Hot Reads for Adults

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 Tesdell

EUPHORIA by Lily King

Hale

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

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

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 Heitkamp

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 . . . → Read More: THE TILTED WORLD by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

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

gadget

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

I REMEMBER YOU by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

remember

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 . . . → Read More: I REMEMBER YOU by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd

wings

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

I ALWAYS LOVED YOU by Robin Oliveira

loved

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

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

shakespeare

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