FALLEN WOMEN by Sandra Dallas

Dsandraenver in the year 1885 was the gilded glory of the west. High society flourished and millions of dollars turned over daily. But, Denver had a greasy sinister side as well. Gambling, prostitution, and extreme poverty ran rampant. It is into this environment that the author, Sandra Dallas, drops wealthy Manhattan missionary, Beret Osmundsen.  Her strong-willed wayward sister, Lillie, has been found brutally murdered in a Denver brothel and Beret is bent on justice.  

Lillie as it turns out is not the wronged and innocent child that Beret believes her to be. Beret’s high society aunt and uncle (Lillie’s Denver charges) also disappoint, disillusion and disgust. Aided by Detective Sergeant Mick McCauley, Beret learns truths about life, death, self and love in her search for the murderer of her sister.

 Dallas always gives the reader a finely crafted tale, but this “era” novel is particularly engrossing.

Reviewed by Neica Dey

ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Molly Ayer, a goth high school student needs to get in 50 hours of community service.  Her boyfriend’s mother works for an elderly woman, Vivian Daly, who will take Molly on as a worker if she will help her clean out and sort the many objects, books and papers in her attic. 

At the same time, we learn about Niamh Power, a young Irish orphan from New York who is sent to Minnesota, on the train, to  be adopted.  It will come as no surprise to readers that  Niamh grows up to be Vivian Daly and Molly is drawn into her story on the orphan trains that took children from the streets of New York and left them in Midwestern and Western cities along the way to be adopted or put into what often amounted to slavery.

As a reader, I had always avoided books on this topic, fiction or non-fiction.  I don’t always have to read “happy” books, but I just had the idea that this was real misery and something I didn’t need to subject myself to.  This, however is a lovely book that is difficult to put down.  Young Niamh does come into some horrendous situations and has her trials before the end of the book, but her life and Molly’s have many things in common and the two find a bond of friendship in this lovely story.

 

Reviewed by Audrey Lewistrain

BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER by Joanne Fluke

pieThis is the 19th foodie mystery featuring Hannah Swensen, her cat Moishe, and the characters who work with her at her bakery/coffee shop called The Cookie Jar.  Rounding out the cast are the members of her family, other memorable inhabitants of Lake Eden, Minnesota, and Mike and Norman, the long-suffering duo who constantly vie for Hannah’s heart. 

 

Minnesota’s idiosyncratic weather is often beautifully depicted in Fluke’s work, and as this tale begins, Hannah and her shop assistant, Lisa, are driving through backroads during a pounding rainstorm.  Concerned about lightening, Hannah comes suddenly across a branch in the road and has to swerve to miss it.  Unfortunately, she does not miss a man lying in the road. The impact of her truck breaks his neck and he dies at the scene.

 

This is a darker beginning than many of Fluke’s books, and the mystery of who the man is and how he came to be in Lake Eden becomes a complex plot to unravel.  At the same time, Fluke brings in her usual humor as the Swensen daughters try to plan their mother’s wedding, and Moishe learns how to turn on and use the new treadmill Hannah has won.

 

This entry felt a bit scattered to me, and Hannah’s willingness to continue stringing both Norman and Mike along as boyfriends is beginning to become annoying.  However, fans will find much to enjoy here and as usual, the recipes sound marvelous.

 

Reviewed by Kate Tesdell

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

beauty“Once upon a time, there was a kingdom far away.  And in that kingdom lived a king, a queen and their young daughter and they all lived happily ever after.”…………..Not quite.

 

This compelling and emotional retelling of Sleeping Beauty is as seen through the eyes of Elise, a young peasant woman who comes to work at the palace after the death of most of her family from the pox. She becomes the queen’s handmaid and suffers with her when the queen is unable to bear a child. When the queen finally becomes pregnant, the baby, Rose, is the delight of the palace but things go wrong when the king’s cantankerous aunt is refused entry to the baptism service. Sounds familiar, right?  But this is where the story takes a shift away from what we think we know about the fairy tale.  This reviewer refuses to give away any of the secrets of the ending of this novel of love, friendship and loyalty but hopes you will find that everything ends, if not entirely happily, at least suitably ever after.

Reviewed by Audrey Lewis

FABULOUS CROCHETED PONCHOS by Terry Taylor

ponchosFrom a little capelet to long, warm ponchos, this book has a wide variety of patterns for your crocheting pleasure.  With items for every skill level, you will be able to create items ranging from the very sophisticated to the very casual.  Directions are written very clearly and are enhanced by the inclusion of color photographs and diagrams.

