Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

All the Devils are Here

Louise Penny

Fiction, 2020 |448 pages

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It was a struggle to wend my way through this Louise Penny.  Armand Gamache and his crew are in Paris, France, instead of the usual Three Pines.  Armand’s elderly godfather, Stephen Horowitz, is run over by a van, as the extended Gamache family emerge from dinner at a restaurant.  Who ran him over, and why?  And who is the man found murdered a few hours later in Stephen’s lodging?  And is the local chief of police, a longtime friend and colleague of Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, really a partner in Armand’s investigation, or is he culpable in some way?

Sounds intriguing, no?  But I was never drawn in and fully engaged.  I was half-way through before I felt like I had a grasp on the cast of characters.  And Penny had an obnoxious habit of changing venues numerous times in a chapter, often without any more delineation than an empty line.  I do not recall this stylistic technique from the Three Pines novels I have read, but maybe I just didn’t notice.  As a highly visual person, it was disconcerting to see the characters sitting in the Gamache sitting room, and then suddenly to be in Jean-Guy and Annie’s apartment.

And the story?  Quite a surprise.  It is fiat.  No tension to draw me in.  There was mystery certainly, but it seemed Penny was writing “about” it, rather than taking us there live.  The denouement was unnecessarily complex,  though the last ten pages or so were sweet.  A disappointment overall.

November 2021

 

One Last Stop

Casey McQuinston |  Fiction

2021, 422 pages

This is simply a weird experience.  I thought One Last Stop sounded like a fun book to read.  Time travel; two young women, Jane and August, who meet on the Q Train in New York and then both religiously keep the same commute so they might run into each other again; a budding lesbian romance; bizarre and interesting roommates for August (our main character).  The dialogue is delicious.  Actually, the delicious and witty conversations that occur among 20-somethings in NYC are rather unbelievable and stretch credibility.

Finally, after 100 pages, I decided to do a little research. Is this a YA book?  It just seems so shallow and targets an immature audience.  It is not Young Adult …. The target audience is 18-30.  If I were 18-30 I think I would be insulted by the grade level of this book, its lack of depth, its simplicity.  As someone who’s WAY older than 30, I have to shut it down now.  I don’t recommend One Last Stop at all. Though your teenage child or grandchild might enjoy it.

November, 2021

 

 

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Edge of the Map

Johanna Garton

Nonfiction 2020 | 238 pages

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This is the true story of an amazing woman, Christine Feld Boskoff. Hailing from Appleton, Wisconsin, Chris became a legendary climber. She is still the only American woman to have summited six 8000-meter peaks, including Mount Everest, Shishapangma, Gasherbrum II, Cho Oyu, Lhotse and Broad Peak.  Her love for climbing, her strength, and her leadership are astounding, while she eschewed publicity of any kind. The Edge of the Map is also a love story of Chris and her beloved climbing partners.  First we meet her husband Keith Boskoff; and then we witness her profound romance with her Coloradan climbing partner, Charlie Fowler.

Johanna Garton presents Chris’s life eloquently. It turns out her mother, a journalist, completed ten years of research before she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and passed on her extensive notes to Johanna to finish the writing. Johanna herself conducted 75 interviews plus travel to important venues.

I thought it bogged down just a bit in the middle, as Chris made so MANY interesting and dangerous climbs, but my dogs had to wait patiently for their walk as I rapidly page-turned the engrossing last 80 pages.

If you are, like I am, enthralled by real outdoor adventure, you will fall In love with Chris Boskoff and Edge of the Map.

November 2021

 

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Mohsin Hamid

Fiction 2007 | 184 pages

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I find The Reluctant Fundamentalist to be a beautifully written novel. Changez, a brilliant Pakistani from Lahore, is accepted Into Princeton, and later is recruited and works as a highly effective and interpersonally astute employee in an American corporation, headquartered in New York City.  Success seems to follow him whenever he goes, until his world changes on September 11, 2001.

The venue for this tale is quite interesting.  Changez is back home, living in Lahore, and he tells the story of his young adult life to an American whom he meets in a cafe, and who listens through a long afternoon and evening.  Interwoven in this story is Changez’s love for Erica.  Erica is an incredibly tragic figure, but their slowly building love relationship is fascinating.

I am quite enamored of this tragic story, which leaves threads unresolved.  It is called by many a “short novel” though, at 40,000 words it is technically a novella, which I found oddly paralleled by the novel that Erica writes, which, yes, turns out to be a novella.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is thought-provoking and enlightening.  I recommend it.

This is another book the mother and son duo read in The End of Your Life Book Club and so I must credit Will Schwalbe again with inspiring me.

