Category Archives: Debut Novel

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Lovely Debut Novel


When I finish a book, I usually head to the computer (I still like working at my desk top despite having a small laptop) to write out and share my thoughts about the book. September 5, 2019, I finished reading Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior. For some reason, I did not immediately write my review. I am correcting that oversight now because I truly enjoyed the book.

Hazel Prior,, has been playing the harp for a long time. She has performed at the Ferrara Music Festival in Italy, at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol, poetry readings, and Medieval banquets. And she has played the harp at a number of weddings including her own. On her Web site, Prior gives several examples of her harp skills:

Ellie and the Harp Maker is a debut novel; Prior is already at work on her second book and has also written short stories, poems, and children’s stories. Her writing is warm and inviting. She creates characters that readers care about and wish to see successful in their endeavors. In Ellie and the Harp Maker, the story plays out simply, unfolding slowly as readers come to know Dan Hollis, the harp maker, and Ellie, the Exmoor housewife.

On Hazel Prior’s Web site, readers will see this proclamation about Ellie and the Harp Maker:

”This heart-warming, funny and quirky love story features . . .

86 plums

69 sandwiches

27 birch trees

a 17-step staircase

a pair of cherry-coloured socks

and a pheasant named Phineas.”

After reading that description, how could I not wish to read the book?

The story begins simply enough when Ellie, the Exmoor housewife, takes an impulsive trip down a wooded lane and discovers a barn where Dan Hollis makes Celtic harps. Dan most likely has Asperger’s; he says of himself that he does not always understand social situations. He prefers working on his harps in the solitude of his barn where he can let the wood tell him how to make the harp.

When Ellie finds the barn, she goes in and views the beautiful harps all over the barn, some completed and others Dan is still working on. As she admires the harps, Ellie tells Dan she wishes she could play the harp, a goal before she turns forty.

Dan admires Ellie’s bright, cherry-colored socks, so he gives her a harp of cherry wood. At first, Ellie protests and tells Dan she cannot possibly accept the harp as a gift. Dan insists that she take the harp and helps her load it into the back of her car with a blanket to cushion it for the trip to her home.

Once she is at home, Ellie still feels she should not accept the harp and her husband echoes that sentiment insisting that she return it. Her husband is sure Ellie misunderstood Dan and tells her they cannot afford to pay for the harp or harp lessons.

Sadly, Ellie returns the harp to Dan who tells her the harp belongs to her, Ellie, the Exmoor housewife. He assures her he will keep the harp in a little room up the seventeen stairs to his living quarters and that she can come there to play. He even tells her of a harp teacher, his girlfriend, who will teach Ellie.

Dan’s gift of the cherry wood harp to Ellie marks the beginning of a friendship between the two. The story is heartwarming and full of kindness. Oh, yes, there is strife and discord which we hope will be resolved. To discover the warmth of a kind soul and an act of generosity that turns into a friendship and more, read Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior.

Ellie and the Harp Maker would make a delightful choice for a book talk for Books Sandwiched In with a harpist who could talk about the book and play the harp!


The Book Whisperer Reviews a Stunning Debut Novel


Once again my friend Theresa has steered me to a book I have found fascinating and can recommend wholeheartedly: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis. The story is set in Bound, South Carolina, in the present-day with narrator Judith Kratt, 75, harkening back to her youth in memory to give readers the complete story.

If I am pressed, I will admit that Southern authors are my favorites. In no particular order, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Carson McCullers, Margaret Mitchell, Alice Walker, and Kate Chopin come quickly to mind. These authors tell stories that remind me of family stories and of the way of telling the story. Rarely straightforward, each story ambles on its way with tidbits thrown in to explain or further enhance the main story. Or sometimes to go completely off track onto another path only to wander back to the original story after all.

Jim Hartz interviewed Eudora Welty for the Today Show on 6 Feb 1976. Welty “describes growing up in a culture that ‘relished’ storytelling.” She further explained that “growing up in Mississippi, in Jackson, is good for any writer because we are a nation of talkers, listeners, and storytellers. And when you live in a small town where you know everybody you get it all.” She continues by saying storytelling is “unique to the South maybe.” She hedges a bit there, but we know Southerners do love telling stories. Of course, other areas of the country and other cultures do too.