Following the pattern section is a section on crochet basics.  Crochet tools and yarns are explained and precise directions are given to create various stitches. Finishing techniques are provided on how to give your project that professional look.

All in all this is a nice, complete book, containing all the instruction you would need to create fabulous ponchos for yourself or for gift-giving.

Reviewed by Kathy Dittrich

PIONEER GIRL by Bich Minh Nyguyen

Lee Lien is an All-American girl who grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books in the 1980s.  Her goal in life has been to escape from the world of buffet jobs she’s seen her Vietnamese mother and grandfather take as they moved from one city to another during her childhood.  She gets a PhD. in English and thinks she’s on her way, but when academic jobs prove hard to come by, she finds herself stuck at home working at the family restaurant again.

Then she starts investigating a story she’s heard her grandfather tell many times, about an American woman named Rose who visited his café in Saigon during the war.  That woman left a gold pin behind that, as a child, Lee had always imagined matched the description of a pin Almanzo Wilder gave to his fiancée, Laura, in the last book of the Little House series.  When she finds out that their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was a war correspondent in Vietnam in 1965, she decides it’s worth looking into.

As Lee pursues a connection to the Wilder family that may or may not exist, she discovers that her life as the daughter of immigrants is not so different from the pioneers who came before her.

 

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp pioneer

THE GOOD LORD BIRD by James McBride

Maybe you remember reading a few paragraphs about John Brown and Harper’s Ferry back in school.  James McBride has written a novel about the last few years of John Brown’s life, leading up to Harper’s Ferry.  It is told from the perspective of a slave boy, named Henry and called Onion by Brown, who is orphaned early on in the novel and “freed” (or kidnapped as Henry sees it.)  Henry tells the story looking back as an old man.  He is not necessarily the most reliable narrator, which gave the author room to embellish.  It starts out in the Kansas Territory.  There is much debate over whether Kansas will be a free state or a slave state.  From there, James McBride mixes fact and fiction to give a humorous and adventurous story of life before the Civil War. 

Reviewed by Fiona Swiftbird

THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by JoJo Moyes

In her latest novel, the gifted author of the heart-wrenching, Me Before You, delivers one compelling love story set in occupied France during World War I and one bittersweet tale of modern day love lost and love found.

After Sophie Lefevre‘s beloved husband Eduoard, an accomplished artist, enlisted in the battle against German forces, her most prized possession is a portrait of her painted by Eduoard. Unfortunately, the Commandant of the occupying forces in her small village longs to plunder not only the painting but Sophie as well.

Almost one hundred years later, Liv Halston grieves for her husband who died four years ago. Her dearest gift from him is a haunting portrait of an unknown young woman. When her right to ownership is questioned, Liv unravels the mysterious past of the portrait.

The moral complexities of the power of love, greed, and sacrifice are delicately woven together through dynamic characterizations and unpredictable plots. Pair this with Anita Shreve’s Stella Bain for two very different looks at strong women facing seemingly insurmountable odds. 

Reviewed by Neica DeyReviewed by Neica Deygirl

LIFE BELOW STAIRS: TRUE LIVES OF EDWARDIAN SERVANTS by Alison Maloney

stairsFans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this well-researched volume detailing every aspect of life for household servants during the Edwardian era.  In the years before the invention of labor-saving devices and at a time when there were few jobs or opportunities for young women (or for young men without strong family connections), going into domestic service was a major and desirable way to generate income. 

 

Here Maloney explores the strict hierarchy and rules of life as a servant in an Edwardian household.  She discusses the many levels of servants from the Butler down to the lowest of the low, the Maid-of-all-Work and talks about attire, salaries, and the social code that existed as strongly below stairs as above. For example, in this world, payment was variable.  A lady’s maid was expected to be young.  If she were still employed at the ripe old age of 25, her annual salary began to decrease.  Likewise, a premium was paid for footmen of taller stature, as taller footmen presented a “smarter” appearance.

 

Filled with many fascinating facts and supported by the true stories of servants of the time, this is a comprehensive look at a vanished era.

 

Reviewed by Kate Tesdell

HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin

This is a work of historical fiction that moves between the pre-Civil War South and a young lawyer, Lina Sparrow, in modern day New York.  Lina is assigned a proposed class action suit for reparations for slavery. Lina’s personal story intertwines with that of Josephine, a house girl in Virginia in 1852.  Lina’s story involves discovering shocking truths about her own parents and the lies she has been told. Josephine’s story is one of slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the desperate fight for freedom. This book opens up much for discussion. It was hard not to feel compassion for this dark time in our history. Conklin does a good job of presenting a difficult and emotional subject.

