Author Archives: parkdalear

About parkdalear

I am an avid reader and I love finding new technology to learn.

The Book Whisperer Recommends a Coming-of-Age Story


Let’s put the fun back in dysfunctional! Readers looking for family relationships and a coming-of-age story along with prejudice, loss, and the dangers of drug addiction. The Kunitz family appears to those looking from the outside to be the perfect family. The father is an English professor at a nearby college. While the mother is a stay-at-home mom, she has full-time live-in help to cook, clean, and help with the four children. In Night Swim, Jessica Keener has written a book which captures Sarah Kunitz’s change from childhood to adulthood. This transition does not happen at once, and Keener shows readers how that transition occurs.

After the untimely death of Mrs. Kunitz, the family spirals out of control. Professor Kunitz begins an affair with a younger colleague, leaving Sarah and her brothers without an understanding of what family means. While Sarah feels grown up, she also wishes she had her mother. In her loss, Sarah finds comfort in music and her ability to sing.

Night Swim will generate a lively discussion among book club members. Also, Jessica Keener in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the publication of Night Swim is meeting with book clubs via Zoom in all fifty states. Meeting with an author is always a boon for book clubs because the members have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments about the parts of the book that moved them the most or left them with the most questions.


The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Mystery!


A ski lodge, a winter storm brewing, and a family reunion, what could go wrong with this scenario? Benjamin Stevenson, Australian stand-up comedian and author, regales readers with a family reunion set to begin on the day after one member is released from prison. Family members who have not seen one another in three years are convening to welcome Michael Cunningham home.

What grabs readers’ attention about Stevenson’s third book? The title is certainly one to make readers pick up the book: Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone. The cover of the book is littered with murder weapons, another reason to wonder what is inside the pages. On the back, a blurb reads as follows: “Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some just unfortunate.”

Ernest, Erne, Cunningham narrates the story. He writes how-to books for would-be writers, especially mystery writers. He starts the story with Ronald Knox’s “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 1929. Erne promises the readers that he will adhere to the rules in telling his family’s story. He intones, “Honesty is what sets apart what we call ‘Golden Age’ mysteries.” He goes on to remind readers that they are not reading a novel because “all of this happened to me. He even gives readers the page numbers where he will describe the murders, and he guarantees “there are no sex scenes.”

Erne frequently speaks to the readers. He tells us to “call him a reliable narrator. Everything I tell you will be the truth, or, at least, the truth as I knew it to be at the time that I thought I knew it. Hold me to that.”

Since he is a stand-up comedian, Stevenson has infused humor, albeit sometimes dark humor, throughout the story. I found myself laughing out loud or chuckling to myself often. Stevenson makes Erne true to his word in following Knox’s commandments. The story unfolds with a steady pace as one murder after the other occurs. In addition, readers learn the back story of the Cunningham family, starting with small-time crook Robert, the patriarch of the family.

Make no mistake, Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone offers quite a wild ride for readers. Readers find just the right mix of humor and darkness. Learning the truth about the Cunningham family will be an enjoyable read.

The Book Whisperer Recommends an Engaging Story


On the left and below are examples of some of the gadgets smuggled into POW camps

WWII continues to provide fodder for fiction and nonfiction alike.  In the case of The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris, gadgets created by MI9 in Britain were smuggled to POWs. These gadgets contained maps, compasses, knives, and flashlights among other devices, all designed to help the prisoners escape if possible. Since the Nazis allowed games for pastimes, the gadgets were embedded into the games and thus undetected. Sadly, few if any survive because soldiers were told to destroy the items so that the enemy would not know about them or suspect other items being smuggled in for other prisoners.

Fenna Vos lives in Michigan where her father is a copper miner. Fenna’s mother died early in Fenna’s life; she and her father have a meager existence, but they manage to keep body and soul together. Then Fenna’s father dies unexpectedly, leaving her an orphan. She is placed in an orphanage where she is not treated well and is thought to be too old to be adopted. After struggling with a bully and feeling very out of place at the home, Fenna creates an escape plan.

Already obsessed with magic tricks and illusions, Fenna has been teaching herself tricks for some time. For a while, those tricks entertained the other girls, but one bully puts Fenna in constant trouble, causing her to see escaping the orphanage as her only hope.

Fenna has enough money sewed into her coat’s hem to get a bus to her old friend Arie and his family. Arie’s mother grudgingly agrees to take Fenna in, especially since her daughter, Thea, has just run away to be married. Arie and Fenna have long been friends.

As an adult, Fenna continues her interest in magic tricks and illusions. She becomes an assistant to a magician, but she is really the driving force in the magic acts. She designs them and sets them up, all the while acting as the assistant.

Late one evening after a performance, Fenna is approached by a man as she walks to her boarding house. At first, she fears he means her harm. Then he convinces her he seeks her help. He is from MI9 in Britain and wants to recruit Fenna to go to England with him to help design gadgets to slip into POWs held by the Nazis. These gadgets will provide help to the prisoners is they can escape.

