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index.aspxWorking at the reference desk I often learn about books by readers asking for help – either in locating the desired title or finding the next title in a series. Some titles peak my interest but with so many good books to read I lose track of the title/author.

Such was the case with Jill Eileen Smith’s historical fiction books on women of the Bible. Fortunately, I spotted the latest on the New Fiction shelves reminding me of my interest.

Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story is actually the third in the Daughters of the Promised Land series. However, the series is a theme not a continuation so you can read out of order and not feel as though you are missing anything. If you are a stickler for order, the library has the first two in the series “The Crimson Cord: Rehab’s Story” and “The Prophetess: Deborah’s Story”.

Ruth’s story is also the story of Naomi. Naomi lived in Bethlehem with her husband Elimelech, sons Mahlon and Chilion, and their extended family. In 1296 B.C. Bethlehem and Israel were suffering through drought and eventual famine. Elimelech’s brother Boaz had convinced him to keep working the land despite the drought.

But after 2 years he stopped listening to Boaz and gave up hoping and praying for rain. He made the decision to take his sons to Moab and work the fields there. Naomi did not want to leave Bethlehem but would not let them go without her so the whole family made the journey to Dibon. Ruth and her friend Orpah were at the marketplace when the family arrived and were the first to offer a welcome.

Elimelech was able to secure land from the governor and soon prospered in Moab. His crops flourished and he was able to build a home for his family. Naomi remained true to her faith but her husband and sons were seduced by the festivals and lifestyle of the Moabites spending more and more evenings in Dibon. One such evening Elimelech didn’t come home. Naomi found his body in the road; he had been mauled by a bear.

With the death of her husband Naomi tried to convince her sons to return to Bethlehem. However, the beauties Ruth and Orpah had caught the eye of her sons and they declared their intention to stay and marry.

The custom in Moab was for fathers to choose husbands for their daughters. Ruth and Orpah had both lost their fathers in the war with Israel meaning they could make the choice of who they would marry. Ruth’s mother and the governor planned for Ruth to marry his son, Te’oma. She wanted no part of that arrangement and readily accepted Mahlon’s request to marry.

Ruth’s story truly begins when she marries and becomes Naomi’s daughter-in-law.  Ruth’s devotion to her new family and the growth of her faith sustain her through the many trials she faces. Heartache, loss and hardship test both women but Ruth remains hopeful for a better life and a second chance for love.

This dramatization of Ruth’s life is well done and an engrossing read.  Smith’s research on life and customs of the Israelites and Moabites offers readers a glimpse into what life was like during Ruth’s time.

You can enjoy it without ever having read Ruth in the Old Testament. If you have read it, you’ll find that Smith has crafted a novel that captures the lesson of love exemplified by Ruth in the book.

dust bowlWith March Madness in full swing and the winning streak of the Connecticut Huskies women extending to 107 games, Lydia Reeder’s new book on another record setting basketball team is a timely addition to our collection.

Depression era Oklahoma was not the first place I thought of when talking about women’s basketball. Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory has changed my perception. It’s the story of the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals and their 1931/1932 championship season.

The author has combined family, social, and sports history to bring this remarkable team to life. Reeder’s great-uncle, Sam Babb, was coach, recruiter, and fund raiser for the Cardinals. He joined OPC, a tiny junior college located in Durant, in 1929 as professor and basketball coach.

When Babb recruited he looked for players with talent and character. He found both qualities in prolific shooter Doll Harris. She joined the Cardinals in the fall of 1930 and for the first time in team history they were invited to the American Athletic Union (AAU) National Tournament.

Doll was named an All-American and they brought home a trophy – for sportsmanship. The Dallas Golden Cyclones led by Babe Didrikson won the championship. Babb knew his team could do better so he took to the road travelling to farming communities in Oklahoma.

He offered the young women the opportunity to go college for free and play basketball for OPC. The Depression was worsening and many of these players worked family farms that were struggling to survive. The decision to leave, even for a free education, was not easy. Babb was persuasive and 35 players accepted scholarships.

Women’s basketball in the 1930s was much different than what we see today.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the game changed to what is played now. Then women were considered too delicate for such a vigorous sport so they played half court with 6 members to a team.

Some believed even this level of competition was too much. Reeder explores the history and attitudes on women and competitive sports throughout the book.  It’s interesting and highlights the difficulties for teams especially with funding.

The AAU encouraged competitive sports for women whereas most colleges emphasized less vigorous activity. Many of the teams in the AAU were sponsored by companies and college teams like the Cardinals needed donations and gate receipts to survive.

Babb was very good at fund-raising and managed to pay for scholarships but a barnstorming tour over Christmas break was needed to fund the team. Practice was every morning from 4am -6am (they used Southeastern State’s gym when the men didn’t need it). They also had to run at least 1 mile and shoot 100 free throws each day. Their first game was in December when they scrimmaged with a high school team.