Reviewed by Linda BrownBorwn

BEWITCHING by Jill Barnett

Bewitching by Jill Barnett It is a fun, historical romance.   The magical tale weaves together the lives of a handsome, controlling, snobbish duke and the fun-loving, bumbling, Scottish witch who turns his life upside down.

Alec, Duke of Belmore, always did as he pleased with little regard for anyone else – except when his chosen bride rejected him. He married the next woman who literally fell into his arms, Joyous Fionna MacQuarrie. They felt an instant, irresistible attraction for each other. The difference is Joy admitted it, Alec fought it.

Alec soon discovered that his new bride was really a witch whose magical powers were often out of control. The Duke soon found his well-ordered and controlled life a mess.

Alec and Joy’s story had many magical moments. Pink rose petals rain down on them every time they make love, interesting things happen when Joy sneezes, and statues come to life and dance on rooftops! Passion holds them spellbound in an irresistibly funny and tender tale. As surely as Joyous did Alec, this book will bewitch you too!

Reviewed by Kathy DittrichDitt

BELLMAN & BLACK by Diane Setterfield

BlackWilliam Bellman’s hard work and canny business sense have helped his town’s woolen mill prosper in Victorian England, but William can’t enjoy his success.

When he was 10 years old, William impulsively killed a bird with his slingshot.  The bird was a rook, a common, but sinister sort of creature.  Rooks “know everything and never forget.”  Even though William has put the act of cruelty long behind him, he still shudders every time he sees one of the birds.

Then, an elusive man in black begins appearing at family funerals.  William can only guess at what Black wants, but, in a moment of desperation, he decides it’s probably a business deal.  He spends the rest of his life building a fortune and waiting for his mysterious “business partner” to reappear and claim his share – but it’s entirely possible that he’s misinterpreted what Black really wants with him.

This dark fable from the author of The Thirteenth Tale reminded me of Dickens.  William Bellman is not Ebenezer Scrooge, but he does share a few things in common with him.

 

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp

MURDER ON THE ORIENT ESPRESSO by Sandra Balzo

espressoThis is the 8th book in the author’s Maggie Thorsen series, centering on the owner of a coffee shop in Wisconsin called “Uncommon Grounds”.  Although part of a series, I thought the book stood very well on its own, so don’t worry if you haven’t read the others.

Thorsen has accompanied her boyfriend, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to a crime-writer’s conference in Florida where he is scheduled to speak as a forensic expert.  To kick off the event, some of the attendees go on a train ride based on the famous Agatha Christie book, “Murder on the Orient Express”.  The train runs on a single track that is to take the riders into the Everglades and back.  During the trip, a murder will be staged for them to solve.

Of course the murder turns out to be anything but fake, the train is stopped when heavy rains wash out the tracks, and Maggie and Jake must work to solve the crime.  Much of the dramatic action takes place in the Everglades, with its attendant wildlife (alligators and python snakes in particular). 

This is a satisfying and enjoyable pastiche of the Christie classic.

Reviewed by Kate Tesdell

IRON HOUSE, 2011 THE LAST CHILD, 2009 DOWN RIVER, 2007 THE KING OF LIES, 2006 by John Hart

John Hart where are you? After recently devouring your award-winning novels, I most certainly would enjoy seeing your impressive talent in print once again. Hart writes from the soul and his characters live on long after the last page is turned. Mystery, thriller, psychological drama – it is difficult to describe his fiction as one genre.  From the humble (and thoroughly loveable) Work Pickens of his debut novel, The King of Lies, to the flawed and psychologically damaged brothers Michael and Julian of Iron House, through deep characterizations, Hart weaves tales of the complexities of family bonds and the devastation of neglect and abuse. Complex, fast-paced, and contemporary plots keep the reader not only interested, but in my case, literally unable to put the books down. Each work is haunting, powerful, and unforgettable.

