Monthly Archives: June 2021

The Book Whisperer Discovers Hilderbrand

Standard

I had never read a book by Elin Hilderbrand until recently. I watched an interview with her on CBS This Morning. I found her warm and engaging, so I decided to read her most recent book: Golden Girl. It turned out to be a good decision!

Vivian Howe, a successful author of thirteen beach novels and mother to three nearly grown children, anticipates the publication of her most recently completely novel. As Vivian jogs along the road near her Nantucket home, a hit and run driver knocks Vivian into the side of the road, killing her almost instantly. This fact is no spoiler since it happens quite early in the book and sets the rest of the novel.

As Vivian lies on the side of the road, Martha, her “person,” appears to explain to Vivian what has happened. Vivian is in disbelief and asks, “Is there a place on your form, a box you can check, so that they save me at the hospital?” Sadly, Martha, a realist, responds, “It’s too late. You’re dead.” That lends an air of finality to the matter.

Martha does tell Vivian that since the death was so sudden, Martha will “grant you a seventy-five VW and a three-N.” Martha explains that will allow Vivian a seventy-five days window from which she can watch her children. That will give Vivian until Labor Day. Three-N means Vivian will have three nudges to use with her children to nudge them into the right direction, but only three, so Vivian must use the nudges wisely.

The story is partly a mystery because readers do not know who hit and killed Vivian. Several suspects are questioned; still, the police are stymied for a time. What unfolds is more about Vivian’s children.

Willa is married and expecting her first child. She has had several early miscarriages, so the pregnancy is still a concern. Carson, the middle child and second daughter, has struggled since her parents divorced several years ago. She acted out as a teenager and is still trying to figure out who she is as a young adult. Leo, the youngest and only son, has just graduated from high school and is preparing for college in the fall. He, too, has had issues because of the divorce.

Naturally, Vivian is worried about her children and how they will fare without her. The divorce from their father occurred because he fell in love with a much younger woman, who was working for him at the time.  Vivian makes far more than JP, her ex-husband, so she pays alimony and child support.

Cruz is another young man in Vivian’s life. He is her son Leo’s best mate and has spent a lot of time with the family. Vivian considers him another son, especially after his mother dies of cancer. Sadly, Cruz finds Vivian’s body on the side of the road and calls the paramedics. Does that make him a suspect?

I will let you readers unfold the story for yourselves. Obviously, astute readers will think of Our Town as Vivian watches her children navigate the world without her. How will Vivian use her three nudges and will they make a difference in the children’s lives?

I truly enjoyed the descriptions of food throughout the book. I knew to look for those descriptions because on CBS This Morning Gayle King asked Hilderbrand if she had ever thought about writing a cookbook since she includes so much about food in her books. Hilderbrand responded that she would like to write a cookbook in the future. Right now, she concentrates on writing and publishing a book each year.

Elin HIlderbrand graduated from The Johns Hopkins U and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Nantucket is her home, and it becomes a character in the novels.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Beach Read

Standard

Looking for a light read, one that will allow you to take a variety of vacations with Poppy and Alex? People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry will be just the ticket you need then. Although I found the title a bit misleading, I enjoyed the story and the friendship between Poppy and Alex, especially as it turns into romance. While not my usual fare, I enjoyed Poppy and Alex’s story.

Poppy and Alex are from two parts of the same town in Ohio. They went to different high schools and their paths did not cross until they both went to the same college. As freshmen, they do meet briefly, but they don’t get to know one another except to acknowledge they are from two parts of the same town.

At the end of freshman year, though, Poppy’s friend asks Poppy if someone can hitch a ride home with her. The person needing the ride turns out to be—ta da—Alex. Over the course of the ride home, the two get to know one another. Poppy is full of questions. Sometimes Alex is reluctant to answer because Poppy’s questions seem off the wall to him.

Poppy is outgoing, loves vintage clothing and desires to travel EVERYWHERE. Alex is reserved, preferring to stay home and read a good book to being out and about. Still, that car ride bonds the two as friends.

