Category Archives: Literature

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 Takes a Book Challenge


I discovered List Challenges,, recently. And what a rabbit hole that site has taken me down. Readers can challenge themselves with a variety of lists: travel, movies, books, food, and other. Other provides a potpourri of topics such as “76 Best Board Games of All Time,” “Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Albums of All Time,” and “Classic Television Shows.” To see the full list, go to the site listed above and click “other.”

On the List Challenges site, users can create a free account and keep track of the lists they have marked and they can also generate their own lists. Hence, users will see lists such as “Bettina’s Bucket List – Because Time is Short,” “Summer Bucket List,” and “Julia’s Bucket List.”

Quite naturally, my eye fell on the topic of “books” with its 14,811 challenges. The challenge here is to choose one or two to examine and then return another time to further scrutinize the topics.

I first selected “BBC’s Top 100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die.” The titles are in no particular order. I was struck by The Catcher in the Rye situated next to The Time Traveler’s Wife and followed by Middlemarch.

Some of my favorite books are on the list. At the top of my favorites is To Kill a Mockingbird. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is another favorite. I am glad to see A Confederacy of Dunces on the list because it is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

Books I have not read and would like to read include Watership Down, A Town Like Alice, and Remains of the Day.

Here are the results of my challenge. I was honest and did not check a series if I had read only one of the books!

More lists challenges await.

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 Examines a Book for Book Lovers


My friend Judy sent me a copy of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes. Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review calls A Gentle Maddness “an absolutely fascinating tale and an engrossing, essential book that no book lover should be without.” In 1995, A Gentle Madness was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. Basbanes has received numerous awards for his writing of nonfiction books and articles for a variety of newspapers and magazines such as The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and The Smithsonian.

A Gentle Madness pays homage to book lovers, book collectors, and book history. Obviously, Basbanes tackled a monumental job in chronicling the history of books and their collectors. The book is 638 pages long with 39 pages of notes, an extensive bibliography consisting of another 37 pages, and finally an index of 25 pages.  A Gentle Madness is a scholarly work.

Basbanes has also included a number of illustrations to accompany his work. Sir Robert Cotton, 1571-1631, is noted as an “antiquary and collector.” Another picture of interest is of the statue of John Harvard, 1607-1638, “the Puritan clergyman whose gift of books established the first library to be formed in British North America.”

The chapter titles are intriguing. “Balm for the Soul,” “Rule Britannia,” “Brandy for Heroes,” and “Infinite Riches” will keep readers moving from one page to the next.

In Chapter 13, “The Blumberg Collection,” the first line spoken by FBI Special Agent W. Dennis Aiken will intrigue book lovers: “I really don’t know why you want to come out here. All you’re going to see is seven rooms stacked to the ceiling with old books.”

Clearly, I did not read all of A Gentle Madness. It is the kind of book one keeps on hand to dip into again and again and then to pass it along to another book lover as Judy has done.

Nicholas Basbanes maintains an extensive Web site:

The Book Whisperer is a Book Club Junkie



When I tell myself to stop looking at, reading about, and seeking out books to read, I always fail. I am a member of two book clubs that tell me what to read, so I have no responsibilities except to read the books by the appointed day and time and be prepared to discuss them. I am happy with that arrangement.

I also belong to two other book clubs where I have a great deal more responsibility. One of those, I started in 1985; over time, the group has evolved so that I choose the books for each meeting. Because we follow an academic calendar for that group, I choose three books for the fall with a theme in mind and three for the spring with a different theme. In the summer, I choose a book for the June discussion; in July, members bring a book to describe to the others in an attempt to interest them in reading the book. I do provide guidelines that limit the discussions so that everyone has an opportunity to speak.

I am the leader of a fairly new book club, formed in Nov 2017. Choosing books for that club is a bit less straightforward. I both take suggestions from members and make suggestions, but, admittedly, I tend to sway the decisions.

Should I mention that I belong to yet one more book club? It meets irregularly and only from September through April. I am not responsible for selecting the books for it, but I am a consultant.

Should I also mention that I do love to read and to discuss books? Or perhaps that is self-evident.

