Books and News to Give You Paws

Staff Picks

Page One | Staff Picks | Youth Yak | Book Groups News

Jen Jen

book cover

The Princess Bride

William Goldman, Illustrated by Michael Manomivibul

Recently, I came across The Princess Bride: An Illustrated Edition of S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure and realized that, although I’ve seen the movie many times, I’d never read the book. I’m savoring this story and plan to re-read this gem whenever possible.

book cover


Helene Tursten

This is the third book in Tursten’s Inspector Irene Huss series. Tursten is a Swedish crime writer and the books are translated into English. I’m loving this series so far about Inspector Irene Huss, her best friend/coworker Tommy, her chef husband, and teenage twin daughters. In Torso, a human torso washes up on shore and Huss must solve the crime. This series is sort of in between a “cozy” and a police procedural. The crimes/stories are set in Sweden which is new and different to me!

book cover


The Brementown Musicians Musical
book by Gary Peterson/Music and Lyrics by Larry Nestor

Guess what show Vision Theatre will be doing with the DAC in November?

winking emoji

book cover


Never Coming Back
Alison McGhee

The Beagle Women’s book group will discuss this book in November. Here’s what I said about it at last year’s Night In.

Never Coming Back refers to the mother of the protagonist in this story, who has early onset Alzheimers. The mother is Tamar, the narrator is her daughter Clara. Growing up, Clara clashed a lot with her mother. Clara’s father is not in the picture because Clara was the result of a party rape. Despite this violent beginning, Tamar chooses to keep and raise the baby the very best she can. She is often a staunch supporter of what I would call “tough love”. While Clara is in high school, she falls in love with a fellow student. After dating for a couple years, Clara witnesses, through a window in the house, her boyfriend and mother having an argument. The next day the boyfriend breaks up with Clara. Neither the boyfriend nor the mother will explain why. Once Clara graduates from high school, her mother and a friend conspire to get Clara into a college that is farther from home than Clara intended to go. This turns out to be a good thing as it’s at college that Clara meets the two people who will become her best friends for life, roommate Sunshine and fellow student Brown. Clara never dates again, never marries. She supports herself as the sole writer for a company she founded called Words by Winter. Clients contact Clara with a brief description of a person s/he needs to send some sort of communication to—a birthday card, or thank you note, that kind of thing. The tricky part is that the client almost always has a contentious or delicate relationship with the person with whom a communication is needed. $100 for 100 words and Clara is plenty busy. Writers particularly, I think, will love Clara. She thinks in ways that are dominated by word usage—she can hear/see/feel when people italicize words or say them in bold font. She is, as she describes herself, a word girl. And I have to say, I connect with that. The narrative is so well crafted and written in addition to being a good story. There is a lot of meat here for a book group—friendship, family, regret, forgiveness, and acceptance are all issues that a group could really sink its teeth into with this book.


Sally Sally  

book cover

Months ago, I read manuscripts for Indies Introduce, a program which selects outstanding debut works. One of the books I loved from that experience was just released, and we’ve got it in the store.

Ordinary Girls
Jaquira Diaz

Ordinary Girls crackles with life! Diaz’ memoir brings to vivid life growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, poverty, drug abuse, mental illness, “ordinary girls,” suicide, and being gay in a culture which doesn’t accept homosexuality. The language has a lively rhythmic quality reflecting the staccato quality of Diaz’ early years. The book is gritty, and it’s the story of a survivor who fought to be seen as who she is.


Much of my reading time in October was spent re-reading the books for our recent reading retreat. Following are my reviews of the books we discussed.

Retreat participants with their books

book cover

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss
Margaret Renkl

Margaret Renkl is a careful observer of the natural world around her. She not only notices the chokecherry root which pushed up the concrete of her parents' driveway, the dead robin in the street, and the blazing red of a cardinal illuminated in the autumn sunset, her description of each is beautifully written. Renkl is also an observer of her family, and chapters about incidents in their lives are braided with the essays about the natural world. The ordinary becomes filled with wonderment and loss, and the shadow side of love is part of the life we all share. Illustrations by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, sensitively complement the text.

Here’s a conversation Sally had with author Margaret Renkl about Late Migrations.

book cover
  The Line Tender
Kate Allen

Two summers ago, my husband and I took a vacation to Washington D.C. and Maryland with our granddaughter. We spent one day at the Aquarium in Baltimore, and our granddaughter was entranced by the sharks. We stood outside a huge tank for a very long time, watching as shark after shark swam by. Our granddaughter remembers that day as the best part of our vacation.

