Monthly Archives: March 2022

The Book Whisperer is Horrified


I finished reading The Husbands by Chandler Baker days ago. Until now, I have been unable to write my review; at the same time, however, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about The Husbands. I was totally unfamiliar with Chandler Baker; I belong to a book club for which I read the book. Reese Witherspoon calls Baker’s writing “honest, timely, and completely thrilling.” Sally Hepworth, author of The Good Sister, describes Chandler Baker this way: “Chandler Baker, queen of the feminist thriller, has delivered once again! The Husbands is a poignant exploration of what it would take for women to have it all.” I take exception to both of those esteemed women’s views.

Hepworth’s description took me aback when she used the word poignant. I questioned her use until, to remind myself of the word’s exact meaning, I looked it up: “painfully affecting the feelings; deeply affecting; designed to make an impression.” Other words in the definition include piercing, touching, and cutting. Generally, I use poignant when I mean touching—in a way that brings emotions to the surface.

The Husbands has certainly made an impression on me. I also found it piercing and cutting—as to the bone! However, the feelings the story evokes in me are not pleasant or ones I wish to focus on. In fact, the story has left me completely discomfited. This feeling has persisted for days after I finished the book.

Now, one could say, a book that causes such a reaction has done its job. I suppose in some measure that is true. What is it about The Husbands that is so disconcerting to me? In the explanation, readers may find a spoiler. I pride myself on being able to write reviews without spoilers, but this time I may be out of my depth, so be forewarned.

The Husbands features Nora and Hayden Spangler, a young married couple both with demanding careers. Nora and Hayden are expecting their second child, so they need a larger home. Nora finds a house for sale in Dynasty Ranch, “an exclusive suburban neighborhood.” After touring the home, Nora is completely sold on it because it meets all the criteria she has set for their new home.

After the Spanglers tour the home in Dynasty Ranch, Nora, an attorney, receives a call asking her to represent Penny, a homeowner in Dynasty Ranch. Penny’s home burned killing Richard, Penny’s husband, who was home alone at the time of the fire. The thought is that some inherent problem in the building of the home caused the fire and ultimately Richard’s death.

Thus, Nora becomes entangled with Penny and several other high-powered women who live in Dynasty Ranch, particularly Cornelia and Thea. Nora recognizes Cornelia and Thea along with all the other wives of Dynasty Ranch, have something she strongly desires: help from their husbands. The husbands pack children’s lunches, do the grocery shopping, cook, clean, and support their wives in their careers all the while working in their own demanding jobs. Hmmm.

Nora feels particularly stretched thin as she works to make partner in her law firm, care for her daughter, keep a home, and be a wife. She finds herself nagging Hayden to help. When he does help, he will do ONE thing and then proudly tell Nora he followed her directions. It doesn’t take long to see the tension between the two with Nora feeling she is in charge of EVERYTHING while Hayden does one tiny chore. She is grateful that Hayden does not call caring for Liv, their daughter, as babysitting. He does know better than that!

The question remains then. Why do the women like Cornelia and Thea have such extremely helpful husbands? Nora notices that the men often repeat the same sentence: “[wife’s name] works so hard.” Max, married to Alexis, tells Hayden, “There’s a great website that you should check out. It’s called Coming Clean. It gives all of these fantastic tips on organization and housekeeping. I live by it.” Other husbands in Dynasty Ranch chime in to say they also “live by” the site. Hayden is a bit taken aback.

Okay, so no spoilers, but suffice it to say that as Nora investigates the fire at Penny’s home and Richard’s death, she begins drawing some really dangerous conclusions. Then she and Hayden have couples’ counseling with Cornelia which also leads Nora to other suspicions about the people of Dynasty Ranch.

Something utterly sinister is afoot in Dynasty Ranch. In the end, Nora figures it all out and chooses to avoid the home in the upscale neighborhood; her backing out of the neighborhood also disturbs me because of the circumstances that readers will have to discover for themselves. However, another one of the most discomfiting parts of the story to me is that Nora retains some of what she has learned from her experience with the women in Dynasty Ranch. I did NOT like that part at all and felt it made Nora completely dishonest.

 Be warned that The Husbands will likely cause readers some discomfort.


The Book Whisperer Discovers a New YA Fantasy Trilogy


As an eclectic reader, I enjoy books for all ages and a variety of genres. I am not usually drawn to fantasy novels, but I do occasionally dip into them. That is the case with Paradise Rising by P.G. Shriver, the first in the Gifted Ones Trilogy. On her website, Shriver lists her motto as “Lighting up the face you love with books.” How could I resist finding out more?

