Holiday Books illustration Holiday Books illustration
Illustration by Andrea Mongia • Special to the Star Tribune

Good reads for winter

Has there ever been a winter that needed books more than this one? Novels and short stories and histories and poetry to get us through this long COVID-19 winter of lockdown and isolation? Our holiday books section highlights more than 50 books, something for everyone on your list. And you might want to set aside a couple for yourself as well.

  • All Books (57)
  • Critics' Choice (10)
  • Fiction (12)
  • Non-Fiction (12)
  • Picture Books (8)
  • Regional Books (5)
  • Young Adult (10)
  • List (57)

A Lover’s Discourse

By Xiaolu Guo

A newcomer makes her way in a sundered land. This timeless story line gets a bracing overhaul in Xiaolu Guo’s “A Lover’s Discourse.” The novel’s Chinese narrator is studying in “Brexit Britain,” a divided nation that’s increasingly hostile to immigrants. As she finds love and films a documentary, her experiences inspire stimulating observations about language, gender and rootlessness. A captivating look at an inventive mind — and an astute portrait of our troubling political moment. (Grove Press, $26)

Reviewed by Kevin Canfield, Special to the Star Tribune

Homeland Elegies

By Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar’s tour de force probes the prismatic experiences of one Muslim immigrant family adrift in a combustible America. A literary decathlete, he runs a gamut of forms, revealing inconvenient truths, harmonies masquerading as dissonances. Akhtar’s characters are flawed but deeply human: his Trump-voting father; a conflicted Pakistani financier; even Robert Bork, brought back from the grave, “who sniffed decadence in Dixieland music and detective fiction, whose vision of a healthy society resembled a reactionary fever dream.” “Homeland Elegies” laments our country’s downward slope but also captures literary lightning in a bottle. (Little, Brown, $28)

Reviewed by Hamilton Cain, Special to the Star Tribune


By Marilynne Robinson

Like all of Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful novels emanating from the fictional small town of Gilead, Iowa, “Jack” finds its drama in the tensions between one’s inner life and the world’s practical, moral and social dictates. Jack, the very definition of the prodigal son, long estranged from his reverend father and family, hopes to find peace in “a new aspiration, harmlessness.” But when he falls in love with a Black woman in segregated post-World War II St. Louis, doing harm becomes unavoidable, and his story, quietly tragic. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27)

Reviewed by Ellen Akins, Special to the Star Tribune

Just Us: An American Conversation

By Claudia Rankine

In memorable essays that are lyrical, philosophical, academic and personal, Claudia Rankine’s “Just Us” makes the case that justice for all will result from intimacy and candor in our interpersonal interactions — “real talk,” as the kids say. Described like that, “Just Us” can sound like medicine America should take to get well. It isn’t. It’s an artful, insightful, provocative and beautiful open letter to all who believe we can still form a more perfect union. (Graywolf Press, $30)

Reviewed by Michael Kleber-Diggs, Special to the Star Tribune

Minor Feelings

By Cathy Park Hong

Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” is a must-read essay collection for our times. Unflinching in its examination of race relations — specifically what it means to be Asian American occupying “a vague purgatorial status” — it never seeks to dote on the reader. With personal fervor and self-depreciating humor often filtered through her brilliant, poetic lens, Hong rejects easy answers and ultimately affirms our collective responsibility in creating a more just world for all. (One World, $27)

Reviewed by Angela Ajayi, Special to the Star Tribune

More than Organs

By Kay Ulanday Barrett

This isn’t a book. It’s a portable home for those to whom the world refuses hospitality — people who are queer, disabled, of color, or an immigrant. It is a reminder of the urgent work of poetry in offering “words folded … like/ they are rocking/ themselves/to sleep.” Kay Ulanday Barrett holds marginalized communities in their loving reminder: “people are more than organs.” Heed their call: “Make a garden of the minute/ bury your heart in the mud, make your pulse bigger.” (Sibling Rivalry Press, $18)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Hoover, Special to the Star Tribune

