Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Killers of the Flower Moon

David Grann

Nonfiction 2017/ 362 pages


"In the 1920's the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma."  (Back cover)

After oil was discovered beneath their land (and was specifically and surprisingly excluded from the contract the Indian Nations had with the US government) the Osage built mansions, educated their children anywhere in the world they wished, and were driven around in fancy automobiles.  By any standards, this Nation had come into extraordinary amounts of money delivered by the slimy black substance beneath their dry land.

And then, members of the Osage Nation began to be murdered.  At least 24 were murdered in a few short years, through guns, poison, tampered cars, and in one case, a devastating house explosion.  (Current researchers and scholars believe this number is woefully inadequate and that there may have been scores, even hundreds, of murders.)  As this blight was visited upon this remote part of Oklahoma, many of the dead were related to one another in this relatively small community.  And, bit by bit, land and untold fortunes changed hands.

In the same time frame, the FBI was being formed and was led by J. Edgar Hoover, who attempted to ferret out the murderers from his office in Washington D C.

The information, painstakingly researched by Grann, is astounding.  The majority of the book puts names, faces, history, and connections to the Indians (their word then) who were murdered and the family members who suffered as a result, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially.  I found the formation of the FBI and the identification of the investigators who traveled to Oklahoma to search for answers a bit boring, and this section moved my rating of Killers of the Flower Moon from four hearts to three.

What is shocking is how this critical, important, and essential part of our history was not (is not?) taught in our schools.  How could we (I?) not know about this blight upon our country?  It is important to learn of this time and to read this book.  Not a page-turning novel, but a true and accurate account of a truly devastating time in our history as a nation.

June 2024

Alone in Wonderland

Christine Reed

Nonfiction 2021/ 265 pages


I picked up three books at the library earlier this week that were on the shelf, waiting for me.  (All on the shelf under one of the few logistics I have not changed in my life .... my library card still reads "Beryl Rullman").  Though I only read about ten pages in Jane Eyre and in A Little Life, neither spoke to me right now.  They simply didn't feel like what I was wanting to partake of.  So, I cracked the spine on Alone in Wonderland, the current read in my "Solo Female Adventures" Facebook group, and was immediately transported to just where I wanted to be.

Christine Reed tells her true story of hiking the Wonderland Trail 93 miles around Mt. Rainer over 12 days.  But this isn't just a hiking story.  She intersperses it with details of her life that explain how she arrived at this trail.  She is fiercely independent, searching for her strong self, surprisingly insecure, living in a black Dodge Ram van.  She abandoned the Appalachian Trail while grieving her mother's death. She never was athletic or outdoorsy, nor does she have the ideal body for backpacking adventures, but still she feels called to finding herself by challenging herself in nature.

This is not the best book I have ever read, nor is she likely to go on to become a famous author, but hers is an interesting story, told with more depth and insight into her as a person than many hiking books.  It is an easy read, and enjoyable.

June 2024

Plateau of Doubt

Jonathon Stewart

Nonfiction 2018/ 329 pages


This is the only book I found by someone who hiked the Hayduke Trail, very different from the hundreds (thousands?) written by people who hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.  I was excited to get my hands on it!

First, the trail itself.  It isn't really a trail.  It is an approximately 800-mile route through the Southwest, including six National Parks. Most of it is not on existing trails, but rather you find your way through guides, maps, tales others tell. Not many hikers are known to have hiked the Hayduke (but the numbers do include two of my favorite hikers, Carrot Quinn and Erin Saver - Wired).  I can't find an accurate number of people who are believed to have hiked the Hayduke, but in 2019 some research was done by checking trail registers and permits, and the number then was believed to be about 40 hikers.  So now, what, 200 hikers perhaps?  A common phrase among Hayduke hikers is "figure it out."  Probably no two hikers have followed the same route.  There are challenges for getting up canyons, across washes, around waterfalls.

Named after George Washington Hayduke III, a fictional character in Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, the trail seeks to pay homage to Abbey for his tireless defense of these fragile and threatened public lands.

Though I loved this book, I must give it three hearts because I think many of my blog readers will not be enamored of it.  You must be a diehard fan of the Southwest geography and history to really enjoy Stewart's story, and be fascinated by ancestral Puebloans, red rock spires, deep rocky canyons, lizards, constant searches for water, the desert in all its glory and threats, box canyons, bitterbrush, ruins, extreme heat and cold, pour offs, and descriptions of ancient stone formation.

In addition to navigating a route, and in tribute to Abbey, Stewart mixes in many topics, which some readers may find fascinating.  The environment; the history of land preservation; water; uranium mining and contamination; climate and climate change; stock management of public and private lands; society's values; politics; endangered species; ATVs; guns; the role the Mormons played in "settling" the west; gates and locks and signs and barbed wire are all fair game in Plateau of Doubt.

