Monthly Archives: November 2022

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends Love In English


When I read the premise for Love in English by Maria E. Andreu, I knew that I wanted to read the book. Written for the 14–17-year-old readers, Love in English provides readers with a glimpse into the intricacies of learning English as a teenager as well as navigating a new world of high school in a foreign land.

Ana, 16, and her mother travel from Argentina to New Jersey where her father has been living for three years. While both Ana and her mom have been taking English lessons in Argentina, fitting into their new world is troublesome for both. Ana is not only the new girl in her high school, but she also has the disadvantage of not understanding native speakers. Her teachers and the other students sound like this to her “######.”

Before she attends her first day of English as a Second Language (ESL) class, she expects all the other students to be Spanish speakers like her. Imagine her surprise when she discovers the students in the ESL class that the students are from a variety of places, all speaking different languages. Luckily, Mr. T., the ESL teacher, makes learning English practical and fun. That does not mean that all goes smoothly even in that class. In ESL, Ana meets Neo who is from Cyprus. They bond over the language difficulties.

To complicate matters, Ana also meets Harrison in her math class. She even tutors him in math because she is good at it, and he needs help. Liking both boys presents problems for Ana, as readers must expect. Ana makes a friend in Altagracia who speaks English and Spanish.

Interspersed throughout the story, readers will find Ana’s notes on English and her poetry. ALA Booklist wrote this review: “Poems that explore the quirks, idioms, and inconsistencies of English blossom throughout the narrative, adding dimension to Ana’s character. As she learns to navigate a new language, she’s also navigating a new culture, reconciling her new way of life with her old family ways and working toward a compromise with her strict parents. Andreu bases Ana’s story on her own experiences as an immigrant teen, and she depicts Ana with authenticity and grace.”

In a conversation with Harrison, Ana asks about the word to use to express sadness when someone is far away, but the word is not sadness alone. Harrison understands and supplies the words longing and yearning. Ana thinks of yearning, “I love it instantly, as close as it is to yarn, that tangled-up feeling of wanting someone or something to be near you, to be yours, and the more you try to escape the thoughts, the more they come. I am a whole ball of yearning, for home, for words.” Read Love in English for a peek at what it is like to learn a new language and new culture as a teenager. It is a delightful story


The Book Whisperer Enjoys A Children’s Book


Above, the book cover, Naseem Hrab, writer, and Nahid Kazemi, illustrator

As readers of this blog know, I am an eclectic reader. I took several library science courses in college. One of my favorite courses was on children’s literature. After earning a master’s in English, I taught at MO State U (then Southwest MO State U) where children’s lit was in the English Department. I had the privilege of teaching the course several times. I still enjoy reading children’s literature. The Sour Cherry Tree written by Naseem Hrab and illustrated by Nahid Kazemi is the latest such book I’ve read.

The Sour Cherry Tree is a sweet story that begins with a little girl biting her mom’s toe to wake her. Wait, you say, how can a story starting with the biting of another person be a sweet story? The little girl tells readers that she does not bite too hard, “just hard enough to wake her.” The little girl knows her grandfather, Baba Bozog, “forgot to wake up yesterday, and he lived alone, so there was no one to bite him.” That’s sound reasoning for a little girl. In her mind, if only she had been with her Baba Bozog, she could have awakened him.

The story continues with the little girl and her mom going to Baba Bozog’s home “to take care of a few things.” While there, the little girl remembers the times with her grandfather. She wanders around the house, looking at items there and recalling happy times with her grandfather. She mentions times when Baba Bozog gave her fig cookies to eat. Even though she didn’t like the fig cookies, she ate them with him.

The Sour Cherry tree is beautifully illustrated throughout. The story and the illustrations provide a dual telling of the little girl’s visits with her grandfather. It is a story of love. On the back cover, readers will see this line: “Sometimes. You don’t need to share words to share love.”

The Book Whisperer Enjoys Another Delightful Story With Enola Holmes


One could say that I am enamored of Enola Holmes and her escapades. Nancy Springer has written eight books starring the feisty, whip-smart Enola Holmes, Sherlock and Mycroft’s much younger sister. I just finished the most recent book in the series: Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade. By now, Enola has reconciled with her famous brothers, and they are content to allow her to live her own life. Sherlock interacts with Enola on a much more frequent basis than does Mycroft.

Enola continues her quest as a “scientific perditorian,” someone who finds people and things.  In this recent episode, Enola again connects with Lady Cecily Alastair, whom Enola has rescued previously. In fact, Enola has rescued Lady Cecily twice already. Once again, Lady Cecily’s hateful father, Sir Eustace Alastair, has locked his daughter in her room without books, paper, or pencils, and only her nightclothes. He has also locked his wife in her room with her maid. He doesn’t know his wife has some means of escape if she chooses.

