In 1964, Jimmy Raye came from a segregated high school in North Carolina to play quarterback for Michigan State. Just a few years later, he was playing to a national TV audience in the Rose Bowl and later led the Spartans to a share in a national championship before moving on to a career playing and coaching in the NFL. In his foreword, former NFL coach Tony Dungy credits Raye for opening doors for him and other African American players and coaches.
Shanahan uses Raye and the 1965-66 Michigan State football program as a jumping off point to explore racism and sport in this book. It is a story bigger than just one player or team, but he chose to focus on the Spartans because head coach Duffy Daugherty actively recruited Southern black players at a time when the major college football programs in the South were still all-white. In the mid-1960’s, when civil rights couldn’t be taken for granted, Michigan State fielded fully integrated teams that won big and helped change the face of college sports forever.
Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp
Some are comparing it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window; others are comparing it to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl; I think it deserves to stand on its own. Rachel Watson travels the same train line every day. As she nears a particular strip of homes, she cannot make herself turn away from the daily rituals and relationships she watches unfold from a distance. We soon learn that part of Rachel’s draw to these homes has to do with her former life and her ex-husband. Wafting in and out of reality, Rachel fights many of her own demons daily, but soon finds herself fighting for the truth. What exactly did Rachel see and what does it mean? This book follows the lives of three women (Rachel, Megan, and Anna), weaving a web that binds them together in life . . . and in death. This chiller will keep you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning.
Reviewed by Jennifer Harden
Sycamore, Illinois in December 1957 was the quintessential Midwest small town. It was safe, secure, happy, and full of “Father Knows Best” families. In Sycamore no one locked the doors, and it was commonplace for children to go outside to play with friends. Commonplace, that is, until 7-year old Maria Ridulph simply vanished from her own street while her friend, Kathy, had gone inside to get her mittens. The town was galvanized into action. The men formed search teams and combed the area with guns and dogs, wives and mothers made coffee and sandwiches for them, and children were swept up and into the safety of families who would never see life quite the same way again. And after all the searching, the only clues seemed to be Kathy’s account of meeting a friendly man named Johnny, Maria’s doll, found in a neighboring yard, and some mysterious footsteps in the snow.
5 months later, in Galena, Illinois (some 120 miles from Sycamore), mushroom hunters came across the decomposed body of a small child who was determined to be Maria. Despite the efforts of the Illinois State Police, the case remained unsolved, and went cold for the next 55 years. The break in the case finally came via a startling deathbed statement which resulted in an eventual arrest and conviction.
Lachman has done a masterful job of bringing this true story alive. Sycamore is vivid, and so are the inhabitants of the town and all involved in the search for Maria’s killer. Footsteps in the Snow is riveting and highly recommended for true crime fans.
Reviewed by Kate Tesdell
In a future where mankind has spread to inhabit the moons and planets of our solar system, humans are divided into castes designated by color: from Reds, who mine beneath the surface of Mars, up to Golds, the super-humans who lead the entire society. In Pierce Brown’s Red Rising we met Darrow, a smart and tough Red who, after his young wife is murdered by Mars’ leader, agrees to be transformed into a Gold in order to bring down the caste system from within. Darrow successfully navigates the challenges of the Golds’ brutal Institute then, in Golden Son, launches into his adult life. Quickly thrown into politics and intrigue at the highest level, Darrow begins to emerge as the leader the lower castes desperately need. Golden Son is a high action page turner that is nearly impossible to put down, with a doozy of a cliffhanger ending and non-stop twists and turns throughout. Darrow is a complex and intelligent character, and he is surrounded by a colorful cadre of friends and enemies. With all the ingredients of a first rate sci-fi classic, Golden Son manages to be the rare book that improves upon its predecessor.
Reviewed by Beth Hale
This is a novel overflowing with movement through place and time. From Italy to Scotland to Hollywood via 1962 to present day, Walter’s novel crosses decades, continents and genres to bring the reader a delightful tale of love, frustration, greed and patience. Captivating characters like the love-stricken Italian innkeeper, Pasquale Tursi; scorned young actress, Dee Moray; and impassioned film assistant, Claire Silver capture the heart and exotic locales fill the senses with the salty breezes of the Ligurian Sea and the chilling grittiness of urban Edinburgh. The joy and heartbreak of acting, writing, and producing works of art are humorously yet tenderly conveyed in this enchanting tale. Even Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are players in this plot. Beautiful Ruins is an excellent read for a cold winter day or a day lazing at the beach.
