I’ve always been interested in the communist witch hunts of the 50’s and some of my favorite acting moments are from the movie In the Heat of the Night, so I was immediately drawn to Lee Grant’s memoir, “I Said Yes to Everything”.

The big picture of Lee Grant’s career is that she got off to a big start in theater and then in Hollywood, getting an Oscar nomination for her first film, “Detective Story” at the age of 24. Almost immediately after that Grant was blacklisted. From the age of twenty-four until she was thirty-six, prime years for an actress, Grant remained blacklisted and was not allowed to do any film or television work. Fortunately for her, the theater did not accede to the blacklist and she was able to continue working in that venue. Her first Hollywood role after her blacklisting ended was as the victim’s widow in In the Heat of the Night. Numerous roles followed, both large and small, in television, movies and theater making hers one of the most successful post-blacklist careers. Too soon, though, middle age occurred and roles became less desirable.

In 1975, the American Film Institute created a program to help women get into directing, and she took part in the first round. As she puts it she would no longer “have to depend on the kindness of strangers” to create. Her husband produced her short film for the AFI, leading to a long collaboration with Grant directing and her husband producing.

After seeing herself onscreen in a B-movie she did in Canada, Grant realized that she was beginning to look her age and that future acting jobs would not be leading lady parts, but old ladies. She decided to step away from being in front of the camera all the time and move behind it more. Her first commercial film was a documentary about women striking at a bank in Minnesota, “The Willmar 8.” She has gone on to do many other documentaries, including “What Sex Am I?” (one of the first looks at the LGBT community) and “Down and Out in America” which won the 1986 Best Documentary Oscar and has also directed a number of films for television.

The book is an interesting read. Grant is nothing if not candid. Her language is frequently salty, and she spares no one, including herself. It is a pretty even mix of her personal (hard to say “private” given her candor) and professional lives. Some of it is funny, much sad. Her personal relationships have been, for the most part, less than rosy. Her first marriage brought her stepsons who she loved a great deal, but lost after the marriage ended. Her second marriage has lasted many years, but has certainly not been of the storybook variety. Her relationships with her daughters have gone, in one case, from idyllic to awful to good and, in the other case, from bad to worse to better. Her friendships have similarly been all over the map. Many one-time friends became enemies, others have remained steadfast ending only in death. Much space is devoted to her second husband, parents and maternal aunt all of whom had profound (if not always good) impact, less to children and in-laws.

There are, of course, anecdotes about actors, directors, and others like one-time boyfriend Burt Bacharach, and those she has worked with or with whom she was associated via the blacklist. Indeed, the blacklist runs through nearly the entire narrative, rearing its ugly head from time to time both professionally and personally. Joe McCarthy and HUAC have a lot to answer for. Summing up, an interesting life to read about and an interesting, if not particularly happy, life to have lived.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownAdult Fiction

Darrow is a miner beneath the surface of Mars. He and his fellow Reds spend their lives underground in a dangerous, unforgiving world so future generations will be able to successfully and safely inhabit the surface of the planet. The Reds are the lowest in the castes of colors. From Red to Gold, slave to ruler, each color serves its purpose.

Darrow is content with his role. He understands that his sweat and blood, his obedience and incredible skill as a Helldiver are necessary to supply the surface with the miraculous terraforming helium-3. He must suffer so others will thrive.

This contentment begins to unravel when Darrow’s mining crew—his family—fairly and rightfully mines more helium-3 than any other. As a reward, the Lambda clan should receive the Laurel—the increased rations and luxuries usually won by the Gamma clan. When the Gammas receive the Laurel despite having been beaten, Darrow’s faith and his obedience are shaken.

Then a tumbling of heartbreaking events lands Darrow on the surface of Mars as part of the Sons of Ares, a terrorist organization that reveals the truth: Mars has been habitable for generations. Huge cities thrive on its surface. Luxuries and amenities abound for people of every color caste except the Reds who are kept both literally and figuratively in the dark.

Now Darrow must decide how far he’s willing to go to bring justice to his people. The first step is to infiltrate the Golds—the ruling caste—by becoming one of their most elite. No matter how brutal that process may be.

