Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

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.


The Silent Sister

Diane Chamberlain | Fiction


You could make a shawl to wear on your shoulders if you wove together all the secrets in the MacPhearson family.  When Riley MacPhearson returns home after her father's death to manage his estate, she discovers and uncovers lies and secrets surrounding her older sister's suicide, more than 20 years earlier.  These emerging lies and secrets are the backbone of Chamberlain's novel, The Silent Sister.

This is a “lose yourself in the story” kind of novel.  At one point, about two-thirds of the way through, I had to tell myself to turn off the light and get some sleep.  It is a well-crafted tale, and you will find yourself eager to discover the resolution of the mysteries.

My friend Rene recommended this book to me.  Thank you, Rene.  This was a good book as the days shorten and turn cold and I find more time to read with my dogs snuggled up against me.

Option B

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant |  Non-Fiction


Everybody urged me to read Option B.  After reading Sheryl Sandberg's Facebook post and hearing her interviewed 4(5?) times (what a marketing campaign for this book!) I was pretty sure I didn’t want to.  Nevertheless, I put myself on the wait list at the library and, months later, the book was mine.  (Sheryl, the COO of Facebook, writes Option B after the sudden death of her husband Dave on May 1, 2015).  Fortunately, it is a short read. I read it the day before, the excruciating day of, and the day after, the 18-month anniversary of Beryl's death.  

Chapters 2 and 10 had some words of interest. I love in Chapter 2 how she talks about “Non-Question-Asking Friends.”  Yes, with capital letters!  I fear I know some of these, family as well as friends.  And, of course, there's the other side of the coin, the friends who engage and are gifts and surprises in my life.  I had to draw away from some, and draw towards others.  Chapter 10, the last chapter, is about love and laughter, and I found some words of wisdom here.

Actually,  any time Sheryl wrote from her heart about her relationship with her husband Dave, their children, and her grief, the writing spoke to me and resonated with me. The real problem is the role of the second author, Adam Grant.  It is way too big.  Grant teaches in U-Penn's Positive Psychology program.  I have studied Positive Psychology, and I know many of it's studies, attributes, attitudes, and actions.  I became real sick of Sandberg and Grant telling me about Positive Psychology interventions:  how to improve my self-compassion and self-confidence; how I should keep a journal of contributions I make every day, not gratitude; how to take back joy; how to be more positive, etc.  Most of Option B read like a self-help book for ending grief and I resented it. There was also a lot of filler about people and situations such as after-action reviews at Quantico, Rwanda, and Charleston.  Huh?

Sandberg's greatest contribution to the field of grief is for the people who love grievers to stop asking “how are you?” and to ask instead, “how are you today?”

I can't seem to recommend this book to anyone, neither those who are grieving nor those who offer support.

Oh boy, tonight I can begin a new book!  I am relieved!


Only the Brave



I heard a poignant review about this movie on NPR, and simply decided to go see it the next day.  The timing of the release of this movie is quite fortuitous, with the disastrous wildfire season this summer and fall on the West Coast.

Only the Brave is based upon the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, many of whom lost their lives fighting a fire outside Prescott, Arizona in 2013.  Directed by Joseph Kosinski and starring Josh Brolin and others, the story is told without over-dramatization.  It is, to quote various reviewers, "deeply emotional," "satisfying" and "devastating."  This is one of those movies where the credits start rolling and no one moves from their seats.

I am quite thankful I saw it.  It feels important in this day and time when so many men and women put their lives on the line to fight wildfires.  It honors wildfire fighters.  I also had a lighter personal interest in choosing to see it.  Prescott was our runner-up when Beryl and I chose to return to Bend, and I was hoping for some fine shots of Prescott and the surrounding wildernesses.  I was not disappointed.

This weekend, grab a bag of popcorn and make a journey to your local theater.  Oh yes, you will need a tissue also.


