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The Lager Queen of Minnesota is a family drama concerning two sisters, Edith and Helen, estranged since their father died and left the family farm to Helen in 1967. We first meet Edith first, in 2003, at age 64, who is convinced that her younger sister Helen has manipulated their father into changing his will. Edith strives to earn a living at a nursing home, where she has been baking pies, for 37 years.
Rolling the narrative back to 1959 and shifting to Helen’s point of view, Stradal draws a sharp contrast. Helen has just had her first taste of beer at 15, and all she wants is to get out of her small Minnesota hometown and brew beer. While Edith struggles to make a living, despite baking award-winning pies, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, from someone she has known all her life. . . But is it too late?
The story is narrated using flashbacks and multiple points of view. Stradal expertly develops his story in a nonlinear fashion, moving back and forth from 2003, in chapters seen through the eyes of Edith and her granddaughter Diana, with intermingling episodes from Helen’s spectacular rise in the light beer business in the 1970s.
Though revolving around the beer business, At the heart of it, it’s a story of three resilient women – Helen, Edith, and Diana. There is lots of humor to keep things on the lighter side but the book slips in many emotional moments when you are least expecting them. The small-town setting and the historical background of brewing from the 1950s show the commendable amount of research the author has undertaken. The first half was a bit slow but enjoyable. The second half is where the story catches steam. Full marks for the warm satisfying conclusion which made it a strong finish for me. .
Stradal creates some strong and memorable characters. It was easy to get invested in these characters right from the start—From the all sacrificing Edith who always put other’s needs above her own to Helen, a ruthless, somewhat manipulative business tycoon to Diana, a teenager who kept getting into trouble until she was caught and had to work her way out of trouble, all of them expertly crafted. Apart from the characters, the book has many bright moments which will keep you invested in the storyline.
While the story has many resilient women, their storylines never combined together except towards the end. So it felt like reading different parallel stories in isolation, rather than the story of 3 generations. All the information about brewing beers and all the different kinds of beers was just so overwhelming, especially for someone who doesn’t drink at all. So a lot of it I didn’t understand but I found the process interesting nonetheless.
Overall, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is an emotional family drama with some strong and empowering female characters. With a cast of lovable characters, sharp writing, a touch of humor, and a heartwarming finish, this is a delightful read. If you love reading family dramas with strong female characters, this is a must-read book for you.
After reading too many heavy, dark novels I needed a light-hearted summer read and this book didn't disappoint me. On occasion it made me smile and even laugh out loud. But the story isn't frivolous; the characters are selfless, warm, mid-westerners and serious themes flow through this story. I'm looking forward to reading more by J. Ryan Stradal.
I'm not sure at what point the author sat down and thought "I've got an idea for a really engaging story." There's just no emotion in this. There's no danger, no jeopardy, no philosophical pondering, no love, no humor, no plot twists, nothing. It's just boring. It's inoffensive and "nice" but it runs like a sort of fictional memoir for a story that's not very interesting from start to end. The characters feel like miscast actors playing roles they're not comfortable with. The chronology jumps around far too much to give any real consistency. There's something about this book, as a package, which appealed to me. I like the synopsis and the overall vibe, and I'm supportive of these "marginalized" stories being told (or at least - stories of a kind which are hard to find elsewhere). Subsequently I didn't "strongly dislike" this book but I can't give it any more than a second star because I've already forgotten practically all of it, it's not memorable or impacting enough.
Edith and Helen are sisters whose lives diverged in animosity. They lead very different lives (Edith faces tragedies and hardships but with a steadfast outlook; Helen ambitiously takes what she needs from people/situations with a “me” outlook).
This story centers around two generations of women in the brewing industry, their triumphs and struggles both personally and professionally.
I love a generational story, strong women and beer so this novel checked all the boxes for me.
As a young girl, Helen realizes she loves beer and needs to be able to make it herself. She not only does projects in school and marries someone she feels can help her reach her goals. You gotta feel bad for Orval though. Helen does genuinely appreciate him not only as a means to her end, but as a husband, but it didn't start out that way.
Her older sister, Edith, on the other hand, seems to do everything right. Marries a boy from school, has children and helps her supports her husband any way she can. She also happens to bake the best pies around. When Helen & Edith's father becomes ill and needs one of them to take care of him, Edith convinces Helen that it should be her because they have a job opportunity not too close to home. Helen decides that this is the thing to do because she can then inherit all her father has to give to help her future endeavors in beer making so that is what she does.
Upon their father's death, Helen takes all the money causing family rift between the 2 sisters. Edith's granddaughter also shares the family's affinity for beer. She gets much more practice at making just the right IPA and eventually having her own business as well, but always with Edith having her back.
Beer is what eventually brings the family full circle, but there is a lot that happens in between and it's a great story. My copy is extra special because I got to meet the author and have it signed.
This is a truly delightful novel. My book club loved it! The member who picked it brought along samples of beers for us to try and that added to our enjoyment.!
There is strong character portrayal int he book and a deep understanding of the culture and values of the Twin City area of Minnesota. We see the middle class values of hard work and stoic acceptance of the difficulties of life, but we also get the definite theme that the wealthy have no conception of what it is like to struggle for even the most basic necessities of modern life, like dependable transportation. We get some moral quandaries to make us ask ourselves how we would react to inability to provide for those you love.
At the same time, there is much humor in this book and a genuine affection for the toughness and spirit of old ladies! Clearly, it is wrong to pan this book because the plot strains credulity! That's not the point. Yes, there are some real problems explored in the book, but in the end, the solution to those problems seems pretty unlikely! That's not the point. This is not a book written to suggest solutions to pressing social problems. Rather, it is a partly humorous, partly serious book that was written to engage and entertain the reader! At that objective, it is highly successful!
To illustrate my point about realism, it is not realistic that a bunch of inexperienced old ladies could quickly learn to brew marketable beers! But to judge the book on this basis is unfair. The author is not attempting to write a realistic treatment of how beer is brewed. It is the relationships, work ethic, and quirky behaviors of the characters that make this a great read.
You will greatly enjoy this book. Having spent a lot of time in Minneapolis, where our youngest son is raising his family, we found a lot of very keen observations in the book. But, you don't have to have even set foot in Minnesota to enjoy this book. Don't miss this one!
I loved the heart and generosity shown to each character and the close attention to beer. J Ryan Stradal writes,”The right IPA is like a Miles Davis trumpet solo. Consistent yet surprising. Obeying and breaking the rules. A mixture of simple things.” The same can be said about The Lager Queen of Minnesota.” Bravo!