SLM Book Club: The Lager Queen of Minnesota | November 2020 Pick

November 6, 2020 | by lindsay blackburn

Hello readers! Welcome to Lindsay’s Library. I’ll be sharing book reviews, reading tips, and other related content for the Simply Local community. I hope my recommendations will spark engaging online discussions, just as if we’re new friends sitting across the table from one another in my home library. Whether you’re an avid bookworm, an occasional reader or a reluctant one, pull up a seat and get cozy. You’re invited to join the conversation. 

Let’s chat about The Lager Queen of Minnesota

I read this book for the first time in August 2019, but wanted to revisit it this fall for our Simply Local community. Fall is a great time to read a book about a bunch of beer-making broads. Did I enjoy it as much the second time around? You betcha.

The story, by J. Ryan Stradal, revolves around sisters Edith and Helen Calder, whom we meet as teenagers on the family’s farm.

Edith is a simple girl with a pragmatic sensibility toward her future. She marries her first boyfriend, a truck driver named Stanley, raises her two children in small-town Minnesota, and works in a nursing home, baking award-winning pies for the residents. She is practical in her care for family and friends, hardworking, humble, and accepting, because “God likes all kinds, and Edith sure tried to as well.”

In his mid-60s, Stanley develops early-onset Alzheimer’s and is forced to retire. Within a few years, Edith becomes a widow. A family tragedy down the road leaves Edith with a teenage granddaughter, Diana (who becomes the third main character of the book), to love and support, as well.

Helen, on the other hand, is loud and proud with a zest for life. She isn’t afraid to break some rules and pave her own path. After stealing a few bottles of beer from her visiting aunt and uncle in high school, she’s hooked after tasting the first delicious sip. Helen heads off to college with her sights set on a brew-making career.

At school, she teams up with a chemistry partner – both academically and romantically. Orval’s family owns Blotz Brewery, a business producing unprofitable cream soda and in need of significant revitalization. The couple commits to a season of long hours and stubborn hard work to bring beer back to Blotz (“Drink lots. It’s Blotz!”), but will they succeed or fail in the booming Minnesota beer scene?

When Edith and Helen’s dad dies and the family farm is sold, the financial decisions made will fracture the relationship between Edith and Helen. In fact, a word won’t be spoken between them for over 50 years, driving the storyline. Will the sisters ever reconcile? What could possibly bring them together again?

The Lager Queen of Minnesota is peppered with “Minnesota nice” humor without overdoing it or resorting to mockery. In fact, it adds wonderful regional flavor. If you grew up in the “flyover states,” it’s likely you had a grandmother similar to Edith or knew families like the Calders. Readers in our area are sure to find points of connection.

Add this book to your TBR (“to be read”) list if you like character-driven novels, family dramas, female protagonists, or have an interest in small-town, Midwestern life. You don’t have to be a beer-drinker to appreciate it. Breweries are only the backdrops, but they make lively settings for this wonderful story with a surprising and oh-so satisfying ending.

So, belly up to your kitchen counter, pour yourself a cold one (of any variety), and savor J. Ryan Stradal’s The Lager Queen of Minnesota. Cheers!

Have you ever re-read a book? Which one? Did you like it the second time, too? Share your thoughts here on the Simply Local blog or on our Facebook post.

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