Monthly Archives: July 2021

The Book Whisperer Insists You Read The Comfort Book

Standard

During the height of the pandemic, I became accustomed to seeking out Zoom interviews with authors. That habit has continued as the pandemic has changed courses and yet continues to rage.  I watched a fascinating interview with Matt Haig about his work. I was primarily interested in learning more about The Midnight Library. At the same time, I found myself drawn into his discussion of his newest book, nonfiction, The Comfort Book.

I looked at some reviews of The Comfort Book and decided I needed to read it. The deciding factor came from this line from Metro, a London newspaper: “The literary equivalent of a steaming hot chocolate on a chilly day…. The idea read for dipping into whenever you need a pick-me-up or change of perspective.”

After more than a year of pandemic with frequent bad news and the continuing rage of a new variant of COVID-19, I needed what Haig is providing in The Comfort Book. The pieces range from a few lines to several paragraphs.

Here are some of my favorite short pieces:

“Nothing is stronger than hope that doesn’t give up.”

“Forward momentum is great. But we also need sideways momentum. For instance, I just sat down and ate a pear. I have no idea what the future holds but I am very grateful that I am alive and able to lie on a sofa and eat a pear.”

“You are here. And that is enough.”

I read a short piece about Nelly Bly that I found interesting enough to pursue other information about her. Haig provides an intriguing quote from Bly: “Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.”

On another page, Haig provides a recipe for peanut butter on toast. Now, I know how to put peanut butter on toast, yet Haig’s description is one that brought a smile to my face. One of the steps is “don’t rush it. Set the mood of appreciation by moving the knife at a steady, Tai Chi kind of pace.” I like that description.

We should be mindful of small acts whether they are in making peanut butter toast or interactions with our fellow human beings.

Near the end of the book, Haig reminds readers that “in troublesome moments, the beauty of life can come into sharper focus. And the things we learn in the bad days serve us in the good times. Just as the promise of good times helps us through the bad. Everything connects.”

The Comfort Book is well worth a reader’s time. Dip into it again and again.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a New Author

Standard

Recently, I discovered NovelNetwork, a site where authors seek to make connections with readers. And what a boon connecting to that site has been. I have been discovering authors I had already read and authors unfamiliar to me, thus opening up a number of new opportunities. My blog as the Book Whisperer is now connected to NovelNetwork. I was fortunate enough to receive a signed copy of Guesthouse for Ganesha by Judith Teitelman who sent me the book along with a handwritten note! Readers will find my unbiased review here.

Guesthouse for Ganesha may not fall into a neat genre.  It contains elements of magic, difficult to explain incidences, and links to the Hindu god Ganesha. Add to this mix WWII and Hitler’s relentless pursuit of Jews, and the story takes readers on a variety of journeys.

The story offers an exploration of Esther Grunspan’s life, starting at age 17 when her groom fails to show up at the wedding. Esther, bereft, flees from her native Poland to Koln, Germany, where she makes a meager living as a seamstress. Esther’s talents as a seamstress keep body and soul together; her constant waking thoughts are on the next job she can secure. Esther’s loss of the love of her life has hardened her heart, pushing her to think only of survival and her own preservation.

Walking through Rheinpark, Esther sees “an elephant-headed man” decked out in vibrant colors. Esther remarks on the “tiny mirrors and tinted glass stitched throughout the material, along with the fringe, sequins, ribbons, tassels, and beads.” For me, this seminal moment in Esther’s life becomes the crux of the story. As Esther continues to view the scene before her, she becomes fixated on the elephant-headed man, for “he, alone, captivated her. Esther felt, in the oddest of ways, he was calling out, seeking her notice—demanding attention.” The elephant-headed man is the Hindu god Ganesha.

Interspersed throughout the story, readers find messages from Ganesha. Thus, Teitelman weaves Esther’s story with Ganesha’s as Esther lives through one difficulty after another, especially as WWII heats up and Jewish people all over Europe are in danger.

Esther pursues her own path, rarely conversing with anyone outside business needs or in shopping for food. In her daily work, she encounters a shoe repair shop. When she goes in to have some shoes covered to match a dress for a client, she meets Abraham. Abraham is struck by Esther’s bearing and Esther sees in Abraham what she believes will be a savior of sorts. If they marry, Esther believes the two of them have a better chance at success and survival than she alone has.

What Esther does not count on is that Abraham is a hail fellow well met and often does little jobs for no pay, infuriating Esther. She also does not count on other mouths to feed when she gives birth to two daughters and later a son. Esther’s relationship with her children reminded me of D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” The mother in that story has “bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. When her children were present, she always felt the centre of her heart go hard.”

