Monthly Archives: February 2022

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Debut Novel


As noted, belonging to a book club means often reading a book I would not have chosen for myself. Most of the time those choices turn out to be interesting and worthwhile even though I did not choose them myself! When I started reading The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin, I had just finished a book someone else had chosen, a book I did not like, so I entered into The Music of Bees a bit skeptical.

Garvin introduces three characters in the first three chapters: Jacob, Jake, Stevenson, Alice Holzman, and Harry Stokes. At first, I had trouble seeing how these characters would come together; perhaps, I was impatient. Too, the story takes place in Hood River, OR, and Harry and his mom had left the South for NYC when Harry was a child. I was troubled about how Harry, now in his early 20s, got to Oregon from NYC. Again, perhaps impatience made me ask that question. In time, all comes clear.

Alice works for the county, but her heart is in raising bees and hoping to own an orchard as her parents had done. Alice is forty-four, widowed. She has closed herself off from society, interacting with others only as necessary. Alice meets Jake, a recent high school graduate, when Jake is wheeling himself in his wheelchair along the highway. Alice, her truck loaded with newly purchased bees, does not notice Jake’s wheelchair. Luckily, Jake is simply knocked over and unhurt; the chair is not even damaged.

Alice, of course, is upset and eager to help Jake. When she takes Jake home, she meets Jake’s mother, a pious woman who loves Jake, and Ed, Jake’s father, a hateful man who loves no one. Alice keeps thinking about Jake and his predicament of living with a hateful father and being wheelchair-bound. When she discovers Jake’s backpack left in her truck, she has another reason to see him again to see how he is getting along.

Readers can already tell that Alice wants to help Jake, but she is not sure how she can. After a second encounter with Ed, Jake’s father, when she returns the backpack, she impulsively offers Jake a job, at least temporarily, on her bee farm.

So how does Harry Stokes fit into this story? Harry is a lost soul. His mother and stepfather move to FL, leaving Harry at loose ends. He decides to go to Hood River because a high school friend has invited him. When Harry arrives, he discovers the friend did not really mean for Harry to take him up on the invitation. Harry does have a great-uncle, a man also named Harry, who lives in an ancient trailer in the woods near Hood River. Harry goes there and the uncle takes him in, again another temporary fix. Harry has always been trusting of others and that has gotten him into trouble when people he believes are his friends betray him or persuade him to do something for them that is illegal.

The story is full of complications and satisfactory resolutions. Cheney, a dog, even enters the picture, much to Jake’s delight because Cheney is his dog. He thought Cheney was lost to him forever because Ed had taken the dog away when Jake was in the hospital after the accident that left him a paraplegic. The Music of Bees reminds me of a short story by Dylan Thomas: “After the Fair.” In that story, a young, unmarried woman has a baby and has been turned out by her family. She and her child find a family with a group of other outsiders at a county fair. In both cases, family consists of those who come together, working toward common goals and helping one another. Blood doesn’t define family, kindness, and friendship do.

The Music of Bees is Eileen Garvin’s debut novel. She herself lives in Hood River, OR, and is a beekeeper. She is also a freelance writer.


The Book Whisperer Reads a Fantasy for the Library’s Winter Bingo


I needed a fantasy book for the library’s winter bingo game; fantasy is not my go-to genre, so I needed help. Melinda, at my library, recommended Well-Tempered Clavicle by Piers Anthony. Now, it is #35 of 47 books in the Xanth series. Melinda assured me that jumping into the series so late in the game would not be a problem for me to understand the story. She was right. She was also correct in telling me the story had many funny moments.

In fact, the story is abundant with puns and other plays upon words. Many readers will enjoy the playful use of the language. I had to marvel at Anthony’s talent at turning a phrase and coming up with puns.

Picka Bones and his sister Joy’nt team up with three creatures: Woofer, a dog, Tweeter, a bird, and Midrange, a cat. Picka wants very much to discover his magical talent. However, in order to do so, he and his friends must go with Princess Dawn to Hades, across the River Styx, to visit Dawn’s twin sister Princess Eve who has married Dwarf Demon Pluto. Princess Dawn is on her own quest since she is unmarried.

While Princess Eve and Dwarf Demon Pluto do have a castle in Xanth, Eve is currently in Hades where she is “ministering to the souls there.”

Here are some examples of the plays upon the language. Remember Picka is a skeleton. When Dawn compliments him, he says, “I do get bone-headed ideas.” She responds, “They are surely good ones.” Readers learn “puns have power in Xanth.” The travelers need to cross a drawbridge, but they cannot find a way except for a “badly frayed rope.” Through a discussion, they move from “frayed knot” to “afraid not.” And that’s just the beginning!

