Monthly Archives: November 2020

The Book Whisperer Revamps a Post from Dec 2019

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A first for the Book Whisperer–taking a previous post and revising it a bit. In December 2019, I read and reviewed Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. Cover to Cover, my book club at the Broken Arrow Library is reading Mr. Dickens and His Carol for our December discussion in 2020, so I returned to the previous review and edited it for today.

In Mr. Dickens and his Carol, Samantha Silva has reimagined how Dickens comes to write A Christmas Carol. Silva gives readers a full-fledged story of Dickens at home with his wife Catherine at the time she is giving birth to their sixth child. It is November 1843.

Silva uses real people in the story, and she has done her research well. Dickens became extremely popular in his own time. He also made a great deal of money from the sale of his books. Unfortunately, that fame and wealth came with a distinct downside in that especially his father and brother took advantage to ask for money often. In fact, a number of other distant relatives as well as strangers frequently asked Dickens for handouts.

As Christmas approaches, Catherine is making her lists of items to buy for the big party she and Charles give each year. That means a menu of several turkeys, a goose, and other delicacies. The children, too, have their eyes on the special toys they expect for Christmas as well.

Then Dickens receives a visit from Chapman and Hall, his publishers. Chuzzlewit is not doing well even as Dickens continues to write the chapters. Chapman and Hall tell him Martin Chuzzlewit “is not selling one-fifteenth of Nickleby.” The chapters have even been discounted by some sellers. One book seller even offers a free copy of the latest chapter to customers who buy a cup of tea. The insult!

Chapman and Hall go on to tell Dickens that he must write a Christmas story and have it read to read to the public on Christmas Eve, only three weeks away. Hall tells Dickens, “not a long book. A short book. Why, hardly a book at all.” They ask him to make the book festive and possible throw in a ghost.

Dickens, of course, is appalled that he is being told what to write and given a short time in which to complete the task. At first, he simply refuses. However, Chapman and Hall hold over his head that they will take “forty pounds sterling per month” from his pay if he does not produce the Christmas book by Christmas Eve.

Much of the story is taken up with Dickens’ refusal and his fuming within himself about being told what to write. The lack of Christmas spirit causes Catherine to pack up the children and take them to Scotland to her parents’ home. Thus, Dickens now is angry, feels put upon, and is lonely to boot.  

After much consternation, Dickens does indeed write A Christmas Carol, a story about Christmas and one with a ghost—or three. That is not a spoiler since anyone who has read Dickens and even those who have not know A Christmas Carol.

He is certainly lacking any Christmas spirit. And that fact shows up in the first drafts of the story he decides he must write after all since expenses in his household are so great. Not only that, he cannot bear the thought of having money taken from his account by the publisher.

Dickens even visits his previous fiancée who has thrown him over for a banker, man she thinks is more successful than Dickens. Little does she know that Dickens will not only become a household name in England but around the world and with that fame money. Dickens had thought of Maria as his muse, but when he visits her, he realizes that she, too, only wants to build up to asking him for money. Dickens sees her for what she is, a silly, vain woman.

Where then will Dickens find his muse, especially with his wife and children in Scotland? Dickens was fond of wandering the streets of London; the brisk walks cleared his head and gave him inspiration. So he returns to his walking and thereby finds inspiration again.

Silva has taken Dickens, his family, and friends as well as fellow writers of the time and hangers-on to create a memorable story for modern readers at Christmas.

Samantha Silva lives in Idaho and Mr. Dickens and his Carol marks her debut novel. Previously, she has written for Paramount, Universal, and New Line Cinema. Discover more about Silva on her Web site: https://www.samanthasilvawriter.com/.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a New Juvenile Series

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When I read a review of Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce, I was immediately intrigued. Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle is precocious, interested in solving mysteries, and knows a great deal about the law.  Myrtle is the only child of a lawyer who indulges Myrtle by allowing her to read his law books and some of his briefs.

Myrtle’s mother died of cancer; her father has engaged Miss Ada Eugenie Judson as Myrtle’s governess. Miss Judson is herself unusual because she is the daughter of a French Guyanese nurse and a Scottish minister. Miss Judson is not only intelligent and kind, but she also fosters Myrtle’s curiosity and creativity.