Enola helps Lady Cecily escape, although that is not her first intention. Enola intends only to find out if Cecily is all right, but Enola discovers that Cecily is locked away. However, once Cecily is out of the locked room, the plot thickens. What can Enola do to keep Cecily safe until she can figure out a way to help Cecily and her mother. What dirt can Enola find on Sir Eustace to persuade him to allow his wife and daughters to live in peace?

Readers will enjoy the sparring between Enola and the famous Sherlock. They work well together despite Sherlock’s initial misgivings. Enola finds another ally in Lady Vienna Steadwell, who also lives in the genteel boarding house for women where Enola now resides. I did find one interesting slip in the book which I am still uncertain about whether it is a slip or deliberate. Lady Steadwell and Enola go to Sir Eustace’s home with Enola posing as Lady Steadwell’s niece the Honourable Aubergina Steadwell. A few pages later, Lady Vienna calls Enola “the Honourable Aubergina Treadwell.” Did she do that on purpose?

Nancy Springer has created a delightful character in Enola. I enjoy watching her develop Enola more fully with each escapade.

Although this story has nothing to do with Enola, I feel compelled to tell it now. When I was finishing graduate school, I wrote letters of application for jobs teaching English. My name is Caldwell, and I lived on Treadwell Street in Fayetteville, AR. I received one rejection letter addressed to Ms. Treadwell. I thought that’s probably not a good fit for me anyway if someone in the English department can’t even get my name right!

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Children’s Book


When I learned poet Robert Graves had written one children’s book, I knew I would like to read it. Graves wrote The Big Green Book and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The story is simple. It features a boy named Jack who lives with his rather dour aunt and uncle. When Jack explores in the attic, he finds the big green book which is full of magical spells. The first spell Jack uses is to make himself into an old, gray-haired man, leaving his aunt and uncle completely flummoxed about where Jack has gone. The story is delightful, and children and adults will enjoy the story and the illustrations.

The Book Whisperer Makes an Unusual Demand: Read a Fantasy, When Women Were Dragons


When my friend Lisa handed me her copy of When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill, I thought I would thumb through the book, but I CERTAINLY did not intend to read it. After all, I don’t read fantasy or at least only minimally. I know better than to judge a book by its cover. This time, however, I judged by its genre, and I learned a painful lesson: Don’t do that! I started reading the book, and I won’t say I was hooked immediately, but I kept reading, and soon, I was, indeed, hooked on the story, the characters, and the premise.

Having just finished Lessons jn Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, a story about women being marginalized and about women’s lack of opportunities in the 1950s, I was not prepared to find similarities in When Women Were Dragons. That’s just what I found.  In fact, Garmus provides this blurb about Barnhill’s novel: “Completely fierce, unmistakably feminist, and subversively funny, When Women Were Dragons brings the heat to misogyny with glorious imagination and talon-sharp prose.” Adding to that description, Publishers Weekly had this to say in a review: “A deeply felt exploration of feminism in an alternate fantastical history…. This allegory packs a punch.”

Set in the 1950s, When Women Were Dragons chronicles a family’s journey with Alex Green, her adoptive sister Beatrice, her over-protective mother, and her absentee father. When Beatrice becomes Alex’s sister, readers learn that Beatrice’s mother, Alex’s aunt, has joined thousands of other women who “dragoned” on the same day in 1955. But like so many other topics, particularly topics relating to women, women who become dragons are not to be discussed or referred to in any way. When Alex is 15, her beloved mother and protector dies of cancer.

Alex’s father, already absent for anything small or important, puts Alex and Beatrice into a tiny apartment. He tells Alex she can care for herself and raise Beatrice. He provides money for their support, and he calls each Sunday. The calls are perfunctory and completely unsatisfactory to Alex, but her father simply speaks his piece and hangs up. Alex intends to go to college; she has inherited her mother’s talent with mathematics. Alex’s father tries to crush those dreams by telling Alex the moment she graduates from high school, his support ENDS!

Luckily for her, Alex has friends who help her and one of those friends is her Aunt Marla, one of the first women to dragon. Aunt Marla also enlists other dragons. Another ally is Mrs. Gyzinska, a public librarian, who also sees Alex’s potential and befriends her.

