Monthly Archives: July 2022

The Book Whisperer Suggests Up Lit Titles When Readers Need a Distraction From Daily Life


As an eclectic reader, I dip into a variety of genres. I don’t read horror, but I do read a bit of science fiction along with a number of historical fiction novels, general fiction, and young adult books. I also like to read books for children. Children’s literature was one of my favorite college classes. I even had the opportunity to teach children’s literature several times at MO State in Springfield years ago. This blog, however, will focus on uplifting, Up Lit, books I have read and recommend.

The first book in today’s blog that I recommend is Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I admit when I first started reading, the lack of pronouns annoyed me. Then as I continued reading, I recognized Backman’s ploy in keeping readers in suspense about the would-be bank robber by avoiding pronouns to identify the robber. The story is sad, funny, complicated, and ultimately uplifting.

Clare Pooley has written two books that I have enjoyed: The Authenticity Project and Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting. While the stories have quite different plots, they both focus on disparate characters brought together by unusual circumstances. I truly enjoy stories that feature found families. I consider both of those stories to fall into that category.

Another found family story is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Six magical children live in a home with Arthur Parnassus as the home’s director. Linus Baker, who works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, is sent to the home to determine if Arthur is doing a good job with the children there. Arthur may not always do things by the book, but he is an excellent father figure for the children in the home.

Matt Cain also captured my heart and attention with The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle. Albert, approaching 65, has been a postman since he left school. He lives alone in the house where he grew up. His father was a policeman. After his father’s death, Albert stays on to care for his ailing mother until her death. Now, he has a cat as his only companion. In December, shortly before Albert is to turn 65, he experiences two things that cause him to turn his life upside down in a good way. This story continues to make me smile as I remember it.

The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick is another Up Lit story. When Essie Starling, famous and wealthy writer, disappears, Essie’s attorney tells Liv Green, Essie’s cleaner, that Essie wants Liv to complete the 20th novel in Essie’s Georgia Rory stories. Now, Liv is no ordinary cleaner. She loves reading and has entertained the idea of becoming a writer herself, but she has simply not had the opportunity. Now, the opportunity has presented itself to her.

For those uncertain about what Up Lit is, here is a definition from Fictionophile: “Up Lit is described as a trend for books with an emphasis on empathy, books that are uplifting and life-affirming, and which explore themes of family bonds and the human spirit. These types of novels focus on kinder, gentler human connections, but have an element that preserves realism. They do not shy away from dark themes or real-life issues; they just preserve an element of hope.” And isn’t that something readers need, a preservation of hope? Some other characteristics of Up Lit include “quirky, and offbeat and sometimes curmudgeonly, characters.” They also focus on relationships, both platonic and romantic, life lessons, and uplifting, optimistic vibes.


The Book Whisperer Rediscovers Phaedra Patrick


I enjoyed The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick. When The Messy Lives of Book People came available, I jumped right into the story. Once again, I found charming characters who have a few flaws along with good hearts, an appealing story, and enough turns of the plot to keep me reading well past bedtime.

Olivia Green, Liv, is married to the love of her life, Jake, and is mother to two sons, Mack and Johnny. In order to help her mother, Liv left school at 16 after her father’s untimely death. Her father had been a university English professor and had instilled a love of reading in Liv. Liv also harbored secret thoughts of being a writer.

Live’s jobs as wife, mother, and cleaner, however, keep Liv from pursuing her dream of writing. She still reads often and also listens to audiobooks as she works. She starts early in the morning cleaning an office building with other janitors. Then she moves to a job with a family followed by her favorite cleaning job for Essie Starling, famous writer of the Georgia Rory novels.

Liv can hardly believe that she took a chance three years earlier and applied for a job as Essie’s cleaner; she never expected to get the job. Yet, now, she finds herself spending afternoons with the great author herself. Liv has read all of Starling’s novels several times, all 19 of them. When she stumbles upon the current manuscript as she is cleaning, she cannot resist sitting down to read. Unfortunately, Essie discovers Liv reading the new book.