Shriver has written several young adult novels as well as books for younger children. She lives with her family in Texas where she teaches at a local college. Her writing dates back to the early age of seven; she wrote a poem and submitted it to the local newspaper. It was chosen for publication, thus setting Shriver on her writing journey.

In reading about Shriver, I learned she “hopes to motivate young people to focus their gifts on building a happy, healthy, magical life that lights up the world.”  Those are inspiring words.

Paradise Rising has two main characters: Cheater, 13, and Jaz, 15. Now, how does one get the name Cheater? Is it because she is dishonest?  The answer is a resounding NO! She has cheated death; now, however, we find Cheater is being wanted for a murder. As a result, she is living on the run, finding places to crash where she can. In addition to being on the run, Cheater has powers that she little understands and does not know how to harness the powers.

When Cheater meets Jaz, they find they have similar powers. As a result, they feel fate has brought them together. But for what purpose? And how can they harness their powers to turn them to good rather than evil?

Shriver has created two teenage characters who are fully developed and yet lack a sense of direction on their own. Cheater and Jaz need to become a team in order to understand their powers and use them for good. The story is well-developed and holds the readers’ interest throughout.

Teen members of a book club would enjoy discussing the problems that Cheater and Jaz encounter. Those topics include homelessness, difficulty understanding their own powers and dealing with life in general. Teens struggle with coming into their own, becoming individuals. Compound those struggles with having a power that needs to be understood and you have Paradise Rising.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Winning Author


As frequently noted in this blog, I am an eclectic reader and enjoy reading books for all ages. When I was an undergraduate, I took as many library science classes as I could fit into my schedule. Although I had declared an English major, I wavered between English and library science; in the end, English won, but I certainly continue my love of libraries and what they provide. I truly enjoyed taking children’s literature which was in the Library Science Department at LA Tech. In my first teaching job at MO State, I had the privilege of teaching Children’s Lit 101 which was in the English Department there.

All that to say that I discovered a truly delightful book for 10 – 12 year-old readers: When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad. Nannestad has published a number of standalone novels and some in a series. On her website, she provides resources for teachers or anyone who reads her books. That’s an added bonus in reading the books if one wishes to use them in a discussion with others.

When Mischief Comes to Town introduces readers to ten-year-old Inge Maria who has lived with her widowed mother in Copenhagen all of her life. Suddenly, Inge Maria is uprooted and sent to live with Astrid, Dizzy, Bruland, her maternal grandmother, whom she has never met. Sadly, Inge Maria’s mother has passed away, so Inge Maria must leave the only home she has known and move to a remote farm.

Her journey to the farm is fraught with trouble because she is on a fishing boat and she is squeezed between a crate of geese which tend to nip at Inge Maria if she gets too close and a cage holding a goat! Not only that, the ship’s floor is covered with fish guts. All in all, the journey is very unpleasant. Then adding another insult, Inge Maria falls asleep and the goat eats one of her blonde plaits! What else could await Inge Maria?

Readers will know that mischief is coming from the title of the book. Inge Maria has never lived on a farm before, so she has much to learn. She is intrigued by the animals: “two shiny golden cows called Hilda and Blossom, a brown donkey called Levi, an enormous pig called Plenty, who is suckling fourteen pink piglets, hens and geese that don’t stand still long enough to be counted accurately, and a turkey called Henry, who is as big as a tea chest.”

Inge Maria does not plan to be naughty; she is simply a ten-year-old girl who has a vivid imagination and thinks of games to play. Some of those games get her into, well, into, mischief. For example, she decides to have a kicking contest with Levi, the donkey. She kicks the empty milk bucket and then persuades Levi to kick it. Readers will have to read the book to discoverer the consequences of this game!

Inge Maria and Grandmother are learning about one another; at first, Inge Maria thinks her grandmother is harsh and unloving. As the two spend more time together, Inge Maria must revise her thinking. Then when Inge Maria starts to school in the country, she begins making friends and causing mischief in the schoolroom—although that is certainly not her intention—to cause mischief. Mischief seems to follow her.

When Mischief Came to Town is a delightful book, and I look forward to reading other books by Nannestad, particularly the series about the traveling bookshop. Katrina Nannestad lives in Australia. I read this line in her biography on her site: “I celebrate family, friendship, and belonging in my writing. I also love creating stories that bring joy to other people’s lives.” She has certainly succeeded in When Mischief Came to Town.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a GEM!


