Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Wonder Woman

Movie

three-hearts

Yes, I'm traveling outside my own box here and reviewing a movie, Wonder Woman, viewed yesterday with my friend Deby.  There's a lot of hype about this movie, especially from, about and for women.  And hype it is.

I enjoyed the first two-thirds or so.  I thought the story of Wonder Woman's roots in the community of Amazons, and the visual imagery in this portion were both quite beautiful.  I also quite enjoyed her transition to London, and her wonder (no pun intended) at this world of men, poverty, filth, cars, fashion and general malaise. 

But then Wonder Woman saves the world. And again. And again.  There was too much violence for me in the last third and, more important, the fighting sequences became boring.  I was anxious for it to be over.  There is a bit of a twist, but I saw it coming, so even that little surprise fell flat for me.  My chair was squeaking in the theater, so I was trying to be really quiet and sit perfectly still and it was HARD. 

So, IMHO, see it, but don't expect to walk out awed.  Or inspired to save the world.

News of the World

Paulette Jiles |  Fiction

three-hearts

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a “runner” after the Civil War. He travels throughout north Texas giving readings to people from worldwide newspapers, for 10 cents a listener.  He eschews Texas newspapers, because they excite his audiences and wreak havoc and fistfights among his listeners due to the divisive post-war politics in Texas.  One day he agrees to deliver Johanna, previously stolen by an Indian tribe, to her aunt and uncle in south Texas.  This is the tale of their journey.

This short book (I read it flying home from Dallas) is sweet, but predictable.  There are few surprises and, other than the intrigue of learning about the profession of a runner, I found it not all that compelling.  It's a nice book for a plane ride, but not something to put on your “must read” list.  I think, too, this book did not have an editor!  Before you are too far into this book, you will read that Johanna’s hair is colored honey, biscuit, taffy and ocher. And then taffy again.  I have no idea why the author is obsessed with describing Johanna's hair.  (Late in the book, Jiles uses a clear word to clarify her hair color. I won't tell you what that word is … it would be a spoiler, in a book that requires few spoiler alerts). Likewise, Ms. Jiles more than once describes the moon as “rolling backwards.”  It is irritating that no one seemed to read and edit this book for repetition.

If you want a sweet little read, go for it. Otherwise, there are many juicier books calling to you and me!

 

You Don’t Look Your Age … and Other Fairy Tales

Sheila Nevins |  Biography/Memoir

three-hearts

You Don’t Look Your Age is a collection of short stories and poetry, loosely yet clearly woven together, about the life of Sheila Nevins. Sheila Nevins is the President of HBO Documentary Films and has made over 1000(!) documentaries.  She has been credited with the “rebirthing” of documentaries.

Not typically a short story reader, I found my own self on these pages.  As a woman entering business in a similar time frame (she is 14 years older than me, but had a later start in the professional world), I related to many, though not all, of her stories about work, men, friendship and personal growth.  The decade of the 60’s, the decade that Ms. Nevins and I did not share, DID make a difference for the role of women in the workforce.  However, friendships and the trials of womanhood seem to remain much the same.

The very last story particularly resonated with me, as she writes about her mother’s struggle with an inherited disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is a disease I was diagnosed with 45 years ago, inherited from my own mother.

I like Nevins’ style – she writes interesting and important stories from her life, but not in a boring chronology.  She emotes -- at times funny, at times sad, at times angry.  This is a quick and easy read, though once or twice emotionally painful.  I give it three hearts because of the short story format – not my personal favorite.  Such a successful woman, I find she almost seems to take herself too lightly.  Otherwise, it is a four heart memoir.

 

Fingersmiths

Sarah Waters | Fiction

four-hearts

It was 1862 in London when Sue Tinders, orphaned at birth, comes to live with Mrs. Sucksby and her “family” of fingersmiths – petty thieves, all.  By the time Sue turns 17, she finds herself in the midst of an elaborate conspiratorial plot.  The plot evolves to reveal truth and falsehood, loyalty and disloyalty, love in many forms, betrayal, exploitation, manipulation … well, the list goes on!

I loved this book!  Because it was difficult to get my hands on, and it was a book club read, I had five days to read this 600-page book cover to cover. It wasn’t hard. Water’s writing creates a page-turner, attested to by most members of the Casting Crew Book Club.

Here is but one example of her evocative and visual writing (page 114):  “Besides, the days at Briar were so very regular, it was quite like some great mechanical show, you could not change it.  The house bell woke us up in the mornings and after that we all went moving on our ways from room to room, on our set courses, until the bell rang us back into our beds at night.  There might as well have been grooves laid for us in the floorboards; we might have glided on sticks.  There might have been a great handle set into the side of the house, and a great hand winding it …”

Sarah Waters is a fine storyteller. This book will stay with you and haunt you for a while.  There are twists, turns and inevitable conclusions.  I highly recommend this book, especially for a summer read; it is engrossing and unique.  Personally, I am going to explore Sarah Waters’ five prior novels.  I have already requested Tipping the Velvet at the library.