Throughout When Women Were Dragons, readers are treated to excerpts from research dragoning by Dr. Henry Gantz. Alex eventually meets Dr. Gantz who is a professor and researcher at her university. Dr. Gantz’s research is fascinating. One of his most poignant statements follows here: “I can tell you that a good number of our early hypotheses [about dragoning and dragons] are in error…. There is no greater moment for a scientist than to be proved wrong or to be alive at a time when settled science is turned on its head. It is then that the researcher realizes that the world is so much more interesting than it was even a day before.” He goes on to say that “more wondrous things are on their way.”

Dr. Gantz’s prophesy proves true, but readers will have to read When Women Were Dragons to discover for themselves what happens, not only to the dragons but also to Alex and Beatrice. Suffice it to say that even non-fantasy readers will find much to ponder and discuss. Barnhill has written a magical book.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Historical Fiction With a Nod to Cooking With War Rations


Having read and enjoyed The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, I chose The Kitchen Front, also by Jennifer Ryan, as my next historical fiction read. It is a delightful story of unlikely female friendship and of women coming together in a time of need to help one another. During WWII, the BBC initiated a radio program called The Kitchen Front. The program’s aim is to help women use their rations to best advantage in feeding their families. When The Kitchen Front holds a cooking contest to find a first-ever female host for the cooking show, four women compete for the prestige prize of becoming the host. They were Audrey, war widow with three growing boys; Nell Brown, kitchen maid who had help from her mentor Fenley Hall’s main cook, Mrs. Quince; Lady Gwendoline, from Fenley Hall and Audrey’s sister; and Zelda DuPont, a chef from London stuck in the countryside for the war effort.

Audrey does all she can to support her family. She grows an extensive garden and bakes pies and cakes to sell in the village. She is innovative in her use of rations and safe-to-eat wild plants and herbs in the area.  Mrs. Quince is growing old, but she has trained Nell and has confidence in Nell that Nell lacks in herself. Lady Gwendolyn simply desires the prestige of winning. Zelda has her own challenges, facing motherhood as an unmarried woman and a desire to return to London to become a head chef, a job strictly reserved for men at the time.

Unfortunately, Audrey and Gwendolyn do not see eye to eye and have lost that sisterly connection. All of the women have secrets that haunt them and drive them forward. For Audrey, it is fear of losing her home and not being able to care for her growing boys. Zelda’s pregnancy could be her downfall since she is not married. Nell is an excellent cook, but she lacks confidence and has a bit of a stammer when she is nervous. Gwendolyn also harbors secrets, primarily that her marriage is a sham and that the Lord of Fenley Manor is a brute.

The story moves quickly, and readers will find themselves rooting for all of the women in one way or another. War rationing creates innovative recipes made with scant ingredients. The recipes from all the women are included in the story. The tension rises with each of the three courses the contestants make as part of the contest. Besides the contest, their lives move forward with various challenges.

Watching these women navigate difficult times and overcome challenges is heart-warming. Readers will find a few surprises along the way.

The Book Whisperer Says You MUST Read Lessons in Chemistry!


Much has been written and spoken about Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. I will add my two cents! Lessons in Chemistry is an incredible book. Once I started reading, I could hardly put the book down.

By turns, I laughed, became frustrated, and experienced anger. Perhaps not anger but fury! Set in the 1950s and early 60s, Lessons in Chemistry takes readers on a journey with Elizabeth Zott, a chemist and serious researcher.

Elizabeth is underestimated throughout her career. With each step, however, she continues to show her worth, grit, and determination. She does not suffer fools. When people, particularly men, underestimate her, they soon discover their error. They may not take kindly to being shown up, but that does not deter Elizabeth from the truth.

Along the way, Elizabeth empowers other women to find their own strengths. That includes women in her circle and those who see her on TV, but who are not personally acquainted with her. That is one of the major strengths of the novel.

Readers learn Elizabeth’s story through her own eyes, but Garmus has also employed several other points of view including a dog’s point of view. Elizabeth rescues a dog she names Six-thirty. Elizabeth teaches Six-thirty many words well beyond stay and sit. In turn, Six-thirty is protective of Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s daughter, Mad. He also expresses his feelings about situations and people.

As a TV cooking show host, Elizabeth teaches women about the chemistry of cooking. She believes that women have strengths in themselves that are going untapped. She reminds them that they can develop that strength, and the women love Elizabeth and her show even if it is not the conventional cooking show her employers expected. Her tagline at the end of each episode is “Children, set the table. Mother needs a moment to herself.”

Read Lessons in Chemistry and persuade all of your reading friends, male and female alike, to read it!

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Winner


As a fan of historical fiction and a fan of stories set in libraries and bookshops, I turned to The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin expecting a great read. I quickly discovered I had a hit in my hands.

