Category Archives: Friendship

The Book Whisperer Reads Another New-to-Her Author: Cleeton

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About a year ago, I joined a book club at my branch of the Tulsa City-County Libraries. Kelli McDowell, library manager, chooses the books and leads the discussions. I am finding this book club a welcome respite because my responsibilities are to read the books chosen and be prepared for the discussions —and occasionally to bring refreshments.

Over the time I’ve been in Beyond the Book, Ms. McDowell has chosen books I’ve already read, books I would not have chosen on my own, and books I’ve been eager to read. I’ve read all of them regardless of whether I had already read the book—a refresher is always good. The books I would not have chosen have been intriguing and fun to read. Since I choose books for another book club (or two?), I like having someone else choose for this one.

The book for September is Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. I knew that Reese Witherspoon had chosen it for her book club and had the book on my TBR list, so it is a welcome choice. I looked up information on Chanel Cleeton since I am not familiar with her work.

She has written a number of romance novels and a thriller and now this semi-political novel set in Cuba, Next Year in Havana. As I read about Cleeton, I discovered that she wanted to explore her own heritage since her family had escaped from Cuba in 1960 and landed in Florida. She has listened to her grandparents reminisce about their lives in Cuba, but they are reluctant to talk about some of the deprivation they suffered after Castro took over. Cleeton says her grandfather, similar to people who grew up in the Great Depression, cannot bear to see food wasted because food was in such short supply.

Like many writers, Cleeton gives her readers the Perez family’s story told in two parts: then and now. She also tells the story through two characters, Elise Perez and Marisol Ferrera, Elise’s granddaughter.

Marisol’s parents divorced when she and her sisters were small and their mother moved away, leaving the girls in their father’s care. His mother Elise, the girls’ paternal grandmother, steps in to help her son with his daughters. Elise and Marisol share the closest bond and are much alike. When Elise dies suddenly in her 70s, she leaves instructions for Marisol to take her ashes back to Cuba. In the instructions, she says that Marisol will know where to leave the ashes once she is there.

Thus, Cleeton sets up a mystery for Marisol to solve so that she knows the right place to leave her dear grandmother’s ashes. Marisol is a freelance journalist, so she has a reason to visit Cuba now that restrictions are somewhat relaxed and Americans can visit there. She does not know when she sets off on her journey that she will discover family secrets and a love.

Ostensibly, Marisol is in Cuba to write about tourist spots for a magazine, and she does plan to do that too. She has to smuggle her grandmother’s ashes into Cuba in a cosmetic jar and she hopes the jar won’t be opened during her entrance into Cuba at the airport.

Marisol has made arrangements to stay with Ana Rodriguez, Elise’s neighbor and childhood friend. Ana still lives in her family home next door to the old home where the Perez family lived, now occupied by Russian diplomats.

Luis Rodriguez, Ana’s grandson, picks Marisol up from the airport and takes her to his grandmother’s home where he also lives with his mother and his ex-wife. Luis is a history professor at the University of Havana. Immediately, sparks fly when the two meet, but Marisol is wary. She is in Havana for a few days only and she has much to do.

In Elise’s story, readers learn about the revolution and the factions trying to defeat Batista. Elise and her family live the lives of the very privileged. They are wealthy and feel untouched by dangers around them until all comes crashing down. Their father has supported Batista, so that puts the family in immediate danger when Castro takes over.

The Perez family manages to leave Cuba for the US as if going on vacation. Elise and her three sisters can take only one suitcase each and must leave valuables behind. Elise buries a box containing items precious to her in the backyard and enlists her friend Ana in the middle of the night to witness where the box is buried. Ana later digs that box up and keeps it safe without opening it until she gives it to Marisol.

Elise’s treasures in the box lead Marisol into some danger and Luis is right beside her. Readers also learn that Luis blogs under an assumed name and his blogging could get him into serious trouble with the government. He reminds Marisol that as an American and someone staying with the Rodriguez family she is being watched.

The Malecon in Havana which plays an important part for both Elise and Marisol

To discover all the political and romantic intrigues, read Next Year in Havana. One of my reading quirks is that I like to discover that the writer has used the title of the book somewhere in the book. The caveat is that it must appear naturally; it can’t be forced or just dropped in inexplicably. Cleeton meets my expectations in that regard. Cubans who fled Cuba after Castro took over, end their toasts with “Next year in Havana.”

