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Jen Jen

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The Bookseller of Florence, Ross King

I like food, but I’m not much interested in the process from farm to plate. I don’t cook very much, so I don’t know spices or the best cuts. (Thank goodness I married a chef who takes pity on me.) I can’t say the same for books and reading. I want to know about paper, font, binding, and all the nerdy things that go into creating the physical book. I’m interested in the history of paper, scrolls, printing presses. So, The Bookseller of Florence by Ross King is perfect for me. (I’m not alone in my nerdery. See Tim’s review of this book in the May 2021 newsletter). This is a biography of Vespasiano da Bisticci, a “bookseller” of the 1400s in Florence. In addition to the life and work of da Bisticci, the author gives a fascinating history of how books were made, the writings of the day, a lot of name dropping, and a real flavor for life in the 1400s. book coverI’m listening to the audio book, which is fantastic. It’s read by the stellar narrator James Cameron Stewart, but I just HAD to see it in print. I discovered there are wonderful illustrations in the print edition, so now I have the hardcover on order.

When I first started listening, I noticed there seemed to be no mention of women. I’m glad I didn’t stop because there were, in fact, women involved in bookmaking, particularly, no surprise, nuns. If you’re interested in some good Renaissance history, give this book a look.

Note: The audio book will be vailable July 6.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
John Le Carre

Despite being a fan of the mystery/thriller genre, I had never read a book by Le Carre. This novel was inspired by and based on the real-life British spy Kim Philby, who was a double agent for the Soviet Union. The protagonist is George Smiley, a forced-to-retire agent. Aside from his career, Smiley’s marriage is not going well. The organization for which Smiley was an agent, known as “the Circus,” is on the hunt for a mole in the organization. Smiley, who may have been forced to physically retire but has not retired his spy skills, is on the hunt for the mole. Le Carre gives the reader a number of characters to keep track of. One of my favorites is Jim Prideaux, another retired agent who, after being injured on the job has taken a teaching job at a boys’ boarding school. This book is the first in a trilogy and I’m planning to move on to book #2 next!

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The Dark Planet
Patrick Carman

This is it, the last book in the Atherton series that my husband Tom and I have been listening to. The survivors of Atherton have settled into their new normal. Edgar is restless, of course, and seeks to find ways to replace the climbing he did before the collapse of the Highlands. He discovers a way to gain access to………the dark planet (AKA Earth). Also, more is revealed about the creation of Atheron, its creator, and Edgar’s history. The story centers around Edgar, Isabel, and Samuel, who have maintained a tight trio of friendship. In addition to chasing after Edgar, Isabel and Samuel have their own adventures.

Note: the Atherton books are out of print, but the audio books are still available.


Sally Sally

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Vegetable Simple
Eric Ripert

A cupboard in my kitchen is bursting with cookbooks. I do not need another cookbook. And yet, I couldn’t help getting one, a beautiful book titled Vegetable Simple. Each recipe is accompanied with a full page photograph of mouth-watering food. And, as the titles promises, the recipes are simple. Grated carrot salad is simply grated carrots with a simple vinaigrette. Not a raisin in sight. For the most part, both the ingredients and the utensils are readily available, if not already in my kitchen. In Park Rapids, the Farmers Market opened Memorial Day weekend. I’m looking forward to a summer of fresh produce, prepared in fresh ways. And time spent perusing the pages of my newest cookbook! I can’t wait until tomatoes come in!

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The Hummingbird’s Gift
Sy Montgomery

Our feeding station is right outside our back porch, and it’s loaded with tempting treats for a variety of birds. This spring, the hummingbirds have preferred the red flowers in a hanging basket to the nectar at the feeding station. No matter—we love watching these small birds. Sy Montgomery does, too. The Hummingbird’s Gift resulted from her experience shadowing the work of Brenda Sherburn, a hummingbird whisperer who nurses, rehabilitates, and releases these tiny creatures. I listened to the book on, but I’m on the hunt for the print book, which I understand has sixteen pages of incredible photographs of these fascinating birds.

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The Way Back
Gavriel Savit

I’ve never outgrown my childhood love of fairy tales. This book, based on stories from Jewish folklore, is a fantasy about Yehuda and Bluma and their journey through the Far Country, the Jewish land of the dead. It’s full of danger, mysterious happenings, and strange characters. And, as is often true in stories of quests, they return home forever changed by their experiences. This is a book for adults and young adults. I listened to the book on, and the narrator had the perfect voice for the story.

book coverSavit is also the author of Anna and the Swallow Man, which members of the Sister Wolf Book Group read and enjoyed a few years ago.






