Hot Reads for Adults

FALLEN WOMEN by Sandra Dallas

sandra

Denver 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

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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 . . . → Read More: ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER by Joanne Fluke

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This 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.

. . . → Read More: BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER by Joanne Fluke

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

ponchos

From 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

pioneer

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 . . . → Read More: PIONEER GIRL by Bich Minh Nyguyen

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 Swift

THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by JoJo Moyes

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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 Dey

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

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Fans 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

. . . → Read More: LIFE BELOW STAIRS: TRUE LIVES OF EDWARDIAN SERVANTS by Alison Maloney

HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin

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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 Brown