Pat Conroy, a South Carolina native, weighed in on Southern storytellers: “Every region has their oddballs, for sure. But in the South, we embrace our oddballs and listen to their tales.”

My heart is still pounding fifteen minutes after finishing the last page of The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt. While I will not include spoilers, it will not surprise readers to learn that long-kept family secrets will come to light as Miss Judith faces the past her family has lived.

Having grown up in a very small town populated with many of my relatives, I am aware of secrets long-held. One of those family secrets came to light last year when I had my DNA analyzed through I discovered my cousin’s daughter who had been adopted at birth sixty years ago in a closed adoption. That discovery resulted a cousins’ family reunion and an opportunity to meet our newly-found cousin. Sadly, her mother has died, but she did get to meet her two aunts and a whole passel of cousins.

This review will include no spoilers. Let me say, though, that I hate Daddy Kratt even though he was long dead when the story opens. He is a thoroughly despicable character and I still feel a visceral hatred and repulsion when I think of him. He is the archetypal bully, villain, and miscreant all rolled into one person. Caring only for himself and what he can amass in money and goods, Daddy Kratt rolled over everyone and everything in his path exactly like a bulldozer without caring about the consequences as long as he got what he wanted.

And Daddy Kratt succeeded—for a time. He owned cotton gins, many acres of land, a fine home, a store, and a gas station. He even pushed Mr. Delour, his own father-in-law into bankruptcy and never looked back. Mr. Delour had mentored Daddy Kratt when Daddy Kratt was a young man working toward amassing his fortune. None of that means a thing to a miscreant, however.

In the present-day, Judith lives in the family home, now in some disrepair as fortunes have fallen long ago, with Olva, a Black woman only slightly older than Judith. The two have been together all their lives. Judith’s brother Quincey, age 14, died from “a fatal gunshot to his person in the early hours of Friday, December 20, 1929.” This news is related to readers at the beginning of the book.

Then Bobotis works backward and forward to complete the story. Judith and Quincey’s younger sister is Rosemarie, named for their mother, also Rosemarie. Other important characters include Dee, Rosemarie’s only sibling, Charlie who works at the store and repairs all things including mechanical ones, Marcus, and Amaryllis. A few other townspeople enter the story as well.

Bobotis writes with a delicate use of the language. Olva, holding a shotgun on a nasty white man from Bound, says, “I will tell you a thing or two about tension. I will tell you that we did not create it. You did. You merely have not felt it until now. Understand this—for me, for Marcus—for [Amaryllis], tension lives under the surface of everything. We feel the itch of it under our skin. But we sill rise from that tension. Agitation is what sheds the snake of its skin, what shucks the moth of its cocoon.”

One cannot read those lines and not feel the passion. To whom is she referring when she uses we?

Near the end of the book, Miss Judith Kratt asks Marcus to take her to her lawyer’s office. What Judith takes in “an old, distinguished piece of Daddy Kratt’s luggage,” will surprise readers. The suitcase contained the following items: “pickled okra (one jar). Wray Little’s rum apple butter (one jar, already opened), a sleeve of saltines, four butterscotch candies, my social security card, and an antique brass teacher’s bell, which I thought would be useful in an emergency.”

Andrea Bobotis has received a number of awards for her debut novel, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt. After reading it, I can see why it has received such acclaim. Discover more about Bobotis at her Web site:

The Book Whisperer Invites Readers to the 2019 Books Sandwiched In series at Central Library


Today’s blog takes a new turn in that I am not reviewing a single book, but I’m promoting the Books Sandwiched In fall 2019 series. The book reviews are held at the Central Library, downtown Tulsa in Aaronson Auditorium. The reviews begin at 12:10 PM on Mondays and end at 12:50 PM. This year, there are two exceptions. The first review will be at Marshall Brewery, 6th & Utica, at 6:00 PM because Central Library (and, in fact, all libraries) is closed for a day of staff development. The second exception occurs on Nov 12 which is a Tuesday since the libraries are closed for Veterans’ Day on Monday, Nov 11. The time remains the same for this review: 12:10 – 12:50 PM. The complete schedule is listed at the end of this blog.

Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch and listen to the book reviews. Bring a friend or two along to enjoy the reviews as well. Starbucks, located on the first floor of Central Library, is the only library-owned Starbucks in the US. Money made over expenses goes to help fund library programs. Thus, purchasing food and drinks from the Central Library Starbucks helps support the library system.

