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Jen Jen


As we’re putting this newsletter together,
Jen is ill. We expect her back at the store soon, and her reviews will resume next month.


Sally Sally  

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Candice Carty-Williams

This book has one of the funniest opening scenes I’ve ever read: while in the stirrups at the local clinic, Queenie is busy texting her former boyfriend! Queenie has been lost since he broke up with her and she moved in with her grandparents, Jamaican immigrants who haven’t quite acclimated to life in London. Queenie makes a series of poor decisions about men which results in her life spiraling downward. Her (mostly) loyal girlfriends rally around her, and their group texts appear throughout the book. The book is a great story about a millennial finding her way, and deals with the meaning of life, racism, loyalty, and family and is comic, heartbreaking, and thoroughly entertaining.

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The Starless Sea
Erin Morgenstern

We didn’t have a lot of books in my home as a child, but we did have a series of children’s books in the built-in bookshelves of the archway between the dining and living rooms. I discovered a volume of fairy tales there, and spent many hours on the floor in the corner, behind a rocking chair and next to the bookcase. That book was my introduction to fantasy, and I’ve loved that genre ever since. Listening to The Starless Sea was every bit as satisfying as reading fairy tales behind the rocker in my childhood.

Zachary Ezra Rawlings, a graduate student in Vermont, discovered a mysterious book in the stacks of the library at his school. He was enchanted with the stories—until he came to a story from his own life. As Zachary tried to make sense of this, a series of clues led him to a masquerade party in Manhattan and finally to a library hidden beneath the surface of the earth. The Starless Sea is a collection of fairy tales, Zachary’s story, and the story of the underground world he discovers. If you love fantasy and ambiguity, this is the book for you. I listened to the book on, and the readers were absolutely perfect for the story. Listening to the audio may have been even better than reading the book.

Jen and I each have the audio book, and we also gave each other signed copies of the hardcover for Christmas. And two versions of the same book doesn’t seem like too many to either of us!



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Broken Ice
Matt Goldman

When I reviewed Goldman’s Gone to Dust last October, I said “I might go and checkout more of author Matt Goldman’s work.” Well darned if somehow his book Broken Ice didn’t show up on my reading stack. And I have to say I found this one as enjoyable as the first.

Nils Shapiro has moved up in the PI world and now works in a “nice” office building, as opposed to his old rundown place that doubled as his home, which he called ‘the pit’ (or words to that effect.) He’s joined by his old friend Anders Ellegaard, formally of the Edina PD. They are hired by the parents of a runaway teenage girl who came to St. Paul from Warroad for the State Hockey Tournament. As they are starting their investigation, they find out that another teen girl from Warroad was found dead in a cave above the Mississippi River. They go to see if there’s a connection and while Nils is outside the cave, he’s shot with a hunting arrow. Not your typical start to a murder mystery, but it got my attention. As before, this is all Minnesota from the top (Warroad) to the bottom (St. Paul…well close). Lots of action and plenty of twists and turns. Any lover of mysteries should find this a fun read.

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News of the World
Paulette Jiles

OK, out of my element, again, but it was worth it. News of the World you might think of as “Old West Fiction” (but not Louis L'Amour.) The book is about Captain Kidd, a former military man who now makes his way around the southwest reading newspaper articles to paying customers who come to hear the news of the world. The listeners are sometimes illiterate but mostly want to hear about faraway places. That’s not to say they always agree with their fellow listeners and sometimes the Cap’n has to intercede. He’s familiar with the territory, with all these big and small towns and how to stay alive in the 1880’s. The story, however, centers on his taking on a project for a $50 gold piece. He’s to transport a young girl, who had been stolen by the Kiowa Indians and subsequently recovered, to her aunt and uncle in San Antonio, a 400-mile trip. There’s plenty of action as things develop.

There’s a lot of thought that went into this book and that plus great writing made it an enjoyable read.



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Before We Were Yours

Lisa Wingate

This was one of my favorite fall reads. The story is based on the Tennessee Children's Home which, for a period of 30 years, took in children who had no families and put them up for adoption. But the Home was not on the up and up, as some children did have families and were snatched off the streets. Rill Foss and her four siblings were abducted off the riverboat where they lived with their mother and father. At the mercy of the cruel director, Rill fought to keep her siblings together and figure out how to get home. A counter story is set in recent times. Avery, from a wealthy and privileged family, discovers a dark secret about her grandmother's past which could make for some devastating publicity and change her whole life. This is a riveting, heart wrenching and ultimately uplifting tale.


