Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The Book Whisperer Insists You Read The Seamstress of New Orleans!


My sister suggested that I read The Seamstress of New Orleans by Diane C. McPhail. When I picked up the book, I was immediately drawn into the story., so much so that I could not stop reading. Taking a brief break to cook and eat dinner, I finished the book in one day!

The story takes place in 1900 focusing on two recent widows, Alice Butterworth and Constance Halstead. When the story opens, we meet Constance who lives in New Orleans in comfort with her husband Benton and two young daughters along with a loyal servant Analee. Alice’s story begins on a farm in an unnamed prairie state, but her mother sends Alice to Chicago to seek a new life for herself since Alice’s two brothers will inherit the family farm, leaving Alice only to find a husband if she remains. Luckily, Alice’s mother has taught Alice how to sew. In fact, the two women are quite talented artists as seamstresses. This talent will take Alice to Chicago and later to New Orleans, giving her a lifeline.

Working in a tailor shop in Chicago, Alice meets Howard Butterworth who comes to the shop to have a skirt altered for his mother who lives in Memphis. Howard is taken with Alice and asks her to have dinner with him. At first, she refuses, but then she decides to go. They have a brief courtship and marry. Howard is secretive and tells Alice he travels between Memphis and Chicago for his work in the cotton industry. He is often gone for days at a time. Then one day, he simply does not return.

The story returns to Constance and her family in New Orleans; her husband Benton also travels for his work in the cotton industry, but between New Orleans and Chicago. The marriage, like Alice’s marriage to Howard, is fraught with problems because Benton has a gambling problem. Readers also receive hints of a more secretive nature in Benton.

How do Alice and Constance meet and what connection do they have? The story unfolds with precision as the two women’s worlds collide. Alice, hunting for Howard, heads to Memphis only to learn that the address he had mentioned for his mother is really an area of gambling dens and prostitution, so she returns to the train and goes to New Orleans, looking to escape Chicago’s cold winters and find a new life.

Alice’s talent as a seamstress earns her a job at an orphanage in New Orleans. As it happens, Constance is a volunteer who helps raise money for the orphanage. Read The Seamstress of New Orleans to see how Alice and Constance, two women from quite different worlds, end up as friends, really sisters at heart. This story will captivate readers leaving them with a satisfying and memorable ending.


The Book Whisperer Finds The Book Woman’s Daughter to be Amazing


After reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, I could not recommend the book to enough people. I chose it for two book clubs to which I belong. Everyone I know who has read the book has thoroughly enjoyed it, learned from it, and recommended it to others. When I learned that Richardson was writing a sequel, The Book Woman’s Daughter, I couldn’t wait to read it. I attended a virtual event featuring Kim Michele Richardson through Adventures by the Book; along with my ticket, I received a copy of The Book Woman’s Daughter as soon as it was published.

The Book Woman’s Daughter can certainly be read as a standalone novel. I do think, however, that those who have also read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek will find a deeper, richer connection to the story.

When The Book Woman’s Daughter opens in 1953, Honey Mary-Angeline Lovett is almost 17. Her parents are being arrested for breaking the laws of KY. Honey’s father Jackson had dared “to marry a woman of mixed color – a blue-skinned Kentuckian.” Cussy Lovett, Honey’s mother, has a condition called methemoglobinemia, a “gene disorder that the ol’ doc over in Troublesome Creek said me [Honey] and Mama and the Moffits had.” Cussy has quite blue skin all over, but Honey’s disorder manifests itself in her hands and feet and only when she is stressed or agitated.  

As a minor and with her parents jailed, Honey could be sent to an orphanage until she is 18, or she could be remanded to the Kentucky House of Reform where she would be held until she was 21. She would be shackled and forced to do hard labor. And for what? Because the laws of KY were so antiquated and outdated! Her great fear is that the latter will be her fate if she cannot get to Troublesome Creek where a judge can name Retta Adams, 90, her guardian while her parents are in prison.

Honey, like Cussy, loves books. When she gets to Troublesome Creek, she sees an advertisement for a librarian to take books into the KY hills to isolated people just as her mother had done years before. Honey feels if she can get the job that will show she is capable of taking care of herself and she can contribute to living expenses with Retta.

