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Jen Jen



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The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography
Sidney Poitier

The Beagle Women’s book group opted to read Sidney Poitier’s memoir for our December book group. It turned out to be a terrific choice! Most of us knew of Poitier, but not of his upbringing (Bahamas, no electricity, no running water) and subsequent success as an actor. While not perfect, there was (he passed away in January of 2022) a lot to admire about Poitier. Many of us couldn’t resist watching one of his movies. That included me—Tom and I watched Lilies of the Field and greatly enjoyed it, although we’re not sure we’ll ever get the “Amen” song out of our heads!

Check out this short clip (about 4 minutes) of an interview with Sidney Poitier and Oprah.

Sally Sally

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Richard Powers

Bewilderment is the story of a father and son grieving the death of their wife and mother while making their way in a world threatened by climate change and assorted social problems. Theo, the father, is a professor whose field is astrobiology. Robin, the son, is in elementary school. He has anger issues and has been diagnosed as possibly being on the autism spectrum, or having Attention Deficit Disorder, or Obsessive-compulsive disorder. His school has been pressuring Theo to begin drug treatment for Robin, which he has been resisting.

They live in our country in the near future. The president is a Trump-like figure and the government is anti-science, which results in pressure on Theo and his colleagues across the country.

As a way to avoid medicating Robin, Theo consents to his son taking part in an experiment in decoded neurofeedback. Earlier, Theo and his late wife had participated in the same experiment, and Robin connects with the neural imprints of his mother.

The science in the book is way beyond my understanding, and I just accepted it and kept reading. The book also made a number of references to the book Flowers for Algernon, which I am familiar with, and which caused me to hold my breath.

The book is much shorter than Powers’ previous book, The Overstory, but presents a compelling story as well as exploring important social issues.

I listened to the book on, and the reader was perfect.

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David Rhodes

We at the store have grieved the recent death of David Rhodes. As a tribute, we’re reprinting our review of his last book.

Painting Beyond Walls
David Rhodes
A new novel by David Rhodes is a cause for celebration! After publishing three novels in the early 70’s, a motorcycle accident in 1976 left him as a paraplegic. His next two novels, Driftless and Jewelweed, were published in 2008 and 2013, respectively, so it’s been a long wait for his newest book, Painting Beyond Walls.

The book is set in the near future. August Helm, a native of Word, Wisconsin has made a life for himself in Chicago. A biochemist, he has a girlfriend he’s crazy about, and an interesting job in a lab. Suddenly, everything falls apart. He and his girlfriend break up and, after discovering the director of the lab in a compromising position, he loses his job. Feeling out of options, August packs up his belongings and heads back to his parents’ home in Word.

He reconnects with family and friends (and readers of Driftless and Jewelweed do as well.)

Soon, he has a job as a live-in caretaker in the home of Tom and April Lux. This house is in Forest Gate, a new gated community outside Word. August is drawn back into the lives of people he once knew in Word, and those he meets in Forest Gate.

Rhodes deftly explores the importance of community and connectedness; the human condition, particularly the presence of evil in the world; and how wealth can be used to better the world. And, interestingly in this time when many deny the validity and importance of science in human life, he tackles that issue head on. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the problems our world currently faces, such as climate change and overpopulation, find remedy in the world of the book through science. And amazingly, all the elements of the story are connected by the end of the book.

The dialogue can be ponderous, but stick with the book for the complex characters, beautiful descriptions and a view of the future which will challenge your understanding of science and where we are headed as a species. And then, like me, you may want to reread Driftless and Jewelweed to be reminded of the backstory of Painting Beyond Wall.



Ann’s reviews are in Youth Yak this month.



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The Ski Jumpers
Peter Geye

This book tells the story of Jon Bargaard, an author who was a top-notch ski jumper in his youth.

Now for me, I put ski jumping into the same category as sky-diving (Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane? If one small thing goes wrong . . . .) But as you read along you have to admit the author provides great descriptions of making a “classic” jump . . . when it all works together, and you are completely enveloped by the experience. And just to keep you interested, the author throws in an underlying murder story.

I think you might enjoy reading this book even if winter is not your favorite season nor ski jumping your favorite sport.

Peter Geye Audience at book reading

Bob listens intently as Peter Geye reads at our event
with him last year.



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The Winners
Fredrik Backman

This book broke my heart. Fredrik Backman told me it would, on the first page of the book. But then, over the course of 670 pages, he relentlessly drew me into the lives of the people of Beartown and Hed (rival town) and I cared about them so much.

Backman’s character development over the books of this trilogy was like life: the children grew up, the couples fought and loved, and the old ones died. And in the background and foreground of these northern towns was Hockey.
After the tragic, violent events of the previous books, Beartown and Us Against You, the towns have settled into an uneasy truce. This is literally blown apart when an enormous storm destroys Hed’s arena, and the communities are forced to share facilities.

This complex book looks at heroes of then and now. It looks at vice and politics, community and love, sexuality and friendship, rivalry, and cooperation. And some hockey.

I strongly recommend reading these books in the order written.




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Empire of Pain
Patrick Radden Keefe

I don’t think there is a single person in the US that isn’t affected by the Opioid Crisis. This book explains why that is.

The first half gives us a full picture of the Sackler family, for multiple generations. What drives them, how they started and where they ended up. 

The second half of the book delves into the actual opioid crisis. How Purdue Pharma, a relatively small fry, was able to dominate the market for decades. And its subsequent demise.

For a 535-page nonfiction, this is a page turner! At each turn you are left dumbfounded.

If you do read this, I also recommend watching the show “Dopesick”. The two complement each other. 

This was in my top five books for 2022.





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A World of Curiosities

Louise Penny

If you are already deep into the Inspector Armand Gamache series, you will love this one. It’s mostly centered in Three Pines, with some time spent in the days when Gamache became Jean-Guy Beauvoir’s mentor. I know that’s enough said.

book coverIf you haven’t started the series yet, if you like murder mysteries run, don’t walk, to Beagle and Wolf to pick up the first one, Still Life. It’s definitely best to read the books in order.

There’s now a TV series called Three Pines. I’m quite hesitant to watch it, but I took a quick look at a review: the series deals with the disappearance of a First Nation young lady which is a compelling topic. And the reviewer said fans of the books will love it. But the actor doesn’t look anything like Gamache to me. At any rate, I recommend that you read at least some of the books before watching it, so you can form your own images of the characters and setting.

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Lightning Strike
William Kent Krueger

This is a prequel to the popular Cork O’Connor series. Cork is almost 13: his father Liam is the town sheriff. Liam was the last of a long line of Chicago cops. He married a half Ojibwe woman, so Cork straddles two worlds. He and his friends get embroiled in an investigation that threatens to pit both the Ojibwe on the rez and some of the whites in the town against Liam. Cork will never be the same boy after this tragic summer: its events will help form him into the man he will be in the rest of the series. book coverAs with all of Krueger’s novels,it’s a fine book both as an enjoyable reading experience and for the insights into the challenging lives its characters endure.

I’m new to the series: I followed this up with the first Cork O’Connor novel Iron Lake, now in a 20th Anniversary Edition. What a satisfying back-to-back read! (Louise Penny is an enthusiastic endorser of Iron Lake.)

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A Safe Place for Dying
Jack Fredrickson

It’s always a lift, finding a new series of detective novels with a “gum shoe” you enjoy. Vlodek Elstrom, aka Dek, is such a character. He’s living in a limestone turret his grandfather made years ago, trying to restore it enough to make it marketable. He had been a fairly successful PI, the sort who verifies records and does other simple, not dangerous, work. His life fell apart last year, from his business being destroyed by a false accusation to his wife throwing him out of her ultra-secure, almost empty McMansion. He is totally unprepared to be leading the investigation into a bombing in her gated community. And yet here he is. 

I was hooked from the time he made warrior eyes at the hot dog vender who uses flimsy trays to encourage customers to drop items and purchase their replacements. I shall be seeking out more Dek

Note: this book is out of print, but we’re able to track it down on the used market. It’s what we do!



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Lydia Millet

Gil decided to relocate from New York City to Phoenix. So he walked there. His new home in the suburbs is next to a home that has an open plan...very open: the wall facing Gil’s house is glass. Only the bedrooms and bathrooms have the privacy of walls. And he bonds with the family in that house.

Early on (so not a spoiler) we discover that Gil has money...a lot of money. And as Gil makes friends and begins to become part of the community, we learn more about Gil, his past, and his aspirations.

This is a character-driven book, examining love and friendship, and what it means to be a good person.

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Ghost Season
Fatin Abbas

Five people find themselves working together in an NGO compound in a town located between northern and southern Sudan. Alex is the NGO’s representative. William (from the south) is his translator. Layla (from the north) is the cook. Dena is a young Sudanese-American filmmaker. And Mustafa is a 12-year-old who is poor, clever, and charming...and who endangers everyone. These are unlikely friends, but that is what they grow to become.

Debut author Fatin Abbas allows the reader to understand the fundamentals of the Sudanese civil war, how the crossing of borders can bring both freedom and danger, and how war wreaks havoc on everyone.

This is absolutely a five-star novel!

Note: this book will be released January 10.

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Moonrise Over New Jessup
Jamila Minnicks

In 1957 Alice flees her hometown in Alabama and ends up in New Jessup, Alabama ... an all-Black town. In fact, it is not really a town ... simply a section of the town of Jessup separated from the white part of the town by swamp and forest. As the push toward integration grows over the next handful of years, the citizens of New Jessup are faced with choices as the status quo may no longer be a tenable alternative. 

If you are looking for an electrifying plot, this novel will not be for you; however, the characters are all wonderfully developed and provide a very distinct view of differing Black perspectives in the earliest days of the push toward national integration.

Note: this book will be released January 10.

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Wendell Steavenson

Margot Thornsen was born at the very close of WWII into a family of New York high society and great wealth. Her mother Peggy makes it clear that Margot’s interest in books and science, and her height, are all quite unsatisfactory. Margot’s goal, after all, should be to marry well.
This novel follows Margot from childhood through her graduation from Radcliffe. While at Radcliffe amidst the turmoil and change of the 1960s, Margot finally strives to discover a path to belonging, if not to happiness. This is not an easy task: The list of people from her past and from her life at college who are vicious, selfish, hurtful, and/or uncaring is extensive. And many aspects of life in the US are being disrupted by Vietnam, the civil rights movement, assassinations, the sexual revolution, women’s rights, drugs, and rock’n’roll.

The author takes the reader on an amazing journey, letting us feel all the hurt, rage, and disappointment that hangs over Margot, yet still allowing us to feel hopeful. Maybe.

Note: this book will be published January 24.




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Susan Stokes-Chapman

I enjoy reading history. Nothing against fiction, but even there, I lean heavily towards historical fiction. Combine those two genres with classics and no joke, I get shivers. Pandora, by Susan Stokes-Chapman, is such a book, with the added fillip of being set in London in 1799. Given all I've just said about my preferences, this book seemed nearly too good to be true. Imagine my pleasure when the story proved to be interesting, well-crafted, and plausible. Pandora Blake is the daughter of two antiquarians who were killed in an accident at a dig in Southern Greece. A pithos (a large Greek terracotta urn) was discovered at that dig, and during the following twelve years, the secret of this discovery, and it's meaning, was kept from the young woman. "There is a fine line between coincidence and fate"....and it's not what you (the reader) think.

Note: this book will be released in paperback on January 23


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The Sentence
Louise Erdrich

The main character in this book is Tookie, a Native American woman with a troubled past. She works in a bookstore in Minneapolis, and her least favorite customer has recently died. Died but not gone to her 'great reward,’ well, not yet. She's been haunting the bookstore and seems to have unfinished business with Tookie. Tookie's husband is a Native American shaman (though I hesitate to use that term) let’s just say, a very wise man, very plugged into the long history and rich depths of First Nation Spiritualism. They live in Minneapolis, and the story takes place during the 2019-2020 pandemic and George Floyd, upheavals. I have to tell you that there's a richness of spiritual depth working in amazing ways on all levels of this story. Personal history of trauma, shattering family relationships, and, most surprisingly, a haunting. This book steps to the side of the conventional narrative, and by doing so, grants an objective view of events, relationships, and spiritualism, rarely given a reader.

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

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