Whatever your holiday plans are during this pandemic year, gifts are going to be in the mix. Here are some of the most praised fiction and nonfiction books from Minnesota writers that earned a spot under the tree. But with all the good books published this year, there are still dozens worthy of your consideration. So browse your favorite local bookstores’ websites for other titles, which often come with staff recommendations. And these folks know what they’re talking about.
“Fossil Men” by Kermit Pattison (Morrow) — Subtitled “The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind,” it’s the story of what happened when fossil hunting legend Tim White uncovered a set of ancient bones in Ethiopia, more than a million years older than the famous “Lucy” skeleton, rivalries and broken friendships between fossil hunters with huge egos, and the origin of humans.
“Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck” by William Souder (Norton) — The first biography of the great American writer in a quarter-century, told using fiction-writing techniques, exploring how Steinbeck’s compassion for the poor and downtrodden influenced his life and writing.
“The Wolf’s Trail: An Ojibwe Story, Told by Wolves” by Thomas D. Peacock (Holy Cow! Press) — The author, winner of two Minnesota Book Awards, tells of an elder wolf who recounts to the pups the long relationship of humans and wolves, who were first together at the beginning of the world.
“WOLF ISLAND: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal” by L. David Mech with Greg Breining (University of Minnesota Press) — Internationally-known wolf expert Mech was a young graduate student when he spent three summers and winters on Isle Royale National Park, tracking and observing wolves and moose on foot and by airplane, one of the first scientists to study the animals, unlocking the mysteries of these secretive predators.
“Brave Enough” by Jessie Diggins with Todd Smith (University of Minnesota Press) — Olympic Gold Medalist in cross-country skiing reveals the story of her journey from Afton, Minn., to the 2018 Olympics, where she blew past two of the best sprinters in the women’s team sprint freestyle race to win the first-ever cross-county Gold Medal for the United States.
“Far Out Man: Tales of Life in the Counterculture” by Eric Utne (Random House) — Founder of Utne Reader recalls his Minnesota childhood and a life of seeking enlightenment, including beginning the journal in 1984 that was one of the first to explore social trends and issues before they became hot topics.
“The Journalist” by Jerry A. Rose and Lucy Rose Fischer (SparkPress) — In the early 1960s, writer and artist Jerry Rose traveled to Vietnam to teach English and gather material for his writing. Almost accidentally, he became one of America’s most important war correspondents. Now his sister has drawn on her late brother’s journals, letters and other writings to tell his story. Starred review in Kirkus Reviews.
“The Hilarious World of Depression” by John Moe (St. Martin’s Press) — A book, born of the author’s poplar podcast of the same name, in which Moe includes funny stories and insights into the depression he’s struggled with for years, as well as interviews with musicians, writers, public figures and others who share the condition.
“Surgical Renaissance in the Heartland: A Memoir of the Wangensteen Era” by Henry Buchwald (University of Minnesota Press) – The author, University of Minnesota emeritus professor of surgery and biomedical engineering, and the Owen H. and Sarah Davison Wangensteen Chair in Experimental Surgery, recalls being a young doctor at the university in the exciting decade when Owen Wangensteen and other physician innovators were pioneering in the fields of bowel obstruction, obesity, open-heart surgeries, heart transplantation, pancreas transplants for diabetes, intestinal bypass for elevated cholesterol levels, and other landmark procedures.
“Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify” by Carolyn Holbrook (University of Minnesota Press — Founder and executive/artistic director of SASE:The Write Place, who came out of poverty to become a much-admired teacher, arts activist and advocate for writers of color, tells in her essays about the ghosts and spirits that influenced her life.
“American Gospel” by Lin Enger (University of Minnesota Press) — God has told an old man living in northern Minnesota that the world will end in two weeks, making him a magnet for zealots, curiosity seekers and reporters, and bringing home his skeptical son and the woman he always loved, now a glamorous actress, with whom he shares a son.
“Catfishing on CatNet” by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen) — Teenagers befriend a sentient artificial intelligence who lives in the internet; winner of a Minnesota Book Award, Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award and Silver winner in Nautilus Book Awards, which focus on books striving to make a better world.
“The Land” by Thomas Maltman (SoHo Press) — Set at the height of Y2K, a man seeks his ex-lover at a white supremacist church deep in the Minnesota woods, where followers await the end of the world and are not as benign as their visitor first thought.
“The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich (Harper) — In the early 1950s, a night watchman at a plant tries to stop the federal government’s emancipation plan, which would bring the end to the Ojibwe way of life. Based on letters from the author’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Advisory committee.