Cleeton maintains a robust Web site at this link: http://www.chanelcleeton.com. Readers can also sign up to receive her newsletter: http://www.chanelcleeton.com/mailing-list/.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Lovely Debut Novel

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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, https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/, 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: https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/blank-cjg9.

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 Chooses 4 Picture Books for Crime Stoppers

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During the month of September, the Tulsa Press Club is collecting books for readers age 8 – 14. The Tulsa Press Club, https://www.facebook.com/pg/TulsaPressClub/posts/, will give the books to Tulsa Crime Stoppers for distribution through revamped Tulsa World dispensing boxes; the boxes will be in various places around Tulsa. Children are then encouraged to take a book from the box and read. Also, Tulsa Police officers will be reading to children in a variety of places around the city. People are invited to donate new and gently used books for readers age 8 – 14. These locations are accepting donations of books: Tulsa Press Club, Tulsa Crime Stoppers, and City Vet.

Since I have always enjoyed reading, I like to promote reading among all ages. When I learned of the book drive, I wanted to contribute. I purchased four picture books from the South Broken Arrow Library’s book sale to donate.

The middle picture is of Diana Cohn and the third picture is of Amy Cordova.

Namaste! by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova is a beautiful book about Nima Sherpa, a little girl who lives in Nepal where Mt Everest looks down on her village. Nima’s father is a tour guide for many foreign visitors who come to see Mt. Everest, called Chomolongma by the villagers.

Namaste! follows Nima on her journey through the village. As she meets people, she “brings her hands together with her fingers almost touching her chin, bows her head slightly, and says ‘Namaste!’”  Namaste means “the light in me meets the light in you.”

Through Nima’s journey, readers see other villagers and learn about life in Nima’s village. Amy Cordova’s illustrations are colorful and delight the eye.

At the end of the book, readers will find information about Nepal, the Himalayas, the Sherpa people, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and preserving mountain cultures. Namaste! is truly a book to savor and from which to learn.

Diana Cohn has published seven books for children and has received awards for her work. She continues to have a strong interest in social justice and environmental issues.

Amy Cordova is an artist and art educator. She has won awards for her work as well.

John Stadler’s Catilda takes readers on a journey to find a lost toy, a stuffed bear. Father tucks Catilda into bed and leaves her singing “a song about Ollie,” her bear lost on a trip to the city. Stadler illustrates the book as well. The drawings are whimsical and inviting. The colors are muted shades on one page and darken on another.

Catilda misses Ollie and wants to find him. Unbeknownst to her mother and father, she goes on a night-time journey to find the lost bear. Through the story, we see Catilda being bandied about by a giant wave only to land on a flagpole. She finally reaches The Statute of Liberty and then we see her clutching Ollie to her heart and smiling as she floats on a cloud. See more about John Stadler at this link: http://www.johnstadler.com/.

Haircuts at Sleepy Sam’s by Michael R. Strickland and illustrated by Keaf Holliday portrays three brothers off to get a Saturday haircut. Mother gives them money and hands them written instructions for the barber: “Trim. Keep the hairline natural. Clean back of neck. And please – not too short on the top!” Mark and Randy beg for a different cut saying, “We’re tired of Afro cuts.” Mom is not budging, though.

Before the boys reach the barber shop, they look across the street at the candy store and debate the merits of going there first. They decide, however, they should get to the barber shop first.

Sam calls Mark to sit in the barber’s chair. Sam wants to give the boys a different cut, but they remind him of their mother’s instructions.  However, “Sam smiles to himself and goes to work.” When all three boys have had their haircuts, they return home.

Mom looks at her sons and “a slow smile appears. She laughingly says, “That Sam…. He gave you guys just what you wanted!” The boys have “a bald fade” hair cut and all of them are happy.

Keaf Holliday has created realistic pictures of the three boys and the people they meet on their way to the barber shop. The colors are soft. Each boy is distinctive, but share features as brothers would.

Do All Bugs Have Wings? And Other Questions Kids Have About Bugs by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cary Pillo will thrill young readers with information about bugs. The format is simple. On each page, we see one or more questions posed by children whose first names and ages appear with the questions. This touch add realism to the questions.

The pages are full of facts, but not so overwhelming that readers will become bored. For example, in answer to the question “how many insects are on Earth today?” readers will discover this answer: “Too many to count! Scientists think there are about 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects in the world. There are about 6.8 billion people on Earth. This means there are 1.5 billion insects for each person!”

