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Jen Jen

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When Things Fall Apart

Pema Chodron

I’d heard of Pema Chodron, a well-known American Buddhist nun, before. We’ve carried her books and I’ve been interested in reading one, but just never got around to it. Recently, this book hit the bestseller list, despite being 20 plus years old, and I ordered three copies for our Bestseller bookcase. When the books arrived, someone other than me shelved them, unaware they were on the bestseller list. I spotted them the next day in Spirituality and moved them to Bestsellers. The next day, they were back in Spirituality. I think I might have heard the Universe clear its throat. As I moved the books back to Bestsellers again, I opened a copy to the Table of Contents and the name of the first chapter grabbed my attention. I’ve been reading one chapter per day. The chapters are short, gentle, and uplifting. It’s no wonder it became a bestseller again during a pandemic. I’m sad that I only have one chapter left to go, but! I came across her latest book, Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World, so I have that to look forward to when I finish When Things Fall Apart.

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The Searcher
Tana French

My absolute favorite mystery writer is Tana French and she has a new book coming this fall! It’s called The Searcher. As usual, the book is set in Ireland. This is a stand-alone, not part of the Dublin Murder Squad series. It features an American retired (early) cop named Cal Hooper who has moved to a run-down house in Ireland after his marriage fell apart and he was increasingly uncomfortable with the police department. The house, and the book, are set in a small town filled with wonderful characters. One of my favorites is Cal’s next door neighbor Mart, an older bachelor who is often the self-appointed social director of the town. As Cal is working on his house, a kid named Trey starts coming around. Trey is from a poor family with a not-so-great reputation. Despite Cal not wanting anyone to know he was in law enforcement, Trey comes seeking Cal’s help to find a brother gone missing. The book doesn’t come out until October, but you can pre-order it now and it’s worth the wait!!


Sally Sally  

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For Joshua: An Ojibwe Father Teaches His Son
Richard Wagamese

Unfortunately, we in the United States know little about the rich literature of Canada. In many cases, books by Canadian authors aren’t even available in the United States. A number of years ago, Milkweed Editions began bringing the work of Richard Wagamese, “one of Canada’s foremost writers, and one of the leading indigenous writers in North America” to the United States. His books Indian Horse, Medicine Walk, and Embers are beloved by our customers.

In April, For Joshua was released in the United States. The book, which is non-fiction, is a series of letters from Wagamese to his then six year old son, from whom he was estranged. It contains the teachings which an Ojiwbe father traditionally passes on to his children, and shares much about Wagamese’s life. He shares the deep sense of loneliness he felt for much of his life; the way in which he tried to numb that feeling with alcohol, with disastrous results; a long description of a Vision Quest, and much more.

Although the cosmology of the book is not my own, I found the book powerful and affecting. Those who appreciate the work of Richard Wagamese will want to read this work.

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The Kids Are Gonna Ask
Gretchen Anthony

Gretchen Anthony, author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, has done it again, with another humorous book set in Minneapolis. Fraternal twins Thomas and Savannah have been raised by their grandmother since the death of their mother in a freak accident. Their father never was in the picture, and the twins are curious about him. They’ve been doing a podcast, and decide to use that platform for their search. The search goes viral and an off-the-wall producer offers to sponsor a podcast called The Kids are Gonna Ask. Events spin out of Thomas and Savannah’s control—protests outside their home, a botched round of television appearances in New York, and the sly revenge their grandmother has on the producer. At the same time, the twins are dealing with issues around friendship and trust. The book incorporates podcast scripts and texts, giving it a contemporary feel. Their father emerges—but you’ll have to read the book! While the book is humorous, it deals with a serious issue—the desire of people to find their birth parents. And did I mention that it takes place in Minneapolis, my hometown and the center of the universe?

This book is a trade paperback original and will release on July 28.