This is the first book in a new Amish series by Marta Perry. The story begins with three women, cousins, sorting through their grandmother’s attic to prepare her for a move. One cousin, Rebecca, happens upon a diary written by Anna, one of her ancestors. Rebecca becomes entranced with this diary as she works through tragedy and struggle in her own life. Anna waits for word from her beloved who has gone off to serve in the war while Rebecca morns the death of her husband and faces challenges of keeping his dream alive. The story goes back and forth between Rebecca’s life and the life of Anna seamlessly. Both women need to draw on their own strength, faith and courage to get through this time in their life. Will love prevail? I am looking forward to the next book of this series.
Reviewed by Brenda Rodammer
Grace and Ted are a literary power-couple. Ted is a bestseller and Grace is a style icon and perfect wife-hosting parties and serving on the boards of charitable institutions. Life is perfect- at least from the outside looking in. Ted’s assistant has recently resigned and left Grace with more work than she can handle with her heavy volunteer schedule. Along comes Beth out of nowhere- the perfect person at the perfect time to help. She seems to be just what Grace needed…but something about her just isn’t setting well. Soon, Grace’s life begins to unravel and she needs to get to the bottom of what Beth’s true reason for being there is.
Reviewed by Kim White
A Sudden Light tells the story of a lumber baron’s family and the mansion they built in the late 1800’s. The house is almost a character with its many rooms, secret passages, and a ballroom on the third floor. The author, Garth Stein, even has a website with a drawing of the house and grounds. There is information on the themes of the book – including a real ghost story the author experienced while on a book tour. (See the site at: www.asuddenlight.com )
Trevor Riddell is fourteen the summer his parents decide on a trial separation. His father, Jones, has lost his job and house in rural Connecticut. He and Trevor travel to the Seattle area to return to the Riddell family mansion. Jones has not been there since his mother’s death when he was a teenager. Trevor has never met his Grandpa Samuel and Aunt Serena. He has never been told the family history. He discovers much through dreams, old diaries and journals, and even newspaper articles on microfilm at the library.
Reviewed by Fiona Swift
The Forgotten Seamstress stitches past and present into a delightful tale about love in its various forms. When orphans Maria and Nora are selected to become seamstresses at Buckingham Palace, the best friends’ lives drastically change for the better. The royal household’s sewing room on the eve of King George V and Queen Mary’s coronation offers a purpose and importance previously only dreamed about, especially for Maria. However, an encounter with the captivating Prince of Wales leads Maria’s path to change yet again.
Generations later, Caroline Meadow’s intrigued by a verse embroidered the back of a quilt passed down to her from her grandmother. As her own life becomes increasingly complicated, Caroline surrenders to the lure of discovering the quilt’s secret past and what happened to Maria.
Told alternating between Maria and Caroline, Trenow reminds readers that there are many ways to preserve and pass on history.
Reviewed by Jennie Tuttle
As influential as the founder of the Mormon faith was, journalist Alex Beam makes the case that Joseph Smith’s most significant role in history was that of a martyr. No one was ever convicted of his murder – which happened at the hands of a mob in broad daylight – but the repercussions of it were felt well into the 20th Century, if not right up to the present.
Beam places Smith’s life squarely in the context of the Second Great Awakening, a time of intense religious fervor throughout the country. The charismatic leader published the Book of Mormon in 1830 and made many converts to his new church in the following years, but the Mormons were driven out of Ohio and Missouri because of their unconventional beliefs. Eventually, they settled the town of Nauvoo, Illinois – which, for a time, had a Mormon population that rivaled the size of the new city of Chicago. Famous names like Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas figure into the narrative as Beam explores the rising influence of Smith’s followers on Illinois politics.