“Red Rising” is incredibly good. From the first lines: “I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war” I knew I was hooked. By page 50, tears streaming down my face, I knew this was one of Those Books. The kind of book that, when read at the right time, has the power to impact readers like no other book can.

Darrow starts out as a wide-eyed teenaged boy who is smart enough to know that his society’s caste system is rigged against him, but is naïve enough to believe that it’s serving a greater good. As events unfold, Darrow transforms into an angry and determined man who has but a single focus—vengeance.

Darrow narrates his story, so not surprisingly, he is the most developed character, but his narration gives life to the characters around him and makes his world feel real. The pacing is just about perfect. Slow where it needs to be and break-neck to keep the pages flying. The connections between the characters aren’t as palpable as I would have liked, but they’re still fairly solid. With just a touch of romance, Brown keeps things spicy without making it trite or gratuitous.

When you read the cover of “Red Rising,” you’ll see all the comparisons to other, super popular books that “Red Rising” is garnering. They’re accurate comparisons, but “Red Rising” doesn’t really need them beyond the first few chapters. It competently stands on its own in the Science Fiction and Dystopian genres and should, by all means, be read by fans of “Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game” and the like. Just know that you’re getting something different and new with this one too.

Note of warning: this is the first book in a series. Book 2 is not out yet and “Red Rising” ends with quite the cliffhanger.

Greg Iles’ thriller, “Natchez Burning,” begins in the mid-1960’s. Albert Norris is a black business owner whose Music Emporium is one of the few places frequented by blacks and whites alike. It also serves as a secret rendezvous for interracial couples. One terrible night everything changes when Ku Klux Klansmen set the music store on fire and burn Albert alive. Brody Royal, a Klan member and the richest man around, discovered that his daughter had been meeting a black musician who worked for Albert and hired some other KKK members to take care of the matter.

Dr. Tom Cage, a physician who treats blacks as well as whites, is a well-known and respected citizen and pillar of the community. In 2005, Dr. Cage is accused in the death of Viola Turner, the beautiful black nurse who worked with him in the 1960s. Viola left Natchez 40 years ago but had come home to die. Lincoln Turner, Viola’s son, knows that Dr. Cage was treating his mother for cancer and believes the doctor murdered her.

Penn Cage, former prosecutor and current mayor of Natchez, is frustrated that his father, Tom Cage, refuses Penn’s help in defending himself. Did Dr. Cage and Viola have an affair 40 years ago? Did his father assist in Viola’s death? His father does nothing to help his defense by refusing to answer Penn’s questions, claiming doctor-patient confidentiality.

Penn joins forces with Henry Sexton, a local journalist from Ferriday. Penn wants to get to the bottom of Viola’s murder, even if it means dredging up dark secrets from the past about his father and the possibility exists that he will also put his family in danger.

For many years, Henry Sexton has been investigating several unsolved murders from the 1960s. Henry believes that the Double Eagles, an offshoot extremist group of 20 or so members of the KKK, committed the murders.

Viola’s brother disappeared along with some other black men, and the prospect exists that the Double Eagles may have murdered them. The ambitions of the Double Eagles went higher, though, stretching as far as the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

In “Natchez Burning” Iles tackles the violence of the civil rights era head on. Politics, greed, race, forbidden love and dark family secrets play important roles in this epic novel. It is tense and disturbing, so if violence in books troubles you, you may want to think twice about reading it. The crimes include murder, rape and other forms of torture—crimes that took place during this disturbing period of our nation’s history and are still happening in the present.

I was intrigued when I learned that the author bases the novel on actual people and events. Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, investigated and wrote about the murders. Henry Sexton’s character is based on the actions of Stanley Nelson. The Albert Norris character in the novel was real-life Frank Morris, whose shoe shop was torched in 1964. The Double Eagles group is based on a KKK splinter cell named The Silver Dollar Group. Iles bases the Dr. Tom Cage character on his own father.