Liv is certain she will be fired; instead, Essie asks for some advice from Liv. And Liv provides a straight answer that intrigues Essie.

Starling often disappears as Liv is working. Liv never knows how Essie manages to simply vanish only to be in the lavish apartment the next time Liv arrives. One day Liv notices a suitcase in the bedroom and the next day Essie is gone. Essie’s attorney contacts Liv and proposes a interesting and totally unexpected request.

The attorney tells Liv that Essie has died following complications from a surgery and that Essie has left instructions for Liv to complete the 20th novel in the Georgia Rory series. At first, Liv feels completely inadequate to tackle such a big job. As she stops to think about Essie’s strange request, Liv feels this is her chance to become a writer herself.

Liv must keep Essie’s death a secret for several months and complete the manuscript by Nov 1 when Essie’s death will be announced to the public. Essie is sworn to secrecy even keeping the secret of Essie’s death and her own involvement in writing the latest book from everyone including her husband, children, and mother.  Naturally, that promise of secrecy becomes a huge part of the plot.

As the story progresses, readers receive glimpses into lines from previous novels starring Georgia and the current one as well.  Near the end of the book, I found the following lines from one of the stories: “I hate saying goodbye,” Georgia said defiantly. “It’s so final, like reading ‘The End’ when a book is over. I want to think there’s going to be another chapter, another story and a chance to say hello again. I prefer to say, until next time, friends….” Those lines are quite telling for any avid reader.

For readers looking for an uplifting story, but one that also has substance, they should look no further than The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick.  For book clubs, the discussion will center on the important secret that Liv must maintain along with the domestic issues in Liv and Jake’s marriage.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Story of Family in the 1950s


Readers seeking respite from today’s news and the uncompromising heat of summer would do well to choose Stand a Little Out of My Sun by Angelyn Christy Voss. On the front cover, we see two children holding hands—a slightly older sister and her younger brother; they are looking forward into the horizon. Also on the cover, we see under the title these words: “a novel of forgiveness and redemption.”

Voss takes readers back to the 1950s in Chicago with Sophie who protects her younger brother Niko. It’s also the story of Greek Americans finding their way as well. The story we find in Stand a Little Out of My Sun is inspired by Voss’s own upbringing. She brings the story alive with accurate descriptions and creates characters who will live on in readers’ imaginations long after they finish the story.

As with any good story, there are elements of tragedy and comedy. For example, when Sophie and Papou, her grandfather, gather dandelions along the side of the road, Sophie “always gets jumpy.” Then she thinks to herself how good the greens are when Papou fixes them. Readers cannot help but feel Sophie’s sense of sadness and loss with Niko’s death. Voss writes of that loss this way: “The day after the funeral, Sophie rummaged through Niko’s dresser, took out his favorite flannel shirt, and hid it under her bedcovers. At night, she hugged the shirt and buried her face in its sweet boy scent.” Anyone who has lost a loved one can recognize what Sophie is doing by saving that favorite shirt.

As an example of Voss’s descriptive powers, take a look at this passage: “Mildred nodded tight-lipped, shook Christina’s hand, and pecked Tom on the cheek. She was a worn-out, colorless woman with rigid shoulders, thin hair, and a bitter, stony face. A faded dress hung on her gaunt, angular body, and old stains of armpit sweat fanned out on her dress.”

As a book club leader, I appreciate more than the story in Stand a Little Out of My Sun. Voss has included a list of the characters at the beginning of the book. That is especially helpful when the cast is large. She also includes a list of Greek words used in the story, another helpful tidbit for readers. The questions found at the end of the story are helpful in starting book club members on their discussions. They form the background for the discussions to go further.

The Book Whisperer INSISTS You Read Clare Pooley’s New Book!


In 2020, I read The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley and truly enjoyed the story and the characters. As a result, I have waited eagerly for Pooley’s latest book, Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting. In the UK, the title is The People on Platform 5. I am truly delighted to write a review of Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting because I could hardly put the book down until I finished it.

