Monthly Archives: May 2020

The Book Whisperer Explores a Coffee Table Book of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald


Richard Webb, Jr., has created tribute to F. Scott ad Zelda Fitzgerald: Boats Against the Current: The Honeymoon Summer of Scott and Zelda. The book centers on the five-month honeymoon period in 1920 which Scott and Zelda spent in Westport, CN.  Scott Fitzgerald, in fact called the time in Westport “the happiest year since I was eighteen.” But the retrospective is not limited to that period in the Fitzgeralds’ lives.

Boats Against the Current is a large, coffee table book, a book meant to be savored and returned to again and again. The pictures alone deserve a reader’s attention. Many are candid shots that one would find in any family album of pictures. Only the people in these pictures are Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Webb has also documented events of the time with newspaper articles, pictures, and memories. He has also documented sources extensively with notes, acknowledgements, and information from behind the scenes.

Webb,, graduated from Vanderbilt U. He has taught in high schools and universities. In addition to his teaching, he has become an authority on Westport history. Boats Against the Current functions, too, as a companion to the documentary Connecticut Goes Dry.

Webb is an author, documentary filmmaker and historian. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, he is a multiple award-winning educator who has taught at the high school and university level for more than 25 years. A featured presenter in the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Prohibition documentary Connecticut Goes Dry, Webb is Executive Producer of Gatsby in Connecticut, an F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald documentary by Robert Steven Williams.  Boats Against the Current is the companion piece of the film. Considered an authority on Westport history, he is a consultant to several local historical societies and has given talks throughout Fairfield County on the time the Fitzgeralds spent in Westport.


The Book Whisperer Finds a Delightful Picture Book That Features a Twist


Me and My Cat by Satoshi Kitamura is a story about a boy who wakes up in his cat’s body while the cat is in his body. Now, this fairytale approach is fairly common, but the end of the story turns the story on its head. Children will be delighted with the whole story and especially the surprise ending.

Nicholas awakes in the middle of the night when a strange old lady in a pointed hat enters his window, waves her broom, and intones some gibberish. Nicholas goes back to sleep, but the next morning, he discovers something strange.

Nicholas is in his cat’s body while Leonardo, the cat, in Nicolas’s body has gone to school! Readers follow Nicholas as Leonardo on several adventures, some of them frightening when he encounters three mean cats and a barking dog.

When Nicholas gets home still inhabited by Leonardo, mother becomes alarmed at his behavior and calls the doctor. The doctor simply says put him to bed early and he will be all right.

Late that night, the old woman in the pointed hat enters the room again! This time, she says, “Sorry, love, I got the wrong address!” Waving her broom, she repeats some strange words and leaves.

The next morning, Nicholas is Nicholas and Leonardo is Leonardo. What Nicholas discovers at his school later that morning will make children laugh.

Satoshi Kitamura writes and illustrates books for children. He has illustrated a large number of books. Me and My Cat is written and illustrated by Kitamura. I listened to the story read by Elijah Wood on Storyline Online,

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Charming, Delightful, Entertaining Book


Recently, I have listened to two books with the same ending thought: I would read this book again. While the two books are quite different in nature, theme, and style, they both affected me profoundly. The first one, The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, I discovered on my own. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, the second book that so moved me, came as a recommendation by my friend Sarah, also an avid reader.

As I listened to Virgil Wander, I made note of several quotations from the book. “Sieze the day suggests the day has a handle,” says Virgil as he thinks about advice others give him. Virgil has just survived an icy plunge into Lake Superior in his car. The accident has left him with some memory loss and his language has been affected. For example, he has no adjectives. Dr. Koskinen explains, “Don’t worry, everything will come back. Most things probably will. A good many of them might return. There will be at least a provisional rebound.” Seems the good doctor’s pronouncements became less sure as he went on.

The result of the doctor’s less than helpful explanation about Virgil’s full return makes Virgil quietly gleeful about each advancement.

