Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John LeCarré |  Fiction


 My credibility as a blogger may be called into question with this post.  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold spent 34 weeks on The NY Times bestseller list, and most everyone knows the title, at least.  But I didn’t get it.  Literally.  The first time I understood the story line at all was at the beginning of Chapter 20, “Tribunal” on page 167.  The entire book is only 225 pages.  I felt no tension, couldn’t figure out who the bad guys and good guys were, and there was no spying in the entire book.

My friend Jan W is on a journey to read all of John LeCarré’s books.  I haven't read him, but Jan’s commitment inspired me to try him on for size.  It will be a while before I venture into another LeCarré.

I have read everything by Robert Parker (which is why two of my cats are named Spenser and Hawk), and, when much younger, J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut.  Have you intentionally read everything published by a particular author?  If so, who?


Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens |  Fiction


Three out of the last five books I read were non-fiction, and I claim to be primarily a fiction reader, so it was terrific to be deposited into the arms of a wonderful novel.  I felt like I was lying in a big pile of pillows whenever I read a few chapters from Crawdads.

This is the story of Kya, “The Marsh Girl” who grew up completely alone in the marshland of North Carolina.  When her tale begins, it is 1952, Kya is six, and for a few chapters she has family around her.  And then no more.  We live with her for 18 years, through 1970, and participate in her remarkable development as a marsh specialist, having attended school for only one day.  In 1969, this isolated young woman who has no friends and no standing at all in the nearby community, except as an anomaly to be feared, is accused of murder.

This is a great read!  I am quite enamored.  I must eat a bit of crow, however, for my criticism in other blog posts of The New York Times Bestseller List. During my reading of Where the Crawdads Sing, it was in the top spot on The NY Times list. 

The End of Night

Paul Bogard |  Nonfiction


“Seriously?” I thought.  “A 325-page book about darkness?”  Well, yes.  325 pages and great inspiration for reading more!

Bogard is searching for night, for true darkness, throughout the world.  We learn what we have lost, what we have left of nighttime darkness, and what is achievable if we focus on the possibilities to regain the night, especially through managing our light pollution.  He begins at Las Vegas’s Luxor Beam, the brightest spot on the planet, and takes us to many, many places where the stars are actually visible.  We visit neighborhoods in Paris lit by gas lamps; we watch the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin; we are educated about bird mortality at the CN Tower in Toronto; we visit the island of Sark (the first “International Dark Sky Island”) in the English Channel; and we travel with him to numerous other places in the world.

I finished this book much more educated about the importance of dark skies, and much more inspired to work for them now, before it is too late.

The End of Night inspired me to go outside at my own home, last night, at 10 PM and again at 2 AM.  One of the selling points of this house, when we bought it 19 years ago, was that you could see a full night sky.  (I live far from town, on five acres, in the midst of other 5- and 10-acre properties.)  I wondered how much had changed in the ensuing years.  It was a cloudless night and, without even trying, I happened to pick the night of the new moon, so I was in perfect position for viewing!  Yes, light pollution has encroached somewhat in these 19 years, as Bend grew from 14,000 to 90,000 people.  Last night I saw Cassiopeia, Leo, Orion, Cepheus, the Big and Little Dipper, and, at the 2 AM sighting, literally thousands of stars.  But as I gazed west, toward Bend, the stars became fainter and fainter behind the orange glow of a town.  While I could see stars at the southern and eastern horizons, there were none to see in the low west sky.  What can you see from your backyard?

Bogard numbers his chapters backwards.  You will enjoy discovering why!  This book, recommend by Jan B. for our book club, it definitely worth a read, and is surprisingly interesting and engaging.  You will become very aware of your own sky, as well as the skies in the places you visit.

Seventh Heaven

Alice Hoffman | Fiction


What is this book about?  The reviews and the back cover imply that it is about Nora, a newly-divorced woman who moves into a rundown house with her two sons.  She is a major character, but it really isn’t all about her and the influence she has on her neighborhood.  Really, it is about the teenagers and children and moms and dads who inhabit Nora’s neighborhood.

It is New York, Long Island, 1959.  The houses in Nora’s neighborhood are identical.  So identical, in fact, that it takes people almost a year to stop pulling into the wrong driveway or walking up the wrong front walk.  But, of course, the people inside are not identical, even if at first blush they all seem to be cut with the same cookie cutter .... one for the husbands, one for the wives, another for the children.

Hoffman’s writing is smooth and engaging.  She draws you right into her story, and into the lives of these ordinary people.  I like the LA Times Book Review quote on the back cover.  “ gives one new respect for tender suburban dreams.”  An apt description, I think.

Not being clear what the book is about, or really finding its meaning or purpose, is what knocked it down to three hearts for me.  It is, however, a quick read, and you might find deeper meaning than I did.

Finally, I haven’t a clue why this book is titled Seventh Heaven.  I don't remember the phrase every coming up, and I think it is a diminutive title for the book.  I would have titled it Identical.


