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Jen Jen  


10 Things You Might Not Know About Nearly Everything: A Collection of Fascinating Historical, Scientific and Cultural Trivia about People, Places and Things

Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer

My husband and I don’t usually read out loud to each—the occasional poem or article now and then, but we don’t usually read books to each other. Lately though, I’ve been reading to him from 10 Things You Might Not Know About Nearly Everything: A Collection of Fascinating Historical, Scientific and Cultural Trivia about People, Places and Things by Mark Jacob & Stephan Benzkofer. I met the authors at our region’s trade show in October. Mark and Stephan are writers for the Chicago Tribune and have the enviable job of writing about whatever they find interesting. 10 Things… is lists of trivia. The book is divided into chapters with headings like Oddities & Oddballs, The Human Condition, Politics, Science & Technology, and so on. To say this is a book of lists is a bit misleading. Each interesting nugget of info on a list is a short paragraph. There’s a list for Cheaters (did you know cheating has happened at the Paralympics???), Beards, Flags, Salt, Small Towns, Campaign Slogans, Punctuation, Royal Mothers, D-Day, Ice, Twins, Traffic Tickets, Social Media, Olympians, and so much more. So how are my husband and I reading this together? He’ll throw out a suggestion, “Is there a list for Ice Cream?” I consult the Table of Contents… and yes, there’s a list for Ice Cream on page 95, so I flip to  page 95, and read the list with much interruption and discussion (ie: “What?? How can that be?” and “No way!”) It’s been great fun—I recommend this for reading alone OR with another!


The Deep Dark Descending
Allen Eskens

Minnesotans who like mysteries are so lucky, because Minnesota produces so many great mystery writers. One such writer who has emerged in the last few years is Allen Eskens, and his fourth book, The Deep Dark Descending is out! A detective struggling with the early, unnatural death of his wife learns that her death was not in fact a hit-and-run car accident, but a murder. He must balance his need for revenge with his duty as a detective while maintaining his own integrity. As with all of his previous books, Eskens is the master of the internal human struggle. I recommend you read Eskens’ books in order: The Life We Bury, The Guise of Another, The Heavens May Fall. All of Eskens books, including The Deep Dark Descending are available in paperback (and we always stock them!)



The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood

I’m re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale in preparation for this month’s women’s book group discussion. It’s been years since I first read this book about a bleak future in which women have had their rights stripped away. Last April, Hulu released an original series of The Handmaid’s Tale and I planned to re-read the book then, but my husband wisely advised me to wait until AFTER I watched the series (he’s had to sit through too many productions with me complaining, “That’s not how it was in the book…”) The Hulu series was incredibly good (if you’re observant, you’ll see that Margaret Atwood makes a very short appearance in episode 1.) But now that I’ve seen the series, I’m ready to dive back into the book. I’m expecting a great discussion!


Turtles All the Way Down
John Green

I have John Green’s newest book on my to-read pile. (Green is the very popular author of young adult books such as The Fault in Our Stars.) In the meantime, I was able to listen to John Green talk about this book on the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression with John Moe. The interview is nearly an hour and well worth the time. I encourage you to listen to it yourself and then come in for the book!


Sally Sally

Future Home of the Living God
Louise Erdrich

The Handmaid’s Tale and Future Home of the Living God deal with the same themes. Future Home is a dystopian novel set in the near future, in a time when evolution has ceased (and may be moving backwards), the social order is disintegrating, and pregnancy and childbirth are matters of state security. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a young Ojibwe woman who was adopted by idealistic and liberal parents in Minneapolis. As the book opens, motivated by her own pregnancy, she is traveling to northern Minnesota in an attempt to find her birth parents. Throughout the book, Cedar Hawk struggles with relationships with her birth mother, her adoptive parents, and the father of her child. It’s not always clear who she can trust as the world around her becomes increasingly dangerous for pregnant women. Both books are thought provoking and extremely timely


Eight interesting women
One comfy lodge+three stimulating books+eight interesting women=a great week-end retreat!

Our annual retreat was the last week-end in October, with the theme Kaleidoscope: Exploring the World through Different Lenses.


Each of our books provided a different perspective:


The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give is the story of Starr, who has a foot in each of two worlds:  the poor black neighborhood where she lives and the exclusive mostly white prep school she attends. Starr is good at keeping these two worlds separate—until she witnesses the shooting death of an unarmed childhood friend by a police officer. The book was inspired by recent events in our country and the Black Lives Matter movement. Thomas has written a nuanced story of people who live their lives as best they can in the face of odds many of us can’t imagine.


