Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Missing, Presumed

Susie Steiner |  Fiction

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Edith Hind is a beautiful graduate student at Cambridge University.  When this tale begins, she has been missing for 24 hours – her door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor.  Manon Bradshaw is a well-respected member of the Cambridgeshire police force, who lands the Edith Hind case.

Thus begins a standard crime novel, yes?  But Steiner does not follow the path of many crime fiction writers.  Manon is a not the perfect detective. While she yearns for love in her life, and attempts to find it through the Internet, we soon learn she is quite a flawed character … not the perfect detective that sometimes appears in crime fiction.

The characters in this novel are all rich and complex ... Edith’s parents, Edith’s boyfriend Will, her girlfriend Helena, Manon’s partner Davy, and even the crime boss who is befriended by the missing woman.  We watch the characters change throughout the search for Edith ... some of them grow, some of them disassemble.

At first, I was a little frustrated by the British idioms, such as “knees-up” and “the lounge.”  And I never fully understood all the acronyms used by the police: DS, DI, DC, CCTV and MIT.  But after a bit, I just smiled and enjoyed the twists and turns on the English language that I know as an American.  I look forward to Ms. Steiner's next nove; I wonder if Manon will be a major character?  This was a fine book to read while snow fell outside and, warm and cozy, I fed the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Commonwealth

Ann Patchett  |  Fiction

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Frivolous is the word that popped into my mind about mid-way through Commonwealth, and I will stay with it.  Patchett writes about a typical blended family, with the various parents and step-whatever's, and the functional and dysfunctional aspects of the six children in the blend.  And nothing interesting ever happens!  Yes, Albie, the youngest kid, is fed Benadryl (disguised as Tic-Tacs) to quiet him down.  Yes, Cal, the oldest boy, dies from a bee sting.  Yes, Franny takes up with a famous author, Leon Posen, for five years.  This is the exciting stuff.  Yawn!

Reviewers are most intrigued about the relationship between Franny of the blended family and the 30-years-her-senior Leon Posen.  There may have been some meat there, but Patchett spends little time in the relationship.  The greatest possibility for intrigue is the book that Posen writes, which is very clearly the story of Franny and her family.  This book, also called Commonwealth, sells to a movie house.  When the movie comes out, there is understandable angst among the family members depicted.  But only three characters actually go see the movie, and they walk out part-way through.  A perfect metaphor for Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  Even the movie is not compelling enough for the main characters to finish.

 

Wonder

R.J. Palacio |  Fiction

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“I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.”

I am a little late getting on the Wonder bandwagon (thank you to Mary's book club for putting this book on their reading list!)  Wonder is a warm and delightful read.  Yes, it is a teen book, but, as with many juvenile books, it certainly has a message for adults.  The message I received from reading this first novel by R.J. Palacio, is to remember to be kind.  “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”  (Wayne Dyer.)

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a genetic craniofacial deformity that prevented him from attending a mainstream school, until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, his first foray into a real school.  Auggie is just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face.   

This book touches on diversity, acceptance, appearance, kindness, love, and bullying.  While I truly enjoyed the chapters written from Auggie’s perspective, his sister Via’s section talks about what it is like to have a sibling who is the center of family attention and worry.  And the Julian section – the last section – blew me away.  Julian is the bully who never really accepts Auggie.  His story is rather amazing.  The marketing on this book quips, “You can never tell a book by its cover,” a reference to the heart and soul that Auggie presents beneath his deformed face.  But that is also true about Julian, Via, and others.  I guess it is true for all of us.

My favorite quote is Auggie’s favorite:  “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives because we all overcometh the world.”  (August Pullman) 

There is a lot of buzz about this book online.  The author has started this anti-bullying website: http://choosekind.tumblr.com/, and if you poke around, you will find many other activities, including how schools are integrating this book into their curriculum.

What a marvelous first novel for Palacio!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doctor’s Wife

Elizabeth Brundage  |  Fiction

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Imagine you are about to make a sandwich with your favorite bread ... sourdough?  16 grain?  Brioche?  Wonder bread?  Whatever your choice, is it luscious!  Then imagine that you smear peanut butter and grape jelly (nah, no one uses grape jelly anymore, do they?) make that strawberry preserves, on the two pieces of bread, in just the right quantity.  Now, add a second layer of PB&P.  Now add a third layer of PB&P.  You now have a lovely sandwich with so much goo in the middle that your mouth gets stuck trying to chew it.

