Monthly Archives: December 2022

The Book Whisperer Is Enamored with a New (to Her) Series

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I recently discovered the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency series by Jen Turano. Turano writes several series, but an inquiry agency run by a motley crew of women caught my eye. To Steal a Heart is the first in the series. I am sure one could read the books in any order, but I like to start with the first in a series. Indeed, in To Steal a Heart, readers learn a great deal about the characters and their backgrounds. Indeed, my first thought was to use this sentence in describing the book: In To Steal a Heart, much is revealed and much is promised for the future.

Gabriella Goodhue known as Gabe in her youth is now a young lady living in a boarding house and working in an upscale dressmaking shop in NYC during the Gilded Age. The story is full of intrigue. As readers become acquainted with the various characters who live in the boarding house, they will find themselves falling in love with them. To help Jennette, a fellow boarder, who has been woefully, wrongfully accused of theft, Gabriella and her friends decide to clear Jennette’s name, thus is born the Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency.

As Gabriella attempts to discover who the real thief is, she encounters Nicholas Quinn, her old friend and a fellow thief from her youth. They have both moved far away from that life, Gabriella by chance when she is sent by the police to an orphanage. Nicholas fares even better when Professor Cameron takes Nicholas to raise and tutor and even makes him his heir, calling him his nephew.

To say the plot thickens would be an understatement! Readers must read the story to discover all the intrigue and the results of the ladies’ inquiries. I will say their success in solving the mystery of the theft for which Jennette is accused brings a wealth of business to the newly formed Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency. Those cases lead to more intrigue and more frequent encounters with the handsome Nicholas.

Readers who delve into To Steal a Heart will find characters to love and hate. The story is a delight!

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The Book Whisperer Discovers a Delightful Book

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Wade Rouse (aka Viola Shipman), Viola Shipman with young Wade Rouse

For those looking for a delightful book with recipes tied to the story, try The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman, aka Wade Rouse. Wade Rouse writes under the pen name Viola Shipman to honor his maternal grandmother. Viola Shipman nurtured a love of reading in Wade from a young age. When he rediscovered Viola’s old recipe box, he used the recipes to write a story about a young girl growing up on an orchard and pie shop in MI: The Recipe Box.

Samantha, Sam, Mullins has always felt she was destined for life in the wider world than the orchard and pie shop run by her grandparents and parents. She learns to make the recipes her grandmother favors, those handed down from generations before. Sam does love to cook, and the Peach-Blueberry Slab pie is one of her favorites, made with all fresh fruit.

Still, Sam chafes under the restrictions of small-town life and longs for something more. She goes to culinary school where she excels and gets a job at a prestigious bakery in NYC, her dream come true. Or is it? Chef Dimples, the owner and TV baking star is a fraud, and all who work for him know it. However, he is also a tyrant. Sam hopes that working for Chef Dimples will eventually lead her to her own bakery.

The story turns on two incidents at the NYC bakery. First, Sam arrives at work to find the door locked. Trisha, the head pastry chef usually opens the store and begins baking for the early morning rush. When Sam uses her key to open the door, she finds a note from Trisha to Chef Dimples: “Chef, and I use the term loosely, I not only quit, effective immediately, but I wish you nothing but a ring of bad luck for the rest of your so-called career. You are an energy vampire, a soul-sucking vacuum, a soulless human with a Hindenburg-sized ego that will eventually crash and burn.” The note goes on, but readers can see that Trisha is fed up with the fake Chef Dimples who runs roughshod over his employees.

Sam starts to work baking her favorite Peach-Blueberry Slab pie. When Chef Dimples arrives and tastes the pie, he immediately dumps it into the waste bin although Sam knows he really liked the bite he took. He thought the recipe “too country.” At that moment, the second epiphany occurs: Sam also quits Chef Dimple’s employ! She had wanted to go home for her grandmother’s birthday, but she had feared asking for time off. With Trisha’s decision to leave unexpectedly, Sam suddenly finds her own courage.

Sam’s unexpected return home sets a new story in motion. I will allow readers to discover for themselves what unfolds once Sam makes the momentous decision to leave NYC for her grandmother’s birthday. I will not spoil the story, but I will say there is romance that comes full circle, and Sam does find her niche in the world of cooking.  Read and enjoy Sam’s story and try some of the recipes as well!

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Story of the 1960s

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When I chose Against the Grain by Anne Dimock to read and review for BookTrib, I looked forward to a gripping story. And that’s exactly what I discovered. I grew up in a segregated South. However, I have always known that racial discrimination and hatred are not reserved for one area of the country. Sadly, those traits appear across the country and toward a variety of people.