The Perpetual Now

 Michael D. Lemonick |  Biography


Lonni Sue Johnson is an artist, musician and pilot when she contracts an encephalitis infection which destroys her hippocampus, the locus of memory in the brain.  You might even recognize some of her covers for The New Yorker magazine.

I didn’t know I was interested in memory until I read this book.  You will read what neuroscientists are learning about the functioning of our extremely complex brains.  It’s pretty fascinating.  I also did not fully appreciate profound amnesia.  Yes, you don’t remember the past, but you also are unable to form new memories, which means every day and every person is always brand new to you.  Wow.  Lonni Sue is a very positive and happy person, which makes reading her story surprisingly uplifting.

As I write more blogs, I come to appreciate more about the writing process and authors.  Lemonick’s work has been for Scientific American and National Geographic, and he has written more than 50 science articles for Time.  You will learn more science than you might expect in this biography, and less human interest.  I would have liked more heart ... more about Lonni Sue and her life.  Lemonick does a good job of this, just not great.  He is a scientist before a humanist.

That being said, if your interest is at all piqued, I recommend The Perpetual Now.  This science is presented in lay terms, and tied together well.  I also put Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on my Netflix list as a result of reading this book.  Have you seen this movie?  The Perpetual Now is a Real Simple recommendation.


In Another Life

Julie Christine Johnson | Fiction


As In Another Life opens, our main character, Lia, has just arrived in Languedoc in southern France. It is 18 months since her husband Gabriel died.  As I read page one, it is 17 months since Beryl died.  I am astounded by the similarity of Lia's emotions and my own, and am immediately drawn into her character.  She has come to this land to stay in a friend's stone cottage.  She has come to consider the next steps in her life.  It hasn't even occurred to me to consider my next steps. It never even crossed my mind.  Well, I guess it has now!

But this blog post is not about me ... it is about this book.  On the front cover, a reviewer claims it is “evocative of Outlander.”  As a guzzler* of the Outlander series, this caught my attention.  The structure differs from Outlander.  Let me tell you a bit about the plot, to better explain the “time travel” aspect of In Another Life

Lia returns to Languedoc in part to continue work on her abandoned dissertation, which is about the Cathars, and in part to discover her life's "next steps."  In the thirteenth century, the Catholic Church incited a Crusade against the Cathars, a heretical religion according to the Catholic scholars of the time.  While in Languedoc, Lia’s inner historian is enlivened again and she learns a great deal about the powerful players from the year 1208 who facilitated or resisted the Crusade.  I think it is sufficient to say, without giving away too much of the story itself, that the Cathars believed in reincarnation.  So “time travel”  in this novel occurs as rich characters who were incarnated in 1208 interact with our modern day characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  I like the exploration, the mystery, the time travel, the depth of the characters, and the romance.  This is a book club book and I know at least one member of book club did not like this book.  Our conversation will be interesting!

*(Ha ha, I just learned the word tachyphagia - it means to eat rapidly or fast.  I thought “guzzle” was little more user-friendly!)


The Storyteller

Jodi Picoult | Fiction


Intense.  This book begins light and easy.  Sage Singer is a baker; you can almost smell (but not quite taste!) the delicious breads and pastries she bakes every night.  One day an elderly man walks into the bakery and Sage and Josef strike up a conversation and then an unlikely friendship.  Nice so far, eh?

Josef asks Sage to help him die.  Now the story picks up a bit more heat.

And then we enter into the real meat of the seemingly credible novel … Josef’s tale about his experiences as a Nazi SS leader.  Eventually we also get Sage’s Grandma Minka’s story as a Holocaust survivor at Auschwitz.  Of course, Josef’s and Minka’s paths crossed all those many years ago.

Their tales are riveting.  In full Picoult style, it is hard to put this book down, even though the bulk of it is definitely intense.  Yes, absolutely, it is worth reading.

Footnote:  In March of this year, a Nazi SS Officer, 98 years old, was revealed, living in Minnesota.  Picoult's book is not far-fetched.