LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDIER SPY: FOUR WOMEN UNDERCOVER IN THE CIVIL WAR by Karen Abbott

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 Tesdellliar

EUPHORIA by Lily King

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 HaleHale

LISETTE’S LIST: A NOVEL by Susan Vreeland

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

lissettes

BURNT TOAST MAKES YOU SING GOOD by Kathleen Flinn

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 Heitkamptoast

THE TILTED WORLD by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

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 HeitkampWorld

POPULAR MECHANICS GADGET PLANET: 150 GIZMOS & INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

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.

 gadgetA 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

I REMEMBER YOU by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

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 Swiftremember

INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd

wingsIf 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

I ALWAYS LOVED YOU by Robin Oliveira

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 Heitkamploved

SHAKESPEARE’S RESTLESS WORLD: A PORTRAIT OF AN ERA IN TWENTY OBJECTS by Neil MacGregor

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 Tesdellshakespeare BY

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

Noteworthy & New

Holiday Closings

 

The library will be closed on the following days:

  • Wednesday, December 24, 2014
  • Thursday, December 25, 2014
  • Wednesday, December 31, 2014
  • Thursday, January 1, 2015

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