Owls of the Eastern Ice

By Jonathan C. Slaght

The Blakiston’s fish owl is as tall as a fire hydrant and has wings that unfold to more than six feet; it is the largest owl in the world. Minneapolis wildlife biologist Jonathan C. Slaght spent five winters in far eastern Russia, studying the owl’s habitat and working to determine what it needs to survive — and how those needs can be balanced by the needs of the loggers and fishermen who also live there and, like the owls, depend on the trees and rivers for their livelihood. Slaght’s beautifully written book — longlisted for the National Book Award — is a tremendous read, a book that entertains and thrills as well as teaches. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Such a Fun Age

By Kiley Reid

In her outstanding debut, Kiley Reid combines the sear of painful social observations with the salve of delicious plot turns and spot-on characterization. There are occasions for heartbreak — the opening scene among them — but Reid maintains a sense of humor as she explores the dynamic between Alix Chamberlain, a white business owner, and Emira Tucker, the Chamberlain family’s Black babysitter. Insightful and witty, topical without being didactic, the urgency of this work cannot be overstated. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $26)

Reviewed by Jackie Thomas-Kennedy

The Abstainer

By Ian McGuire

Like his last novel “The North Water,” Ian McGuire’s “The Abstainer” is a murky, gripping and hugely accomplished piece of historical fiction. Set in Manchester in the late 1860s, it follows Head Constable James O’Connor as he wrestles with grief, guilt and alcoholism while hunting down Stephen Doyle, a “dark-browed, war-scarred, murderous” Irish-American veteran who has arrived in town hellbent on revenge. McGuire plunges us into a terrifying world of violence and injustice and keeps us guessing as to which man will meet a bloody end. (Random House, $27)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune


By Ariel Sabar

Ariel Sabar’s thoroughly brilliant “Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” starts with a fragment of papyrus supposedly showing that Jesus was married, probably to Mary Magdalene, and that she, in turn, was an early Christian spiritual leader. Harvard professor Karen King heralded it widely as proof of what she already believed. In fact, as the relentless investigator Sabar reveals, the scrap of writing was forged by a pornographer and embezzler and, further, that King had another, more devious motive for embracing it. (Doubleday, $$29.95)

Reviewed by Katherine A. Powers, Special to the Star Tribune


By Anne Enright

Anne Enright’s seventh novel is the story of (fictitious) Irish theater legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her only child. Norah’s portrait of her parent — “an artist, a rebel, and a romantic” — covers a distinguished career encompassing the London stage, Broadway and Hollywood, and an eventful personal life which culminates in “a tempest of drink and illusion.” But while sifting her mother’s dark secrets, Norah ends up confronting demons from her own past. Another rich and emotionally charged performance from a first-rate author. (Norton, $26.95)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Deacon King Kong

By James McBride

One day in 1969, a church deacon known to his friends as Sportcoat signs his death warrant by entering the plaza of Causeway Housing Projects in South Brooklyn and shooting a 19-year-old drug dealer. What triggered this seemingly rash act and what will be the repercussions? National Book Award-winner James McBride reveals all by amplifying the voices of a vibrant neighborhood, including that of the memorable hero. A riotous, electrifying read. (Riverhead, $28)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

By Deepa Anappara

When a classmate goes missing, 9-year-old Indian boy Jai and his two friends Pari and Faiz turn amateur sleuths and comb their shantytown to track him down. But then more children start to disappear, prompting the trio to widen their search, intensify their “detectiving,” and confront some harsh realities. Deepa Anappara’s stunning debut is powered by skillfully rendered humor, drama, and pathos, plus a unique narrative voice. (Random House, $27)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune


By Maggie O’Farrell

Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, died in 1596 at the age of 11. Little is known of him, or indeed the rest of his family. Fortunately Maggie O’Farrell harnesses her creative expertise to bring them vividly alive. With formidable artistry, empathy and attention to period detail, she reconstructs the boy’s tragically short life, reimagines his parents’ back-stories, and, in a bravura last act, reveals how his father wrote a career-defining play while trapped in “a web of absence.” Both a mesmerizing tale and a poignant study of grief, “Hamnet” is one of the year’s best novels and O’Farrell’s finest work to date. (Knopf, $26.95)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Here We Are

By Graham Swift

Flitting between time frames and perspectives, and revolving around the intersecting lives and relationships of three variety performers — magician Ronnie, his glamorous assistant Evie, and all-around entertainer Jack — this dazzling, gemlike novel showcases Graham Swift’s literary craftsmanship. Whether his characters are reinventing themselves onstage and off, or reflecting on past pleasure and pain half a century later, they prove captivating presences who leave a lingering impression. (Knopf, $22.95)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Moonflower Murders

By Anthony Horowitz

Like “Magpie Murders” before it, “Moonflower Murders” comprises one gripping whodunit within another. Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is lured back to England from her Greek retreat to solve a brutal murder and find a missing woman. To get to the bottom of the mystery she — and the reader — must follow the clues scattered throughout the pages of a novel by one her former writers, the creator of the brilliant detective Atticus Pünd. Intricate, ingenious, and tremendous fun. (Harper, $28.99)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Run Me to Earth

By Paul Yoon

In war-ravaged Laos in the late 1960s, orphans Alisak, Prany and Noi take sanctuary in a field hospital and secure a means of staying afloat by running errands across treacherous terrain for a doctor called Vang. But as hostilities intensify, the three friends find themselves fleeing, then wrenched apart, and forced either to endure the horrors of a “re-education center” or the upheaval of exile. Ranging across decades and continents, Paul Yoon’s powerful novel shows how conflict creates tight bonds and leaves lasting scars. (Simon & Schuster, $28)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Sweet Sorrow

By David Nicholls

Few writers can tug at a reader’s heartstrings like David Nicholls, and on this occasion he comes close to snapping a couple. One hot summer, listless 16-year-old Charlie discovers a sense of purpose after he swallows his pride, overcomes his fear and joins an amateur theater troupe. As their production of “Romeo and Juliet” takes shape, so too does a relationship between Charlie and fellow actor Fran. But can it last? A charming, evocative and searingly beautiful tale about “the brief, blinding explosion of first love.” (Mariner, $16.99)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

The Mirror and the Light

By Hilary Mantel

The final part of Hilary Mantel’s epic Tudor trilogy about the blacksmith’s son who became Henry VIII’s right-hand man and chief fixer marks a triumphant conclusion to a monumental enterprise. Spanning 1536-40, the last four years of Thomas Cromwell’s life, the book chronicles turbulent times, national and personal, and the hero’s attempts to restore order and remake England through grand plans and machinations. “He is the devil in guise of a knave,” says one character of him. But as Cromwell’s luck runs out and he falls foul of his protector, both he and the novel come to a thrilling, bloody end. (Henry Holt, $30)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

The Night Watchman

By Louise Erdrich

Inspired in part by the valiant struggles of her grandfather, Louise Erdrich’s enthralling and impassioned novel follows Chippewa tribal leader Thomas Wazhashk in his tireless fight against a new bill in Congress that purports to emancipate his people but in actual fact threatens their very existence. The narrative opens up to take in other members of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, most notably Thomas’s niece Patrice, who keeps us rapt on her perilous quest to find her missing sister. (Harper, $28.99)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Transcendent Kingdom

By Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s follow-up to her sprawling, multigenerational debut “Homegoing” is more condensed but just as absorbing. Gifty, a Ghanaian-American graduate student in neuroscience, hopes her research can help her make sense of her late brother’s heroin addiction and her mother’s depression. But while science may provide answers, it is faith that offers consolation. Gyasi expertly illuminates mental illness, family suffering and the immigrant experience in America. (Knopf, $27.95)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