Readers may find Esther’s actions hard to understand, particularly regarding Abraham and her children. As noted from the beginning, Esther’s heart has been hardened because of the loss of her true love on her wedding day. She thinks only of survival and of that odd connection she has made to Ganesha. Esther’s escape from Germany as Jews are being rounded up will keep readers on the edge of their seats. She has to escape several times and finds that she must trust people who are not always trustworthy. Yet Esther manages to remain stalwart through all the trials.

Esther’s final journey may surprise readers. I will leave them to discover it.

Guesthouse for Ganesha will create a lively discussion among book club members. Fodder for discussion will include such topics as the following: Ganesha himself, Hindu beliefs, Esther’s difficult life and her even more difficult choices, and WWII. Esther’s talents as a seamstress can also be a topic of discussion. Perhaps her interest in fine fabrics and embroidery becomes the draw to that scene in Rheinpark where Esther first encounters Ganesha.

The Book Whisperer Reads About a Marriage

Standard

In The Sweetest Days, John Hough, Jr., explores a long-running marriage of high school sweethearts, Jackie and Pete. When the story opens, Pete has just published his first novel. Pete and Jackie got to Cape Cod, their hometown, for his first book signing. Complicating matters, Jackie has just been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis is dire.

As they are getting ready to go to the book signing, they encounter a high school classmate. This encounter will set both Jackie and Pete back. At this point, too, Hough chooses to take readers back and forth in time to give the complete story of Pete and Jackie. Hough returns readers to their high school days and an incident that tears Jackie and Pete apart for some time before they do get back together.

Now, Jackie and Pete have been married a long time. Their only daughter is on her own, so the couple must face a new chapter in their lives. The complicating factors include Jackie’s health and the memories of those days gone by, the incident that scarred their high school days.

Book club members will find plenty of discussion topics in The Sweetest Days. Clearly, one of those topics will be the health of a long marriage and what happens when one partner is diagnosed with a terrible illness. Another topic that will generate discussion is the empty-nest syndrome. What happens to a long-married couple when the chicks have left the nest? Certainly, discussions will also center on how to cope with devastating illness.

John Hough has become a novelist although he comes from a long line of journalists that include his father, grandfather, and great-uncle. Hough has published five novels and three nonfiction books.

The Book Whisperer Read A Mystery

Standard

Mysteries are always high on my reading list. Lake Roland by C. Roloson Reese fits the bill well for me. I learned that Charlie Reese was a journalist who learned about the true story of a high school boy’s sudden disappearance. The boy who disappeared was in OK; the story remained with Reese until he decided to re-imagine the story and set it in Baltimore and on Lake Roland, places he knows.

Reese tells readers the story through Tom O’Malley, the missing boy’s best friend. Mark Talbot, the young man who goes missing, simply disappears without a trace. Tom and Mark spent most of their time together. They had spent New Year’s Eve together; a blizzard follows that holiday. After the blizzard, Mark’s father shows up at Tom’s house asking if Tom has seen Mark.

That question from Mark’s father is the beginning of a long nightmare for Tom. He has no idea what has happened to his best friend. Reese explains that he himself “imagined what it would be like – what kind of a hole [a missing best friend] would have in my life.” From there, he explores how Tom would feel and react to such a devastating loss.

Since it takes years to solve the mystery of Mark’s disappearance, Tom feels the effects of the loss throughout his life. It colors the rest of his life until the mystery is eventually solved, quite by accident.

Reese, the journalist turned novelist, has the opportunity to explore the full story of the friendship between Tom and Mark as well as follow Tom into adulthood as he continues to wonder about his missing friend.

Without giving away any spoilers, I can safely tell readers that they will find a satisfying story with an effective conclusion to the mystery. For those in a book club, the discussion will center on friendship, loss, growth, and love.

The Book Whisperer HIGHLY Recommends The Case of the Missing Marquess

Standard

My cousin Ronny suggested I read The Case of the Missing Marquess, an Enola Holmes mystery by Nancy Springer. It is the first in a series of books all featuring the 14-year-old sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.

Mycroft and Sherlock both have left the ancestral home and are living in London. Enola, which is alone spelled backwards, lives with her mother, the Marquess, on the family’s estate. Mycroft and Sherlock live their lives without much thought to their mother or their much younger sister. That is, they ignore the two females UNTIL they learn their mother has disappeared, leaving Enola home alone.