The story involves the designing and making of the gadgets which is exactly the kind of thing that Fenna has a talent for doing. Then she learns that Arie is in the Netherlands and is suspected of defecting to the enemy. Fenna knows that cannot be true, so she proposes herself as bait to draw Arie out and discover the truth. By all accounts, Arie has defected, but Fenna knows there is more to the story.

Readers will discover the intrigue and face the fears along with Fenna as she tries to locate Arie and find out the truth about what he is doing. This endeavor will involve dangers at every turn, so Fenna has to be quick-witted and resourceful.

Readers will learn about the gadgets really used by the Allies in the war, but they will learn much more about human relationships and the dangers that people faced to help one another in a time of terrible turmoil.

For book clubs, The Ways We Hide will provide a lively discussion, not only of the gadgets themselves but also the relationships formed among the people working on the gadgets. Then the intrigue revolving around Arie and what he is doing in the Netherlands will be another discussion. For many readers, examining the title itself in relation to the story as it unfolds will be a point of discussion.

Kristina McMorris has written six historical novels. Sold on a Monday, a story spurred into being by a picture McMorris saw, has sold a million copies.

The Book Whisperer Reads a Sequel


Having read and truly enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, I tried reading the second book in the series, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, but I gave it up. Then I read and enjoyed Miss Benson’s Beetle which provided another good story. Lately, I’ve read Maureen: A Harold Fry Novel. I can’t say that it met my expectations, especially after reading about Harold’s long walk. In reading about the trilogy, I see that many reviewers indicate the books can be read as standalone novels. I would agree with that, but, to be candid, reading all three would make a difference in a reader’s understanding.

Ten years ago, Harold Fry set out to mail a postcard to his ailing former workmate, Queenie Hennessey. At the first postbox, he decided to continue walking to the next one before mailing the postcard. That decision turned into the six-hundred-mile walk to hand the card to Queenie in person, a journey Harold certainly had not planned to make. It just happened. Along the way, other people joined him for periods of time and then dropped away as others joined. The people asked Harold for advice.

When people start asking Harold for advice, that reminded me of Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin. Murray Tepper just wants to sit in his car in NYC and read the newspaper in peace, but people keep getting into the car and asking his advice.

But I digress; this review is called Maureen, and it is about Harold Fry’s wife of many years.  After the death of their son, Harold and Maureen found themselves in a deep depression. They live in the same house, but they pass one another without much interaction. Near the end of Harold’s walk, Maureen joins him, and their reconciliation begins.

Still, their lives have not returned to any kind of normal interaction between the two. Maureen decides to visit Queenie’s garden because she has learned that Queenie honors David, Maureen and Harold’s son there. She is jealous and does not understand how Queenie even knew David.

Unlike Harold’s walking trip, Maureen’s pilgrimage involves a long drive to Queenie’s garden. The story unfolds slowly, even for a short novel, 132 pages. Maureen sets out on her journey, but she encounters a series of problems. Even when she arrives at Queenie’s garden, she is disappointed and still feels empty as if she has made the trip for nothing. She does not find any resolution.

While Maureen is billed as a standalone novel, I recommend that readers first read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Those who are really gung-ho may wish read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey.

The Book Whisperer is Delighted to Share a Must-Read Debut Novel


After finishing The Measure by Nikki Erlick, I have waited several days before writing this review. I needed time to process what I had read. If you could know the day of your death, would you access that knowledge? What if such knowledge were thrust upon you? That’s not quite the way people learn of their impending death dates in The Measure, but they will have access to the knowledge should they choose.

Overnight, everyone in the world 22 years of age and older receives a personalized box emblazoned with the person’s name and this note, “The measure of your life lies within.” Thereafter, as people turn 22, they receive their boxes with the same quote attached. Inside the boxes, people find “hidden initially by a silvery white piece of delicate fabric.” Under the fabric lies a string that denotes the length of the person’s life.

Once people knew what the box contained, some refused to open the box, not wanting to know the length of time they had left to live, regardless of whether they received a long or a short string.

Erlick provides this quotation from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” as an epigraph to begin the novel: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Later in the story, one of the characters quotes Emerson: “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life that matters.”

Imagine the complicated questions that arise regarding those who have short strings, known as “short-stringers.” Will they be denied health care, jobs, promotions, homes? Consider the ways those people could encounter discrimination. Those with long strings worry that short-stringers will act out in dangerous ways. In fact, some mass shootings occur committed by short-stringers. That then allows certain politicians to paint all short-stringers with a broad brush.

Readers discover the story through the eyes of several recurring characters, some of whom overlap because of relationships. Support groups form for the short-stringers. Those groups then vary from the very short strings to those with more years to live.