I can describe the story with words like heartwarming, funny, charming, comforting, intriguing, and insightful. Those words do convey to other readers a bit of what to expect, but readers must read the story to get the full effect. Hazel Prior, another author whom I admire, wrote of Pooley’s new book this way: “A gloriously entertaining and completely addictive read. The People on Platform 5 will be sure to steal your heart. Clare Pooley’s writing is astute, wickedly funny, clever and charming. I adore this book.” I concur wholeheartedly.

What can bring a disparate group of people together, people who seemingly have nothing in common except that they ride the same train to and from work and school each day? At first glance, these people who never speak to one another have no reason to be associated with one another much less be friends. Then an unexpected incident occurs which becomes the catalyst to bring people together.

Now, this change does not occur quickly, but the seed is sown the day the businessman in the expensive suit nearly chokes to death on a grape.  A few days later, the first incident is followed by a second unexpected one as well. Thus, readers, we have the story moving forward for these eclectic people to begin communicating.

Iona Iverson writes an advice column for Modern Woman magazine. Please do not call her an agony aunt, however! At 57, Iona’s life is beginning to unravel, yet she soldiers on, taking LuLu, her dog, to work with her each day. The other people who become involved with Iona include Piers, a futures trader; Sanjay, a young nurse; Emmie, an avid reader who works in advertising; Martha, a teenager who is being bullied; Jake, a personal trainer; and David, a lawyer.

Interestingly enough, these people have not spoken to one another, but they have all given the others nicknames and have assigned traits to them based on their observations. Many of those observations turn out to be incorrect, but the only way to know that is for them to become acquainted.

 Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting is a must-read! Readers, like everyone else, have been dealing with the pandemic, high summer temperatures, and rising prices. Delving into a story that takes readers away from all those daily problems is well worth tackling. Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting is just the book to take readers on a terrific journey.

The Book Whisperer Hopes You Will Read The Secret of Snow!


In choosing a book for my book club to read in December, I discovered The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman, Further investigation into the author and the story led me to choose the book. Wade Rouse has chosen to honor his Ozark grandmother by writing novels under her name. The stories are heartwarming and heartfelt.

In The Secret of Snow, Sonny Dunes, well-known meteorologist in sunny Palm Springs, CA, appears to have it all: successful career and a lovely home with pool and hot tub, all she has ever dreamed of having. Or is it? A meltdown on air sends Sonny, born Amberrose, home to freezing, snowy northern Michigan and her mom, Patty Rose.

What secret keeps Sonny Dunes apart from others? What guilt does she harbor and why? These questions will haunt readers as they learn more about Sonny and her family. Now, at fifty, Sonny is home living with her mother and applying for a job at the local TV station. Sonny is unhappy with the trajectory of her life at this point, but what else is she to do?

Even after Sonny takes the job in her hometown, she continues to be haunted by the past and now someone is editing videos and posting them to smear Sonny’s name even more. Who has the opportunity and the knowledge to take innocent videos and doctor them to make Sonny look bad?

Lisa, Sonny’s new boss and former college classmate, has Sonny out in the snow and ice making public appearances. In doing so, Sonny meets Mason, civic leader, who helps Sonny see that the guilt she has been holding onto should be shed and she should move forward.

Sonny’s story will make readers laugh and cry as Sonny navigates her new life, one that she has not envisioned, but one that will take her home.

Wade Rouse has published four memoirs under his own name. He has also written a number of novels as Viola Shipman to honor the grandmother who encouraged him as a writer. At the end of The Secret of Snow, Rouse includes “A Personal Letter to Readers.” In it, he describes growing up in the Missouri Ozarks and the ways his family celebrated Christmas. Then the death of his older brother took the breath out of the family, leaving them unable to celebrate as they had until Viola Shipman, his maternal grandmother, told him, “that running from my memories would never change what happened [the loss of his brother] –it would only erase what Todd had meant to us and always would mean to us. She told me we needed to celebrate who he was again as well as the holidays, or we would never be whole.” That conversation sparks the novel The Secret of Snow.

Wade Rouse graduated with a BA from Drury University in Springfield, MO, so I felt a connection since I taught at another university in Springfield, MO, MO State, where I met my husband, a Springfield native. On Facebook Live, Wade hosts “Wine & Words with Wade” each Thursday at 6:30 PM EST on his Viola Shipman Facebook page.