Some of my favorite sources for locating books include the following: Nancy Pearl,; Riffle,; Bookriot,; and NPR books, BookBrowse,, is another useful source. After using the free portion of BookBrowse for some time, I decided to join and have access to more information now. I have also received several books from BookBrowse to read, review, and discuss.

Today, as I read my email, I started down a rabbit hole of books recommended from some of the sites listed above. I started with Nancy Pearl’s site. Her reviews intrigue me. I discovered two nonfiction books to keep in mind for one of the book clubs.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy tells the story of women who served as code breakers during WWII. More than ten thousand women came from small towns and elite colleges to help shorten the war and save lives. Who would not be interested in the story of these women?  Pearl also mentioned The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal. In her review, she said The Hare With Amber Eyes is a book she would like to give to everyone. To me, that sentence sealed my desire to read the book. De Waal provides a true story of art, history, and family. De Waal inherited his family’s collection of 264 “wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.” From Japan, they are netsuke, objects of art which evolved over time from utilitarian objects that were used to secure a cord which held personal possessions. Kimonos had no pockets, so men who needed a place to keep pipes, tobacco, money, and other personal items would put them into a pouch which then hung from a cord on the sash or obi. The netsuke started as an object of utility, but evolved into art forms. The family also owned a large collection of priceless art in other forms, but the Nazis removed all that art. Because the netsuke were hidden away, they survived to remain in the family.


Nancy Pearl’s recommendation of Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper caught my attention because I had read Etta and Otto and Russell and James, also by Hooper. Our Homesick Songs is a story of a family “on the edge of extinction, and the different way each of them fights to keep hope, memory, and love alive.” I enjoyed Etta and Otto and Russell and James so I am intrigued by Hooper’s new novel. I have been unable to discuss Etta and Otto and Russell and James with anyone else, so I am hopeful that will not be the case with Our Homesick Songs.

Another book on Pearl’s fiction recommendations is The Great Believers by Rebedda Makkai. Makkai weaves in the story of the AIDS crisis along with art, loss, and friendship. The story takes place in Chicago and Paris. A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee puts readers in Calcutta in 1919. It is also the first in a planned trilogy starring Captain Sam Wyndham, formerly of Scotland Yard, and now living in Calcutta for a new post in the police there.


Then at NPR books, I discovered Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane. May, the main character, is a university gardener who is more at home with plants than with people. At forty, she decides to take a year and reconnect with four old friends. May has four rules which she follows rigidly:

  1. Make the visit for the purpose of friendship only—not because you have a business trip in the area, for example.
  2. Stay at your friend’s house.
  3. Be alive in the space of the friendship, meaning no social media during the visit. Take pictures for yourself, if you want, but no posting until later.
  4. Don’t make special plans (spa, resort, fancy local restaurant), because the purpose is to see an ordinary day in the life of your friend.

So, dear readers, as you can see, my desire to stop looking for books to read is an impossible goal. I must continue to look for that next great read to share with my book clubs, my friends who are not in book clubs, and my blog readers.

Currently, that book is Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok, but you will have to look for the complete review from the Book Whisperer soon.

The Book Whisperer Recommends


Today’s blog takes a little different turn in reminding readers about some recent recommendations.

According to Fernando Pessoa, “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” If you are looking for some ways to ignore the current life we are living, the Book Whisperer has some inviting suggestions for you.


If you would like to escape to a small town in Australia in the 1960s, pick up The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman. Tom Hope, a farmer, feels blissfully happy with his wife Trudy and his farm. Unfortunately, Trudy has not taken well to being a farmer’s wife, and she leaves Tom. When she returns some months later, she tells Tom she is pregnant with another man’s child, but Tom, the bighearted man he is, tells her he will take care of her and will love the child as his own. Of course, readers know that Trudy has left once and so she is unlikely to be content on the farm. The story moves from Trudy’s second departure with her leaving Peter, her son, in Tom’s loving care and Tom’s meeting Hannah Babel. Hannah, a Hungarian Jew, is a survivor of Auschwitz seeking a new life in Australia. Hillman includes a love story, but The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is not a romance. Life is not all moonlight and roses for Tom and Hannah, but they do find they can build a life together despite the blows they have taken.


