Monthly Archives: May 2021

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends The Venice Sketchbook

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Some time ago, I discovered The Royal Spyness, a series by Rhys Bowen. Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is thirty-fourth in line for the British throne. She can perform “a perfect curtsey,” but she is flat broke. Unfortunately, she cannot work either since she is part of the royal family.  The series is delightful and Georgie gets herself int a variety of mysteries.

Bowen also writes another series featuring Molly Murphy, an Irish immigrant in NYC around the turn of the century. This series, too, finds Molly in various difficult situations and involved in mysteries.

In addition to her books in a series, Rhys Bowen has also written standalone novels which include The Victory Garden, The Tuscan Child, and In Farleigh Field. Her most recent standalone book is The Venice Sketchbook which offers readers pure delight, a highly readable story that will enthrall readers.

The Venice Sketchbook opens with Juliet, Lettie, in Venice with her great-aunt and follows with Caroline Grant, our modern-day heroine. Later, Caroline receives a difficult assignment from her great-aunt Lettie, an artist. When Lettie dies, Caroline receives her aunt’s sketchbook, three unusual keys, and the whispered word, Venice.

Caroline faces difficulties at home because her husband has left her for a rock star who is now in the US. When Teddy, Caroline’s son goes to NY to visit his dad, the father tries to keep Teddy. Caroline knows she cannot get Teddy home right away because he and his dad and the rock star were all in NYC when the airplanes flew into the twin towers. Josh, Teddy’s dad, claims Teddy is terrified of flying after hearing about the airplanes.

Caroline takes a leave from her job and goes to Venice to see what she can discover about her great-aunt’s past. Instead of a letter with some kind of instructions, Lettie has left Caroline with only the sketchbook and the unusual keys. With those items, Caroline must put together her aunt’s past and perhaps discover a new future for herself.

The Venice Sketchbook moves smoothly between Lettie’s story of her early trip to Venice in 1928 and her later art scholarship which allows her to return in 1938 and Caroline’s modern-day visit to Venice. Luckily, Caroline is inquisitive and refuses to take no for an answer once she has made a discovery of what the keys fit: a safety deposit box and an apartment in a building currently under renovation and owned by a wealthy family, the Da Rossi family.

Rather than describe the events that Lettie and Caroline experience in their separate journeys, I will say, instead, that readers must read the book to discover for themselves what happens. Suffice it to say, readers will encounter mystery, intrigue, spying during the war, and love. And as Caroline unravels her aunt’s past, she finds a future for herself as well.

Book clubs will find both Lettie’s and Caroline’s stories compelling. Topics for discussion can include star-crossed lovers, the horror of war and what it does to separate people, and family secrets. In addition, other subjects such as Caroline’s divorce and Josh’s attempts to keep their son away from Caroline will provide book club members with additional fodder.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Delightful Story Set in the NYC Public Library

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Dear Readers, often, we discover a book that really grabs our attention and holds it all the way through, perhaps even when we did not expect that kind of absorption. The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis certainly has done that for me. I found myself reading breathlessly, not wanting to stop until I found out more.

As an eclectic reader, I read in a variety of genres and for all ages. Recently, I read The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, a book for tweens. The story centers on the Fedeler family who lived in the New York City Public Library. Although The Story Collector is fiction, Tubb based the story on the real family and used details from the family’s stories to create a lively story.

Fiona Davis has created a fictional family living in the New York Public Library in 1913 along with a dual story line in 1993 about the granddaughter of the family who now works for the library. Davis incorporates some of the information about the Fedeler family in her fictional family. For example, the children played baseball in the library after hours and used books as bases. They also feared a red-bearded ghost who was said to haunt the building.

Fiona Davis has created lively characters who capture the imagination and keep readers interested in what will happen next. In the 1913 portion, Davis has made Laura Lyons a stay-at-home, supporting her husband and caring for Pearl and Harry, her two children. However, she is a college graduate and aspires to becoming a journalist. She manages to get into a journalism master’s program at Columbia. Laura truly enjoys the challenges of being a student again even if the professor gives all the meaty story assignments to the men and gives the women fluffy pieces to explore.