November 2021

 

The Price of Salt

Patricia Highsmith | Fiction, 1952

292 pages

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Therese Belivet is a young woman, attempting to begin her career on or off Broadway as an apprentice set designer.  But for now, she is working the Christmas holidays in the toy department of the large department store, Frankenberg’s, when she meets Carol Aird, a slightly older woman seeking to buy a doll for her daughter.

The Price of Salt presents Therese’s story of her discovery of love, sensuality, and sexuality.  The joy of this book is in its publication date.  Surprisingly well-received, 1952 was a ground-breaking time to write about lesbian love.  Patricia Highsmith, writing then as Claire Morgan, does foray into this as-yet-unfictionalized world.  The tale may not resonate quite as much in 2021, as it is sexually tame and dated, but it is powerful and bold in its original publication period as well as today.  And therefore, quite fascinating to read.

The circumstances of this book might appeal to you or not.  Some say it is a lesbian cult classic (reminiscent, to me, of Thelma and Louise).  The Price of Salt is a book the mother and son duo read in The End of Your Life Book Club and so I must credit Will Schwalbe with inspiring me.  I truly enjoyed this novel.

November 2021

The Deep Heart

John J. Prendergast

Nonfiction, 2019 |189 pages

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When someone I care about buys a book for me that they have read, I pay attention.  I figure they are either sending me a message (!) or sharing something that brought them joy.  So, I read The Deep Heart slowly and intentionally this weekend.

I found Prendergast to be a particularly poor writer.  He shares many random thoughts that never quite build to a conclusion.  His thoughts are based on his own ideas and experiences, with no research and little corroborating evidence from other professionals.  And his orientation is the medical model, that of a psychotherapist.  He assumes we need to be fixed, that we are broken, traumatized, unhealthy in some way.   He doesn’t leave much space for those who are not traumatized or have done significant personal work.  This may be a useful and helpful orientation for some readers.  However, I have been a coach for nearly 25 years.  Coaches start from a very different foundation.  We assume everyone is whole, complete, resourceful, creative, healthy, and simply want to add spice to their being, or plant new flowers to bloom, or enliven some aspect of their lives that may have deadened.

He claims most people don’t know if they have core limiting beliefs.  Seriously?  Have his clients been totally unaware of their hearts and emotions?  Have they never been introspective or done any work on themselves?  Yes, some of his perspectives made me stop and think.  I particularly enjoyed his embedded meditations.  I completed each one as I read.  I love the sense of being held by an awareness, a presence of heart (chapter nine).

Deep Heart?  It remains an elusive construct to me.

Thank you, Thom, for this gift.  I love the spirituality that you have brought to our relationship.  I suspect Prendergast offers insight and clarity.  I would love to hear.

October 2021

 

Once There Were Wolves

Charlotte McConaghy

Fiction 2021 | 258 pages

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A wolf biologist named Inti leads a rewilding project in Scotland to re-introduce wolves into the wilderness of the highlands.  She are her silent twin sister Aggie move there from Alaska, bringing with them so much pain and trauma, the reader cannot helped but be deeply touched.

Of course, it is complicated.  The local farmers and ranchers fear for their livestock.  They hate and are compelled to kill the wolves.  The animosity between Inti and the locals, who have been on this land for centuries, can be vicious and violent.  And yet, the work Inti is doing is so needed.

A completely fascinating and complex character, Inti has Mirror-touch Synesthesia, a rare neurological condition.  She experiences, she feels, what the other feels.  If you stub your toe and she is looking at you, her toe hurts.  If you are thrown from a horse, she feels the sharp pain in your arm and butt.  If you are tenderly kissed, she experiences that in her lips.  This is an unimaginable existence.

Once There Were wolves is extremely hard to read.  Not that it is badly written.  Actually, it is beautifully written, with fine turns of the phrase, deep character development, and compelling content, including mystery. McConaghy manages not to platitudinize, and yet addresses a vital environmental issue.  It is difficult to read because it is dark, harrowing, depressing, debasing.  Humans and animals are murdered, as is the soul and spirit of Aggie (and Inti?)

I am so moved by this book.  Moved by how we humans have removed wolves and harmed the planet immensely.  Moved by the deep love between two sisters that is nearly incomprehensible.  Moved by the power and fortitude within us to kill when killing is necessary, and to love even when love is devastating.

As I state above, this is not an easy read.  And yet it is a powerful, almost necessary read.  I will watch closely for your comments.  Please read this novel, which is overflowing with truth, and tell me what you think … and how you feel.

(I think it is Rynda I must thank for this suggestion; one of the Wise Owls, certainly.)

October 2021

 

The Reading List

Sara Nisha Adams

Fiction 2021 | 373 pages

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The Reading List is a magical and beautifully written novel.  Another first-book success, IMHO!  The story revolves around a reading list of eight books, which finds its way into many hands and cultures in diverse modern West London.  It is a story about reading, and discovery, and taking risks, and imagination.  The list impacts many different people, whose paths cross as the book list is somehow shared.  The list often appears magically.  We don’t know how it arrives in the back of a shoe cartel in the temple or blowing in the wind on a London street.  But we see it weave its way to just the right people at just the right time.