They begin to take vacations together, at first on shoestring. Later, Poppy’s job as a journalist for a travel magazine allows them to travel more luxuriously. Still, they remain just friends. Poppy realizes she would like more from her relationship with Alex, but does he want the same thing?

As a result, Poppy proposes one last vacation together in the summer and that they go to Palm Springs, CA. Now, summer is not the best time to choose Palm Springs as a vacation spot because of the heat. However, there is an added incentive for both Alex and Poppy since Alex’s brother is getting married there.

Poppy’s plans, as one might expect, do run into problems. Still, Poppy is sure she can overcome the difficulties. So what will happen on this supposed last vacation for Poppy and Alex?

Henry’s book received a great deal of acclaim even before it was published. It was named a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 by Newsweek, Oprah Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and BuzzFeed, to name a few.

Emily Henry has written books for young adults as well as Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation for adults.

The Book Whisperer Likes Animals

Standard

How to be a Good Creature: a Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery would most likely not have been on my to-be-read list had it not been for one of my book clubs. Chosen for our July discussion, How to be a Good Creature is a beautifully illustrated book about Montgomery’s encounters with thirteen animals. Rebecca Green created the illustrations, interspersed throughout the book. Montgomery has also included some photographs.

Montgomery begins by explaining that even as a child, she wanted to be an animal, specifically a dog. Discovering this wish cannot be leaves her bereft until she learns she can spend a great deal of time WITH animals.

Through the stories of her encounters with specific animals, Montgomery recounts what it means to be a good creature as she learns from the animals themselves and passes that knowledge along to readers.

The Boston Globe has called Sy Montgomery “part Emily Dickinson, part Indiana Jones.” Montgomery has not only worked with and studied animals like the silverback gorillas in Zaire, she has also worked in a “pit swarming with 18,000 snakes in Canada,” a bit of news I can hardly bear to read!

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Mystery

Standard

Of late, I’ve been on a mystery -reading kick. The Fixer’s Daughter by Hy Conrad is another in that genre. I enjoy figuring out the mystery in a novel; at the same time, I truly like a story that takes me on a merry chase, leading me down one path only to turn abruptly and take me to another.

Conrad has penned a story of father and daughter, of loyalty, of secrets, and destruction. When Buddy McFee, an influential Texas politician and businessman, falls from grace, he becomes a “fixer.” He dissolves problems. His fall occurs through an accident caused by Callie, his daughter, but readers will have to read the book to discover what that is. No spoilers here!

In his role as fixer, Buddy runs up against his daughter once again when he tries to hide a terrible crime for someone else. In her role as investigative reporter, an ingenious plot device, Callie finds herself at odds with her father. Add another dilemma to the story: Buddy is in the first stages of dementia. Is this a secret that can be kept? And at what cost?

Often, as I’ve noted before, mysteries don’t always make good discussions for book clubs. Once the readers have discovered the ending, there is not much to say. The Fixer’s Daughter brings in some additional talking points: family, loyalty, political downfall, and power. As a result, a book club would have much to discuss.

Hy Conrad has received a Scribe Award and three Edgar nominations. He was also a writer and co-executive producer for the popular Monk TV series, a Book Whisperer’s favorite. Conrad also worked on White Collar, another favorite TV show.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Glorious Debut Novel

Standard

When I am anticipating the reading of a new book, I keep my reading of reviews by other people to a minimum. I do need some blurb or short enticement, of course, or I would not know about the book at all. Debut author Marianne Cronin’s The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot crossed my reading radar. I was immediately intrigued by this blurb from Publishers Weekly: “Cronin’s touching debut is a joyous celebration of friendship, love, and life.”

When I received a copy of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, I sat down and started reading, ignoring the other stack of books I should have been reading for a committee meeting. And I am glad I began reading immediately. Seventeen-year-old Lenni is hospitalized with a terminal illness, a term the nurses are trying to change to life-limiting.