Mycroft and Sherlock descend upon the home. As the elder brother, Mycroft has inherited the estate and becomes Enola’s guardian. He determines that Enola must be dressed as a proper young lady which means corsets and bustles! He also insists she must go to finishing school. Enola detests the new clothing she must wear as well as the thought of leaving home and going to finishing school. Besides all that, she knows she needs to find her mother.

Oddly, Enola’s mother disappears on Enola’s fourteenth birthday, but she has left gifts for her daughter. After the initial shock of realizing her mother has disappeared and on her birthday at that, Enola looks more carefully at her birthday gifts. She examines the book of ciphers her mother has included in the gifts along with a book about the language of flowers. These books turn out to hold valuable clues for Enola and she does not share what she learns with her brothers.

With her brothers safely back in London, Enola develops a plan to find her mother. After figuring out some of the messages hidden in the ciphers her mother has left, Enola finds a great deal of money which her mother has hidden. Enola devises a way to hide the money on her person so that she can make a getaway and search for her missing mother and without her brothers’ knowledge.

This decision involves a great deal of careful planning. Since her brothers are no longer in the home, she can come and go as she pleases without arousing suspicion among the two servants at the home. She puts her plans into action and escapes to London instead of finishing school.

Naturally, Enola will encounter danger and intrigue along the way. She also solves a mystery along the way of the disappearance of Viscount Tweksbury Basilwether, a boy thought to have been kidnapped for ransom.

In London, Enola finds that she is not quite prepared for the constant dangers of a large city. Those dangers will require her cunning intellect to help keep her safe. She must think quickly and on her feet much of the time. Still, she is determined to find her missing mom regardless of the dangers.

Getting to know Enola Holmes provided me with great satisfaction. She is a resourceful young lady who can think logically and carefully about situations, even dangerous ones. She can also act quickly in the face of danger. All in all, Enola is a character others will enjoy. I look forward learning if Enola will locate her mother and to the next adventure: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady.

Nancy Springer has written more than fifty books. Her novels include fantasy, young adult novels, mystery and science fiction. The Case of the Missing Marquess, the first Enola Holmes book, was published in 2006. Springer has continued to write additional books in the series. The Case of the Missing Marquess was also made into a movie for Netflix.

The Book Whisperer Recommends Holes by Louis Sachar

Standard

As an eclectic reader, I read books for all ages. A book club to which I belong reads a juvenile book each August, chosen by the librarian leader. Our book this August is Holes by Louis Sachar. Holes is a book which will make readers angry, thoughtful, sad, and ultimately glad.

Stanley Yelnats has lived under a curse along with previous ancestors also named Stanley Yelnats. The curse began because of “his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather,” or so the family lore goes. Note, too, that Stanley Yelnats is the same name back to front.

Our current Stanley, age 14, finds himself unjustly accused and convicted of a crime of stealing some sneakers that were being auctioned off for charity because they belonged to Clyde, “Sweet Feet,” Livingston, a famous, local baseball player. In truth, the shoes fell from the sky—or more precisely from an overhead bridge—into Stanley’s hands. When the shoes land on him, Stanley assumes they have simply been thrown away and he was in the right place at the right time to catch them.

Stanley’s father experiments with all sneakers to see if he can create a shoe that won’t smell bad. Stanley thinks his father will be glad to have the shoes for his experiments. Stanley’s punishment for supposedly taking the shoes is to be sent to Green Lake, TX, where he must dig holes in the lakebed of the former lake, now totally dry. Other boys are also there working off their punishments, “building character,” and also digging holes.

The adults who oversee the boys’ punishment are mean, hateful, detestable, odious, loathsome, and revolting along with any number of other mean adjectives. They mistreat the boys, denying them water for simple infractions, real and imagined, giving them little food, and no comforts at all during their rest periods.

Readers learn the backstory of Elya Yelnats, Stanley’s Latvian great-great-grandfather, who is the source of the curse. Read the book to discover why the curse was visited upon Elya Yelnats. This backstory is important and will obviously come into play more fully in Stanley’s life as he continues to dig holes for his punishment.

Another story of importance from the past has to do with Kissin’ Kate Barlow, the kissing bandit who lived in the town of Green Lake when it was a green and prosperous community with a lake actually filled with water instead of dry land. That was in 1888. This old story, too, plays an important part in Stanley’s modern-day life.

The boys sent to Green Lake for punishment must dig holes every day, day after day. If they find an “interesting” object, they are to give it immediately to the Warden. Readers will quickly surmise once they know Kissin’ Kate’s story that the Warden hopes the boys find something of real value.

