Hot Reads for Adults

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

FALLEN WOMEN by Sandra Dallas

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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