Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Penguin Random House: 7/23/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399563058 

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal is a very highly recommended family drama set in Minnesota and featuring strong female characters.

Edith and her sister, Helen, grew up in Minnesotans in the 1950s. Edith and Stanley Magnusson marry and struggle together to make ends meet while raising their family. Helen goes to college and marries the heir of the Blotz brewing company. Helen convinces her father to leave his whole inheritance to her so she and her husband can build their business up with the production of a successful light beer. Edith has not talked to Helen since she stole her part of their inheritance.

While her husband earns a living driving a truck, Edith has been working for years in the kitchen of a nursing home where she makes the residents homemade pies. When she is in her 60's her pies become famous and people begin traveling to have a slice of her pie. When Stanley retires and she is offered a job in Nicollet Falls, Minnesota, the two move and Edith starts making pies for a cafe. Helen struggles at the beginning and although she becomes very successful, she never offers to pay Edith back her half of their parent's inheritance. Stanley passes away, and circumstance lead to Edith's granddaughter Diana living with her while Edith, in her 70's struggles to support them by working two jobs, at a department store and a burger place. Circumstances come full circle when Diana starts working for a craft brewery while Blotz's business is falling. Perhaps some closure can happen for Edith and Helen.
The quality of the writing is excellent, capturing the actions and thoughts of the characters perfectly in this heartwarming, delightful, and engrossing story. I love that Stradal has introduced us to some excellent original female characters who are strong, intelligent, complicated, hard-working Midwestern women, including older women! So many writers seem to revel in poking fun at anyone from the Midwest. He doesn't make the older women doddering caricatures that younger readers can adore and laugh at how quaint they are. These women are the women I know. They may have setbacks, loss, and struggles, but they pull themselves together and get the job done, finding a way to support themselves without a lot of complaining or fuss. And yet it is also a story of following your passions.
The narrative is told through events from the past and the present through Edith, Helen, and Diana. Each chapter starts with an amount of money that will be important to the characters in that chapter, helping highlight the disparity in the character's lives. The story shines when it follows Edith and Diana, especially as they face and overcome challenges. The plot is intriguing enough to hold your attention throughout and you will loath having to set the novel aside for things like sleep or work. There is also a whole lot about brewing beer, craft beer, and different styles of beer. While the ending might be a tad bit too perfectly convenient, it is a fitting conclusion to a wonderful summer read.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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