Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Night School

Lee Child  |  Fiction

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This was a fun read, in-between more serious books!  Someone is buying something worth $100 million, in two-decades-ago US dollars.  What could be bought, sold and transported on the black market for 100 very large bills?  Jack Reacher, of course, is put on the job to find the item, the seller and the buyer.  Eventually, he uncovers the item and the seller in Hamburg, neither of which make their way to the buyer, and the world is safe again.  Intrigue, fast-paced, not overly violent ...  Jack Reacher novels are a nice respite.

Now, I splay out my possible reads on the kitchen island and make a decision where to turn my attention next.  Oh boy!

 

A Study in Scarlet Women

Sherry Thomas  |  Fiction

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I’m confused. This book, which I finished primarily so I could write a blog post, simply confused me. I was half-way through before I figured out what was going on.  Was I dense?  Or did the plot really not reveal itself until half-way in?  Charlotte Holmes assumes the name of Sherlock Holmes and searches for the culprits in three murders.  It IS on the back of the book – I guess I should have known earlier that Charlotte was operating a ruse, under the name of Sherlock Holmes, but I didn't seem to connect to this information until nearly halfway in.  And then, with three murders and multiple suspects, I continued to be confused. And when it ended and all was revealed?  Well, suffice it to say, I was still confused.

So, you may ask, why not one heart?  Because I finished it.  I loved Charlotte's character — she is a renegade; she fights the morals of her time; she meets some delightful people along her journey.  Especially Mrs. Watson (I assume that her name was appropriately tongue-in-cheek!)  However, I don’t think I will pick up another Sherry Thomas soon.  I have way too many books on my “must be read” list.

 

 

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

Genevieve Valentine  |  Fiction

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I can’t quite say why I enjoyed this book so much.  The story is not that compelling (more on that below) but the writing is just delightful.  Valentine has a style that is easy to read and enjoy.

The story centers on Jo, the eldest of 12 sisters who live in the upper floors of a Fifth Avenue townhome in the 1920s. Their mother died after giving birth to #12, and the girls now live with their controlling and extremely distant father, who is profoundly disappointed that his wife never gave him a son.  Actually, their father has abandoned the sisters in all ways except to provide food and housing. As a matter of fact – hard to believe – a number of the sisters have never met their father.  Jo is usually the go-between. When he wants to communicate something, he sends one of the house servants up to ask Jo to come to his study.

Jo teaches her eleven sisters to dance and for eight fairy-tale years they sneak out at midnight to explore the speakeasies of New York City, where they dance to their hearts' content, never giving their names to anyone.

The sisters call Jo “The General.”  An apt name for their substitute mother!  I wonder if Jo is in some way reminiscent of Jo in Little Women.  (I did my compulsory read of Little Women as a young girl, but the book I read over and over again every summer that still sits on my shelf today, is Little Men.  I wonder what this presages about my life and career?)

An example of Genevieve Valentine's delightful writing is how she names the two sets of twins in the family, Hattie & Mattie and Rose & Lily.  An oddity is her considerable overuse of parentheses.  I never quite understood why so many of her sentences are in parentheses.

I gave this novel three hearts instead of four because it isn’t a “must read.”  I wouldn’t talk about it on a hiking trail with my friends and proclaim, “You must read this!”  It is an interesting and enjoyable short book.  I reserve the right to add to this post after we discuss The Girls at the Kingfisher Club at book club this week!  For a snowy weekend by the fireplace, I recommend this read!

 

Truly Madly Guilty

Liane Moriarty  |  Fiction

I give up.  I have wasted two weekends on this book, hoping the characters become less vapid and a plot actually develops.  I have made it all the way to page 198, almost half-way, and this morning I awoke with clarity.  It is time to move on.  Oprah called it “Gripping.”  The Washington Post, “Powerful.”  Family Circle called it “Mesmerizing.”  I guess that should have aroused my suspicion.

If you read this and liked it, I would LOVE to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Marie Semple |  Fiction

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This book is NOT about Bernadette’s physical disappearance (see my rant below.) However, it is about her emotional, intellectual and mental disappearance from her life.  Bernadette is an incredibly interesting character … she presents as somewhat daft ... but then again, she presents as very rational.  Can someone be “somewhat” daft? (Heck if I know; I’m a coach, not a psychiatrist!) As she lives her life as a mom and a wife and neighbor, living in a house that is literally being taken over by blackberry vines, you wonder how she can be called sane. But then you observe her relationship with her husband, her reasons for using a virtual assistant, her astonishing past, and her arguments with her neighbor and with her daughter’s school administrators and you unabashedly cheer her on!  To fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to designers, she's a revolutionary anomaly of an architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

This is an odd book ... the story is primarily contained in notes the characters write each other ... usually not e-mails and not faxes, but “notes.” The author doesn’t explain how these “notes” get delivered.  Odd, yes, but once you become accustomed to the style, quite engaging

This was the January read for our book club, The Casting Crew.  (Nicole Kidman won the spot of Bernadette!)  I can't remember the last time we discussed a book for so long.  For the nine women sitting around Pam's dining room table, there was resonance with the character of Bernadette, as well as many laugh-out-loud moments while reading.