What happens when an outspoken, experienced documentary host and interviewer turns her hand to detective fiction? The answer is simple: Readers receive a treat in The War Widow by Tara Moss. Moss has been an advocate for human rights, particularly the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities.  Moss is described as “an experienced documentary host and interviewer with a passion for research and human stories.”

Moss has written for Ms Magazine, CrimeReads, and Meanjin Quarterly. She has hosted the true crime drama Tough Nuts – Australia’s Hardest Criminals and Tara Moss Investigates. Moss has also published thirteen bestselling books with The War Widow being the most recent.

Set in Sydney, Australia, in 1946, The War Widow introduces readers to Billie Walker, a war correspondent, who has returned from Europe to Sydney. Billie has taken over her deceased father’s investigation business. At the time, private investigators could not use the word detective as part of their title or company name. Billie advertises that she does private inquiry work.  

Along the way in the story, readers learn of Billie’s personal losses. Her husband Jack, also a war correspondent, has been listed as missing. Billie returned to Sydney when she learned of her father’s illness, but she arrived too late; he has already died by the time she got home.

Billie sets up her investigative practice in her father’s old quarters. She is forced to rent some of the space to others in order to make ends meet while she establishes herself in what many consider only a man’s work.

Another important character is Samuel Baker, “her secretary-cum-assistant.” Moss also includes other characters who are instrumental to the story: Shyla, a young Aboriginal woman; Hank Cooper, a police detective; Constable Primrose, a female officer; Ella, Billie’s mother; and Alma, Ella’s companion/maid.

What makes The War Widow compelling? The story is fast-paced and allows readers to learn of Billie’s quick-thinking. While she does find herself in dangerous situations, Billie is alert to those dangers and ready to face them. She also relies on Samuel, but not in the traditional way of looking toward him as protector. They run interference for one another.

Another perk of the story lies in Moss’s descriptions of Billie’s wardrobe. Billie knows how to dress for each occasion. If she seeks information found only in a fancy drinking establishment, she dresses for the part. When she needs to visit the city morgue, or death house, she knows what to wear there as well. Remember, the story takes place right after WWII; many things are still rationed or at least hard to obtain. Billie has to be inventive and handy with a needle and thread to make her wardrobe conform to her needs. Constable Primrose even gives Billie a much-coveted item: Tussy’s Fighting Red lipstick, a shade that is “good on” Billie.

To say that I enjoyed The War Widow is, indeed, an understatement. I devoured the book! I am also delighted to see that the second Billie Walker novel, The Ghosts of Paris, will be published 7 June 2022, on what would have been my mother’s 107th birthday! I look forward to Billie’s newest exploits.

Would book clubs enjoy The War Widow? The answer is a resounding YES! Discussions will center on what is a man’s job and what is a woman’s job, the effects of war on everyone, treatment of Aboriginal people, especially girls and women, and injustice. The War Widow will make a terrific book club choice.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Historical Gem of a Novel


Several years ago, my book club read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It is quite a different book from The Women of the Copper Country, also by Russell. Both books exhibit Russell’s writing talents. While The Sparrow deals with a mission into space seeking to find intelligent life on another planet, The Women of the Copper Country deals with very real problems copper miners and their families faced in the early 1900s in Calumet, MI.

Readers need to know that Russell has done her homework before writing The Women of the Copper Country. She immersed herself in the true story and has rendered a factual account through a historical novel.

We meet Annie Clements when she is a teenager—taller than most of the boys in her class at school and feeling awkward and unlovable. She does meet and marry Joseph Clements, a man taller than she, one who loves her. He, like so many of the other men, young and old, works in the mines. Annie and the other wives and mothers must worry each day about accidents, cave-ins, and other dangers. The women only hope that their men come home safely after each shift.

Too, the mine owners and the administrators live high and mighty in their fine homes out of danger and leaving the men to work in dangerous conditions with little pay.

Annie, sometimes called America’s Joan of Arc, decides the people of Calumet have had enough. The men need safer working conditions and better pay. But how will those things be accomplished? While the men face dangers in the mines, Annie and the women with her face another kind of danger—from the mine owners and administrators. These men think they are being kind to their workers, yet they are stripping the men of dignity, making them work hard, long hours, and refusing to compensate them fairly.

Even as she fights for justice for her husband as well as the other men who work in the mines, Joe, her husband, becomes frustrated with her independence. What will happen between them? Has Annie taken on more than she can accomplish? Those who ask that question will be satisfied to discover that she has not.