I was pleased to discover that “Natchez Burning” is the first book in a trilogy since the ending left some loose ends. I believe it’s the author’s best work yet. He always writes best-selling novels, but the writing in this one is superb. I am looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

“Natchez Burning” is nearly 800 pages long and the audiobook almost 36 hours. I listened to the audiobook narrated by David LeDoux, who did an excellent job with all the characters“Natchez Burning” is available in print, audiobook and downloadable audiobook formats at the Joplin Public Library.

There are a variety of murder mystery genres to fit just about any taste. Selections range from historical-based mysteries for just about every time period, mysteries featuring authors and/or historical figures (such as Jane Austen solving crimes), hard-boiled detectives and little old ladies sipping tea while solving crimes, forensic-based mysteries, and even mysteries featuring animals. One of the more popular genres now seems to be the food-based mysteries featuring recipes. The Joplin Public Library carries a good selection of choices for those interested in one of these tasty books.

Isis Crawford has just had her tenth book come out in the “Catered” series, A Catered Fourth of July. Sisters Bernie and Libby are busy running their shop, A Little Taste of Heaven, but in between making lemon meringue pies and gingersnap cookies, they still have time to stumble across bodies and find killers. Each book features recipes at the end, but even if you don’t want to whip up a treat in the kitchen, these books are a fun read for mystery fans.

Continuing the cooking theme, Diane Mott Davidson is another writer who has mixed muffins with murder in her books. Goldy Bear is a caterer who is starting a new life for her teenage son and herself after a nasty divorce, but her tendency to stumble across dead bodies doesn’t help. Goldy also turns to cooking whenever she’s stressed, so food plays an integral role in the novels. These books tend to feature recipes with complicated instructions and expensive ingredients, so while I won’t fix any of the desserts myself, it’s still fun to read about them. Diane Mott Davidson’s first book in this series is Catering to Nobody, and while you don’t have to read them in order it does make it easier to follow the later books.

Another author who likes to feature more labor-intensive recipes in her mysteries is Katherine Hall Page. Faith Fairchild runs a catering business, and also enjoys cooking for her pastor husband and their two children. Unfortunately, Faith seems to stumble across a high number of bodies (which nobody seems to find amiss) and always manages to suss out the killer before the police can. Her newest book, The Body in the Piazza, has Faith and her husband traveling to Italy, so the recipes include Biscotti and Spaghetti alla Foriana.

If you want a mystery with more plain cooking instead of hoity-toity recipes, Joanne Fluke’s series featuring Hannah Swensen is a sweet treat. Hannah runs a cookie shop, and, again, she seems to find a lot of dead bodies. (At some point, I’m thinking the cops just need to follow these ladies around instead of waiting for the phone call.) Fluke’s series is lighter and less serious than the previous two, and the recipes reflect it as well. One of her books feature a recipe that calls for a pound of meat, a pound of frozen potatoes and a can of cream of “your choice” soup to make what is called a Minnesota Hot Dish. I’ve actually made some of the cookie recipes from these books, and the Chocolate Highlander Cookies have become a family favorite at Christmas. My mother-in-law even asked for the recipe! While Blackberry Pie Murder is the newest book, I recommend reading this series in order from the beginning.

Finally, we have the Magdalena Yoder series by Tamar Myers. Magdalena is a Mennonite who runs an inn in Hernia, Pennsylvania. Due to the ineptitude of the police chief who is a cousin (and everyone in the town seems to be a cousin of some sort), Magdalena ends up investigating a lot of murders. This has got to be one of the funniest mystery series, and Magdalena is not your normal heroine. These books feature some of the oddest characters, including a sister who carries a small dog in her bra. These Pennsylvania Dutch mysteries feature lots of home cooking recipes mixed with lots of humor. While the earlier books in the series would have to be requested via inter-library loan through our Reference desk, we do have 10 different ones in the series. Gruel and Unusual Punishment is the oldest one in the series in our collection.

While I would hesitate to have any of these women cook for me because they would most likely find a dead body (probably mine), I have no problem picking up their books. Murder and food seems to go well together when picking out an entertaining mystery to read, and these authors are some of the more popular in this genre.

The closing of a 100-year-old magazine in the novel Delicious! mimics what is happening in magazine publishing today. Ladies Home Journal (131 years in print) and Jet (63 years) have just published their last print issues. They join Gourmet, American Artist, Herb Companion, U.S. News & World Report and many others titles the library has lost from the collection in the last few years.