By the time of their barnstorm tour through Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas the rigorous practices in addition to school commitments had reduced the roster to 16. The tour started in Celeste, TX for the first of 17 games. Three weeks later they had won every game including one in Dallas with last year’s national champions. They finished the season undefeated and were invited to the national tournament.

Much of the story of the team and season is related by 2 of the players, Doll Harris and 16-year-old Lucille Thurman. Through Doll and Lucille you feel the drive, dedication, and camaraderie develop as they become a team.

You also see the conflict of being a woman and an athlete. News coverage gave as much emphasis to how they looked as to how they played. The biggest trophy awarded at the tournament was given to the winner of the player beauty pageant.

The record books tell us they won the AAU national championship becoming the first college team to hold the title. From 1931-1934 they won 2 championships and 89 straight games. What Reeder tells us is who Sam Babb and the OPC Cardinals were and how they did it.

If you enjoyed “The Boys in the Boat”, you will definitely want to read “Dust Bowl Girls”.

gravesThe Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves is suspenseful and intense. This is the second in the Lizzie Snow series. Lizzie was a Boston homicide detective. She currently lives in Bearkill, Maine and is a deputy in the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department. She took the position so she can search for her niece. Lizzie’s sister was murdered and her baby was never found.

When not following leads Lizzie is kept busy with the residents of Bearkill and the surrounding area. One of those resident is Jane Crimmins. Jane was kidnapped when she was 15 by Henry Gemerle but managed to escape. She left behind at least 2 other victims but never told anyone about the crime or the other victims. Her kidnapper was finally arrested and 3 victims rescued alive. Now Henry has escaped. Can he be headed to Bearkill and Jane?

Lizzie knows of the case but not Jane’s involvement. Currently she is looking for a missing 14-year-old, Tara. The teen has a history of running away so no one is too concerned. But Lizzie’s instincts tell her something is not right then Tara’s mother receives a text with 2 words “help me”.

Lizzie soon believes that if she can find Henry Gemerle she’ll find her missing teen. But there is a more to this than another kidnapped girl. Can Lizzie unravel the secrets and lies in time to save not only Tara but herself?

curiousJanet Evanovich has collaborated with Phoef Sutton on a new novel similar in tone to her Stephanie Plum series. Curious Minds: a Knight and Moon Novel came out earlier this year. Riley Moon, a recent Harvard grad, is a junior analyst at mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. Her first assignment is to go see the bank’s biggest investor, Emerson Knight, and assure him his money is safe.

Emerson is eccentric, young, extremely rich, and wants to see the part of his fortune that is gold. When bank president Werner Grunwald doesn’t make that happen Emerson devises his own way to get access to his gold.

A reluctant Riley and Emerson travel to the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. What they uncover sends them on a mad dash across the country searching for a missing Grunwald brother, missing gold, and one step ahead of the thugs determined to keep them from reaching Area 51 and foiling the biggest heist in history.

This novel has what Evanovich is known for – humor, clever one-liners, and mad-cap escapes. It’s a light, fun read that will make you smile.

harrisAfter 13 years Charlaine Harris has written another Aurora Teagarden book, All the Little Liars. If you are new to the series, Aurora is a librarian and lives and works in the town of Lawrenceton, Georgia. The previous 8 titles has seen Aurora go through a lot of personal changes and challenges while helping to solve murders.

In this 9th installment the newly married Aurora is expecting her first child. Also her 15 year-old half-brother, Phillip, is living with her and husband Robin Crusoe. Happily caught up in the news of her pregnancy Aurora doesn’t sense anything is wrong then Phillip and 3 other children go missing.

They were seen leaving the soccer field then seemingly vanished. The body of one of their classmates is found at the salon where Phillip and the others were headed. Did the kids have something to do with the death, did they witness it, or have they met a similar fate?

Not one to sit on the sidelines Aurora explores all avenues in her search for the missing kids while dealing with grade school bullies, an estranged father, and morning sickness. This is an entertaining series and hopefully we won’t have to wait so long for #10.

Clarinbaseball-bookda Iowa, population 5,562, sits just north of the Missouri state line. With a rich history this small town was home to the “Mother” of 4H Jessie Fields, bandleader Glenn Miller, very briefly Johnny Carson, and Merl Eberly.

Unless you are a huge fan of collegiate summer league baseball, you are no doubt thinking ‘Merl who?’ Michael Tackett’s The Baseball Whisperer: a Small-Town Coach Who Shaped Big League Dreams more than answers that question.

Usually it would be hard to recommend a book that starts with a funeral and ends with a death. But the inspiring story of Merl, his family, and community that Tackett relates is a rewarding read, especially so if you’re a baseball fan.

Merl believed in second chances.  He was given one as a high school dropout who spent his time hanging out with his friends and drinking. High school football/baseball coach John Tedore issued him a challenge, “Come out or get out.”

Merl took the challenge. He went back to school and joined the team. He still struggled with other aspects of his life but on the athletic field he was a natural. Through Coach Tedore and being part of a team Merl learned about discipline and teamwork.

