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Jen Jen  


Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, a book of essays about race in Minnesota
edited by Sung Yun Shin.

This is the adult book for the Park Rapids Community Read and a number of area book groups have read it, including our Men's and Current Events book groups. The collection of essays is a great starting point for discussion.


Rebel Angels
Book 1 in the Cornish Trilogy
Robertson Davies  

A Canadian friend insisted I must read Davies. Rebel Angels takes place at the University of St. John and the Holy Ghost, a fictional university in Canada. After the death of Francis Cornish, an eccentric art patron and collector (hoarder), three faculty at the university, affectionately nicknamed "Spook,” must fulfill their duty as Cornish's co-executors. One of the co-executors is distracted by the scholarship (and affection) of a graduate student. Additionally, a former university colleague has returned after having run away from his life at a monastery. The characters are complex, the writing sharp, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I suspect I'll continue on to book 2 in the trilogy.


Give a Girl a Knife
Amy Thielen

I feel a little like I'm taunting you by telling you I'm reading this (sorry! sort of :) ) This forthcoming memoir, due out May 16, by Amy Thielen, author of New Midwestern Table, is so good! In Give a Girl a Knife, Amy recounts the years when she and husband Aaron packed up, left Minnesota and moved to New York so Amy could attend culinary school and get her start in the cooking world and Aaron could further his career as an artist. The writing in this book is SO GOOD. You don't have to be a foodie to appreciate it!

We'll be hosting Amy's "hometown launch" at the Nemeth Art Center on Saturday, May 27 at 2:00. You can pre-order your copy (or copies) of Give a Girl a Knife from us now.


Sally Sally

vacation books





One of the pleasures of the vacation Bob and I took in February was reading my way through the stack of books which I took along. Well, okay, I didn’t read all of them, but I read five! (Don’t be confused by the books—most were advance copies. Only Mothering Sunday is currently available in paperback.)


The Women in the Castle
by Jessica Shattuck

The Women in the Castle is a unique World War II book. After the war, Marianne von Lingenfels returned to her late husband’s ancestral Bavarian castle. She planned to honor the promise she made to her childhood friend, who conspired with her husband in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler. Both men, and their co-conspirators, were hanged. Her promise was to find and protect the conspirator’s widows. She brought two of these women and their children to the crumbling castle, and they began to rebuild their lives. Each woman had a history, secrets, and ambitions for the future. The book is beautifully written, carefully constructed, and each character comes alive in ways which deeply touched me. You won’t want to miss this one!


Our spring Reading Retreat is April 1, with the theme “She Persisted.” Here are the books we’ll discuss:

(children’s books we’re reading are pictured in Youth Yak)


Mothering Sunday
Graham Swift

I got a history lesson while getting ready for the retreat! The term “Mothering Sunday” was new to me, and I learned it’s the fourth Sunday in Lent. During the 16th century, people returned to their mother church on that day. In later times, domestic servants in England were given the day off to visit their mother churches, usually with their own mothers. The book Mothering Sunday is set on one day—Mothering Sunday, 1924. Jane Fairchild, a young maid, spent that day not with her mother nor in church, but in bed with her lover. He was the son of the owner of a neighboring estate, and was soon to marry a woman from his own social class. Jane went on to leave service, become a successful author, and to enjoy a happy marriage. But yet, in her nineties she thinks of that long-ago day, Mothering Sunday 1924. It’s a relatively short book, but contains much for discussion, particularly around the issues of sexism and classism, and how one woman persisted in making a life for herself despite the circumstances of her birth and early life.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Kelly Barnhill

This book is wonderful! It’s an imaginative coming-of-age fantasy about a young girl who was raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. She must discover the magic inside her and learn to use it to save the inhabitants of the Protectorate. On another level, it’s a book about people persisting in their attempts to live full and authentic lives in the face of an oppressive and totalitarian system. The book is the winner of this year’s Newbery award, given to the book making the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. It’s a book for young adults and adults alike to savor and to share.

Making origami birds




Bob and Cascade helped us get ready for the retreat. Why origami swallows? Ah, you’ll have to read The Girl Who Drank the Moon.



The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Phaedra Patrick

In the year since his wife Miriam died, Arthur has lived a life of routine and isolation. On the anniversary of her death, Arthur takes on the task of going through Miriam's belongings. In the process, he comes across a charm bracelet that he has never seen before. Arthur's quest to learn the story behind each charm leads him to discover unknown and sometimes surprising details about the life that Miriam led before they met. While learning about parts of Miriam's life that have been closed off to him, Arthur fosters a greater openness and sense of connection in his own life and relationships. If you enjoy a "charming" and uplifting story, this is a book you won't want to miss.