The editing is atrocious.  Misspellings, missed words, repeated words. I decided to include this comment in my post when, on page 175, three glaring errors (on one page!) offended my eyes.  So, you must possess a high tolerance of errors such as these to enjoy this book..

All told, I can recommend this book to those who would be fascinated by hiking and a deep exploration of the geography of America's Southwest.

May 2024

Mad Honey

Jodie Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan

Fiction 2023 | 480 pages


The first however-many pages of Mad Honey were all about beekeeping, as presented by the beekeeper Olivia, and were mesmerizing.  As always, Jodi Picoult did her extraordinary research.

Then, we transition.  Lily is found dead (murdered?) by her boyfriend Asher, both high school seniors.  Lily, Asher, and Asher's mom, Olivia, are the major characters in this mystery.  Told in the first person, each chapter is in Olivia's voice or Lily's voice. The tale moves back and forth in time but is quite easy to follow.  At the beginning of each chapter, we learn who is speaking, the date that person is speaking, and how many days, weeks, or months it is before or after the day Lily died, December 7, 2018.

Superbly written, we learn about love, friendship, abuse, transgender journeys, loyalty, secrets, passion.  Much of the book covers Asher's trial who, at age 18, is tried as an adult for first degree murder.  He is represented in court by his uncle Jordan, Olivia's older brother.

I am in awe at how seamlessly Picoult moves back and forth in time to create a coherent story.  And her character development is rich!  We learn about these three characters' pasts, their present lives, their feelings, their thoughts and how they think.  We truly get to know them as people.

I must highly recommend Mad Honey and am very grateful to Marian for recommending this book for book club.  I regret I will miss our book club discussion!

May 2024



Hernan Diaz

Fiction 2023/ 416 pages


Goodness, this is a challenging book.  Goodreads readers gave it a 3.84 ... quite low. Mixed reviews, for certain.  I loved Diaz' writing.  I thought it was eloquent and it pulled me in and through this unusual novel.

Trust is written as four novellas, or short stories.  The topic is a brilliant financier in the early 20th century, and his management of money before and during the Great Depression.  Andrew Bevel is our financier, though he is named Benjamin Trask in the first section.  All four sections are also an interesting commentary on economics, government, and big business.

It takes a lot to make sense of the interconnections among the four sections, but I will give the structure here to help you read this book.  The first section, a novel, is titled Bonds and it is allegedly a novel that Harold Vanner has written about Andrew Bevel, his life, his financial brilliance, and his quiet, tragic wife, Mildred (renamed Helen in the Vanner novel).

The second section, a memoir, is My Life, which is Bevel's telling of his life story.  This section consists of many placeholders ... where you read that he is reminding himself to cover this topic next, or to expand on that topic later.  Sentences like, "Show his pioneering spirit" and "Short, dignified account of Mildred's rapid deterioration" are frequent.  Bevel's short section is disjointed and poorly written.  I believe this was intentional, as it demonstrates that a financial and math wizard may not have any skills in writing (and, hence, communicating on any scale).

In the third and longest section, A Memoir, Remembered, we read about a young woman who is hired to ghostwrite Bevel's autobiography; both to tell his true story and as a rebuttal to what was written about him and his wife in the novel Bonds. We discover that Bevel is quite disconnected from his life and his inner workings and wants his ghostwriter to write much that is not actually true.  Ida finds herself confused and bewildered as she attempts to draft this book from Bevel's ramblings.

The final section, Futures, is excerpts from Bevel's wife's journal.

Trust is ingeniously constructed.  It is a novel about money, power, brilliance, intimacy, perception, and introversion. It is a story that immerses you, and that also provides a literary puzzle, both in how it is written, and what the truth is in Bevel's life.  Its unconventionality will disrupt your understanding of what a "novel" is.  This is a novel that requires you to think.  Nothing about it is light or fluffy.  If you are ready to engage yourself in a thoughtful analysis of economics, relationships (with self and others), and the role of literature, I suggest you read it.

I am SO looking forward to meeting my friend René for our traditional repast of guacamole made at our table and margaritas with salt rims.  René suggested this book to me.  I keep wondering what she will say about it.

May 2024

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

Fiction 2012/ 415 pages


You have probably heard the story ... a woman, Amy, disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary to Nick.  No surprise, he is investigated for her murder, though no body is found.

This is a psychological mystery.  As the book progresses, through various chapters written in the voice of Nick or Amy, many of them in the past, we learn how emotionally and psychological flawed these two brilliant characters are.  They destroy themselves, they destroy their marriage, they destroy the relationships that are trying to keep them safe and secure.

Flynn is a gifted, intense, genius of a writer.  This book is worth reading for her writing alone.  However, the story is difficult, depressing, bothersome.  My man Brian talks about the movie version consisting of the stuff that sources nightmares. Amy is very destructive and scary.

I cannot tell you whether to read Gone Girl or not.  It is the second time I read it, as it kept coming up in conversation.  I am not sorry I read it (again) but I am not uplifted by it.