Dimock chooses to tell a story that takes place between 1962-64 in Jamestown, NJ. Through the eyes of six characters, the story unfolds, giving readers a fully realized understanding of the impact of prejudice. Prejudice rears its ugly head in many forms. Is Helen Ransom fearing that Fleur Williams will steal the pearls she has left in the jewelry store for restringing? Or is she unsettled to see a young Black girl working in the store, or does she feel girls like Fleur should be working in other stores on the Main Street?

As readers continue, they find Fleur at the center of change. Even Fleur’s parents are not sure about the path the high school student should take after graduating from high school. Eventually, it will be up to Fleur to determine her own future.

Dimock does not shy away from the horrible events happening across the South at the same time as her story takes place in NJ. How these events impact the story, I will leave the readers to discover. In her acknowledgments, Dimock writes, “I took a small act of history from my childhood that wasn’t talked about much and created a story behind it.” Read Against the Grain to discover rich characters drawn from a dark period in US history—a time not so long ago and full of the racial prejudice that still plagues us today, sadly. For book clubs, members will find a great deal to discuss:; racial prejudice, both subtle and overt, education, opportunity, and character development.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends That Book Clubs Join NovelNetwork

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When she saw one of my book reviews for a book written by one of the authors registered in NovelNetwork, Debbie Harpham contacted me by email to ask if I would tag NovelNetwork, https://novelnetwork.com/, when I posted any reviews by authors registered with the site. I was not familiar with NovelNetwork until that moment, but I certainly found a wealth of information and opportunities there. Since that fortunate email, I have signed my book club up with NovelNetwork and also enjoyed a number of exciting online programs sponsored by NovelNetwork and Adventures by the Book, https://adventuresbythebook.com/.

Since I discovered NovelNetwork, the Circle of Readers, my book club, has enjoyed several visits via Zoom with very special authors. Since January 2022, five authors from NovelNetwork have joined us for lively, personal discussions. The Circle of Readers meets in Broken Arrow, OK, a suburb of Tulsa, OK. Authors do make frequent visits to Tulsa bookstores and the library. Still, being able to invite an author via Zoom to meet with my book club is much more personal than a quick hello at a bookstore.

To be candid, readers do enjoy having books signed by authors in person. Generally, that means that one stands in line, has a moment to speak to the author, gets the book signed, and moves on so the next person can step forward. Authors who have joined us on Zoom have been generous with their time and answers to questions. It has been a real pleasure to feel that we received personal attention to the questions and comments we have.

We read The Rose Code in January, and Kate Quinn joined us for our discussion. Everyone enjoyed the book and learned even more about it because Quinn shared with us some of her research done before she wrote the book. Quinn generously joined again via Zoom for the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries when The Rose Code was chosen for a book talk.

Our next author was Tracey Enerson Wood who wrote The War Nurse, a WWI historical novel. None of us in the group had been familiar with Julia Stimson before reading The War Nurse. Again, as Wood shared with us how she researched the story, we found an added depth to our understanding of the story and an appreciation for Stimson.

By the time our book club read The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner, I was thoroughly familiar with NovelNetwork and had begun making deliberate choices of books by authors registered with NovelNetwork. Susan Meissner not only charmed us in the book club with her kindness and warm, engaging manner, but she also kindly agreed to appear on Zoom for the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries when the Friends held a book talk over The Nature of Fragile Things.

The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight was the next book I chose from NovelNetwork’s site. Again, we found Knight to be extremely gracious in answering our questions. We all enjoyed the extra bits she told us about her research into the Mitford sisters who are so central to the novel.

Heather Webb joined us when we read The Next Ship Home. We learned about her background as a teacher and the amount of research she had done prior to writing the story. The members of my book club were charmed by Webb’s engaging manner and were excited to learn about her upcoming book about Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.

For each of these visits with such kind, talented authors, my book club has gained additional insights into the books we had read. In addition, we got a glimpse of what the authors were working on next. I know that authors receive many requests to talk with book clubs. I am grateful to each one of these authors mentioned. The benefit to authors is that we are reading their books—the hard work into which they have poured hours of research, writing, and editing. Also, a benefit for the authors is that the members of my book club are such avid readers that they don’t stop with one book by an author. Particularly if an author has met with us, we seek other books by the same author, those published before the book we read and those after.

For book club leaders everywhere, I highly recommend that you sign your book club up with NovelNetwork and invite authors to join your group via Zoom. Also, watch for exciting programs in person and online from both NovelNetwork and Adventures by the Book. The members of the Circle of Readers certainly look forward to more visits with NovelNetwork authors!