The Book Whisperer Recommends The Unveiling of Polly Forrest


The Unveiling of Polly Forrest by Charlotte Whitney takes place in rural Michigan during the Great Depression. It is part family story and part mystery. When Polly’s husband Sam is found mauled to death in the farmyard by the family’s ferocious bull, is the death a tragic accident or is it murder? I won copies of The Unveiling of Polly Forrest for my book club along with an upcoming visit with Charlotte Whitney via Zoom with the book club. What follows is my unbiased review of Polly’s story.

Told through three voices, The Unveiling of Polly Forrest gives readers a three-dimensional view of the events leading up to and following Sam’s death. The three voices include Polly’s own story told through her eyes and letters to her mother, Sarah Wolcott Johnson, Polly’s sister, and Reverend Wesley Johnson, Sarah’s husband and Polly’s brother-in-law. The two families live on adjacent farms.

Polly is the youngest child in the Wolcott family. Sadly, her father and two older brothers died, leaving Polly, her mother, and Sarah to mourn them. Sam Forrest, a childless widowed farmer, starts courting Polly, and Polly sees marriage to Sam as a way forward. Sarah is already married to Wesley, a preacher and farmer. Polly and Sarah’s mother is planning to move out of state to care for her own mother. Polly wants to remain in Michigan, so marriage to Sam seems like a good move.

Polly’s marriage to the eligible bachelor farmer makes me think of Susan Glaspell’s one-act drama, “Trifles.” In it, Minnie Foster marries an eligible farmer, John Wright, “Mr. Right.” Behind closed doors, however, Mr. Wright is not a kind man and Minnie is soon reduced to a shell of her former self. There are certainly parallels between Polly’s life with Sam on their farm and Minnie’s life with John on their farm.

As readers learn more about Polly and Sam’s marriage, they must wonder what really happened when Black Devil, the bull got out of his pen. Then other stories surface about abuse in the marriage, lack of money, and other mysteries. At the same time, readers also become involved with the other characters in the story, particularly the relationship between Polly and Sarah, the sisters.

The Unveiling of Polly Forrest provides readers with a satisfying story including enough turns of plot to keep the story moving quickly. For book clubs, the questions of why Polly chooses to marry Sam, the mystery surrounding Sam’s death, and the sheriff’s curiosity over the death will stimulate a lively discussion. The setting of rural Michigan during the Great Depression also gives readers additional fodder for discussion.  In addition, the sibling relationship between Polly and Sarah will be an important discussion.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Movie


Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico is a delightful novel. I read it some years ago. Recently, the book has been made into a movie. My husband and I went to see the movie one hot Saturday afternoon as a way to escape the heat and the news of the week. I should know better, but I expected the movie to follow the book—at least in large measure. I realize that movie directors see the world through a lens and not always the same lens that the author of a book uses.

The movie version of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris bears almost no resemblance to the story in the book. The title is the same along with the main character’s name. Her desire to own a Dior dress is also accurate, but not the dress she sees in the movie or the dress she ends up buying. In the book and in the movie, Mrs. Harris does go to Paris, but there, too, the movie and the book differ markedly.

The book and the movie of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris are both feel-good stories. I suggest that if you have not read the book, go see the movie and enjoy it for what it is: a story that will be uplifting and end happily. Like the book, the movie fits into the category of Up Lit. If you have read the book, choose another movie!

An aside on Up Lit: Up Lit focuses on empathy, being uplifting, and life-affirming. These novels concentrate on gentle human connections and express hope. They are a beacon of light in hard times.

The Book Whisperer Is Disappointed


Alexandra Barbush reviewed I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart this way: “The story is engaging and keeps the reader wanting more; it’s apparent from the beginning that there is an underlying thread, a ribbon of truth connecting them all, and Pickhart makes sure the reader stays on long enough to find out what it is.” This review differs markedly from my unprofessional one. And those differences just remind us that not all books are for all readers.