The Measure is an excellent story that will keep readers turning pages to see what develops next with the characters and their strings. Who will marry even though one partner has a decidedly short string? What engaged couples will then part because one has a much longer lifespan than the other? How will laws affect those with short strings? Book club members will have more than they can discuss in one meeting!

The Measure is Nikki Erlick’s debut novel, but she is no stranger to writing. She has long been a travel writer and a ghostwriter. The Measure is well worth reading.

The Book Whisperer Reads About Lobster Fishing & Reality TV


If you had a chance to be part of a reality TV show, would you choose to participate? Why or why not? What do you think would happen among the participants? Lobster Wars by Mark E. Greene gives readers an in-depth look into the participants of a reality show about lobster fishermen in Maine.  Greene himself is a water sports enthusiast, so his experiences color the story and make it seem realistic. That’s especially true for me who has no experience with water sports, lobster fishing, or Maine.

The participants expect they will become rich and famous by being part of Lobster Wars on TV. The story is complicated by a newcomer who has chucked his corporate job and bought a lobster boat. Newcomers often have trouble fitting into a closed community. In addition, the lobster fishing is also facing difficulty with regulations and fewer lobsters in the water.

Readers have two stories, in essence: the scripts from the TV episodes and the interaction among the villagers on and off the water.

For book clubs, Lobster Wars will provide effective discussion points. The recognition that reality TV is not REAL, that it has been heavily edited for airing. The conflicts among the characters are not only for TV but also in the village itself.

For book clubs, Lobster Wars will provide effective discussion points. The recognition that reality TV is not REAL, that it has been heavily edited for airing. The conflicts among the characters are not only for TV but also in the village itself.

The Book Whisperer Reads Widely


As an eclectic reader, I enjoy delving into young adult books as well as books for children. Recently, I read Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington, written for readers aged 10 and up. The story follows Sarah Nelson as she leaves elementary school and is heading for seventh grade after the summer break.

Sarah’s life is complicated by the fact that when she was two, her mother tried to drown Sarah, and the mother was successful in drowning Sarah’s twin brother. Her mother now lives in a mental institution. Sarah rarely gets to see her mother. Even when she does see her mother, the visits are extremely unsatisfactory.

Sarah lives with her dad, a college professor. The two have moved frequently because her father feels compelled to leave a city once his wife’s actions are brought to light again. Approaching the tenth anniversary of the attempted murders, Sarah fears reporters will dredge up the information again. She is always watching over her shoulder for journalists who might ambush her to ask questions.

Another sad complication is that Sarah’s dad is a good man, but he often drinks to excess. Sarah is concerned about her dad and his drinking, but she usually bites her tongue rather than say what she is thinking. With summer on the horizon, Sarah knows her dad will pack her off to his parents’ home for the vacation. She begs him to let her stay with him, and he relents when Charlotte, the college student across the street, agrees to watch Sarah for the summer.

The title comes from Sarah’s worries that she may be like her mother, although crazy is not a word her father allows her to use. She also worries that she may be like her dad and abuse alcohol. These are very real concerns for Sarah, so she writes about them in her journal. In fact, she keeps two journals. Her fake journal is all sweetness and light; she leaves it out so that anyone could read it. Her real journal delves into the questions that plague her, and she keeps this one carefully hidden. Sarah’s journal is also a place for her to keep trouble words

When Sarah’s sixth-grade teacher is sending the children off for the summer, he challenges them to write whether they write letters or keep a journal. Sarah starts writing letters to Atticus Finch because To Kill a Mockingbird is one of her favorite books. Too, Atticus Finch is the perfect father, one who listens to his children and teaches them without being preachy. Sarah also wishes for someone like Calpurnia in her life.

Sure Signs of Crazy gives readers a moving story of a young girl and the trouble she faces without a mother and a nearly absent father. Readers will be glad to know that the story gives Sarah and readers hope.

The Book Whisperer Highly Recommends West With Giraffes


Once again, belonging to a book club has pushed me to read a book I had begun and then put aside: West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge. For whatever reason when I first started reading it several months ago, I did not become engaged in the story, so I stopped reading. Fast forward a few months and a friend chooses West With Giraffes for a book club, so I give it another try. And am I glad I did!

Woodrow Wilson Nickel, Woody, is now 105 years old and realizes he has a story to tell, one that is not his story alone. He recognizes that he needs to put the story on paper and quickly. As Woody writes, readers discover the full story and sympathize with Woody because of the silly interruptions from supposedly well-meaning attendants at Woody’s nursing home.

 In 1938, approaching 18, Woody finds himself at his father’s destitute farm in the Panhandle of Texas during the height of the Dust Bowl with the Great Depression adding its horrors. With his parents and little sister dead, Woody digs up his mother’s coins from the yard and heads west, to the land of sunshine and honey, California.  The trip is neither straightforward nor easy. Woody encounters one difficulty after another.