The Song Poet
Kao Kalia Yang

In Hmong culture, a song poet carries the story of the people in word and song. The father of author Kalia Yang was a song poet, singing the history of his people from Laos to the United States. He lost the songs in the midst of the difficulties of refugee life, as he struggled so that his children could have greater opportunities in their new country. Yang has written a beautiful book which not only speaks of her family’s experience, but that of so many others.


The Leisure Seeker
Michael Zadoorian

Ella and John Robina are in their 80’s. She has cancer and he has Alzheimer’s and she decides they need one last vacation. Against the advice of their children and their doctors, they climb aboard their ’78 Leisure Seeker and head for Disneyland, following the nearly forgotten Route 66. Their story is both funny and poignant.

Our fall retreat is over, but we’re already looking forward to the next one! October 26-28, 2018.






Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng

As the story opens, we learn that Lydia, the Lee's oldest daughter, is dead. The Lee family has just learned that Lydia has disappeared. They are going through the painful process of frantically trying to find out where she is and what could have happened to her. Everything I Never Told You is the story of a family dealing with many difficult issues including race, feelings of exclusion, unachieved dreams, and lack of recognition. The parents and each of the children are hurting in different ways and in heart wrenching isolation. This was a hard story for me to read but left a feeling of hope that as the Lees worked through the loss of Lydia, they might grow in self-acceptance as individuals and as a family.




Where the Animals Go
James Chesire and Oliver Uberti

OMG I’m reviewing picture books! I haven’t done that since the 3rd grade and we’re hoping I’ve improved since then. This is one of two I’m reviewing this month and yes, they are both picture books (sort of.)

Where the Animals Go is about all sorts of animals and the people who track them, except the people are not big game hunters. Most are environmentalists or naturalists and they are interested in stuff like, “Do butterflies really go to Mexico for the winter?” The reason it’s a sort of picture book is that it’s packed with maps, charts, and graphs, some of which fold-out! This truly satisfied the nerd in me. The best part is that it’s all up–to-date studies. I’m sure you’ve seen footage on your public TV station of somebody sloughing through a swamp in Alaska looking for a moose with a tracking device that looks like a TV antenna from 1955. Well that’s old stuff. Now we have satellite tracking and nano-transmitters. The book talks about going from sampling data once a week (if you can find the moose) to taking measurements 6-10 times per second. There are studies, which went on for months, of elephants not being where they are supposed to be, to tracking baboons for less than 30 minutes to see how their social order worked. There’s cool stuff like a “beakometer” for penguins that measures how quickly/often their “mouths” (?) open to see when they are feeding to “painting zooplankton with fluorescing nanoparticles” (drop that phrase at a dinner party!) to see if they are responsive to sunlight. I can’t list here all the info they present but rest assured it includes a section on tracking people based on “tweets.”

While only 174 pages, this definitely qualifies as a “coffee-table” book. You’ll look like an intelligent, caring and engaged person with this book. The chapters are great, quick reads which are really entertaining.


The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright
K.L. Going

The second picture book I’m reviewing actually caught me off-guard. When I was a freshman in college, I lived in an apartment complex with a bunch of architecture students. This unusual group introduced me to the creativity of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whom you would never describe as traditional. Therefore, I was a little surprised to see a children’s book about this famous man. Let me say that I liked the book for the information, the concept and the artwork. Boiled down, it said things to two groups. To young people, it said that it’s OK to be creative and think outside the box and that incorporating nature into what you are doing is/can be a good thing. It encourages the second group, parents or other adults, to provide opportunities (sometimes as simple as wooden blocks) and encouragement to be creative.

My dilemma is to whom or what age would I recommend this book. Some of the text will puzzle those under 5 years old (skyscrapers, museums, pyramids, hexagons) when being read to. Those over 7 or 8 years old, left to read it on their own, will probably enjoy the artwork but again might be challenged by the text. Older kids might be put off by the simplicity of the writing. In a way, it’s sort of a kid’s reference book. So maybe read it to them early on and often, explaining all those tough words and let them take it on their own, later, with the comfort of repetition and enjoying the great renditions of Wright’s work. (Note: the target age for this book is 5-10.)




Teachers in the Forest:
Essays from the Last Wilderness in Minnesota Headwaters Country

Barry W. Babcock

The teachers in the forest are the animals and the plants that live there, says the author. Barry lives not far from us with his wife in a simple lifestyle. He gardens, hunts, makes maple syrup and gathers wild rice. His only electricity is from the sun and they pump water by hand. But Barry is not a recluse. He is working hard with organizations fighting to protect our waters, forests and wild animals. This book helped me to be more aware and thankful that we live in a very wonderful and special place in Minnesota.