Often, people call puns the lowest form of humor but consider that for a pun to work, there are two levels. James Geary addresses the pun in Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It.  He writes, “Despite its bad reputation, punning is, in fact, among the highest displays of wit. Indeed, puns point to the essence of all true wit—the ability to hold in the mind two different ideas about the same thing at the same time.”

Clearly, Piers Anthony has mastered the art of puns. The story moves along with the characters finding their way into and out of many dangers until they are victorious.

While I won’t read all 47 books in the series, I did enjoy Well-Tempered Clavicle and it satisfied a square on my winter bingo card!

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Thriller


I am a fan of fast-paced, moving plots. I’m not much of a fan of snow and ice, yet Margo Fletcher’s story caught my attention. Cover Your Tracks by Daco S. Auffenorde follows Dr. Margo Fletcher who is eight months pregnant as she travels by train from Chicago to Spokane. Margo is headed home to await the birth of her child. What can go wrong, one might ask. In Cover Your Tracks, the answer is quite a lot can go amiss!

The train stops suddenly in the Rockies because of an avalanche. Conditions are brutal. The conductor announces over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor. Everyone, please remain seated. Do not panic…. Please stay calm and remain seated. Doing so is the best way to avoid injuries. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.”

A sandy-haired man across from Margo immediately stands up and asks Margo if she and the baby are all right. He then tells her and the other passengers that they need to move to the back railcar because another avalanche is threatening the train. For some reason, Margo feels she can trust the man, so she stands up to go with him. The other passengers refuse; they take the conductor’s words to heart and remain seated.

Margo is right in trusting the stranger – at least as far as moving to the last car because another avalanche does bury the rest of the train, leaving only Margo, her unborn child, and the stranger whom she discovers is Nick alive. They are not out of the woods, however. They are alive, but they have no food or heat. What is next?

Clearly, Margo and Nick need shelter and food to stay alive. Those two necessities become the first focus for both Margo and Nick. For Margo, keeping her baby safe becomes paramount. Margo and Nick must also face dangerous wild animals who are also seeking food.

The story takes readers back into Margo’s and Nick’s early lives as Auffenorde provides backgrounds for both characters. These backstories add to the tension in the current story. However, readers will find surprises right to the end of Cover Your Tracks.

Cover Your Tracks won several awards including a Suspense Magazine Best for 2020 and Feathered Quill Book Awards finalist. Auffenorde was also a featured author on Bob Kustra’s Reader’s Corner on NPR.  

Book clubs will find discussion points in Cover Your Tracks. Without revealing any spoilers, I can see that readers would find the terrain and weather, both of which become characters in the story, to be worthy of discussion. The tension that develops between Margo and Nick and readers learn more about both of them also provides fodder for discussion.

The Book Whisperer Delves Into a Cozy Mystery


I am definitely a fan of mysteries, and I enjoy a wide variety of mysteries from the Golden Age to cozy mysteries to hard-boiled mysteries, as well as those in between. When I received an opportunity to review Bolt From the Blue: A Dulcie Chambers Mystery by Kerry J. Charles, I took the chance. I did not realize until I received the book that it is the seventh in the series. As it turns out, Bolt From the Blue can easily be read as a standalone novel. I am sure that starting with An Exhibit of Madness, book one, and following through the series would give readers the recurring characters’ backgrounds, but that is not completely necessary to enjoy Bolt From the Blue.

The premise for the Dulcie Chambers’ mysteries is intriguing. Dulcie lives in Maine where she is the Chief Curator of the Maine Museum of Art. As a result of Dulcie’s background, the stories all center on some form of art or in some way link to Dulcie. As an added feature, Dulcie’s boyfriend is Nick Black, a police detective. Other recurring characters include Dan Chambers, Dulcie’s brother, Adam Johnson, Chief of Police, and Rachel, Dulcie’s assistant.

Bold From the Blue brings the Costumes of Covent Garden, a traveling exhibit, to Maine for a showing before going on to other US cities. Francine Belmont is in charge of the exhibit; she is also Dulcie’s former professor and now friend. Francine brings Bella Washington, an American seamstress Francine has hired a few years earlier. Bella is a talented seamstress who truly loves her work and the fabrics for the costumes.

Since the story is billed as “A Dulcie Chambers mystery,” I expected to see Dulcie play a more central role in the story. She is instrumental in discovering the reason for the murder in the museum, but she does not strike me as the main sleuth. Readers will have to read the book to see who is murdered, and there are plenty of suspects. The real murder may come as a surprise to readers.

Three of the characters troubled me. Dan, Dulcie’s brother, apparently is a playboy who has yet to settle down. Then the moment he lays eyes on Bella, he is smitten, struck speechless. I found that a bit hard to believe. Adam Johnson feels like a caricature to me. Rachel, Dulcie’s assistant, appears to have super-human powers of observation and intuition. Perhaps that is a talent that should receive additional play in forthcoming books.