Lenni, quite aware of her life-limiting illness, still makes the best of her situation in the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. She begins visiting Father Arthur in the hospital’s chapel. Their conversations are funny and touching. She asks him hard questions and he tries honestly to answer. Lenni needs a nurse escort in order to go to the chapel and a nurse must also return an hour later to help Lenni back to her room. This requirement sometimes causes problems when the nurses are short-staffed or extra busy with other patients.

When a temporary secretary, an art major, has an opportunity to apply for a grant so the hospital could receive art supplies and an art teacher, the temp does so with gusto. The grant is awarded. Sadly, the hospital director hires Pippa, another art teacher, rather than the temp. Still, setting up the art room for patients will lead to the friendship between Lenni and Margot, aged 83. As Lenni points out, between the two of them, Lenni and Margot, they have one hundred years.

At first, Pippa is reluctant to allow Lenni to meet at the same time with the senior patients. The classes have been divided according to age. Lenni, however, does not enjoy the art class with her peers and insists she wants to attend with the seniors so she can be with Margot. At last, Pippa relents.

During their art class, Lenni suggests that they create 100 pictures to commemorate the 100 years between them. As they draw their pictures, they tell each other the stories that make up both of their lives. As a reader, I found their sharing of life stories fascinating. They do not choose to tell the stories in chronological order. This lack of order is not confusing, however. It simply allows Lenni and Margot to relay their pasts to one another through the pictures they are drawing. Lenni finds that Margot is the far better artist, so she concentrates on writing up their stories.

Since I lost a dear, long-time friend unexpectedly recently, I might have expected to find The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot too difficult to read. After all, both Lenni and Margot, our main characters, are in the hospital. Lenni tells us she has a life-limiting illness and Margot is being treated for a heart ailment at age 83. I could expect the outcome to be one or both deaths. Because the story is about love, friendship, a bond between two unlikely people, and celebrating little joys, I found it an absorbing read and one that appealed to my heart.

Marianne Cronin earned a PhD in applied linguistics from the U of Birmingham. I enjoyed discovering that she writes with her rescue cat “sleeping under her desk.” Cronin is also an improv performer in the West Midlands, England, where she lives. Learning that bit of news about Cronin makes me understand the humor that is sprinkled throughout The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.

The Book Whisperer Finds Delight

Standard

The Book Whisperer Looks Forward

Standard

I have a number of books on my TO BE READ list. What avid reader doesn’t have an ever-growing list of potential books? After discovering the NovelNetwork, I began looking at the authors in the group. The NovelNetwork aims to connect authors and readers. Now, that’s a site I can value as a reader and book club leader.

As I scrolled through the authors who are members of NovelNetwork, I discovered several with whom I am already familiar. My book club read Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris. We had a lively discussion of the story. I recently chose The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman for an upcoming book club discussion. I had previously read The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Waxman with great interest. The audio and print versions of Library of Legends by Janie Chang had captured my imagination. Jennifer Dupee’s imaginative story, The Little French Bridal Shop, also caught my attention.  Then there is the heart-pounding story by Julie Clark, The Last Flight.

So those are books I’ve read by authors in the NovelNetwork. Now, I have a new category on my TBR list: books by other authors in the NovelNetwork.

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland joins the list. The novel has already received acclaim. I limit the reviews I read about a book before I read the book for myself. I did note that USA Today called Florence Adler Swims Forever “the perfect summer read.” That should be enough enticement.

In watching an interview with William Kent Krueger, I learned about Dianna Rostad because Krueger praised her debut novel, You Belong Here Now. I was immediately intrigued because I admire and respect Krueger and his writing. That recommendation alone put Rostad’s debut novel on my list.

Books in or about libraries and bookstores always pique my interest. Therefore, The Last Bookshop in Paris by Madeline Martin ranks high on my list. It also takes place in 1939 as the war is heating up and Hitler is poised to invade.

Finally, Stephanie Dray’s The Women of Chateau Lafayette is another book on the TBR list. I had already read America’s First Daughter and, in fact, had chosen it for a book club discussion. When I saw The Women of of Chateau Lafayette, I knew I must add it to my list.