The main characters are Mukesh and Aleisha.  Mukesh is recently widowed with three grown daughters and three grandchildren.  He has never read a novel; spends most of his time watching nature documentaries.  Aleisha is a 17-year-old young woman who has taken a summer job at the local small library in their town of Wembley, outside London.  These two become each other’s greatest support.  Can you imagine?

The Reading List Is poignant, and very engaging.  I read it in less than a weekend.  It is organized by the books in the order the books are read.  Many authors I have recently commented on could learn something about character development from this new writer, Sara Nisha Adams.  I feel as though I know Mukesh, his granddaughter Priya, and Aleisha personally.

No question in my mind … get your eyes on this book as soon as possible!

Here is the reading list:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Rebecca

The Kite Runner 

Life of Pi

Pride and Prejudice 

Little Women

Beloved

A Suitable Boy

 

October 2021

 

The End of Your Life Book Club

Will Schwalbe | Nonfiction, 2012

327 pages

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Tenderhearted.  I searched Google for the right word … I think this comes the closest.  Will Schwalbe casually asks his mother Mary Anne what she is reading, as they await one of her first appointments with her oncologist.  Mary Anne has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  This mother and son had often talked about books, but now the circumstances presented themselves and the conversations became more important.  More essential.  They establish a two-person book club and read many books together, typically discussing them while Mary Anne receives her chemo treatments.

Does that sound maudlin?  Well, it isn’t. It is a loving story of two people communicating over a shared passion. And Mary Anne is a fascinating person, having worked with refugees for most of her life and intent on securing funding for a library and mobile van libraries in Afghanistan before she dies.

You must love books to enjoy this book. I was concerned that the books they chose might be obscure, or all about cancer, death and dying. But they choose a wide range, from Stieg Larsson to Wallace Stegner to Karen Connelly to Kabat-Zinn.  The way in which Schwalbe describes key messages and awareness from the books, and how he and his mom agree, disagree, and learn … you do not need to have read the books.  I have read many, but certainly not all, of what they choose.  AND you may be drawn to certain books, because of the conversations they have.  Personally, I ordered from the library The Price of Salt (which they both read lightning fast), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (they fought about the ending), and Harold and the Purple Crayon. (And, about children’s books, I loved to hear them recount the family disputes about Tolkien vs CS Lewis.)

I can recommend this book to book lovers.  There is not a strong “plot” …. you know that they will keep reading until Mary Ann dies … but you may find the inner workings of this “book club” as tender and as interesting as I did.

October 2021

You’re Not Listening

Kate Murphy

Nonfiction 2019 | 276 pages

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Journalist Kate Murphy writes about listening in many venues.  I was expecting her book to be about interpersonal listening, and it is, but she also addresses the wide range of listening and non-listening in our world, from news reporting to social media to political agendas to cell phones at the dinner table.  She addresses the benefits of listening and the price we pay for not truly listening.  She talks about intimacy, information, leadership, power.  It is a broad and deep exploration into the art of listening.  I appreciated, for example, her description of the shift response and the support response … a critical clarification in many relationships.

This is another book that will guide you to take what you need at this moment in your life.  In a few places I choked up, as I saw mistakes I make in listening, and what it can cost.  You may find similar moments.  Unfortunately for me, this book arrived just as a very important relationship in my life was dissolving, guess why?  In part, because we were unable to navigate the challenges of true, consistent, deep listening.

Murphy interviewed many as she researched this book, professors to politicians.  I particularly enjoyed her comments about one of my favorite interviewers, Terry Gross on NPR, and how she has perfected the art of listening. (My absolute favorite interviewer is Dave Miller on Talk out Loud, at noon and 8 PM on Oregon Public Broadcasting radio.  He, like Terry Gross, makes every interview sound like an intimate conversation, not a form of questions you might fill out in a doctor’s office).

Listening is not something we can mark off on a checklist as complete.  Circumstances, relationships, the environment, the style and voice of the other, intellect, one’s ability to laugh, articulateness, silence, eye contact, family history, personal emotional and physical pain or health, use of language, distraction … there is a plethora of circumstances that effect listening.  We, each of us, are always learning and (hopefully) refining our ability to listen, and the depth of our listening.  Listening is where growth is.

I recommend this book, even if you think you don’t need it.  It is an easy read, humorous at times, and thought-provoking.  I promise you will “hear” something that speaks to you about your own listening, and be grateful for what you heard.

Thank you, Jen, for this wisdom over watercolor!

October 2021