The book is one to be read and reread. Cary Pillo has illustrated the book with drawings of a wide variety of bugs. The drawings are fun and yet fit with the information on each page.

Suzanne Slade has written a number of children’s books—more than 100! Her background is in mechanical engineering; she wishes to share her passion for science with young readers. See more of her work at this link: https://www.suzanneslade.com/.

Cary Pillo is an award-winning illustrator.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite: Penny’s Latest Gamache Novel

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On a recent visit to Central Library for a meeting, I stopped to check the Quick Pick (QP) table just to see what was available. Imagine my surprise to find six copies of A Better Man, Louise Penny’s latest in the Armand Gamache series. It was published in August, 2019!

Not surprisingly, A Better Man has already received accolades from a number of reviewers. The Times of London named it a book of the month while The Christian Science Monitor named it one of the best books of August.

Louise Penny’s fans expect her to provide a good story. A Better Man certainly has a strong storyline.  All of our favorite characters from Three Pines are included along with the police agents we’ve come to know.

Besides investigating a murder, Gamache and Beauvoir and the police crew must deal with several other issues: Gamache’s return to homicide after a suspension and a catastrophic potential flooding across the province.

After a nine-month suspension, Gamache returns to the Surete’ demoted to second in command of homicide under his son-in-law, now named Chief Inspector Beauvoir.  Of course, long-time Penny fans will remember that Beauvoir will soon be leaving Quebec for Paris and a safe job, no longer a police officer. How will Gamache act when he is no longer in charge? What about the other officers, the subordinates?

The other difficulty that will involve police and other first responders is the potential for flooding caused by the April thaws and continuous rain. Rivers are threatening to burst dams and flood the province.

Gamache has mentored Beauvoir through his career and his rise to Chief Inspector. In the process, the two have become related through Gamache’s daughter’s marriage to Beauvoir; even more than being related, the two have developed a mutual respect and love for one another as brothers in arms and human beings.

As the story moves forward, I enjoyed seeing Beauvoir engage in many of the behaviors he has observed in Gamache over the years. Gamache is a calm man, a man given to defusing situations with a quiet word and a calm demeanor even when he faces a man holding a gun on him. Beauvoir finds himself thinking like Gamache and quoting lines of poetry or literature—if only in his own head.

The main investigation involves a missing pregnant woman who happens to be Agent Lysette Cloutier’s goddaughter. Several years earlier, Gamache had brought Agent Cloutier from accounting into homicide so she could help with tracing money as part of criminal investigations. Superintendent Isabelle Lacoste is also back following her recovery from a shooting in a drug operation of nine months earlier.

Annie, Gamache’s daughter and Beauvoir’s wife, is about the same age as Vivienne, the missing woman. Annie, too, is pregnant, so Gamache and Beauvoir think about how they would feel if Annie were missing.

While trying to locate Vivienne, the team encounters resistance from Carl Tracey, Vivienne’s abusive drunken husband. Thus, Tracey becomes the prime suspect in Vivienne’s disappearance.

The threatening weather conditions also play a vital role in the investigation. Other issues that intrude on the investigation include tweets denigrating Gamache and saying he is unfit for service. I found those tweets to be disturbing because they clearly are being sent out by people who do not know Gamache and have no respect for him because they do not know the full story.

Another side story concerns Clara, the artist resident of Three Pines. Her latest exhibition has been savaged by art critics. She feels personally attacked and deflated because of the terrible reviews.

In the end, Gamache and Beauvoir determine what has happened to Vivienne and who is responsible. The results are surprising. A Better Man is certainly a satisfying read.

Louise Penny’s Web site, https://www.louisepenny.com/books.htm, gives readers insight into the characters and the setting of the Gamache novels. Readers can also subscribe to her newsletter which keeps them updated on Penny’s work.

I learned on the Web site that Penny is a great supporter of literacy programs. In addition to being actively involved in literacy organizations, Penny has written a grade 3 novella: The Hangman. The story is set in Three Pines and features Chief Inspector Gamache. The book is designed to engage “emerging adult readers.” Anyone who works with adult learners knows that finding appropriate reading material at a level that the readers can understand as they are learning, but also appeal to an adult audience, is difficult.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Stunning Debut Novel

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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 Ancestry.com. 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: https://www.andreabobotis.com/.