Virgil lives in the small and dying town of Greenstone, MN where he is city clerk and also runs the town’s movie theater, the Empress. Virgil also lives in a small apartment in the Empress.

As Virgil recovers from his accident, he tells readers about the people in the town, his friends and enemies—well perhaps not enemies, but those who are not really friends. We learn of his genuine kindness and his easy good nature.

Upon listening to a heartbreaking story, Virgil reacts by thinking, “a thumb came to rest against my heart.” What could be more poignant?

Virgil meets Rune, an old man flying a kite. Rune is from Norway and has come to Greenstone in search of his son Alec Sandstrom. Rune has only recently learned he has a son. When he meets Virgil, Rune learns Alec was a great baseball player for a time and then he flew off in a light aircraft never to be seen again. He left behind his wife Nadine and his son Bjorn along with the legacy of his baseball career.

Another quotation that struck me with great force occurs when Virgil talks with Jerry Fandeen who tells Virgil about being kicked out of the house by his wife Ann. Later, Virgil learns from Ann, the wife, a quite different story about the break up. Virgil then says to himself, “Why am I surprised when there is more to the story?”

My favorite lines from the book, however, follow here: “A person never knows what is next—I don’t, anyway. The surface of everything is thinner than we know. A person can fall right through, without any warning at all.”

The characters who make up the town of Greenstone, MN, are endearing, charming, and completely fascinating. Some of them are ruthless and mean. In other words, Greenstone is a typical small town. It is a place to visit, a place to call home, and a place to find friends. Read Virgil Wander; you will be glad.

Annie Bostrom reviews Virgil Wander for Booklist. This sentence from Bostrom’s review sums up the story of Virgil Wander: “Enger populates down-on-its-luck Greenstone with true characters—charming Virgil, his love interest, friends, and not-quite-friends, and even some wily wildlife—and gives them diverting plotlines aplenty, but the focus of his bright and breathing third novel feels mostly like life itself, in all its smallness and bigness, and what it means to live a good one. “

Leif Enger is from Osakis, MN and now lives in Duluth. His first novel was Peace Like a River, winning the Booksense Award for Fiction and also named one of the Year’s Best Books by Time magazine and the LA Times. His second book was So Brave, Young, and Handsome, another bestseller. His Web site is found here:

The Book Whisperer Reads YA


I am an eclectic reader and enjoy books of all kinds: picture books, chapter books, YA, novels for adults, and selected nonfiction. When I read about Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon, a young adult retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I requested the book from the library. Then came the pandemic, so I recently got the book that has been on hold for weeks. Of Curses and Kisses is great fun.

For readers who like fairy tales, age-old curses, English lords, and princesses of the Imperial House of Mysuru, India, then Of Curses and Kisses will fill the bill. Princess Raya Rao and her sister Princess Isha arrive at St. Rosetta’s International Academy in Colorado for Raya’s senior year and isha’s sophomore year. They are fleeing India to let rumors about Isha die down.

Someone leaked a picture of Isha working in a bike garage with a group of young men; the picture appeared in the newspaper. The family is outraged and fear the picture will damage the family’s reputation.

Jaya, the older sister and always Isha’s protector, knows the person who leaked the picture is Grey Emerson, Lord Northcliffe. When she learns he is also a student at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, a school for the offspring of the ultra-wealthy, she devises a plan to punish him.

Grey Emerson thinks of himself as a misfit and is reclusive, not joining in the activities at St. Rosetta’s except when required to do so by the administration. He believes because that’s what his father has told him that he is responsible for his mother’s death. She died shortly after giving birth to him, her only child, because of a terrible storm and the doctor’s inability to reach her after the birth. Grey also believes on his father’s word that Grey himself is cursed and he expects to die on his 18th birthday.

Amidst the drama of a royal curse, readers also discover other teenage angst within the students who have been attending St. Rosetta’s before Raya and Isha’s arrival.

