutors like using words the meanings of which they don’t know.” The questioning is as absurd as the judge’s response. Finally, Altan is accused of the “crime of putschism.” He receives a life sentence with no opportunity for parole.

I Will Never See the World Again recounts Altan’s existence in prison, starting with the arrest which he felt was coming. He had even prepared a bag of clothing and included two books because he knew the police would knock on his door early one morning.

Readers cannot help feeling anger, frustration, and sympathy for Altan. Altan, himself, does not ask for those emotions. He explains his situation and the ways he deals with the loss of his freedom with clarity and grace.

Read the book I Will Never See the World Again for yourself.