When Myrtle’s next-door neighbor, elderly Miss Wodehouse, dies, Myrtle is suspicious that the death is not a natural one. Determined to discover the truth, Myrtle puts herself, Miss Judson, and her father in some danger.

Bunce has included several red herrings which lead readers to think Priscilla Wodehouse, Miss Wodehouse’s distant cousin is a murderer and a black widow at that. Then another cousin, Mr. Northcutt, a ne’er-do-well and lay-about, could also be the murderer. Unfortunately, Myrtle overhears an argument between Miss Wodehouse and Mr. Hamm, the long-time gardener which also puts him into the frame.

Myrtle makes some mistakes when she explains her theories to Mr. Ambrose, her father’s previous law partner and Miss Wodehouse’s attorney. This becomes apparent when she realizes Mr. Northcutt has overheard all she has discovered.

To unravel the truth, Myrtle must be diligent, carefully consider the clues, and keep digging for evidence.

Each chapter begins with a quote from H.M. Hardcastle’s Principles of Detection. Here is one example: “An Investigator must piece together the facts of a crime, step by step and bit by bit, until the assembled evidence reveals the truth.” The addition of these quotes from Principles of Detection remind me of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe’s use of Clovis Anderson’s book on being a PI. Myrtle also makes me think of Flavia in Alan Bradley’s series. Both Myrtle and Flavia are interested in solving crimes.

Premeditated Myrtle will keep readers absorbed in the mystery. Written for ages 9 – 12, Premeditated Myrtle is sure to please. It is also the first in the series. How to Get Away With Myrtle, book 2, was published in Oct.

Elizabeth Bunce published A Curse Dark as Gold which won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a young adult debut novel. She also has a fantasy series: Thief Errant. Oprah chose Bunce’s StarCrossed and A Curse Dark as Gold for Oprah’s Kid’s Reading List. Discover more at Bunce’s Web site: https://elizabethcbunce.com/.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Cookbook

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From Sourcebooks, I received a free e-book of Rustic Joyful Food Meant to Share by Danielle Kartes. I first checked out the table of contents. There I discovered recipes “For Friendship + Company,” “For Comfort + Family,” “For Fun + Littles,” “For Love,” “Sweets,” and “Drinks.”

On closer inspection of “For Comfort + Family,” I found several recipes of interest. Each section begins with an introduction to that section. By giving each section a personal introduction, Dnaielle Kartes makes the cook feel part of her family. The first recipe I tried was Chimichurri Chicken Meatballs with Herbed Greek Yogurt, Red Quinoa, and Green Beans. Each part of the recipe is clear and gives even the novice cook confidence. The Quick Creole Shrimp Etoufee with Butter Lettuce and Mushroom Salad also is a winner.

The book is full of colorful, enticing photographs of the completed recipes. The table settings themselves are also enticing. See examples below.

Kartes pairs sides with main dishes, thus giving any cook a complete meal without having to search through different pages or other cookbooks to complement the main course.

“Fun + Littles” is a whole chapter on cooking with kids. When my boys were little, they often helped in the kitchen. As adults, they both continued cooking for themselves and sometimes for their dad and me. The recipes in this section are kid-friendly in taste and preparation.

Rustic Joyful Food Meant to Share is colorful and enticing. While I enjoy holding a cookbook in my hand and perusing the recipes, I found this ebook quite useful. I opened it on my iPad in the kitchen and found the recipes I wanted to try. I highly recommend Rustic Joyful Food Meant to Share!

Receiving the free book from Sourcebooks has not influenced my review.

The Book Whisperer Touts a Winner

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After waiting quite some time, my hold at the library on The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons became available. I picked up the book from the curbside service and began reading as soon as I got home.

Eudora Honeysett, 85, is old and tired. She lives alone and has no family. She keeps to herself, enjoying her own company and that of her irascible cat Montgomery. She often swims at the nearby community center, always alone. One day as she returned home from her swim, Eudora fell and her neighbor Stanley, a widower, sees her fall and rushes to help her. Although Eudora brushes him off, he insists upon calling an ambulance.

Later, Stanley teases Eudora that she was tipsy and fell. He enjoys teasing others, always with good nature. In the end, Eudora is thankful for Stanley’s intervention because a social worker visits Eudora and gives her a cane which turns out to be useful in keeping her balance.