Of Curses and Kisses is simply great fun and a fast read. Sandya Menon has published several books for young adults. In fact, Of Curses and Kisses is the first in the St. Rosetta’s International Academy series. Menon’s books have been highlighted on The Today Show and NPR as well as in Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen. She also writes romances for adults as Lily Menon. Learn more at her Web site:

The Book Whisperer Finds a Book That Misses the Mark For Her


NPR’s Jason Heller calls The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata, “smart and heart-piercing, Lost Book is a story of displacement, erasure, identity, mythology, and the ability of literature to simultaneously express and transcend our lives — not to mention reality.” Unfortunately, I found The Lost Book of Adana Moreau to be disjointed and difficult to read. I do not like to write negative book reviews, so this review will simply be about my lack of understanding of what Zapata is trying to achieve in his debut novel. The book misses the mark with me—though my own inability to connect with the story and the characters.

The notion that “people could be other people, cities could be other cities, and worlds could be other worlds” does not fit into my perhaps narrow view of reality. Still, that is a realization that Adana Moreau, a young woman from the Dominican Republic who moves to New Orleans in 1916 believes.

Adana Moreau writes a book that turns out to be very popular and successful. After she finishes the second book, she learns she has terminal cancer. She destroys the sequel shortly before her death. Yet, years later in 2004, Saul finds the completed manuscript in his grandfather’s belongings as he clears out the house following his grandfather’s death. He also finds the original novel and reads it before reading the manuscript.

Saul’s grandfather wanted the manuscript sent to Maxwell Moreau, Adana’s son, who has become a theoretical physicist. Saul’s first attempt to send the manuscript to Maxwell fails, so he begins a quest to find Maxwell. Helping Saul is his long-time friend Javier Silva, an international freelance journalist.

To be candid, the story never did grab my attention. I found the characters difficult to understand. To me, the characters don’t connect with one another much less the readers. They stay separate from one another, standoffish.

Apparently, Zapata has included scientific facts and references to scientists and extreme weather events. I did recognize the references to Katrina! The problem for me is that I did not care enough to pursue the references.

While one reviewer calls The Lost Book of Adana Moreau “a bridge across time,” I would call it a bridge to nowhere for me. Booklist calls The Lost Book of Adana Moreau “a lush, spellbinding tale.” I will have to take those reviewers at their word, but I failed to find the book a bridge or spellbinding.

Michael Zapata founded MAKE Literary Magazine. He has taught literature and writing in high schools. His particular focus has been on helping students who had dropped out and then returned to school. He maintains a Web site at this location:

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Spiritual Fantasy With Relative Connections!


Occasionally, in our lives we receive rare opportunities and one of those came my way last year. Gaila Kline Hobson gave me the privilege of being a first-reader on her debut novel, The Chosen’s Calling. To be fully transparent, I must also say that Gaila’s husband is my husband’s cousin and I have known Gaila a great while. She is intelligent, caring, kind, and she also has a great sense of humor. That’s an important trait for a long-time educator as well as mother of three sons. My long association and kinship, however, have in no way colored my review of The Chosen‘s Calling which is now available on Amazon as an e-book and a paperback. Gaila has provided more information on her Web site:

In the preface to The Chosen‘s Calling, Gaila explains the genesis of her novel, a spiritual fantasy. She tells readers “I did my best to avoid preaching and to make [the story] universally appealing to all faiths.” In doing so, Gaila has included quotations and references to many faiths. Another guiding principle in Gaila’s mind as she wrote the book concerns the deaths of young people. How do we explain such a loss? In her own life, Gaila was only four when her father died. She remembers hearing people spout platitudes like “only the good die young.” What could that possibly mean to a child? Then will she die young or if she lives will that mean she is bad? Adults need to consider the words they use in front of children and to children. 

