Imagine, if you will, a stroll down Lyndale Ave. Without warning, it begins to rain. You dash off on to a side street to escape the weather and come to find yourself down a staircase and into a bookstore. You shake the droplets and look around. Each corner of the worn-in lower level comes complete with soft chairs and stacks upon stacks of mystery and crime novels. I give you, Once Upon A Crime. a thirty-something-year-old basement bookstore on West 26th Street in Minneapolis’s Whittier neighborhood. The perfect place to find that next thriller.
Because we are unable to experience such a place, our next best option is to stalk their website, scour until the perfect next-love is found, and patiently wait for it to arrive on the doorstep. Once you have said new-love, deep-dive head first. With that, I give you some of my top favorites, all of which you can find on their website.
The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich’s The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture. You can find this title and others like it right here.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Teenage Linda lives with her parents in the austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outsider at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is faced with child pornography charges, his arrest deeply affects Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong. And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Linda finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy. But with this new sense of belonging comes expectations and secrets she doesn’t understand and, over the course of a summer, Linda makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. One of the most daring literary debuts of the year and a national bestseller, History of Wolves is an agonizing and gorgeously written novel from an urgent, new voice in American fiction. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Finding Hollis by Pauline Knaeble Williams
…the sway of the trolley, the unusual passenger, the truck’s raspy muffler, the woman’s torn dress, and her own inability to help. Frances is determined to let the details of the disturbing incident go. She’s certain that by Monday her life will return to normal and the wrung-out feeling inside will be gone. Yet she soon finds that neither the sound of her typewriter nor the lunchroom chatter will erase the dying woman’s final request: “Find Hollis.” FINDING HOLLIS, a novel set in 1944 in North Minneapolis, is a journey in search of more than just a name. Within it the threads of three separate worlds become interwoven-first by circumstance, then by understanding. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Shelter: Off the Grid in the Mostly Magnetic North by Sarah Stonich
In her search for land to call her own—among tall pines and on a lake—newly single mom Sarah Stonich seeks a sense of permanence, a legacy for her son, and a connection to her heritage. Along this way, Stonich recalls family lore, meets remarkable characters, considers another go at love, and, finally, builds a cabin. But when her precious patch of land is threatened, she discovers that family is no less treasured with or without a piece of earth. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Iron Lake: A Novel (Cork O’Connor Mystery Series #1) by William Kent Krueger
In eighteen novels over twenty years, William Kent Krueger has enthralled readers with the adventures of P.I. Cork O’Connor, former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota—selling more than 1.5 million copies of his books and winning the Edgar Award, Minnesota Book Award, Northeastern Minnesota Book Award, Dilys Award, Lovey Award, and Anthony Award along the way. Now, in this special anniversary edition, longtime fans and new readers alike can read the novel that first introduced Corcoran “Cork” O’Connor to the world. Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Cork is having difficulty dealing with the marital meltdown that has separated him from his children, getting by on heavy doses of caffeine, nicotine, and guilt. Once a cop on Chicago’s South Side, there’s not much that can shock him. But when the town’s judge is brutally murdered, and a young Eagle Scout is reported missing, Cork takes on this complicated and perplexing case of conspiracy, corruption, and a small-town secret that hits painfully close to home. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Ordinary Grace: A Novel by William Kent Krueger
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder. Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. You can find this one and others like it right here.