Readers meet Grace and her lifelong friend Viv as they move from their village to London in 1939. While the girls have long dreamed of being in London, they arrive on the cusp of war, so they find that what they expected will be quite different from reality. Still, both Grace and Viv had little in their home village to which to return.

Mrs. Weatherford, Grace’s mother’s friend, rents a room to Grace and Viv. Grace’s mother had died; following her mother’s death, Grace learns her home actually belongs to her uncle. While her uncle and aunt allow her to live with them for a time while Grace works in her uncle’s store, her aunt makes it clear that she is not happy about having Grace around.

Viv immediately gets a job in a department store, but Grace has no references since her uncle refused to provide one. Mrs. Weatherford steps in and persuades a bookshop owner to give Grace a trial run of six months so that he can then write a letter of recommendation for her. Grace is not happy about a job in a bookstore since she is not much of a reader and fears she will be out of her depth.

Grace quickly discovers that a bookshop is not so different from her uncle’s store. And this store needs a good cleaning to begin with. Then Grace can begin to develop an understanding of the books and how they are arranged.

As the war continues and becomes more dangerous, Viv, Grace, and Mrs. Weatherford all face trials and challenges. They meet those challenges head-on and find ways to remain safe. Even when tragedy strikes, the women find ways to help others as a way to assuage their own grief.

The story is one of triumph over adversity and Martin has thrown in a little romance to sweeten the plot. When Grace begins reading to others trapped in bomb shelters until the all-clear sounds, I found myself rooting for her even more because she finds a way to keep people engaged and keep their minds off the potential bombing outside. On safe days, she continues the readings at the bookshop too.

Readers will find a story of triumph, resilience, and strength in The Last Bookshop in London.

The Book Whisperer Discovers A New-to-Her Mystery Author


I am frequently drawn to mysteries. I enjoy the sense of suspense and the satisfying ending that I usually find in a good mystery. I also enjoy books in a series because a series allows an author to continue to develop characters and settings. Most of the time, I start with the first book in the series, but I had not read any of the Rosalie Hart mysteries before reading the third book in the series: Mystery at Windswept Farm by Wendy Sand Eckel. I don’t feel I missed anything by not having read the first two books: Murder at Barclay Meadow and Death at the Day Lily Café.

Rosalie Hart, Eckel’s main character, runs an organic farm. After much hard work, Rosalie has recently received certification that her farm is truly organic. Unfortunately, her neighbor Kline has decided to spray his winter wheat with toxic chemicals. Clearly, Kline’s proximity to Rosalie’s farm puts Rosalie’s organic farming in jeopardy. It’s no spoiler to say that Tyler ends up dead early in the story.  Quite naturally, Rosalie, her boyfriend and partner in the farm and their farmhand Bini are all suspects. And why not? After all, Kline was a danger to the organic status.  

To complicate matters, Rosalie is hosting a cooking school at her Day Lily Café. Besides liking mysteries, I also like mysteries that feature a special skill. In this case, Rosalie exhibits two special skills: cooking and organic farming.

As readers must expect, the story does not follow a straight line. Surely, there are other suspects in Kline’s death. That’s what makes the mystery satisfying to read—unearthing the puzzle pieces and putting them together. Read Mystery at Windswept Farm to discover all of the secrets.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Updated News Stories


As a self-proclaimed Book Whisperer, I was drawn to read More After the Break: A Reporter Returns to Ten Unforgettable News Stories by Jen Maxfield. Maxfield spent years as a TV news reporter. We all know the stories we see on TV news reports generally have an ephemeral life. Maxfield revisits some of her most important stories featuring unforgettable people. Maxfield returns to meaningful stories and gives readers additional insight into the people involved.

Like her TV reporting skill, Maxfield’s writing skills are equally compelling.  She begins with “The Door Knock.” In it, Maxfield describes encountering a woman whose grandson had been murdered in a drive=by shooting. Some time later, Maxfield asks Gloria Sexton, the young man’s grandmother, for another interview—a follow-up story. She goes on to describe how she decided to write the stories in the book and about revisiting them.

While I was captivated by all of the stories, several stand out to me. Those include “The Long Way Home” and “A Daughter’s Love.” I also appreciate the way Maxfield brings the readers’ attention back to her introduction with her concluding story, “The Door Knock, Revisited.” Maxfield discovers for herself and her readers what happened later, after the public attention had turned away from the story. By returning to the stories, Maxfield gives her readers additional information and another look into the lives of people who were affected.

These stories can be read in the order in which they appear in the book or they can be read in any sequence that strikes individual readers. I like that notion that one can return to the stories and gain something extra with each reading.