That’s what The Doctor’s Wife is like.  The two pierces of bread are the meat (sorry for the reverse pun) of the story.  They are about Michael Knowles, an OB-GYN doctor who is passionately committed to providing safe abortions as part of his work.  In the beginning, and in the end, the story is compelling.  It is about his kidnapping by Lydia, a member of a radicalized right-to-life organization.  These pages are spell-binding; true mystery genre.

But the middle – the long and drawn out middle is about the affair between Michael’s wife Annie and Lydia’s husband Simon.  It’s a little bit like a romance novel plopped into the center of a crime novel.

Now romance isn’t all bad.  There are intriguing and interesting pieces in the center of this book. And it is important for the complex relationships among these four characters to be visible for us to see all the angles.  Lydia and Simon especially have a somewhat astounding relationship.

With that preamble, I think you may enjoy The Doctor’s Wife.  I did.  I simply thought the author overdid one story line, to the detriment of the other.

 

 

Woman of God

James Patterson & Maxine Paetro |  Fiction

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Yes, I know, I have been on a James Patterson kick.  And yes, Beryl really liked him, so it makes sense I am exploring this most prolific of writers!  Woman of God is not a murder mystery … it is one of his “stand-alone” books.

I loved the main character, Brigid Fitzgerald. She is a young physician who selflessly works and heals in the war-torn Sudanese desert. Her faith and her personal values are tested and challenged over and over, as well as her physical safety. 

The prologue is twenty years in the future.  The books itself begins in the current day and takes us along on Brigid’s journey over the next 20 years.  She leaves Sudan and returns to her home base in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  And then, through a series of events and relationships, she becomes a founder and very visible woman in an expanded alternative to the Catholic Church, JMJ.   JMJ is a church that is inclusive and compassionate; a church that eventually, near the end, inspires the Pope to invite Brigid to meet with him at the Vatican in a private Papal Audience.

Patterson’s and Paetro’s writing style is engaging and effortless to read.  Almost every chapter is a mere 2.5 pages.  It is easy to read a bit, put it down, stir your dinner, and then pick it up again.  Please enjoy this interesting read!  It will make you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Prosperous Coach

Steve Chandler & Rich Litvin |  Non-Fiction

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(for a limited audience) I LOVED this book. I just devoured it last week.  It isn’t relevant to me … I don’t need any more clients.  But I thought of all of you who coach, with every single page I read.  I was fortunate enough to have somehow come by some of these concepts early in my business 20 years ago.  However, there were many great ideas I never heard before – I and wish I had known then.

Read it.  Really.  I believe you will find something very valuable.  (And it is an easy read, with lots of white space!

p.s.  Do not bother wasting the 30 seconds it takes to read The 30-Second Guide to Coaching Your Inner Critic by Susan Mackenty Brady.  Sometimes your return really does match what you invest.

 

 

 

 

 

The Strangler Vine

M.J. Carter  |  Fiction

This is one of the most boring books I have read.  Throughout, I was reminded of our Improv Director, Rhonda, who often declares, “Don’t tell us what happened … show us!”  M.J. Carter writes of endless meetings and endless dialogue in her novel.  There is very little action, though if you make it to page 250, finally something does happen!  Then there’s 70 pages of action, intrigue, and breath-holding passages before Carter descends once again into incessant meetings and dialogue.  I read the entire book because it was a Book Club book, and I prefer to engage in our conversations. If I were on my own, I would have taken this book back to the library pronto!

I fear the author fell victim to the shortcomings of first-person narration. From a blog on the “Most Common Writing Mistakes” I was able to glean some confirmation for what I suspected was the underlying snag in this book:  “The first-person narrator, more than any other type of narrator, is inclined to lapse into self-centered telling, in which he overpowers the story, at the expense of the other characters and even the plot itself. ... <Two of the challenges of writing in the first person are> … Telling thoughts instead of showing; and inserting lengthy narrative at the expense of action and dialogue.”  I believe M.J. Carter trapped herself into the worst specimens of first-person narration.