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All Adults Here
Emma Straub

Have you been waiting for a great summer read? All Adults Here is your book! By chance, Astrid Strick witnessed a fatal school bus accident. This random occurrence brought back a memory from her days as a young mother, and she began to question the kind of parent she’d been to her three children, now adults. The book focuses on each of Astrid’s children in turn, as well as the 13 year old granddaughter who was sent to live with her. It’s a character-driven novel, and oh, those characters! They are full of foibles, and yet each one is endearing. Grab a glass of iced tea, head for the hammock, and spend some good hearted time with the Stricks.

I listened to the digital audio book on



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How to Astronaut: An Insider's Guide to Leaving Planet Earth

Terry Virts

As you know, I’m more of a Sci-Fi person than a reality guy, but I really enjoyed reading this book. Terry Virts is a former astronaut who went on two separate space missions, including 200 days on the International Space Station. One of the best features of the book is that he did not use a ghostwriter. It’s all him and he does a good job. He throws in a lot of humor along the way and that keeps it light. The book has fifty-one chapters (really essays) that cover just about everything you want to know about going into space and you can hop around reading stuff that catches your eye without losing anything. I always thought it would be cool to become an astronaut and even down-loaded the application. At that point, I had a PhD in engineering and was teaching at the University of Oklahoma. Piece of cake. Alas, the paperwork got shuffled to the side and never was submitted. I did have an opportunity to meet an Astronaut, Owen Garriott, who was from Oklahoma, when I took several students down to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Garriott had some interesting stories but Virts really lays out all the answers to everybody’s questions, including “How do you go to the bathroom in outer space?” I think just about anybody will enjoy this book and you don’t need a college degree to read it.



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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

I had sworn an oath that I would only read fiction books to wind down after my very tiring first year of college. I very quickly realized that educating myself on current events was more important than my yearning for book brain candy. This young adult reimagining of Kendi’s book, Stamped from the Beginning, explores the history of racism, from where it began to where we stand now in America. I highly recommend this book for those that are overwhelmed by the large size of Kendi’s original tome, those who are looking for a history book that isn’t just dates and names, and teenage readers looking to racially supplement the white-washed history they are likely learning about in school. 

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Claudine Rankine

This was the final (and favorite) book that I read for my U.S. Ethnic Lit course in college. It proved apropos to current racial conversions I’ve found myself having. Rankine uses breathtaking language to describe the racial slights and aggressions she, as a Black woman, is continually on the receiving end of. From the media to her friends, Rankine describes how these comments add up, causing accumulated stress. She also looks at how prominent Black female athletes Serena Williams and Zinedine Zidane respond to these racial slights and how their actions are portrayed by the media. This reads like a poetic essay and is an eye-opener to the racialized actions and reactions white people often overlook. 

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The Reckless Oath We Made
Bryn Greenwood

I loved the first book I read by this author, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, and her newest in no way disappoints. We are greeted by a colorful cast of characters, many of which narrate rotating chapters. Zee is our main character, her dead father was a criminal, her mother is an obese hoarder, and her only friend is a man named Gentry who speaks in middle English and follows the knight’s code of honor. Zee isn’t doing well in any sense of the word. She crashes on her sister’s couch and works at a diner, supplementing her income by dealing drugs. Then, life manages to get worse when Zee’s sister goes missing from her volunteer job at the prison. Zee sets out to find her, with chivalrous Gentry in tow, and ends up getting pulled into a criminal underworld that reveals secrets about the father she barely knew. 

Note: the paperback of this book, which is pictured, will be released on August 25.



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The Book of Lost Friends

Lisa Wingate

"Dear Editor, I wish to inquire for my people. My mother was named Mettie. I am the middle of 9 children and named Hannie Gosett. The others were named Hardy, Het, Pratt, Epheme, Addie, Easter, Ike and Rose. Our first owner was William Gossett of Goswood Grove Plantation. We were stolen and each sold in different places in Texas. Any information of my mother or siblings will be thankfully received."

This begins the story, set after the civil war, of Hannie as she begins a quest to find her family. This is a "rip roaring" adventure story. Every chapter ends with a cliff hanger. How will Hannie get out of this catastrophe?

One would think this is enough for one book but wait, there is a counter story, also set in the same town near the Goswood Grove Plantation. It's 1987and Bennie Silva has come to teach English in the low income school. If she puts in 5 years, her student loans will be forgiven. Nothing she tries seems to motivate the kids until she hits on the idea of researching their own history and the history of the town going back to slavery. This is an equally compelling story which you will enjoy.

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Evidence of V
Sheila O'Connor

Many of you read the book Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This was a startling story of conditions in a Tennessee orphanage. Evidence of V gets closer to home, telling us about the State School in Sauk Center, MN, where young girls were incarcerated for "immorality.” The author chooses an unusual way to tell the story, mixing fact and fiction, poetry and prose to tell the captivating story of her unknown grandmother. V was a girl sentenced to 6 years for having an unexpected pregnancy in the 1930s. The story of V's incarceration and how this trauma affects her descendants for many years to come grabs you by the heart. This is another great read by a Minnesota author. Sheila O'Connor is a professor of creative writing at Hamline University



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First Impressions
Charlie Lovett

This novel is an absolute must read for anyone who loves Jane Austen, and it’s sure to appeal to bibliophiles as well. There are two stories, told in alternating chapters. In one, Jane Austen meets an elderly gentleman who helps her in her journey toward developing her skills. The other story takes place in modern times: a young woman’s uncle nurtures her love of old books. Her story is a mystery and a love story that is ultimately integrated with Austen’s. It’s great fun.

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Shakespeare for Squirrels
Christopher Moore

The rascal Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze is skilled with knives, acrobatics, and prodigious creative cursing (not for the easily offended). He and his simple, gigantic apprentice Drool wash up on the shores of Athens, and encounter Cobweb, a fairy straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pocket and Drool were first introduced to us in Fool, a retelling of King Lear, and Serpent of Venice. However, it’s in the magic forest, with Puck and Bottom and all of the crazy Midnight characters, where Pocket is among his kind. The plot is dizzying, and the new slants on old friends are inventive. And then there are those squirrels…

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The Need
Helen Phillips

Molly, a paleobotanist, has been noticing some strange phenomena. She thinks she hears footsteps inside her home one late night. Is it her imagination? She has to protect her two small children; her husband has a gig in Europe so she’s on her own. Cue the Twilight Zone theme music. However, in Twilight Zone the grand climax that reveals the ironic secret comes at the end. In The Need, the reveal happens rather early in the book so the implications of the discovery are explored in fascinating depth. This book garnered extensive praise. I add mine.




Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City
Kate Winkler Dawson

I became interested in the Great London Smog of December 1952 while watching a documentary about post-war England, so this true crime story caught my eye. I’ve always enjoyed learning about weather and the parallel story of a serial killer was intriguing to me. Dawson weaves the dark story of a serial killer and an environmental disaster smoothly. While reading, I became emotionally impacted by the events. These events had a lasting impact on both the justice system and the Ministry of Housing. In 1956, a Clean Air Act was enacted by the British government and in 1965 the death penalty was abolished.

Reading this during the DOVID 19 pandemic and the social unrest following the killing of George Floyd by the police was an uncanny and unsettling coincidence.



The Children’s Blizzard
David Laskin

On January 12, 1888, many settlers on the northern plains were caught in one of the nation’s worst blizzards. Many children lost their lives to the cold. David Laskin did an enormous amount of research to bring this story to life. He documents the journeys of many settlers from Europe who were trying to better themselves. Many left behind persecution and famine. Laskin also introduces us to the United States Signal Corps, which monitors the weather. This early weather forecasting unit had many hurdles to overcome and the Blizzard of 1888 brought those to the front.

I enjoyed how Laskin paralleled the lives of those affected by the weather with the meteorological events which took place.