Yes, pick this novel up, get yourself accustomed to the odd and playful style, and enjoy.

Rant:  I have been reading book reviews much more since I started the Dusty Shelves book blog, sometimes before I read the book, sometimes after.  I need to start paying attention to the reviewers' names and see if I can find a few I like and trust (sort of like the old days with movies and Siskel and Ebert.  Any suggestions, blog readers??)  I have noticed that so many reviewers zero in on an event in a book that they find particularly enticing and then write about that, pretending that the exciting event they picked out is what the book is about, thereby tantalizing you by this event.  (Actually, publishers and their jacket notes are even more to blame than reviewers!)  Did you read any of the reviews claiming Where’d You Go, Bernadette was a mystery about Bernadette's (physical) disappearance?  Well, it isn’t!  Bernadette doesn't disappear until page 213; more than 2/3rds through the book.  This event-focused review does the author and the book a disservice, I believe.

 

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead |  Fiction

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Wow.  I mentioned after my last blog (Bullseye by James Patterson), that I was going to choose a more meaningful book, and I certainly fulfilled that intent!  This is a haunting, devastating, and decidedly meaningful novel.

The Underground Railroad begins on a vicious Georgia plantation, where escape is on the minds of all.  The early pages are very difficult to read; not that it gets easier later. I was shocked and stunned to learn about the brutality among slaves, not only just perpetrated by slave-owners upon slaves.   

The author tells us Cora’s story, who flees the plantation where she was born, risking everything in pursuit of freedom, much the way her mother, Mabel, did years before.  Colson Whitehead consistently conveys the fear, humiliation, and loss of dignity of a slave attempting to be free. Cora finds herself swept into the great secret undertaking that is the underground railroad.  And here is where the novel astonishes.  Whitehead has taken the historical metaphor of an “underground railroad” and made it real, complete with stations (some magnificent, some just dirt), stations agents who risk their lives to inform runaway slaves about the hidden entrances, and trains with no regular schedules. It is a magical metaphor.

This beautifully written book was on President Obama’s reading list for 2016. Amazing.  Will our next president suggest such a read to us?

The ending(s) – plural because there are a few – are poignant and powerful.

This book should be required reading for us all.  Do not expect to be thrilled by it.  Expect to be evocatively and deeply moved.

 

Bullseye

James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge  |  Fiction

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I have to give it two hearts because I must assign it, "don't bother to read."  This is not a Patterson I recommend.  I wonder if it is the influence of the second author, Michael Ledwidge?  Bullseye (which is stupidly named and would be way more clever, though not as broadly appealing, if it was named Matryoshkas from a conversation in Chapter 76 about the situation facing the main characters being like nested Russian Dolls.)

There are too many characters and their development is too shallow. This is the ninth book featuring Detective Michael Bennett, but the first one I have read, and the authors forgot to give us the two sentence explanation of who Michael is.  He seems to be a single dad with ten children in Catholic school, a girlfriend/nanny named Mary Catherine (can't get much more Catholic than that!) and a priest named Seamus who hangs around the house for some reason.  But we don't get any explanation about why Detective Bennett is in these particular life circumstances.  Is he divorced?  Widowed?  Promiscuous?  Did he somehow acquire an orphanage?  There is one clue almost 300 pages in.

This book was written in 2016, and Vladimir Putin is suspected of being behind the attempt on the life of the President of the United States (Bullseye's plot).  Too close for comfort?  There are not one, but two married couples in this book who are co-assassins.  Is this a new language of love?  One of the couples is quite endearing! 

If you want something mindless to entertain you on an airplane, you might choose this.  But otherwise, don't waste your precious time sitting by the fire with this book in hand during this, one of the worst winters in years on the North American continent.

I am going to read something more meaningful now.  And feed the fire.  (It is 7 degrees F [-14 C] as I type).

