Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Book Whisperer Learns of War From Another Perspective

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The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen is a hard book to read. It is a novel filled with the horrors of war, too many wars. The war Americans called the Vietnam War and which created much division among American citizens was called in Vietnam the Resistance War Against America to Save the Nation. Seeing the two names from two perspectives, American and Vietnamese alerts the readers to the differences in the way people viewed the war.

The Mountains Sing, Nguyen’s first novel written in English, depicts the atrocities of war and its aftermath on a family. Dieu Lan, 58 when the story opens, is a mother of six and grandmother to Huong, age 12, for whom she is caring. The story opens in November of 1972. Dieu Lan and Huong, nicknamed Guava, escape from their village to the mountains shortly before American bombers reduce the village to rubble.

While the story opens in 1972 and moves forward with Dieu Lan and Huong as the main characters, readers also learn about the grandmother’s past and the horrors she experiences when Japanese soldiers invade her homeland and then when Communists take over. So readers discover the whole story told in two parts.

Readers cannot help but feel strongly for Dieu Lan and Huong as well as Dieu Lan’s now adult children. They have all experienced terrible deprivation, hunger, homelessness, separation, and deaths.

Nguyen portrays the meanness of other people when the Communist take over and treat Dieu Lan as a wicked landlord and thus someone to be killed with the land distributed among the villagers. The soldiers will not listen to reason even when long-time employees stand up for Dieu Lan and her brother, praising them as kind, generous landlords. Dieu Lan’s husband and brother are murdered. To save herself and her children, Dieu Lan flees in the dark of night with nothing but the clothes on their backs—no money at all, no food, no extra clothing.

They are reduced to begging and being beaten for begging. Overcoming the hardship of being homeless and without resources means Dieu Lan must call upon every ounce of strength she has.  

Readers learn of the family’s three generations and what each person had to do to survive. Huong is the narrator who begins as a naïve twelve-year-old who learns over time about her grandmother’s struggles along with the difficulties her mother and her siblings had to overcome to live and return to the family.

Not all the sons return from the war and Uncle Dat returns minus both legs. Conflicts arise among Huong’s mother, aunt, and uncles because they hold differing viewpoints about the grandmother’s actions both from their childhood and currently; they also hold very different  political views.

Que Mai Phan Nguyen is a talented writer who is also a poet. She was born in 1973 in Vietnam, so she grew up seeing the devastating effects of the war. She has received many awards for her writing in both poetry and fiction, all well-deserved.

Read The Mountains Sing to understand the Vietnam War from the perspective of those living in the country at the time. My reading of literature that has come out of the Vietnam War has been limited: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason. Obviously, very limited.

Nguyen maintains an extensive Web site at this link: http://www.nguyenphanquemai.com/page/the-mountains-sing.html. Nguyen spoke in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she lives as the keynote speaker on UN Day at the Jakarta Intercultural School, 23 Feb. 2020: https://youtu.be/6EYIm4HxLAg. She is a dynamic speaker.

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The Book Whisperer & The Tarot Card Mysteries

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I received a copy of The Hierophant Card: A Tarot Mystery by Bevan Atkinson from BookTrib. What follows is my unbiased review of The Hierophant Card. Atkinson’s goal is to write twenty-two books based on tarot cards; The Hierophant Card is book six. The fact that The Hierophant Card is book six puts me at a disadvantage in that the characters have already been established. Still, one can read and follow The Hierophant Card without having read the previous books. Perhaps the greater challenge is my having no knowledge of tarot cards and their meanings.

Xana Bard, the tarot reader and narrator, does explain the meaning of cards as the need arises. The Hierophant Card begins with a frantic call from Thalia Thalassos who has a friend, Yolanda, in common with Xana. Yolanda works with Thalia and has suggested that Thalia call Xana to get a tarot card reading.

Thalia has been accused of murdering her husband and has become erratic and frantic. Since Thalia works with Yolanda and is getting no work done, Yolanda thinks Xana may be able to calm Thalia.

Even when the two meet in person, readers encounter a great deal of sputtering and disbelief that the tarot reading will help Thalia. Still, Xana becomes involved in the story and having inserted herself into it also discovers other dodgy characters.

