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Jen Jen

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The Sword in the Stone and
The Witch in the Wood
T.H. White

Since the beginning of 2021, my husband Tom and I have been on a tear listening to audiobooks.

book coverWe started with The Sword in the Stone, followed by The Witch in the Wood. As much as we love “The Wart” and Merlin, our hands-down favorite character is King Pellinore. We especially love his endearing habit of randomly injecting the word “what” into his speech. This series of books was narrated by British actor Neville Jason, who is a treat to listen to.

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The Fellowship of the Rings and
The Two Towers
J.R.R Tolkien

After finishing The Witch in the Wood, we decided to switch to Tolkien. We started with The Hobbit (which made us realize, “WOW Hollywood really took great license in the movie trilogy of The Hobbit.”) book coverWe then moved on to The Fellowship of the Rings and are now enjoying The Two Towers. Like the White books, this series has a terrific narrator in Rob Inglis. In particular, there is a LOT of singing in these Tolkien books and Inglis’s singing is enjoyable to listen to.

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John Banville

While I listen to audio books in the evenings with Tom, I also like to listen when working in the bindery. I listened to Snow, a mystery by Irish author John Banville. The story is set in 1957, when an inspector is called to the scene of the crime. A parish priest has been murdered in Ballyglass House, owned by a wealthy family. Both the story and the narration are top-notch (especially if you like listening to an Irish reader.) The characters are well-developed, interesting, and not always all that likeable. The story is a bit gritty at times, so fair warning to the faint-of-heart.

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The Firekeeper’s Daughter
Angeline Boulley

Right now, I’m listening to this young adult coming of age/mystery about a young Anishinaabe woman who goes undercover to help investigate some local deaths, tied to drug activity. My daughter Megan and my mom Sally have also been reading (actually Megan is done and recently said to me HURRY UP MOM SO WE CAN TALK) which has been fun. All three of us agree that the story is slow in the beginning, and then holy smokes does it get interesting. The book is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but feels very familiar, as though it could be Minnesota (and Minnesota is periodically mentioned in the book.) I’m learning a fair bit about Anishinaabe culture while intrigued by the investigation happening in the story.

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Everything Sad is Untrue
Daniel Nayeri

Most of my print reading has been devoted to poetry lately (see the poetry column.) I recently read Everything Sad is Untrue because our Beagle women’s book group chose it for the March discussion. I’d previously listened to the audiobook (and we promoted that title at Night-In) and I decided to do the print version this time for a different reading. However, Nayeri reads the audio book and I already had his voice in my head, so I’m not sure I can honestly say I got a different reading of it the second time, but since I *LOVE* the book, I’m not complaining! The author joined us on Zoom for book group and was charming. I very much hope to meet him in person one day!


Sally Sally

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The Seed Keeper

Diane Wilson

After the death of her husband John, Rosalie Iron Wing left their farm and drove two hours north, to the cabin where she and her father lived until she was twelve. She was on a pilgrimage which she couldn’t articulate, but it was a journey home to her family and the ways of her people, the Dakota, and finally, a healing journey home to herself.

Rosalie’s father died of a heart attack when she was twelve. The welfare system snatched her up, declaring her a child without a family. She endured a series of painful placements in foster families, cut off from all that nurtured her as a child, never fitting in at school and making only one friend, Gaby Makespeace, another Native girl.

At 18, Rosalie married John. She added his name, Meister, to hers, unwilling to give up the name that was all that remained to her of her family. The two worked the family farm and had a child. Rosalie became increasingly concerned about what their agricultural practices were doing to the land and, eventually, to her husband.

When she left the farm and sought out her childhood home, Rosalie was surrounded by memories, by questions, and by a different rhythm of life. She reconnected with forgotten neighbors and family and took her place among them. This beautiful book, weaving history and fiction, tells the story of Dakota women who protected seeds for the future of their people. It tells of strong women who cared for the seeds, their children, their land, and their way of life. And it tells the story of one particular woman, Rosalie Iron Wing, and her journey to reclaim her heritage as a seed keeper.

