Embrace the warmth of a good book

Looking for a holiday gift with a Minnesota connection?

Jill Yanish • Pamela O’meara
Review staff

Or perhaps you’re searching for good reading on a cold winter day. Grab a mug of hot chocolate and curl up on the couch with one of these recently published books with local ties.

“We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: A Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter”

By Rachael Hanel
University of Minnesota Press

In a self-reflective book, Rachael Hanel describes her childhood working and playing in cemeteries around Waseca County.
Her dad, known as “Digger O’Dell,” owned a grave-digging business, and family members spent much of their time helping him.
Surrounded by gravestones and lingering death, this unusual “home away from home” made death an almost-insensitive subject, leading Hanel feeling prepared and comfortable with death - that is until the unexpected death of her father when she was 15.
This heartbreaking incident leaves Hanel and her family with a different view of death than they were used to. Hanel realized that death and grief are different. Hanel’s memoir takes readers on a journey to the realization that life is surrounded by death and that death is surrounded by life. An assistant professor at Minnesota State University, Hanel resides near Mankato.

— Jill Yanish

“Theory of Remainders”

By Scott Dominic Carpenter
Winter Goose Publishing

Scott Dominic Carpenter, a professor of literature at Carleton College, offers readers a psychological thriller with his story of an American psychiatrist, Philip Adler, who is still dealing with the trauma from his daughter’s violent death 15 years earlier.
When his ex-wife’s mother passes away, he travels to his former wife’s homeland of France, rekindling feelings for her.
While in France, Philip embarks on a journey to resolve questions about his daughter’s mysterious death, bringing him in contact with a psychotic person and locals who don’t want him digging around in the past.
This suspenseful novel will keep readers turning the page as the mystery unfolds.

— Jill Yanish

“Dayton’s: A Twin Cities Institution”

By Kristal Leebrick
The History Press

In “Dayton’s: A Twin Cities Institution,” author Kristal Lebrick of St. Paul details the history of the landmark department store in downtown Minneapolis, starting with George P. Dayton’s purchase of Goodfellow’s Dry Goods which opened in June of 1902 in a newly constructed Dayton’s building. About a year later, it became Dayton’s.
It was the innovations and special events that made Dayton’s famous. Luxury items of clothing were moved out from behind the counters for easy access to customers, a lower-priced store was installed in the basement, private dressing rooms were set up and novel publicity events were held like the display of the Curtiss biplane that had just won a race in France.
The eighth-floor shows at Christmas and the flower shows were famous. The annual Santa Bear became a popular collectible for years.
The company held employee dinners; supported employee sports teams and musical groups, and opened a welfare department to help employees with loans or the purchase of homes, fostering a fierce sense of loyalty.
For the store’s silver anniversary in 1927, Dayton’s wanted to fill people with amazement and sought silver coins minted in 1902 and paid extra for them. So 43,022 silver coins and a selection of rare silver pieces, including a candelabra made for Britain’s Queen Anne, were put on display for 52 hours with guards in and outside the display.
In 1956 Dayton’s made history with the opening of the nation’s first enclosed regional shopping mall at Southdale, with the thought that the Minneapolis area only had about 120 pleasant shopping days a year. After that more than 8,000 covered malls opened around the country.
In 1962, Dayton’s opened its first Target store - in Roseville. Then the store bought out Hudson’s and became Dayton Hudson, which bought out Chicago’s Marshall Fields in 1990 and in 2006 the Dayton’s stores became Macy’s.
The book tells many more interesting details and anecdotes about the store and the family. People who lived through many of these changes or who wondered about the history of the store will find the book a fine source of stories.

— Pamela O’Meara

“The Finish Line”

By Robert A. Strommen
Beaver’s Pond Press

“My aim isn’t to win the race but to hone the skills that cross over into defining and living my purpose in life and business,” Robert Strommen, an avid Twin Cities runner, writes in “The Finish Line.”
The story is about going the distance, both in a marathon and in life. But this book is about much more than running; it’s about applying the drive that marathoners possess to everyday life.
“The Finish Line” includes personal experiences of runners from Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth and connects their running experiences to life lessons.
Running a marathon shows how people can find purpose, deal with adversity, fulfill a dream, approach relationships and much more.
The book makes for a perfect pick-me-up read whether or not you’re a runner.