Unless a book club combined the reading of two of the Dulcie Chambers’ mysteries, I don’t see Bolt From the Blue functioning well for a discussion. The book is under two-hundred pages long, so it is a fast read.

The Book Whisperer is Disappointed by an Old Favorite


Let me begin by saying that I have enjoyed all of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels that I’ve read, particularly those in the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series starring Precious and Grace. Book number 22, The Joy and Light Bus Company, however is a disappointment. The book needs a good editor. The opening discussion between Precious and Grace is downright boring and unnecessary.

The cases presented in The Joy and Light Bus Company feel ambivalent and unresolved. Precious is her usual thoughtful self and Grace exhibits the characteristics we have come to expect: arguments. I just tired of the story even though I finished reading the book.

The Book Whisperer is Disappointed


We know that readers will disagree about the relative worth of a given title and author. Therese Anne Fowler’s A Good Neighborhood was a book chosen for a book club to which I belong. If not for the book club discussion, I would not have finished the book. It has received a number of accolades: An NPR Best Book of 2020, finalist for the Southern Book Prize for Fiction, the Barnes and Noble national Book Club selection for March, and Indigo Books Staff Pick of the Month. And yet, I had to force myself to finish the story.

Valerie Alston-Holt, a college professor, lives in Oak Knoll, an older but highly prized neighborhood in North Carolina. Valerie is widowed and raising her biracial son Xavier, a high school senior.

As with so many neighborhoods, new people are buying properties only to tear them down and build a new, large home on the site. The Whitmans, a wealthy family, move into a new home they have built behind Valerie and Xavier. The yard is mostly taken up with a swimming pool that threatens an old tree in Valerie’s yard.

Before the Whitmans can put a fence around the pool, Brad Whitman sees Xavier raking leaves in the yard behind his home and asks Xavier if he will come over and work in his yard. He assumes Xavier is the yardman because of the color of his skin. That scene sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Why did I have trouble reading the book? Fowler has chosen to tell the story from too many points of view, including the neighborhood itself. Also, there are too many issues touched on through the story: racial prejudice, suggested incest, ecology, new wealth, indifferent parenting, teen purity, violence, and teenage angst.

Readers can predict that Xavier and Juniper, Brad’s stepdaughter, will develop a relationship and that relationship will not sit well with either of the parents. While the story does explore the tensions that develop between neighbors, it tackles too many subjects to deal with any one adequately.

When things spiral out of control, they do so in a wildly improbable fashion and there is no holding back. The events at the end of the story are heart-rending. So despite the many accolades A Good Neighborhood has received, I would recommend Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng rather than A Good Neighborhood.

The Book Whisperer Recommends A Thriller on Ice


Erica Ferencik has a degree in creative writing from Boston U. In addition to writing novels, short stories, essays, and ghostwriting, she has written standup comedy and sketch comedy, a widely diverse writing career! When she says, “My passion is to create unputdownable novels wet in some of the most inhospitable regions on earth, places most of us don’t get a chance to experience in person in our lifetimes,” she is not kidding.

Girl in Ice takes readers into the “remote forests of the “Allagash Territory in Northern Maine.” But that’s just the beginning; Ferencik also takes readers onto the Amazon River in Peru and iceberg-packed fjords of Greenland. Who can resist those treks?

Ferencik puts women at the forefront of her novels, investigating both their internal and external struggles. As already evident from the paragraph above, readers know Valerie Chesterfield will be navigating extreme weather and terrain conditions from northern Maine to the Amazon and back to cold on the fjords of Greenland.

What about those inner struggles Valerie will also face? Valerie, a highly educated linguist, lives a safe life, sheltered even. Andy, her twin brother, on the other hand, is adventurous, a climate scientist. Andy’s death has Valerie reeling. Did Andy commit suicide or is there a more sinister answer to why he died?

Now, here’s where the story takes a dramatic turn. In the area where Andy died, a young girl is thawed from some ice and she wakes up! She begins speaking, but no one can understand her language. Thus, Valerie is enlisted to try to decipher what the girl is saying. Of course, at this point, readers know Valerie will have to give up her safe existence and help researchers understand the girl, but just as importantly, she hopes she can discover why her brother is dead.

For those who want a truly moving story that hardly allows them to put the book down, Girl in Ice will fill the bill. Ferencik’s prose pulls readers into the story. Her descriptions engage readers: “In the rock-strewn yards of simple, brightly painted wooden homes, caribou antlers lie in tangled heaps.” She creates pictures for readers so they feel they are with Valerie.

Book clubs will truly find Girl in Ice a good choice. It will engage readers and create many questions to discuss.

The Book Whisperer Breathlessly Admonishes You to Read Our American Friend!