A Relative Stranger: Stories by Charles Baxter
Without question Charles Baxter, whose ravishing novel The Feast of Love was a National Book Award finalist, is one of our finest contemporary writers. These two books, set in the Michigan landscape that Baxter has made his own, display his unparalleled gift for revealing the unexpected in everyday life. The often-curious connections of relatives and strangers are illuminated in the thirteen exquisite stories of A Relative Stranger. “You can’t just get a brother off the street,” a character says, but indeed he does. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan
Nell Stillman’s road is not easy. When her boorish husband dies soon after they move to the small town of Harvester, Minnesota, Nell is alone, penniless yet responsible for her beloved baby boy, Hillyard. Not an easy fate in small-town America at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the face of nearly insurmountable odds, Nell finds strength in lasting friendships and in the rich inner life awakened by the novels she loves. She falls in love with John Flynn, a charming congressman who becomes a father figure for Hillyard. She teaches at the local school and volunteers at the public library, where she meets Stella Wheeler and her charismatic daughter Sally. She becomes a trusted friend and confidant to many of the girls in town, including Arlene and Lark Erhardt. And no matter how difficult her day, Nell ends each evening with a beloved book in her hands. The triumphant return of a great American storyteller, Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse celebrates the strength and resourcefulness of independent women, the importance of community, and the transformative power of reading. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal
When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience. Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Once in a Blue Moon Lodge: A Novel by Lorna Landvik
Set adrift when her mother sells the salon that has been a neighborhood institution for decades, Nora Rolvaag takes a camping trip, intending to do nothing more than roast marshmallows over an open fire and under a starry sky. Two chance encounters, however, will have enormous consequences, and her getaway turns out to be more of a retreat from her daily life than she ever imagined. But Nora is the do-or-die-trying daughter of Patty Jane, who now must embrace the House of Curl’s slogan: “Expect the Unexpected.” With her trademark wit and warmth, Lorna Landvik follows Nora and an ever-growing cast of characters between city and wooded retreat, Minnesota and Norway, a past that’s secret and a future that’s promising, but uncertain. Responding to a mysterious letter with a Norwegian postmark, Nora’s grandmother Ione travels to her native land to tend to a dying cousin and her husband—two people who played a painful, pivotal role in her past. Nora accompanies her and is surprised by her grandmother’s long-ago love story—but even more surprised by the beginning of her own. A book about making new beginnings out of old endings, Once in a Blue Moon Lodge invites readers to check in, set down their baggage, and spend time with the kind of people who understand that while they can’t control all that life throws at them, they can at least control how they catch it. And as anyone who has stopped in at Patty Jane’s House of Curl will tell you: you’re in for a rollicking good time with characters whose strengths, foibles, and choices will have you laughing and crying. Hankerings for coffee and gingerbread cookies may also be experienced. You can find this one and others like it right here.
A Hard Ticket Home by David Housewright
Ex-St. Paul cop Rushmore McKenzie has more time and more money than he knows what to do with. In fact, when he’s willing to admit it to himself (and usually he isn’t), McKenzie is downright bored. Until he decides to do a favor for a friend facing a family tragedy: nine-year-old Stacy Carlson has been diagnosed with leukemia, and the only one with the matching bone marrow that can save her is her older sister Jamie. Trouble is, Jamie ran away from home years ago. McKenzie begins combing the backstreets of the Twin Cities, tracking down Jamie’s last known associates only to discover that along with the expected pimps and drug dealers, Jamie was also a favorite of a violent street gang, arms smugglers, and Minnesota’s moneyed elite. And as the body-count rises, he learns that what he’s looking for–and why–are nothing like he had imagined. You can find this one and others like it right here.
The Vanishing by Wendy Webb
Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired . . . and who the world believes is dead. When she arrives at the Sinclairs’ enormous estate on Lake Superior, Julia begins to suspect that there may be sinister undercurrents to her “too-good-to-be-true” position. As Julia delves into the reasons of why Amaris chose to abandon her successful writing career and withdraw from the public eye, her search leads to unsettling connections to her own family tree, making her wonder why she really was invited to Havenwood in the first place, and what monstrous secrets are still held prisoner within its walls. You can find this one and others like it right here.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. You can find this one and others like it right here.
Kevin Kling’s Holiday Inn by Kevin Kling
Kevin Kling’s first book, The Dog Says How, brought readers into his wonderful world of the skewed and significant mundane. Kling does it again in Kevin Kling’s Holiday Inn, a romp through a yearful of holidays and a lifetime of gathering material. A wiener dog with an amazing capacity for destruction impresses the whole family and contributes to their collection of favorite disastrous Christmas stories. A Choctaw and a nun go trick-or-treating on Halloween. A boy makes a frightening decision every year when he chooses which classmate gets the “Be Mine” Valentine. Kevin takes his mom to a Fourth of July demolition derby–and then he takes an epic trip around the bases at a ball game on Memorial Day. From tomfoolery with his brother in the backseat of their dad’s car through his carefully considered instructions for ice fishing, Kling never loses the spirit of his story or holds back on its humor. You can find this one and others like it right here.
The Antelope Wife: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
A New York Times bestselling author, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and winner of the National Book Award, Louise Erdrich is a renowned chronicler of life and love, mystery and magic, within the Native American community. A hauntingly beautiful story of a mysterious woman who enters the lives of two families and changes them forever, Erdrich’s classic novel, The Antelope Wife, has enthralled readers for more than a decade with its powerful themes of fate and ancestry, tragedy and salvation. Now the acclaimed author of The Plague of Doves and The Round House has radically revised this already masterful work, adding a new richness to the characters and story while bringing its major themes into sharper focus, as it ingeniously illuminates the effect of history on families and cultures, Ojibwe and white. You can find this one and others like it right here.
How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide by Howard Mohr
Based in part on material written for “A Prairie Home Companion”, How to Talk Minnesotan will help visitors to Minnesota keep from sticking out like sore thumbs when they don’t know the difference between “not too bad a deal” and “a heckuva deal”. Illustrated with line drawings. You can find this one and others like it right here.