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

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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 Re-examines The Orphan’s Tale

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I had read The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff some time ago for a book club. Another book club chose The Orphan’s Tale for the August book to discuss. It had been long enough that I needed to reread the book, and I am glad I did. I had forgotten some important details. I thoroughly enjoyed The Orphan’s Tale the second time around.

Jenoff leads readers on an interesting journey by beginning in the prologue with the present day and a 90-year-old unnamed woman who slips out of her nursing home in Florida to fly to Paris to see a circus exhibit: Two Hundred Years of Circus Magic. Now, why would this woman risk such a daring escape from her nursing home, telling no one?

Chapter One takes readers back to Germany, 1944. Each chapter is narrated by either by Noa, a sixteen-year-old girl cast out of her Dutch home, or Astrid, a Jewish circus performer from a long-time circus family now hiding in plain sight in a German, non-Jewish circus.

Noa has been sent away by her family because she became pregnant by a German soldier who was long gone from the area when Noa realized she was pregnant. Most likely, the pregnancy would not have mattered to the soldier anyway. Noa’s furious parents send her to a home where she lives until she gives birth to a baby boy. She is allowed to hold the baby only once before he is snatched away, never to be seen again.

Knowing she cannot return home, Noa finds a job as cleaner at a railroad station where she receives a tiny cubical in the attic fitted with an old mattress as a place to live. One snowy evening, she walks past a railroad car and sees it is full of infants, some of whom have no clothing, some are already dead and others are clearly nearly dead. On an impluse she cannot explain, she plucks one of the babies from the train, a baby boy.

Noa’s action of taking the baby sets her on a journey that will endanger her and the infant. She knows she must flee the railroad station in the freezing cold and snow. She has nothing but the clothes on her back which includes a thin coat. She wraps the baby as best she can, discovering when she cleans him up in the railway station bathroom that the baby is Jewish because he has been circumsised. Thus, she will be in even greater danger with a Jewish baby even though she is the ideal Aryan with blonde hair.

Noa falls in unconscious in the snow with the baby. When she awakens, she finds herself taken in by the German circus in the area. There, she meets Astrid, another castaway the circus has taken in. Everyone must earn his/her keep in the circus, so Astrid reluctantly sets about teaching Noa the high wire acrobat act. Noa is quite as reluctant to learn since she has never even thought about being an high-wire acrobat.

Astrid and Noa enter into a wary relationship, each distrusting the other. Circumstances, particularly danger for both of them and for Theo, the little boy Noa has rescued, change turning the two into friends. Even then, the two have some misgivings about the other.

With the Nazis being ever-present, everyone who works in the circus must be on alert. Danger exists around every corner.

Jenoff weaves the tales told by the two narrators seamless so that readers discover the full picture. Readers will also realize a surprise at the end of the story if they have not already determined who the narrator of the prologue is.

Pam Jenoff has published 11 books. At her Web site, http://www.pamjenoff.com/, readers will find information on all of the novels along with questions to use in book clubs for discussion.

German circus ringmaster, Adolf Althoff, https://circustalk.com/news/how-a-german-circus-saved-a-jewish-family-of-circus-artists, saved Jewish performers by hiding them within his circus. Pam Jenoff researched Althoff’s circus and used some of that information in her novel. The picture below is from the article found in Circus Talk; see the URL above.

The Book Whisperer Read Wonder

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I am an avid reader and enjoy finding new books to read and recommend. I would not have read Wonder by R.J. Palacio if not for a book club to which I belong. I received the book at the last meeting; yet, I put off reading until the week of the book club—which meets this week. I did finish the book four days before the meeting. I can’t quite put my finger on why I was reluctant to read Wonder.

Once I started reading, I could hardly stop. I found myself caring about Auggie and wanting to know more about his friends. Clearly, his parents and his older sister love him deeply and see him as a little boy who needs extra care, but also that he is funny, smart, and mischievous. He loves Star Wars and playing games on his Xbox like many other boys his age. The difference is that Auggie was “born with a severe facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school.”

When Auggie is ready to go into fifth grade, he and his parents decide he will enter school for the first time instead of having his mother continue to homeschool him. They choose Beecher Prep. All three, Auggie, his mom, and his dad, struggle with the decision. They alternate between thinking it is a good idea and the worst idea possible. In the end, the decision to go to Beecher stands. Auggie reminds his parents they have told him he can stop going at any time. Perhaps that promise is one of the most important and one that keeps Auggie trying.