 

A Man Called Ove

Fredrik Backman |  Fiction

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I wonder why people in my life who love me keep suggesting books about death, such as On My Own and Saturday Night Widows and movies such as Always and Heaven Can Wait.  I don’t quite understand – are they supposed to normalize my experience? Make me feel as though I am not alone?  Do they figure I will find these pieces interesting, now that I have an experience along the same lines?  I don’t know. I know they are well-meaning. But mostly I find them incredibly sad and nearly impossible to read or watch.

A Man Called Ove is the notable exception.  While it did incite my tears a number of times, I also laughed and found myself with a warmed heart.  It is difficult for me to describe A Man Called Ove.  Basically, it is about a man’s experience after his wife dies.  But that is such an understatement.  It is much cleverer than that.  First of all, we all thought Beryl was a curmudgeon.  He talked about writing a blog he was going to call “The Curmudgeon’s Rant.” In fact, he tried out a few on his family members!  Well, it seems he was a baby-curmudgeon-in-training.  Ove is the REAL curmudgeon!  You will laugh at how curmudgeonly he is!  (How can that be funny?)  He is such an interesting character, you will want to discover what makes him tick. Without giving the plot away completely, I will say the book often reminded me of my favorite all-time movie, Harold and Maude.  But with very different intentions.

I think it takes real talent to write in a way that makes the reader laugh or giggle.  Fredrick Backman is that talented.  Oh yes, also, I want to share a few of his colorful sentences:  "She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors.” (pp 288/9)  And this one:  “Jimmy is perspiring like a bit of pork left on a sauna stove.”  (pp 236)  HUH?  I don’t understand either of these sentences, but how visual they are and what fun to roll them around my mind!

Despite the underlying sadness of the story line, this is a warm, comical, interesting - even fascinating - book.  Enjoy!

 

A Murder in Time

Julie McElwain |  Fiction

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My friends Lois and Paul were on the Queen Mary 2 on their way from South Hampton, England to New York, over Thanksgiving weekend.   Paul was perusing the library when he ran into this book, A Murder in Time.  "Lo," he said, "I think this one is for you."  An FBI agent, Kendra Donovan, accidentally enters a wormhole and finds herself transported back 200 years, to 1815, to the Aldrich Castle in England. There, it seems, her skills are invaluable, if somewhat misunderstood, as she investigates and ultimately discovers  the identity of a brutal serial killer. 

Since Lois and I are great fans of the Outlander series, she knew I would enjoy this book as well.  The copy I read was NOT from the Queen Mary 2 ... it was a local Deschutes County Library borrow.

I loved this book!  Engaging, great characters, interesting tidbits about nineteenth century England  morays, values and social structures, and clear fast-paced writing all collude to make this a great read.  This is McElwain's first novel.  She is employed as the editor of a magazine on "daytime dramas."  But don't get the wrong idea!  This book is way more about mystery than romance.

The only criticism I have is this.  You know how mystery writers bury a clue or two so that when the murderer is revealed, it all makes sense?  Well, the author's clue was too obvious and too easy to spot.  Even though I knew before the end who the "unsub" was, i was still fascinated to see how it unfolds.

Enjoy this riveting read!

p.s.  I just this moment learned McElwain's second novel, A Twist in Time, will be released on April 4.  Oh boy!

 

 

The Woman in Cabin 10

Ruth Ware  |  Fiction

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The Woman in Cabin 10 is a fun read; I read it easily over a weekend.  An Agatha Christie-esque-style novel … “How can the woman in cabin 10 be murdered?  There IS no woman in cabin 10!”

Lo Blacklock has landed the assignment of a lifetime.  A travel journalist, she will be reporting on the maiden voyage of the private exclusive sailing of the Aurora.  Yes, the Aurora, which has only ten cabins for guests, sails to Norway from London for a luxury viewing of the Aurora Borealis.  But Lo’s visit to the Northern Lights begins quite unpleasantly, as she witnesses the woman in cabin 10 being thrown overboard.  But all guest and staff are accounted for and there is no one staying in cabin 10.  What did Lo actually witness?

The mystery is fun as it unravels and sweeps the reader in.  Lo, however, takes some getting used to.  She drinks too much.  Constantly.  It takes a bit to warm up to Ms. Ware’s main character.  Eventually, though, I became intrigued with the mystery and suspense and, of course, the surprising resolution.  Also, I personally would hesitate to hire the two editors mentioned in the Acknowledgments.  The Misses Alison and Alison seem as enamored as Ruth Ware of Lo “gritting her teeth,” which she does, I swear, 10 or 12 times.  Perhaps another expression could be used occasionally to portray her angst?

In summary, for a light and easy read over the holidays or on the beach, I recommend this tale!