“Northernmost” by Peter Geye (Knopf) — A continuation of the author’s stories about the Eide family, set in the present and past, following a well-to-do woman. a member of the Eide family, who travels to her ancestral home where she falls in love. In the chapters set in the past, her ancestors Odd Einar Eide and his wife, Inger, wait for word of their daughter, who went to America and was never heard from again. Odd returns home, after being nearly killed by a bear on the tundra, to find his funeral in progress.
“The Sun Collective” by Charles Baxter (Pantheon) — When a charismatic young actor drops out of sight, his parents search for him. A young woman who wants to do good is hooked on a new drug and she’s in love (she thinks) with a young man who becomes increasingly obsessed with punishing rich people. They all end up at the Sun Collective, a loose organization of volunteers who plant gardens and help the lost put their lives together. But are some of their members planning something more sinister? Part social commentary, part exploration of the irritations and comforts of a long marriage.
“Unspeakable Things” by Jess Lourey (Thomas & Mercer) — In 1983, a town’s young people are unsettled when boys disappear. Inspired by the real-life kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling.
“Dead West” by Matt Goldman (Tor) — Minnesota P.I. Nils “Shap” Shapiro is hired by a woman to investigate what her grandson is doing in Los Angeles with all his money. Shap finds a murder as soon as he gets there.
“Deadfall” by Brian Lutterman (Conquill Press) — Paraplegic former prosecutor Pen Wilkerson goes undercover to investigate corporate fraud.
“From the Grave” by David Housewright (Minotaur Books) — Rushmore “Mac” McKenzie is threatened by a ghost with only half a head when he gets involved with the world of psychics.
“Funeral for a Friend” (Blackstone Publishing) and “The Bourne Evolution” (Putnam) by Brian Freeman — Duluth-based Detective Jonathan Stride is the primary suspect in a cold case involving a body with a bullet hole in its skull in “Funeral for a Friend.” Freeman was tapped by Robert Ludlum’s estate to continue the adventures of Jason Bourne and “The Bourne Evolution” is his first offering.
“The Haunting of Brynn Wilder” by Wendy Webb (Lake Union Publishing ) – Brynn Wilder is exhausted and shattered after the death of her mother, whom she took care of. Staying at an inn on the shore of Lake Superior, she meets a kind woman who knows a lot about her, including why her dreams are leading her to the locked room where a woman’s body was found. She’s also falling in love with a mysterious housemate.
“In a Midnight Wood” by Ellen Hart (Minotaur Books) — Grand Master Hart sends P.I. Jane Lawless and her drama queen friend Cordelia to a small town where a man’s remains are found after 20 years, just before his high school class reunion that brings together some classmates who knew what happened the night the young man disappeared.
“Minnesota Not So Nice” (Twin Cities Chapter, Sisters in Crime) — Eighteen tales of bad behavior, including murder, in the Land of a Thousand Lakes and some corpses.
“Pineland Serenade” by Larry Millett (Millett & Ahern) — Newly-elected county attorney Paul Zweifel of Paradise County, Minn., is enmeshed in murders rooted in the sins of his father and two other deceased men.
“The Streel: A Deadwood Mystery” (University of Minnesota Press) — Irish immigrant Brigid Reardon ends up in Deadwood, S.D., in 1880 where her brother goes on the run when accused of killing a streel (prostitute) with whom he was in love, while Brigid refuses to sell her brother’s mine share to a shifty guy she met while working in a Summit Avenue mansion in St. Paul..
“Thief River Falls” by Brian Freeman (Amazon Publishing) — A novelist who wrote a book titled “Thief River Falls,” named after her hometown, is holed up there, grief-stricken over the deaths of her family. She takes in a little boy who appears at her door who doesn’t know his name but remembers the police threatened to kill him. Soon, real-life parallels the woman’s fiction.
CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS
“Cameron Goes to School” by Sheletta Brundridge (Beaver’s Pond Press) — An autistic little girl prepares for first grade, based on the author’s daughter, who asked her mother why there were no books about kids who look like her.
“If We Were Gone” by John Coy (Millbrooke Press) — A beautifully-illustrated, nonthreatening story about what would happen if humans disappeared from the earth, including clean air and peacefulness.
“The Most Beautiful Thing” by Kao Kalia Yang (Carolrhoda Books) — A Hmong girl whose family is too poor to buy her braces learns that her grandmother’s smile is the most beautiful thing in the world.
“The Shared Room” by Kao Kalia Yang (University of Minnesota Press) — A Hmong boy’s grief over the death of his sister is eased when he is given her old room.
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