This story takes place in 1953, but it might as well be 1900. People in towns have electricity, indoor bathrooms, and running water. People living deep in the hills of KY still have wood stoves for heating and cooking. They have well water and use coal oil lamps. Honey herself has to learn how to use a public telephone. She hasn’t seen a television and hardly knows what a radio is.

Needless to say, Honey encounters a number of obstacles in her path, but she also has friends who come to her aid. Her own ingenuity and innate intelligence serve her well too.  I highly recommend The Book Woman’s Daughter. It will make readers angry, make them laugh, and ultimately provide them with an excellent story. For book clubs, the topics for discussion are almost endless: interracial marriage laws, child marriages, child emancipation, and child prison labor camps. Other topics will include the stories from the Pack Horse Library Project and the ingenuity of the librarians who took materials to families buried deep in the hills of KY.

The Book Whisperer Trusts You WILL Read Shadows of Berlin


Readers of this blog may remember my temporary ban on WWII historical fiction. Shadows of Berlin by David R. Gillham, like The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight, is not completely a WWII novel. Both books, though, are rooted in WWII and forward.

David R. Gillham worked in the book business before turning to writing historical fiction himself. He had studied screenwriting before writing fiction. He has published three books: City of Women, Annelies: A Novel of Anne Frank, and, most recently, Shadows of Berlin.

Shadows of Berlin opens in NYC in 1955 by introducing readers to Rachel Perlman, married to Aaron Perlman. The two are very much in love despite Aaron’s mother’s unhappiness at Aaron’s choice of wife.

In the beginning, I found Rachel to be full of complaints and distrustful of herself. Rachel’s conversations with her dead mother reminded me somewhat of a contemporary story, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. In both stories, the absent mothers provide the two daughters much angst for quite different reasons.

As I found myself impatient with Rachel, I stopped to think for a moment. At that point, I realized that the experiences she had during WWII as a Jewish girl and in danger from all corners would certainly entitle her to her fears even though she has survived the war. She has lost all of her family except Uncle Fritz, who, though kind, does use Rachel as an ATM much of the time. Aaron distrusts Fritz and resents the money Rachel gives him.

Readers quickly learn of Lavinia Morgenstern-Landau, Rachel’s mother, who was a talented portrait artist. Rachel, herself, has inherited this talent, but she distrusts herself too much to begin painting again. Her psychiatrist suggests that returning to her painting again could be therapeutic. Rachel disagrees.

Shadows of Berlin takes readers through Rachel’s journey from the horrors of war into a new life in NYC. Rachel must come to terms about how she has managed to survive the war and has now arrived in NYC to start a new life. Other stories explore this issue of what one must do to keep body and soul together when faced with unimaginable choices.

Because of Uncle Fritz, Rachel discovers a self-portrait her mother painted before the war. It is now in the hands of a pawnbroker who wants $50 for the painting. That sum is out of Rachel’s reach unless she can find a way to get the money and purchase the painting which means so much to her since it is a connection to her mother.

Clearly, Shadows of Berlin will generate in-depth discussions in book clubs. Issues such as love, forgiveness, survival, and hope will give book club members plenty to discuss. Rachel has every opportunity to find happiness in her new life. That’s another point of discussion.

The Book Whisperer Demands You Read The Next Ship Home


For readers seeking historical fiction unrelated to WWII, The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb will certainly fill the bill. Set in 1902, readers meet Alma Brauer, a German-American, who has a gift for learning languages and a desire to learn and, in fact, a wish to attend college. Alma is 22 and unmarried, living with her mother, stepfather, and siblings, mostly among other German-Americans. Sadly, her mother and stepfather do not support Alma’s desire to learn. In fact, her mother tells her, “It does you no good to have dreams. They leave you dissatisfied with your lot.”

Alma helps with the family’s bierhaus until her stepfather tells he has found her a job at Ellis Island. Of course, what that means is that she will be working two jobs—at Ellis Island and again at home when she leaves work at Ellis Island. While working at Ellis Island, Alma crosses paths with a young Italian immigrant, Francesca Ricci and her sister Maria. Because Alma has learned to speak Italian, she is brought in to help interpret since Francesca’s English is somewhat limited.