Rocket Men

Robert Kurson |  Nonfiction


Rocket Men is another fine non-fiction book by Robert Kurson.  I didn’t like it quite as much as I enjoyed Shadow Divers (reviewed 8/19/2018), by the same author, perhaps because of the mystery that was inherent in the story of an unknown sunken vessel, but Kurson’s writing and research were just as intelligent in Rocket Men.  He tells the story of Apollo 8 ... the first manned spaceship to orbit the moon.  He has such breadth and depth in his writing! Reading Rocket Men, you learn about the three astronauts; their personalities, passions, dreams, values, wives, and families.  You will learn about NASA and the scientific, technological, and political challenges endured by this agency to achieve the Apollo 8 mission in just a few months, arriving at its moon orbit on Christmas Eve, 1968.  Interwoven with the space story is the state of the country in 1968, a year of great unrest, race riots, the murders of King and Kennedy, the fractious nature of the war in Vietnam, the clashes between hippies and old-time values, and the heating up Cold War, aggravated by the race with Russia for the moon.

Rocket Men is our community’s read this year.  Everywhere you go, people are carrying copies of the book and reading it and talking about it.  I will hear the author present in just a few days.  I heartily recommend Rocket Men and Kurson’s other works.  I am awaiting his latest, Crashing Through:  The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See, to become available at my library.

(Yes, I know I have been quiet for two months.  I am back now!)

The Dry

Jane Harper | Fiction


It has been 20 years since Federal Agent Aaron Falk has been to his home town, the drought-stricken Kiewarra, five hours from Melbourne.  But when his childhood friend Luke dies, and Luke's wife and son are murdered, Falk returns, compelled by a note from Luke’s father that reads, “Luke lied.  You lied.  Be at the funeral.”

There is a strong story line and quite well-developed characters in this debut novel. It is a very good read, when you want a mystery in-between other book journeys you are on. The plot is complex and, yes, I think the resolution is a surprise.

I gave it three hearts because I found it a bit slow.  Despite what some other reviewers write, I did not find this novel a page turner.  Good story, good writing, but It was easy for me to put it down on the table.  

If you like mysteries, or Australia, or debut novels, you will likely enjoy The Dry.

The Cellist of Sarajevo

Steven Galloway |  Fiction


For four years beginning April 1992,  the city of Sarajevo was under siege from the Bosnian Serb Army.  Shelling and shooting at the civilians of the city from the surrounding hills, the criminal army averaged 329 shells per day, and killed or wounded tens of thousands of civilians.

One day, 22 people are killed while waiting in line for a loaf of bread.  The cellist decides to play his cello at the spot of the massacre at 4 pm for 22 days.  We each have our gift to give.

This is not the story of the siege.  It is a novel about four people who lived through this time, the cellist, a counter-sniper, the man trying to get to the bakery, and the man on a journey to fill his family’s water bottles.  The walkers move in and out of the line of possible sniper fire as they travel what remains of the streets of their beloved city.

This is one one the best books I’ve read.  It is profound, startling, gripping, beautiful.  We encounter the humanity of these characters, and truly feel their fear, their desire to find grace and meaning, their passionate urge to remain human.  

It is well written, short, and with gorgeous visual images.  I highly recommend it.  

Gratitude to Rene for reading and recommending this book while we were in the Galapagos.


The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Margareta Magnusson | Nonfiction


Okay, don't freak by the title ... yes, it is about how to clear your clutter before you die.  Recommended in The Little Book of Hygge (see blog from 12/24/2018), it is  another little book about wisdom from the Swedes.  Magnusson writes about sorting through your things, so someone else doesn't have the burden of it.  She recommends you begin when you are 65, knowing it will take a few years to get it done.   This short sweet book also provides you with hints and perspectives if you are downsizing or simply wanting to de-clutter.

I was attracted to this book in part because of Hygge, but also because I reached a time when I was finally ready to clean Beryl’s office, 2.5 years after he died.  This task eluded me and seemed insurmountable.  I invited a friend over and accomplished it in an afternoon, for which I am glad.

Read this book if it grabs your fancy.  You’ll read it in a day, and perhaps clean out one thing from your home.

American Marriage

Tayari Jones |  Fiction


An American Marriage is, to me, a love story about a man who is wrongly convicted for rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison, and the impact this has on his family, especially his marriage.  This is not a story of a trial nor a story of prison.  It is a deep and smart look at relationships.  

Before the conviction, Celestial and Roy were an educated, upwardly mobile couple.  All  of the characters in this book are African American and, while it is a tale of marriage, it is also a tale of injustice, discrimination, innocence, and simply being black in today’s world.

Jones conveys quite convincingly the profound emotional and interpersonal difficulties of her characters.  Each chapter is written in the voice of one of the characters, which creates an intimacy for the reader with each person.

Well written and surprisingly easy to read, it is quite worth your time.

How Green Was My Valley

Richard Llewellyn |  Fiction


How Green Was My Valley is a 1939 novel about the Morgans, a respectable Welsh mining family of the South Wales Valleys, through the eyes of one of the sons, Huw Morgan. Huw, and his five brothers and three sisters, grow up in a mining community, and face the challenges of an unregulated and unsafe industry.

I quite enjoyed this book, not only for the story of the mines and the mining culture and community, but also for Llewellyn’s ability to portray the inner qualities, thoughts, values, and feelings of the most important characters, the Morgan children and parents.  It tells a rich story of who the Morgans were, at that particular time and place.  The author also uses beautiful language about the land as well as the people, in an interesting mix of Welsh phraseology translated into English.

It is fun to read a classic novel in book club, as we do once a year.  How Green Was My Valley is long, but it tells a good story and also communicates much in about life and language of life in Wales nearly a century ago. It is definitely worth a read or a re-read.