The Chosen’s Calling has chapter titles that give readers hints into the depth of the story. Titles like “Moving Forward,” “Trust,” Advancing,” and “The Mission” sweep Dina, Jo, and Gabe with his dog Bruno along in the story. To orient readers, Gavreel meets with the new recruits and thus readers learn the backstory of what has happened to bring the characters as Gavreel explains to Dina to “Heaven your true home.” There is a nod to Our Town in that the characters get glimpses of their loved ones left on Earth to mourn their loss.

Gavreel, always a good teacher, does not tell Dina and later Jo and Gabe what to expect or what they should learn. Instead, she guides each one by asking questions and prompting thought. Gavreel explains to Dina, “There are things to be learned everywhere. Your lessons have begun. Tell me what you learned from playing and watching.” The young people learn their lesson well, for by the end, they have developed their own questions to guide them in their training.

Dina’s response in part sets the tone not only for her learning to come, but also for Jo and Gabe whom we are yet to meet: “I’m just guessing, but maybe Heaven allows me to be the best at what I love?”

Dina first meets Jo and Gavreel suggests they get to know one another. They start by walking The Circle of Caring Trail of Discovery. They find magical and beautiful flowers along the trail. The flowers are not inanimate; instead, they dance exhibiting joy and welcoming Dina and Jo. Here is this early chapter, readers encounter words of wisdom from various faiths; these quotations are found on the flowers’ petals:

Gautama Buddha: “In our interactions with others, gentleness, kindness, and respect are the source of harmony.”

Mahatma Gandi: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

They begin their training together and then encounter Gabe.  At first, they are a bit uncertain about including him in their training. Is he supposed to be part of their team? In fact, Dina and Jo find Gabe intrusive and they feel they should get on with their work together, just the two of them. Gabe has been on the course longer than the two girls, and he offers good advice. Still, the girls are reluctant to allow him to join them.

Finally, more to make Gabe stop talking to them than anything else, the girls allow him to give them a hint about the training. His hint works! Now, their attitudes begin to change, but not at once. Still, the three are beginning to create a bond that will only become stronger.

The team of Dina, Jo, Gabe, and Bruno, the dog, does become stronger and wiser, although occasional setbacks occur. Finally, though, Dina reminds the others, “WE ARE A TEAM. We know it in our hearts. We know we are linked now. We went through so much together on this path. We learned to be gentle with one another, to trust one another, to be patient and supportive, to forgive and be forgiven, to work together to figure things out, and do whatever needs to be done.” These are important lessons which will serve the three well as they move into their missions as a Warrior Team.

Kirron, their trainer, will work with Dina, Jo, and Gabe to help them learn to use their talents as they become powerful warriors. Kirron reminds the trio that they have made great strides, but that they also have much yet to learn.  The trio will experience great joy as they learn; sometimes they encounter setbacks that they must overcome.

Readers will thrill with the new skills Dina, Jo, and Gabe discover. Sometimes, the skill seems like great fun, but learning to use it is part of Kirron and Gavreel’s larger plan.

The Chosen’s Calling will keep readers turning pages as they discover what awaits Dina, Jo, and Gabe and even Bruno. The training is difficult and the three must go over and over some skills in order to master them. Then they will be put to a great test. Along the way, Dina, Jo, and Gabe do become friends and rely on one another. They also find fun in learning together.

While Dina, Jo, and Gabe learn over the period of their training, The Chosen’s Calling is not overbearing. Parents will like the virtues being taught while children will like the mystery and magic of the story perhaps not realizing at first what they are learning as they read. Many of us like learning through stories—not being preached at, but being carried along with the story itself through our love and concern for the characters. That is what will make The Chosen’s Calling a satisfying read.

Gaila Kline Hobson is hard at work on the sequel to The Chosen’s Calling. So readers will have another book featuring Dina, Jo, Gabe, and Bruno and who knows what other characters may appear? On her Web site, Gaila explains that “writing has always been a hobby for me. However, it was never something I thought I could make a living doing. Many people encouraged me to write a book, so it went on my bucket list.  After retiring from teaching in 2016, I realized I had something to share with the world and turned to writing in that extra time I had on my hands.”