Would you like a trip to Turkey, but without the dangers of current travel there? Selahattin Demirtaş, a Turkish lawyer and activist, has written Dawn, a book of short stories. Demirtaş is currently in prison as an enemy of the state of Turkey. The stories are raw and differ widely from one another. They depict people in terrible situations and yet also show their spirit to survive and overcome. Demirtaş wrote the stories from his jail cell and managed to get them out of the prison to be published. Dawn is a book worth reading.


What about a trip to England and Denmark? Meet me at the Museum, Anne Youngson’s debut novel written in the form of letters between two strangers, will certainly engage readers. Tina Hapgood is a lonely British farmer’s wife. Her children are grown and her husband is distant. She and her long-time friend Bella always planned to go to Denmark to see the Tollund Man. In middle school, they learned of The Bog People, a book about the Tollund Man. As so often happens, they both married, had children, and first one thing and then another has kept them from fulfilling their promise to each other. Then Bella dies of cancer, leaving Tina thinking about what might have been. On impulse, Tina writes a letter to Professor Glob, who wrote The Bog People, and sends it to the museum which houses the Tollund Man. The professor has died, but Anders Larsen, the curator of the museum, responds to Tina’s letter. Thus, a correspondence begins between them. As the letters continue, Tina and Anders open up about themselves and their lives. Meet me at the Museum is a delightful book.


And now for something completely different, an imaginary journey: This Moose Belongs to ME by Oliver Jeffers takes readers on a picture-book journey. Jeffers is a talented artist who draws realistic landscapes with Wilfred, a young boy, and Marcel, a moose, drawn in child-like fashion against the realistic landscapes. The result is a delight for the eye. And the story is fun too. Wilfred learns a good lesson about owning a moose—or not owning a moose.

The Book Whisperer is Smitten


Often, I read about a book and immediately request the book from the library. If it takes some time for the book to become available, I sometimes forget why I found the description so intriguing. That is not the case with The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman.

The title could fool one into thinking the book is a romance. It is not. It is a story of loss, love, and reclamation.

When the story opens in 1964, Tom Hope is married to Trudy. Tom is happy and unaware of Trudy’s growing discontent that finally manifests itself in her disappearing from their farm home in central Victoria, Australia. The nearby town is Hometown. Tom begins making a list of all the things he can do to prove to Trudy that he loves her and will make her life better when she returns. He feels certain she will return.

On his list, he writes picnics, pets cat budgie!!, light fire kitchen first thing!!, and tell her about good things she does like when she doesn’t burn the sausages. As he thinks of more and more ways to improve himself for Trudy, he writes them down. Soon, the list is six notebook pages long.

Meanwhile, Tom must see to the work on the farm. He has a flock of sheep, milk cows, and an apple orchard. On a farm, the farmer gets up early and works hard all day. Clearly, farm wife is not the job that Trudy found fulfilling.

Then one day in a pouring rain, Trudy is back. Tom feels overjoyed. He treats her tenderly and is prepared to sleep on the couch to let her have her space, but she wants him to sleep with her. Tom even shows her his six pages of ways he plans to improve to show her how much he loves her.

The next morning, though, Trudy drops a bombshell: she is pregnant with another man’s child. After processing the news, Tom says it does not matter and that he will be the baby’s father. Trudy agrees to stay, but she continues to be moody and depressed throughout the pregnancy. When the baby boy is born, Tom and Trudy name him Peter. Trudy exhibits no maternal feelings and rarely wishes to hold Peter.

Tom becomes the primary caretaker and Peter quickly learns to turn to Tom when he needs something, even from early infancy. That bond continues to grow. When Peter is three, Trudy tells Tom that she must go; she cannot live buried on a farm, so off she goes, leaving Peter with Tom.

Then three years later, Trudy returns to take Peter away. Both Tom and Peter are heartbroken, but Trudy is the boy’s mother and Tom has no hold since he is not the child’s biological father. Tom has worked out a good arrangement of taking care of Peter when still getting all the farm chores done and keeping Peter safe. The two develop a deep bond of love.