Mon, Oct 14, 6:00 PM, Marshall Brewery: John Carreyou details in Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup the story of Theranos and its founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes promoted a radical idea that a single drop of blood could determine any number of diseases. Through the use of a machine installed in pharmacies, people could have a drop of blood drawn to give them quick, accurate test results. Sadly, the idea does not work, but Holmes raised more than $9 billion to fund her project until the whole company collapsed. Carreyou has written a true story that reads like a fast-paced thriller.

Mon, Oct 21, 12:10-12:50 PM: The Book Whisperer reviewed The Library Book by Susan Orlean on 25 Nov 2018. See the complete review there. Susan Orlean has written a captivating book about the Los Angeles Library fire in 1984. To explain the full extent of the fire and its aftermath, Orlean also provides a history of the library system in Los Angeles and how critical the library is to the well-being of a city and its people.

Mon, Oct 28, 12:10-12:50 PM: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is another book the Book Whisperer reviewed; this one on 15 Mar 2019. Owens has written a coming of age story combined with a mystery and wrapped in nature. Where the Crawdads Sing is a must read.

Mon, Nov 4, 12:10-12:50 PM: Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room will be reviewed. Again, the Book Whisperer reviewed The Only Woman in the Room in this blog on 13 Apr 2019. Hedy Lamarr has long been known as a beautiful Hollywood star. In truth, she was a scientist.

Tues, Nov 12, 12:10-12:50 PM: Because the libraries are closed for Veterans’ Day on Monday, Nov 11, the review of Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty by Susan Page will take place on a Tuesday. The review of two books by and about First Ladies is unprecedented. Michelle Obama and Barbara Bush both contributed much to the US during their tenures as First Ladies.

Mon, Nov 18, 12:10-12:50 PM: Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngston is the kind of novel to read and reread. Told in the form of letters between Tina Hopgood, an English farm wife, and Anders Larsen, a museum director in Denmark, Meet me at the Museum chronicles the growing friendship between two strangers through the letters they exchange. The Book Whisperer reviewed Meet me at the Museum in this blog on 1 Feb 2019.

Mon, Nov 25, 12:10-12:50 PM: Recipient of the 2019 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is Stacy Schiff. A review of her body of work will include an overview of such books as The Witches: Salem, 1692, Cleopatra: A Life, and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. Such acclaimed authors as David McCullough, another Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author recipient, praise Schiff’s writing as “brilliant from start to finish.”

2019 Books Sandwiched In Book Reviews

12:10-12:50 PM, Aaronson Auditorium, Central Library (two exceptions, noted with **)

Bring your lunch and bring a friend or two to enjoy these book reviews.

Oct 14**: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (held in the evening at Marshall Brewery, 6th & Utica. The library is closed for staff development that day.)

Oct 21: The Library Book by Susan Orlean  (Monday marks the beginning of National Friends of the Library Week, so the review celebrates libraries.)

Oct 28: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Nov 4: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Nov 12**: (TUESDAY because the library is closed for Veterans’ Day Nov 11): Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty by Susan Page 

Nov 18: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngston

Nov 25: Overview of the work of Stacy Schiff, the 2019 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author recipient

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Gem


At the top of the page on Linda Holmes’ Web site,, viewers see the following words under her name: Writer. Reader. Talker. Listener. These four words do not sum up Linda Holmes, but they make a great start. One would have to add witty, bright, and original to name a few more descriptors.

Educated as a lawyer, Holmes now has expanded her professional life into being pop culture correspondent for NPR; she hosts Pop Culture Happy Hour,,  and often is a guest on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She has also published magazine articles and written for Television Without Pity. Readers will also find information about Holmes on NPR’s site:

Evvie Drake Starts Over is Linda Holmes’ debut novel. According to BookReporter, “If you love well-written characters, quirky towns, and charming, hopeful love stories, [Evvie Drake Starts Over] is the perfect book for your next summer read.” Jenna Bush-Hager chose Evvie Drake Starts Over for her July book club on the Today Show. I requested the book from the library; I received it late in July, so I missed Bush-Hager’s discussion.