The Book Whisperer Reads an Eid Tale


As Ramadan 2020 comes to a close, Muslims everywhere will celebrate. Muslims have been fasting, praying, and reading the Quran as well as performing charitable acts. I thought it only fitting to review a story about Eid, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. In Turkey, the celebration is called Famazan Bayrami– Şeker Bayramı or Sugar Feast. It is an important celebration which involves new clothes, gifts, and delicious food. In normal times, all these activities are shared. Today, because of COVID-19, the celebrations have had to be changed a bit to accommodate social distancing and yet still allow celebration.

Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale by Fawzia Gilani-Williams and illustrated by Proiti Roy gives readers a glimpse into the Eid celebration.

Nabeel is a shoemaker who has been busy making shoes to fill orders for Eid. The day has ended, and Nabeel can now go out to purchase gifts for his wife, mother, and daughter as they celebrate Eid.

Nabeel finds a lovely burqa for his wife, a dupatta for his mother, and angles for his daughter. Hamza, the shopkeeper, then suggests that Nabeel should buy himself some new pants since his are patched. Unfortunately, Hamza has only one pair of pants to fit Nabeel, but they “are four fingers too long!”

Hamza has no time to shorten the pants because he must get ready for the celebration. As Nabeel gives his gifts to his wife, mother, and daughter, he asks each one to shorten the pants for him, but they are all too busy cooking and getting ready for the celebration.

What is Nabeel to do? Children will enjoy the solution to the problem and also learn about giving to others.

Dr. Fawzia Gilani-Williams has a Ph.D. in children’s literature. She is a teacher, principal, and researcher as well as a writer. Her specialties include primary education, Islamic children’s literature, and creative writing. Her Web site,, provides a wealth of materials for parents, teachers, and children. Readers can also find links to several PDF stories on the site. Those stories are “The Three Little Camels,” “The Ramadan Drummer,” “Zinjabeel: A Ramadan Story,” and “Tina: A Ramadan Tale.”

Proiti Roy, an Indian artist, has created a number of illustrations for children’s books and textbooks. Read an interview with her and see more examples of her work at this site:

The Book Whisperer Discovers A Summer Read


The pandemic has pushed me into listening to more books on audio than I thought possible. Today, I finished listening to The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go by Amy Reichert, her most recent novel. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, Reichert’s first novel, has intrigued me because of its title—even though I don’t like coconut in any form. Although I have not yet read that debut novel, I have added it to my towering list of books to be read.

Amy Reichert has published four novels. She has an MA in English literature. On her Web site, Reichert lists a number of facts about her; check it out: She is also a member of Tall Poppy Writers; learn more about the group of authors at this link:

I am eager to find an author new to me and a book that compels me to fall in love with the story and/or characters. An author’s talent at creating such stories and characters will than become a favorite and added to my list of recommendations.

In The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go, Gina Zoberski struggles with being a widow and mother to fourteen-year-old May. Add to those burdens, Lorraine, Gina’s mother who is critical of every move that Gina makes. Vicki, Gina’s younger sister, is their mother’s decided favorite. Gina married Drew Zoberski, a mechanic, and decidedly not on Lorraine’s list of eligible bachelors for her daughter.

Vicki, on the other hand, marries a man Lorraine likes, a man with education and money. Still, both girls feel the sting of their mother’s words when they get something wrong. For example, Gina forgot to take flowers to her mother once when her mother was hospitalized; of course, Vicki remembered.

Now, Gina discovers Lorraine has fallen to the floor in her apartment because she’s had a stroke. Gina cleans up her mother before the paramedics arrive to take her to the ER. On her way to the hospital, Gina picks up flowers, her mother’s favorites, never carnations! She feels she won’t be caught up short this time.

Lorraine’s stroke brings out long-hidden secrets when Gina finds her mother’s important papers. Among them is Gina’s birth certificate, but the name on the document is Regina Sandowsky. How can that be when her father is Floyd Price? Vicki tells Gina that Gina must be the product of a torrid love affair, a joke they share since they cannot see their mother having such an affair ever.