Note: this book was released March 9, and completely sold out by the end of the week. It’s being reprinted and friends, it’s worth waiting for!

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Jackie Polzin,

Before my time, my paternal grandparents raised chickens in southeast Minneapolis, just a few miles from the chicken coop in Brood. My grandparents were poor immigrants struggling just to survive. They needed their chickens, the eggs they produced, and their large garden to feed themselves and their four children. They didn’t, to my knowledge, engage in the reflection that the narrator of Brood does.

And it’s this reflection that makes Brood such a captivating and original book.

The narrator, who is not named, is a young woman who—spoiler alert—recently had a miscarriage. (It’s not much of a spoiler, as this information is shared early in the book.)

The book takes place over a year, and it’s a year filled with challenges for a young woman trying to keep a brood of chickens—Gloria, Gam Gam, Darkness, and Miss Hennepin County—alive. Sub-zero temperatures in the winter, heat in the summer, predators, and the narrator’s own lack of information and experience raising chickens make the chickens’ lives perilous.

And the young woman broods on it all. Her husband (think Malcolm Gladwell) has interviewed for a faculty position at a prestigious university in another part of the country. If he receives a job offer, it will require a move, and the chickens can’t move with them. Neighbors, the narrator’s indomitable mother, her best friend, a realtor with one young child and another on the way, and memories of the husband’s former girlfriend populate her world and her reflections. Her observations are unique, insightful, and, despite everything, hopeful.

You don’t want to miss this lovely book!

I wonder if my grandmother named her chickens?

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The Most Fun We Ever Had
Claire Lombardo

We all seem to know a family that seems perfect from the outside. Great parents, solid and loving marriage, attractive and lively children. They may live down the block or perhaps go to your church or are in organizations you belong to. This wonderful book is the inside story of that family, and the reality is way more nuanced that you may have guessed. Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fell in love in the 70s, and the book follows their lives for nearly 50 years. Years that included medical school, four daughters, joy and laughter, loss, and the hard work required in a long term marriage. It’s a sprawling, messy delight of a read!

Strange things happened in publishing during the pandemic. For example, the publication of this book was delayed a whole year. We’re glad that we’ll have it in the store on April 6, and can press it into your hands!


As I looked back over the books I’ve read recently, I noticed for the first time how many of them were religious books—and then realized it’s been the season of Lent! These weren’t my mother’s Lenten readings, however!

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Dusk Night Dawn
Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. Her writing about life with self-deprecation, humor, deep faith, and honesty is absolutely singular. Dusk Night Dawn contains stories designed to renew the reader’s spirit and call forth courage in this difficult time. Jen and I recently participated in a webinar with Lamott and were greatly amused when she referred to Zoom as an Advent calendar. That’s typical of her fresh observations. I highly recommend all of her books.

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Freeing Jesus
Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass’ website says, “Diana’s passion is sharing great ideas to change lives and the world—a passion that ranges from informing the public about spiritual trends, challenging conventional narratives about religious practice, entering the fray of social media with spiritual wisdom and smart theology, and writing books to help readers see themselves, their place in history, and God differently. She does this with intelligence, joy, and a good dose of humor…” In Freeing Jesus, she explores the different ways she has experienced Jesus across her lifetime: as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, Presence. Her experiences will resonate with many, whether or not they are still part of a church.

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Love is the Way
Bishop Michael Curry

Love is the Way is the book United Methodist churches across Minnesota are using for a Lenten study. It’s written by Bishop Michael Curry, whom many people learned about when he preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Curry, an Episcopalian bishop, reflects on many events from his life, from his mother’s death when he was a child to the Civil Rights Movement to his involvement in opening the doors of his denomination to welcome LGBTQ clergy. Through it all, he declares that love is the way forward. He writes with great warmth and humanity while gently prodding the reader.