This is What America Looks Like
Ilhan Omar

Due to Ilhan Omar’s notoriety, I felt obliged to read her short biography, hoping that I might gain a better understanding of who she is and what her political views are. What I got was a compelling story of an eight-year old girl living a normal life in Somalia. Overnight her world suddenly plunged from normal into the chaos of war. Her family fled from her native town, to Mogadishu, then to Kenya, and finally to Minnesota, losing family and friends along the way. This series of traumatic events would have ravaged the sensibilities of anyone. Immigration is tough under the best of circumstances. New home, new language, new customs, and now throw into the mix racial and religious intolerance. But anyone who knows anything about immigrants knows they are resilient, focused, hard-working, and desirous of becoming respected, valued, and contributing members in their new communities. Ilhan is that rare individual who is determined to an exceptional degree. She worked her way through High School and College, where she became politically active, becoming effective enough that those who surrounded her recognized what she has to offer American Politics, ultimately suggesting she run for office herself. Most anyone would recognize we need political leaders who have clear moral and ethical dedication to Democratic Values at present. If you are at all interested in what a positive political consciousness looks like, and where it might lead, give this woman a chance… just listen to what she has to say and then make up your own mind.



Dombey and Son
Charles Dickens

Dickens is a writer who NEVER disappoints, and that’s saying a lot, because he wrote so much. Over the course of his long writing career, England and English society changed in ways that presented Dickens with a wealth of material, enough material that he was compelled to comment on what he saw around him. That’s one side of the story certainly, but another might be he had a reading audience uniquely suited/interested/ravenous for his clever, entertaining stories, but more importantly, his ability to illustrate the social conditions that his readers were experiencing and frantically trying to make sense of. Dombey and Son, one of Dickens’ middle novels, was written when Dickens was at the peak of his popularity and skill. It straddles squarely the gender politics of mid-nineteenth century England and introduces one of Dickens most complex characters, Edith. Reading it now in 2020, nearly two hundred years later, I’m startled to discover what has and what hasn’t changed. In light of present events having to do with gender politics and economic political disenfranchisement, Dombey and Son remains painfully relevant.



The Satanic Verses
Salman Rushdie

You may remember that Salman Rushdie was forced into nearly a decade of ‘protective hiding’ for having written this book. As I began to read it, I very consciously tried to remain as objective as I could, knowing that there was a huge controversy looming in the background, and that controversy might influence my experience of the book. For that reason, too, I read The Satanic Verses after having read three of Rushdie’s other books, so as to have a prior experience of his narrative style. On some level I failed (well, how was I able to come to it perfectly uninfluenced?), but on another level “fore-armed”, I was more attentive and primed to be critically aware, and this proved a great success. My experience of Rushdie is that he is a rare genius of global scope and skill… I’m not being hyperbolic! He moves freely among: Theologies, Mythologies, Linguistics, History and Literature, but perhaps most important is his awareness of Human Frailty (his own included). How many of us read searching for wisdom? I read for several reasons, some of which I would be embarrassed to confide in you. I don’t mean books on “How to Build a Deck”, or “How to Cook Korean”. I mean authors whose perspective we come to value, and whose stories we enter, in an effort to advance our understanding of Life. Salman Rushdie, is for me a very human mentor, not completely understood, but I know that if I read carefully I always come away ‘better’. Modern Humanism is open and insistent on change (in its best sense), subject to human frailty certainly, but always mindful of the goal. It’s no wonder this book provoked such viciousness from modern-day Forces of Inquisition.



Guest Review by Elaine


A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings
Helen Jukes

Helen Jukes begins her memoir by describing the stress she feels at work, the new apartment that doesn’t quite seem like home and her desire to reconnect with the natural world. She has occasionally been shadowing Luke, a beekeeper, and thinks getting a beehive of her own might lessen the disquiet she feels. A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings is subtitled “A Year of Keeping Bees.” Each chapter recounts one month of Helen’s journey to becoming a beekeeper, her exploration of the history of beekeeping and her growing sense of a different kind of perception from this experience.

Although we can learn about bees from this factual book, it is never pedantic. Helen Jukes draws us in with her clear writing style and factual information but we also see her growth as a person. In our own stressful time, Helen Jukes has given us a gift. We don’t have to have a beehive but we can sit in a lawn chair and savor the life of the bees, the complexities of a hive, the calming beauty of nature, and the journey of self-discovery just by reading this lovely book.



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

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