Writers of the Future
Volume 33
L. Ron Hubbard

OK, so this is a trick…sort of. Hubbard didn’t actually WRITE 33 volumes of some huge Encyclopedia about writers in the future. He “presents” a book which is a collection of works by “award-winning” authors and illustrators. We’re really not sure, at first, whether the awards were for the artwork or the verbiage BUT there were awards involved (I hoped it wasn’t for little league participation.) Anyway, this is a collection of short stories written as entries to a quarterly contest for science fiction and (ugh) fantasy. These are the winners. Now if you buy about any book, it’s going to come with a dust jacket that has some colorful artwork to lure your eye in a bookstore. The artwork varies depending on the content. We’ll skip over the discussion on artwork for “romance novels” and go to SciFi which usually shows a giant space cruiser on the cover or fantasy which shows a unicorn. Because this collection of works  can only have one cover, the illustrators felt slighted. So, each author got a picture with their story (the one with the Devil’s Rescue was REALLY spooky…nightlight time.)  So some of the pictures must be award-winning. Unfortunately, in my advance copy of the book the illustrations  were black and white. Now with all my grumbling about this book, I still liked it and here’s why. I don’t know all the thousands of SF writers and if I can read a few (10-20) pages of their work and get a sense of whether they are going to keep me interested or put me to sleep, well that’s important to me. Also, sometimes you get a book saying it’s SF while it’s actually Fantasy (not my favorite) and now you’re stuck with a book with a cool cover but vampires inside. This collection lets me size up the author without a lot of investment of time or money. Before each story there are a few paragraphs about the author with some background and “awards.” I read one and it mentioned the author is into “epic verse.” Nope, think I’ll skip that guy. 

There are also a few advice pages from well-known authors like Hubbard in case you want to try your hand at writing for their future volumes. I liked the stories I read in this collection and now I have a shopping list of new authors to give a shot.



Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage to Compassion and Resurrection
Gerard Straub  

The author is noted as a story teller with a camera, concentrating on the poorest of the poor throughout the world. He was in Haiti filming a project in December of 2009. When an earthquake hit in January of 2010, he managed to find a flight back to film the devastation. It was overwhelming. Many of our aid workers suffered from PTSD when they came home to the U.S. and faced our abundant lifestyle. Gerard's message is one of compassion for the poor and also shows us the resilience of the Haitians and the hope they have in the face of absolutely nothing to start over with. This book was especially heartbreaking because of another earthquake hitting Haiti recently.


The Japanese Lover
Isabel Allende

Alma Ballasco's Jewish parents sent her to live in safety with her aunt and uncle in San Francisco at the beginning of World War II. Alma met the son of the Ballasco's Japanese gardener and this is their story. The author has written a number of bestselling books and they have been translated into 35 languages. She is a great storyteller and her characters are described in such a way that you know just what they are feeling. Allende kept me engrossed to the end.




City on Fire
Garth Risk Hallberg

Layers on layers. This gritty New York novel bounces around among several characters, only gradually revealing their complicated stories and how they relate to each other. A couple of the characters are perfectly evil, but most are as nuanced as we all are. We learn to love these diverse, seemingly real people, while suspense builds toward a potentially catastrophic climax. It's a long book, 900 pages, but I was sorry when it ended. The book made several Best Books of 2016 lists. It's Halberg's first novel: it's said to be in the tradition of Dickens but it's very much a 21st century book.



The Sympathizer
Viet Thanh Nguyen

The novel, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize and many other awards, takes the form of an extended confession written by a double agent, a spy in an isolation cell. But don't expect a standard spy story! It's full of interesting characters and dramatic events and it's very suspenseful, but it doesn't treat the events as entertainment. This is about dark realities that explore what it means to be an American, a revolutionary, a refugee, a human struggling to be moral.

The opening section of The Sympathizer describes Saigon in the days of American withdrawal. The city is drawn so vividly that I went to the acknowledgements to see whether this young man knows what he's talking about. His research seems to have been thorough.



Toni Morrison

Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Strangely empowering. I knew Beloved was a ghost story but I was expecting a shimmering, gentle presence. No one could expect this book. When you are have trouble describing a book, compare it to something similar. I can't think of any book remotely like Beloved... but then it occurred to me that I do see similarities to the movie Get Out.It's a powerful horror movie that helps you understand the African American experience.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951 an impoverished African American woman, Henrietta Lacks, checked into a Johns Hopkins Hospital. She suffered from cervical cancer. A scientist collected some of her cells without her knowledge. For reasons that are still not completely understood, her cells thrive and multiply where other cells have short lives. They have therefore been used in research ever since. Huge amounts exist all over the world. Her cells helped in the development of the polio vaccine and many other diseases. They have been sent into space and blown up in nuclear tests...but her family can't afford health insurance. When they found out about Henrietta's cells, their life was turned upside down. Skloot researched this book intensely over a decade. It's a remarkable combination of science and human interest.



Feast of Sorrow
Crystal King

This is late winter escapist fiction at its best. It's the story of Marcus Gavius Apicius, the most famous of the Augustinian Age's gourmets. It’s told from the point of view of the slave chef, who made Apicius' dinners famous in his own time and all through the ages to the present.  Negotiating through the minefield of Rome's politics and intrigue, you'll meet many of the same historical characters you've met in the novels of Robert Graves, most notable for me Livia, wife of Augustus. Did you know 'French Toast' (well, what we call French Toast) appeared in one of the early cookbooks written by Apicius? Well, neither did I.

The book will be released April 25.

Here’s a clip of Crystal King talking about the book.


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