Woman of the Boundary Waters
Justine Kerfoot

Justine Kerfoot came to the Boundary Water area of Minnesota in 1927. Her family had purchased Gunflint Lodge on the Gunflint Trail. This is the interesting, humorous, and sometimes dangerous story of running a resort with no electricity or running water. This is an old book but has become a Minnesota classic. I enjoyed reading the history of this area as it is similar to the beginnings of our own resorts around Park Rapids. Other Minnesota classics to read and enjoy are: Root Beer Lady by Bob Cary and We took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson.


The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Phaedra Patrick

It’s a year since Arthur Pepper's wife Miriam died. Reluctantly Arthur decides he must go through her things and dispose of them. Arthur finds a charm bracelet that he has never seen before. Tracking down the origins of each charm, Arthur discovers some startling facts about his wife's life. This leads him to hope and healing in his own life. I always enjoy stories set in England. If you like this story, try Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.


Rock With Wings
Anne Hillerman

Bernie is married to Jim Chee, and they are Navajo police working on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Each is working on different case which affects the outcome of both cases. Anne Hillerman is the daughter of deceased, best selling author, Tony Hillerman. This is her second novel. The first was Spider Woman's Daughter. Anne follows her father's mode of writing, inserting descriptions of beauty of the desert as well as facts and history of the Navaho people. My husband recommended this to me and I'm glad I read this fast paced mystery.  Anne keeps her father's famous characters and has added  Bernie, for extra interest.  Although it must be daunting to take over from a famous parent, Anne has fulfilled the task splendidly.




The Nest
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Two brothers and two sisters, New Yorkers, are anticipating an inheritance on the youngest sister's 40th birthday. Unfortunately, the will did not set up a trust in the hands of a lawyer. Their flakey mother has the ability to tap the nest egg in the case of an emergency. I thought that reading about this dysfunctional family would be one wince after another, but the story has a great moral. It's also very readable.


Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus
Bruce Feiler

Have you ever day dreamed about running away and joining a circus? Feiler, a highly educated writer who also knew how to juggle, got to do just that. In 1993 he spent a year as a clown in the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros Circus, the largest circus performing under a tent at that time. He writes passionately about the show, the circus family, and the hardships and joys of touring with an extraordinary group of people. There were births and deaths and everything in between. This circus is now also defunct, so reading about it is all the more poignant.



2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
Marie Helene-Bertino

It's Christmas Eve. A wide cast of characters is scattered across Philadelphia, going about their business hour by hour. They include musicians, a dog, the teacher of a headstrong nine-year old girl who recently lost her mother, the hard-working restaurant owner who feeds the girl, and high school friends of the teacher. The Cat's Pajama's is a jazz club that has seen better days. Somehow most of characters end up at the Cat's Pajama's at 2:00. It's a delight because the things they do and think are so real... until the end, which I don't buy. Perhaps you will.






My Absolute Darling
Gabriel Tallent

This is a brilliantly written book, a third-person narration of the thoughts of Turtle, a 14-year-old girl. It is difficult to write anything about this book without introducing a spoiler, but I think I have done it.

Turtle is being raised by her father, Martin, in a rotting farmhouse in Mendocino County, near the ocean. Martin is a libertarian survivalist who believes that his daughter must be fully prepared for the oncoming collapse of society. He sets up elaborate tests for her. For example, each Friday when she gets home from school, she must retrieve a hidden pistol, enter the house, and carefully clear it room-by-room, shooting each of the many targets as she finds them. (Yes, the house is not only rotting but riddled with bullet holes.)

Martin is also a devastatingly cruel sociopath whom Turtle loves deeply.
Intertwined with the story of Turtle and Martin are social issues, most notably gender, but also issues of class and complacency.

The book is an emotionally brutal read, yet it is impossible to put down. I think I have seen it categorized a couple of times as a Young Adult novel. No. It is not. It is written for adults. The horrific topics are graphically described. The story is nothing less than the raw description of Turtle’s fight for her own soul.

Note: we’re always delighted to get book reviews from our customers!




Caroline: Little House, Revisited
Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller takes us on the journey of the Ingalls family from Wisconsin to Kansas. She has done her homework and keeps the book in line with the Laure Ingalls Wilder books, except in a few areas where her historical research shows the accurate chronological placement of events. This is a new look through the eyes of Caroline, “Ma” in the Little House books. I am often in awe of the courage and strength the pioneer women possessed. I really enjoyed this book because of the viewpoint of a woman. 




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