Reviewed by Neica Deyironhouse

THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Don is an assistant professor of genetics at a university in Melbourne.  He describes himself as being “wired a little differently.”    He is very intelligent, but understands that he has some social issues.  He is 39 and would really like to find a wife.  A major problem is the fact that he does not do well on dates.  He has a brilliant idea to make a questionnaire in order to weed out the inappropriate marriage candidates and save time.  (Don particularly values using time efficiently.)  He will not have to date any unsuitable women.  He begins this project, and meets Rosie, who is looking for her biological father.  They go on a date, and even though she is completely inappropriate as a wife candidate, Don wants to spend more time with her.  He uses his expertise in genetics to help her with “the father project,” as he calls it.  This romance is quite sweet and funny.  Don is so awkward!  The book brings up issues of what exactly “normal” means.  Which kinds of oddness are socially acceptable and which ones are not. 

Reviewed by Fiona Swiftrosie

THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED by John Boyne

hauntedWhen genteel teacher Eliza Caine’s beloved father dies, she makes a hasty decision to take up a post as governess to two young children, and leaves London and her former life behind for the Norfolk countryside. 

From the very first, she feels and senses an unseen presence – one that means her harm.  When she discovers that she is the sixth governess to come to Gaudlin Hall within a few months, and that only the one who hired her is still alive, she knows she has become part of something truly terrifying.

It’s a riveting and chilling adventure as Eliza tries to unravel the puzzle before she too, is killed.

From the crumbling English manor house to the orphaned young governess, this is a traditional and classic haunted house story that is well told.

Reviewed by Kate Tesdell

SONGS OF WILLOW FROST by Jamie Ford

The story begins in 1934 in Seattle Washington. William Eng, a 12 year old Chinese-American boy lives at Sacred Heart Orphanage. William is convinced he is not an orphan. He was 5 when he entered the orphanage and is sure he remembers his mother.  The sisters are pretty strict with the young orphans who live there but do take them on outings for their birthdays. On young William’s birthday they go to a local movie theatre and it is there that he sees a woman on screen and he is sure it is his mother. He is determined to find her. His search is successful. He confronts the woman and uncovers the truth. His mother, Liu Song, has lived through many hardships including betrayal, a cruel stepfather, humiliation and the plight of Chinese immigrants. A very emotional back story emerges. It becomes clear to the reader that circumstance and culture often control our fate.

Reviewed by Linda Brown

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S STAR WARS by Ian Doescher

Verily, there has not been a literary parody that has felt this fresh since “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” burst onto the scene a few years ago.

If you think taking the script of the original 1977 Star Wars movie and transforming it into a Shakespearean-style play sounds a bit crazy… it is… but it also works amazingly well.  Who knew that the normally mute droid R2-D2 had so many impassioned soliloquies in him? 

You don’t have to be a full-on Star Wars fan to enjoy hearing Darth Vader plot his dastardly deeds in iambic pentameter, but you should probably have a passing familiarity with the movie (and with Shakespeare) to get all the jokes.

The fun is strong with this one.

 

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp

FAIREST OF THEM ALL by Carolyn Turgeon

A long time ago, deep in an enchanted forest, a young prince hears a beautiful voice singing in the wilderness.  He rides to a cottage in the wood to find Rapunzel and he asks her to a ball at the palace.  She turns him down, but he comes to the tower where Rapunzel’s foster mother has hidden her.  After climbing her golden hair, they share a night of love, but he must follow duty rather than passion and he rides back to the palace where he marries Teresa, a princess of the East.  Soon after, their daughter Snow White is born……

For those of you who still enjoy fairy tales (no matter your age), The Fairest of Them All mingles two great traditional stories into one, with some additional surprises.  This is a fun and pleasant read for an evening when the housework is done and Once Upon A Time is not on TV.

Reviewed by Audrey Lewis

TOUCH AND GO by Lisa Gardner

The perfect family?

Justin and Libby Denbe are the perfect couple who, with their beautiful fifteen-year old daughter, Ashlyn, live in an upscale Boston neighborhood.  Their family, their life, is admired by all. It is the perfect life.

Without warning this perfect little family is kidnapped – missing without a trace.  It becomes a race against time for the authorities to find the family to ensure their safety.  

The façade cracks and finally shatters. What secrets are revealed which have been hidden behind this perfection? What betrayals, what heartaches, what plots are there to be uncovered?

This is a wonderful study into the dynamics of family.  The characters are quite believable and relatable. The storyline will keep you guessing at every turn of the page.  I highly recommend this book.

Reviewed by Kathy Dittrich

Noteworthy & New

Chronicling America & Michigan Digital Newspaper Project

Chronicling America is a website providing information about and access to select historical newspaper pages. It is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. The Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University was chosen to partner with the National Digital Newspaper Program and with financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has expanded the number of Michigan newspapers freely available online.

Click here to view this page.

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