However, the loss of these print titles has created an opportunity for the library to add something new, Flipster. Flipster is a digital magazine service offering full-color, full-page magazines available 24/7 on any computer or mobile device with internet access.

Starting this month the library has increased its magazine collection by 23 new titles. Some are titles that are familiar to most of us, and other titles are known depending upon your interests. All of them, along with 29 titles already available at the library, are offered digitally through Flipster.

Specialty titles include Equus: the Horse Owner’s Resource, Vegetarian Times, Yoga Journal, Black Belt, MuscleMag, Running Times and Clean Eating. You will also find Food Network Magazine, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Dwell, Clean Eating and BabyBug. We get to add Newsweek back to our collection and will still have access to Jet.

To go with HGTV Magazine, Dr. Oz: the Good Life and ShopSmart, you have access to People, Time, Money, Rolling Stone, mental_floss and many more titles. Just look for the Flipster icon at http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org.

Food critic and author Ruth Reichl was the editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine, is the host of “Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth” on PBS and has written several best-selling memoirs. Now she’s brought her knowledge and expertise to the world of fiction with her first novel, “Delicious!”

Billie Breslin has moved across the country and landed her dream job at the iconic food magazine Delicious! Even with her new job Billie is lonely, and to fill her days she begins a weekend job at a food shop, Fontanari’s.

Billie came to New York to escape a trauma and though it haunts her, letters to her sister show she is finding her way. She is making new friends and has an article published in the magazine. Then the magazine is shut down.

Billie is kept on staff to honor the Delicious! Guarantee: “Your money back if the recipe doesn’t work.” Alone in the mansion that has been the home to Delicious! for 100 years, Billie does her best to help with recipes, some decades old. In the pursuit of a 40-year-old recipe she finally ventures into the library, which has been closed for years.

The beautiful room is fascinating, and with the discovery of a secret room full of letters, Billie meets Lulu Swan. Lulu is 12 when she begins a correspondence with Chef James Beard. The first letter is dated November 3, 1942. Lulu is seeking help as she takes over the cooking while her father is at war and her mother now works.

Lulu comes alive through her letters, and with her words we see life on the home front during World War II. In her quest to find all the letters and her search for what happened to Lulu, Billie begins to heal.

This is a first novel and has a couple of clumsy places, but they are forgiven with the eloquence of the rest of the book. Reichl is wonderful with characters, and it is fascinating how real Lulu and her life become in just a few letters. You’ll find this very enjoyable read on the New Book Shelves at the library.

SeraphinaTeen Fiction

In Seraphina’s home city of Goredd, dragons and humans have lived a relatively peaceful existence for nearly 40 years thanks to a treaty that includes rules such as humans may not enter dragon territory, dragons must take their human shape to enter human territory, and dragons and humans may not have emotional relationships or attachments.

In fact, dragons are discouraged from showing any human-like emotions at all, and if they do, they are forced to undergo a medical procedure that will obliterate those thoughts and feelings. However, Seraphina’s father, a human, and her mother, a dragon, broke the rules with their love affair and, later, her conception.

Seraphina has spent her life concealing the secret of her parentage, but after she gains the position of music assistant at the castle and is saddled with helping to prepare for the anniversary celebration of the treaty, she unwittingly finds herself thrust into the royal spotlight and in the middle of a murder investigation.

The murder investigation is that of a palace royal: Prince Rufus was found decapitated. A dragon seems to be the most likely suspect, causing tension to run high just in time for the anniversary visit of dragon-land royals. Seraphina’s involvement in the investigation and the anniversary festivities make it an even bigger struggle to keep her secret safe, and she eventually has to decide which is more important: her anonymity or the continued peace between the two lands.

Rachel Hartman’s debut title is beyond the typical, run-of-the mill dragon story. Giving dragons the ability to transform into humans adds a thought-provoking dimension, and Seraphina makes the perfect main character. Characters, plot, pacing and setting combine for a complex fantasy that readers are sure to devour.


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