Eudora’s next-door neighbors moved away and now a new family is moving into the house. Eudora hopes this family will “keep to themselves like the last family.” However, Eudora does not reckon with the indomitable Rose Trewidney, age 10. Rose, her mom, and dad have bought the house next door to Eudora. They are also expecting a second daughter to arrive soon.

Rose and her mother Maggie introduce themselves to Eudora; immediately, Rose is full of questions and also eager to make friends with Montgomery. Although Eudora tells Rose that Montgomery is not friendly, the cat warms to Rose quickly, never offering to bite or scratch her.

Eudora has decided to die on her own terms. She is old and ready to go. She contacts a clinic in Switzerland about its death with dignity program. Over the phone, Eudora meets Petra, the counselor who will guide Eudora through the application process. Petra asks questions about Eudora’s mental health and whether she is depressed. Petra is kind and listens as Eudora explains that she is alone, no family at all, and that she is ready to end her life. Petra gently tells Eudora that the application process will take time and that a doctor will review the application and make the decision about whether to accept Eudora into the program.

Rose continues to visit Eudora and worms herself into Eudora’s perfectly ordered life. Eudora cannot be rude to the child, so Rose makes little inroads into Eudora’s life. Rose also likes Stanley, so he is often included in Rose’s schemes.

As the story progresses, readers learn about Eudora’s background and how she has come to be all alone. Her dear father is killed during WWII. Her mother, Beatrice, is never the same after her husband dies; she becomes bitter and difficult. At the time, Beatrice was pregnant with Stella, Eudora’s sister. Sadly, Beatrice never bonds with Stella and they are often at odds with Eudora as the peacemaker.

Lyons gives readers pieces of Eudora’s backstory interspersed with the current day’s story. That way, readers slowly understand what has made Eudora standoffish, keeping to herself.

Readers cannot help but like Rose who calls herself a fashion advisor. She dresses very colorfully with a wide array of adornments. Here’s an example of one of Rose’s splendid outfits; Rose appears wearing a “sparkling ‘Fashion Guru’ T-shirt teamed with purple Hawaiian shorts, silver flip-flops, and a matching bandanna.”

As the story continues to unfold, Eudora, Stanley, and Rose become BFFs, at least that what Rose says. In the end, that is true. Will Eudora go through with her decision to go to Switzerland for her death with dignity? If so, how will Rose understand her loss of her BFF? Read the story to discover the full story of Eudora’s past and her present. You will be glad. Eudora, Stanley, Rose, Maggie, and Ron, Rose’s dad, will all stay with you as friends.

Annie Lyons has published several novels after working as a bookseller and in publishing. In 2009, she lost her job, having been made redundant, so she was a stay-at-home mom. She enrolled in a creative writing course and started her first novel, Not Quite Perfect, published in 2013. She has continued to write and publish since then. Discover more about Lyons here: https://annielyons.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reads a Coming-of-Age Novel

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I received a copy of How the Deer Moon Hungers by Susan Wingate from BookTrib. My review reflects my own views and has not been biased by receiving the free book. Wingate, https://www.susanwingate.com/, has written over fifteen novels as well as nonfiction.

How the Dear Moon Hungers won several awards: Best Fiction in the 2020 Pacific Book Award Winner, the 2020 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Young Adult Novels, and the July 2020 Elite Choice Book Awards.

The story centers on Mackenzie, Mac, Fraser and how her life spirals out of control when she witnesses her younger sister being hit and killed by a drunk driver. Sadly, Mac’s mother blames Mac for not protecting her sister.

Clearly, Mac and her mother are both grieving and the mother does not realize the rift in her relationship with her remaining daughter she is creating. To compound Mac’s problems, she is sent to juvenile incarceration because of a bogus drug charge. Readers will feel outraged at the mother because of her blaming Mac, but they will experience additional feelings of anger at a system that then pushes Mac into critical danger in the institution.

Wingate is a talented writer at creating a teenage girl who faces tremendous odds in her life. Readers should read the whole story to see whether Mac can overcome the terrible events and come out on the other side whole and ready to face adulthood.

I particularly like the two endings of the book. Again, readers will have to find those for themselves. For book clubs, How the Deer Moon Hungers will produce a lively discussion. I can envision members of a book club who would tear Uma, Mac’s mom, to pieces for her treatment of her living daughter. Others will defend her actions and her words because of her extreme grief. Most members will certainly feel empathy for Mac as she struggles in the aftermath of two severe events in her teenage life.

The Book Whisperer Hosts Her Friend Theresa as Guest Blogger

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He Said What? by Katie Beringer

After her husband’s death, Katie Beringer’s friends encouraged her to try online dating.  When she took the chance, “little did she know the roller coaster ride that awaited her.”  She admits that her “mission with this ‘tough love’ book is to give the empowered females the tools to quickly screen out the wrong guys.”

Beringer has several focal points in her writing.  One of them is to let readers know that “she does not play matchmaker.”  Part of her motivation for writing the book is to share her adventures and misadventures with online dating.  Additionally, Beringer’s book includes chapters on knowing the language of online dating and research and ratings on the plethora of dating websites.

He Said What? is also a cautionary book.  Beringer states the danger of sexting with a “WARNING: Once technology captures that image . . . it is out there forever, for all to see!”  Another point for online daters to remember are her words, “just because someone desires you does not mean that they value you.”  While the book is replete with good advice, another one to consider is “don’t beat a dead horse.  As much as you may like him, if you are the only one reciprocating, that is a sign to move on. . . .Actions speak louder than words, and they’re not reciprocating engagement with you, then they are just are not that into you.  Let them go.”

Online dating can be an invitation to cons.  While it’s doubtful that avoiding being duped by a con is 100% foolproof, Beringer’s book has enough useful information to help those who venture into the world of online dating. He Said What? should provide a lot of discussion for adult club members.

I received a copy of He Said What? from BookTrib for a review of the book.  The opinions expressed in this review are mine.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Psychological Thriller

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My house is not all that high-tech, but the dishwasher does sometimes give me nasty messages telling me I have not loaded the dishes properly. Or the washing machine refuses to complete a load of clothes because I failed to press the appropriate button. Still, I don’t feel threatened by these occurrences. However, that is certainly not true of Cecelia Holmes in A Woman Alone.

I received a copy of A Woman Alone by Nina Laurin from BookTrib. The review that follows is unbiased. We currently live in a technology-driven world. Homes and cars become more high-tech by the day. What happens when one’s house starts spying on one and even puts one in danger?

On the front of the book, readers will see two admonitions: “Someone’s watching. Don’t turn around.” These both represent sound advice. The story quickly draws readers into a mystery and dangers, especially for Cecelia Holmes, housewife.

Cecelia lives in a SmartHome. It has extreme security which Scott, Cecelia’s husband, convinces her it is a selling feature. The house does all the work for her including knowing how to cook her daughter’s oatmeal. That leaves Cecelia to do exactly what?

After being in the home only a short time, Cecelia finds reasons to be uneasy because her house is spying on her and also creating dangers. The first danger occurs when her daughter’s oatmeal, prepared by the kitchen appliances, makes the oatmeal dangerously hot instead of the temperature it should be for the little girl.

Then once she has Taryn, her daughter, safely in preschool, Cecelia returns home for a relaxing bath. The water is supposed to be the optimum temperature; instead, it is so hot, it burns Cecelia’s foot, causing her to jerk away from the tub. What is going on? First the oatmeal is dangerously hot and now her bath?

These two instances mark the beginning of a nightmare for Cecelia. Is she being driven mad? Is her home trying to kill her or send her running? Or is something more sinister afoot?

This review contains no spoilers. Readers will have to read the whole story to see what is behind the sinister happenings and to discover whether Cecelia and Taryn remain safe since Scott and the neighbors choose to mock Cecelia and her fears.

Nina Laurin has written three other psychological thrillers. She speaks and reads Russian, French, and English and writes in English. When she was a student at Concordia U, Laurin wrote and published her first novel, Girl Last Seen. Her second book is What My Sister Knew and it was followed by The Starter Wife. Learn more about Laurin and her writing at her Web site: https://www.ninalaurin.com/.