I read Evvie Drake Starts Over quickly because I can see on my books checked out list that 142 people are still waiting; the library does have 58 copies of the book as well as e-books and large print versions. However, I felt an obligation to read and return the book as soon as possible. Okay, so I also wanted to see what happens in the story for myself and I have how many other books starting at me from my TBR pile?

The first line of Evvie Drake Starts Over is “Go now, or you’ll never go, Evvie warned herself.” Now, that’s an intriguing way to begin a story. What does Evvie need to leave behind? Why the word warned? Readers quickly learn that Evvie is on the verge of leaving her husband, Dr. Tim Drake. Then she receives a call that changes her life as much or possibly more than leaving Tim would have done. Tim has been badly injured in a car accident and has been rushed to the hospital.

By the time Evvie reaches the hospital, Tim has died, so now instead of fleeing from her husband and her hometown, Evvie is a widow who must act according to other people’s expectations of her once more. As far as everyone knows, including Evvie’s best friend Andy, Evvie and Tim had a loving marriage. Evvie has kept Tim’s emotional and physical abuse a secret as many abused women do.

Evvie, now widowed, continues her life in the house Tim chose and purchased. She has a job transcribing authors’ notes and also works with authors on research for nonfiction books. She has her Saturday morning breakfasts with her best friend Andy whose wife left him and their two little girls. Evvie and Andy are friends despite Andy’s mother’s hope that they will fall in love with one another. Evvie enjoys spending time with Andy’s girls, but she and Andy are truly friends only.

Andy suggests that Evvie rent out the apartment off the kitchen of her home to Dean Tenney, a baseball pitcher who has developed the yips and can no longer pitch. Dean and Andy are childhood friends. Andy thinks it would be good for Dean to get away from NYC and out of the spotlight for a while.

Readers can anticipate that romance will develop between Evvie and Dean, and it does, no spoiler here. Still, the story is not a romance in the strict sense of the word. Romance novels have a pattern. Evvie Drake Starts Over breaks with that pattern giving readers a solid story and romance as well.

If I have any criticism of the novel it would be in some of the language—not to be prudish, but to be realistic. I can understand that Dean would use unsavory words now and then, but he uses certain four-letter words in situations where they don’t ring true to me. The last part of the book does not have those words in it and it reads more smoothly for the lack of coarse words.

Evvie Drake Starts Over gives readers a story of unforeseen friendship. Both Evvie and Dean have secrets that hold them back. Finally, together, they choose to bring those secrets out into the open and deal with them.

Evvie Drake Starts Over provides readers with a good story.

The Book Whisperer Writes a Rave Review of The Cactus


Early in the pages of The Cactus by Sarah Haywood, readers come to a quick understanding of Susan Green, the narrator. She explains that “if it wasn’t for the fact that I have colleagues, office life would be bearable. … I had a catalog of annoyances and irritations with which to contend.” She goes on to describe a “stockier workmate” eats Chinese takeaway in the middle of the morning with the smell of the food wafting over the office. Then there’s Tom, who has food in his beard, and he “was to be the next source of irritation.”

Reviewers have compared Susan to Don Tillman in The Rosie Project. I immediately thought of Ove in a Man Called Ove. Susan has her precise routines and does not like to be interrupted. Son a weekly basis, Susan gives her Trudy, the team manager, lists of ways the office can be more efficient. For the most part, Trudy ignores Susan’s suggestions.

Susan shuts herself away from other people. She does her job and does it well. She does not take time off except when she must. She does not socialize with office mates or really with anyone else.

Several years ago, on an impulse, something she rarely acts upon, she answered a personal ad posted by a man who wanted a relationship for dinners and theater engagements with no entanglements. Susan thought that would be the perfect solution for her social activities. She answers the ad and she and Richard develop a routine of going to dinner and the theater and having sex—a sort of business arrangement rather than a love affair. In fact, Susan always pays her share of the outings.

Now at 45, Susan finds herself pregnant. It’s no spoiler to tell readers this news because they realize it quite early in the book. Upon her discovery, Susan breaks off with Richard because that had been their original agreement that either could break the ties at any time, no questions asked. However, Richard does come to Susan’s home and in a weak moment she tells him she is pregnant, but that she will not hold him responsible and will not ask him for anything for the child.