— Jill Yanish

“Sky Tinged Red: A Chronicle of Two and a Half Years in Auschwitz”

By Isaia Eiger
Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.

Isaia Eiger gives a first-hand account of the hunger, hard labor and beatings of a prisoner of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II.
As a scribe, Eiger took detailed descriptions of the brutality and workings of the concentration camp where he was imprisoned for 2 1/2 years.
Eiger writes, “Every day a number of people were beaten so severely that they could not come to work the next day and had to go to the infirmary. The beatings, the hard work, lack of food and drink, and the dirt in which we were forced to live contributed to the spread of sickness ... Every day several collapsed at work, and we had to carry them back to camp. Most, though sick, feverish, reduced to skin and bones, eyes staring glassily, dragged themselves to work, where they often collapsed.”
Eiger was one of the fortunate ones who survived. After liberation, he moved to Minneapolis where he worked as a cabinetmaker. His daughter, a survivor of the Radom forced labor camp and Birkenau, translated her father’s story.

—  Jill Yanish

“Minneapolis Madams”

By Penny A. Petersen
University of Minnesota Press

Minneapolis’ colorful past is unveiled in this true story about women, sexuality and urban life. Penny A. Petersen, a researcher for a historical consulting company in Minneapolis, explores the lost history of prostitution in the city’s red-light district in a surprising behind-the-doors account of brothels and how these establishments first rose to fame in the late 19th century and then fell into disfavor in the early 20th century.
“Minneapolis Madams” is a detective story that poses questions about the political, social and economic issues that fed into the commercial sex industry.

—  Jill Yanish

“They’re Always with You”

By Mary Claire Lockman
Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Family secrets, a mysterious Daniel and the effects of unfortunate decisions made years ago are highlighted in “They’re Always with You” by Mary Claire Lockman of Roseville.
In this novel for young readers, 11-year-old Collette McGiver of Red Wing  is an avid basketball player who lives with her parents, grandfather and aunt in Red Wing, Minn. She sets out to discover who Daniel is after over-hearing that name a few times in private family conversations. As she slowly unearths some family history and secrets, her already close-knit family becomes closer at the end of her quest.
The book has wholesome values as family members support each other in dealing with the grandfather’s serious health problems and supporting Collette through her basketball season. She learns that winning isn’t everything but family is.
While the story is fiction, Lockman said she grew up in a family that had secrets, and like Collette, she was a happy-go-lucky girl who loved basketball and loved her family.
“I chose the age 11 1/2 because I think that’s the time when a child really becomes aware of the adults in their life ... and realizes that the adults have been shaped by people and events in their past.  
Colette learns through interviewing her grandfather that he has many people inside of him.  And she realizes he will always be part of her.  This is where the title comes from,” Lockman says.
Lockman also wants readers to understand how hard immigrants like Collette’s grandparents worked and persevered but also how they dealt with their grief, which had far-reaching and sad consequences for her Aunt Florence.
“It’s important for children to know that learning secrets in their family does not destroy the family. There are some things that are just really hard to talk about.  
In the case of the McGiver family, Colette’s search for answers becomes healing for all of them and it makes the family stronger,” Lockman adds.

— Pamela O’Meara


By Sarah Stonich
University of Minnesota Press

In “Vacationland” Sarah Stonich of Minneapolis tells stories about the remote Naledi Lodge, once thriving but now a broken-down fishing resort in Minnesota’s vacationland - the north woods.
The story focuses on Meg Machutova, beginning with the severed hand her dog brings in from the snow and a call to the sheriff. This strange accident stirs up memories of the people Meg knew back then.
Meg was raised there by her grandfather and became an artist who paints images of her childhood in the far northern part of the state.
“Once upon a time, Naledi was Meg’s entire world, a place hemmed in by water in all its incarnations - stream, swamp, puddle, or lake. ... Her paintings evoke glossy mud, cattails poking, gasoline rainbows floating over the fishy sluice between wooden boat ribs,” Stonich writes.
As an adult who moved away, Meg returns only occasionally.
The book weaves in several others whose lives intersected there and who knew Meg back then.
The tales of these people are of “love and loss, heartbreak and redemption ... composed of conflicting dreams and shared experience,” according to the publisher.

—  Pamela O’Meara


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