The Twin Cities for Bookish Sorts
I’ve reviewed quite a few books in the course of the past year, and read quite a few more. I’d like to take a moment at the close of the year to give my picks for the best books of 2011. And in keeping with the focus of this column, here is a short list of my picks of the best books Minnesota has produced in 2011.
Most of these authors live here, and in addition, most of these were published by Minnesota presses. This is not to say that there are not other great books out there by Minnesota authors or published in Minnesota, but within the parameters of my beat, this is the list I’ve come up with.
Once There Were Castles by Larry Millet (University of MN Press)
This is a beautiful coffee-table style book which benefits from fantastic research. Millett goes back deep into the history of the Twin Cities, scouring the records for traces of disappeared old mansions. With photos, drawings, engravings and in a few cases, blueprints, this is a feast for the eyes and the imagination. This trip is for anyone who has ever driven down a tree-lined street of mansions (like Summit Avenue in Saint Paul) and wondered who built these houses. The stories behind them are as varied and interesting as the houses themselves. History and architecture buffs will eat this up. For a full review, check here.
Killing Kate by Julie Kramer
This fourth in the Riley Spartz series by local news reporter-turned-thriller writer Kramer is perhaps her darkest yet. But what would you expect when the inspiration for the novel is a statue of a black angel in a cemetery? It’s a riveting story, involving a serial killer who has positioned all his victims to mimic the angel. Riley gets sucked into it, and pretty soon people she knows are turning up dead. A secondary story about a poor dog left in its owner’s truck in the heat of the summer comes back to haunt her, perhaps even more so than the dark angel. This is one where Riley really must come to terms with herself. Oh, and Nick. She needs to figure out what the deal is with Nick. P.S. Lock your doors.
For a full review of Killing Kate, check this, which Julie Kramer says, “Might just be my favorite review.”
Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers by Pendred Noyce
Published by Minneapolis-based Scarletta Press as the first title in their new children’s imprint. A wonderfully creative journey with two very likable kids through a very curious land where learning just happens to be part of the story. And it feels that way. It is fun to go along on the kids’ journey of discovery. You might even learn a few forgotten tidbits yourself. Plus, there’s a really good actual story here, with a highly imaginative plot and some very interesting characters. This is the first in a series, hooray!
You can read a review of Lost in Lexicon here, and a profile of Scarletta Press here.
Through No Fault of My Own by Coco Irvine, with Introduction by Peg Meier (University of MN Press)
Meier has done it again, with her delving into the not-so-distant past of Minnesotans. This time, she has published a found diary, and readers are treated to the antics of Coco, during the year she was 13 in the 1920s. An exuberant, sometimes rebellious girl, Coco lived the good life and we get all the details. Her family home is now the governor’s mansion. Meier rounds out the diary with a selection of family photos and an epilogue that tells us what became of the Irvine family. All ages will enjoy skipping along with the antics of the irrepressible darling Coco.
I adored this sweet little book, and the lovely author. You can find out more about Peg Meier’s other books on her website. Read a full review of Through No Fault of My Own here and an interview with Peg Meier here.
I read most of the finalists of the Minnesota Book Awards, and if you are looking for a great reading list, you need look no further than the finalists for this annual award. The list of the finalists from 2011 will be out soon.
A very Happy New Year to all. Wishing you prosperity, health and peace – and above all, good books to read. If you are looking for more book suggestions, come find me on GoodReads. And please share this with anyone you know who may be interested. The best is yet to come in 2012!
Full disclosure and disclaimer: Publishers provided gratis review copies for all books mentioned above. Other reviews copies were received in 2011, but these were the best of the bunch.