Utopia Avenue

By David Mitchell

The latest novel from this virtuosic author is an exuberant, multivoiced affair that charts the progress of a British band on the rocky road to stardom in the Swinging Sixties and “the autumn of the Summer of Love.” Toning down the shape-shifting, genre-straddling antics of past offerings, David Mitchell prioritizes characterization by fully fleshing out his four musicians and their manager and winningly conveying their individual and collective hopes, dreams, successes, and misadventures. (Random House, $30)

Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes, Special to the Star Tribune

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song

Edited by Kevin Young

From Phillis Wheatley to Lucille Clifton, W.E.B. Du Bois to Audre Lord, this appealingly fat volume of Black poetry opens in the early years of this country and proceeds straight through the Civil War to the present, in lyrics both traditional and experimental. These are poems by “children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town,” as Minnesota poet Danez Smith says in one of the collection’s final pieces. (Library of America, $45)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune


By Isabel Wilkerson

In her first book, the sweeping and magnificent “The Warmth of Other Suns,” journalist Isabel Wilkerson traced the migration of hundreds of Black families from the American South to the North. In “Caste,” she delves deeper into why strong divides still exist in this country. Through a graceful blend of stories of ordinary people and meticulous research, she sets forth a strong argument that the United States operates under a caste system, much like that of Nazi Germany or India, a system that keeps white people at the top, and people of color in tiers below. (Random House, $32)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Do You Read Me?

By Gestalten and Marianne Julia Strauss.

How long has it been since you’ve wandered into a strange bookstore and spent an hour browsing the shelves? Thanks to COVID-19, I’m guessing it’s been too long. With this lovely book of photos and essays, you can browse amazing bookshops all over the world, from Istanbul to Bucharest to Tel Aviv to — Minneapolis? (Yes, Wild Rumpus makes an appearance, on pages 146-147.) What makes this book special is not just lovely pictures of cozy shops but also the deeply satisfying knowledge that books and bookstores are lovingly curated and valued the world over. (Gestalten, $60)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou

This Folio Society edition of Angelou’s 1969 autobiography is more than worthy of her magnificent book, all gussied up with a foreword by Tayari Jones, a bright orange slipcase and six paintings by Shabazz Larkin that are so vivid they seem to tremble on the page. Beginning when Angelou was a toddler and sent on the train from California back home to Stamps, Ark., and ending a decade later when Angelou gives birth to a son of her own, the memoir is joyous and lyrical, a testament to survival and triumph. (Folio Society, $70)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Mad at the World

By William Souder

The complicated life of novelist John Steinbeck, author of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Cannery Row,” is laid out in this vivid book by Minnesota writer William Souder in all Steinbeck’s great, prickly glory. Steinbeck, Souder maintains, was a “born storyteller” and deeply independent but struggled with depression and divorce. His strong sense of justice fueled his novels, which shone a strong light on the lives of the downtrodden. (W.W. Norton, $32)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Memorial Drive

By Natasha Trethewey

In 1985, when Natasha Trethewey was 19 years old, her mother was shot dead by an abusive man she was once married to. This violent death is at the heart of some of Pulitzer Prize-winner Trethewey’s most powerful poetry, and it is at the heart of this brief but searing memoir in which Trethewey revisits her memories of her mother, the crime itself, and its aftermath. The language is beautiful; the story is excruciating. (Ecco, $27.99)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

The Book of Eels

By Patrik Svensson, translated from the Swedish by Agnes Broome

Eels start life in the salty Sargasso Sea and then swim across the Atlantic Ocean to Great Britain and Europe, where they make their home in fresh water. When it’s time to procreate — and who knows how they decide this — they slip back into the ocean, return to the Sargasso Sea, mate, and die. Svensson’s fascinating history of eels, in all their mystery, is beautifully woven into a memoir of his youth and his relationship with his father (himself a mystery). (Ecco, $28.99)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