Trudy tells Tom she has found Jesus and that now Peter must be with her. Just how much loss can Tom withstand? And, of course, Peter, too, suffers from being taken from Tom. Trudy may love Peter, but she has hitherto not shown him any affection, much less motherly love.

Again, Tom finds himself alone. Then one day when he returns home from working, he discovers two notes, one under the front door and one under the back door. The notes are the same and they are from Hannah Babel, a Hungarian Jew who has moved to Australia to create a new life for herself by giving music lessons and by opening a bookshop in Hometown.

Hannah needs Tom’s help in welding a sign over the bookshop she is opening in Hometown. Tom has seen Hannah in Hometown, but he has not spoken with her. He goes to the bookshop and agrees to fix the sign and even agrees to build some additional bookshelves for the store.

Hannah is unlike anyone else that Tom has ever met; at forty-five, she is ten years older than he. Still, both feel an attraction between them. As Tom continues to help Hannah ready the bookshop for opening, their relationship deepens and they are spending nights together.

Sometimes, though, Hannah withdraws, not physically, but emotionally, leaving Tom baffled about what he might have done or how he might help her return to herself. Readers begin receiving the back story when chapters shift from the present to 1944 and learn that Hannah along with her husband Leon and their young son Michael have been swept up in the Nazi’s relocation plan for Jewish people.

The little family ends up at Auschwitz where Hannah and Michael are separated from Leon. In a split second when she dozes on standing on her feet, Hannah loses Michael as well. From then on, she feels haunted by her losses. Readers continue to learn more and more about the struggle Hannah has in Auschwitz and later when the Germans abandon camp ahead of the Russian soldiers’ arrival.

Hannah, a natural leader, takes eighty women who have survived thus far and they strike out to find safety and food, for they are starving. Along the way, many of the women die. In the end, only three of them survive.

When Hannah and Tom marry, all of Hometown comes to the wedding. The other women of the town cook food for the reception and Tom’s two sisters come to help.

The bookshop is in Hometown and Hannah still gives music lessons as well, but she and Tom live on the farm. Hannah still experiences those unexpected periods of depression when she withdraws from Tom. Given his experience with Trudy, Tom becomes wary at those times and struggles to know what to do to keep Hannah safe.

Peter runs away from the Jesus camp and finds his way back to Tom. Unfortunately, Tom feels he must return Peter to Trudy at the camp, so he does. Tom and Peter both wish life could be otherwise. Now, though, thrown into the mix is Hannah who does not want Peter to live with her and Tom. The loss of her own Michael is too great for her to bear.

Of course, Tom and Hannah must encounter a number of other challenges. Running a bookshop in a small, rural town is not easy. Obviously, a farm requires constant care, too.

How will the story turn out? Does Hannah overcome her nightmares? Can Peter come back to the farm to live with Tom, the only father he has known? If he does, what will happen to Trudy? And should readers care about her?

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is an engaging novel and provides a moving story. I read it all in one day.

Read more about Robert Hillman and his work at this link:

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Advance Copy!



After receiving an advance copy of Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center, I did some research on Center herself since I had not read her previous books. Watch this TEDXBEND Talk,, as Katherine Center explains not only that “We Need to Teach Boys to Read Stories About Girls,” but also that “stories can save you because stories are not just entertainment; they’re not just something we do in the margins of our lives as a break from reality. Stories help us construct our framework for understanding reality.”

Things You Save in a Fire will be on sale 13 August 2019. I am delighted to have received an advance copy. Once I picked the book up, I hardly put it down. I wanted to see how Cassie Halwell, a strong female who has cut herself off from emotions since she was sixteen, would handle the massive changes in her life. Those changes start in the early pages of Things You Save in a Fire.

Cassie is a firefighter in Austen, TX. She has succeeded far beyond her stature would lead people to think. Because of her grit and determination, she meets and exceeds the physical demands of her job as firefighter and paramedic. She trains relentlessly, both physically and mentally. She passes her lieutenant’s exam on the first try and with very high marks.


But one thing now stands in her way in Texas. In receiving an award, Cassie attacks city councilman Heath Thompson on the platform during the ceremony when he hands her the award and simultaneously grabs her butt. What readers do not know is that there is history between Cassie and Heath, but they need to read the whole story to discover that history.

