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3.52  ·  Rating details ·  854 ratings  ·  140 reviews
Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier loggingtown of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Angel was adopted by the town’s richest couple, but is marked and threatened by her mother’s mental illness. They rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come to save him. ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.52  · 
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 ·  854 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jan 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: around-the-world
The mid eighteen hundreds, in a small town called Stillwater, in the Minnesota territory, near the Canadian border, two twins are born. Their mother, who was sold to a trapper by her stepmother, has run away to the local home for foundlings, headed by the indefatigable Mother St John, where she will give birth and then depart from their lives.

Lumber is king, and the forests of Stillwater provide plenty. The Civil War is a little ways in the future but already the South is disgruntled as more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is my favorite read for 2014 and it immediately went to my favorite shelf. Minnesota is fortunate to have Nicole Helget as a home state author. Her writing is amazing. If you like gritty, multiple characters and story lines that come together full circle then this may be a read for you. Every character and plot holds your attention and none are weak. All are very very strong in nature. The worse part about the read is that it had to end. The ending was very satisfying and all loose ends ...more
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sleeperz
Occasionally a book comes along that makes me go right back to the beginning to skim it looking for themes and other bits and pieces I missed because I just wanted to read the story. Because the story itself was sooooo good. I also know that if these bits and pieces aren’t clear and don’t come together I feel cheated, like someone gave me a ticket to the big show and it turned out to be a geezers wannabe cover band. Well, if she mentions two of my favorite regional bands, ”Trampled by Turtles” ...more
Kirk Smith
Apr 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: strong-women
This is a great story of Minnesota and the northern territories during the mid-1800's that is quickly and pleasantly consumed. The pace of the story never lags as themes of survival, unselfish service to others, and the real definitions of what it is to be a mother are explored. I especially enjoyed how the author uses a couple of symbolic elements, one the imagery of swans, and two an association of death with river/water and leaves those so that the reader may draw their own conclusions or ...more
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is either going to hit you well, or it isn't. For me, I really, really liked it. That said, it came to me at a good time. Admittedly, at other points in life I might have dismissed this book- perhaps finding it too whimsical or eccentric to kick the endorphin pumps into high gear. While the story uses scoundrels and gritty plot elements (which I normally enjoy), it's done in an affectionate way that uses those nasty twists and turns in a touching and tender way (which sadly I usually ...more
Aug 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Chaotic. Might have worked better as a series of interconnected short stories or short vignettes. As it stands, there are too many characters and not enough character development. And, so many of the characters make choices that are bothersome. Not to mention curious. (view spoiler)

And yet. The descriptions of the town of Stillwater are
Mar 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love character-driven books and this is one, but its setting in time and place was still skillfully illustrated by the author. Perfect combination. I felt I knew Stillwater and its residents. Mother St. John, Big Waters, Father Paul....just lovely people who served others selflessly their whole lives. Clement was so loyal and sweet. Angel (view spoiler) And I loved ...more
Debbie Lester
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Stillwater is the latest novel from author Nicole Helget. Set in the Northwoods of Minnesota this is a novel that reads like a poem with spectacular prose and clarity that is rare in this type of novel. Readers who are looking to experience a book, as much as read it, will fall in love with this novel. There are two distinct themes in this book, motherhood in all of it's various forms, good and evil and freedom which ultimately comes in the same shapes. A wonderful tale set during a traumatic ...more
Jo Dervan
Twins. Clement and Angel were left by their mother, Lydian, shortly after their birth at the orphanage run by Mother Saint John . Angel, the healthier of the 2, was adopted by the rich Hatterbys, while. Clement, a fragile baby, remained in the orphanage. Big Waters, an older Indian woman, nurtured and cared for Clement while he lived in the orphanage. The twins know nothing about their young mother who abandoned them and who left the home of their trapper father, Beaver Jean, before giving ...more
This could have been one of the great Minnesotan novels, but it falls short. This was a good story about family connections and about Minnesota's pre-statehood years. I liked a lot of the book, I really did. The twins have an interesting, cool, mystical-twin thing going on, and that's fun. There's an interesting and engaging subplot involving the slavery debate. There's even some issues of feminism, education, and the sex trade brought into play, all of which are, again, interesting and ...more
Humorous, poetic, historically accurate, descriptively detailed in its portrayal of the natural world, and full of fascinating, lively characters. Helget's novel looks at pre-statehood Minnesota, the Civil War, and the Underground Railroad through the eyes of a pair of orphaned twins and an aging fur trapper whose skills are no longer essential in a land now dedicated to timber logging and civilizing influences. She does an amazing job of delineating the lives of the residents of Stillwater. ...more
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In the novel Stillwater, Helget, the author, succeeds in delivering a marvelous yarn. The novel is infused with humor--the sort found in a particularly well done episode of the TV show Northern Exposure and a clever Coen Brothers' movie. Helget also injects occasional darkness reminiscent of Grimms' and Disney's fairy tales. Helget's story is grounded in U.S. history and seasoned with the spirit of myths. She has created a landscape of formidable imaginative world from her head to the written ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this cast of colorful characters. I felt that the personalities were somewhat exaggerated for effect because it seems highly unlikely that everyone in a Minnesota frontier logging town was crazy. But it certainly made for an interesting story. The heart of the story is the difference between the twins separated at birth- Angel gets adopted by the wealthiest family in town and enjoys a life of privilege and chronic poisoning by her insane mother while Clement stays at the orphanage and ...more
Jun 25, 2016 rated it liked it
The woman sharing my table also had a book, an easy conversation-starter with someone you don't know.
Her book was nonfiction, had "Empathy" in the title and had been recommended by her son. She was struggling with the book, she said, and wasn't sure what her son was trying to say by recommending it to her.
My book, "Stillwater," was fiction, set mostly in Stillwater, Minn., in the mid-1800s, and one of the plot elements involved the Underground Railroad, I said. It had just been sitting around at
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helgert is a new to me author, but I'm glad to know she has two more books waiting for me. Stillwater is set in the mid-nineteenth century, at a time before Minnesota was a state. Local Minnesota history is fairly new to me, so I've been borrowing my 6th grader's textbook to learn more about it. I loved how Stillwater brought together so many of the people integral to formation of the state. Helget showed how the different populations, competing indigenous tribes, European settlers, women of ...more
Diane Barnes
May 03, 2014 rated it liked it
This was more of a 3 1/2 star read for me. Considered a 4 but couldn't go that high. The writing was very good, with a good plot, but for some reason I could not bring myself to care very much about these characters, probably because it read like a tall-tale with almost magical properties to the story overall. I could just never "lose" myself in this one. Minnesotans may find a lot to like since there's a lot of history about Stillwater and it's role in statehood.
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
You will want to read this book to follow the lives of many characters. My favorites were Clement, Big Waters, Nanny and the guard for various reasons. As I read the following words came to my mind: fate, families, paths crossing, appearances, despair, "Go Forward", karma and hard lives. I am glad I visited this time and place but I am even more glad I didn't have to live there.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
This Civil War era story set in Minnesota centers around two twins orphaned as infants as their lives after being adopted by two very different mothers. The book was nice, but nothing special. The best thing I can say about it is that was wasn't too long.
Feb 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Howard Frank Mosher
For my review and book giveaway, please visit my blog:

19th century historical fiction set in Minnesota about twins abandoned at birth in an odd little orphanage...
Jenni Swenson
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Read it... You won't be disappointed. The story of twins who are orphaned and raised in very different households.
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in Stillwater, Minnesota Territory in the mid-19th century, Helget's novel presents a fascinating portrait of America's still-developing frontier in the years before statehood and the Civil War. Clement and Angel are fraternal twins, born in a Catholic orphanage to a girl escaping her trapper husband, an older man who bought her from her stepmother. Lydia has no intention of returning to Beaver Jean and his two Indian wives and leaves shortly after giving birth, hoping that the twins will ...more
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
If this hadn't been for a book club, I wouldn't have read past the first few chapters. I wasn't drawn in for quite a while with the gritty, unlikable characters like Angel and Clement as adults, and the trapper. I was curious to see the direction the book took and whether Angel and Clement maintained any relationship. Life was tough in the early days of Stillwater, and this story reflects that, with a runaway black servant desperate to save her son, who ends up being raised in the whorehouse, ...more
Robert Scott
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
-Minnesota Territory prior to, during & after the civil war. Slavery of many kinds: black to white, wife to husband, women to circumstance, Indians to government all are present as well as those with enough heart to give food, care, education to those less fortunate. A set of twins reared with very different housing, clothing and social status. A crude old trapper and bounty hunter, a negro orphan, half breeds, prostitutes, priests, a nun and various Indian women inhabit the area called ...more
Linda Spyhalski
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-read-2017
I always enjoy Nicole Helget's books. This might just have been my favorite one so far. The setting of Stillwater in Minnesota and the history shared added to my enjoyment. Definitely not a happy go lucky book but one that deals with the lives of twins born in terrible circumstances and how their lives intersect once they are separated. The end brings it all together in the most unlikely way! A very good read!
Lainey Mannix
May 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was excited to read this book as I grew up in Stillwater, MN. It was an ok read, not a page turner for me. Couldn’t stand Beaver Jean’s character, although he wasn’t quite as awful as he could’ve been. Also kind of annoyed with Clement’s character, honestly I didn’t love any of the characters. Did appreciate the ending and the way everything tied up.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
So disappointing. I was very much enjoying this, and then with about 50 pages left, the focus and interest fizzles. Nothing is resolved satisfactorily, and I was left wondering what the point of the entire endeavor was. The epilogue goes down as the worst ever (and epilogues are almost never a good idea to begin with).
Meg Lelvis
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good period piece of American history. Describes the Minnesota town very well....atmospheric with interesting characters. The story dragged in places, especially the last half where two characters were involved in the Civil War. Thought it would never end.
Bottom line is the book is very well written; literary and good character study.
Feb 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
A strange tale that left me wanting more coherence, for some reason.
Michelle Good
Aug 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Twins separated at birth live vastly different lives.
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Born in 1976, Nicole Helget grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Based on the novel's first chapter, NPR's Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly.
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