 

What do the Hearts mean?

In thinking about The Stars are Fire (blog posting is on its way!) I was struggling between two hearts and three hearts and decided it would behoove the Dusty Shelves Book Blog if I defined the hearts system a BIT more clearly.  Given that it is really a complication of scales, and rarely all one rating or another, here’s my best attempt to explain what my hearts mean:

four-heartsLike it a lot or loved it; I recommend it; put it on your list!

three-heartsLike it; I recommend, with some reservations.

two-heartsI don’t recommend it, though it was compelling enough for me to finish reading.

one-heartI couldn’t get through it

Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance |  Memoir

three-hearts

I wanted Hillbilly Elegy to explain to me why Appalachia voted for Trump.  I guess if I really want to know, I better read a non-fiction that attempts to answer that question.  Any recommendations?  Hillbilly Elegy gave me some insight with which to answer that question, but not much.  More on this below.

This is a tough blog to write!  Hillbilly Elegy is difficult to compartmentalize.  The book is a memoir by a man who grew up in Appalachia and eventually left.   He tells his personal story about being poor and white in Appalachia, and attempts to draw sociological conclusions from it.   His memoir is much larger than the analysis.  This disappointed me.  I wanted more of a researched, nuanced analysis.

The first half of the book is pure story.  I was rather amazed at the direct parallels to my own life.  JD writes a great deal about the physical and emotional connection among family in Appalachia.  My mom, in Detroit,  married the boy across the street.  Two of her sisters married two brothers from a few doors down.  There was a time when all of my family was concentrated in just a few blocks in Detroit.  And then came “white flight” to the suburbs and the next generation departed, leaving only my grandparents to die in the city.  While my mom was not quite as addicted as Vance’s mom (prescription drugs for my mom, not street drugs) and certainly did not go through boyfriends and husbands like Vance’s mom, still there were parallels in how these women related to and abandoned their children.  And I had to laugh at the section about Appalachia adults hating Japanese cars.  Well, being from Detroit, this was a common sentiment!

I later learned that many readers could not relate to this family dynamic at all.  It occurs to me that it is a common dynamic, perhaps, in the cities that were populated by early 1900’s immigrants … Italians, Poles, Serbs, Germans ... all looking for better work in America.  Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis ... all of these towns experienced some of what Appalachia did, though with less debilitation.

In the center of the book, pages 139 – 142, the author begins to hypothesize how Appalachia Democrats became Republicans.  It is an interesting, if very cursory, explanation.  Frankly, it is not very complimentary, making Appalachia sound reactive and resentful.  A bit later, around page 191, he talks about sentiment regarding President Obama and social changes of that era, and he presents the opinion of his people as though it is all made up; not grounded in any fact.

Near the end, Vance attempts to rescue his book (okay, I KNOW I am attributing to him something he would never attribute to himself!!) and he presents some useful and insightful arguments for what has occurred in this region of the country, and what can help.

My friend Deby found the author’s writing “annoying.”  I did too, though neither of us could put our finger on precisely why. My best explanation is that this is written like a “How I spent my summer vacation” essay.  It is chronological and rather immature in writing style.

That all being said, I actually think you should read this book.  I am completely confident you will not agree with all of my opinions, and that is what is interesting and where the learning is.  I am fascinated to hear what you think of this book. I know many of you have already read it. Please opine!

 

For my Blog Readers

After hearing from some of you that you don't see replies to your comments, I did some research. It is below.  If this doesn't help, I will contact my web designer and see if there is something else to be fixed!

 

Comment Notification Email

If comment notifications are enabled, the post author will receive an email when a new comment is left on a post they wrote. Comment notification emails are sent to the post author at their account’s email address.

You can choose to receive an email for every comment or just for comments that are held for moderation. You can change these options from the Settings → Discussion page:

E-mail me whenever:

  • Anyone posts a comment
  • A comment is held for moderation

The comment notification email has all of the information about the comment including the title, author, email, URL, IP address, comment contents, and links to approve, delete, or mark the comment as spam.

Who receives comment notifications and can moderate comments?

  • Contributors don’t receive comment notifications and can’t moderate any comments
  • Authors receive comment notifications for, and can moderate comments on, only posts for which they’re the “author”
  • Editors receive comment notifications only for posts for which they’re the “author”, but can moderate any comments
  • Site owners receive comment notifications for all posts, and can moderate any comments. Other site administrators will not receive comment notifications unless they a) have written the post, or b) have followed the site and opted-in to receive notifications for all comments on the site. Following the site will only launch notification emails for published comments, not comments in the moderation queue.

