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Book Report: Take your pick, there's something for everyone

Someone on your holiday gift list who likes to read books by and about

characters in the upper Midwest? There's a plethora in that category

this year. If your target is politics, try "Minnesota's Miracle," by Tom

Berg (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95, paper). Berg served in the

Minnesota State Legislature in the seventies when politicos got things done.

Berg covers all the Andersons, Elmer L., Wendell, Irv. There are fascinating photos from the past, showing our political leaders when they were young and sassy. This book has received bipartisan support from the folks who remembered when bipartisanship still existed.

The dust jacket of "Always put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living," by

Evelyn Birkby (University of Iowa Press, $19.95 paper) says that Birkby has worn out one Royal typewriter and five computers in the past 63 years writing a homemaker column for the Shenandoah (Iowa) Evening Sentinel.

Her tenth book is a compendium of household tips, recipes and recollections of her long service as a journalist.

The indefatigable sports chronicler Ross Bernstein is out with two books this season, including "Wearing the C: Leadership Secrets of Hockey's

Greatest Captains" (Triumph Books, $22.95), an inspirational book with a forward by Bobby Clark and Scott Stevens. Bernstein is good at snagging sports heroes to write his prefaces and Paul Molitor contributes one for the other book "World Series Winners" (Triumph Books, $22.95), a series of inteviews with baseball champions.

The East Coast hurricane isn't the only bad news out of New York City.

Recently giant publisher Random House announced that it would merge with another giant, Penguin, thereby the number of New York publishers is to next to nothing. And what's left is owned by overseas giants like Bertelsmann.

Fortunately, authors these days have options that give them opportunities to closer to home. I speak of what once was a small house in Stearns County, which is literally exploding with works by upper Midwestern authors. Here are several to think about when buying a holiday gift for your favorite whodunit buff who has a taste for scenes from the North Star State and Cheeseheadville and a publisher called "North Star Press. All books are in paper and unless otherwise noted cost $14.95.

Topping the list is "Pathos Rising," by Walter Roers of Bloomington, Minn. Without a doubt it's one of the most touching domestic dramas I've read in a long time. Retired high school math teacher Hank Blaine narrates the story about life in retirement with his wife Marie, his widowed daughter and her son Cody and four guys who get together once a week to kibbutz at a local diner. Hank loves his wife, that's for sure, but he can't keep his eyes off a young, beautiful young woman with whom he works out at a Bloomington exercise club.

Don't get me wrong, Hank is the epitome of nice, but like all humans, he has weakness, but normally he is the voice of reason. So when he when he isn't staring at the young woman he's shooting the bull at Dave's café, where his longtime pals provide an olio of problems facing senior citizens, including one friend who has been kicked out by a wife who discovered him fooling around. This of course gives the decent Hank an opportunity to consider his own situation. He does it with great deliberation and wisdom about love, advancing age and the nuances of everyday life. This is a winner, as was his first novel, "The Pact" which was a finalist for the 2001 Minnesota Book Award. I hope he wins this time around.

"A Prairie Homicidal Companion," by Brian Landon is a rollicking thriller about a murder on stage at Garrison Keillor's radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion." Would you believe a murderer who does in his victims with poison pickles?

"Unprotected," is by Red Wing resident Kristin Lee Johnson, a child protection social worker for twenty years. Johnson makes use of her experience by creating Amanda Danscher, a child protection social worker, who is embroiled with a small town former hockey star, a rogue who may be abusing his own son.

"A Carnival of Killing," by St. Paul journalist Glenn Ickler begins on a day that is so cold in St. Paul "that the flashers are only showing pictures of themselves. It's also Winter Carnival Time, when journalist Mitch Mitchell and his photographer Alan Jeffrey set out to discover if one of the members of the Vulcan Krewe is responsible for the death of the Carnival's Klondike Kate, who has been discovered frozen stiff as a board.

"Murder at Spirit Falls," by Barbara Deese and Dorothy Olson is set in

Northern Wisconsin, where members of a book club make an annual retreat to let their hair down, go skinny dipping and discuss books whenever it rains. But one day a dead body washes up and the women wonder if one of them will be the next victim. I see a series in this novel entitled "The No Ordinary Women Book Club Series.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.