He spent his life passing on lessons learned. During an interview he said “However corny it might sound, I think we’re all supposed to do something while we are here on this Earth. I guess the good Lord took me out of the garbage can and said, “Go play sports, but don’t forget the message that it teaches you.’ If you get the opportunity, pass it on.” Merl did that for over 40 years through the Clarinda A’s.

Merl loved baseball and started playing at a time when it was more about the game than the money. He tuned a town team into a premier collegiate summer team. He put together a plan, rallied his community and created a program that rivaled the best in the country.

The community of Clarinda was essential to the plan. Local businessmen contributed money, families housed and cared for the players. Each player that came to play for the Clarinda A’s was given a job for the summer.

One of those players was Osborne Earl Smith who arrived in the summer of 1975. Smith came from the Watts section of Los Angeles via Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo to this small white community set in the middle of cornfields. His summer job was with a construction company where he was their first African American employee.

This seeming mismatch resulted in a close enduring friendship between Ozzie, Merl, and the town. Ozzie embraced Clarinda and Clarinda embraced him. The fans loved his signature backflip when he took the field each night. He came to the A’s with intelligence, defensive ability and the willingness to work. He left a better hitter who could steal bases and play phenomenal defense. He also left with a different view of the world.

Ozzie was not the only major leaguer to play in Clarinda.  There were many including Chuck Knoblauch, Von Hayes, Bud Black, Jose Alverez, Cal Eldred, Andy Benes, and Jamey Carroll. Most of the talented players that came to Clarinda never made it to or beyond the minor leagues. But they all left Clarinda a better ball player and a better person because Merl passed on lessons learned. As he said “It’s not about can we make them a better baseball player. It’s about can we make them a better person.”

Much of Merl’s story is told through the players who played for him. Their remembrances of the time they spent living and playing in Clarinda reveal the impact that summer had on their life.

“The Baseball Whisperer” is a tribute to Merl, to Clarinda, and to baseball. It’s a story I didn’t know and now won’t soon forget.

I’ve been reading through the series “Home Repair is Homicide” by Sarah Graves. The series is about a former money manager, Jacobia Tiptree, who moves to Eastport Maine to rehabilitate an old house. If you like murder mysteries with good characters I recommend it.

The series has been around awhile which is good in that I can read it at my pace but bad for a review of new library material. So I headed to the library’s new book shelf. As I scanned for an interesting title Louisiana Saves the Library by Emily Beck Cogburn caught my eye.

LouisianaI picked it up because it sounds like it belongs in the children’s department plus it has library in the title. After reading the cover I decided it wasn’t in the wrong place and might be a fun read.

Louisiana Richardson is a divorced mother of preschoolers Max and Zoe. Before the divorce she was a stay at home mom with a PhD who wrote articles on the history of public libraries. With an ex-husband who pays child support on his schedule writing articles wouldn’t pay the rent.

Her job search resulted in an offer from Louisiana A&M to be a professor in their library science department. Finding a friend in fellow professor Sylvia has helped, but a year later the culture and climate shock of the move from Iowa has not completely worn off. And now her job is in jeopardy. The state has cut funding for the university by 20% and the library science program is one that may be eliminated.

When the program is cut Louisiana, who is using the nickname Louise after one too many incredulous reactions to her full name, is in a panic. Sylvia however has come up with a solution to their joblessness. The Alligator Bayou Parish Library is in desperate need of two librarians.

Even though it will be less pay it seems like a godsend but Louise is less than thrilled. She visited this library while doing research for a book on the history of Louisiana public libraries. The collection was old and ugly and the library almost empty at a time when it should have been busy with moms and kids.

She can’t imagine working daily in such a depressing place. But with no unemployment benefits for public employees, the ex-husband who still can’t send child support in a timely manner and academic jobs unavailable for at least 6 months, Alligator Bayou is it.

It doesn’t take long for Louise and Sylvia to settle in and begin making changes. Despite the reluctance of the library director hours are extended into the evening.  Programs for teens are added as well as a book club and cooking classes for adults.  The weekly Zumba class is a big hit and new materials are getting on the shelf faster and checking out.

But not everyone is happy with the changes. Library Director Foley wants his old library back and the most powerful member of the police jury, Mrs. Gunderson, thinks libraries are obsolete. She sees no need to waste funds on a library when everyone has the internet.

The police jury, similar to our county commissioners, approves funds for the library. They also must approve placing a levy increase for the library on the ballot. When Mrs. Gunderson’s influence puts both things in jeopardy the future of the library, along with Louise and Sylvia’s jobs, is on the line.

When the situation goes from bad to worse Louise and Sylvia need help. It will take all of Alligator Bayou if the library is to be saved.

This is a light entertaining read with a little humor, family drama, and a hunky strawberry farmer thrown in the mix. If you are looking for a great piece of literature that will pass the test of time, I’d skip this title. However if you love libraries and stories with good characters I recommend you give it a try.