The Book Whisperer Insists You Read The Librarian Spy

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After reading The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin, I sought another book by her: The Librarian Spy. Both books are set in WWII, a period of history I had sworn off reading for a time. As noted previously in this blog, many good decisions are subject to review. Such is the case with reading historical fiction based on WWII. I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Bookshop in London, so I was eager to dive into The Librarian Spy.

Told in two parts each dealing with people in the resistance and fighting against the Nazi invasions and atrocities, The Librarian Spy features two brave women: Ava and Elaine. Ava is a librarian at the Library of Congress enjoying her job when she is recruited by the US Military to gather intelligence, working undercover. When she agrees, Ava is sent to Lisbon where she seeks out messages in newspapers, copies them onto microfilm, and sends them on. Elaine is in France and joins the resistance after her husband is arrested.

Readers will wonder how these two women intersect if one is an American in Lisbon while the other is in France. Therein lies the mystery as well as the show of strength exhibited by both women in times of extreme duress and danger. The women use coded messages in order to connect.

I found the story profoundly moving. I admired the intelligence shown by Ava and Elaine as well as others in the resistance. Figuring out the codes and changing them to avoid detection was certainly challenging, but lives were on the line.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Delightful Book for 8-10 Year-Old Readers

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Anyone seeking a truly delightful book for readers from 8 – 10 (and even adults!) should look no further than Frindle by Andrew Clements. A retired school librarian who is a friend suggested that I read Frindle, and I am glad she did.

Nicholas Allen is a creative young man in fifth grade. He is bright with an added measure of mischief—harmless and creative mischief. Everyone in Nicholas’s school must take Mrs. Granger for English. Now, all the kids know that Mrs. Granger is a force to be reckoned with because she has X-ray vision and eyes in the back of her head. Not only that, but Mrs. Granger is a stickler for her students using the dictionary.

She sends a note home to parents the first day of class with a list of acceptable dictionaries she expects the parents to buy for the children. As students know, often, the first day of class is merely an introduction to the teacher and each other. That is not the case in Mrs. Granger’s class; she intends to get right down to the business of teaching. Now, Nicholas is an expert at side-tracking other teachers, but he is about to meet his match in Mrs. Granger.

Innocently, Nicholas asks, “Mrs. Granger, you have so many dictionaries in this room, and that huge one especially … where did all those words come from? Did they just get copied from other dictionaries? It sure is a big book.” Nicholas thinks Mrs. Granger will launch into a long explanation that will take the rest of the period and she will forget to assign homework. Imagine Nicholas’s surprise when Mrs. Granger replies, “Why, what an interesting question Nicholas. I would talk about that for hours, I bet. Do the rest of you want to know too?” When the class responded affirmatively, Mrs. Granger smiled at Nicolas and said, “Very well then. Nicholas, will you do some research on that subject and give a little oral report to the class? It will mean so much more than if I just told you.” Nicholas is outwitted!

Nicholas learns a great deal about how words are chosen for dictionaries and gives his long report the following day in class. As he and his friend Janet walked home after school one day, Janet noticed a gold pen lying in the street. She picked it up; a few minutes later, Nicholas, lost in thought, jostled Janet making her drop the pen she had found. When Nicholas picked it up, he handed it back to Janet, but he said, “Here’s your frindle” instead of saying “here’s your pen.”

This little incident started Nicholas on a new path of mischief dealing with words. Why is the word dog used to indicate the animal? For that matter, why is any word used to indicate a particular thing? So Nicholas sets out to have his friends and others in the school start using frindle instead of pen. What ensues is funny and educational.

Read Frindle to discover all the hijinks surrounding the invention of a new word! You will enjoy this story.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Story from China and Beyond

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I admit that I struggled a bit in reading Dancing in the River by George Lee. It reads almost like a memoir, but it is called a novel. That leads me to think that much of the story is autobiographical with fictional elements. In the story, Little Bright learns to fear anything Western. He is growing up when Mao’s Cultural Revolution keeps people fearful because neighbors report on neighbors. His family is targeted.

I found Little Bright’s love of language inspiring. The story is sprinkled with admirable sentences and sayings. When he returns home after being away, Little Bright waxes poetic about his return. One of the lines I found poignant follows here: “When the veils of night began to shroud the sky, I saw the same familiar stars dispersed and sparkling overhead.”  

Another line that struck me occurs late in the story: “I would never forget this day when I broke myself into pieces.” These lines at the very end of the story sum up the poetry found throughout the story: “My vision brightened at last. As my inward eye opened and dove into the sparkling blue water, I saw my own mind dancing in the river.”

Certainly, for book clubs, Dancing in the River provides much for discussion: Mao’s Cultural Revolution, people’s reactions to that revolution, escape from the tyranny, and Little Bright’s own development.