Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Sourdough

Robin Sloan |  Fiction, 2017

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I found Sourdough to be foolish and a waste of time.  Lois Clary is a programmer of robotic arms for a high technology company in San Francisco.  Her favorite take-out restaurant shutters its doors because its owners have lost their green cards, and they will onto Lois, “their number one eater,” their sourdough starter.  Lois proceeds to bake sourdough bread (perfect every time ... has Sloan ever baked at all?) and, of course, this action is life- and career-changing.  I don’t think Sourdough has anywhere near the depth, interest, and charm of Sloan’s earlier novel,  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

 

The Testaments

Margaret Atwood | Fiction

2019

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It is 15 years after the events recorded in The Handmaid’s Tale and not all is well in Gilead!  This is the story of the demise of Gilead, as told through the eyes of three women who lived it.

Two were young women.  One grew up in Gilead as the daughter of an important Commander; the other grew up in Canada, a small distance from the borders of Gilead, protesting and marching against the horrors of Gilead that we learned about in The Handmaid’s Tale.  The third woman is older – Aunt Lydia – probably the most powerful woman within the Gilead culture.  The stories of these three characters come together in ways that are touching and difficult.

Atwood is a superb writer!  Her sharp commentary and clear visuals will keep you engaged in this page-turner.  How does Gilead come to its demise?  The Testaments is suspenseful and, being dystopian, also psychologically scary at times.  Atwood attempts to explain the inner workings of women (and a sub-culture) we may find difficult to understand, not being members of the oppressive Gilead society.

This is a fine sequel to The Handmaids Tale and I surely recommend it.

 

Once Upon a River

Bonnie Jo Campbell |  Fiction, 2011

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Washington Post “100 Books for the Ages” Age 17

It has been a long time since I was 17, and I don’t know a 17-year old, but I am struggling to understand why Once Upon A River was chosen by the Washington Post as the most important book for a 17-year old to read.  Our hero, Margo, is 15 when the story begins.  She is raped twice in the first 100 pages and is obsessed with guns, killing any male deer that happen by her home and cabin on the Stark River in Michigan. Reviewers laud her journey, her bravery, her coming-of-age when she leaves her family home and ventures out onto the river in her rowboat.  However, she never travels more than 30 miles upstream on the river, only to places she has been before. She finds a roof for her head in two cabins that belong to her cousins, and she is overly reliant on men, living first with Brian and then Michael.  And then taking succor from XXX (yes, that is all we learn of his name) and Smoke, during her not-very-adventurous trip downstream.  And there are no women characters except for a few cameos, the mom who abandons her, and the angry and worried nieces of Smoke. This is no story I want a teenager to read and take wisdom from.

As an adult, it is an okay-interesting tale, but with so many books calling out to you from your dusty shelves, like mine, I would forgo this one.

 

Find Your Artistic Voice

Lisa Congdon

Nonfiction, 2019

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I loved this book!  I was searching for books on my finding my artistic style, when I ran across this gem in the St. Louis Art Museum.  The first insight I learned from Ms. Congdon is that “style” is only one piece of the picture.  Style is the look and feel of your work.  Skill is the second component; and subject matter is the third.  Media -- the substance and tools you use to give expression to your voice -- and consistency are the final two components of voice.

Your story, history, experiences, passions, culture, values, truths, dreams, fears, race, gender, identity ... all of these and more contribute to your “Voice.”  What struck me in reading her perspective on Voice is that it isn’t just relevant to artists.  It seems finding your Voice as an entrepreneur, as a community member, as a career person is vital.

As I read this book I recalled the first piece of art I ever bought.  It was a pen and ink drawing sold at the Summer Festival in Ann Arbor, circa 1973. This memory contributes useful images to my own Voice.

This may not resonate with you, but if it does, pick up this little gem.  It has lots of artistic illustrations in it, no surprise!

 

The Reckoning

John Grisham

Fiction, 2018

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I expect great courtroom scenes from Grisham, but what surprised me is how powerful his war descriptions are in this book.  Our major character and murderer (we learn this in Chapter 1), Pete Banning, kills the local pastor in his office in broad daylight and never for a moment denies that he did so, AND never explains his motives.  In section one, "The Murder," we follow Pete’s imprisonment and trial.

Section two, "The Boneyard," provides us with a devastating back story of Pete in the Philippines during WWll, fighting as a soldier, and then as a POW in extremely brutal circumstances, and then as a guerilla.

In "The Betrayal," the third section, the story is satisfactorily completed.

This is a rich Grisham and yes, I recommend it.

 

 

Before We Were Yours

Lisa Wingate | Fiction

2017

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(I have been traveling, can you tell?  Three reviews at once!)

The Tennessee Children’s Home Society operated a black market adoption agency in the first half of the 20th century, often kidnapping indigent children, glorifying and misrepresenting their pasts, and selling them for a huge profit to wealthy and often famous adoptive parents.  This much is known to be true.

Before We Were Yours tells the fictional, though representative, story of five children who lived on the riverboat Arcadia and were kidnapped from their home in 1939 by the Tennessee Children's Home Society.  Rill Foss, 12, is the eldest child.  And, it tells the story of modern day lawyer Avery Stafford, the daughter of a US Senator, who discovers there may be some hidden secrets in her well-to-do and politically successful family.

This is an extremely well-told story that will hold your attention in the alternating chapters about Rill and Avery. It is sad yet ultimately hopeful.  I recommend Before We Were Yours enthusiastically.

Careful What You Wish For

Hallie Ephron | Fiction

2019

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It calls itself a “suspense” novel, but it is light reading.  At first, I was concerned it was rather juvenile ... fits perfectly in the “written for grade 6” NYT list.  It IS rather juvenile, easy to read and enjoy.  About half-way in, we get to the murder and the plot thickens considerably.  At this point, it becomes more intriguing and more “who done it?”

The plot is original.  The main character, Emily, has just opened a professional organizing business, Freeze-Frame Clutter Kickers. One weekend, she and her business partner Becca acquire two new clients, Mrs. Murphy, who just discovered her recently deceased husband had a storage unit she knew nothing about, and Quinn Newell, a woman suddenly desperate to remove all of her belongings from her husband’s house.  It turns out neither of these clients are quite what they seem; not at all.  And a murder ensues.

I want to recommend Careful as beach reading, but it is October.  It will do fine for a rainy autumn weekend, along with a cup of tea, when you don’t want to tax your brain.

Recommended by Jamie Lee Curtis in Time magazine

 

 

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders | Fiction

2017

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I was intimated by Lincoln in the Bardo from the first I heard of it.  Over 100 characters.  But then my friend and college roommate Janet (Janet is an Abe Lincoln aficionado.  She even belongs to a Lincoln book club.  At which she met the author George Saunders) shared the secret with me ... listen to the audiobook.  Audiobooks typically have one, sometimes two readers, but Lincoln in the Bardo made publishing history. There are 166 voices in the audiobook.  All professionals.

I feel like I am writing a review of a play.  Listening to all those voices drew a surprisingly vibrant picture of the Bardo; it doesn’t feel like a book to me.

The Bardo is the place souls go when they disconnect from their bodies after death, but before they are reincarnated again.  The tale begins with the (historically accurate) death of Lincoln’s son Willie, at the age of 13, from typhoid fever.  The thread that runs through the book is Willie’s experience in the Bardo ... his first full day.

I wondered if a greater knowledge of history was important, but two of the major characters, Hans Vollman (voice by Nick Offerman) and Roger Bevins III (voice by David Sedaris) appear to be fictional characters.  We meet many other characters (another 160 or so!) in the Bardo.  It is a rather disheartening place, where souls bring all the good and bad of their lives in the “previous place” to be examined and often judged harshly.  But we keep returning to Willie and his father Abe, tying the story together.

There are wonderful interludes in which the narrator reads from a vast array of historical books and papers on whatever subject us at hand ... from the color of Abe’s eyes to Willie’s funeral.  No two historical records seem to agree on much of anything!

I could have rated this book 2, 3, or 4 hearts, at various times in the listening.  Truthfully, I don’t quite understand it.  I wonder why Saunders found it so important to have so much sex and swearing,  but he did.  I do not know if there is a message, or even a plot.  Yet, it is quite a vivid experience to read/listen to it.  A week later, I keep thinking about it.

Go ahead, give Lincoln in the Bardo a try, and, do, for heaven’s sake, comment here!

Recommended by Sara in book club and reconfirmed by Janet.

 

Ayesha at Last

Uzma Jalaluddin

Fiction, 2018

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Debut novels tickle me.  Sometimes I want to shake the authors and tell them what few tidbits I might have on character development or grammar usage.  And sometimes I simply delight in a new perspective, a new story, a new voice.  Ayesha at Last is a delightful new voice.

The setting is a Toronto, which immediately captured my heart.  The major characters, Ayesha, Khalid, and Hafsa are young 20-something Muslims trying to make their way in the modern world.  Given their religion and traditional families, everything is called into question, from love, to arranged marriages, to women at work, to relationships with mothers.

Immature Hafsa is plotting to receive 100 marriage proposals ... a personal goal. But other people in her life can get hurt by such a strategy.  Her cousin Ayesha, older and more mature, working as a teacher, is much more sensible and knows she doesn’t want someone else choosing a husband or a career for her.  She gets herself drawn into a false identity, which stretches the credibility of Jalaluddin’s story a bit, but helps us to see Ayesha’s complexity and loyalty to family. Finally, Khalid, smart, conservative, educated, well-employed, judgmental, and awkward is also authentic, honest, and handsome — a worthy love interest!

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Ayesha at Last and it comes with my full recommendation.  The back cover says it is “A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice. Huh.

 

The Friend

Sigrid Nunez

Fiction, 2018

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Wow, this is a great book!  I find myself gravitating towards the word “mature.”  It is a story of wisdom, honesty, friendship, love, loyalty, grief.

An unnamed narrator guides us in every chapter.  None of the major characters have a name except for the 180-pound Great Dane, Apollo. The unnamed voice is grieving her friend, both of whom were/are writers and teachers of writing.  This book is about literature and life at its core, not about a dog.  The Friend is beautifully written from the view of the narrator, talking to her friend after his death.  The narrator relays to us conversations she and her friend had, and then, more and more, as the chapters progress, she is talking to her friend in the present. The Friend is imbued with well-researched and appropriate quotes and stories from real authors, such as these: “Dogs are the best mourners in the world, as everyone knows.”  (Joy Williams) and Rilke, who writes of love as “…two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other.”

Yes, Apollo plays a very important role in the tale, as he is abandoned by “Wife Three” to the narrator.  Apollo and the narrator combine to form a whole; a whole experience of grief, as Apollo is mourning as much as the narrator.  They become therapy dog and therapy human to each other. However, The Friend is not sentimental, nor mushy, nor predictable.

Thank you, Teresa, for this excellent recommendation.  Don’t miss this one, blog readers!