The day after the award ceremony, Captain Harris calls Cassie into her office. Cassie knows she will be reprimanded for her actions the night before. However, Captain Harris begins with the news about Cassie’s stellar performance on the lieutenant’s exam: “It might surprise you to hear, then, that not only did you pass, you got the number one score in the entire city. You scored two points below me.”

Captain Harris tells Cassie that “you’ve been on the city’s radar ever since that feature the Statesman did on you last summer, but that test score clinched it.” Harris explains that Cassie would have made an excellent spokesperson and example for the city’s fire department. That is, until last night when Cassie attacked Councilman Thompson.

Harris tells Cassie that if she lies low for a year or more, perhaps she can regain the status she has lost. At that point, Cassie says she is moving to Rockport, MA, to live with and help her estranged mother for a year. Both Captain Harris and Cassie hope that she can return to Austen following that year or perhaps two years away.

Captain Harris makes phone calls to fire stations in the Rockport area and secures a place for Cassie as a firefighter and paramedic in the small town of Lillian. The Lillian Fire Station is losing two firefighting brothers who are retiring together and moving to Florida.

Before Cassie leaves Austen, Captain Harris demands that Cassie take notes on her advice. Harris starts with “don’t wear makeup, perfume, or lady-scented deodorant.” From there, she continues with a great many other don’ts.  Cassie realizes that Captain Harris started in the fire department thirty years earlier, so the advice she is giving Cassie has been hard won. Most of the advice boils down to “make them [fellow firefighters] less aware I’m a girl.”

Other complications in the story include the estrangement between Cassie and her mother. Diana, Cassie’s mother, left the little family on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday. She leaves to marry another man, Wallace. Cassie’s hurt over her mother’s departure has consumed Cassie ever since. The fact that another significant event takes place on that sixteenth birthday adds to Cassie’s reserve and inability to forgive her mother.

Diana has called asking Cassie to give up the job which Cassie loves and is good at and to move to Rockport, MA, where Cassie has never been. Diana says she has lost sight in one eye and needs help navigating the stairs in her home along with help in daily living.

Naturally, at first, Cassie refuses her mother’s request. Even when her dad calls and tells Cassie that she must move to Rockport and help her mother, Cassie is reluctant. Then the unfortunate incident at the award ceremony sends Cassie away so she can repair her reputation and return to Austen. In one last effort to keep Cassie in Austen, Captain Harris requests that Cassie apologize to Councilman Thompson. Cassie absolutely refuses. I was very proud of Cassie for refusing to apologize when she is clearly not the person who is wrong—although bashing Thompson over the head with the award trophy could have been handled differently. It was the heat of the moment and the previous history that kicks in with Cassie then.

Lillian Fire Department is small and has hitherto been all males. The old hands do not take kindly to having a woman in their midst, totally disregarding the fact that Cassie is better than many of them at their jobs. Some of them have let themselves get out of shape. Cassie must fight prejudice on her own. She has to be tougher, stronger, and more resilient than her male counterparts. She has to prove herself every day.

Center has written a story about a strong woman who has to hide her femininity in order to compete in a male-dominated world. She must change herself in order to be accepted. Over the course of the story, Cassie finds both acceptance and the ability to change herself. She learns about forgiveness and human connections, both of which she has kept at bay for ten years since she was sixteen.


Katherine Center is funny and engaging. Just watch the TEDXBEND Talk mentioned above, or watch the other videos on her Web site: Center infuses Things You Save in a Fire with her own sense of humor. Center has written seven novels. The fourth one, The Lost Husband, is being made into a feature film.



The Book Whisperer Reflects on Dawn, Turkish Short Stories


I just closed a book of short stories titled Dawn by Selahattin Demirtaş, who has imprisoned in a maximum-security prison in Edirne by the Turkish state since November 2016. Demirtaş was a co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). As a human rights lawyer, Demirtaş “helped transform the HDP into a more inclusive party with an emphasis on progressive values, feminism, and LGBTQ rights.” He even ran for president of Turkey from behind bars, coming in third.