Their parents are proper, wealthy and country club members. Lorraine emphasizes the importance of appearance to both girls all their lives. Since the stroke, Lorraine cannot speak, so how will Gina and Vicki solve this mystery of the unusual name on Gina’s birth certificate?

As the story unfolds, readers discover Lorraine’s past. At the same time, Gina reaches into her memory bank to think about Drew, the love of her life. Losing Drew has created a rift between Gina and May because Gina feels she cannot talk about Drew, thus making May feel as if Drew no longer matters. Of course, that is not the case.

As the stories come to the surface, Lorraine, Gina, Vicki, and May find healing through the airing of the truth.

The story of mothers and daughters with all the conflicts they can hold as well as the love and affection found in the family will intrigue readers. The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go is a good summer read.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a CLEAR Winner


An Amazon reader from Palo Alto, CA, convinced me to read The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz. I had read about The Possible World in a BookRiot article, but the reader’s review gave considerable weight to my decision. The reader wrote, in part, “[The Possible World] is a book full of wonder, compassion, philosophy and revealing insights into human nature. The writing is a pure delight—Schwarz has a keen eye for details that bring scenes to life. I believe that the best novelists make their work accessible, just like the best teachers make their subject easy to comprehend. It isn’t easy to create a reading experience that is both fun and profound. I hope that Liese O’Halloran Schwarz will be rewarded for her efforts by gaining many more fans like me.” I am a fan. I hope to convince other readers to become fans as well.

In truth, I listened to The Possible World on RBdigital through my local library. The story has three narrators representing the three main characters whose stories unfold in alternating chapters: Lucy, Ben/Leo, and Clare.

I finished The Possible World two days ago. I have been mulling over what to say in a review because the book made such a strong impression on me; I want do to the book justice. I immediately wanted to read the book again. I have read many books that I truly enjoyed and found worthwhile. Still, I don’t often say to myself, “I’d like to read that again right now.” Pat Conroy comes to mind in that regard. I always found myself hurrying to finish Conroy’s books and at the same time not wanting the experience to end.

Schwarz lived in Washington, DC, went to Harvard and then attended medical school at the U of VA. As a medical student, she published Near Canaan, her first novel. In medical school, Schwarz specialized in emergency medicine.

Lucy, one of the three characters in The Possible World, is an ER doctor in Providence, RI. Lucy must treat a six-year-old boy who is covered with blood. He is the only survivor of a mass shooting at a home. Lucy treats the boy tenderly, trying to determine if the blood is his and where he might be injured.

The boy refuses to speak. Lucy continues to clean him up, looking for wounds, but she soon discovers he is physically uninjured. Finally, in answer to yet another request for his name, the boy whispers, “Leo.” The hospital staff learns Leo is actually Ben and that his mom who died the in the house where Ben was found was also a medical resident at the hospital. Why does Ben continue to insist that he is Leo?

Thus, the first two characters connect in the beginning of the story. Then readers meet Clare, almost 100, and living in a nursing home. Clare is reluctant to allow her story to unfold. Her life has been full of secrets even though she spent most of her adult life alone and isolated, working as a cemetery caretaker. What will bring Clare into Ben/Leo’s and Lucy’s lives?

The Possible World takes readers through a great deal of American history—from the Great Depression into the Vietnam War and finally into present-day. How do events in history impact lives? How do personal tragedy and triumph affect people’s outlook on life? Schwarz takes her characters through difficulty and success, through loss and discovering how to cope with that loss. She also shows people’s resilience and ability to overcome hardship.

Below, I’ve included just a few of the lines from the book that continue to haunt me, all from Clare’s chapters. I could have added many, many more. Read The Possible World and you will see what I mean.

Clare, in reflecting on the Great Depression, when she was sixteen, says, “Into that long tunnel with all of us trudging forward, not knowing when it would end –if it would end.”