Xana lives in a lovely home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Because of a wrongful dismissal from a large tech company, Xana received a hefty settlement and she also inherited a goodly sum of money when her father died. Thus, she no longer works, but gives free tarot readings and becomes involved in volunteer work and the occasional murder mystery.

Another important character in Xana’s life is her live-in boyfriend, Thorne Cadogan Ardall, who lives in her basement apartment. Xana describes Thorne as “a six-foot-eight, two-hundred-sixty-pound human.” Thorne does work for clients who pay in cash and he converts the money into gold wafers which he keeps in a money-bin. Thus, Thorne has “no workman’s compensation deductions, income tax withholding, or social security.”

While Thalia loudly contends that she has not tried to murder her husband, he is in intensive care in the hospital after falling off his horse during the Tevis Cup, a one-hundred-mile horse race held over twenty-four hours. I should mention at this point that Thalia’s husband, Don, is having an affair with a married woman, also in the horse race.

In order to get to the bottom of the story, Xana goes with Thalia to the hospital to see Don. There, Xana sees Bryce Gilbertson, a nurse on the ward. Xana, however, has an uneasy feeling about Bryce.

Readers, too, quickly find reasons to dislike and distrust nurse Gilbertson. For one thing, he has a disgusting habit of picking his ear for wax, yes, his ear. Gilbertson is sneaky and causes Xana’s hackles to rise although she cannot quite determine why.

The plot thickens, so to speak, when Xana’s mom has a heart attack on the golf course when Xana is playing with her mom and two others. Rushed to the hospital, Xana’s mom is recovering when Xana sees Bryce Gilbertson on the floor. She feels her dread meter rising and determines that she and her siblings must keep an eye on their mother at all times while she is in the hospital.

The Hierophant Card continues to twist and turn as complications arise. Readers wonder if Thalia has killed Don because he dies while in the hospital. On the other hand, perhaps Kyle, son of Jenny Mangino Don’s married lover, causes Don’s horse to buck and throw Don off onto the rocky ground, causing a serious head injury. Or perhaps Jenny herself causes the fall because she has tired of Don.

Xana must put together a number of clues to determine if Thalia is innocent or guilty. She must also reckon with Bryce Gilbertson and figure out why he gives her the creeps.

Bevan Atkinson gives a nod to Sue Grafton, who wrote the Kinsey Milhone alphabet mysteries, by naming one of Xana’s dogs in the first of the Tarot Mysteries, Kinsey. Atkinson, https://www.thetarotmysteries.com/, worked as Director of Retail Training for Apple Computer and also worked for other major corporations before turning to fiction writing.

The Book Whisperer Steps Out of Her Comfort Zone AGAIN With Delightful Results

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I don’t normally read romantic comedies, no slam intended. I usually don’t find one that interests me. In an email from BookRiot, I read about The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. Christina Lauren writing for Publishers Weekly wrote, “We were genuinely tickled by this book; we loved the concept, the writing, the characters.” Hmm, that’s high praise. Kirkus in a starred review said “[The Flatshare is] a delight from start to finish—a warm, enchanting love story.” By this point, I am hooked and look for The Flatshare on Libby. It’s there, so I borrow it.

Tiffy needs a place to stay, quickly and it must fit her limited budget. Justin, her on again/off again boyfriend has found a new romance and wants Tiffy out of the flat they shared. She cannot afford to pay much and London rents are high. Tiffy, a college grad, works for a niche market publisher, editing do it yourself books and craft books. She loves her job and is good at it, but the pay is not commensurate with her talents.

Tiffy reads an ad for a flatshare: “Double bedroom in sunny one-bed Stockwell flat, rent £350 pre month including bills. Available immediately, for six months minimum. Flat (and room/bed) is to share with twenty-seven-year-old palliative care nurse who works nights and is away weekends. Only ever in the flat 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. All yours the rest of the time! Perfect for someone with 9 to 5 job. To view, contact L. Twomey—details below.”

Tiffy, desperate to get out of Justin’s apartment, decides she must view the flatshare option. Instead of meeting L. Twomey, she meets his girlfriend Kay who agrees letting Tiffy move in. Kay does not view Tiffy as a threat to her relationship with Leon, yes, L. Twomey is male. Tiffy is six-feet tall, red-haired, and dresses in unconventional clothing she repurposes from thrift stores.

Thus, Tiffy moves into Leon’s flat without ever having met him. In fact, this unconventional flatshare continues without the two meeting in person for some months. They communicate via Post-It notes. The notes start out impersonal, although Tiffy’s are quite verbose, often requiring more than one note to complete her message. Leon’s are more direct and to the point. Still, readers see the two becoming acquainted through the exchange of notes.

Having read Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, I could see the relationship between Tiffy and Leon developing through the notes just as Tina and Anders developed a relationship through letters and emails.

The Flatshare also tackles some important issues. Leon’s brother, Reggie, is in prison, sentenced for armed robbery when he clearly is innocent. Is this incarceration another example of a brown-skinned man convicted because of the color of his skin. His incompetent lawyer continually pushes away Leon’s concerns and says he is working on an appeal.

Readers know Tiffy’s friend Gerty is a barrister. Of course, Tiffy knows nothing of Reggie and his imprisonment until she is in the flat one day when Reggie calls the landline and he tells her his story. Tiffy immediately relays the story to Gerty who begins looking into the case.

The other major issue involves both Kay, Leon’s girlfriend, and Justin, Tiffy’s ex. Kay wants Leon’s full attention. When she finally says she believes Reggie is guilty and should complete his prison sentence, Leon realizes the two of them are done.

Justin proves to be more difficult for Tiffy to lose. Even though Justin broke up with Tiffy, he keeps popping up unexpectedly at book launches and other work events. Tiffy finally realizes that the time with Justin has not been good for her. She seeks a counselor and her friends Mo and Gerty also counsel her against ever seeing Justin again. Justin has not physically abused Tiffy, but he has controlled her and manipulated her into thinking she is less than. He would become angry and accuse her of forgetting important dates or events. In reality, that was a way to control her.

Leon and Tiffy do meet in person eventually and the first meeting is somewhat embarrassing for the two of them. They overcome that embarrassment, though. They begin a friendship in person although they continue to use Post-It notes for communication too. They also go on an adventure to Brighton and, of course, their goal is to free Reggie from his prison sentence.

The Flatshare is a delightful book. It is a book that readers need right now during the pandemic. It is funny, the characters are charming, and the ending is lovely

Beth O’Leary, https://www.betholearyauthor.com/, wrote The Flatshare, her debut novel, as she rode the train to and from her job as a children’s publisher. Her latest book will be published in August, 2020: The Switch.  I will be awaiting its arrival.

The Book Whisperer Goes Digital

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Generally, I visit my branch library weekly. I put books on hold and wait for them to arrive. I also browse the new book shelves at the library and the Quick Pick offerings. I look forward to picking up the Tulsa City-County Library Event Guide each month along with Bookpage, the free magazine about books for all ages. With these activities unavailable because of the pandemic, I have turned to online library resources.

The Tulsa City-County Library system offers a number of online services which readers can use to read ebooks and magazines as well as listen to audio books and watch movies. All of these resources are described at this link: https://www.tulsalibrary.org/books-music-movies/digital-collections. These apps work on phones, tablets, and computers.

In today’s blog, I will focus on the three I have found most useful: Libby, RBdigital, and Hoopla. All three are available to Tulsa City-County Library card holders. Tulsa County residents can even apply for and receive a library card online. People who live outside Tulsa County but who work in the county are also eligible for a library card.

Libby is the app I’ve used the longest. Using Libby, one can borrow ebooks and digital audiobooks. One advantage to using Libby is that there are no late fees. On the due date, the ebook or audiobook is automatically returned. If users encounter any problems with Libby, check out the extensive help available at this link: https://help.libbyapp.com/index.htm?tocpath=Home%7C_____0. The help provides answers to questions about using Libby.