I look forward to delving into all four of these novels and reporting soon on my blog about them.

The Book Whisperer Reads a Mystery

Standard

Readers seeking a story with atmosphere, fascinating characters, and enough surprises to keep them guessing should look no further than The Redhead in the Cove by Scott Addeo Young and Edmond G. Addeo. This grandfather/grandson duo has whipped up a gripping story.

The story opens in San Francisco when Freddy Davis floats along in his kayak in McCovey Cove behind Oracle Park. His main mission is to catch a ball flying out of the park. He has a good chance when he sees a foul ball heading toward the water. Unfortunately, someone else snags the ball because he is in a motorized boat, thus faster than Freddy in his kayak.

Still, moving toward where the ball would have landed, Freddy sees something strange in the water. It looks like red seaweed, but that cannot be. The sight was intriguing enough that Freddy wants a closer look. What he finds will change him; he sees “the long red hair of a naked dead woman wedged face down amid the rocks.”

The story then turns to the police investigation which is colored by the fact that the dead woman, MaryLou Kowalski, a nurse, has been having an affair with Johnny Lynch, San Francisco Police inspector. MaryLou was a married woman. Her autopsy shows she did not drown, but was dead before she was in the water.

To clear himself, Johnny Lynch seeks help from his long-time friend Steve Lombardi, a PI. Lombardi and Lynch had been partners in an earlier time.

As Steve ponders MaryLou’s murder, he wonders if he could trace the body’s movements by understanding the flow of the water. That is, could he trace whether “a washed-up body at Point A could be traced to having entered the water at Point B.” Such information would be invaluable in helping him toward the next step in the investigation.

Steve’s investigation leads him across the US and into northern Louisiana. That also means a number of suspects emerge as Steve continues his investigation.

Because of some of The Redhead in the Cove reminds me of the noir mysteries of the past. There are many references to “long, wet lunches” and frequently characters drink alcohol together in sleazy dives.

To give readers the full story, Young and Addeo provide flashbacks to MaryLou and her life with a variety of people, thus introducing other suspects.

Often, mysteries do not make good book club discussions. Readers of The Redhead in the Cove will find the number of suspects fodder for discussion along with the wide range of locations from San Francisco to Louisiana.

Scott Addeo Young lives in the Bay Area, so he is drawing on local color. He has a degree in English from the U of CA at Santa Barbara.

Ed Addeo, an engineer, gave up his career in engineering to become a writer because he is convinced that he is “F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Riveting Read

Standard

Of late, I’ve been reading thrillers. Today, I inhaled The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. The story instantly grabbed my attention and held it as I read breathlessly. I had read a few notes about The Last Thing He Told Me, just enough to interest me in reading the story. And I am glad I had read so little beforehand.

Without any preconceived notions, I found myself swept into the story, eager to discover the truth.

Owen and Hannah Michaels appear to have the best marriage possible. Owen, a widower, has a sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey has been used to having her father’s complete attention and is not quite happy about having Hannah invade their lives. Hannah does her best to make inroads into Bailey’s life, delicately, not being pushy. For the most part, however, Hannah’s attempts are brushed aside. Still, Hannah hopes for a change at some point.

Meanwhile, Hannah and Owen are blissfully happy. Owen works for a large startup tech firm and Hannah is a woodturner. She takes a piece of wood and molds it into something beautiful and useful. She has also begun making rustic furniture along with the decorative pieces. Hannah learned the craft of wood turning from her beloved grandfather. She describes herself this way: “I turn wood. That’s what I do for work…. I like to describe it as sculpting, but instead of sculpting clay, I sculpt wood.”

One evening, expecting Owen to come home from work and take Bailey to play practice at school, Hannah recreates a special dish for Bailey in the hopes that Bailey will warm to her a bit. Both Hannah and Bailey find their lives upside down that day. A twelve-year-old girl delivers a note on yellow notepad paper to Hannah. It is from Owen and it reads simply: “Protect her.”

