Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

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.

 

The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert  |  Fiction

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A sincere thank you goes out to friends who convinced me to give Elizabeth Gilbert one more try!  I found The Signature of All Things interesting, compelling, intriguing and rich.  This is the story of Alma, born in 1800 to Henry Whittaker, the richest man in Philadelphia.  The novel portrays her entire life, from birth to death.  Alma becomes a brilliant and talented botanist with, as was the norm for young women of this time, no formal education.  We are privileged to witness this remarkable woman, who, with her independence her passion, her brain and her conversational skills, is way ahead of what we might expect for a well-heeled woman of the 19th century.

Gilbert takes us into Alma’s thoughts, fears and dreams.  We also are witness to how fine scientific minds view the world, and to the growth of all arms of science in this period.  The setting for this interesting novel is not only Philadelphia – Alma does travel as well, and we witness some other parts of the world through her eyes.

I was lukewarm on Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic (see my blog post on the latter). I found Gilbert to be stuck in her own frame of reference and not very good at making her revelations applicable to other readers in these non-fiction books. But her fiction – wow!  I definitely recommend this tale for a captivating read.

 

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Jack Thorne (NOT J.K. Rowling!)  |  Fiction

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When I was in third grade I wrote a play. My lovely third-grade teacher (Mrs. Cahill if memory serves??) was kind enough to let me direct and perform the play.  It was a great way to develop a baby budding writer!  Since that day, I have had an affinity for play scripts. Even today, I will occasionally pick one up to read and enjoy.  So, as you may imagine, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

And how disappointing!  The children in the play are progeny of Harry and Ginny, and Hermione and Ron, and Draco Malfoy.  It was intriguing to observe the next generation of wizards developing in the shadow of their famous parents.  Unfortunately, that is just what the author, Jack Thorne, relies upon – how these children fare in comparison to their enticing ancestors.  As a matter of fact, in the main story line, the children travel back to a time when all the adults were young and at Hogwarts.  How un-creative!  Thorne could not even develop a NEW adventure for young Albus and Scorpius to explore and be challenged by.  It was boring!  There was nothing new, no new magic, no new intrigue, virtually no creativity.  Sad.

The other error Thorne makes, in my opinion, is to tell the story of the five adults simultaneously.  So there is an inter-weaving of the adults, and their insecurities and proclivities, with the children’s adventures.  And it wasn’t a clever interweaving.  The tales about the adults simply dragged down any energy that Thorne created about the children.

I miss J.K. Rowling immensely in this story.

 

The Tiger’s Wife

Téa Obreht |  Fiction

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She deserves four hearts; I am certain of it.  Ms. Obreht's novel, however, is intricate and complex, and I must read it a second time before giving her her due. (Be forewarned, Casting Crew Book Club; I will be suggesting The Tiger’s Wife as a 2017 read!)

The Tiger’s Wife is a beautiful, mesmerizing tale.  She tells of a doctor and the death of her beloved grandfather, set in an unnamed Balkan state mending from war.  But it is more than this.  It is a compelling mix of reality and myth, of history and fairy tale.  She also tells of the encounters with the “deathless man.”  Michiro Kakutani of the New York Times writes, “…she demonstrates an uncommon ability to move seamlessly between the gritty realm of the real and the more primary-colored world of the fable.”

As delightful as the story itself, it is also important to note that this is Téa Obreht’s debut novel. And she is “twenty something.”  I was unable to keep track of the artful wording and phrasing she creates on every single page.  So, instead of writing down pages to share, I decided just to open to a random page while writing my review, guaranteeing myself I would find a superb example.  Let’s try.  Okay, page 91. “His thirst insane, the tiger lapped up pools from the leaky fountain where the flower women filled their buckets and then put his nose into the face of a sleeping child who had been left, wrapped in blankets, under the pancake stand.”  How can anyone write with such beauty, clarity and eloquence?

Read this book!  And please, leave a comment!

 

 

How to Set a Fire and Why

Jesse Ball  |  Fiction

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I grow weary of coming of age novels in which the protagonist loses both parents to not-quite-tear-jerking circumstances, and survives "in spite of it all.”  Lucia’s story, the main character in How to Start a Fire and Why, sounded so familiar, it bored me.

The publisher, however, spoke highly of her arsonist capabilities which, in my mind, made this novel sound intriguing.  (Am I really saying that?  I WANT to read about arson?)  The inside jacket states “Jesse Ball’s singular, blistering new novel tells the story of a teenage girl who has lost everything – and will burn anything.”

This is, well, a blistering lie!  (Spoiler alert coming if you want to read this thing…)  Lucia sets her first and only fire on page 281, exactly two pages before the end of the book.

What I did like about this novel is Ball’s quick and witty style.  With lots of white space, it is a very fast read.  Next time I want a fast read, however, I will pick up Time magazine and at least acquire some knowledge.

Healing After Loss

Martha Whitmore Hickman  |  Non-Fiction

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This is my go-to book on grief.  I read it every single day.  Organized by date, it has 365 pages, each with a quote, a viewpoint on the quote, and then an action or affirmation for consideration.  This lovely little book gives me a new perspective nearly every day, and puts my grief in helpful context, allowing me to shift just a bit how I am perceiving, analyzing or feeling.

Here is one quote I have asterisked, just to share a flavor of the book … “It isn’t for the moment you are stuck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The author uses the term “loved one” so it is useful whether you have lost a spouse, parent, friend, child … whomever.  I absolutely recommend you buy a copy of this book for yourself or anyone you know who is in mourning.

 

 

 

On My Own

Diane Rehm  |  Non-Fiction

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A number of people recommended this book to me, and I can see why!  Diane Rehm, host of the Diane Rehm Show on NPR since 1979, writes about the death of her husband John, and what it is like being “on her own.”   I found her writing style to be easy, honest, and compelling.  Perhaps part of why I appreciate this book is because her situation parallels mine in many ways.  No, it is not her situation that parallels mine, it is her perspective.  She is a dynamic, engaged, intelligent woman struggling to reconstruct her life.  She and John were married 54 years!  Wow!

Many of her stories resonated with me, such as … putting on a dress (okay, I NEVER actually put on a dress) and then simply not going out to an engagement, because she had no energy to smile at people or talk with strangers.  Yesterday and today both I cancelled engagements for the same reason. 

Of course, she also helps me to see things differently!  For instance, she writes about moving to the center of the bed.  Really?  Never even occurred to me!

Ms. Rehm’s most compelling message is about how her husband chose to starve himself to death because he lived in a state where death with dignity was not possible.  At nearly 80 years old, Diane Rehm is working with Compassion and Choices (compassionandchoices.org) to broaden the availability of physician-assisted death.  It is inspiring to read about her passion and commitment!

This 161 page book is not exactly an easy read, but it is a quick one.  Her style is conversational.  I guess you might expect no less from a woman who hosted an enormously successful radio show for 35 years!