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South of Superior

South of Superior

4.0 40
by Ellen Airgood

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A debut novel full of heart, in which love, friendship, and charity teach a young woman to live a bigger life.

When Madeline Stone walks away from Chicago and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she isn't prepared for how much her life will change.

Charged with caring for an aging


A debut novel full of heart, in which love, friendship, and charity teach a young woman to live a bigger life.

When Madeline Stone walks away from Chicago and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she isn't prepared for how much her life will change.

Charged with caring for an aging family friend, Madeline finds herself in the middle of beautiful nowhere with Gladys and Arbutus, two octogenarian sisters-one sharp and stubborn, the other sweeter than sunshine. As Madeline begins to experience the ways of the small, tight-knit town, she is drawn into the lives and dramas of its residents. It's a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but friendship, community, and compassion run deeper. As the story hurtles along-featuring a lost child, a dashed love, a car accident, a wedding, a fire, and a romantic reunion-Gladys, Arbutus, and the rest of the town teach Madeline more about life, love, and goodwill than she's learned in a lifetime.

A heartwarming novel, South of Superior explores the deep reward in caring for others, and shows how one who is poor in pocket can be rich in so many other ways, and how little it often takes to make someone happy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Airgood's charming yet uninspired debut, Madeline Stone takes a job caring for Gladys Hansen, the final companion of the grandfather she never knew, and Gladys's ailing sister in McAllaster, Mich. On the north coast of Lake Superior she finds "a wide, wild quiet, so spacious it seemed endless, and she wondered how it might change a person." Gladys, the younger, feistier of the two sisters, is desperate to hold onto the old ways even as modern life becomes too obvious to ignore. She's the bad cop to her sister's good, and Madeline finds it hard to adjust to her meanness. She also finds it discomfiting when locals comment on her resemblance to ancestors she never knew, and Gladys is less than forthcoming about the Stone family history. To help fill her days, Madeline takes a part-time job at the local pizzeria and becomes close to Paul, the owner, who has financial woes of his own. Over time, Madeline and Gladys make peace, and old secrets are revealed. An abandoned child that Madeline takes in finally allows Airgood to address her prevailing theme—the true nature of family. (June)
Kirkus Reviews

Madeline Stone goes back to her roots in rural Michigan and finds the missing bits of herself, in a heartwarming if drawn-out debut.

Matching pace to place, there's little urgency either in Airgood's novel or in McAllaster, the small town on the shore of Lake Superior for which 35-year-old Madeline impulsively, implausibly gives up life, work and a fiancé in Chicago. The reason given is to take care of sweet, elderly Arbutus and her cranky sister Gladys, who had been the "good friend" of Joe, Madeline's grandfather. When Madeline's druggie young mother abandoned her illegitimate baby, Joe could have taken the child in, but he refused, and Madeline was brought up by a kind stranger whose long, recently concluded battle with cancer has equipped her for taking care of the elderly. Finding friends, a little family and the attractive owner of the pizza parlor in McAllaster, Madeline also develops an ambition to take over Gladys' and Arbutus' decayed but lovely old hotel. Airgood uses scattered events (a court case, a fire, a traffic accident) to point out community values, the long play of rural history and therapeutic, neighborly good deeds. More sensitive, less sugary than similar books in the genre, this combination of romance and self-discovery ends, unsurprisingly, in a tidy, happy place.

Pleasant and comforting, like Gladys' cardamom rolls.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
365 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Connie May Fowler
“A story that is peculiarly American, brimming with lessons about compassion and community. South of Superior is not to be forgotten.”--(Connie May Fowler, author of Before Women Had Wings)
Philip Caputo
“An unsentimental but warm-hearted view of life in an isolated Michigan town. Reminiscent of Richard Russo, South of Superior is an engaging tale told with wit and charm.”--(Philip Caputo)
Beth Hoffman
“South of Superior is a charming story where hardships forge character, friendships endure for decades, and love unfolds in unusual ways. Most of all it is a celebration of the ever-surprising strengths of the human spirit.”--(Beth Hoffman, New York Times–bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt)
Lesley Kagan
“"I was captivated by Ms. Airgood’s setting and her characters, they’re pitch pefect. South of Superior is a wonderful debut novel. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind even weeks after I put it down. It was that haunting, that heartfelt. Brava!”--(Lesley Kagan, author of Whistling in the Dark)
Tiffany Baker
“A heartfelt ode to the simpler things in life. You’ll be delighted and embraced by the strong willed characters and the small town setting and when you’re finished you’ll want to go embrace the people in your own circle.”--(Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County)

Meet the Author

Ellen Airgood runs a diner in Grand Marais, Michigan. This is her first novel.

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South of Superior 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Gladys Hanson sends a sympathy card to Madeline Stone following the death of Emmy the woman who raised the latter. Madeline's biological mother Jackie abandoned her when she was two years old and her late maternal grandfather Joe refused to raise her. Gloria also invites Madeline to move from Chicago to McAllister, Michigan to help her with her arthritic ailing sister Arbitus "Butte". Although Gladys was Joe's paramour, Madeline accepts leaving her job and boyfriend behind. Gladys proves unfriendly, but Butte makes her feel at home. At the general store, Madeline meets pizza parlor owner Paul Garceau who also cooks at the nearby prison. The sisters argue over seeing the mothballed Hotel Leppinen they own as they have no money. Gladys sends Madeline to the hotel to get something. Madeline loves the hotel and thinks of possibilities. She goes to the pizza shop and asks for a waitressing job. Paul hires her. Gladys is upset but Butte is pleased with Madeline obtaining a job. Single mom Randi dumps Grey on Madeline at the pizza shop, but fails to return. Madeline takes Grey home with her. Later Madeline learns from Mary about her Great Uncle Walter who lives in a home for simple minded people; she visits him. As Madeline tries to renovate the hotel, she angers seemingly everyone except Butte; so considers leaving. The key ensemble cast especially the heroine, her "great-aunts" and to a lesser degree her beloved is all developed while a sense of being in Michigan is a key element that anchors the plot. The reason Paul becomes angry with Madeline seems weak though critical. Still readers will enjoy South of Superior, as Madeline and the audience learn what family means. Harriet Klausner
millstreetreader More than 1 year ago
If your mother had abandoned you in a soup kitchen at age three and your grandfather had refused to raise you, what kind of adult would you be? How would you react when years after your grandfather's death, a stranger asks if you'd be interested in relocating to the isolated village where your he had made his home? Would a deep hidden anger and yearning for answers prompt you to leave behind a sophisticated fiance and the bustle of Chicago for a life as uncertain as the weather on the greatest of all lakes? Author Airgood has created a town peopled with strong, but flawed characters, each one adding to Madeline's unfolding understanding of her heritage and her future. Ellen Airgood's small town has outlived the grandeur of the mining and logging days, just as the real small towns that dot the UP's shoreline. You won't find the opulence of earlier times, but you'll find that "sisu" (Finnish for courage) still abounds. This book will offer much for book clubs to discuss, and as someone for whom Lake Superior has an almost mystical pull, South of Superior has demanded that I make yet one more trip to its shores.
K Reeve More than 1 year ago
Remeniscent of the old TV show Northern Exposures, South of Superior is a tall drink of ice cold lemonade in an eccentric forgotten town where its inhabitants share a peculiar brand of small town love and devotion. Amazing read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not finished this book yet, but wish I could sit down and do nothing else but read. Having spent time "south of Superior" growing up, I have some insight into the area and its history. That said, you do not need any prior knowledge to enjoy and appreciate this book. Well-written with multi-layered/faceted characters, I love how the storyline is evolving. Worth spending time with!
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
Sit back, relax and enjoy a sweet story for a great summer read. This past week, my husband and I went to Grand Marais, Minnesota, along Lake Superior for a relaxing vacation. I had seen this novel and decided that it was a perfect time to read, South of Superior by Ellen Airgood. The setting for this novel is much like the atmosphere and countryside of where we were staying. It is a beautiful place with the back drop of Lake Superior. I was very surprised at the slow the pace of life and how few tourists invaded their local. Such is the story of "South of Superior." The novel is a little slow and off beat but very true to the area that it is written about. The locals are friendly, caring and reliable. Richness in friendships is the wealth they rely upon and one to be most treasured. Sit back, relax and enjoy a sweet story for a great summer read.
jessinvab More than 1 year ago
Fantastic summer read. The characters are perfect for their flaws and failures, and the cast of supporting quirky characters are loveable. I loved every second and was sad that the book had to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i adore this book. Wonderful bonds between the characters. Great story about hardships and getting thru struggles. Waiting for the next book by this new author.
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
Engaging. Set in Michigan, comes a story of Madeline, alone in the world and making her way back to this simple, very "old school" town, to care for an ailing friend. Yawn! Didn't think this would hold my attention,however the characters grow on you and reel you in. This is such a simple but warm and fullsome book. I didn't want the story to end. And for sure, I want more from this author!
AmeG More than 1 year ago
Ellen is the kid sister of my best friend from high school, and so I bought this book to be "supportive." I began reading and found that I could not put it down. It was a wonderful surprise that the characters were solid and the story was compelling. I got involved with the story and the characters and really ended up caring what happened. Ellen's style is light and respectful, and I can see how the experience she has as the owner of a diner has made it's mark on her writing. She didn't press her characters to do things but allowed them to make their own decisions. She didn't judge. Her characters and story developed and blossomed in their own time, and the story was not too short or too long. I would highly recommend reading!
mjmutch More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed getting to know all these characters and I am sorry the book is over. I am from the UP, so I had to read this. And I find it to be so true to the lives and interests and sheer difficulty of making a life in in the UP. Very well done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a perfect summer read! An excellent book, and the author leaves us wanting a sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lived in the UP for several years as a child and teenager, and my grandparents and their ancestors are from the UP, Swedes & Norwegians who came over to work as subsistence farmers and loggers in lumber camps, one of my own great-great-great grandmothers was a cook in a UP lumber camp, as Madeline's great-grandmother Ada Stone was. I enjoyed Madeline's detective work, in trying to learn more about her family. This book struck home to me on so many levels, I could picture people I knew acting like this, and I empathized with Madeline falling in love with Lake Superior. I brought this book with me on a recent camping trip, and could hardly put it down as I curled up in a chair by our campfire. If you grew up in small town America, you can appreciate this book. It was like a visit home to my beloved UP, for me . . . thank you to the author for a story that brings back so many memories. I kept trying to figure out where her fictitious towns would be, finally realized that McAllister was likely Grand Marais, and Crosscut with the prison was likely Newberry or Kinross, or both blended together. I liked the references to the Soo and other towns I knew. A lovely book that focuses on the wild north, and the meaning of family. Highly recommended.
MIJul More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading this on my Nook from my library and am now ordering it to have in hardcover. I live in Michigan where this story takes place which made it even more interesting. I could easily picture where the story was taking place. That said, it was a great story, totally kept my interest and I had some late nights reading "just one more chapter" to see what happened next, how a particular issue was resolved and to see who ended up where and with who. I'll be reading it again for sure.
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dto More than 1 year ago
Yes, I read the book start to finish, it is my habit to never quit, always hoping that it will get better. Sadly this one did not. I bought it because of the locale of the story line. Author did do well drawing the reader to the location and giving a great sense of reality to the location. But just not the book for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Decent story, okay characters....they weren't good enough to love or hate. It was honestly....just plain boring. I will neber buy another of this author's slow moving books. There's just no story there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a nice book to sit back and relax with. It makes you appreciate the little things. I look forward to her writing another book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Airgood provides an good sense of place and a generally interesting story. However, characters and plot are too often superficial and implausible.
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