The Tulsa City-County Library (TCCL) chooses which books to make available through Libby. TCCL also determines the length of time a borrower may keep the item as well as how many items one can borrow at a given time. In Libby, one can place a hold on an ebook or audiobook if it is not available immediately. When the book is available, the user will receive a notice and can then download the book.

RBdigital allows users to read magazines and listen to audiobooks. Users may borrow an audiobook for 14 days. TCCL provides help with using RBdigital: https://www.tulsalibrary.org/books-music-movies/digital-collections/rbdigital-help. I have found it easy to use. Once I downloaded an audiobook, I could listen to it immediately.

Hoopla is the newest library app I have begun using. It provides users with movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows. I learned that a whole book club can even download the same title and read it for a discussion. Many of the other apps limit the number of borrowers on a single title, so that means that a group will often find it difficult to read the same book for a book club. Hoopla changes that dynamic. Also, the items in Hoopla are borrowed for 21 days. Find help using Hoopla at this link: https://www.hoopladigital.com/.

These apps have several things in common. First, one must have a library card with Tulsa City-County Libraries. One can apply for and receive a card online. Another common denominator is convenience. A third common factor is ease of use. While the library buildings are closed, TCCL is quite open and ready for users to borrow magazines, ebooks, movies, and more.

What’s your favorite library app?

The Book Whisperer Reviews Heartland, A Memoir

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As I’ve written before, belonging to a book club often leads me to read books I would not have chosen for myself. Such is the case with Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh. My heart belongs to fiction, but I realize it is good for me to get out of my comfort zone occasionally. Sarah Smarsh is a journalist, covering socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy. She writes for The New York Times and The Guardian among other publications. Not only is she a journalist, but she is also the host and executive producer of The Hmecomers, a podcast about rural and working-class advocates. Her memoir is her first book.

Discover more about Smarsh on her Web site: https://sarahsmarsh.com/. She has a lineup of speaking engagements, mostly postponed for the time being because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but she is a sought-after speaker.

Smarsh chooses an unorthodox way of writing her memoir. Choosing to remain childless, Smarsh writes the memoir to her imaginary daughter, the daughter who will never exist.

Sarah Smarsh’s mother, Jeannie, 19, was pregnant with Sarah when she married Nick Smarsh, 21. Betty, Jeannie’s own mother, became pregnant with Jeannie at sixteen. Smarsh reports that “if I had to pick a fact of our family history that most shaped my relationship to you [the imaginary daughter], it would probably be that one: Every woman who helped raise me, on my mom’s side of the family, had been a teenage mother who brought a baby into a dangerous place.”

Smarsh writes without sentimentality or self-pity of the harsh conditions of her childhood. Her father was loving and showed his love easily through kindness and kind words. Jeannie, on the other hand, always felt distant to Sarah. And like most children, Sarah sought love from her mother and acted more like a grownup in trying to understand her mother and trying to be the child her mother could love.

Smarsh describes her mother as being restless, always searching for something that was just outside her grasp. All of Smarsh’s relatives are hard-working. The problems they encounter set them back: a truck that breaks down and no money for repairs, the economy goes sour, storms ravage crops. They feel that every step forward then is followed by to steps backward.

At eighteen, Smarsh left home. She writes that in leaving home she discovers “something about my family was peculiar and willfully ignored in the modern story of our country. Smarsh describes her mother by saying “her handiest intelligence was with life, with money. She could always find her way out of a bind by hustling cash with odd jobs, making money stretch the furthest it could.” The most telling sentence follows: “[Jeannie] came from a long line of women whose lives amounted to getting out of a bind, often by working harder than their men.”

Throughout Heartland, Smarsh describes the men and women in her family, but focuses primarily on the women, her mother and both grandmothers. She describes the harshness the women endured, often married to or living with indifferent men who drank to excess and were abusive. Smarsh’s own father and Arnie, her maternal grandmother’s last husband, the man Smarsh considers her grandfather, differ in this regard because they were good men who worked hard but just could not get ahead.

Smarsh shows that the people in her family and many others like them, the working poor, deserve much more credit than they receive, often being dismissed. They are hardworking, intelligent people without any breaks.

