“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” by Karen Abbott. HarperCollins, 2014. $27.99

It’s an ambitious undertaking to write the stories of four women who, by necessity of their sex and their missions, became masters of subterfuge during the Civil War.

Their stories are fraught with the tension of being found out — as a spy, an abolitionist or a woman in the Union Army — on top of the perils of being so close to the terrible edge of the bloodiest battles fought on American soil.

Though each woman lived more than 100 years ago, Abbott brings them to life and paints their humanity with a vivid brush. By the final period, the reader knows Belle, Emma, Rose and Elizabeth on a cellular level.

Even though these women are on different sides of the conflict, the reader roots for them each in turn but never against any of them. This is a rare trick, and it makes the book one to be savored.

— Beth Colvin, bcolvin@theadvocate.com

“Serpent of Venice” by Christopher Moore. William Morrow, 2014. $26.99

Christopher Moore’s newest book is a sequel to “Fool,” a parody of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Now, Pocket, the fool; Drool, apprentice fool; and Jeffrey, the hat-loving monkey, return in “Serpent of Venice.”

This time, Moore has fused together Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello,” Shakespeare’s comedy “Merchant of Venice,” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” with a mysterious creature brought back from the orient by Marco Polo.

Desdemona and Portia are sisters — daughters of Brabantio, also known as Montressor, a senator in 13th century Venice. Brabantio, Antonio and Iago seek to destroy Pocket for speaking against their plans to start another crusade and helping Othello win Desdemona.

Brabantio lures Pocket to his estate to verify a cask of Amontillado and then walls Pocket up in the dungeon to die. Unknown to the conspirators, Pocket is saved by a mysterious creature.

Meanwhile, Brabantio is found dead, Iago turns his attention to destroying Othello, and Antonio turns his attention to helping Bassanio win Portia’s hand in marriage. With the help of the mysterious creature and Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, Pocket proceeds to tear through the expected turn of events, foiling the tragedy of “Othello” and the comedy of the “Merchant of Venice.”

Even readers unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s works can enjoy this humorous novel. As with all of Moore’s work, the language and content is vulgar and crude with a great deal of swearing and foul language.

— Elizabeth Dequeant, Baton Rouge

“Shoplifter” by Michael Cho. Pantheon, 2014. $19.95

“Shoplifter” is a great short read about the decisions that Corrina, the main character makes.

Corrina is faced with a very common problem; she does not work in the field that her college degree is in. Graduating with a degree in English literature and now writing advertising copy, she feels underutilized and upset with herself. To escape from all of this she begins shoplifting magazines to feel alive and gets caught. Corrina is confronted by the clerk that catches her and she begins to rethink everything about her life.

Michael Cho’s illustrations are simple, yet detailed, pen and ink.

— Phillip Dequeant, pdequeant@theadvocate.com