I Will Die in a Foreign Land begins with a note about the 1913 Russian ballet which incited a riot in Paris. Then the story shifts to November 2013 with thousands of Ukrainian citizens protesting President Yanukoyvch’s failure to sign a referendum with the European Union. Yanukoyvch chose to ally Ukraine with Putin and Russia.

The story then provides readers with the story of four people through a dangerous winter—dangerous in terms of fighting, not winter weather. Katya, a Ukrainian-American doctor, is a main character there volunteering to help the wounded. She suffers from the loss of her son and the breakup of her marriage in Boston. She works at St. Michael’s Monastery which has become a temporary hospital. Misha, an engineer, is another character who figures heavily in the story and who becomes involved with Katya. Slava, an activist, and Aleksandr Ivanovich, a former KGB agent and piano player, round out the other two main characters.

Frankly, I found the story disjointed and difficult to follow. Not knowing anything about the history of the conflict also plays into my difficulty with reading the story. Also, the atrocities and the horrible deaths described add to my dislike of the book. Interspersed between chapters about the four main characters readers will find real-life newspaper clips from stories about missing journalists, deportation of citizens, and other atrocities.

Kalani Pickhart has received a great deal of praise including winning the 2022 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. I Will Die in a Foreign Land is simply not my cup of tea, but I read it.

The Book Whisperer Recommends The Show Girl



A few years ago, I read Montauk by Nicola Harrison. It is a story set in Montauk in 1938 and features wealthy New Yorkers who vacation in the small resort. Then I discovered Harrison’s latest novel, The Show Girl, set in NYC in 1927 and going forward. The two books provide quite different stories for readers, the mark of a good novelist.

The Show Girl follows Olive McCormick who leaves Minneapolis for NYC. Olive wants to be a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. Olive certainly has the talent to succeed. As many who have tried to succeed in show business know, it is a hard and difficult business even for those with great talent.

Olive does make it to the stage and is living her dream. When she meets Archi Carmichael, she feels she has taken another step on her journey. Archie has money and he is devilishly handsome. Once the two become engaged, readers will find themselves on a page-turning ride to discover the story behind the scenes.

Read The Show Girl to be immersed in the Ziegfeld Follies and the life of glamour. What mysteries will the readers learn? What secrets are being held? Read The Show Girl to discover the full story.

For book clubs, The Show Girl will generate discussion over the glitzy period of the Ziegfeld Follies and the sacrifices necessary to make it in show business. Discovering the unforgettable Olive will also provide fodder for discussion.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends a Book for Tweens


Addy lives with the memory of a fire that took her parents’ lives. She was just a tiny child, but she survived the fire. She cannot remember how she escaped. Addy now lives with Bibi, her grandmother, in NYC. Bibi came from Nigeria to raise Addy.

Now, Bibi has sent Addy on a trip from NYC to CA to a wilderness camp. Addy is uncertain why Bibi thinks this experience will be good for her. On the plane, Addy meets Dylan and Jamie who will be the college counselors on the expedition. The other teens in the group include Kelvin, A’Leia, DeShon, Nessa, and Jay.

All of her life, Addy has looked for escape routes. She makes sure she knows where the exits are located. She draws mazes and figures ways out of them. Her experience in the fire early in her life has left her wanting to find safety and making sure that she can escape any danger.

At the wilderness camp, Addy also meets Leo, the owner of the land and the camp. Leo recognizes her need to plan ahead, to know how to escape if danger arises. In the early morning, when Addy leaves the cabin she shares with Nessa, she encounters Ryder, Leo’s dog, and Leo who is also an early riser.

Leo tells Addy that he can teach her how to map the land, to recognize the paths that will keep her safe. Along with learning about mapping the land from Leo, Addy and her new friends, all city kids, learn about how to set up a campfire safely and put it out, hike, and climb.

Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes shows readers a girl who learns to be self-reliant and to help others. It is an inspiring story of determination and survival. Tension builds as the teens build a friendship when they had been strangers. When they face danger, Addy takes charge to help save as many as she can.

Paradise on Fire is an inspiring story.