The Book Whisperer Moves Out of Her Comfort Zone

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In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen creates two worthy opponents in Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth is bright, witty, and suffers no fools. The sparring between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam turns to sparks and the two fall in love. In Lakeshire Park, Megan Walker created Amelia Moore, a character similar to Elizabeth Bennet and Peter Wood, a character a bit like Darcy.

Lakeshire Park is similar to Pride and Prejudice, too, in that Amelia Moore and her younger sister Clara must find suitable marriages for at least one of them or be destitute. Amelia and Clara currently live with Lord Gray, their mother’s second husband. Lord Gray makes it clear to the young ladies that he dislikes them and will leave them nothing when he dies. He promised Arabella, their mother, before her death that he would see them into good marriages. Beyond that, he feels no obligation to them. In fact, he does not even keep that promise.

In the course of the story, readers learn that Lord Gray had been in love with Arabella, but she married their father. Years later, after Mr. Moore’s death, Lord Gray and Arabella do marry, but Lord Gray resents Arabella’s daughters and mistreats them by being cold and unfeeling toward them.

Fortunately, Amelia and Clara are invited to a house party at Lady Demsworth’s home, Lakeshire Park. Clara is especially delighted because she has fallen in love with Lord Ronald Demsworth, the widowed Lady Demsworth’s only child. They met when Lord Gray begrudgingly allowed Amelia and Clara to be part of the season in London with his sister Evelyn as chaperone.

Amelia breathes a sigh of relief in hopes that this party will secure her sister’s marriage to Lord Demsworth and they will be saved. Of course, Clara must have a rival for Ronald’s affection. Georgiana Wood, a privileged, childhood friend of Ronald’s is a member of the party as well and she has set her mind to marry Ronald. Georgiana and her older brother Peter will figure heavily in the story.

Amelia meets Peter Wood in an unfortunate circumstance when they are both on their way to Lakeshire Park. Clara has left her short gloves in the inn where the pair ate lunch. Horrors! A young lady with no short gloves! Amelia goes into a shop only to learn that the glove maker has retired and the only pair left in the store is on a table in the back of the store. When Amelia finds the table, she also discovers Peter Wood, as yet unknown to her, holding the gloves she wants for Clara. They get into a verbal tiff with Peter taking the gloves and leaving the store. Peter has promised his sister to find gloves for her.

Imagine Amelia’s surprise when she discovers the man who so rudely took the gloves he found first is part of the house party at Lakeshire Park. He is Georgiana’s older brother. Amelia is determined to dislike Peter and shows her distaste for him at every opportunity.

Amelia confronts Peter by telling him that he should stop putting his sister forward in Ronald’s path because Clara is in love with Ronald. Peter responds that Georgiana also wishes to marry Ronald. These two admissions create an uncomfortable pact for Amelia. Peter proposes that he will back off if she agrees to spend every afternoon with him. Reluctantly, Amelia agrees because she knows how important it is to secure the marriage for Clara, not only for their mutual future, but also because Clara loves Ronald.

Walker does well in depicting the parlor games of the day the young adults play in the evenings after dinner. She also shows the dependence upon good manners and proper chaperones when the men and women mix.

Women’s dependence upon marriage becomes the paramount focus of Lakeshire Park. Thank goodness in modern times, women can make their own way and married or not have a fulfilling life of their own making.

Megan Walker grew up in Poplar Bluff, MO. She now lives with her husband and children in St.Louis. Learn more about her and her work on her Web site: https://www.authormeganwalker.com/.

Although this tidbit has nothing to do with Lakeshire Park or Megan Walker, I cannot resist sharing it. I grew up in Parkdale, AR, a small town in far southeast Arkansas, but the original name was Popular Bluff, AR, named for the poplars that lined the bayou. The commerce of the town was first built on Bayou Bartholomew, the longest bayou in the world (and my mother said also the crookedest) since goods traveled through the area on boats. When the railroad came to town, the merchants moved their stores to be across from the railroad since the goods would be coming by rail then.