Other complications arise early in the story when Susan’s mother dies, leaving the family home to Susan’s wayward younger brother Edward while dividing money and other property equally between the two siblings. Readers gradually learn more about the Green family. Susan has always felt her mother favored Edward over her and that their father was indifferent to all of them because his interest lay in getting his next drink.

As with most siblings, Susan and Edward have quite different memories of their respective childhoods. When they compare notes, each comes away convinced that the other is wrong.

When Susan goes home for her mother’s funeral, she discovers Edward has already made a mess of the family home and that he has a very tall friend, Rob, living with him.  When Susan sees Rob for the first time upon entering the home, she thinks to herself “I couldn’t help noticing how ridiculously tall he was. Some people might find such height attractive, but as far as I’m concerned, anything over six feet is excessive and smacks of attention-seeking.”

Those thoughts give readers an idea of Susan’s decisive nature about height; readers can also recognize that her opinions will extend into many other areas just as decisively.

I found Susan to be snappy, often irritable, yet thoroughly likeable if one kept a distance! What can happen to cause Susan to loosen up a bit? Certainly, pregnancy is changing her, albeit slowly. She cannot control her body the way she used to do. She finds herself letting Kate, her upstairs neighbor who is a young mother, into her life more and more.  Eventually, too, Susan decides is it not fair to eliminate Richard from their child’s life as long as the two of them can agree on certain rules of civility such as governed their relationship previously.

Rob begins to figure more and more in Susan’s life and plans. She first accepts his help in removing some of her mother’s furniture and other items and storing them in a house Rob is renovating. Rob owns a large van which he uses in his landscaping business, so that van comes in handy for moving furniture. Ever practical, Susan reasons that she is receiving free storage for the items in Rob’s home.

Haywood’s prose is crisp. She has drawn Susan’s character well, allowing readers to see her as a fully-realized person. Readers become invested in Susan’s future and hope that she will be able to live comfortably with other people, especially since she is soon to be a mother.

Booklist calls The Cactus “a heartfelt and charming story of one woman’s transition from a solitary, orderly existence to a messy life full of love.” Book Riot uses similar language in describing The Cactus: “heartfelt and funny.”

Like her narrator, Sarah Haywood studied law. Unlike Susan, however, Haywood continues in her pursuit of a law degree and worked for a time as a solicitor. After completing an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, she began writing her novel. The Cactus is her first publication and she is working on her second. Discover more about Haywood at her Web site:

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Juvenile Book


Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, an Being Yourself by Matthew Gray Gubler is a story for children and adults. Rumple Buttercup lives alone “hiding underground in a rain drain right by a garbage can in the middle of town.” It’s a story of belonging.

Why does Rumple Buttercup live in hiding? Well, the answer is simple. He is a monster with “5 crooked teeth, 3 strands of hair, green skin, and his left foot was slightly bigger than his right.”  Rumple fears that if anyone ever sees him, the person would “be scared, run away, or throw rocks at his head.”

To avoid any and all of these reactions, Rumple stays hidden, but he watches everything that goes on above ground from his rain drain. Rumple often pulls a banana peel from the garbage can and puts it on his head so he can lie partially exposed by the garbage can looking like more of the garbage.

Rumple looks forward to the 17th Saturday of summer because that is the Annual Pajama Jam Cotton Candy Pancake Parade. It’s the one day he can come onto the street because with all the activity of the parade, no one will notice him. Still, he wants his banana peel disguise.

When he reaches into the garbage can to find a banana peel, what does he discover? The can is EMPTY! Now, what will he do? He looks forward to this day each year and now he is reduced to remaining underground watching from his rain drain.

To avoid spoiling the story, I suggest that you read Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, an Being Yourself. Rumple may be weird, but aren’t we all a bit weird in our own ways?

Matthew Gray Gubler’s Web site offers viewers great fun: It opens to an animated page with “Greetings from Gubler Land.”

In the back of Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, an Being Yourself, readers can learn more about Gubler: “Matthew Gray Gubler writes, directs, paints, acts, and knows magic. He has a squeaky left knee, the posture of an earthworm, and he looks like a noodle when he dances.”

The Book Whisperer Discovers a New-to-Her Cozy Author


Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, endures a year of mourning for an unfaithful husband. When the mourning ends, she throws off her black clothing and heads for London, shedding not only the clothes of mourning, but also the crumbling mansion that now belongs to the second son, Graham and his wife Delia. With her young daughter Rose, Frances takes a long-term lease on a house in Belgravia, part of London.