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Crossing to Safety
Wallace Stegner

The friendship between The Langs and the Morgans begins during the Depression. Sid Lang and Larry Morgan are beginning their careers in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. They and their wives, Charity and Sally, become fast friends. Crossing to Safety follows their lives and friendship over the years, through times of success and times of great hardship. It is a beautifully written story about marriage and family as well as friendships that endure despite individual quirks and flaws. Stegner’s descriptions of the characters and events are both skillful and perceptive. Written in 1987, Crossing to Safety has been on my reading list for quite a while. I was not disappointed.




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Mercury Rising
Jeff Shesol

I’ve always been a fan of the U. S. space program (actually all space programs), so was eager to read this account of how the program developed in the 1960’s. The book basically covers the beginning portion of that era and sees much of it through the eyes of John Glenn, one of the original 7 astronauts and the first American to orbit the earth. I recall, as a young teen during this time, being convinced that the USA would take on the challenge of Sputnik and show the Russians we could do this too, and more. What this book did was open the eyes of that naïve kid to the problems in trying to address the challenge. Things like monetary support, politics (neither Eisenhower NOR Kennedy initially had interest in a space program), and astronaut machismo. The book does a great job pulling together all the things that affected the NASA program and its ultimate success. If you are from this era (or maybe even younger) I think you’ll find this book a well-written good read.

Note: this book will be released June 1, just in time for Father’s Day. It may be preordered now.



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Summer Before the War
Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Simonson was a big hit with book clubs. She has another winner with Summer Before the War. It’s set in East Sussex in 1914, when the new Latin master comes to town. book coverShe is a woman and far more attractive than anyone believes a teacher should be. The townspeople pass an idyllic summer but as fall approaches, the guns of war in Europe become louder and louder. Class snobbery is not so important anymore and love is found in unexpected places. The Washington Post says this is a novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal!

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The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories
Hazel Rumney, editor

This is a collection of stories about pioneer women, each written by a different author. Two authors I recognized were Candace Simar, a Minnesota author who has written a series about the Dakota Wars in Minnesota and Sandra Dallas, who has a quilt series set in the early days. The stories in the book vary from westerns to drama to romance. They show that while women may have lacked brawn, they had an abundance of spirit and brains. There is something for evCandace Simar at Beagle and Wolferyone in The Spoilt Quilt.






Candace Simar at an event at Sister Wolf Books.

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The Library of Lost and Found
Phaedra Patrick

I gravitate to books with library or bookstore in their titles. Plus, this author wrote The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which was a favorite of many. book coverThis book did not disappoint. Martha gave up her first love to take care of her aging parents and also found herself "doing" for others until her house was full of projects. When a strange book of fairytales was delivered to her, she found her life turned upside down. This is a great addition to the popular genre of transformative stories in otherwise uneventful lives.

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Last Bus to Wisdom
Ivan Doig

My winter reading has been off and on, with some titles right on and more off. So, I decided to go back to an old familiar author. I felt like I was coming home. No reading 50 pages to see if the book is worth it. Only a couple of pages and I was drawn into Donal's (without a D on the end) story. He lives with his grams on a ranch in Montana. Grams needs an operation, so Donal is to ride the dog bus (Greyhound) to Wisconsin to stay with great aunt Kate. Thus begin more mishaps and adventures than you can imagine. Thanks, Mr. Doig, for another great and unforgettable book.



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The Word Is Murder

Anthony Horowitz

Wheels within wheels. Anthony Horowitz  himself is the protagonist in this novel. He makes reference to actual books and films he’s written, including popular murder mysteries, the PBS series Foyle’s War, and the bestselling Alex Rider book series for young adults. In The Word Is Murder he’s approached in his London home by a rather off-putting former police detective who has done consulting work for his productions. The ex-cop wants Horowitz to follow him as he solves a murder and write a book about it, for 50% of the royalties. The result is, well, unusual. The tone of this entertaining book reminds me a bit of the movie Knives Out. Go along for the ride.

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When We Were Vikings
Andrew David MacDonald

This is a hard-to-put-down novel written from the point of view of Zelda, who is obsessed with Vikings. Oh, it’s so difficult not to bring spoilers! I loved gradually discovering what was happening at the beginning of the novel. This would make a great movie. I wish Jennifer Lawrence were young enough to play Zelda. No, Zelda is very small, maybe five feet tall. Well, since I’m dreaming I’ll go for a small, young Jennifer Lawrence. Or maybe Anya Taylor-Joy. Her brother would be easy to cast… but difficult to portray with all his complexity. Maybe a young Bruce Willis? Brad Pitt? And a young Adam Sandler for her boyfriend? After Uncut Gems we know he can portray pain as well as comedy. This is a deceptively serious book, funny and easy to read as it is.

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Phineas Finn and
Phineas Redux

Anthony Trollope

I haven’t been commenting on all of the Trollope novels I’ve been reading. It would be redundant, and I know that these books are not to everyone’s taste. But I have to say a word about Phineas Finn because Phineas stands high in the canon of my literary fantasy men. He’s not Darcy nor Mr. Knightly, but oh! what a guy.

book coverThe Palliser novels are full of politics that help put today’s craziness in some perspective. One of the debates in Phineas Redux, for example, is about whether to put loyalty to the Prime Minister, and the party he dominates, over measures or policies that a man believes in. Yes, a man: another theme of these books is how intelligent women try to play a role without a vote or the ability to hold office.

But the reason these two books stand out to me in the series of six is Phineas. He’s a nobody, an Irishman who moves to the big city to study law and gets caught up in a heady social and political world. He is handsome but not vain; charming but naturally so. He’s intelligent but not brilliant. He speaks well. He rides to the hunt impressively. He makes mistakes and sometimes is rash, but he tries to do the right thing at all times. Near the end of Redux Trollope defines manliness in a very interesting way. There are attributes you expect like bravery and tenderness, but his main criteria is lack of affectation. Phineas is authentic to his bones. In the context of Victorian England, he is manliness personified.

Phineas Finn came out in 1869. The next book in the Palliser series isn’t about him (and it’s the weakest of the series if you ask me.) Phineas Redux wasn’t published until 1874. What a long time readers had to wait!

A caveat: Trollope does not rise above the prejudices of his time in his description of a non-Christian character.




The Betrayals
Bridget Collins

When I began college at Moorhead State College in the early 1970's, everyone was transfixed by the novels of Herman Hesse. One of his most interesting and cryptic novels was The Glass Bead GameThe Betrayals, is a sort of riff on Hesse's theme... an exclusive private school, nestled high in the forested mountains, a little like Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books. The school's focus is a national game they call the Grand jeu, literally, "The Great Game.” The nation where this school is located is in the grip of a sinister government that is trying to influence the heretofore independent thought and liberal nature, that has always been the bedrock of the game. I don't want to tell you too much about it, but this is one of those rare books that will yield more and more questions and possibilities for the reader as the story develops. The book doesn't come out until May, so you have plenty of time to pre-order a work that will be one of next year's most talked about books.

Note: the book will be released May 18 and is available now to preorder.



Guest Reviewer




The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Dawnie Walton

This is a wonderful debut novel, although author Dawnie Walton has years of experience as a writer and editor, all of which lends authority to this fictional narrative about Opal & Nev and their music.
Interviews and commentary drive the story of the rise in the 1970s of a musical duo that flamed out wildly; their divergent paths in the following years; and the push toward a revival concert in 2016.
Because of the subject matter and the presentation as an oral history, this book will inevitably be compared to Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I loved Daisy Jones, but I think this one is better. Maybe. Perhaps. But they are both great. Perhaps the difference may hang on the fact that Opal is black and Nev is white, which adds a dimension that is critical to this book.
And a bonus: There is an Opal & Nev Playlist on Spotify. It was put together by the author as “Music that inspired The Final Revival of Opal & Nev


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

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