The Splendid and the Vile

By Erik Larson

Erik Larson is known for his fascinating, meticulously reported nonfiction books set at pivotal times in history (“The Devil in the White City” is about a murderer during the Chicago World Fair, “Dead Wake,” about the sinking of the Lusitania). In “The Splendid and the Vile” he gives us Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister of Great Britain, at the beginning of England’s involvement in World War II. The colorful characters and the gripping story make this book as enthralling as fiction. (Crown, $32)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Vesper Flights

By Helen Macdonald

In this stunning collection of essays, the author of the bestselling memoir “H is for Hawk” writes broadly about nature, what she calls “the glittering world of nonhuman life around us.” Her joyous, thoughtful and wise essays illuminate the wonders of mushroom hunting, winter walks and boxing hares. Perfect reading for a long COVID winter. (Grove, $27)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

World of Wonders

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil

A finalist for this year’s Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s brief, dazzling book is part memoir, part appreciation of the small things in nature. Beetles and buntings, the giant leaves of the catalpa tree, fireflies and vampire squids — these things helped her get through her sometimes lonely childhood and adolescence as one of the sole people of color in her Midwestern American neighborhoods. The illustrations by Fumi Mini Nakamura are pure delight. (Milkweed, $25)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through

Edited by Joy Harjo

Opening with a blessing by Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday, this hefty collection edited by Poet Laureate Joy Harjo is packed with poems by Native writers, organized both regionally and chronologically. These are poems that “sing, narrate and argue, that are lyrical, and often witty,” writes Heid E. Erdrich in her introduction to the section of Plains writers, which includes Gerald Vizenor, Marcie Rendon, Layli Long Soldier, Jim Northrup and Erdrich sisters Heid and Louise. Built of poems and songs traditional and modern, celebratory and mourning, this is a powerful collection. (W.W. Norton, $19.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

The Selected Letters of John Berryman

Edited by Philip Coleman and Calista McRae

Many of the 600 letters in this collection are housed at the University of Minnesota, where poet John Berryman taught from 1955 until his public, famous death 17 years later. The book opens with letters to his parents written when Berryman was a sensitive boy at boarding school (“I love you too much to talk about it,” he ended one letter) and ends with a letter written just a few days before his leap from the Washington Avenue Bridge. In between are letters to more than 200 people, including Robert Bly, Allen Tate, James Wright, Dylan Thomas and other literary giants. (Belknap Press, $39.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

One Summer Up North

By John Owens

No words are needed in this charming picture book — just the reader’s imagination. A family heads North to the BWCA where they portage, canoe, camp in the rain, pick blueberries, watch loons and stay up late to admire the starry Milky Way. Greens and blues dominate these pages, just as greens and blues dominate the lush North Woods. Woodland creatures lurk in the shadows. John Owens, who teaches at the University of Minnesota, tells a happy story in black pencil, overlaid digitally with color. Ages 3 and up. (University of Minnesota Press, $17.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

On the Shortest Day

By Laura Sulentich Fredrickson, illustrated by Laurie Caple

A young girl trudges through the deep snow of a slough on the shortest day of the year, scaring up rabbits, woodpeckers and deer in this lovely book by a first-time Minnesota writer and a notable Wisconsin wildlife artist. Fredrickson’s use of alliteration and onomatopoeia make this book fun to read aloud. Caple paints the wintry sky growing first pink, then orange, then red, then deep blue as the short day comes to a close. Bonus for alert readers: She has painted the shape of a heart into every one of the illustrations for you to find. Ages 3-7. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $17.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Secrets of the Loon

By Laura Purdie Salas and Chuck Dayton

Told in rhyme (though with different cadences and rhyme schemes throughout), “Secrets of Loon” is a blend of story and science. It tells the story of a loon baby, from egg to migration. We learn how the baby loon learns to swim, fish and dive and how to make that gorgeous wild call that we all love. Some of Dayton’s photographs are manipulated, intensifying the colors, but they are also documentary, catching loons at interesting moments. Endnotes at the back of the book provide additional information on the biology of loons, making this a useful text for home-schooling parents. Ages 3-7. (Minnesota Historical Society press, $16.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog

By David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

“See the cat,” the first story begins. “See the blue cat.” The yellow dog in the illustration is outraged. “I am NOT blue and I am NOT a cat.” This conversation between the know-it-all book and the outraged dog builds through three funny stories that will have young readers giggling. Twin Cities children’s authors LaRochelle and Wohnoutka (both are ambidextrous — that is, they both write and illustrate) have teamed up before, most recently for the award winning “Moo!” The results are always a joy. Ages 4-8. (Candlewick Press, $8.99)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Small Walt Spots Dot

By Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

There’s been a big winter storm, and Small Walt the snowplow and driver Gus head out to clear the sidewalks and parking lots of their small town. But there, in the snow — “a blur of fur!” A wet, stray dog takes shelter in the cab of Small Walt after leading Gus on a merry chase. The third in the series of stories about a plucky snowplow and its driver by Woodbury writer Verdick is as charming and old-fashioned as the first two, written in words simple enough for young children to sound out on their own. Ages 4-8. (Simon & Schuster, $17.99)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

The Most Beautiful Thing

By Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Le

St. Paul writer Yang’s third book this year, “The Most Beautiful Thing,” is a love story — to her grandmother, to the past, to history, to life in a loving family. Grandma is the family’s link to the life the Yang family left behind in Laos. As the children bathe her feet and trim her nails, Grandma talks about life in the jungle, fleeing from tigers and evil spirits, caring for her younger siblings after their mother died. “I didn’t find enough food,” she says. “We lived always with hunger eating us on the inside.” Life in America is also difficult. When the ice-cream truck jingles past, the children suck, instead, on ice cubes. But although there is little money, the family has stories, and it has love. Yang’s words resonate with poetic power through their clarity and imagery. Le’s elaborately detailed mixed-media and Photoshop illustrations are stunning. The endpapers are a kaleidoscope of shape and color. Ages 5-9. (Carolrhoda Books, $17.99)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

The Range Eternal

By Louise Erdrich, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

A wood-burning stove is the glowing heart of a household in the Turtle Mountains. The son of the family chops wood to keep the fire going, the daughter learns to read by tracing the raised letters of its name, the Range Eternal. The mother cooks soup and oatmeal on its stovetop and the father stirs the coals and feeds the fire every winter morning. At night, the dancing flames offer warmth and comfort. When electricity comes to the mountain, the old range is replaced by a new one, but efficiency, the daughter comes to realize, is not always better. First published in 2002, Erdrich’s story is simple and eloquent, weaving tales and history through crystal-clear prose. Johnson and Fancher’s lush paintings are rich with the gold of flames and the blue of the stove. (University of Minnesota Press, $17.95)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

The Welcome Wagon

By Cori Doerrfeld

Rumors fly and the parade of little animals grows longer as word spreads throughout Cubby Hill that there’s a new family in town. But soon, excitement is replaced by apprehension. “What if they make scary noises?” wonders Stella the skunk. “What if they’re from a different planet?” says Henry the lion cub. Minneapolis writer and artist Doerrfeld has spun a tale that will get kids giggling (what if the newcomers eat weird stuff — like toe jam?) but one that also reassures little readers that sometimes the unknown can produce very good things. Ages 4-8. (Abrams, $17.99)

Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Braiding Sweetgrass

By Robin Wall Kimmerer

This volume of essays about the teachings of plants, written from the author’s perspective as both a botany professor and as an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, became a surprise hit when it was first published in 2013. Enthusiastic bookstore staff hand-sold it, devoted readers gave it to friends, and before long, “Braiding Sweetgrass” had sold 350,000 copies — an impressive number for any book, let alone an essay collection combining scientific and Indigenous wisdom. This new, special edition is bound in stamped linen cloth, complete with bookmark ribbon, deckle edge, and five vivid color illustrations by St. Paul artist Nate Christopherson. (Milkweed Editions, $35)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb, Special to the Star Tribune