As a mystery lover and a cozy mystery lover to boot, I enjoy discovering new authors as well as relying on my long-time favorites.  In a recent article, I read about Dianne Freeman whose new series stars an amateur sleuth, Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh.  The first book is A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, published in 2018 and the second book is A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder, published in 2019.

Frances is a bit taken aback when she discovers George Hazelton, brother to her best friend Fiona, is her next-door neighbor. She and George and Alicia Stoke-Whitney share a dark secret they wish to keep in the dark.

Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, endures a year of mourning for an unfaithful husband. When the mourning ends, she throws off her black clothing and heads for London, shedding not only the clothes of mourning, but also the crumbling mansion that now belongs to the second son, Graham and his wife Delia. Frances is enjoying her freedom in London when she discovers her mother in America is sending Frances’s younger sister Lily and their aunt Hetty to live with Frances so that Frances can sponsor Lily for the season. The story heats up when Inspector Delaney visits Frances and tells her that her husband’s death is being investigated as a possible murder. Frances is certain he died of a heart attack, but is that accurate? To make matters worse, Graham is suing Frances to keep the money Frances’s father bestowed upon her when she married Reggie, Graham’s older brother. The suit freezes Frances’s bank account, at least temporarily. Could the plot worsen? read A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder to discover the whole story.

Frances is herself an American. Her upwardly climbing and wealthy mother sought a title for her daughter so she herself would have bragging rights. She and Frances knew little about Reggie Wynn when the marriage was arranged. Frances soon found herself having to pretend she knew nothing of Reggie’s unfaithful ways. When her daughter Rose is born, Frances focuses on the child. Now, Lily is coming to London to marry another titled Englishman.

Frances vows to help Lily make a better choice than she herself made in marrying Reggie. Other complications will take part of her concentration, however.

Dianne Freeman has written compelling characters who command attention and the plot is complicated enough to remain interesting without being over the top.

Freeman’s blog,, provides readers with a brief biography and an introduction to the books as well as a readers’ guide. For her blog, Freeman interviews other authors and she gives insight into some of her minor characters as well.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Book She Could Not Put Down


My friend Theresa recommended that I read A Woman is no Man by Etaf Rum. When the book became available at my library, I dropped other books to read Rum’s story. I was hooked from the beginning, especially after reading this line on page 6: “A daughter was only a temporary guest, quietly awaiting another man to scoop her away, along with all her financial burden.”

A Woman is no Man opens with this quotation: “Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard ofdangerous, the ultimate shame.” A Woman is no Man breaks that silence into a million pieces.

At 17, Isra’s parents arrange for her to marry 30-year-old Adam Ra’ad who lives in NYC with his parents, two younger brothers, and younger sister. That’s a girl’s lot in life, to marry, have children, and be a slave to her mother-in-law. Isra and her parents live in Birzeit, Palestine. To marry Adam, Isra will be leaving all she has ever known to live in America with people she does not yet know.

Etaf Rum,, knows of what she writes because she, too was married young without an opportunity to go to college or to have any choices of her own. She and her husband have a daughter and a son. Etaf is not content and divorces her husband, leaving her with no extended family. She went to college and obtained a master’s degree in American and British literature. She now teaches philosophy and English composition courses in North Carolina.

In writing A Man is no Woman, Rum struggled with “whether her portrayal of Adam as an abuser could be seen as betraying her community.” In an interview with Scott Simon on NPR,, Rum explains that “it took me a long time to overcome those fears and realize that in order for me to speak on behalf of women who are abused and oppressed, and to tell their stories — especially those women who are afraid to tell their own stories, because they’re ashamed, and because they feel like someone will come and retaliate, that I had to overcome that fear and tell this very authentic story.”

As a reader, I struggled with understanding the story. The beatings of wives and daughters is simply accepted: a woman is no man. And the birth of daughters is met with sadness because they are a burden on the family. Isra’s mother “had often called Isra a balwa—a dilemma, a burden.”

Freeda’s advice to Isra is “a woman was put on this earth to please her husband. Even if he was wrong, she had said, a woman must be patient. A woman must endure.” So Isra covers up her bruises with inadequate makeup on Freeda’s orders, but she fools no one.