In order to help ease Auggie into a new experience, his parents set up a meeting at the school with the principal, Mr. Tushman, prior to the first day of school. Mr. Tushman also asks three students, Jack, Julian, and Charlotte, to come to the school that day and show Auggie around the classrooms. All four of the children are wary. Jack, Julian, and Charlotte want to show Auggie around the school and tell him about some of the teachers and other kids who will be his classmates, but they are uncertain how to react to the way Auggie looks. Auggie knows they will be put off by his appearance, so he is uneasy too.

Ultimately, Auggie decides he will attend Beecher Prep. He encounters the usual stares to which he has become accustomed. At least, he knows three of his classmates. At lunch, however, Auggie finds himself alone until Summer a girl in some of his classes sits with him. They talk about the other kids and how they are sitting alone. Summer starts a list of kids she and Auggie would ALLOW to sit with them. They first decide the kids should all have names to do with the summer season since they are Summer and August.

Summer’s act of kindness in sitting with Auggie starts the school year off well for Auggie. Also, Jack is in several of Auggie’s classes. Naturally, Auggie will experience ups and downs over the course of the school year.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s point of view, but Palacio switches to other children’s points of view to give readers a full perspective of what happens.

The Choose Kind movement developed out of Wonder. Many schools have adopted the book for multiple grades to read. Cities have also used Wonder as the community read.

Wonder was on the New York Times bestseller list for over five years. It also received many awards and has been made into a movie. Learn more about the book and find resources for discussing the book at https://wonderthebook.com/books.

Palacio also recommends teachers check out Mr. W’s Annotated Wonder: http://mrwreads.blogspot.com/. Mr. W created a number of video resources and has shared those on the Web.  

The Book Whisperer Endorses a YA Novel About WWII

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I purchased a copy of Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse several months ago. I kept moving it from TBR pile to another. This week, I picked up Girl in the Blue Coat and read it cover-to-cover in two days. One of my book clubs will be discussing Girl in the Blue Coat at our September meeting.

 That same book club discussed The Zookeeper’s Wife in August. We alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction. Girl in the Blue Coat is fiction, but it fits with our WWII theme. Hesse sets her book in Amsterdam in 1943. Hanneke, the narrator, is freshly out of high school, but the war has certainly made her older and wiser than her years.

Hanneke works for Mr. Kruek at his funeral home. After working there for a time, Hanneke becomes more than a clerk for Mr. Kruek; he enlists her help in the black-market of locating and delivering hard-to-find goods. In order to complete the orders, Hanneke must be resourceful and quick on her feet in thinking of responses when the Nazi soldiers stop her as she makes her way around the city on her bicycle.

In many stories about war, any number of people keep secrets. For Jewish people, for example, they may be hiding their family’s heritage, fearing at any time to be caught. Others are secretive about their activities such as Hanneke’s work in the black-market or even more dangerous actions such as hiding those the Nazis are rounding up and sending to relocation camps.

Hanneke becomes involved in locating a missing Jewish girl when Mrs. Janssen, one of her black-market customers, requests Hanneke’s help. Mrs. Janssen has been hiding Mirjam Roodveldt in a specially built nook behind her kitchen pantry and only accessible through the pantry itself. The hidden door to the nook is completely undetectable. Mirjam’s father had been Mrs. Janssens’ business partner in a furniture store. Mr. Janssen had been hiding the entire family in a backroom of the store that was also cleverly concealed.

However, someone had discovered the family and had killed all of them, including Lea, Mirjam’s twelve-year-old sister. In the chaos of the attack, Mirjam managed to escape and she ran to Mrs. Janssen’s home where Mrs. Janssen immediately put her into the saferoom.

Now, though, Mirjam is missing and Mrs. Janssen is extremely worried about the fifteen-year-old. Hanneke is reluctant to take on the task of locating Mirjam. Until now, she has concentrated on finding the hart-to-locate items like cigarettes, coffee, meat, and chocolate for the clients Mr. Kruek helps.

Despite the obvious dangers, Hanneke agrees to try to locate Mirjam. Doing so puts Hanneke is danger herself and can possibly endanger others as well. Perhaps her tightly guarded secret of feeling she has caused Bas, the love of her life, to enlist in the Navy despite being too young and then of being killed in a battle, leads Hanneke to try to find and save Mirjam.

