Dakota Blues, my first novel, is a coming-of-age story about a woman embarking on the second half of her life. Karen Grace, a high-level executive living in California, returns to her hometown of Dickinson, North Dakota, for her mother’s funeral. While there she reconnects with childhood gal pals, falls in love with stories of her immigrant ancestors, and falls in lust with a sexy professor from the university.

When her vindictive boss fires her, Karen takes a hard look at her life. The supposedly safe rut she’s carved for herself in the first fifty years isn’t so safe after all. Her marriage has fallen apart, and now her job is gone. Her first impulse is to rush back to California and find another, but 90-year-old Frieda Richter has been lobbying hard for one last road trip in the old but pristine Roadtrek 190. “I just want to see my great-grandbaby in Denver, and after that, I don’t care,” she says.

Reluctant at first, Karen agrees, and the journey turns into one of self-discovery for both women. On a deserted highway in Wyoming, though, the trip turns deadly, and Karen is forced to make a lethal and life-changing decision.

Book Clubs: download Dakota Blues Reader Discussion Guide here.

Praise for Dakota Blues

STOP the PRESSES! Read what Pennie Nixon just wrote (Sept. 13, 2013):

Hi Lynne,

I have meaning to email you for weeks to tell you this little story. Today I am on jury duty so I finally have some time!

Years ago we used to go camping, but after several unfavorable experiences I decided it was not for me. I often said my idea of roughing it was no room service in the hotel. However, after reading Dakota Blues I was drawn to the idea of trying it again. The second time I read the book I was ready to take the big step of talking to Darryl about it and that was when our adventure of exploring the RV world began. There was so much to learn and so much research to do. Anyway – to make a long story short, at the end of August we bought an 28′ Class C. We bought it up in WA state and will keep it at our daughters house for the time being so you won’t see it around the neighborhood until the spring or so.

This little event has been life changing for us and it is my belief that reading your book was the catalyst. I thought you would like to know.


Martha Goudey says:

I read Dakota Blues and loved it. A poignant and well-written story. I especially loved the interweaving of history and descriptive narrative. Loved Frieda. Wise woman. And taking off in the RV alone. Nice touch. I did that years ago–drove around for two years in my VW bus in-between jobs…always wanted to do it again.

Karen Espensen Sandoval says:

Loved Dakota Blues…what a rich sweet tale you weave. Yours was my fav book on vacation this past week. Read it in a day. Could not put it down! Awesome book!

Sandy Sallin says:

It’s not often that you read a book that just pleases you with the characters, the places and the history. Others have described the plot I’m writing about the enjoyable experience reading this book.

I was fascinated by the history of North Dakota, the farmers lives and the immigrant experience. Her characters were interesting and varied. A pleasure to meet. I’m hoping there will be a sequel. Lynne left me wanting to know the rest of the story.

Pennie Nixon says:

I read this book this past summer and I enjoyed it so much I just reread it. The main character of the book, Karen Grace, is so convincing and authentic you feel like you have known her for years. The trials she faces throughout the book are actually credible and believable – ones that many of us have actually faced in our lives. When I finished the book the first time I continued to think about Karen and her adventure so often that I decided to read the book again. Dakota Blues has a bit of adventure, a bit of romance and a lot of great fun and for that reason I highly recommend it!

Jean Gogolin says:

Lynne Spreen’s debut novel, “Dakota Blues,” reminded me of my own heritage among the Pennsylvania Dutch – the rural landscape, the stolidity of the characters, the permanent feel of the setting despite surface change. 90-year-old Frieda had me laughing and cheering at the same time. Spreen is a lovely stylist with much to say about women in the second halves of their lives. I look forward to more from her.

Linda Smith says:

Just finished reading Dakota Blues and loved it… it is a book about families, about grief including death, divorce, job loss, about aging and about re-inventing one’s life at midlife.  Wonderful book!..I enjoyed the small town you described including the houses, the food, the community, and the people. I could so identify having grown up in a small town in Michigan. It was meaningful to me in many other ways as I have spent a career of also working too hard.  I just want to thank you for sharing this wonderful book with me. I hope you write some more about Karen and let the reader know what she has done with her one and precious life.

Joy Vicelli says:

My friend Heather sent me your book, Dakota Blues. She has been feeding my reading hunger for a few months as I have been going through breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstruction. I was between procedures trying to maintain some sort of fitness and took (the book) with me down to our gym for a ride on the incumbent bike. I pedaled and read. It was a symbolic rough start for me as I had been idle of mind and body for a few weeks. I was not allowing myself to find the groove into that reentry. As I persisted, my muscle and mind memories synchronized and I was hearing the messages of Dakota Blues…Wanted to share what was food for thought in your story…especially for those of us “not geared for sitting around doing nothing…”

  • “Every marriage is a mystery.”
  • “The one who cares the most always loses.”
  • “Busy’s not important. Being happy is.”
  • “Why the hell had she worked so hard for so many years to remain thin?”
  • “Even after your kids grow up, you never stop being their mother. I tried to show Sandy how to not lose yourself once you marry and have kids. People think I’m selfish but I tried to be true to myself. A mother doesn’t stop being a person. But it’s hard to keep things even.”
  • “She wondered if you could get to a certain age where you look adorable just because you still tried.”
  • “You have to let people be.”
  • “People you love go through all the suffering and they fall out of love and hurt each other and fight for life in a hospital room. Life and death. Nothing changes and an oblivious world keeps rolling along.”
  •  Insignificance…the idea of …not being responsible for everybody and everything as people carry within them their own strength, their own resources.

Thanks for the good read and for hanging out some on www.fromshadowtoseen.com.

Julianne McCullagh says:

Karen Grace, at fifty, is forced to confront herself and her choices when her mother dies. She reluctantly travels from her expensive life in California to her childhood home on the weather beaten prairie of North Dakota. With her cousins, who did not flee to the shinier promises of career and wealth, she visits the graves of her ancestors. Karen is brought face to face with her legacy:

“Done with their short, hard enlistments, their bodies worn out from bearing children and tilling the soil, they lay waiting for her to make their efforts worthwhile. “

Whether we are aware of this task or not, every generation must answer this question: what are we doing with our legacy?

Ms. Spreen deals with this issue as old as Homer in this odyssey of one woman’s quest to sort her priorities and find the courage to uproot herself and embark on her own wilderness in Dakota Blues. Karen Grace must face her own obstacles, not Dust Bowls and reluctant prairies, but complacency and following the script of what success means in 21st century America.

I enjoyed Karen’s odyssey. I loved the cantankerous Frieda who played her part well in prodding Karen from her assumptions to her options in their rocky road trip across the American West. My take-away from this book is that I shouldn’t wait for life to fall apart before I take a chance and step out into my own wilderness. I recommend this book, especially to fellow baby boomers who still have choices to venture from their lives and their “supposed to’s” to something else, something bigger.