Readers will feel the authenticity of A Man is no Woman in a culture where women are powerless, abused, and disregarded. A Man is no Woman provides readers with Isra’s story and then intersperses her daughter Deya’s story so that the full picture becomes visible.

Isra is naïve when she marries Adam. She hopes for love and companionship, but Adam is crude, cruel, and abusive from the beginning of the marriage. He has no regard for Isra. The two of them live in the basement of his parents’ home in Brooklyn.  Isra longs for a window with a view; her only window shows ground-level from her daughters’ room.

Trapped in the house, Isra cannot go out on her own and Adam rarely takes her on an outing. Fareeda, Adam’s mother, does not go out alone either except on occasional visits to a nearby friend. Khaled, Adam’s father, does the grocery shopping on Sundays, often alone. On rare occasions, Fareeda accompanies him to the store. When Sarah suggests to her mother that she could stop after school and buy groceries, her mother flies into a rage and accuses her of wishing to destroy the family’s name. A girl out shopping by herself!

The family lives in Brooklyn, but it is certainly not assimilated into the life there; they maintain their culture, never varying. The woman, confined to home, care for the children, cook, and clean. Fareeda arises at sunrise every day and goes to the kitchen. While the teakettle boils, she prays, “God, please keep shame and disgrace from my family.” That’s her whole life—keeping the family name from being besmirched.

When Isra timidly suggests that she thought “things would be different [in America],” Fareeda responds with “let me tell you something. A man is the only way up in this world, even though he’ll climb on a woman’s back to get there. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

And as one daughter follows another, Isra becomes more and more isolated from even the family inside the house. Adam’s beatings become more frequent and he usually comes home drunk.

To get the full story, Rum provides chapters featuring Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, telling the story, trying to make sense of her mother’s life. Freeda and Khaled have told Deya and her sisters that their parents died in a car accident. That’s all they know and they have accepted that story until Deya is a senior in high school. Another story they have accepted is that Sarah, Fareeda’s only daughter, has married and returned to Palestine to live, yet she never communicates with her family. Deya begins to question that story as well, especially after she receives an anonymous message to call Books and Beans, a bookstore in Manhattan.

Freeda tries desperately to find a suitor for Deya even though she is just graduating from high school and very much wants to go to college instead of marry a man she does not even know.

What are the family’s secrets? How does Deya discover the truth?

A Woman is no Man, Rum’s debut novel, has received a number of accolades: A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, A USA Today Best Book of the Week, A Washington Book Review Difficult-to-Put-Down Novel, and A Marie Claire Best Women’ Fiction of 2019.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Another Middle-Grade Winner


Jasmine Warga has written three books: My Heart and Other Black Holes, Here We Are Now, and Other Words For Home. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Warga now lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, and dog and a cat. Other Words For Home is her debut novel for middle grade readers. Discover more about Warga from her Web site:

Warga has written a moving story about Jude and her mother who leave Syria, the only home they have known to move to America to live with Uncle Mazin, Jude’s mother’s brother, and his family. Jude is reluctant to leave her father and her brother, Issa behind, but her father knows the family is not safe. He remains to run his store. Issa is involved in activities which worry his parents and Jude, but he feels he must do what he can to restore order to his country.

Jude’s mother is expecting another baby, so the family decides the safest place for Jude, her mom, and the unborn child is America. Uncle Mazin and Aunt Michelle welcome Jude and her mother. Jude’s cousin Sarah, Jude’s age, is not so welcoming even though the family has a large house which easily accommodates the extra family.

Warga’s style of writing Other Words For Home is poetic. Visually, the words on the page look like poetry. This style lends itself to Jude’s first-person narrative because she is describing her feelings and reactions to her new environment along with her fears for her brother and father left in Syria. See the sample below.


Jude experiences the normal feelings of being an outsider. As she becomes better acquainted with her classmates and feels more practiced speaking English, Jude adjusts to her new home. She makes friends with Layla whose parents own a middle east restaurant within walking distance of Uncle Mazin’s home. Layla is a year older than Jude, but they become fast friends.

Jude is also in an ESL class with three other immigrant children: Grace from Korea, Ben from China, and Omar from Somalia. Mrs. Ravenswood, the teacher, is kind and welcoming. Jude recognizes that this ESL class will be important to her even though she already spoke English before arriving in America. Grace, Ben, and Omar become her friends through shared experiences.