The death of the Mormon prophet in the spring of 1844 led many of Smith’s followers to set out for a land that was then outside the control of the United States. Their religion prospered in Utah without interference but Beam argues that, without the focus given by the events surrounding Smith’s death, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might have followed many other 19th Century religious societies into extinction.
Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp
Through an examination of the lives of four women spies who actively but secretly participated in fighting the Civil War, Abbott brings an entirely new dimension of understanding to this momentous era. Whether they relied on pillow talk to obtain the strategic secrets of the enemy, masqueraded as male and actually fought, or used whatever means at their disposal to pass along encrypted intelligence, these women made a huge impact on the war efforts of both the Union and the Confederacy.
At a time when women had no official political voice, and when the traditional female role was largely relegated to taking care of household affairs and having children, these women chose to take charge of their own lives and to fight for their beliefs by means far outside the societal norm.
Abbott brings each page alive in this rigorously researched and beautifully written book.
Reviewed by Kate Tesdell
Loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, Euphoria tells the story of Nell Stone, her husband Fen, and Andrew Bankson, anthropologists studying the native peoples along the Sepik River in New Guinea in the 1930’s who encounter each other at key points in their careers. Nell and Fen are recovering from a brutal encounter with the fierce Mumbanyo tribe, and Andrew, our narrator, is recovering from a period of depression that led to a failed suicide attempt. Meeting the dynamic couple breathes new life into Andrew, and when he introduces them to the peaceful, matriarchal Tam tribe he sets them all on a course of discovery, passion, exploration, obsession, and yes, brief moments of euphoria.
Beautifully written, powerful and earthy, with characters that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading, Euphoria is the best kind of historical novel: one that transports you in space and time, and makes you want to learn more about the real people who lived there.
Reviewed by Beth Hale
For lovers of art, historical fiction, and France, Vreeland’s passionately written novel will satisfy on many levels. Covering a time frame from pre-World War II through the Nazi occupation of France and ultimately the collapse of the Axis, the story focuses on a young Parisian, Lissette Roux, her life in Paris and predominately in the rustic village of Roussillon in Provence.
Lisette and husband Andre are an endearing couple who must leave Paris for southern France to care for Andre’s ailing grandfather, Pascal. The heroine, who is passionate about art, fears that in the quiet French countryside she will never have the life of her dreams, to work in a Paris gallery. Little does Lisette know that in the pastoral Roussillon she will encounter magnificent works of art by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso owned by Pascal; and she will come to know the renowned Marc Chargal and wife Bella when they are hidden near her village by the French Resistance.
Lisette’s journey into womanhood is one of exquisite love, heartbreaking loss, danger, and risk-taking. Readers will find it one worth following.
Reviewed by Neica Dey
Kathleen Flinn’s earliest memories revolve around a life of rural poverty near Davison, Michigan. Little Kathleen didn’t realize how cash-poor her family was, (possibly because her mother told her they were shopping in the ritziest store in Flint, when in reality they were buying used clothes at a thrift store) but also because the Flinns ate delicious food they made from scratch from their own harvest. They couldn’t afford to buy processed products at the grocery store. Flinn’s book mixes rollicking stories about her various relatives’ misadventures canning, deer hunting, and fishing with recipes for the comfort food she grew up loving. This is a funny and heartfelt book about food and growing up in mid-20th Century Michigan that many readers can probably relate to.
Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp
It is the spring of 1927 and it has been raining in Hobnob, Mississippi since November. The levees along the river are reaching their breaking point when two federal agents enter town looking for the local bootlegger. Ted Ingersoll and his partner have been charged with tracking down two missing Prohibition agents, but they also have brought an orphaned baby they found on their way. Ingersoll, an orphan himself, can’t bear to leave the child with the indifferent local authorities, so, after making some inquiries, he gives the baby to Dixie Clay Holliver, a young mother who has lost her only son. Little does he know at the time that Dixie Clay’s rascal of a husband is the bootlegger he’s been searching for – or that Dixie Clay is actually the genius distiller behind their high-end whiskey.
The husband-and-wife team of Franklin and Fennelly has written a story that is a Western at heart. Ingersoll is the good-hearted cowboy charged with a duty that puts him at odds with the woman he loves, and Dixie Clay is the feisty heroine who has to relearn that there is more to life than mere survival. Their story, set during one of the most devastating floods in our nation’s history, is hard to put down.
Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp
Popular Mechanics magazine and the History Channel formed a panel of experts ranging from astronaut Buzz Aldrin to David Pogue, Technology columnist for The New York Times. The purpose of the group was to select the 150 most significant gadgets invented to date.
A gadget is something you can hold in your hands. Mechanical or electric, it is a “mass-produced, personal item that evolved from novelty to necessity and ultimately shows its paradigm-shifting power.”
The judges argued over all but one ranking: the easy top pick was the smartphone.
Each of the entries for the 150 gadgets includes information about the inventor, the year of invention, a photo, and some clever and interesting background data that makes the significance of the invention clear.
This is a fun and informative book that kids and teens would love, and that could spark many a lively debate among adults as well.
Reviewed by Kate Tesdell
This is a ghost story that takes place in Iceland. There are two stories that alternate chapters. At first, they seem to be unrelated, but eventually overlap and entwine. Two couples purchase a house together in a remote, abandoned fishing village. It’s a popular tourist destination, and has regularly scheduled ferries in the summer. Of course, they decide to go in the winter to renovate it into a bed and breakfast for the following summer. They are completely alone there, with no electricity or plumbing. Cell phone service is available if you hike to the top of a hill… As the man with the boat drops them off, he seems disturbed when they tell him which house they are staying at, but doesn’t tell them why…. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist is helping his police officer neighbor to investigate a school break in and a suicide that seem to be somehow connected to the disappearance of his young son three years ago.
I thought the Icelandic names were a little confusing, especially at first. Quite a few characters and places are introduced in the beginning chapters, and sometimes I had to flip back and forth to remember which town was which. It is also a British translation, so they have torches instead of flashlights and jumpers instead of sweaters. It had a very creepy feeling, especially the empty town on the edge of the sea in the winter. Hesteyri does actually exist, and there are pictures of it online. (I didn’t find any reference to actual ghosts there, though.) It was interesting to read about a place so far away.
Reviewed by Fiona Swift
If you read and enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees you will be sure to want to read Sue Monk Kidd’s latest work of historical fiction. The Invention of Wings is about two women in the south in the 1830’s who strive to be free. Sarah Grimke, a wealthy white woman, is prisoner to the times of pre-suffrage sexism. Her maid, Handful, suffers under the bondage of slavery. At 11 years old, Sarah is given Handful to be her own personal maid as a gift. Sarah is appalled by this. The Invention of Wings is based loosely on the real-life story of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and suffragist. Together the two women fight to be set free. Sarah and her sister, Angeline, rebel so vocally that their lives are threatened and they are forced to leave Handful, their home, and families. Their crime: believing in the civil rights of African Americans and women.
Reviewed by Linda Brown
The stormy relationship between Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt is explored in this rich novel about art and love in late 19th Century Paris.
This was the era when a group known as the Impressionists created colorful, light-filled paintings that did not resemble what the art establishment expected to see in a serious exhibition. They were frequently excluded from the prestigious Salon de Paris. When Frenchman Degas met American-born Cassatt at the Salon and then introduced her to the rest of the Impressionists, it started a long and fruitful friendship. Their working relationship never resembled a traditional love affair, but they inspired each other as true equals – all the while hurting each other in ways no one else could. It is a bittersweet story about two fiery people who needed each other, but were too set in their ways to admit it.
Oliveira is the author of the well-regarded Civil War novel My Name is Mary Sutter. Her second book should put her on a list of to-read authors for lovers of historical fiction.
Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp
MacGregor, Director of the British Museum since 2002, uses 20 ordinary objects from the past to define and explain how the ordinary British man or woman saw the world at the time of Shakespeare. From a simple communion chalice to an apprentice’s cap, from a musical clock to plague proclamations, MacGregor brings history to life and gives a new and more immediate meaning to Shakespeare’s plays. This is a fascinating, highly readable look at London during the time in and around 1600. If you find this as interesting as I did, you may want to look for MacGregor’s earlier book, A History of the World in 100 Objects.
Reviewed by Kate Tesdell BY