As Hannah waits outside the school for Bailey, she listens to NPR and learns that Avett Thompson, CEO of the tech firm where Owen works, has been arrested on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Is Owen also implicated? Is that why he has disappeared? What is Hannah to think?

When she comes to the car after practice, Bailey brings a large duffel bag and another yellow piece of paper. The bag contains hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bailey reads the note to Hannah: “Bailey, I can’t help this make sense. I’m so sorry. You know what matters about me. And you know what matters about yourself. Please hold on to it. Help Hannah. Do what she tells you. She loves you. We both do. You are my whole life, Dad.”

What can Hannah and Bailey make of these two strange notes?

Life for both Hannah and Bailey becomes stranger and stranger. They are uncertain how to move forward without some answers. Grady Bradford, a US Marshall out of Texas, is the first to question Hannah. Then two FBI agents arrive at her workshop. Hannah has to figure out whom she can trust and what to do next.

Determined to discover the truth and possibly find Owen at the same time, Hannah and Bailey fly to Austin, TX, in pursuit of some answers. They are going on a wing and a prayer because they have almost nothing except a faint memory Bailey has of being in a wedding when she was about four years old. Now, that is a tenuous sign!

As I am fond of mentioning, I have a quite willing suspension of disbelief, so I had no problems with Hannah’s rush to seek answers in Austin even with a tenuous link. Hannah is resourceful and she has Bailey’s best interests at heart. Clearly, she would like to find Owen too; as she discovers bits and pieces, she may realize that is not possible, or will she find him?

Readers looking for a book that will transport them into a haunting mystery, choose The Last Thing He Told Me; you will not be disappointed.

The Last Thing He Told Me is the first book I’ve read by Laura Dave; now I will be seeking out Eight Hundred Grapes and Hello Sunshine to round out my reading.

The Book Whisperer Is Enthralled

Standard

Kelly, librarian at South Broken Arrow Library, and I have been exchanging book recommendations. Her latest recommendation for me is The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. Of late, I’ve read several gripping stories that kept me on the edge of my seat as I quickly turned pages. Those have included The Last Flight by Julie Clark, Recipe for the Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, and Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews.

The Night Swim features Rachel Krall, a true-crime podcaster. She earned her fame when her podcast and investigations set an innocent man free from prison. Her current investigation involves a crime that is tearing a small town apart. As Rachel watches the trial, she also becomes involved in another crime, committed twenty-five years ago in the same town.

Teenager Jenny Stills supposedly drowned and the death was determined to be a “tragic accident.” Hannah Stills, Jenny’s younger sister, knows the truth about Jenny’s death; she has been unable to act on that information all these years. Shortly after Jenny’s death, Hannah’s mother dies of cancer, leaving Hannah an orphan. She was quickly taken into foster care by a loving couple who soon adopt her and move her far away from Neapolis where her mother and sister are buried.

Hannah has listened to Rachel’s podcast and has reached out asking Rachel to investigate Jenny’s death. Unfortunately, Rachel receives many such requests and does not act on Hannah’s messages. However, when Hannah sees Rachel will be in Neapolis to cover the sensational rape trial, Hannah renews her efforts to make Rachel see the urgency of finding Jenny’s killer too.

Readers discover the story through Rachel’s point of view, Hannah’s letters and notes to Rachel, and Rachel’s podcasts. These three methods allow readers to develop a full picture. Naturally, Rachel finds herself in danger, but she is resourceful and manages to escape the dangers. She is also persistent and will not give up as she pursues the truth both in the current case and in the cold case of Jenny’s death.

The small town where families have lived for generations and where secrets run deep becomes another character in the story. What long-held secrets will have to be exposed so that people know the truth and justice can be served?

While I did read a prosecutor’s complaints about legal procedures in Goldin’s novel, I don’t have his/her professional knowledge and I also have a willing suspension of disbelief. The story works for me. I became engrossed in the novel and read breathlessly to discover the truth about both the current case and the cold case.

Megan Goldin’s first novel is The Escape Room which received a great deal of attention. Goldin has been a reporter in the Middle East and Asia for Reuters, the Associated Press, and ABC.