Fear and Loving in South Minneapolis

By Jim Walsh

There are regional books and then there are micro-regional books, and longtime Twin Cities writer Jim Walsh’s latest offering is one of those. In this collection of his community newspaper columns from the now defunct Southwest Journal, readers will come to know and love the people and places of the author’s Lake Harriet neighborhood just as Walsh has. Enjoy his evocative descriptions of night swimming, neighborhood musical jams, the magical Lake Harriet rose garden, and park benches dedicated to lost hometown rockers — and try not to be jarred by occasional abrupt departures to a Montana friend’s cabin or the Bogota hostel where he lived while adopting his children. (University of Minnesota Press, $17.95)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb, Special to the Star Tribune

Staring Down the Tiger: Stories of Hmong American Women

Edited by Pa Der Vang

Although a few Hmong women have become well-known writers — most notably St. Paul writer Kao Kalia Yang, author of “The Latehomecomer” — the world has not heard enough of their voices. Happily, this is now being addressed, most recently by this collection of 33 stories, essays and poems written by Hmong women and assembled by St. Paul-based organization Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together. Contributors range from 70-year-old Song Yang, whose first husband was killed in Laos during the Vietnam War, to women in their 20s such as Douachee Vang, for whom that country is known only as a setting for stories told by older relatives. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $17.95)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb, Special to the Star Tribune

The Lake Wobegon Virus

By Garrison Keillor

Keillor returns once more to Lake Wobegon, this time to chronicle the disastrous effects of a cheese-borne virus that causes episodic loss of social inhibition. This development leads to hijinks by such familiar characters as Darlene, who bares her breasts in the Chatterbox Café, and Grace the librarian, who recites dirty limericks to patrons. Keillor’s latest offering also features the literary conceit of a Twin Cities writer returning home to write a novel, which he discards and then retrieves. The author himself can’t seem to decide if this retrieval was wise or if his readers’ time might have “been better spent listening to the Fauré Requiem.” (Arcade Publishing, $26.99)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb, Special to the Star Tribune

Wolf Island

By L. David Mech with Greg Breining

When in June 1958 graduate student David Mech began studying the wolves of Isle Royale, the long-reviled animals had been all but exterminated from the Lower 48. Scientists at the time knew very little about the infamous apex predator, but that was about to change. Through three extraordinary summers and winters spent tracking the island’s wolves on foot and by air, Mech began what would become a 60-year study, which has added significantly to the world’s knowledge of Canis lupus. And in the process, he has transformed the animal’s reputation from relentless killer to symbol of wilderness and ecological well-being. (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95)

Reviewed by Lynette Lamb, Special to the Star Tribune

Finding My Voice

By Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Growing up in a tiny town on Minnesota’s Iron Range, Ellen Sung faces bullies at her all-white school and almost impossible expectations from her Korean immigrant parents. As her senior year of high school starts, she finds herself falling for a popular blond football player, Tomper Sandel, and is even more surprised to discover he returns her feelings. First published in 1993, this OwnVoices story still resonates with its lessons on small-town insularity, friendship and first love. (Soho Teen, $18.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

By Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen, author of “Hatchet” and other children’s classics, returns to the Northwoods in the opening of this young-adult memoir that takes him from magical moments in the wilderness to a childhood that forces him to grow up quickly in the shadow of two violently alcoholic parents. As Paulsen follows his mother from Chicago to Manila where his father is stationed during World War II and back to the Midwest, he learns to survive on the streets, find solace in the woods and discovers the power of stories to take us beyond ourselves. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