When Woody sees a truck carrying two giraffes, he becomes intrigued. He also sees Augusta, Red, as he calls her. She is a beautiful, young woman carrying a camera. Hearing that the giraffes are being taken to San Diego’s Zoo, Woody decides to follow them. Unfortunately, he has no money and no transportation. Readers will have to read the story to see how Woody becomes the truck’s driver.

Based on the true story of a twelve-day journey across the US from NY to CA, West With Giraffes chronicles the trip with fictionalized characters. It is a moving story full of adventure, difficulty, and triumph.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a TRUE Winner


Dear Readers, for those of you seeking historical fiction, look no further than By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley. Many may know the story of Ann Lowe, a Black woman born in 1898 in Clayton, AL, who became a famous designer, designing and making Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s wedding dress. For me, the story was new, and it is a fascinating story about overcoming all odds to be renowned as a designer beginning well before the Civil Rights movement.

Ann began sewing with her mother and grandmother; they made an inaugural gown for the governor of AL’s wife along with other designer dresses for her and other wealthy women in AL. Ann takes scraps of fabric and starts making flowers to adorn her own clothing. Soon, others want those flowers on their dresses as well. Ann’s mother and grandmother do not think Ann is ready to take on larger sewing assignments, but Ann herself is itching to design and make clothes.

Ann starts by making clothes for herself. From an early age, she felt she should not call attention to herself, so her clothing was always beautifully tailored, but she chose muted colors. In a store in Montgomery, Ann caught the eye of Mrs. Lee, a wealthy woman visiting from FL. Mrs. Lee asked Ann who had made her dress. At first, Ann is too shy to promote herself, but she does finally admit that she is the dressmaker. Mrs. Lee gives Ann, who has married and has a son by now, an opportunity to make dresses for her and her five daughters, one of whom is getting married soon.

Ann’s husband, Lee, is a tailor. He marries Ann when she is twelve, not because he loves her, but because he wants her to sew with him in his business of making men’s suits. He is a drunken, abusive husband who ruled Ann’s life. Fortunately, Ann finds help from Lee’s mother who tells her to take Arthur, her son, and go to FL to work for Mrs. Lee. Luckily, too, Mrs. Lee offers Ann and Arthur a place to stay. In fact, Mrs. Lee becomes very like a fairy godmother for Ann and her career.

Mrs. Lee even sends Ann to design school in NYC where Ann excels in all the coursework. Sadly, the administrators of the school put Ann in an empty classroom adjacent to the classroom where the white students sit. Ann is clever, and she gets to class early and positions her desk in the cloakroom so that she can see the board as well as the other students.

By Her Own Design is a novel to cherish. Learn about Ann Lowe and her gorgeous designs for all manner of important, wealthy people including designing a dress for Olivia de Haviland to wear to the Academy Awards. For book club members, the story will provide a wealth of discussion topics: Jim Crow laws, domestic violence, child labor, and racial prejudice. It will also offer happier topics like success and generosity.

Olivia de Havilland in the dress Ann Lowe designed and made; John and Jacqueline Kennedy with Jacqueline wearing the dress Ann Lowe designed and made

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Story of Friendship


When I opened My Best Friend was Angela Bennett by Suzanne Hillier, I was not sure what to expect. The story is set in Newfoundland, so I was immediately intrigued by that alone. Newfoundland in 1942 is not yet a Canadian province. As a result, Hillier has an opportunity to impart some of the history of Newfoundland as part of the story.

The riveting part of the story is the friendship between Angela Bennett and Dorothy Butler. The two provide quite a contrast to one another—at least in Dorothy’s mind. Dorothy describes Angela as “tossing her thick curly chestnut mane that fell to her shoulders, her breasts swelling under her white blouse, her Bermuda shorts exposing milky, shapely legs.” Dorothy’s description of herself is less flattering: “too tall and too thin and too flat-chested, her straight dark hair clipped back in a roll high up from her forehead with the rest hanging lankly behind.”

Angela marries Edgar Clarke at the behest of her mother, primarily because he is a successful businessman and gives her lavish, expensive gifts. Dorothy marries her sweetheart Wills. They both become attorneys. While Dorothy has a happy marriage and a successful career, Angela suffers in a terrible marriage with an abusive man who had claimed to love and cherish her.

The friendship between Angela and Dorothy continues through their adult lives. Angela feels shame because of her husband’s treatment of her. Dorothy has to fight to be respected as a female lawyer. Writer Libby Creelman, author of Walking in Paradise, sums up My Best Friend was Angela Bennett this way: “This novel is harrowing, funny, tender, unforgettable. It will stay with you.”

The discussion of My Best Friend Was Angela Bennett in book clubs will cover a wide range of topics: chauvinism, education for women, domestic abuse, and most of all friendship.