The Soul Thief

by Charles Baxter

Pantheon, $20

The newest release from celebrated Minneapolis author Charles Baxter (whose Feast of Love debuted as a major motion picture last fall) centers on a young Midwesterner who moves to upstate New York to attend grad school. It’s a hard education, however: An unfortunate family history, several ill-fated romances, and a fellow student who proves more than meddling eventually lead to Nathaniel Mason’s complete undoing. Baxter tells a tale of “identity theft” that leaves a reader thinking not about stolen credit cards and Social Security numbers, but about the very nature of personal identity itself. —ROSS HOLTAN


Skinny Dipping

by Connie Brockway

Penguin, $8

When Mimi Olson discovers that her family is selling the lakeside compound where she escaped life’s worries every summer, she heads north to say goodbye. Mimi’s dream of one last relaxing vacation quickly dissolves, though, when her McMansion-owning neighbor breaks his leg, and she agrees to look after him and his three dogs. Brockway’s second foray into contemporary romance (her first book was Hot Dish) also serves as an outlet for her comments on the growing number of mammoth cottages going up on Minnesota lakeshores. Still, it’s a light read—just right for a long winter day. —SHANNON HASLING


The Owls

Daughters and Suns

Magic Marker Records

The Owls make music that ticktocks inside you, a comforting little metronome in the soundtrack of your life. While the band’s sophomore album isn’t quite as inviting as 2004’s Our Hopes and Dreams, it nonetheless delivers a lovely, almost meditative, compilation of their pop chops. Dominated by spare instrumentation and soothing lyrics, the album showcases the band’s more playful side on “Peppermint Patty” and “Isaac Bashevis Singer,” while “Channel” has a 1970s funk feel. The harmonies descend from the Beach Boys, and Allison LaBonne’s honeyed voice cuts through the wash and binds everything together. —JESSICA CHAPMAN


Roma di Luna

Find Your Way Home


Minnesota meets Appalachia on this debut CD by the husband-and-wife team Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle. The duo’s transporting folk, ripe with all the religious overtones and drama attendant to the genre’s rural forbears, grabs hold of the imagination, carrying you far from home. The album relies on Channy’s haunting vocals, but Alexei steals the show with his rich half-growl verging on a yodel. “Inside the Bells” showcases the best of both their voices, as well as Channy’s violin. Download the upbeat “Bury Me Beneath the Killing Fields” or the plaintive and sometimes chilling “Plenty.” —J.C.

Stuff It, Garrison! 

From Garrison Keillor’s introduction to political activist Arvonne Fraser’s recently published biography, She’s No Lady: “My first glimpse of her was at the [Don] Fraser for Congress headquarters in a storefront in north Minneapolis in the summer of 1966, where I reported for duty as a volunteer. Arvonne stood at her desk near the front door, a short stocky woman, black hair cut short, phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, talking in a clear level voice just short of a bark…and as she talked, she pointed me toward a table where a dozen volunteers were stuffing brochures (“Keep Fraser Working For a Strong America”) into envelopes. I sat down and stuffed.”