As an Administrator, you can add or edit users in Users → All Users in your dashboard.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Can I reply to comment notification emails?

If you turn on the comment reply by email feature on the Settings > Discussion page, you can reply directly to comments from the email notification messages. Make sure to include the quoted comment message or use the !END delimiter when you reply to comments by email.

See the Comment Reply via Email help page for more details.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

What if the emails aren't getting through?

If you’re not receiving comment notification emails:

  • First check to make sure you are the author on the post where the comments are getting added.
  • Check the Settings → Discussion page to make sure email notifications are turned on.
  • Check the spam/junk folder in your email program to make sure the messages weren’t filed there by mistake.

If you are still having trouble, contact support for help and please include an example of a post URL where you expected to receive a comment notification.

A Twist in Time

Julie McElwain  |  Fiction

I don’t understand how I can give Ms. McElwain’s first book, A Murder in Time. four hearts, and I can’t struggle my way through her second novel. It is like a movie sequel in which the sequel is simply a flop.  I have been working on this book for days, and I am only on page 94. I am abandoning it.  There seems to be nothing new and fresh in this novel.  The setting remains the same … FBI Agent Kendra Donovan is still caught in England in 1815 as an unwilling time traveler.  She is investigating a second murder now.  But except for the fact that a different society Lady has become our victim, nothing new seems to be happening.  Kendra remains befuddled by the norm differences and societal changes in 200 years.  She has the same manner of shocking people with her modern-day assertiveness.  She has the same sweet way of telling her benefactor, Duke Aldridge bits and pieces of life in the 21st century, while being fearful of saying too much so as not to change history.  There is the same sexual/romantic tension between her and Alec.

Nothing is engaging me.  I am moving on.

 

 

small great things

Jodi Picoult |  Fiction

three-hearts

I became nauseous twice while reading this novel.  While there was little physical violence per se, reading about the inner thoughts of a white supremacist quite literally made me ill.  I considered quitting the second time this occurred, and then I read some reviews.  Eleanor Brown of the Washington Post describes small great things as “frank, uncomfortably introspective” and a book that will challenge readers. With that perspective and the encouragement of my friend Linda, I continued.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/small-great-things-is-the-most-important-novel-jodi-picoult-has-ever-written/2016/10/12/f18e0fdc-7eb4-11e6-8d13-d7c704ef9fd9_story.html?utm_term=.fa0c3dc900d3

This is the story of Ruth, an African-American highly experienced labor & delivery nurse, who is restricted from caring for a newborn per the request of the newborn’s parents, who are white supremacists.  But then an emergency occurs, the baby dies and Ruth is sued by the parents, charged with murder and negligent homicide.  The novel is based on a real situation that occurred in Flint, Michigan.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Ruth, her white attorney Kennedy, and the father of the baby, Turk.  This novel will definitely challenge you to look at your own racism, not just in terms of hate, but also in terms of privilege. It is also a good story!  Picoult writes well ... I think an author who can make me nauseous just by relaying the thoughts of one of her characters has to have superb skills.

I gave small great things three hearts, however, because a) I cannot recommend this book to everyone; you have to be ready for it, and have the stomach for it; and b) I think it is a somewhat over-written.  I think the some elements of the conclusion were manufactured out of thin air and quite unnecessary and unbelievable. I would like to hear what you think about the ending – without any spoilers!  Particularly unreal to me is what happens to the couple, Brit and Turk.

If you read this, please post your opinion!  And have a bottle of Pepto Bismol nearby.

 

Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi | Fiction

four-hearts

I started Homegoing on CD, while driving to Cannon Beach Oregon for a watercolor workshop at the ocean.  And I became a bit confused.  That evening, however, when I opened a print copy of the book and found an organization chart (no, that's not what it called.  Cripes, I have been working in the corporate world for way too long!)  Anyway, once I found the family tree, and backed up a little on what I had listened to, Homegoing began to fall into place and I found my rhythm with the book.

The author writes about a character in each of 9(?) generations, beginning on the Gold Coast of Africa in 1764 and through the 1990’s in Palo Alto.  The way she tells the story, you don't have the opportunity to follow one character.  It is on a timeline, not all at one point in time.  That is a bit frustrating.  Still, the depth of the story illustrates Gyasi’s ability to immerse her readers in Black family culture and the slave trade through the generations.  Her storytelling raises this novel to a full four hearts for me.  The only "character" who remains consistent through the generations is a black stone pendant that is handed down from generation to generation.  It is the stone that ties the story into one piece.

This novel is the Deschutes County community read for 2017, and I can see what inspired this choice. You receive an education as well as entertainment. I will be hearing the author speak on May 7, and will edit this post if I learn anything insightful to add!