Beat the heat with summer sizzlers

As we enter the dog days of summer, why not kick back inside air conditioned comfort and read some of the newest offerings by Minnesota authors?

Barns of Minnesota
Barns are such a part of Minnesota landscape that we may not notice they are vanishing into the past. Readers are reminded of a bygone era with "Barns of Minnesota."

"Barns of Minnesota" couples stunning photographs by New Hope photographer Doug Ohman, whose work is also featured in "Churches of Minnesota" and "Courthouses of Minnesota." The Maplewood Historical Society helped promote the book last year with Ohman speaking at a special event, after the group lobbied successfully to have a photo of its restored century-old Bruentrup barn included in the book.

The photos are woven together with a heartfelt story written by Bemidji State University professor Will Weaver. The story follows the life of a farmer and the barn that was such an important part of his life and the lives of his family.

Weaver grew up on a small dairy farm in north central Minnesota and saw the changes in agriculture during the late 1950s and early 1960s. "(It was) essentially the transition form the family farm to industrial farming or 'agribusiness,'" he explains. "Those sweeping changes in the Midwest are the backdrop for the barn book."

Weaver's family was not immune to the changing times; they sold the family farm in the 1980s, although Weaver retains some of the land for hiking and hunting.

"In terms of my family's farm, I found I had to let go of it in order to write well about it," Weaver says. "I came to believe that it was more important to write about life on the small farm than actually do it - fix fences, cut hay, etc.

"The French writer Proust has a famous quote," Weaver adds. "… We must give up what we love - set it free - in order to see it clearly."

Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson

Over 40 years ago, a St. Paul housewife dragged her bloodied, partially clothed body to her neighbor's home, where she collapsed on the neighbor's front steps. Three hours later, Carol Thompson was dead.

The murder was prominently reported in newspapers, and author William Swanson, 18 years old at the time, followed the case closely. "It just stayed with me," he explains.

Throughout his writing career, Swanson, who works as a senior editor for Mpls./St. Paul Magazine, says the Thompson murder "was always bobbing not too far below the surface."

Although Carol's husband, T. Eugene Thompson, was eventually charged and convicted for hiring his wife's killer, Swanson knew there was so much more to the story, including the lifelong emotional scars inflicted on the four Thompson children. "Dial M" follows those children as they become adults while still struggling to come to terms with their father's crime.

While writing "Dial M," Swanson became close with the Thompson children, especially with the oldest son. Jeff Thompson, who had been 13 years old when his mother died, is a judge in Minnesota's Third Judicial District in Winona.

Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods

Over one million acres in size, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness contains hundreds of lakes and rivers, has 1,200 miles of canoe routes and is home to abundant plants and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.

And it can swallow a person whole.

"Lost in the Woods" tells the true stories of two such people; in separate incidences, a medical student named Jason Rasmussen, who was hiking alone, and an experienced wilderness guide named Dan Stephens, who was leading a troop of Boy Scouts through a camping expedition, were lost in the vast woods.

Their stories are told by Rosemount author Cary J. Griffith, who has himself experienced a taste of being lost in the Boundary Waters. A few years ago, Griffith and a friend had taken their sons through a circular hike near the Cascade River when they got turned around, and their 2-hour hike ended up being 6 hours.

After that incident, Griffith began research on others who had been lost in the Boundary Waters, and he came across Dan and Jason's stories.

"Lost in the Wild" follows both of their stories, from the hikers' confident beginnings, to the dangerous mistakes they made in the woods, and the extensive searches of volunteer rescue workers.

Interspersed throughout the book are photographs taken by Jason Rasmussen during that fateful trip, including the photo Jason took of himself waving good-bye to his family on the night he believed he would die.

Ten percent of the books' royalties will go to the Lake County Volunteer Search and Rescue.

Twin Cities Noir

You won't find any "Minnesota Nice" in "Twin Cities Noir," a collection of 15 short stories, all of which take place in the Twin Cities and are written by Minnesota authors.

From crimes of passion to monster waves washing onto Duluth's shore, readers will shiver with delight in this collection of top-notch cliffhangers.

Contributing authors include Steve Thayer, Judith Guest, William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart, Mary Sharratt and Brad Zellar.

The Vanishing Point

Set in the 17th century, "The Vanishing Point" tells the story of two sisters who could not be more different: May is loose-moraled and carefree, and Hannah has secretly been taught medicine by her physician father.

May is sent to America to marry a distant cousin, but the marriage seems unhappy.

When Hannah travels to America, she discovers her sister has disappeared. As she searches for May, Hannah learns her sister's gruesome and tangled fate.

Although "The Vanishing Point" author Mary Sharratt currently lives with her husband in Manchester, England, she was born in Minneapolis, grew up in Bloomington and studied German at the University of Minnesota. After school, she taught English and American studies in a Catholic girls school in Austria.

"It was run by nuns," she says. "It was very 'The Sound of Music'!"

After her teaching experience, Sharratt married her husband, whom she had met while backpacking through England, and settled in Manchester five years ago.

She still remains a Minnesotan at heart; she regularly teaches seminars on plot or historical fiction at the Loft in Minneapolis.

"I love teaching and I love the Loft!" she says. "I wish we had something like that over here in Manchester."

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