I thought of that experience while reading The Line Tender, Kate Allen’s wonderful book for young adults. In the book, the person taken with sharks was Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother. She’d died suddenly, 5 years before the start of the book, while collecting shark data off the coast of Massachusetts. Lucy and her father have managed to keep going, after a fashion, with the help of friends and neighbors. The summer Lucy was 12, a great white shark was brought in by the tide, and soon after, she experienced another tragedy.

Following these events, Lucy grabbed “the line that connected her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother's unfinished research on the Great White's return to Cape Cod.” For divers, such as Lucy’s dad, the line tender is the person who supports and assists diving operations. It’s a great metaphor for the book. I’m looking forward to a rich discussion of this book and Late Migrations during our fall Reading Retreat.

book cover


Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver

For our fall retreats, we generally read a book which is non-fiction, a young adult book, and a book of fiction. This year, the retreat was built around Late Migrations. The Line Tender complemented that book nicely, but I struggled to find a novel which explored the ways the human and natural worlds are related, the theme of our retreat.

Finally, I remembered Kingsolver’s book, Prodigal Summer, which I read a number of years ago. I re-read it quickly, hoping I’d remembered it accurately. I had, and it was an ideal addition to our reading list!
In the book, Kingsolver weaves together the stories of three women who live in the mountains and farmland of Appalachia. One woman is a wildlife biologist who lives alone in a very rustic cabin off the grid. She oversees government land, and has become captivated by the coyote who seems to be living in the area. The second woman is an academic who fell in love with a farmer and moved to his farm. After his accidental death, she has to decide where her future lies—while coping with the members of his family who resent her. The last woman practices land husbandry practices which put her in conflict with her next-door neighbor. During one hot and humid summer, the lives of these three women and the land interact in moving ways.

Whale Rider DVD cover

For the first time, we watched a movie at a retreat! We watched Whale Rider, which related to our theme. I highly recommend it!



book cover


The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father
Kao Kalia Yang

In The Song Poet, Kao Kalia Yang tells the story of her father's life. Bee Yang was born in 1958 and grew up in Laos during wartime in Southeast Asia. As an adult he escaped with his family to a refugee camp in Thailand, where they lived for many years facing life threatening conditions. Finally, the family immigrated to Minnesota.

Prejudice, poverty, and cultural differences loomed over the lives of the Hmong immigrants. In spite of their losses, Bee and his wife persevered in their efforts to make a better life possible for their children. As a song poet Bee Yang told the stories of his family and his people. He sang of their history with its joys and sorrows. The death of Bee's mother marked the end of his songs, but his memories lived on in the hearts of those who had heard them. The Song Poet is the story of a family and a people. It is heart wrenching, inspirational, and beautifully written.



book cover


Gone to Dust
Matt Goldman

I don’t normally read murder mysteries (although, lately, I don’t know what normal reading is for me) but Sally thought I might enjoy this book for its subtle humor and familiar settings. The book is about a down-on-his-luck private investigator (aren’t they all) named Nils Shapiro, who works in the Twin Cities area and it’s the middle of winter. Not an attractive start, but it is familiar. A friend from his Police Academy days, who works in the Edina Police Department, convinces his chief that Nils is his man for a complicated murder that took place there. Edina is an exclusive part of the Twin Cities, which normally doesn’t have big crime. The case is complicated because the victim and the bedroom she was killed in are covered with the contents of multiple vacuum cleaner bags. This, of course, screws up modern day crime scene analysis. A well thought out mystery that keeps you turning the pages, with some interesting descriptions thrown in of a Minnesota winter that are spot-on.

I really enjoyed this book and I think you will too. As a matter of fact, I might check out more of author Matt Goldman’s work, even though it’s not Sci-Fi.



book cover


The Woman in Cabin 10

Ruth Ware

Lo has been asked by her boss to take a cruise on a new beautiful yacht which will be sailing up the fiords of Norway. When she arrives back home, all she has to do is write up the trip for the travel magazine she works for. But a cruise that sounds fun and relaxing turns into mystery and murder starting with the disappearance of the woman in cabin 10. This psychological thriller was a different read for me. The story drew me in and I was glued to the pages with my heart pounding to the end. If you read and like this book, the author has a new book out called The Turn of the Key.


book cover


Weird Sisters
Eleanor Brown

Three sisters have returned home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Their father, a professor of Shakespeare, has named them after the bard's heroines. A lot for the girls to live up to, and each is jealous of the others. None of them go anywhere without a book to read, but are they are finding that solutions to problems are not always between the pages of a book, and they must look within themselves. This is a New York Times bestseller and an interesting read.