Popular Bluff, AR, was on the same railway line as Popular Bluff, MO. Unfortunately, freight kept getting mixed up between the two towns. Popular Bluff, AR, was the smaller of the two, so the name was changed to Parkdale, AR.

The Book Whisperer & The Book of Second Chances

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I enjoy reading books, reading about books and authors, and entering to win free books. I won twenty copies for my book club of The Book of Second Chances by Katherine Slee from Book Club Cookbook, https://www.bookclubcookbook.com/. The fact that I won the books has not influenced my review of the book here.

We look forward to discussing the book in July. Our plan had been to discuss the book in June, but COVID-19 interrupted the whole world’s plans. We hope to meet in person in June to discuss a book everyone will bring to share with the group. Then I can distribute The Book of Second Chances so that our July discussion will focus on it.  

Emily, 28, lives with her grandmother, her only family in a small cottage in Norfolk. When her grandmother dies after a brief illness, Emily is quite alone. Her parents died in a car accident when Emily was a child, an accident in which Emily was horribly injured herself, but survived. Catriona Robinson, Emily’s grandmother, is a renowned author, especially of children’s books featuring a girl who is in wheelchair but who goes on fantastic adventures all over the world because of a magic atlas.

Emily, an artist, has illustrated her grandmother’s books over the years. A duck is always included in the story because Emily had a duck, a stuffed animal, that was her favorite toy when she was a child. Catriona’s death has left Emily bereft; she rarely speaks to anyone else and even more rarely leaves the little cottage where she and her grandmother lived.

Then Emily learns that she must solve a puzzle using clues Catriona has left with a variety of people and in a variety of places in order to inherit the house in Norfolk, the only home Emily has known since her parents’ death. At first, she resists taking on the task because it means she must leave home. But if she does not try to solve the puzzle within the ten days, she wild be homeless. Quite a conundrum for Emily!

Then Tyler Montgomery, her childhood friend, comes to Norfolk not only to nudge Emily into action, but to force her. Even though Emily has healed from the accident, she bears a scar on her face which to her is the focus of other people, especially strangers. She is also somewhat hesitant in her speech at times, another result of the accident.

Tyler goes with Emily on this quest. They must first learn where to find the clues; that is, what city and what place within the city holds the clue. After finding the first clue. They must continue to the next and so on. Emily continues to be reluctant throughout the chasing of the clues and keeps Tyler at arm’s length.

The clues to where to start and where to go next are found in portions of Catriona’s diary ripped from the book and left with ragged edges. Emily was not even aware her grandmother had kept a diary, but it actually started when Catriona left home as an eighteen-year old, fleeing from a marriage her parents wanted for her.

The quest is not only for Emily’s inheritance, but also the possibility that Catriona has left an unpublished manuscript, one last story for her avid fans.

The Book of Second Chances is well written. The characters are carefully drawn and fully fleshed out. I tired of Emily’s whining. With everything on the line, why couldn’t Emily simply get on with finding the clues and enjoy the journey her grandmother has planned. I understand her missing her grandmother and her parents as well. At twenty-eight, however, Emily is old enough to understand that without her support system, she must make her own way in the world. Stop whining. Get up and do what must be done!

That makes me think of Garrison Keillor’s ad for Powdermilk Biscuits, a sponsor on his Prairie Home Companion Show. Keillor would always remind listeners of the following: “Heavens they’re tasty and expeditious. Powdermilk Biscuits in the big blue box. They give shy people the strength they need to get up and do what needs to be done.”

Tyler is not much better since he has had an important job in finance, but has given it up, angering his father. Tyler, instead, hopes to pursue a career in music in Nashville, TN. Tyler and Emily have been friends from childhood, but they are tentative with one another and keep secrets from each other even as they are on this trip together.

Still, even with my dislike of the whining, the story captured my attention because I enjoyed the journey Emily and Tyler take. As she uncovers each clue, Emily learns more and more about her grandmother’s life well before Emily arrived. Emily has a great deal on the line and must complete the puzzle within ten days of beginning the journey. Will she succeed?

Katherine Slee, https://www.katherineslee.com/, says, “What I love most about writing is the ability to take yourself to places you’ve never been.” I agree for readers as well. Slee also maintains a Pinterest site: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/Katherine_Slee/.