Lukezilla Beats the Game

By Kurtis Scaletta, illustrated by David Sossella

Thirteen-year-old Lucas has one plan for his summer: to spend it climbing the leaderboard of Smashtown Frenzy. But his parents want him to spend “off screen” time, so he agrees to help a retired legal librarian, Isaac Biddle. After Isaac has a stroke, Lucas stands up to a popular online gaming personality and becomes the target of cyberbullies. Sidelined from the game, Lucas finds unexpected allies and enemies in this warm-hearted tale from Minneapolis author Kurtis Scaletta. (Capstone, $16.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

Punching the Air

By Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Amal’s name means hope, but his future looks bleak after the budding artist and poet is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to a juvenile detention facility where lockdowns and beatdowns compete with isolation and self-doubt to grind down his spirit. In precise, empathetic bursts, Zoboi and Salaam’s poems draw us into a justice system that segregates lives and outcomes in black and white and explores the cost for young Black men trying to build their self-worth. (Balzer + Bray, $19.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

The Silver Box

By Margi Preus

In this final installment of Duluth author Margi Preus’ Enchantment Lake trilogy, Francie finds herself in possession of a silver box that may hold the key to her mother’s disappearance and a secret so valuable that a series of unsavory characters will do anything to get their hands on it. As she shuttles between the Northwoods and the Southwest, the revelations come fast and furious and Francie discovers the beauty, danger and fragility of the wintry landscape she calls home. (University of Minnesota Press, $16.95)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

Super Fake Love Song

By David Yoon

In this sweet and pointed story of a nerd out of his depth, Sunny Dae is a Dungeons & Dragons fan who makes detailed cosplay props with his two best friends, Jamal and Milo, and has never talked to a girl. But when glamorous Cirrus Soh moves into his neighborhood, Sunny adopts a new persona — and forms a fake band — to win her love. David Yoon explores the cost of toxic masculinity and the price to young adults when parents give up everything to chase the American dream. (Penguin Young Readers, $18.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

Where We Are

By Alison McGhee

Micah Stone hoped to save his family from being sucked in by a cult leader named the Prophet. His girlfriend, Sesame, hopes to make it through high school without being pulled into foster care. But their plans unravel when the Prophet’s van arrives unexpectedly, whisking Micah and his family away to a compound in an undisclosed location. As Micah tries to survive the Prophet’s psychological abuse, Sesame and her friends desperately seek clues to his location in this Minneapolis-set page-turner. (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, $18.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

The Magic Fish

By Trung Le Nguyen

Tien is a Catholic school student, navigating his first crush on a boy, while his mother struggles to help the family she left behind in Vietnam. The two have a nightly tradition — reading fairy tales — that becomes a third imaginative language as they try to bridge each other’s worlds. Lush, fluid illustrations by Minneapolis author and illustrator Trung Le Nguyen move from magical to watery realms, capturing the beauty and darkness of love and loss in this cross-cultural retelling of the Cinderella tale. (Random House Graphic, $16.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune

What If a Fish

By Anika Fajardo

“In Colombia, anything can happen.” But for young Eddie Aguado, growing up in Minneapolis, memories of his Colombian father are buried deeply, stories his white mother doesn’t want to tell. An unexpected twist puts Eddie on a plane for Cartagena, where he discovers a world where he is the “Americano,” unable to speak Spanish, but surrounded by family members with stories, songs and ghosts. Minneapolis author Anika Fajardo’s first middle-grade novel mines painful life lessons and in its magical middle section, it sings. (Simon & Schuster, $17.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune


By Darcie Little Badger

Lipan Apache teen Ellie has a poltergeist dog and a mild ability to wrangle ghosts — just like her Six-Great-Grandmother, who saved thousands of lives with her skills. When Ellie’s cousin Trevor dies in what appears to be an accident, she and her family, along with assorted psychics and magical creatures, set off to unravel the dark force behind his death. Darcie Little Badger weaves past and present, colonialism and survival, humor and grief in this inventive work of Indigenous futurism. (Levine Querido, $18.99)

Reviewed by Trisha Collopy, Star Tribune