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A Simple Act of Gratitude:
How Learning to Say Thank you Changed My Life

John Kralik

Lawyer John Kralik was at the lowest point in his life. His law firm was losing money and losing its lease. He was going through a difficult divorce, was out of funds and living in a small stuffy apartment. On New Year's Day, he hiked the three-mile Echo Mountain Trail above Pasadena. Feeling like a loser, he heard a voice saying, "Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want.” He decided to send a thank you note to someone each day for a year. Did his life suddenly become great? No, but slowly there was a turn around. This is a rare memoir that is uplifting and inspirational. It reminded me of another book title I reviewed some time ago, How Starbucks Saved my Life.

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Red at the Bone
Jacqueline Woodson

This story by an award-winning author is about 16-year-old Melody at her coming out party, and how each of her loved ones remember the past years with her as the center. This is not a book with a plot that we would read waiting for the grand finale of events, but rather it is literary prose—almost poetry to be savored for the words. A very different but enjoyable read for me, and I hope for you.




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Hillbilly Elegy
J.D. Vance This book was not what I expected, but I see why so many people are reading it and passing it on to others. Vance’s comments about the cultures of Appalachia and the rust belt towns are thought-provoking, but his descriptions of his family and the impact they had on him are what really help me understand the Trump voters more than anything else has.

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Through a Glass, Darkly
Donna Leon

I adore all of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries, set in Venice and showing the city that tourists don’t get to see. This one is particularly interesting if you watched the reality show “Blown Away” that pits glass artists against each other, allowing viewers to watch the teams’ ballets before the extraordinarily hot furnaces. Through a Glass, Darkly is centered around a death in a glass factory in Murano, the island outside Venice where fine glass has been made for centuries.

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A Reliable Wife
Robert Goolrick

The year is 1907, a snowy day in a small Wisconsin town. A man waits at the train stop for the bride he arranged for by advertising in newspapers. You think you know where this is going: a simple story of learning to be together in hard circumstances. But then something very surprising is revealed. OK, you adjust your thinking and expect a somewhat different story. But then another surprise… After a while you start looking around corners and sometimes see one coming, but you’ll never anticipate them all. The end is satisfying while being far from usual. As the author keeps telling us: “such things happen.”



Someone at a Distance
Dorothy Whipple

This book has changed the way I react to a writer’s characters. It isn’t very often at all that I‘m able to slip into the skin of a character, let alone have it feel like slipping my foot into a long-used leather shoe. Odd little pressure points where it doesn’t feel quite right (where you just know it’s going to chafe into a blister), or the relief and ease of a snug perfect fit. Whipple has the gift of peopling her story with living breathing characters you, the reader, are absolutely comfortable with, even as you’re aware of their flaws. No hard glittering edges, or cardboard cut-outs, just smooth polished ‘real’ people. I wasn’t surprised to find Flaubert’s Madame Bovary mentioned both in the preface, and in the novel itself, as the standard of comparison in creating these characters. Here’s an opportunity to settle in with some really fine writing, as we descend into the coming Winter months.



Fox in the Attic
Richard Hughes

This is the first of three volumes of Hughes’ projected, “The Human Predicament.” Sadly, he died before finishing the third book. That doesn’t at all detract from the superb recreation of the inter-war years Hughes brings to life. It’s the story of a young English man, a survivor of the fierce fighting of WWI, with an extended family who were on the opposing German side of the conflict. Rarely have I read a more realistic and sensitive description of the differences these two groups are confronted with, and the difficulty one might encounter, as you try to move back and forth between the two nationalities.



The Wooden Shepherdess
Richard Hughes

This is the second volume of the projected “The Human Predicament” series Augustine, the main character, has moved to prohibition America, and tries to negotiate the bewildering American attitude towards life, as opposed to the more restrictive European model. He returns to Germany, and there follows the Nazis coming to power. This little bit of history is worth reading the book for: Beerhall Putsch, power struggles between Hitler’s SS and Rohm’s SA; of which I knew little. A great story, some interesting history, and a lot to think about. You might consider this two volume treasure.


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

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