Descriptions like page-turner, spy thriller, a global thriller, and gripping all led me to investigate Our American Friend by Anna Pitoniak. I had not read Pitoniak’s previous works, Necessary People and The Futures, but I will now.

Our American Friend introduces readers to Sofie Morse, a White House correspondent. Sofie tires of the progressively strange and erratic behavior of President Henry Caine. Sound like a recent president? Sofie has decided to get completely away from politics.

The story opens with Sofie and Ben living in Croatia, hidden from the world, or so they think. A TV reporter accosts Sofie as she returns to her apartment from buying groceries. Since Sofie and Ben are supposed to be protected, no one should be able to track them down. Yet, here is this NY reporter asking Sofie for an interview to talk about the First Lady, Lara Caine.

Lara Caine is President Caine’s third wife, “the only First Lady since Louisa Adams to be born outside the United States, the most enigmatic occupant of the East Wing in decades, the silent companion of the most toxic leader in American history, the couture-clad Rorschach test for the nation at large.” Hmmm.

After reading the information above, who could resist completing Our American Friend? In President Caine’s second term, Lara Caine asked Sofie to write her biography. By agreeing to write the biography, Sofie receives unrestricted access to “memories, diaries, photographs, and family members.” In short, Sofie has all she needs to write a complete biography of Lara Caine and with Lara’s own help. In an unprecedented step, Lara Caine gave Sofie total control over the project.

Lara Caine had been born in Russia, but she grew up in Paris. Little else is known about Lara, except that she had been a model in Paris, so Sofie has access to material to tell Lara’s complete story. As Sophie works on the biography, she and Lara begin a friendship that astonishes Sofie. Sofie learns Lara’s father had worked as an undercover KGB agent in Paris.

With this access to complex, possibly explosive, information, Sofie has to wonder why Lara is being so candid. Readers will have to read the whole story to discover all of the secrets: NO SPOILERS HERE! Suffice it to say, readers will not be disappointed in the thrilling story as they read breathlessly from one page to the next.

Anna Pitoniak previously worked in book publishing as senior editor at Random House. Although she grew up in Whistler, British Columbia, she now lives and writes in NYC.

Read Our American Friend and share it with your book club friends. You will find it an engaging, daring novel that will generate a lively discussion

The Book Whisperer Read A Tennis Thriller


When I was in college, everyone had to have four one-hour PE credits. Thus, PE classes always filled quickly. Registration was by alphabetical listing with the alphabet scrambled to an extent so that the people whose last names began early in the alphabet weren’t always first. I took bowling because it was available and because it didn’t require dressing out. Then I took badminton and, wait for it, ADVANCED badminton. In that class, all the other members were PE majors, and me, an English major. The piece de resistance, however, was tennis at 7:00 AM five days a week one summer term. Now, I went to college in Ruston, LA, where the summers are swelteringly hot and humid. That made taking tennis at 7:00 somewhat a good idea. However, that class has left me with a love-hate relationship with tennis which brings me to Faults by Orion Gregory.

One might wonder why I chose to read and review Faults, given my own experience with tennis (which I certainly never learned to play well). One reviewer wrote the following blurb for the front of the novel: “A crime novel full of intrigue and mayhem… vibrant and lively… fast-paced.” That was enough to intrigue me and pull me into the story.

Gregory has done a terrific job of creating characters that engage the readers. In the first chapter, we encounter sadness with the suicide of Milena Lombardi and wonder how her death will play out with the remaining characters.

Sydney Livingstone, Milena’s one-time friend, still plays high-level tennis. We first meet her as she prepares for a tournament in Ohio. Tired from her drive of over ten hours, Sydney falls into bed once she checks into the hotel. Before she can fall asleep, she hears a knock at the door. When she opens it, she sees “a plain-looking young woman” wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan, “Summertime in Columbus.” The package the young woman hands over contains more surprises for Sydney.

The package holds a bottle of Crystal 10 bourbon, the same alcohol Milena used to wash down the poison that took her life four years earlier. The note with the bourbon is also disturbing. What do the bourbon and note mean and who sent it? And why?

As the story continues, more surprises occur. Sydney wins a tournament when her opponent goes missing and her car is found abandoned. More strange occurrences continue. Sydney must contend with questions from the police as well as questions she herself would like to answer. Sydney starts keeping track of people by using an app on her phone. She wants to know if anyone is near her tennis bag or other property that they could dose with poison or even drugs.

The end of the story provides readers with a glimpse of what may become the second novel in this series. Trent, the police detective, who investigated all the trouble with the tennis players and threats to Sydney tells Sydney, “I love your spirit and your spunk. I understand you studied criminology. If you need a job after tennis, I’d love to interview you.”

Faults would make a good story for book club members to sort out. They could discuss the clues that Gregory drops along the way to see how they add up.