Jude takes a leap of faith and auditions for a part in the school play. She wins the part of a feather duster! It is a speaking part while her cousin Sarah is part of the chorus. As part of the audition, Jude has had to give a monologue and sing a song. She immediately chose Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as her song because of her loving memories of singing it with Issa, her brother. She thinks to herself, “when I sing it, alone in the upstairs room, staring at those old plaster beige walls that are becoming more and more familiar, I do not feel like I am singing it alone. I hear my brother’s voice in my head, filling in the melody.”

For her monologue, she chooses from Notting Hill, a movie she and her best friend Jasmine loved watching in Syria. Jude picks “the part where [Julia Roberts’] character is explaining that her life has not been as charmed as everyone at the dinner party thinks it has been.”

Other Words For Home is a story for our time. As immigrants come to the US, we need to welcome them, for most of us were immigrants ourselves!





The Book Whisperer Reviews a Debut Novel in Advance


When Pival Sengupta is widowed, she makes a life-changing decision to take a trip across the US from NY to CA. Her abusive husband Ram dies unexpectedly, Pival must endure endless visits from Ram’s family and his friends. The tradition is that Pival now must become a vegetarian because she is a widow. Her whole life has been prescribed and controlled by others. Now, as a widow, she can be in charge of her own life. She decides to take the trip across America on her own, but she does engage a tour company run by Ronnie Munshi, the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company.

Pival makes an unusual request for a female companion to accompany her and the tour guide, so Ronnie engages Rebecca Greenbaum, an aspiring actress, as Mrs. Sengupta’s companion. Rebecca who constantly struggles to pay rent sees the trip as a way to earn some money and spend some time thinking about her life and where she needs to go.

Satya, the guide, is from Bangladesh. He got the job with Munshi under false pretenses and continues to beat himself up for betraying his friend Ravi who was to have the job. What Satya does not know about landmarks, he makes up as he goes along, so he is certainly resourceful.

In America For Beginners, three strangers, Mrs. Sengupta, Rebecca, and Satya, set off across the US. Along the way, they learn about themselves and each other.

Complications in the story come from the fact that Mrs. Sengupta’s plan has not been the tour itself, but is using it as a means to an end: finding her son. Ram had told Pival their son Rahl has died of a heart attack in CA where he was studying. Pival does not know if Ram lied to her because Ram had already cut ties with their son when he announced he was gay. Pival’s plan now is to arrive in CA and find out exactly what happened to Rahl. If he is dead, she will take his ashes and then kill herself.

Interspersed with the story of the travelers, readers also discover a bit more about Ronnie Munshi and his wife Anita. Their marriage is difficult; she calls him Big Nose. I am not so sure that is an affectionate term.

Another story that Leah Franqui weaves into America For Beginners is between Jake and Bhim. Jake falls head over heels in love with Bhim the first time they meet. Bhim, for his part, loves Jake, but is reluctant to commit to a relationship.

Readers must piece the three stories together as the tale and the trip unfold. Of course, readers are also learning more and more about Pival, Rebecca, and Satya. The whole story is compelling. Readers will be especially interested in Pival’s story of being held back by Ram throughout their marriage. Only with Ram’s death can Pival begin to discover who she is and what to do with herself.

Franqui includes funny moments on the tour as readers see Mrs. Sengupta’s reaction to the cities, especially New Orleans and Las Vegas. She also learns about vast cultural differences when Rebecca describes a visit to New Orleans with an ex-boyfriend. Mrs. Sengupta is amazed that the two traveled together and stayed in the same hotel room.

In putting these people of vast differences together, Franqui has written a captivating story that involves travel and a quest. What will Pival do when she arrives in CA? Unbeknownst to Satya and Rebecca, the whole trip has been leading up to quite a showdown.

Leah Franqui maintains a Web site at where readers can learn about her and read her blog. Franqui is from Philadelphia and now lives in Mumbai most of the time. A graduate of Yale, Franqui spent a year out of college traveling and working in various places across the world. In 2014, she received her MA in Dramatic Writing from NYU-Tisch. During that time, she met her husband who is an Indian screenwriter. America For Beginners is her debut novel.

I received an advance copy of America for Beginners from