Not only do the boys face rapid punishment for any infraction or perceived laziness, they also face natural dangers like poisonous snakes and poisonous lizards which inhabit the dry lakebed. These are very real dangers which these children regardless of what they may have done should not be subjected to.

As one might expect, an incident occurs which creates quite a stir among the mean, hateful Warden and the other equally odious overseers and which causes great harm. This incident spirals out of control for one particular boy and ensnares Stanley as well because he has a kind heart.

Readers will also discover that sometimes real justice does occur. Read Holes to find out how that happens.

The Book Whisperer Has Been Busy!

Standard

In reading about books as I search for book club choices, I discovered All Together Now by Matthew Norman, an author I had not previously read. Intrigued by Nancy Thayer’s endorsement of the book, “All Together Now is fast, fun, and wise—the perfect summer read,” I checked the book out from my library. It is, indeed, “a fast, fun, and wise” read.

Readers quickly learn that Robbie Malcolm is a self-made billionaire from Baltimore. He’s only thirty-five and has just received terrible news: he has stage-four pancreatic cancer and all treatment options have been exhausted. Robbie Malcolm is dying regardless of how much money he has. This information is no spoiler because it forms the premise for the rest of the story.

The rest of the story hinges on Robbie’s plans to bring his best friends from high school back together and for him to fix their lives before he dies. Blair, Cat, and Wade are the friends who formed a pact in high school, calling themselves the Baltimore Prep Rejects. That name they gave themselves after an incident in high school.

Robbie fully intends to fix his friends’ lives. After all, he has the money to do so and the desire to make them happy before he dies. Readers will quickly see the flaw in Robbie’s plan, but it will take a little time for Robbie to understand it.

Meanwhile, the four friends can enjoy some time together, celebrating their friendship while Robbie is still alive. Readers will have to read the story to discover what is wrong with each friend’s life and what it is that Robbie hopes to fix. Naturally, all of them have secrets which will ultimately be revealed as the story progresses; that’s the fun of reading, discovering what’s going on.

Matthew Norman lives in Baltimore. He received an MFA from George Mason U. He’s published several other novels including Domestic Violets which was nominated for Best Humor Category in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards. That might just be my next read since a little humor would not go amiss in this time!

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Historical Novel

Standard

I won advance copies of The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican from the Book Club Cookbook for Circle of Readers, my book club. And what a treat. Along with winning copies of the book for the book club members, we had an opportunity to meet via Zoom with Emily Hourican who is in Dublin while our members are in OK and one joined from AR!

Emily Hourican began her writing career as a journalist. When she met with us, she explained that she was not interested in the breaking news stories about murder and mayhem, but in the human-interest stories about people.

That interest serves her well in writing The Glorious Guinness Girls, a novel about the three daughters of the Guinness beer empire. The story opens with Aileen, Maureen, and Oonagh as young women on the cusp of adulthood. For purposes of the story and to create a narrator, Hourican adds a non-historical character, Felicity Burke, an impoverished relative, to the mix.

Felicity, Fliss, comes to live with the Guinness family after her father’s death during WWI and her mother’s money woes following her husband’s death. Fliss is almost family, but readers frequently see the difference between Fliss and Aileen, Maureen, and Oonagh as the story progresses. Fliss can tell the story of the Guinness family from inside the home, but still somewhat outside the family. The story takes place following WWI and late into the 1920s.

While the girls attend glamorous parties and hobnob with all sorts of celebrities, Ireland is in turmoil over independence from Great Britain. The Guinness girls are sheltered from the violence and the news by their father. They know little of the world outside the parties and fun they enjoy. Cloe, their mother, suffers from mysterious ailments, keeping her mostly at home. She also encourages competition among her daughters. Of course, the main goal is for each daughter to have a successful coming out season and to find a suitable, rich husband, preferably a titled one.

Hourican has done an enormous amount of research on the Guinness family and the period of time in which the story takes place. She also intersperses information from 1978 as Fliss learns of some documents found at the Guinness former home of Glenmaroon. As Fliss looks through the papers, she reminisces about the glorious Guinness girls and her time with them. This reflection allows readers also an opportunity to reconsider the Guinness girls and their shining past.

In our conversation with Emily Hourican, our book club members discovered she is working on the sequel to The Glorious Guinness Girls and the book will be published in 2022. We look forward to that book as well.

Hourican weaves real events into the story. Along with the Guinness family, she includes references to Nancy Mitford and her sister who marries into the Guinness family, and Evelyn Waugh. Naturally, the Guinness girls travel in exalted circles.