Meeting Francesca along with her work with other immigrants from a wide variety of countries opens Alma’s eyes.  Until her work at Ellis Island, “Alma had never questioned her parents’ views. In fact, they’d instilled their own unease within her, so she turned to the one thing that helped quell it: she learned their languages, those who had infiltrated their neighborhood and taken their jobs.”

The story evolves into several complicated issues including Alma’s stepfather’s insisting that she marry a man who is a supervisor at Ellis Island, the one who got Alma the job. Alma’s mother tells her, “You’re a burden, Alma. Another mouth to feed.”

Along the way, readers learn more about Alma and her brother Fritz who is an activist trying to get better working conditions for laborers. Francesca also plays an important role in the story. Following Alma in her work at Ellis Island, we learn to appreciate the different cultures that collide there as people flow into the US seeking better lives and freedom. We also discover that corruption and evil lurks in the hallways among some of the supervisors and vendors at Ellis Island.

Heather Webb has done a great deal of research into Ellis Island of 1902. Between chapters, she intersperses newspaper stories from the time about the corruption taking place and the attempts to clear out the wrongdoers.

I found The Next Ship Home, which is a threat to so many of the immigrants if they do not comply with whatever a supervisor insists upon, a compelling read. For book clubs, The Next Ship Home will provide much for discussion: women’s rights (or lack of), education, prejudice, overcoming prejudice, corruption, and opportunities.

Heather Webb has an impressive body of work. In addition to the novels she writes alone, she has teamed up with other authors such as Hazel Gaynor to create captivating stories from various time periods. Heather Webb is part of NovelNetwork which seeks to connect authors and readers. She will Zoom with book clubs.

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


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: Readers can also sign up to receive her newsletter:

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 Re-examines The Orphan’s Tale


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,, readers will find information on all of the novels along with questions to use in book clubs for discussion.

German circus ringmaster, Adolf Althoff,, 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 Endorses a YA Novel About WWII


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:

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Touching Story of WWI


I read about all sorts of books and I should try to keep track of where I read about a book when I request it from the library, but that would involve a system and discipline. Instead, I simply put in the request and wait for the book to arrive at my branch. Recently, I read an article about a variety of children’s books, picture books and juvenile titles. One of those books was Captain Rosalie by Timothee de Fombelle, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated into English by Sam Gordon.

De Fombelle has written several novels for young adults as well as plays, even designing and building his own sets for the dramas.  Critics describe de Fombelle’s writing as “powerful, exciting, unusual, and beautiful.”

Margaret Kennelly, writing for School Library Journal, says, “Readers are quickly drawn into the world Rosalie describes through first-person perspective.” Kennelly goes on to praise Captain Rosalie as “a great hi-lo reader to introduce the destructive aftermath of WWI and to learn how to deal with loss.”

Isabelle Arsenault’s elegant drawings enhance de Fombelle’s text. She uses mostly shades of gray with splashes of color, especially for Rosalie’s red hair.

While Rosalie’s father is away fighting in WWI, Rosalie and her mother live simply in a two-room house. Rosalie’s mom works in a factory, so she takes Rosalie to the nearby school where Rosalie waits for the teacher to arrive. Rosalie’s mother has arranged with the teacher to allow Rosalie to sit in the back of the room while the older children have their classes.

Rosalie tells readers on page one that “I have a secret. The others think I’m drawing in my notebook when I’m sitting on the little bench underneath the coat hooks at the back of the classroom.” Then she explains her secret: “I am spying on the enemy. I am preparing my plan. I am Captain Rosalie.”

Though she is disguised as a five-year-old girl, Rosalie has a mission and knows she will receive a medal for her accomplishments. She keeps quiet and tells no one of her mission. She knows that she must work in secret.

Timothee de Fombelle has created a moving story of a little girl and her mother waiting for news from a soldier father and husband. The war creates surprising heroes and puts Rosalie on a mission of secrecy. Captain Rosalie is a touching story, not just for K-grade three readers, but for all readers. Isabelle Arsenault’s drawing add another depth to the story.

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.