Back-cover reviewers used words like “rip-roaring” and “gripping.”  I THINK the publisher swapped in reviews from some other book!  Find something else to read as the leaves turn color and fall from the trees.

 

 

 

 

The Women’s Murder Club Series

James Patterson  |  Fiction

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I am not going to post about each of the 15 books (so far?) in this series.  Suffice it to say, they are fun reads, if you like mysteries, intrigue, solving thorny problems, and smart women!  Excellent for long plane rides.  The miles fly by (no pun intended.  Ouch.)  I suspect these are also good beach reads, but it has been so many years since I lived near a beach, I can't attest to that as fact.

I am wending my way through the series.  #3 is on my book pile right now.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Canyons

Samuel Western  |  Fiction

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“Ward sets down Gwen’s shotgun, picks up his own, and opens the driver side door.  As he reaches in to place the shotgun on the gun rack, he touches the trigger of the unfired barrel.  The birdshot goes through the rear window and directly into the back of Gwen’s head.”

In Chapter 1 of Canyons, Ward accidentally kills his girlfriend, Gwen, twin sister of Eric, who witnesses this horrific event at Ladderback Ranch in Idaho.  This novel is about Ward and Eric 25 years later, when together they confront the demons and furies they have held on to for the intervening years.

Sam Western is a friend of my book club member Katie W., and so I began this book feeling like I was doing a favor for someone ... reading the book of a friend of a friend.  Ha!  I was immediately drawn in and stayed engaged throughout this short – though not easy – read.  Western tells a compelling story about two self-destructive former friends.  The author must have a big heart himself to be able to write about the inner thoughts and feelings of these two men.

Aside from the fact that Western has an odd tendency to not use the article “a” when it is called for, this is a beautifully written book.  I hope he writes another novel soon!

 

 

 

 

The Girls

Emma Cline |  Fiction

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The Girls tells an intriguing story of a cult, a commune of sorts, in Northern California in the late 1960’s.  Evie Boyd is a bored and drifting 14-year-old, who is captivated by the group after she encounters “the girls” in a park near her home:  “I noticed their hair first, long and uncombed. Then their jewelry catching the sun. The three of them were far enough away that I saw only the periphery of their features, but it didn’t matter — I knew they were different from everyone else in the park.”  Evie is mesmerized and is soon drawn in by Suzanne and the charismatic leader of the group. Russell.

It is a story of the vulnerability and naiveté of teenagers, especially at this time in our country where drugs, freedom, and frayed long granny skirts were rampant.

Unfortunately for the story, it is clear this is Ms. Cline’s first novel. Her story is compelling; her writing is not.  For some unknown reason, she tells the story from the viewpoint of Evie as a grown woman, decades later.  This trick of the writing trade adds not an ounce of interest.  Fortunately, she only returns to modern-day Evie three or four times, but each time is a jarring waste of effort.  Second, the author does not yet have the skill to build suspense. You know there will be murders.  This is mentioned early in the book, and then again around page 200 for a few pages, and then she abandons it again until page 312.  There is way too much time in-between these hints of what is to come to create a sense of anticipation in her writing.  I imagine a friend of hers reading the draft and saying, "You need to plant a seed of the murders earlier in the book," and Ms. Cline randomly obliges her friend.

Finally, and most difficult of all, the book is overwritten.  An example on page 200: “I got up once to get Suzanne a glass of water, and there was a domestic gentleness in the act.  I wanted to meet a need, put water in her mouth. Suzanne smiled up at me as she drank, gulping so fast I could see her throat ripple.”  The last sentence – even the last two sentences – added not an iota to the story.  The author has many filler sentences like this.  I can just imagine Ms. Cline writing out her story in a rush of ideas and creativity, and then painstakingly working her way through her tale, word by word, inserting words like “rupture” for “path” and substituting “yoke” for “yank.”

I hope in her next novel she writes from her imagination, and leaves it at that, without trying hard to add “interesting” words.  Her prose, then, will mature and perhaps captivate us, as the ranch captivated Evie.