Locating Mirjam will be difficult and unlike any other task Hanneke has undertaken. Hanneke must find others who can help her. Of course, the more people involved, the greater the danger too.

Hanneke draws attention to herself when she goes to the Jewish high school in an effort to find a picture of Mirjam. Even though she flees the school without giving her name, Judith, a young woman who works at the school, describes Hanneke to Ollie, Bas’s older brother, and Ollie realizes that Hanneke must be the person whom Judith encountered.

Ollie seeks Hanneke out to discover why she has been to the school. Ollie persuades Hanneke to tell him the whole story and he reluctantly agrees to help her. Ollie’s agreement then puts him, his friends, and Hanneke in more danger, but they are all part of a movement larger than themselves at this point. Ollie and his friends have already been heavily involved in the resistance, so now Hanneke is a part of the movement too.

At the end of Girl in the Blue Coat, Hesse includes “A Note on Historical Accuracy.” In it, she reminds readers that “some one hundred thousand Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust—nearly three-quarters of the Jewish population, a much higher percentage than in nearby countries.”  Hesse goes on to say that “Ollie and Judith and their friends represent an amalgamation of several different types of resistance activities, but they are mostly based on the Amsterdam Student Group who specialized in rescuing children.” Further, Hesse explains that “an estimated six hundred Jewish children were sneaked out of the nursery” and given to non-Jewish families in order to save them.

Girl in the Blue Coat is full of danger, of risks, and of concern for one’s fellow human beings. The characters in the story may be fictional, but they worked to save lives in much the same way that real people did. Monica Hesse is a journalist, and she researched the story the same way she would have researched a nonfiction book or newspaper article.

Hesse has received a number of awards for her work. She is also a feature writer for the Washington Post. Her nonfiction American Fire looks like an interesting story that deals with a true crime love story. Who could resist that description? Monica Hesse maintains a Web site at this link: https://www.monicahesse.com/.

The Book Whisperer Promotes Radical Kindness

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I often read about books, so I discovered Radical Kindness: The Life-Changing Power of Giving and Receiving by Angela C. Santomero when I was reading about newly published books. When I checked my library, I found Radical Kindness was available, so I requested it.

When I got home from the library with the book, I sat down to read immediately. In Deepak Chopra’s foreword, I discovered several gems before even getting into Santomero’s ideas. Chopra wrote, “We mistreat the other so that the sad truth about ourselves can be deflected. That’s the vicious circle that Radical Kindness breaks, beginning with each individual who is willing to wake up to the higher reality.”  Then in the last paragraph of the foreword, Chopra includes this statement: “Radical Kindness is an important antidote to the poisonous times we are living in, and we can’t look to others to remedy things for us.”

Angela Santomero is well-known for her work in children’s TV shows. She is co-creator of Blue’s Clues and creator of Super Why!, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Creative Galazy, and Wishenproof. Discover more about Santomero at her Web site: https://angelasclues.com/.

Santomero credits Mister Rogers for starting her on this road of kindness. She explains that watching Mister Rogers made her feel as if she connected with someone. She further explains that she uses the word radical in her book’s title in its “original meaning. The term radical comes from the Latin word for root. And indeed, Fred Rogers placed kindness at the root of all he said and did on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Chapter titles give readers a clear idea of what to expect in Radical Kindness. In Chapter I, Santomero defines radical kindness and includes measures toward “Heart-Seeing: The First Step Toward Radical Kindness.” In Chapter II, she addresses “Be Kind to Yourself.” That concept is too often overlooked; still, being kind to others should start with oneself. Obviously, she includes a chapter on being kind to others and then expands that notion in the last chapter: “Radical Kindness for a Better World.”

The last part of the book provides “Thirty-two Acts of Radical Kindness You Could Do Today.” In those last 28 pages, Santomero provides specific acts one can easily perform to promote radical kindness. Some are as simple as phoning a friend or making one’s favorite meal. Others are fun such as going barefoot in the grass. One that is especially meaningful to me is #9: “Say No.” I have difficulty with that concept, so Santomero’s advice is particularly useful to me.

Santomero has not created an earth-shattering new concept in Radical Kindness, but she certainly does remind us that we can easily perform radical acts of kindness to create a better life for ourselves and a better world beyond ourselves.