The Book Whisperer Recommends The Best Advice in Six Words

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When I was teaching Comp I and Comp II, I discovered Not Quite What I was Planning: And Other Six-Word Memoirs edited by Larry Smith. I would have students write their own six-word memoirs. Sometimes a student did not quite understand the concept, especially the one who wrote The House on Mango Street which is the title of a book by Sandra Cisneros. I did not quite know what to do with that one. It was five words and not advice.

Smith took a leaf out of Hemingway’s book and challenged readers of Smith Magazine to write a six-word memoir—showing that even a few words can be pithy and useful. Not Quite What I Was Planning was published as a result of that challenge. See Smith’s Web site for examples: http://www.smithmag.net/.

Lately, I found Larry Smith’s The Best Advice in Six Words: Writers Famous and Obscure on Love, Sex, Money, Friendship, Family, Work, and Much More. Very like Not Quite What I was Planning, The Best Advice in Six Words combines famous people’s advice alongside us ordinary folks.

Some of my favorites follow here:

“Say YES! Adventure follows, then growth.” Carla Hall

“Don’t take all the heartaches home.” T.B. Pasquale

“Offer your help, not your advice.” David Roth

“The un-examined life’s not worth living…” Colum McCann

“Better to be kind than right.” April Baur Davis

And my mother would certainly have favored this one: “Always keep your gas tank full” by Amanda Speer. We lived in a small south Arkansas town where we had no fire protection and no ambulance. Mother kept her gas tank full in case of emergency and the need to take family, friends, or anyone else in need to the nearest hospital, thirty-five miles away.

The Best Advice in Six Words is a delight and a book to dip into and out of over and over.

The Book Whisperer Finds a Winner

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I received a copy of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi from Bookbrowse.com. This review reflects my own thoughts and opinions without bias for having received the free book. The Henna Artist is Joshi’s first novel. Joshi runs an advertising and marketing firm. Born in India and raised in the US, Joshi has lived in India, France, Italy, and the US. On her Web site, Joshi focuses on her advertising and marketing abilities, but The Henna Artist is also featured: https://alkajoshi.com/.

When I began reading about Lakshmi, a woman of thirty, who is a renowned henna artist in Jaipur, I could hardly put the book down. Lakshmi’s father had been a school teacher, but he fought for freedom from the British and was demoted to a tiny village and had to live with his family on a reduced salary. His response to the shame was alcohol.

At fifteen, Lakshmi finds her mother has accepted a marriage proposal to Hari Shastri. Although Lakshmi begs her mother to allow her to continue to live at home and find a job, her mother will not relent. Lakshmi marries Hari and moves into the house with Hari and his mother. Lakshmi’s mother-in-law, teaches Lakshmi how to gather and use herbal medicines including herbs that will help women conceive and other herbs which help women abort an unwanted pregnancy.

Often, the desire to end the pregnancy occurs because the women are too poor to feed the children they have much less another one. Lakshmi becomes quite skilled by working with her mother-in-law. Hari, Lakshmi’s husband turns out to be much less than kind, unlike his mother. He beats Lakshmi and becomes more and more disappointed when she does not bear him a son.

Finally, Lakshmi takes money she knows her mother-in-law has put aside and runs away. At first, she works with prostitutes, giving them potions to abort children and to cure disease. Samir Singh, a wealthy man from Jaipur, notices her and takes her to Jaipur, helping her set up a more legitimate business of drawing intricate henna designs on wealthy women including his wife, Parvati.

Lakshmi, a true artist, grinds her own henna paste. She also adds delicious treats to take to the ladies as she works on their henna designs. Steadily, she builds up her clientele until she meets many wealthy and influential women and their daughters. They trust Lakshmi and admire the designs she creates.

Picture found at https://thetempest.co/2015/11/09/style/20-bridal-henna-designs-will-blow-mind/

Lakshmi also uses her herbs to help women conceive when they long for an heir. The oils, lotions, and potions all help the women to overcome depression, illness, and barrenness. On the other side of the coin, she also continues to supply sachets of a tea that will cause a miscarriage. Samir discreetly requests these sachets for his mistresses and for his friends’ mistresses.  