May 2024

None of This is True

Lisa Jewell

Fiction 2023/ 370 pages


None of This is True opens on June 8, 2019, at a nice restaurant near London. It is Alix's 45th birthday, and she is celebrating with a crowd of her friends ... noisy and boisterous, with a lot of booze flowing.  Josie is also celebrating her 45th birthday at this restaurant, but it is a quiet observance, just Josie and her husband Walter.  The relationship between Josie and Alix is kick-started in the restaurant's bathroom where Josie proclaims, "Hi!  I'm your Birthday Twin!"  They were born on the same day in the same hospital.  (My own personal coincidence is that June 8 is also the birthday of my beau Brian.) And so, a strange and unusual relationship begins.

Alix is just completing a very successful run as a podcast interviewer, featuring women who overcame obstacles and achieved or exceeded their goals.  She is ready to do something else.  Josie is about to make major changes in her life and wonders if Alix might want to do a podcast with someone during her transition ... not afterwards.  Alix warms to the idea, and they begin regular interviews at Alix's studio in her home. And Josie maneuvers her way deeper into Alix's life.

At this point, None of This is True is a page turner.  Easy and fun to read.  We learn about Josie's mom, her husband Walter, who is nearly 30 years her senior, and her two grown daughters, Erin and Roxy, both of whom have cut themselves off from the family.  As Josie draws Alix out, we learn also about Alix's husband Nathan, who has a habit of staying out all night, and their two younger children.

But eventually, about half-way or two-thirds through, the book turns dark.  As Josie's interviews become more and more personal, we learn she is psychotic, a kleptomaniac, violent, and a perpetual liar.  I found the book harder and harder to read as I progressed through the latter pages, because it turned so dark.  And the ending is filled with murders.

I cannot for a moment fault Lisa Jewell's writing.  She is a superb writer, with intensely developed characters and, it seems, tight and engaging plot lines.  I am going to pick another one of her books to read.

The disturbing nature of her main character leaves my stomach a bit upset and knocked me down from four hearts to three.  Read this mystery if you have a tougher heart right now than I have.

April 2024

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

James McBride

Fiction 2023 | 400 pages


What a rich book this is!  The characters have purpose, meaning, and personality.  The setting is the small town of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in the late 1920's and 1930's.  This is a time and a town where Jews, Negroes, and White Christians led lives, isolated in their cultural groups, and yet thrown together by circumstance.  This is a time of discrimination, assumption, bigotry.

Our main characters are Chona and Moshe, a Jewish married couple.  Chona is the kindest, most generous woman you'd want to meet.  She runs the Heaven and Earth Grocery store, and cares also for the second floor, which is where Chona and Moshe live.  She treats Jews, Negroes, and Christians alike, with the same compassion and fairness. She lets her neighbors buy on credit, which is seldom repaid.  She lets the children buy candy with marbles, which rotate through the community of Pottstown, and the same marble purchases multiple bits of candy over time.  The Grocery is always in the red.  Moshe, quiet and self-contained, who runs two theaters in town, as well as creating income from other sources, introduces the music of these multiple cultures to the residents of Pottstown, and, in his own way, does his part to break down cultural barriers and build understanding and respect.

Chona becomes very ill, which plays a large part in this book.  They also take DoDo into their home, a black hearing-impaired orphan, which serves to unite the community when the government takes him away and moves him to an asylum for lunatics.  At 12 years old, Dodo is a fascinating character who has much to teach us.

There are other well developed and interesting characters in this astute book that explores race, poverty, bias, and history.  McBride gives us much to ponder.  Yes, I recommend this book, unequivocally.

April 2024

Shark Heart

Emily Habeck

Fiction 2023 | 419 pages


In 21 years of reading The Deschutes Public Library community read, this is the first book I didn’t care for.  I may not have finished it, if it weren’t for its central place among those who read in Bend.

A first novel by Ms. Habeck, but one that didn’t touch me.  A few weeks after Wren’s marriage to Lewis he is diagnosed with “Carcharodon carcharias” mutation.  In nine months, he will be a great white shark.  I like fantasy, mystical realism, and unbelievable premises, but this one never landed for me.  We watch as Lewis and Wren deal with this terrible diagnosis and the eventual absolution of their marriage.  But Wren is so analytical, I never get a feel for her feelings and Lewis is so inward-focused, he doesn’t come alive on the page either.

And the pages?  Many, many, many pages are one or two sentences long; filling maybe three lines on the page.  Why?  What is this literary tool supposed to gain us?  I don’t know.

Of course, there are many poignant moments, many quirky moments, many sad moments, many fun moments.  (Lewis’s diet changes radically as his body transforms, and he consumes copious amounts of raw fish and shrimp every day!)  It may stick with me because the premise it so odd, but not because I thought the writing was either insightful or profound.  I suggest you skip to whatever is next on your list.

April 2024