Summer Reading Book Reviews

Book Reviews by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor


Summer is in full force. Here are some good books to read this summer while on vacation or while simply enjoying the season on your deck or porch.

 "On Sal Mal Lane" by Ru Freeman; Graywolf Press; paperback edition published May 2014; 386 pp 
Entering a world unfamiliar to you is one of the great joys of reading. "On Sal Mal Lane" is a great example of that. This rich novel takes place in Sri Lanka, in the years leading up to that country's civil war, which began in July 1983. The book is told from the point of view of the children in the neighborhood, mainly the Herath family who move in at the beginning of the story. Sal Mal Lane is a quiet cul-de-sac in a small town in Sri Lanka where residents from different ethnic and religious backgrounds-Tamil, Sinhalese, Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim and Burgher-are living in relative harmony. Childhood innocence, lively characters and mounting tensions due to political upheaval are all part of this powerful story. "On Sal Mal Lane" is not a light read, but it is an interesting, meaningful novel. 

"Shotgun Lovesongs" by Nickolas Butler; St. Martin's Press; March 2014; 306 pp
This debut novel features four male friends, born and raised in the fictional small town of Little Wing, Wisconsin, who are brought back together for a wedding. One of the men never left the area, as he took over the family farm; one joined a rodeo; one trades commodities and one is a big rock star. "Shotgun Lovesongs" is told in the alternating voices of all four men, along with Henry's wife Beth, who also grew up in Little Wing. The characters are in their early thirties and have had varying degrees of success, which complicates their friendship. Midwestern, small-town living, the dynamics of male friendship and the authenticity of the characters makes "Shotgun Lovesongs" a worthwhile read. 

"Driftless" and "Jewelweed" by David Rhodes; Milkweed Editions; paperback editions published May 2009 and April 2014; 429 pp and 451 pp
Author David Rhodes' first three novels were published in the mid-seventies. A motorcycle accident in 1976 left him paralyzed from the chest down. "Driftless" was published more than thirty years later, and "Jewelweed" followed in 2013. Both books are now available in paperback editions. The novels take place in southwestern Wisconsin, in the Driftless Region, which is an area untouched by glaciers, in the fictional small town of Words. The relatively short chapters feature a variety of characters, with July Montgomery, who has settled in Words after several decades of drifting, as the main character in "Driftless." Blake Bookchester, who has just been released from prison, returns to his father's house in Words, and is the central individual in "Jewelweed." Quite a few of the characters have roles in both novels; all of the people in the books are portrayed as very real, ordinary but multi-layered characters. Rhodes is a master at writing thoughtful, affecting prose. Both of these books are gems. 

 "The Bohemian Flats" by Mary Relindes Ellis; University of Minnesota Press; May 2014; 336 pp 
Raimond Kaufmann, the main character in the new novel "The Bohemian Flats," emigrates from Germany to Minnesota in 1896 and settles in a village of sorts on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. This village, called the Bohemian Flats, really existed from the 1880s until 1968, and was home to a diverse group of new European immigrants who worked as laborers in the mills. Kaufmann, whose older brother will inherit the family farm and brewery in his homeland, moves into a dilapidated house in The Flats, works to fix it up and soon convinces another brother and his family to join him. The Kaufmanns, along with other residents of The Flats, experience joy, prejudice, family conflict and loyalty, painful loss and kinship. "The Bohemian Flats" is a well-researched and eloquently written family narrative based on real events and locations. The story takes place in Minneapolis, Wisconsin and the European front in World War I, and is an engaging historical novel.

"Baseball Road Trips: The Midwest and Great Lakes" by Timothy M. Mullin; Triumph Books; April 2014; 224 pp 
This travel companion offers great suggestions for fans who want to see baseball in the heartland and enjoy cities and towns that provide Midwestern hospitality. Mullin, in his introduction, stresses the concept of "Explorus Maximus" (make the most of your curiosity.) He suggests that we meet new people, experience new things and have new adventures. Each of the nine chapters features a different state in the region. Mullin gives tips for the best lodging, restaurants and local attractions in or near the featured towns or cities. He includes major and minor league ballparks and also adds numerous "side trip" suggestions including the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Field of Dreams movie site , brewery tours of Wisconsin and Missouri and the Bob Feller Museum in Indiana. The book also tells readers the best places to sit and the best food to eat at the ballpark. "Baseball Road Trips" is an entertaining, accessible guide to watching baseball at different levels and locations, filled with enticing photographs and invaluable advice.