The Book Whisperer Becomes Engrossed in a Tale of the 1918 Flu Epidemic in Dublin

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Perhaps reading a novel about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic is a strange choice during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Still, I found The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue fascinating. The situation in the Dublin hospital featuring a nurse midwife, a doctor, and a volunteer helper in a tiny ward set aside for pregnant women with the flu is beyond dire.

Julia Power works long, hard hours in the tiny ward trying to save women who are pregnant and also suffering from the flu. Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who is being hunted by the police for being a rebel instigator, joins the overworked hospital staff. Then Julia finds Bridie Sweeney, a young orphan from the nearby convent, has been assigned to help in the ward.

Bridie is a refreshing addition to the ward. She has no medical training, but she is quick to learn. Julia is impressed with Bridie’s ability to remember the instructions Julia gives. Also, Bridie instinctively acts in a caring manner to the suffering women.

During the three days covered by the story, mothers and babies die and others are saved, despite the lack of adequate medical supplies. The women work tirelessly to care for the poor women in their ward. A male doctor waltzes in now and then and always wants to try invasive and dangerous treatments on the women. Nurse Julia carefully maneuvers him into making a less drastic decision or persuades him to wait and come back later.

The difficulties of surviving a pregnancy in a time when many women and babies both die during childbirth coupled with the flu epidemic creates a compelling story. Readers feel the compassion and frustration Nurse Powell experiences. She must rely on her wits since she has little help and few supplies.

The story will pull readers into the tragedies and the uplifting success when mother and baby survive not only childbirth, but also the flu itself.

The Book Whisperer Delves into a Russian Historical Novel

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I received copies of Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten from The Book Club Cookbook. At 467 pages, Tsarina could be daunting to some readers. It is, in fact, a very readable story. However, one must be prepared for a great deal of violence—violence against women and children, but also against men, including the Tsar’s own son.

The story opens in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1725. Peter the Great is on his death bed. Who will rule Russia upon his death? Peter the Great’s son is dead, murdered by his own father. That leaves the throne open to whom?

Catherine Alexeyevna, Peter the Great’s second wife, took the throne herself even though she could not read and write. Not only that, Catherine had been born into extreme poverty, an out-of-wedlock child. Her beauty, wit, perceptive intelligence, and ambition took her from being practically a slave and a washerwoman to the Tsarina of Russia.

Peter’s brutality knows no bounds. He had his first wife imprisoned and later had her tongue cut out so she could not speak. Peter continued to take other lovers even as his marriage to Catherine. Often, these other lovers flaunted the relationship in Catherine’s face, but she always remained the victor in the relationship.

Catherine herself was not above cruelty, sabotaging a relationship Peter had with a beautiful young woman who promised him a son.

Catherine gave birth to twelve of the Tsar’s children, but only two girls survived to adulthood. All of the others were stillborn or lived only a short time. One daughter lived to be seven, but she died at the same time as her father, so they were buried the same day.

The words ruthless, powerful, ambitious, splendor, opulence, and cruelty are pervasive throughout the story. Alpsten opens the story with Peter’s death; then she cycles back to Catherine’s beginnings when she was known as Marta.

A series of unfortunate and fortunate events eventually led the beautiful Marta into the Tsar’s realm where she became his mistress. When the Tsar married Marta, he gave her the name Catherine Alexeyevna.

Ellen Alpsten graduated from L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and became a news anchor for Bloomberg TV in London. Tsarina is her debut novel.

Is the Book Whisperer in a Christmas Mood Already?

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Thanks to Sourcebooks, I received a copy of a delightful Christmas book: Grandma’s Sugar Cookie by Rose Rossner and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert. Opening the book to the frontispiece, readers are immediately drawn in by the colorfully decorated cookies and gingerbread men.

Further cheerful, Christmas decorations continue throughout the book. Instead of a variety of children of all ethnicity, Selbert has drawn a number of different animals, starting with two bears who are baking chocolate chip cookies.

The pages continue with each page describing ways grandmothers love their grandchildren. I also like the names Rossner has included for grandmother: Grandma, Grammy, Nana, Mimi, Nanny, Gram Gram, Granny, Gran, and Gigi. My favorite of those is Nanny because that’s what we called my maternal grandmother.

Grandma’s Sugar Cookie ends with a recipe for the cookie, a delightful, sweet ending for this board book.