Book Report: April Round-Up and Powell’s Book Store Purchases

May 12, 2022

I have now read all four of Mary Lawson’s wonderful novels, and I hope she is writing, writing, writing! The Other Side of the Bridge (2006) is her second novel (Crow Lake is her first) and is set in a small Canadian town, shifting between two time periods, WWII and the 1960’s. The main character Ian, the son of the town’s physician, is often called upon to help his father, but as a teenager he prefers working on the farm owned by Arthur and his wife Laura. The story of Arthur and his brother Jake is a major part of the story, as is the story of Pete, a Native American friend of Ian’s. Many subplots, but they weave together beautifully.

Lawson’s 3rd book is Road Ends (2013). Warning: Dysfunctional family alert! The mother just wants to have babies and then ignores them when they have grown out of babyhood. Tom is the oldest of seven boys and Megan is the only daughter. She escapes to London and the father, who is a banker, escapes to his study. A heart-breaking story, but oh, Lawson can write. I reviewed her most recent book, A Town Called Solace in my March Round-Up.

I am now fully immersed in a mystery series by a husband-wife duo whose pseudonym is Nicci French. I read the first in the series, Blue Monday (2011) in April, and we listened to the second, Tuesday’s Gone (2012) on our road trip to Portland, OR, and this week I read the third, Waiting for Wednesday. I guarantee I will complete the remaining days of the week this month. Set in London, the main character is the highly intuitive psychotherapist, Frieda Klein, who could use some therapy herself. She develops an informal, but key relationship with the police department. A small boy is kidnapped and this re-opens a case from years before. Get ready for a major twist at the end. I recommend reading these books in order, by the way, for some of the characters and plots continue from book to book.

I have already reviewed two favorite nonfiction books read in April, Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jauoud and On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed, but I will mention two others. First, Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie, The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR by Lisa Napoli. (2021) As an NPR junkie, I throughly enjoyed reading about their key roles in the early years of NPR, and as I write this, I can hear each of their distinctive voices. My only complaint about the book is that it lacks pictures, but it is radio after all!

I have not yet moved the other book, The Divine Dance, The Trinity and Your Transformation (2016) by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell from my basket of morning meditation materials to my bookshelf, for I keep re-reading sections, in order to reflect and absorb the words even more. Despite the deep topic, the writing style is conversational, and invites inner conversation. The words “flow and “relationship” are key to the discussion. No doubt I will refer to this book again in future blog posts.

The Powell’s Report

First, I should mention that one night of our road trip to Portland, OR, we stayed in Missoula, MT, which has a charming downtown and a good independent bookstore, Fact and Fiction. Even though I knew I would make a big haul at Powell’s, I can’t pass up supporting independent bookstores wherever I find them. I bought two novels on my TBR list: Beneficence (2020) by Meredith Hall, which I read on the trip and loved and will write about in more detail in a later post, and A Ghost in the Throat (2020) by Doireann Ni Ghriofa. I listened to an interview with the Irish author on NPR recently and am intrigued.

I also bought a book at the Crazy Horse Memorial; a book I have been meaning to read for a long time, and I am so happy to have bought it at the memorial location: Black Elk Speaks, The Complete Edition by John G. Neihardt.

Then Powell’s. Armed with my TBR list on my phone and a store map, which is definitely needed, I took a deep breath and realized I needed a plan. I decided to focus on two sections–mystery and literature, both on the same floor and close to the coffee shop. At Powell’s used and new books are shelved together, and I decided to only buy books that had not been published recently, instead of current books easy to find in most bookstores. I made one exception, Great Circle (2021) by Maggie Shipstead. By the time I made the decision to narrow my purchases, I already had this in my basket and couldn’t force myself to eliminate it.

These are the used books I found that are on my TBR list:

  • Solar Storms by Linda Hogan (1995)
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson (2019)
  • Jubilee by Margaret Walker (1966)
  • The Expats (2012) and The Paris Diversion (2019) by Chris Pavone

I also decided to get a couple books I loved and want to re-read: The Stone Diaries (1994) by Carol Shields and The Shell Seekers (1987) by Rosamunde Pilcher.

Finally, a surprise find, a book I had not heard about, The Pleasure of Their Company (2000) by Doris Grumbach. This slim hardcover memoir written near her 80th birthday was on the shelf next to her novels. It caught my eye and for $6.95 used I could not resist.

I’m thrilled with my pile and the whole Powell’s experience. Now I know what our granddaughter meant when she said we would need to set a timer for ourselves or we would still be wandering the aisles when the store closed for the day.

An Invitation

What were your favorite April books and what is waiting on your shelves for the right time? I would love to know.

Book Report: Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson (2006)

On November 7, 1862, a four-mile train of mostly women and children was forced to march to the concentration camps at Fort Snelling. Many of our people died on this trip. The townspeople from Henderson, New Ulm, and Sleepy Eye threw bricks as they passed by, they threw stones, one woman even threw boiling water.

Some people ask why we need to remember this, why we can’t just let it go. The march has never been acknowledged for the tragic event that it was. It’s been covered up and forgotten. It’s time for the Dakota people to remember their ancestors, to grieve for their families who were part of this march. This used to be Dakota land. It was all taken away from us. When you allow these things to be covered up, that’s part of colonization.

p. 186, Wilson quoting Chris Mato Nunpa, professor of Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, MN

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

We live just a few miles from Fort Snelling in St Paul, and I had no idea until a few years ago about this horrific forced march and how so many native peoples had been imprisoned there. Our congregation participated in a Sacred Sites tour and visited not only this area, but other nearby places sacred to the Dakota people. It was a sobering day, to say the least.

Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson, who wrote one of my favorite novels of 2021, The Seed Keepers, is the record of Wilson’s journey to discover her own history and the story of her ancestors. It is a complicated story, although the writing is clear and beautiful. The story is complicated because so much has been hidden and distorted, and repressed. Wilson’s father was Swedish-American and her mother of Dakota heritage. Her mother and sisters had been sent to a boarding school on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and were rarely able to return home. Imagine the trauma involved in that? Wilson’s great-great grandmother, Rosalie Marpiya Mase or Iron Cloud, was married to a French fur trader, and Wilson explores how mixed marriages were part of the strategy to take over native culture and lands.

In December, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, MN, in view of an estimated 4,000 spectators. Just imagine. Here’s where I am in the ongoing process of learning what I don’t know. When I was in the sixth grade, I lived in Mankato. At that time the social studies focus during the sixth grade was Minnesota history. Did we learn about the hanging? Did we learn about the forced march or why that happened? Did we learn anything about the land our school was built on? Nothing. Not one thing.

This book is part of my ongoing education, and I hope it will be part of yours.

Eventually, ambitious dairy farmers chopped down the forests, sold the timber to build houses for settlers, and paved the old trails. But was the past so very far away? Beneath the pavement, there remained the imprint of moccasins and the tracks of wagon wheels. They never really disappear, they simply became invisible to our eyes.

p. 203

An Invitation

Are you reading anything to fill in the blanks of your own education? I would love to know.

Book Report: Two Books and a Story

December is a good time to discover your reading rhythm. When during the day are you compelled to stop whatever you are doing, no matter how long the list might be, and read? I invite you to pay attention to that inner voice, that voice calling you to reading time. Some days it may be necessary to ignore the voice as life intervenes, but don’t let that happen too often. That voice encourages you to take care of yourself, to find balance in your day, and to open your heart to imagination or new knowledge and awareness.

This past week I read two books and both should be added to my 2021 Favorite Book Lists (see and

  1. The Road Back to Sweetgrass, A Novel by Linda LeGarde Grover. Published in 2014. If you love books by Louise Erdrich, you will also love this book. The author is a member of the Bois Forte band of Ojibwe and an associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. The story focuses on three women and their lives from the 1970’s to the present and how they navigate changes in their lives and their connection to the fictional Mozhay Point reservation. Each of them are drawn back to the Sweetgrass Allotment, which is the result of federal Indian policies. The final chapter tells the story of the first days of the allotment when the Muskrat family became transformed into the Washingtons by the pen of a federal land agent. I loved the use of the Ojibwe language–sometimes I could figure out the meaning of a word because of its context, but even when I couldn’t, I imagined how the word sounds, and I reflected on how important it is to make sure that language lives and is honored and respected.
  2. These Precious Days, Essays by Ann Patchett. Published in 2021. I ordered my book from Parnassus Books where Patchett is a co-owner. The Nashville bookstore is on my “someday” list, but in the meantime I now have a signed copy of her most recent book. I have no doubt Patchett is a wonderful person and not just because she cares enough about books to own a bookstore. She is the kind of person who opens her home to someone she barely knows when that person is enrolled in a cancer clinical trial (the subject of the title essay) and because she looks for saints in her life (the essay, “The Worthless Servant”).

“The trouble with good fortune is that we tend to equate it with personal goodness, so if things argue well for us and less well for others, it’s assumed they must have done something to have brought that misfortune on themselves while we must have worked harder to avoid it. We speak of ourselves as being blessed, but what can that mean except that others are not blessed, and that God has picked out a few of us to love more? It is our responsibility to care for one another, to create fairness in the face of unfairness and find equality where none may have existed in the past.” p. 52

Are you listening Joe Manchin?

My favorite essay, however, is “To The Doghouse,” which is about Snoopy in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics. Snoopy the writer, the novelist of “It was a dark and snowy night.” fame. I needed the lightheartedness in this essay and the reminder that inspiration comes in unexpected places.

I found something to love in each of these essays –especially the writer herself. And now I want to re-read her earlier book of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

I also re-read the wonderful story by Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory” after a friend sent me a note about her favorite Christmas reading. On her list is the Capote story because she “likes a little melancholy” in her Christmas reading. This is the story of making Christmas fruitcakes –and as it happens I was making my annual cherry walnut bread on the day I read this story again. I was right in the kitchen with Capote’s Buddy who is seven and his friend, a distant cousin who is sixty-something, but “still a child.” Enjoy the language, the tenderness, and yes, the melancholy. Thanks, Mona, for the reminder to read this story yet again.

What’s next? Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, which is only 115 pages and should be read in one sitting. I will listen to when my inner reading voice tells me to sit in the snug and read without allowing interruptions. The other book I am drawn to is the novel Painting Time by the French writer, Maylis de Kerangal about a young artist enrolled in an art school in Brussels. Stay tuned.

An Invitation: What is your inner voice telling you to read? I would love to know.

Book Report: My Favorite Books of 2021–Part Two, Nonfiction

Get ready for an eclectic list of nonfiction books: spirituality, memoir, writing and creativity, nature, and books on race and justice issues. Old. New. A few I revisited, as well. Here are my lists–in no particular order.

Spirituality Books

  1. I re-read three titles: The Grace in Aging, Awaken as You Grow Older by Kathleen Dowling Singh, which I first read in 2015 and it certainly feels more relevant today now that I am in my 70’s; The Way of Silence, Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life by Brother David Stendl-Rast–a wonderful reminder of the gifts of silence; Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, a spiritual mentor, although I have never met her.
  2. Two books by John Philip Newell: A New Harmony, The Spirit, The Earth, and the Human Soul and Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening To What Our Souls Know and Healing the World. In the first chapter of the second book he writes, “In Celtic wisdom we remember that our soul, the very heart of our being, is sacred. What is deepest in us is of God. every child, every woman, every man, and every life-form is in essence divine.” During my meditation time I often turn to his Celtic Treasure, Daily Scriptures an Prayer.
  3. Two books by Rachel Held Evans: Inspired, Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again and the posthumously published Wholehearted Faith, which her friend Jeff Chu finished for her after her death. I always feel I am in the same room with her when I read her slightly irreverent, but always wise words.
  4. Dusk, Night, Dawn, On Revival and Courage because who can resist Anne Lamott?
  5. Marrow. Love, Loss and What Matters Most by Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser donated bone marrow to her sister who has cancer. Moving story of family and love and knowing yourself. Also, how meditation is a kind of liberation.
  6. A Rhythm of Prayer, A Collection of Meditations for Renewal, edited by Sarah Bessey. I dip into this book frequently during my meditation time.
  7. Freeing Jesus, Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way and Presence by Diana Butler Bass. My favorite chapter was on Way and Presence, but also loved the conclusion in which she uses the term, “memoir theology,” which is understanding the nature of God through the text of our own lives.
  8. Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love by Stephanie Dowrick. I have had this book on my shelf for a long time and now that I have read it, I suspect I will read it again. She explores the human virtues: courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness.
  9. The Seeker and the Monk, Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton by Sophronia Scott. Scott explores Merton’s journals for guidance on how to live in these fraught times. No conversation with Merton could be considered “everyday.”

Writing Books

  1. Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read this when I needed an infusion of inspiration. Gilbert oozes enthusiasm for her belief that we all have the capability of being creative.
  2. Ron Carlson Writes A Story by Ron Carlson. Lots of good nuggets in this short book. My favorite: “All the valuable writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I wanted to leave the room.”
  3. How the Light Gets In, Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Pat Schneider.This book invites readers/writers to contemplate our lives and the deepest questions through writing. Excellent writing prompts on topics such as fear, freedom, forgiveness, joy, social justice, and death.
  4. Take Joy! A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen. Mainly for fiction writers, but I love her exuberance and her love of writing.

Other Categories

  1. Caste, The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson. An absolutely amazing book describeing racism in the United States as an aspect of a caste system. This is required reading, as is her earlier book, The Warmth of Other Suns.
  2. Yeh Yeh’s House, A Memoir by Evelina Chao. In the 80’s I was Chao’s local publicist for her novel, Gates of Grace. Chao grew up in Virginia where her parents fled after the Maoist Revolution in 1949. As an adult she and her mother went to China to visit her relatives living in her grandfather’s house. It is a journey of discovery–of one’s roots, of familial love, of a culture that is disappearing.
  3. I’ll Be Seeing You, A Memoir by Elizabeth Berg. Many will identify with this memoir of her parents’ last years–her father’s Alzheimers, her mother’s anger about taking care of him, and the struggles of the rest of the family to care for both of them. Honestly, painfully, beautifully told.
  4. A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks. I remember reading this when I was in college. For a class? Parks was a photographer, writer, and film director; an African-American whose early years were difficult as he contended with racism and poverty. What a legacy he left!
  5. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I am embarrassed to say this is the first time I’ve read this book. I have read so much about it and references to it over the decades, since it was published in 1964, that it feels as if I actually had read it. I was struck by how what Baldwin wrote is still so relevant today–unfortunately.
  6. Born A Crime, Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I learned so much about apartheid, including the arbitrary decisions about who was viewed as white, black, or colored. Noah is impressive–a gifted entrepreneur, although his enterprises were often shady–and I hope there will be a sequel about his life as a comedian and tv host.
  7. The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. A memoir set in New Orleans. The house, destroyed during Katrina, which Broom calls The Water, was owned by Broom’s mother. Powerful story of love and connection, resilience, and an attempt to understand where she came from and how it lives in her.
  8. Morningstar, Growing Up With Books by Ann Hood. I love to read books about others’ favorite books. Hood reflects on some of my favorites, including Little Women and Grapes of Wrath.
  9. Owls of the Eastern Ice, A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaught. Fascinating story of a U of Minnesota ornithologist who studies fish owls in the extremely remote Russian Far East. Hard conditions and unusual people and THE OWLS.
  10. Poet Warrior, A Memoir by Joy Harjo. Prose and poetry from our current poet laureate. She deftly and magically leads us to her ancestors and culture.
  11. Flower Diary in Which Mary Hiester Reid Paints, Travels, Marries and Opens a Door by Molly Peacock. Another gorgeous book by Peacock. (Her earlier book The Paper Garden: Mrs Delaney Begins Her LIfe’s Work at 72 remains one of my all-time favorite books.) Reid was a Canadian painter, and oh I would love to see her paintings in person, but the book includes many lovely plates in color. Peacock weaves her own life into the narration, including the approach of her husband’s death.
  12. Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Kimmerer. Much of the biology was above me, but oh, the stories, the wisdom, the passion, the lyrical writing, the insights.
  13. I Am, I Am, I Am, Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell. Each essay is breathtaking. As I read, I had to remind myself that O’Farrell survived each of the incidents she relates.
  14. All Entangled by Ann Niedringhaus. Last, but certainly not least. An exquisite book of poetry.

Excuse me, but I need to grab my current book and retire to the Snug for more reading time!

An Invitation: What are your favorite nonfiction books of 2021?

Book Report: My Favorite Books of 2021–Part One, Fiction

In year’s past I have posted my favorite books lists closer to the new year, but some readers have requested I offer my list earlier as an aid to holiday shopping. I am more than happy to oblige, if it means more books in readers’ hands.

I know I say this every year, but what a great reading year it has been, and a month of reading remains. Who knows what great titles await! First, however, are my treasures from the past eleven months.

My Top Three Favorites

  • Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin. This novel, translated from the French, was the first book I read in 2021 and I still think about it. Perhaps I will start 2022 re-reading this book. (I wrote about this book in my previous blog Violette is a cemetery caretaker and the story is hers, along with her unfaithful husband and the tragic loss of their daughter, but also the stories of those buried at the cemetery and those who work there. All the stories are woven together masterfully.
  • This Is Happiness by Niall Williams. I not only loved the setting of this book–an Irish village on the brink of getting electricity–but I loved the descriptive, immersive writing. I kept re-reading passages, not because I was confused by them, but because of their beauty. Not much happens in this book and yet it does, as we get to know the narrator, a young man who promised his dying mother he would become a priest and then leaves the seminary; his grandparents Ganga and Doady, and their boarder, Christy, who wants to be forgiven by the woman he left at the altar. I will read Williams’ earlier books.
  • The Seed Keepers by Diane Wilson. This book rates right up there with Louise Erdrich’s stories of indigenous people. The books spans many years from the 1860s and the hangings of native people to the 1920s when native children were kidnapped and taken to boarding schools to current times of farming in the age of chemicals. The sacredness of seeds and all of nature is an ongoing theme.

Other Favorites–No Particular Order

  • The Huntress, The Alice Network, and The Rose Code –all three by Kate Quinn. Books to sink into.
  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. The story of an immigrant from Ethiopia who owns a small convenience store in Washington DC.
  • One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney. A little gem. The main character is a hospital chaplain and the plot focuses on one night in that hospital.
  • The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles. Based on a true story. Set in the American Library in Paris during the Nazi occupation.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. The plot of Shakespeare’s young son dying of the plague did not appeal to me when I heard about this book, but I read it and was swept away by it.
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. Nella works for a publisher and when another black woman (OBG) is hired, the intrigue begins.
  • The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. The main plot is the establishment of a Jane Austen Foundation. Although a light read, I gained new insights about Austen’s books, especially about grief and loss.
  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. Based on a true story about J. P.Morgan’s collection of rare manuscripts and the woman who developed the collection. Belle daCosta Green is an African American woman who passes as white and kept that secret her entire life, even from her lover Bernard Berenson.
  • Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. I wondered why I had never read this book before, published in 2002, even though I had heard about it. Parents in a small farming community die in a car crash leaving four children–two teenage boys and two younger girls. The boys decide to raise their sisters and keep the family together.
  • The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer. I remember reading her earlier book, The Dive at Clausen’s Pier, and enjoying it, and am glad I finally read this one. A dysfunctional family story. The father is a much loved doctor and his wife is an artist who is undone when she has their fourth child.
  • Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. A coming of age novel about a teenage girl very attached to her uncle who has AIDS. He is an artist and paints a portrait of her and her sister.
  • Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger. This is the prequel to his Cork O’Connor mystery series. I have enjoyed each of those books, but this book not only explains so much about Cork and his world, but also shows what a good writer Krueger has become. This ranks with his nonCork Books, This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace –two all-time favorites.
  • ShadowTag by Louise Erdrich. An earlier book of hers, which I somehow missed. Story of an abusive marriage. The wife keeps two diaries–one locked in a safety deposit box and the other she knows her husband reads. The key question? What is truth?
  • State of Terror by Louise Penney and Hillary Clinton. A political thriller and a page turner, for sure, and now I hope for a sequel. Part of the appeal is the friendship and the collaboration of the authors, but the book is a good read.
  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. A plane crash with one survivor, a twelve year old boy. The story moves back and forth between the boy’s life after the crash and the scene inside the plane before the crash.

I also recommend the mysteries by Mark Pryor, set primarily in Paris. His main character is Hugo Marston, a former FBI agent now head of security at the American Embassy. I only have one more book left in the series and hope there will be more to come.

Books I Re-Read in 2021

  • All of Louise Penney books. Perfect books for winter (and pandemic) days. I loved them all just as much as the first time. I do admit, however, that the most recent one, published this past August, The Madness of Crowds, was not my favorite, but still worth reading.
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Love, love this book, as I do all of her books.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I read this so many years ago and felt it was time to bring more mature eyes to this amazing book.
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I read and loved Pigs in Heaven this year and wanted more Kingsolver. I am tempted to do a Kingsolver marathon this year.
  • I also re-read two books by Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping and Gilead. I remember loving them, but this time was not as enamored. Once was enough for me.

I wrote about a number of the books on these lists in my previous blog and invite you to browse there.

I will list my favorite nonfiction books in my post on Thursday, December 2.

Ok, get shopping–and reading!!!!

An Invitation: What are your favorite novels of 2021? I would love to know.