Laura, however, turns the tables on the professor and digs out weighty stories from the assignments she has. On the home front, however, Laura faces additional challenges because her husband is not supportive of her return to school. While Pearl excels in school and in making friends, Harry struggles with both. Jack, Laura’s husband, also faces trouble at work because highly prized first edition books are going missing. Despite changing the locks and restricting keys to certain individuals, the books continue to go missing.

Fast forward to the 1993 time period and Sadie Donovan, Laura’s granddaughter, now works as a reference librarian and enjoys finding the facts to answer tough questions that patrons pose about subjects of all kinds. Troubling events are occurring in the library once again as first edition books are going missing. Sadie has not revealed her connection to the library in that her grandparents lived in the library in 1913. She does not want to be a suspect in the thefts.

Of course, finally, Sadie must tell the library’s director about her connection to Laura and Jack Lyons. Sadly, that puts her under suspicion. It also makes her determined to find the  real thief. I must say that I did not suspect the person who turns out to be the thief, but I did figure out a few other mysteries in the story. That did not detract from the story itself, however.

I found the story to be satisfying and enjoyable. A book club would find some value in pairing the tween story, The Story Collector, with The Lions of Fifth Avenue as a contrast.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Renewed Interest in Napoleon

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As a book club leader, I look up information on authors and the books they write as I explore offerings for my book clubs. Some authors maintain robust websites with questions suitable for a book club discussion and some background on both the author and the book itself. That makes the site extremely useful. Information from the author adds to the discussion. When authors are also willing to join book clubs virtually, that makes another reason to choose the book. One of the few upsides of the pandemic is that it has created many, many more opportunities for authors and readers to connect on virtual platforms.

In promoting Finding Napoleon, Margaret Rodenberg, https://mrodenberg.com/, provides a wealth of material on her website. Along with questions for discussion, she also gives a brief history of principal characters in the novel—real people from history. In a letter to readers, Rodenberg explains her love of story telling and how she would put herself to sleep from an early age by telling herself stories. Those early days have created a writer. Rodenberg is also willing to meet virtually with book clubs.

Rodenberg writes Finding Napoleon as if Albine de Montholon, Napoleon’s final lover, is writing the book. Rodenberg reimagines a slice of history through Albine de Montholon’s eyes as she writes about her experiences with Napoleon. At the same time, Albine persuades Napoleon to finish his romantic manuscript begun in his youth.

Rodenberg has done her homework and she adds additional fuel for discussion with some facts about Napoleon. We frequently think of Napoleon as being short, but he was 5’7”, average height for the time. He was 5’2” in French feet, but 5’7” in British measurements. Too, British cartoonists portrayed Napoleon as short, thus developing the “Napoleonic complex” tag that has stuck throughout history.

Margaret Rodenberg has long been interested in writing, but, as with many others, her path did not lead directly to writing. After studies in French and Russian at Georgetown U, she took a sales job with Xerox, thus gaining a wide computer knowledge. After a variety of other ventures in widely different workplaces, she turned to writing full time.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Book for Poolside Reading

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Okay, here is a reminder that not only should one not judge a book by its cover, but that one should also not judge a book by blurbs on the back—at least not always. The blurb at the top of the back cover on Summer Club by Katherine Dean Mazerov reads this way: “Poop [my italics] in the pool. Sex on the diving board. A pot-smoking snack bar manager….” Most of the time, I would probably not pick up Summer Club to read after that description. However, I did read it.

Lydia Phillips has left her career as a journalist to be a stay-at-home mom. Katherine Dean Mazerov calls on her own experience of taking time out from being a journalist herself to become a stay-at-home mom. Mazerov imbues Lydia with a natural curiosity found in any journalist and that curiosity coupled with her innate ability to sniff out a story sets up Summer Club as a rousing good time.

Summer Club is Mazerov’s debut novel. Her prose is crisp and clear. Mazerov shows Lydia manages the neighborhood swim and tennis club. She must deal with the pettiness of members who complain about everything and about nothing. She has to call on her inner strength to keep peace among the members. As the story continues, Lydia also encounters a darkness she never expected: a dead body, a mystery, fraud, deception, and a bit of hilarity as well to counteract any darkness.

Readers will enjoy the romp. Mazerov, http://www.katherinedeanmazerov.com, provides readers with a detailed synopsis on her site; she also includes questions useful for book club members. That’s a plus when one prepares to lead a discussion.