The Women of the Copper Country is a terrific book for a book club. It has all the elements to promote a lively discussion: a fight for justice, love lost, love’s longings, and more.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Charming Book–A Gem


When my friend Jane recommended that I read The Guncle by Steven Rowley, I immediately sought a copy. I trusted her suggestion and I had read Lily and the Octopus by Rowley some months ago and truly enjoyed it. The guncle is Patrick, “Gay Uncle Patrick or GUP.” These nicknames are also corrupted as “guncle.”

Patrick is an actor who has completed a long-running sitcom and has moved to Palm Springs, just out of Hollywood, but not too far away. He contents himself with his life. His partner, Joe, has died in a car accident, and Patrick still has difficulty coming to terms with such a terrible loss. Then his sister-in-law dies of cancer. Sara and Patrick’s brother Greg have two young children, Masie and Grant. When Patrick flies home to attend Sara’s funeral, Greg makes a huge request.

Greg asks Patrick to take Masie and Grant for ninety days while Greg enters a rehab facility. Over the course of Sara’s illness, Greg has become addicted to prescription drugs, his way of coping with his wife’s terminal illness. Patrick is appalled. He responds, “Take them where?” Greg explains, “Take them, take them.” He wants his gay, bachelor brother to take two small children and keep them for ninety days! Patrick is almost speechless. He says, “That’s absurd! You’re being absurd.”

Of course, readers can glean from this conversation that Patrick will protest, but, over the next few days, he will change his mind and decide that he is the best person in the family to care for the children while their dad is in rehab.

What ensues is funny, poignant, and full of witty dialog. Patrick tends to treat the children as if they are adults, explaining to them what brunch is and how important it is as well as schooling them on lupper and other things that until now have not been part of their vocabulary.

Patrick feels a need to take the children because Sara was actually his friend first. They met in college and became fast friends. Of course, there was never a romantic relationship between them. Then Sara meets Greg, Patrick’s brother and they fall in love, so Sara becomes Patrick’s sister-in-law.

A bachelor with little experience with children, Patrick finds each day a challenge with the children and each day the challenge changes a bit. He is often caught off-guard, but he is also ever resourceful. Rowley’s books have been described as having “heart and humor.” I would agree! Read The Guncle to discover a heartwarming story and find quite a bit of humor along the way.

The Guncle was an NPR Book of the Year and a finalist for the 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards.

The Book Whisperer Recommends an Unusual Self-Help Book


Uncommon Courage: An Invitation by Andrea T. Edwards has received a great deal of praise. After reading much of the book, but not all of it, I am inclined to agree with those who have found the book helpful, useful, and thought-provoking—and yes, even funny. Uncommon Courage is not the kind of book I read often. I chose it because of words like passionate, inspirational, powerful, and honesty others have used to describe it.

Given the state of the world today and the past two years of continuing angst over COVID and other things we cannot control, I felt that Uncommon Courage offered me a respite—perhaps even a road map of sorts—from fear and a way to regain optimism.

Uncommon Courage does not have to be read straight through. A reader can choose by chapter what to read and return to those chapters that are most meaningful to each individual.  For example, some of the chapters that called to me most loudly include the following: “Worry is a Waste of Time,” “Find Your Purpose,” “Trust Your Own Counsel,” “Focus on the Best People,” “Self-Empowerment,” and “The Beauty of Abundant Thinking.” That does not mean the other chapters are insignificant—and there are 108 chapters altogether!

Let’s begin with “Self-Empowerment.” First, Edwards begins with humor: “I have a classic monkey mind.” Who describes herself this way? Well, clearly, Andrea Edwards, but what does she mean? She explains, “[my mind] bounces around and it’s always on. It’s curious and it’ll try anything. It is open to everything.” How could I resist reading further?

“Focus on the Best People” is the next chapter that I would like to point out. As one who feels drawn to others and who enjoys interacting with other people, I found this chapter meaningful. Edwards admonishes her readers “to be a positive contributor in the world and your community.” Those are things I strive to do already, so finding additional advice on the subject of contributing intrigued me. I like her advice to let people know when they deserve praise. I try to act on that in my own life and through the organizations, both formal and informal, to which I belong. I hope that I succeed. One of her comments, “expect to have the best version of yourself reflected back when you make the conscious effort to help the people around you see themselves in a more beautiful way,” really touched a chord in me.

Readers should also know that throughout Uncommon Courage, Edwards has supplied worksheets that guide the readers in their own self-discovery. I found the questions associated with each worksheet helpful and on point.

Uncommon Courage is the kind of book to keep and return to in times of need—and those needs will be varied. Sometimes a reader may simply need a lift; other times, the same reader may be looking for inspiration. Edwards has written a book that will be useful for a long time.