Lakshmi is having a home built with her own designs in the intricate tile floor. She dreams of bringing her parents to live with her so she can care for them and make up for running away. Instead of her parents, though, Lakshmi’s sister Radha, thirteen, appears. Radha was born the year Lakshmi ran away, so Lakshmi has never known about her sister.

Radha tells Lakshmi both their parents are dead. Lakshmi takes Radha in to care for her and teach her. Unfortunately, both Lakshmi and Radha get caught up in events that cause all of Lakshmi’s plans to fall apart. Yes, she and Radha move into the home Lakshmi has so lovingly designed in hopes of caring for her parents as they age. She has switched that allegiance to her sister, but forces outside Lakshmi’s control conspire to make the plans fail.

Because Lakshmi helps Joyce Harris, a British woman, with an abortion, Lakshmi meets Dr. Jay Kumar. Mrs. Harris fears the baby is not her husband’s but possibly an Indian man’s. She cannot take the chance of having a brown baby; she lies to Lakshmi about how far along she is. The sachets for tea that Lakshmi leaves with Mrs. Harris then cause Mrs. Harris to become very ill since she was more than four months along in the pregnancy.

Dr. Kumar is very impressed with Lakshmi’s talents and her herbal medicines. This meeting and the saving of Joyce Harris’s life create a strong impression on Dr. Kumar who then figures as an important ally in Lakshmi’s life.

Joshi makes the book come alive with the Indian traditions and the careful steps Lakshmi must always take to ensure that she maintains her place. She cannot be abrupt or haughty or act in any way that will displease the wealthy, privileged women she serves. She must bite her tongue and bow in order to keep them making appointments with her. When gossip makes its way around the ladies’ circle, Lakshmi is devastated and her business all but ruined.

At this point, another meeting with Dr. Kumar will be advantageous to Lakshmi and Radha and not in a romantic sense.

The other character I must describe is Malik, a young boy of indeterminate age, possibly eight when we first meet him. At least, he tells the Maharani Indira, the maharaja’s stepmother, “I prefer to be eight.” He is a wise young man with skills far above his age and education. Lakshmi had discovered him some time after she arrived in Jaipur. He becomes her right-hand man. I like Malik; he is a true survivor and an entrepreneur just as much as Lakshmi is.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys Children’s Books, Especially This One

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Looking for a terrific book to provide some diversion for you and your children and/or grandchildren? Here’s the book: A Tale of Two Beasts written and illustrated by Fiona Robertson. I listened to the book read by Sarah Silverman at this link: https://www.storylineonline.net/books/tale-of-two-beasts/.

Roberton’s illustrations are as delightful as the text of her story.

The Tale of Two Beasts is told in two parts. In the first part, on her way home through the woods from her grandma’s home, a little girl discovers a strange beast she believes is stuck in a tree and who is “whining sadly.” She rescues the beast and names him Fang. Once at home, she dresses Fang in a gorgeous hat and sweater and feeds him nuts. She puts him in a box with one of her favorite toys, a stuffed lion, Lord Rex.

The girl takes Fang on walks and shows him to her friends who also love him. Then one day, Fang ran away through an open window. He even threw off his clothes before leaving!

Then in part two, readers see the same story through Fang’s eyes. He cannot understand why some strange beast has captured him and put awful clothes on him. He says she “ambushed him and dressed him in a ridiculous hat and sweater.” He does not even like nuts which he considers squirrel food.

Fang does not understand the walks the girl takes with him. He decides to escape! He rushes back to the “deep dark woods before the terrible beast” could catch him. Peace at last! Then it starts to rain, so Fang thinks he will return for the “nice warm hat.”

When Fang enters the room, the terrible beast, aka girl, is waiting for him. Fang decides the beast is not so terrible after all.

At the end of the book, Sarah Silverman reminds listeners that “everybody has a different way of seeing the same thing.” And that’s just what A Tale of Two Beasts demonstrates for us in a very non-preachy way.