I received a free copy of Summer Club from BookTrib, https://booktrib.com/; receiving the free copy in no way influenced my review.

The Book Whisperer Gives 5 Stars

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For those looking for a book about love and loss and redemption, The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina will be just the book needed. Inspired by the aftermath of the earthquake off the coast of Japan that then resulted in a massive tsunami on March 11, 2011, The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World takes readers through the grief of so much loss and back on the road to a recovery.

Yui is a radio host; during the tsunami, she lost both her mother and her young daughter, leaving her completely alone and bereft. One day on her radio show, a man tells the story of visiting a phone booth that sits in a garden. The phone is not connected; in fact, it is an old black, rotary phone. However, people have begun going to the phone booth and dialing a number and talking “into the wind” to their lost loved ones.

When Yui hears the story, she takes an unprecedented two days off to investigate the phone booth for herself. There, she meets Fujita-san, a stranger who is also looking for the phone booth. He wants to give advice to his three-year-old daughter who is still living, but she is mute after her mother’s death in the tsunami. He hopes he will get that advice by calling on his dead wife through the disconnected phone.

Yui’s encounter with Fujita-san reminds her that “we need to possess joy in abundance before we can bestow it upon somebody else.” Yui also finds herself laughing out loud for the first time in a very long time.

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World reminds me of a quite different story by Calvin Trillin: Tepper Isn’t Going Out. Murray Tepper lives in NYC; he sits in his car to read the newspaper. Unfortunately, he cannot read in peace because people keep stopping to ask if he will be leaving the parking spot where his car sits. No, Tepper isn’t going out; he simply wants to read the newspaper in his car. Then people begin getting into the car with Tepper and telling him their problems, seeking his advice. They are convinced he knows something they don’t know and that he can tell them.

Another story along those lines is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Harold Fry starts out to mail a postcard and decides not to mail it at the nearby postal box, but to take it to the next one. Once there, he continues his journey, deciding that he will deliver the postcard in person. Along the way, others join his pilgrimage.

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World is a beautiful story woven out of the grief that so many suffered following the tsunami. People seek solace and connection to those loved ones who died, particularly when the death is unexpected and the loss is so great. These statistics from Hinansyameibo.katata.info show the enormity of the tsunami:

Confirmed deaths: 15,897

Missing: 2,534

Displaced: 53,709

Disaster-related deaths: 3,701

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World tells readers of grief and loss; it also brings hope.

Laura Imai Messina lives and works in Tokyo and Kamakura. She has a master’s in literature from the International Christian University of Tokyo and a PhD in comparative literature from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Feel-Good Story

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More and more lately, I’ve stepped outside my usual genres and have chosen a book I would not normally read. In need of a happy story with minimal conflict, I chose The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert. I had read Reichert’s The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go a few months ago and enjoyed it. Another of her titles intrigues me, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake although I have not yet read it.

The Kindred Spirits Supper Club provides readers with a family of women who aid ghosts in their transition out of this world. Ghosts who have unfinished business need help with that so they can move on. Then there is Molly, a ghost whose unfinished business cannot be finished, so she is a permanent fixture in the family.

Sabrina desperately wants to get away from the family business, so she earns a degree in journalism and moves away from Wisconsin which is the only place she and her mother can see the ghosts. Unfortunately, when she loses her job through no fault of her own, she has to move home to the Wisconsin Dells and take a menial job driving tourists in a duck boat. Thus, the ghosts return to her field of vision.

At an indoor waterpark with her two nieces and nephew, Sabrina has a chance encounter with Ray, a handsome guy at the park with his sister. Sabrina has no interest meeting Ray, but unexpected circumstances put them together. When the situation is controlled—two men warring over who gets a chair—Ray asks Sabrina out. She refuses and hurriedly gathers up her young charges and they leave.

Readers, you know these two must meet again, but they have only first names. Sabrina does know that Ray owns the Otter Club, a local supper club, but she is determined not to seek him out. Then she encounters him in the checkout line at a super center and again at the library. Molly, the persistent ghost, insists fate is putting Sabrina and Ray together.

The Kindred Spirits Supper Club offers family relationships, family secrets, ghosts, and a love story. It is a feel-good story and who doesn’t need one of those now and again?

Amy Reichert, https://www.amyereichert.com/, is a writer, amateur chef, wife, and mother. She “loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner.”