Miss Benson’s Beetle
Rachel Joyce

When Margery Benson was ten years old, her father opened a book called Incredible Creatures and showed her a picture of the golden beetle of New Caledonia. This seemingly insignificant moment ends up being life-changing. Years later, Margery finds herself unhappy with her job as a middle-aged school teacher and dissatisfied with life in general. So, she decides to leave it all behind and go to New Caledonia in search of the golden beetle. Margery hires an assistant, Enid Pretty, to accompany her. Together they face hardships, danger, and unexpected twists and turns. In addition, wackiness ensues as the journey progresses. Though Margery and Enid could hardly be more different, they become friends who would do anything for each other. Miss Benson’s Beetle is a tribute to their dedication and the unlikely friendships that unexpectedly enrich our lives.

Note: the Sister Wolf Book Group will discuss this book September 1.




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The Wager
Kerry Casey

A little while ago, Sally asked me if I would like to review a book on golf. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m almost the world’s worst golfer.” She asked that I at least give it a look.  About a week later she said, ”You’re really cruising through it!”… and I was.

I set the book down and thought, what is the draw here? I suppose I am a hopeless romantic, I tend to root for the fellow/team that is the underdog, I like a hero, I like it when I learn something new, I like a familiar setting, i.e. Minnesota, and it’s good when obstacles are thrown in my path and I (or the book’s hero) figures out how to get around them. This book has all of these. It begins with a down-on-his-luck greenskeeper (former golf analyst) giving a putting lesson to the number 2 women’s LPGA golfer (a scenario that seems highly unlikely.) We move on to a celebration party where our hero, quite in-the-bag, sends a text to a rather lofty men’s PGA player betting him big money he could beat him in a round of golf. So there you have it …and I couldn’t put the book down. Even if you are not a golfer, I think you will find the book enjoyable and an easy read.




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Madeline Miller

Circe retells a Greek myth that recounts the life of the nymph Circe as she lives out her exile on the island Aiaia. Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, but she lacks in his immense powers because her mother is a nymph. Circe lives out her younger years feeling inferior to everyone in her family until she discovers her ability to use magic—something even the great gods on Olympus fear. Because of her unrepentant attitude towards her use of magic, she is exiled to an island where she will live out eternity without the possibility of leaving. Luckily, the stipulations of her exile fail to mention that others cannot visit her island. Much of the book is tales of Circe’s interactions as some of the greatest names in Greek mythology arrive on her island for various reasons, two of the biggest being Odysseus and Hermes. Although it helps to have a background in Greek mythology, it is certainly not required to enjoy this book as Miller does a wonderful job of introducing each character and weaving in their backstory. If you want an unconventional summer read with a great story, Circe is the novel for you. 

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Firekeeper’s Daughter
Angeline Boulley

Daunis is at a pivotal time in her life--it is the summer before she is supposed to start college, but her single mother is still reeling from family tragedy. Daunis decides to stay close to home and things seem to be settling down, she even has a potential love interest who is new to town. All is shattered when Daunis witnesses a murder and questions about drug activity are raised. This mystery with an Ojibwe protagonist and mostly Native cast of characters was so refreshing to read and opened my eyes to a number of Ojibwe cultural practices. I liked it so much that I even enjoyed the fact that hockey was a key element to the plot, even though I tend to avoid books that focus on sports! This book is perfect for older teenage readers as well as adults of all ages. I was lucky enough to tune in to Boulley’s conversation with the Sister Wolf book group; I am thrilled about the support this author was given creatively by her publisher and excited to read what she writes next in collaboration with them. 



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The Exiles
Christina Baker Kline

The Exiles is a story of redemption and freedom born from unbelievable hardships, plus the unbreakable bonds of female friendship. Evangeline is accused of stealing a ruby ring from the stepmother of the man who seduced her. She is sent to Newgate prison and then is put on a ship to Australia to finish her prison sentence. Evangeline finds a friend on the ship named Hazel, who stole a silver spoon. The third exile is a native that has been torn from her home to live with the governor of the colony. The three women touch each other lives in unbelievable ways.

book coverThough very different from Kline's Orphan Train, I believe The Exiles will be as big a bestseller and as popular.

Note: see Events tor information about an upcoming virtual Christina Baker Kline event.

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Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler has retold Shakespeare's tale, The Taming of the Shrew. 29 year-old Kate takes care of her eccentric scientist father and her 14 year-old sister. All of her friends are married or have moved away. Her father, Dr. Battista, has a problem. His young assistant is nearing the end of his Visa and the doctor needs him to finish their research. Dr. Batista hatches an outrageous plan and begs Kate to help him. She is furious but will she be able to resist? This is a humorous story you can read in a day or two.


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I Owe You One
Sophie Kinsella

Fixie Farr is always helping others with their problems, thus the nickname Fixie. One day she is in a coffee shop when a handsome stranger asks her to watch his laptop while he steps out. Suddenly the ceiling starts to fall. Fixie is able to save the laptop before disaster hits. Sebastian, the owner of the laptop, writes an IOU to Fixie on the coffee cup sleeve. She doesn't think she'll ever claim it but then circumstances change. Kinsella is best known for her Shopaholic series but also has a number of stand alone titles. This book is a great light summer read.

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This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger

William Kent Krueger is a household name among Minnesota writers and especially Minnesota mystery readers. He has written a series of mysteries set in northern Minnesota. His protagonist is Cork O'Connor. 

This Tender Land is not in the series but a stand alone book. Odie and Albert are white orphans who have been put in an Indian training school. It's the worst of the worst. They are able to get away taking with them Moses, a native American boy who is mute, and 8 year-old Emmie, who has just lost her mother in a tornado. The "vagabonds" go down the river by canoe, hoping to find Aunt Julia in St. Louis. Reminiscent of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, they have one catastrophe after another. They manage to keep ahead of the Black Witch, the superintendent of the school, who is claiming they have kidnapped Emmie. As they travel, the friends learn much about themselves, including that when you have nothing, there is always a way you can help someone else in need. An exciting "can't put it down" story that I enjoyed immensely.

Note: William Kent Krueger will be in the store September 4, signing copies of his new book. Lightning Strike.



When is a novel not a novel?
I’m all about novels, not short stories. However, some authors find ways to combine the genres, writing short stories that would stand alone but are interwoven into a novel. Here are three I’ve recently enjoyed.

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Charcoal Joe
Walter Mosley

Mosley has been writing Easy Rawlins mysteries since Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. Charcoal Joe is a new character, but this book includes many of Easy’s friends and associates from the decades of books that came before. Each chapter features one or more of them, and sometimes the relevance to the larger novel seems a bit marginal. However, you don’t mind because such chapters form satisfying stories. Mosley has an exceptional ability to bring a character to life with succinct, colorful prose. I found the plot hard to wrap my mind around: I think I would need to reread this book to completely follow it. But no regrets! As The Washington Post blurb on the cover says, “You don’t hop in the car with Easy Rawlins for the destination. You ride shotgun for the trip.”

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Olive, Again
Elizabeth Strout

book coverI haven’t read the original, Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge. (But I rushed out and bought a copy after reading Olive Again.) I wish I’d read them in the right order, but I wasn’t in any way confused: the new book works on its own.

The chapters are even more individual stories than Mosley’s are. They’re only unified by the small-town Maine location and that Olive appears somewhere in each. Sometimes she’s the protagonist, sometimes she just waves at the protagonist. Actually, there’s a third unifying element: the profound, empathetic way the many characters are presented.

At first I saw Olive as inept, and found that relatable. I even felt some smugness as she seemed more inept than I am. But then she showed that her abrupt manner in some cases was extremely helpful to others. Because the book is written from different points of view, it’s clear that different people relate to her differently. Some like her, some do not. The novel takes her through the last decades of her life. It ends with a kind of a mystery, one I did not expect.

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Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan

Rereading this came to mind because of a recent documentary about Amy Tan. Joy Luck Club tells the stories of four Chinese immigrant women and their Americanized daughters. The mothers play mahjong together; their club is the common element that ties eight very different stories together. This novel gives us fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into China as well as San Francisco’s Chinese community. It says a great deal about the relationships between immigrant mothers and their independent daughters. One key take-away is that generalizations about groups of people can have elements of truth but that every person’s experience is unique.

The book is much better than the movie: if you’ve seen the film don’t be dissuaded from picking up the novel.



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The Silent Patient
Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient is one of the best mystery/thrillers I have ever read. Alicia lives with her husband, Gabriel, and from an outsider's perspective, their lives seem pretty normal. Except, one night after Gabriel gets off work, Alicia shoots and kills him. After the murder of her husband, Alicia stops talking and goes silent. She doesn’t tell anybody what happened that night or explain her side of the story. After the court trial, they decided it was best to send Alicia to a psychiatric unit called the Grove. Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist, who is fascinated by Alicia’s story. When the chance to work with Alicia presented itself, Theo pranced at the opportunity. Theo is dead-set on trying to get Alicia to talk again and explain what happened. Will he be successful? Can Alicia talk? Read the book to find out! I would give this book a 10/10 because it is wonderfully written and has a great story! I would recommend this book to anyone 16 years old or older!



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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
Robert Kolker

I found this book so interesting! Kolker not only chronicles the lives of the six Galvin boys and the impacts of Schizophrenia, but also the advancements of diagnosis and treatment. I found the medical history of the mental illness intriguing as I have a personal connection with a mentally ill brother-in-law. I have background experiences which helped me understand some of the early treatments of Schizophrenia. The ending of the story highlights the impact that Schizophrenia has on the members of a family.




Richard Powers

"We humans are nature become conscious of itself."

Presently there is so much excellent writing being done, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Luckily, Sally and Jen have the booksellers gift, of putting the perfect book in your hands at the perfect time. Without any hype, they recommended Bewilderment by, Richard Powers, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner, The Overstory.

Bewilderment is an excellent, EXCELLENT book! A nerdy young professor has recently lost his wife and is now raising their 9 year old son. The boy is autistic, and is having trouble in school. The administration is pressuring, with some force (child protective services) to begin a course of psychotropic drugs, which his dad resists. The book explores the rough edges of what it means to be an aware human being, attempting to make sense of reality and life. One particular focus I found most interesting, is the very real danger of assuming knowledge is fixed, or in any way permanent. I'm not spouting Relativism here, I'm talking about Evolution as an ongoing process, to be understood as necessary. "Resistance is futile,” and likely leads to madness. An example? the bottomless catastrophe of commodity culture's exploitation of the environment... which includes people. OK, before I get too far out in the weeds here, let me just say that Bewilderment is an unexpected sourcebook of insights on: parenting, grief, science, science fiction, possible extraterrestrial life, philosophy, love... and life! Do not miss this book!

Note: this book will be released September 21 and may be preordered now.


The Ways of the World  
The Corners of the Globe
The Ends of the Earth

Robert Goddard

 I've stumbled on a popular and prolific writer, Robert Goddard. He's written 26 books, that I know of, and has converted me into an avid reader of thrillers, the James Maxted Series. The story begins at the Paris Peace Conferences in 1919. On the surface, all the governmental representatives are performing the 'diplomatic minuet of World Peace and Concord.’ But behind the public posturing and platitudes, these same governments and private interests are scheming ruthlessly for information, leverage, and territory. It's a particularly interesting period of history, with far reaching consequences, WWII being the most direct. It's a good story, excellently told, and just plain fun!


The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
Honoree Fannone Jeffers

It's not often that history grabs you by the throat and rattles you like a rag doll but The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois does exactly that! The writing of history has changed over time, at least it seems so to me. No longer the preserve of leisured gentlemen, reading in their libraries, as much for style (Gibbon, Macaulay or the Durants) and entertainment as for the events and dates, which is how most of us, as students, encountered History. Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, is more in the mold of a high-bred version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. What I refer to is, fictional characters experiencing events that no doubt happened to real people. It's the story of a black family, rooted in the American South, from the early 18th century up to the recent present. The story has the possibility of having as much influence as Stowe's, book.

I'm a child of the late 50's and 60's, and so have been convinced that all you need is love and a willingness to change; but that may not be enough. Also needed is a population, starkly aware, of more than four centuries of trauma and psychological trauma on a national scale. PTSD on a scale unimaginable! The only way we can begin to heal is by understanding what's happened... this simply has to be done, before there can be any hope of even partial resolution. Reading his book is a good beginning.

Note: this book will be released on July 27 and may be preordered now.

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

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