Emily Hourican has published five novels: The Glorious Guinness Girls, The Privileged, White Villa, The Blamed, and The Outsider. Her first book was nonfiction: How to Really Be a Mother.  Emily Hourican is a talented writer; she is also a warm, engaging, and friendly person! Our book club members enjoyed a truly magical hour with her on Zoom.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Dual Story

Standard

Having read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate and Before and After by Lisa Wingate and Judy Christie, I was familiar with Lisa Wingate’s writing talent. When my library’s book club leader chose The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate, I knew I would be in for a lively read.

The Book of Lost Friends relies on a dual story set in Louisiana in 1875 following the Civil War and Louisiana in 1987. The stories are told in two distinct voices: Hannie, a former slave, and Benny, a young teacher in her first teaching assignment in a very poor school.

Wingate learned about the ads former slaves posted in newspapers across the South as they sought to find lost relatives. Placing copies of those real ads throughout the book certainly enhances the story. These are real people torn from their families and trying desperately to locate them. Since it was against the law for slaves to learn to read and write and punishments were severe for infractions, many of the former slaves had to pay someone to write the ad. The ads also cost fifty cents, a princely sum for someone with few resources. Preachers across the South would read the ads in church in hopes of reconnecting relatives and friends.

Wingate is masterful in ending each chapter with a hook that keeps readers looking forward to that next chapter. When Hannie’s chapters end, readers will find a teaser that makes them want to keep reading. At the same time, readers are also eager to continue Benny’s story of the difficulties of teaching impoverished children in a small town where ancient secrets prevail. To mirror Hanie’s chapter endings, Benny’s chapters also end with a hook for readers.

I found Wingate’s writing technique mesmerizing in that I could hardly put the book down. I read breathlessly to find out what happens next in each story. Hannie, Juneau Jane, and Lavinia all face more dangerous situations than Benny simply because of the time in history in which they live and the predicament in which they find themselves. Benny’s difficulties are problematic in that she wishes so much to educate the children in her care despite having almost no resources and dealing with not only the children’s frequent absences from school through no fault of their own, but also their hunger.

In order to engage her students, Benny invites Grannie T, an elderly woman who lives in Augustine, to tell the children some of the history of people who have lived in Augustine. Grannie T’s stories create a spark in the children. Together, Benny and the students devise a plan to study people buried in the town’s cemetery and then to perform a program for the school and townspeople about what they learn.

This project dovetails with Hannie’s story because the children learn about the slaves and slave owners who have lived in Augustine. They discover how their histories are intertwined. Naturally, readers can expect pushback from some of the town’s wealthy white citizens who do not want this history brought to light.

Those who have not yet read the book will wonder how this story plays out in modern-day. Will Benny succeed in reaching the children? And back to the story from 1875, what happens to Hannie, Juneau Jane, and Lavinia?

The Book of Lost Friends will generate much discussion in a book club. The list of topics for discussion could include the horrors of slavery, injustice, poverty, the need for education, and more! If I have one criticism, it would be that Benny does not like cornbread and says it “tastes like sawdust.” Now, characters in books as well real people can have their own tastes in food, but I contend that Benny just hasn’t had good cornbread!

The Book Whisperer Discovers a “Guilty Pleasure” Story

Standard

My friend Theresa who often gives me excellent book recommendations calls Girls with Bright Futures her “guilty pleasure reading.” Quite naturally, that description intrigued me. Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman, the co-authors, have long been friends. Together, they decided they should “write a book and really test the friendship.” In addition to Theresa’s recommendation, I am also intrigued with authors who write together.

Girls with Bright Futures deals with parents of high-achieving high school girls and the girls themselves. The girls all want a spot at Stanford, but Seattle’s Elliot Bay Academy, the elite school the girls attend, has told school administrators that only one spot remains for the students from Elliot Bay at Stanford in the coming year.

This knowledge increases the competition among the parents as well as the girls. Knowing only one more spot exists for students from Elliot Bay creates a seriously ruthless competition. Who will win? And at what cost?

Readers will quickly see the parallels to recent news stories about Hollywood celebrities who paid huge sums of money to get their children into prestigious universities. In those cases, the parents falsified their daughters’ accomplishments, especially in sports. In Girls with Bright Futures, the situations get quickly out of hand and become dangerous.

Girls with Bright Futures clearly plays on recent news stories. It will also generate much discussion in book clubs across the US. Readers will find a great deal to discuss. Helicopter parents can be the start of one discussion. Pushing students to the brink of exhaustion in doing not only schoolwork, but also extracurricular activities to make resumes stand out will be another topic. Secrets and lies will form a major topic as well.