I am shaken by the stories and am still processing what I have read. Having participated in a number of activities at Raindrop Tulsa and having become friends with Turkish people now living in the US, I was aware of the atrocities and the imprisonments, which have affected families of my friends here and in Turkey.

While Dawn is a work of fiction, the stories portray the difficulties of daily life of ordinary people in Turkey. The stories are not all sad, but each is tinged with sadness and some are infused with horror. Yet, readers also feel a sense of hope through the human desire to overcome difficulties and injustice. Demirtaş wrote the stories from his prison cell.

A review in Booklist says of the stories in Dawn that they are “visceral tales that expose unfathomable darkness with an unshowy, fable-like straightforwardness as the book nonetheless subtly arcs toward hope… Already a publishing sensation with 200,000 copies sold in Turkey alone, Demirtas’ empathic collection shines the light that its title promises.”

I read the first two stories and slammed the book shut, thinking I could not read further after reading “Seher,” about a trusting, naïve young woman who is raped by men in her workplace and then killed by her father and brother to save the family’s honor. A day later, I returned to the book and continued reading because I was haunted by what would be next.

Demirtaş wrote “I’m in Prison. But My Party Still Scored Big in Turkey’s Elections” for The Washington Post in April 2019. Here is an important excerpt from that article:

“Thousands of members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who should currently be participating in politics — including me— are in prison on political grounds. The security forces continue to harass and obstruct those members of our party who remain free. Many of us have been criminalized and deemed ‘terrorists’ by government officials. And yet my party, which I co-chaired for many years, still showed its strength in these latest elections.” Read the entire article at this link:

Dawn is published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint.


The Book Whisperer Read Home Fire


I requested Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie because I read a great deal about it. After reading the book, I am ambivalent. Shamsie is certainly a talented writer who captivates her readers with her eloquent prose.

Here’s an exchange between two Isma and Eamonn, two of the main characters, in a coffee house:

He starts with this greeting: “Hey, Greta Garbo, why so serious?” Then Shamsie follows with “he sat down across from her, one arm slung over the back of the chair. Such a languid contrast to the coiled spring of his father.”

Home Fire has won prestigious awards such as the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It has received high praise in a number of reviews. I wanted to like the story.

Isma Pasha has brought up her younger siblings, twins Aneeka and Parvaiz. Now, she is free to pursue her own interrupted education in the US. In leaving London, Isma spends hours being interrogated by airport security. The interrogators went through every item in her luggage, handling all her possessions and questioning her over and over. Finally, she is released, long after her original flight has left London.

Isma is headed to Amherst, MA where her former tutor in London, Hira Shah, has secured a place for her in graduate school. Shah also lives in Amherst now. Aneeka, Isma’s younger sister, is in college in the UK. Parvaiz, their brother and Aneeka’s twin, is missing. However, he does show up on Skype occasionally.

Home Fire retells the Greek tragedy Antigone. Antigone must not bury her brother Polynices because he has been declared a traitor. In Home Fire, Parvaiz is now a traitor connected to Isis, but readers do not learn that fact right away. At first, Shamsie focuses on the estrangement for unknown reasons between Parvaiz and Isma.

Obviously, other complications occur. Isma meets Eamonn Lone in Amherst. She recognizes him because of his father’s political career in England. Unfortunately, she does not let him know she recognizes him until weeks after their first meeting when his father becomes Home Secretary and is in the news.

The two families’ lives become intertwined when Eamonn sees a picture of the strikingly beautiful Aneeka. When Eamonn returns to London, he takes a package to Auntie Naseem, longtime family friend of the Pashas in London, He intended to post the package once he arrived in London, but, on impulse, he takes the package to Auntie Naseem in person.

No doubt, Eamonn hoped to meet Aneeka when he delivered the package, and he is not disappointed. He does meet Aneeka and finds her as breathtakingly beautiful as her picture.

These connections between Isma and Eamonn in Amherst and then Eamonn’s meeting Aneeka in London spark the link between the two very different Muslim families.

Kamila Shamsie has published five other novels: In the City by the Sea; Salt and Saffron; Kartography; Broken Verses; Burnt Shadows, and A God in Every Stone.

Penguin and Random House offer a brief biography of Kamila Shamsie: