Category Archives: Dusty Shelves


Nevada Barr |  Fiction


Last Thursday I found myself in-between books, and I wasn't going to the library until Friday.  So I put the grab on this Nevada Barr, which had been sitting on the credenza for about a year.  What a nice respite for the Christmas weekend!  Anna Pigeon at one of my favorite National Parks, Big Bend.  Love her character ...  and love that each Barr mystery takes place in a different National Park.


On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder |  Nonfiction


This tiny book is big on making one think.  It is only 126 small pages.  The author, Timothy Snyder, is a Professor of History at Yale University and has written numerous historical books.  On Tyranny is 20 lessons.  In each lesson, 1-9 pages long, he writes of a historical event — tyrannical events primarily from WWII — and then ties it to a similar behavior, cultural element, or effect under our current administration.  Sometimes he caused me to gasp with the starkness of the similarities.

This is not a book to be read cover to cover in one sitting.  To allow and encourage its full impact, read one lesson at a time and let that lesson percolate for a few hours or days.  Think it over, muse on it, wonder about it, and notice how the parallels resonate (or not) with you. 

My one regret in reading this book is that I read it alone.  Snyder's lessons call to be read and discussed. It feels like On Tyranny is meant to be read with your life partner or your business partner or your book group or with friends.  It compels the reader to chew ... and you will want to hear the views of others in your life who you respect.  Truth be told, I didn’t comprehend all of it either, and it would be helpful to hear other’s understandings and interpretations.

For $7.99 US, On Tyranny could be that one last stocking stuffer for the thoughtful person on your list.


Turtles All the Way Down

John Green |  Fiction


This isn't The Fault in Our Stars.  It isn't even on the same shelf.  I was looking forward to this next young adult novel by John Green, but was quite disappointed.  I find it interesting that all the commentary on the back cover of Turtles All the Way Down is about The Fault in Our Stars.

The main character in Turtles is Aza, a high school junior with mental health challenges.  She has “invasives” ... spirals, she also calls them.  These are obsessive thoughts, mostly about microbes and C. Diff (clostridium difficile infection) and bacteria and other ways our bodies can be infected.  These spirals, obsessive and ever-tightening, make relationships, school, and life itself difficult for Aza.  For this reader, they were simply boring and depressing.  I found no redeeming qualities in this story, and I read it all the way through.

If it is already on your reading list, my suggestion is to cross it off.  But, of course, if you have read it, I/we would love to hear your opinions, especially if they differ from mine!




Dan Brown |  Fiction


If you still need a Christmas gift for someone on your list, this is it!  I inhaled Origin.

Edmond Kirsh, a 40-year-old billionaire, futurist, and technology genius is unveiling a discovery that will fundamentally change beliefs about human creation and existence.  His dear friend Robert Langdon will be attending the elaborate, creative, dazzling presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa Spain, along with several hundred other guests.  Langdon is a brilliant Harvard professor of symbology and iconology.  But then, chaos ensues and Langdon finds himself with the elegant museum director Ambra Vidal, as together they search for the password to unlock Kirsh's presentation.

This IS Dan Brown, so there is religion, anti-religion, history, and symbology throughout this fast-paced thriller.  I enjoyed it immensely.  Some of the resolutions were not complete surprises, but still, I was enthralled to learn of Kirsh's stunning discovery as well as to solve the inherent mystery in this tale.


A survey: How do you keep your book list???

I am wondering how you maintain the list of books you want to read.  I was chatting with my local librarian about this topic this morning when I  dropped off some books.  She'd just heard an idea:  put the names of all of them in a jar and when you need a book, draw one out at a random.  Interesting thought!  She keeps her list in her library account, which has a digital place where you can put in lists and organize them, but that is now 20 pages long, so she can't manage it anymore.  I have a typed list that I keep adding to.  I organize them by recommendation source or topically ... for example, I have lists of recommendations from my reading pals Mary and Rene; and I have a list I call ":adventures" which are true stories of wilderness adventures.  And now I have a bunch of published lists stapled to the back of that printed list.  But my sub-categories are insufficient, and, more important, new books keep trumping (45-ing???) books that have been on the list a while.

So, share your process, please!  I/we would love to hear new ideas, especially ones that work for you!

Being Mortal

 Atul Gawande |  Nonfiction


Oh my, this is a sobering book to read.  It is about how we care and don't care for our elderly and dying community members.  This isn't a data-rich book, it is a narrative well told my Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.  He uses patients and their true stories to educate us, with anecdotes about the late-life journeys of his patients and his family.  He has also conducted considerable research on the topic of caring for our elderly. 

You will learn the interesting history of how assisted living came about as a counter to nursing homes.  And you will learn why.  You will gain insight into the motivations of oncologists, other physicians, caregivers and family members who paint overly optimistic pictures ... in service of the search for one more miracle.  And you will come to understand some of what is necessary for people who age to continue to have meaningful and purposeful lives.

While I am very glad I read this book, I gave it three hearts because I can’t recommend it for everyone ... I have to recommend it with reservation.  And the reservation is, pick this up if you are ready to explore this important but difficult subject.  If you care for or about someone who is significantly ill, or if you want to decide for yourself with greater clarity what actions should and should not be considered as your time grows short, this is a book worth reading.  You will receive a heartfelt education.



The Franchise Affair

Josephine Tey | Fiction

four-hearts (Andrea)     (Mary)

Mary, my friend from high school, and I like to read a book together once a year or so.  She recently sent a list published on September 15 by PBS News Hour titled, “13 Fall Books That Will Make You Think.”  We picked this novel from that list.  It was right below What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton.  Imagine our surprise to open our library copies and discover this book was written in 1949!

The Franchise Affair is a British crime novel, which apparently breaks the rules of British crime novels (no, I don’t know what the rules are!)  Josephine Tey (real name, Elizabeth MacKintosh) wrote 24 novels and plays, some under her pseudonym, Gordon Daviot.  In this novel Betty Kane, 15,  accuses two older women, mother and daughter, who live together in an old mansion called The Franchise, of kidnapping her, keeping her for a month, and beating her.  A local attorney in their small British town is hired to protect and vindicate Marion Sharpe and her mother.

 Mary:  While dated in writing style and very British in tone, some of the themes are very current, in particular the media's influence on society.  Based loosely on a well-known case that took place in England in the 1800's, I liked the story and how the author developed it. Tey fleshed out the characters well, even some of the minor ones like Aunt Lin.

While I did find the writing style dated, I appreciated Tey's method of illustration or "turn of a phrase". I believe there is a literary term for it but darned if I remember it from high school English classes. Here are a few examples from later in the book when I thought to make note of them. 

When Robert encountered Betty's mother in the courtroom, he realized that despite his warm feelings toward her "....the game had been laid out on the squares now and they were chequers of different colour." 

" 'She can never again take a step on to green grass without wondering if it is a bog.' " Marion reflecting on Betty's adoptive mother.

 Andrea:  Like Mary, I really enjoyed the “turn of the phrase.”  I found the writing style intelligent and interesting.  I thought the story had depth.  It barely resembles much of our modern-day crime fiction, which can be so formulaic.  I found this novella an easy and entertaining read, and I wanted to know how the alleged crime resolved itself.   I would like to read more of Josephine Tey, except, there are so many books on my list, I may not get to another of hers for a long time.  You may want to try her on for size!


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Mark Sullivan | Literary Nonfiction, Creative Nonfiction, Biographical and Historical Fiction …. WHATEVER!!!!


Pino Lella, at seventeen years old, led Italian Jews across the snow-capped Alps to safety in Switzerland., wearing hiking boots and skis. And then he became a spy for the Allies in the resistance.  This is his story – 23 months of his life from June 1943 to May 1945.  And it is an amazing story!  Some 140,000 Allied soldiers and 60,000 Italians died during Nazi occupation of Italy, but very little has been written about this part of history.  Historians call Italy “the Forgotten Front.”

Mark Sullivan spent over a decade researching Pino’s story.  He was able to speak with Pino, but very few others, about events that took place 70 years ago.  He has put together a very compelling read.  It is interesting, emotional, eye-opening, sad, and inspiring.

I did some research on this genre.  Ever since I read Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, I have been in love with what is most often called “narrative nonfiction.”  (Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.)  Mark Sullivan tells us in the preface that he believes Beneath a Scarlet Sky is best called a “novel of biographical and historical fiction.” What we know is that the absolute backbone of this story is true, and has never been documented before.  Sullivan filled in the holes with fiction.  It feels as though the holes were few and far between.

Beneath a Scarlett Sky is moving and very well written.  It will draw you in as you read the opening pages and keep you transfixed.  It boggles my mind to read about the courage and brilliance of a 17 and 18-year old young man.  Oh yes, Pino also falls in love with Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior, so you get some romance amidst the horror of war, too.  Yes, be sure this is on your Holiday List as a gift, and to read!


American Nations

Colin Woodard | Non-Fiction


In my blog on Hillbilly Elegy, I asked for recommendations on a book that better explains our current regional voting patterns and two of you suggested American Nations.  This is a very worthwhile read.

American Nations traces the 11 ethoregional “nations” that actually compose our continent, from 1600 to 2010.  (American Nations was published in 2011).  Woodard writes the history of our country and our continent through the lens of these nations, which were colonized by different peoples, and have different values and often vastly different views on religion, race, the role of government, appropriate self-governance, diversity, social issues and the environment.  And more!  It is fascinating to read history told this way.  It amazes me we ever came together as a “United” Sates.

This is not an easy read.  I typically could read only one or two chapters at a time. And since, as long-term leaders of Dusty Shelves know, I am not a fan of history, it took discipline and commitment to read this book.  And retention?  I would say I have retained 5% maybe.

While American Nations does not address the current administration and how we were surprised last November 8, it does give us over 300 years of context for the decision we made as a country last year.  Woodard is good, too, throughout his telling of history, at identifying what aspects are still alive today and still drive decisions and attitudes in the 21st century; so there is a frequent link to the present.

American Nations is important and educational and yes, I highly recommend it.  I am including the map of the 11 Nations here … I hope you will be able to see it!


A Manual for Cleaning Women

Lucia Berlin  |  Fiction

When I was in graduate school at the University of Utah, situated at the edge of Salt Lake City and in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, I was a runner.   Some days, when there was too much snow on the ground, I would run around the elevated track in the gym at the U.  Yes, I accomplished my exercise, but it wasn't like running four or five miles among the foothills or up and down the streets with beautiful old homes and neighborhoods that told a story.  Short stories make me feel like running the track; I am not getting anywhere.

I made it through about 150 pages; quite a few of the 43 stories in this book, until I just became too tired of Berlin’s style, the story with the abrupt end.  She weaves together some interesting tidbits, Studs-Terkel-like, mixes in some humor, and then puts a surprise at the end.  The rhythm of her writing began to put me to sleep. It was the same formula in every story.  

During my process of trying to “like" Berlin's book, I researched why some of us are challenged by short stories. I found this delightful article!  I have read and enjoyed two of the recommended short story complications:  the one by Alice Munro, and the short stories of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, Welcome to the Monkey House.