In another memory of a life-changing event in Clare’s life, Clare reports, “There could be no plan, no future; there was just today and the next like a string of dirty beads.”

Another time, Clare’s words made a strong impression on me: “We leave shadows of ourselves in the places where we change.”

Finally, in thinking about her long life and all the changes she has witnessed, Clare considers, “We have things for a while and then they are gone. And we’re lucky to have had them at all.”

Read The Possible World. You will be glad you did.

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Advance Copy


I received an advance e-book of Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees. My review reflects my opinions only. Edith Graham has taught in a girls’ school throughout the war. After the war, Edith has an opportunity to go to Germany to help set up schools in the aftermath of the war. Being fluent in German gives Edith an edge in doing her job.

The job of helping set up schools is legitimate enough, but Edith also has a dangerous undercover job of helping locate Nazi criminals who are hiding to avoid prosecution. As with any spy or undercover operation, knowing whom to trust becomes an important issue.

Before the war, too, Edith had had a romantic relationship with Kurt von Stavenow, a physician, who turned out to be a horrible Nazi criminal who conducted unspeakable experiments on other human beings, including children. Their relationship had ended badly when Edith learned Kurt was engaged to Elisabeth, a beautiful German woman from a wealthy family. The three even met again before the war at a country home, much to Edith’s surprise and dismay.

Now, under the guise of setting up the schools, Edith is supposed to use her past to help her locate Kurt and other criminals.

Edith is no stranger to covert operations. She has been writing food reviews and cookbooks as Stella Snelling. This name and occupation will also figure heavily in the story and return to readers in a surprising way.

Before she leaves for post-war Germany, Edith meets for what she thinks is an innocent going away dinner with two friends Dori and Vera. They inform Edith that they want her to spy for them and send news back about the criminals she can locate. The three decide to use The Radiation Cookery Book and letters about recipes and ingredients as the cover for their messages. They know the letters will be censored, but the censors will be men who will not suspect any secret messages to be passed along through recipes.

First published in 1931

The three decide “what could be more natural or more innocent” than women exchanging recipes and cooking tips. Then Dori says, “But I can’t cook.” Edith reassures Dori that it won’t matter because the fact that Dori cannot cook becomes the perfect reason for Edith to be coaching her and sending her not only recipes but also tips about the cooking of the dishes.

Although Edith sees the opportunity to work in Germany after the war and help with the locating of Nazi criminals, she does not fully grasp the dangers she faces.  Again, knowing whom to trust becomes one of the most complex issues.

To go along with the cover of the cooking and recipes, Edith does ask for recipes from a wide variety of people she meets. Too, each chapter begins with a menu of a meal, often with substitutions since many ingredients are not readily available after the war.

One of the things I liked most about the story includes the menus at the beginning of each chapter. For example, as Edith takes the train in chapter 6, we have the following menu:

Blue Train Picnic: Broodje kroket, rookwurst (smoked sausage), mustard, hard-boiled eggs, and Genever. This explanation follows the menu:

“Broodje korket: not unlike a rissole, flecked with parsley. Made with leftover meat, minced or chopped, mixed with onion but bound with a bechamel then formed into a fat sausage, crumbed and deep-fried. Eaten in a bridge roll with mild Dutch mustard.”

How the women use the recipes to send their secret messages is not exactly clear. Occasionally, Edith will murmur to herself that by using certain words from the recipes in the letter that Dori or Vera will understand the code.

The story is gripping and readers recognize that even though the war is over and the Allies have won, much danger still exists.  Edith manages to find Kurt von Stavenow and his wife Elisabeth. I was not prepared for the shock that comes near the end of the story. Readers will have to read the whole story themselves. Also, the very end of the story involves revenge and readers will be glad to learn of that revenge, a dish best served cold.

Celia Rees has written books for children and teens; Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is her first adult novel. It will be published in July 2020. Learn more about Rees at her Web site: