Off the Shelf: Winter Reading

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2015


A Second Helping of Murder and Recipes: A Hot Dish Heaven Mystery Paperback By Jeanne Cooney (B.A.S. ’83, M.P.A. ’04) North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2014

In this sequel to Cooney’s popular Hot Dish Heaven, reporter Emerald Malloy is back in Minnesota’s Red River Valley to gather more recipes for an encore feature on rural cooking for the Minneapolis newspaper. Margie Johnson, the owner of local café Hot Dish Heaven, surprises her with several exotic offerings, including sauerkraut hot dish. (Man cannot live on tuna noodle hot dish alone, don’t cha know.) But when someone close to Margie is arrested for the murder of a farmhand, Emerald and friends investigate their way through a blizzard, a fish fry, and other obstacles to discover the real killer. The book includes recipes like chicken dumpling hot dish, orange Jell-O salad, and rhubarb meringue pie.

The Sea of Time By P. C. Hodgell (M.A. ’76, Ph.D. ’87) Baen Books, 2014

This is Hodgell’s fourth novel in the Chronicles of Kencyrath series, which follows the adventures of Jame, a high-born outcast who now finds herself a second-year cadet in the large and mighty army of the Southern Host of the Kencyrath. Jame is drawn to the various goings on in turbulent, mysterious Kothifir, ruled by an obscenely obese god-king and peopled with the members of its colorful, dueling guilds. But Kothifir’s gods have lost their power and its proud towers are falling. What curse out of the past has struck it? Jame must search the past to try to stop the destruction—without undoing time itself.

Leaving Ashwood By Cynthia Kraack (M.A. ’88) North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2014

The final book in Kraack’s dystopian Ashwood trilogy, Leaving Ashwood explores a world ruled by mega-multinational corporations. Kraack’s thoroughly Midwestern protagonist, Anne Hartford, has built a significant agribusiness out of the ruins of an early 21st century global depression. But this bleak new world places tight constraints on its citizens. Can one resilient businesswoman battle mind-controlling research, invasive technology, and a government that makes Big Brother look like Mister Rogers?

Lake of Tears: A Claire Watkins Mystery By Mary Logue (B.A. ’75) Tyrus Books, 2014

Deputy Sheriff Claire Watkins has had an uneventful summer in Fort St. Antoine, Wisconsin, and is about to send her daughter Meg off to college. When Claire walks down to Lake Pepin to watch the Burning Boat—a large replica of a Norwegian longboat burned at the autumnal equinox—she has no idea that the bones of a young woman will be found in the ashes the next day. And not just any woman, but the former girlfriend of Claire’s new deputy, a vet just returned from Afghanistan who is dating Meg. Desperate to identify the murderer, Claire must first understand what happened in the mountains of Afghanistan that left one man wounded, one man killed, and one man disturbed.


By the Waters of Minnetonka By Eric Dregni (M.A. ’03, M.F.A. ’07) University of Minnesota Press, 2014

Lake Minnetonka is known for its natural beauty and the prominent, wealthy visitors it has attracted to its shores. But Dregni uncovers surprising facts about the lake and those who have lived there, from the original Dakota inhabitants to present-day McMansion dwellers. He relates, and sometimes pokes fun at, the shameful, glamorous, and outrageous moments that have defined the lake, for example, how slaves were brought to Wayzata illegally during the ginseng craze of the 1860s to harvest the plant’s roots. This and other anecdotes shed light on elements of the lake’s history that have been forgotten or glossed over.

The Unsubstantial Air: American Flyers in the First World War By Samuel Hynes (B.A. ’47) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

Samuel Hynes, a Marine pilot in World War II who became an accomplished literary scholar and professor emeritus at Princeton (and a consultant on Ken Burns’s TV miniseries The War), mined the letters and diaries of young American men who went to Europe to fly in the First World War. The words of these young men, who came from the flying clubs of the Ivy Leagues and the grass airfields of the American West, give The Unsubstantial Air a gripping, you-are-there quality. Hynes captures the confusion and uncertainty of America’s nascent flight program and the chaotic adrenaline rush of combat in the air.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery Sam Kean (B.A. ’02) Little, Brown and Company, 2014

Kean’s strange-but-true stories of neurological curiosities—phantom limbs, Siamese twin brains, viruses that eat patients’ memories, blind people who see through their tongues—reveal the secret inner workings of the brain. With his witty prose and knack for explaining, Kean weaves these narratives together to create a story of discovery that reaches back to the 1500s and the high-profile jousting accident that inspired this book’s title.

The Keillor Reader By Garrison Keillor (B.A. ’66) Viking Adult, 2014

This single volume brings together the full range of Keillor’s work: monologues from A Prairie Home Companion, stories from the New Yorker and The Atlantic, excerpts from novels, and newspaper columns. The Keillor Reader also presents pieces never before published, including the essays “Cheerfulness” and “What We Have Learned So Far.”

A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna By Amitava Kumar (Ph.D. ’93) Duke University Press, 2014

Patna is the capital of India’s poorest province and Kumar’s hometown. Part memoir, part travelogue, this vivid little book explores the truths and myths, past and present of a challenging, enduring city. The rats are everywhere in Patna; they burrow under railroad tracks, nibble the toes of nurses at the hospital, and steal his mother’s dentures. Yet Kumar also sees them as “warm, humble, highly sociable, clever, fiercely diligent,” and comes to admire the rat catchers of the lowly Musahar caste. He sums up the poignant, complicated guilt of the ex-pat when he writes that the rat, “unlike me, hasn’t fled Patna and has found it possible to live and thrive there. . . . Who is the rat now?”

Stolen from the Garden: The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper By William Swanson (B.A. ’68) Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014

In July 1972, two masked men waving guns abducted 49-year-old Virginia Piper from the garden of her lakeside home in Orono, Minnesota. After her husband, a prominent investment banker, paid a $1 million ransom, an anonymous caller directed the FBI to a thickly wooded section of a northern Minnesota state park. There, they found Ginny Piper chained to a tree, filthy and exhausted, but physically unharmed. Drawing on closely held government documents and exclusive interviews with family members, investigators, suspects, lawyers, and others intimately connected to the case, Swanson provides the first comprehensive account of the sensational Piper kidnapping and makes a case for the most plausible explanation for what really happened.

The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes from Left Field By Joshua Ostergaard (M.F.A. ’11) Coffee House Press, 2014

Ostergaard uses baseball as a vehicle to consider both his love for and disillusionment with America. Equal parts baseball trivia, memoir, and personal essay, The Devil’s Snake Curve includes musings on the invention of the hot dog, The Old Man and the Sea, and the history of facial hair in the major leagues. The juxtaposition of the familiar and the obscure animates this highly subjective, left-of-center baseball history.

Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil By Lisa Peters (B.A. ’74) Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014

What does an environmentalist do when she realizes she will inherit mineral rights and royalties on fracked oil wells in North Dakota? Catapulted into a world of complicated legal jargon, spectacular feats of engineering, and rich history, Peters travels to the oil patch and sees both the wealth and the challenges brought by the boom. After she interviews workers, farmers, geologists, lawyers, those who welcome and those who reject the development, she sees shades of gray in what had previously seemed black and white.

The St. Paul Saints: Baseball in the Capital City By Stew Thornley (B.S.B. ’81) with a foreword by Bill Murray Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015

To be released in conjunction with the opening of the Saints’ new Lowertown ballpark in April 2015, The St. Paul Saints: Baseball in the Capital City highlights the long and rich legacy of the team, from Pig’s Eye to a pig on the field. Sports historian Thornley is an official scorer and online game caster for the Minnesota Twins and author of more than 40 books for adults and young readers.

Chi-mewinzha: Ojibwe Stories from Leech Lake By Dorothy Dora Whipple, edited by Wendy Makoons Geniusz (Ph.D. ’06) and Brendan Fairbanks (M.A. ’05, Ph.D. ’09) University of Minnesota Press, 2015

In her 95 years, Ojibwe elder Dorothy Dora Whipple has seen a lot of history. The events of Whipple’s life, presented in Ojibwe and English, range from tales of growing up among the Anishinaabeg of the Leech Lake Reservation in the 1920s and ’30s to an account of watching an American Indian Movement protest in Minneapolis during the 1970s. In between, we encounter modern dilemmas like trying to find a place to make a tobacco offering in an airport and traditional stories of the gigantic beings who were seen in the water, chi-mewinzha. Whipple’s recollections offer sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant insight into Native American daily life.

The Three-Minute Outdoorsman: Wild Science from Magnetic Deer to Mumbling Carp By Robert M. Zink (B.S. ’77) University of Minnesota Press, 2014

Zink, an ornithologist at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum, humorously distills the latest news from the world of science into short nuggets for the layperson. In these brief, engaging essays readers discover, for instance, how deer use the earth’s magnetic field for orientation; a long-gone tradition of hunting loons in North Carolina; how porcupine quills are advancing new ideas about delivering inoculations; and why deer antlers can model bone regeneration for amputees. A self-deprecating, genial writer, Zink bridges the gulf between the outdoorsman’s experience of nature and the findings of science, but keeps the awe, wonder, and mystery intact.

New Tales of the Twin Cities: The History, Law, and Culture of Minnesota By Chang Wang (J.D. ’06) Thomson Reuters, 2014

Wang arrived in Minnesota from his native China in 2003 to attend law school at the University of Minnesota. The recipient of a China 100 Distinguished Chinese Alumni Award, he has written the first Chinese language book about Minnesota. Intended to give Chinese residents, students, and visitors a comprehensive overview and in-depth analysis of Minnesota’s history, law, and culture, New Tales of the Twin Cities is a collection of essays Wang wrote for Minnesota Times, a Chinese language newspaper. The preface, foreword, acknowledgement, table of contents, and appendix are bilingual, but the core text is Chinese. Even longtime Minnesotans will benefit from reading Wang’s engaging observations. For example, in the preface Wang divulges his top 10 Minnesota pleasures, a list of charming and simple activities easily taken for granted: browsing used bookstores, walking around the Cities’ lakes, listening to Minnesota Public Radio, and enjoying a weekend Minnesota Orchestra concert, among others.

Children’s and Young Adult

Hungry Coyote By Cheryl Blackford (M.S. ’96) Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015

From desperate winter hunts to opportunistic picnic foraging, Coyote makes his deliberate way through the seasons in his urban habitat and his adventures come to life in this lavishly illustrated tale.

Eagle Peak Elizabeth Fontaine (B.A. ’96) Prizm Books, 2014

Eagle Peak, Minnesota, population 596, couldn’t be more different than Sean’s native Minneapolis. When Sean has to move there, he enters a world of pep rallies, pickup trucks, and country pop. His inclination toward heavy eyeliner, black attire, and his surly attitude make him an easy target of suspicion and prejudice. But small-town Minnesota also offers surprises: Sean becomes the love interest of three classmates, including a closeted gay boy; he discovers and chants with a Buddhist family; and he gets in the middle of an abusive father and his son, the town jock. Sean’s old and new lives collide, leaving him confused about what he thought he knew, the world he left behind, and himself.

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date By Katie Heaney (M.A. ’12) Grand Central Publishing, 2014

“I’ve been single for my entire life. Not one boyfriend. Not one short-term dating situation. Not one person with whom I regularly hung out and kissed on the face.” So begins Heaney’s memoir. Readers will meet Katie’s loyal group of girlfriends and we get to know Katie herself—a smart, modern heroine relaying truths about everything from the subtleties of a Facebook message exchange to the fact that “Everybody who works in a coffee shop is at least a little bit hot.” Funny and poignant, Heaney’s memoir starts out as a search for love but ends up as a tribute to sisterhood.

The Memory Key By Liana Liu (M.F.A. ’11) HarperTeen, 2015

Lora Mint’s mother has been dead for five years. She struggles to remember every detail about her, most importantly, the events of the night she sped off in her car, never to return. But in a futuristic world ravaged by a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Lora’s memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories, aids her. Then a minor accident damages it and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad—burying the truth forever?

How I Discovered Poetry By Marilyn Nelson (Ph.D. ’79) Dial, 2014

Nelson tells of her development as an artist and young woman through 50 eye-opening poems. They paint an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration, along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement. The daughter of a schoolteacher and one of the first African American Air Force officers, Nelson spent much of her youth living on different military bases and began writing poetry in elementary school. Her humiliation by a teacher who makes her read aloud a racist poem is recounted in the stunning title poem. How I Discovered Poetry is a powerful memoir and a triumphant homage to the power of words and stories.

What’s Behind the Mighty Fitz? By Joanne Reisberg (B.A. ’55) North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2014

When Lucas Sanchez fails to catch a Frisbee and it crashes into the oil painting of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the freighter that sank in 1975 in Lake Superior, he is stunned to see part of a green eye staring back—there’s a painting behind the painting! He wonders, what’s behind the Mighty Fitz? Lucas and his fifth-grade friends dive into the mystery in Reisberg’s action-adventure novel.

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge By Carolyn Ruff (B.S. ’68, M.A. ’76) Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014

Ten-year-old Fritz and his poppa have made a life in the Bohemian Flats along the river in Minneapolis in 1883, but what they really want is for their family to be whole again. To earn money to bring his momma and sisters from Sweden to America, the determined Fritz sets out to master a new skill, working as the youngest stonemason on the crew building the Stone Arch Bridge across the Mississippi River. On his path, Fritz unlocks secrets of his new homeland, from details of the river’s geology to the dangers of flour milling. He befriends Margaret, a Métis girl whose family has called the region home for generations, and meets notable early settler Emily Goodridge Grey. Applying his developing stonecutting skills, he records these many lessons in the keystones of the bridge.


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