book cover


American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt
Karen Harper

 When I started this book, I thought it was going to be a fluffy romance but I was pleasantly surprised. Consuelo's mother decided that money wasn't enough. Her daughter should marry a duke so they would have an in with the English royalty. Consuelo was already in love with someone else, but she bowed to her mother's wishes. In spite of an unhappy marriage Consuelo used her fortune to help many ordinary people, eventually starting a hospital for children in France. This is a fascinating history of the "Gilded Age.” Winston Churchill also figures in the story as he and Consuelo were great friends. This novel based on facts is for fans of Downton Abbey.


book cover

A Single Thread
Marie Bostwick

Quilting, quilters and quilt clubs have become a popular theme for books in recent years. The theme can be found in historical fiction, mysteries and romance. Marie Bostwick has written a series of books about quilters. This is her first in the Cobbled Court Quilts series. A single thread brings four women together from very different backgrounds. They find a common bond of friendship by stitching quilts. These stories ae light and fun, nice reprieve from every day world troubles and frustrations.



book cover


Just One Evil Act
Elizabeth George

Poor Barbara Havers with her big heart digs herself into a hole in the beginning of this book, and keeps digging the hole deeper and deeper. George has demonstrated in an earlier book that important characters may be killed off: only Lynley is immune since they’re “Lynley novels.” Three beloved characters are endangered. The end is not all happy but is very satisfying. What a plot.

book cover


The Punishment She Deserves
Elizabeth George

I can’t stand it. I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms: this is the latest Lynley novel and she doesn’t knock one out every year. I highly second Sally’s recommendation that you read all of this series in order. It would get you through the long Minnesota winter, but beware of the bends you’ll suffer when you come back to surface. Well, this is a fine book to end on. Lynley and Havers work together on a complex mystery that tests their ability to function in the changing Scotland Yard. I only hope George returns to some of the previous novels as I want to learn more about a few things. But otherwise I’m perfectly satisfied.

book cover


Past Tense
Lee Child

This is a fine Reacher mystery. Jack Reacher (a huge, plain man who is nothing like Tom Cruise) is the modern-day Paladin who roams the country saving people and thinking in such an interesting way. Yes, it’s violent. But somehow, it’s soothing, too. Reading these books allows me to feel like there’s a force in the universe that keeps evil at bay. In Past Tense Reacher stumbles on the town where his father was raised. He decides to try to find the family’s home. In the meantime, there’s a young couple caught in an extremely creepy motel, and there are people about to be beat up unless he saves them. But saving them has unforeseen consequences, as does his search for his roots.

book cover


Strong Poison
Dorothy Sayers

Sayers was the first mystery writer I got hooked on. Her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, dazzled in several books. Then, starting in Strong Poison, Sayers sort of wrote herself into the books: Harriet Vane is a mystery writer who beguiles Wimsey. Very British, set in London after WWI, and quite delightful.




The German House
Annette Hess

This book, which is translated from German, is about a young woman named Eva Bruhns, who has a job translating for the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials in 1963. This was a time when Germany was intent on recovering from the aftermath of World War II, and not much interested in self-reflection about the war. Eva is in her mid 20’s, and her memories of the war are those of a child growing up in a struggling society that’s focused on the future, while at the same time being pulled apart, trying to reconcile its need to prosecute those who were complicit in horrors she’s only dimly aware of, and yet has direct connections with. Interestingly, there’s a good deal of writing just now, in Germany, having to do with this topic. What happened, how it happened, how individuals are held accountable for their past actions and maybe most importantly, how these issues ripple down through following generations. Maybe now we’ve reached a distance, in time, where the past can be evaluated in a more objective manner.

Note: this book will be released December 3
and may be pre-ordered now.



John Williams

In the November 2018 newsletter, I wrote about The Ides of March, by Thornton Wilder. That book is an epistolary novel about the killing of Augustus Caesar. I find telling a story through letters fascinating. Augustus, by John Williams, is another such ‘collection of letters’, centering on Octavian, as he assumes the title of Caesar, and as he begins his decades of governing The Roman Empire. [aside: I NEVER thought I’d find another novel of letters, that so seamlessly continued the story from where Wilder left off.] Different, but in a good way, John Williams explores another more personal perspective of the man who became Augustus Caesar. Particularly interesting, for me, were the revelations about the life-long long banishment of Julia, Augustus’ daughter, from Rome. If you like history with a personal hue, think about this book.


Would you like to be a guest reviewer? Email Sally at

— page top —


Page One | Staff Picks | Youth Yak | Book Groups News

About Us|Book Groups|Events|Bindery|Newsletter|Place an Order|Life in Community   
Midwest Connections|How to Find Us|Contact Us|Links|Home


Newsletter Archives Copyright 2015 Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery: Designed by Hannah Jennings Design