Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

What do the hearts mean?

four-hearts

Every once in a while, I like to remind you what my four-point rating scale means.  Right now, with all these new folks signing up and Dusty Shelves actually working again(!), this is a good time.

FOUR HEARTS: Like it a lot or loved it; I recommend it; put it on your list!

THREE HEARTS: Like it; I recommend, with some reservations.

TWO HEARTS:  I don’t recommend it, though it was compelling enough for me to finish reading.

ONE HEART:  I couldn’t get through it

Andrea, May 2022

 

 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

V.E. Schwab

Fiction 2020 | 448 pages

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A page-turner!  Every time I read a few sentences, I was challenged to put this book down.

On July 29, 1714, Addie LaRue is supposed to marry.  Desperate to get out of the marriage and to control her own life, she makes a deal with the devil, Luc (yes, short for Lucifer).  She trades her soul for immortality, but of course, the "deal" is not as simple as that.  For the duration of her immortal life, she cannot be remembered.  As soon as she walks away from a person she met, conversed with, shared a bed with, inspired, was healed by, learned from .... the other person can no longer remember her.  At first blush, we can see how lonely this is; she is unable to establish relationships.  What is not immediately apparent are the nuances.  She cannot hold a job (who is this woman in my shop?) nor rent a place to live.  She cannot leave a mark .... anything she writes or draws disappears within moments.  And she cannot say her name.

The first 50, 100 or more years of her life, therefore, are difficult beyond heart-breaking.  She learns to survive by selling her body, stealing clothes and food, encountering violence, occasionally finding shelter in abandoned derelict buildings.

V.E. Schwab's profound writing transports us back and forth between the first 300 years of Addie's life after the devil's curse, and the most recent two years, 2013-2014, in New York City.  We vividly witness the industrial revolution, numerous wars including the two World Wars, changes in fashion and culture and work, the growth and expansion of technology and the world's population.  There is a constancy in our sense of world history in this novel, experienced through the eyes of just one woman.

Sporadically, sometimes just a year apart, sometimes decades apart, Luc appears in Addie's life on July 29.  Stubborn and steadfast, Addie refuses to turn over her soul to him, choosing to stay alive, no matter how tormenting the cost.

And then on March 12, 2014, she meets Henry at the bookstore where he works, The Last Word, and everything shifts.

Without hesitation, this book comes with my recommendation.  I am eager to read your thoughts!

May 2022

 

 

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson

Fiction 2013 | 560 pages

four-hearts

Ursula Todd is born in England on a very snowy evening, February 10, 1910. Except she is strangled by her umbilical cord and dies.

Until the next time she is born.

Kate Atkinson takes us on many journeys of parallel and alternate lives, as Ursula is born again and again and lives out different lives, or, more precisely, encounters different life circumstances.  Situations, chance meetings, and occurrences in her life shift in her reincarnations and, of course, impact how long her life lasts and how it plays out.  She remains in her same nuclear family, the Todd family, with the same parents, siblings, and Aunt Lizzie ... all characters which are drawn irrevocably and clearly.  You don't confuse Ursula's sister Pammy with Aunt Lizzie.  The characters are strong and unique.

Atkinson does this without any kitsch.  This isn't Groundhog Day.  It is a serious and highly engaging exploration of chance events ... brother Maurice throwing a doll out the window in one life; a rape on a stair well in another; meeting Eva Braun when Eva was 17 in a third life.  Ursula has a sense of deja vu, but not a strong recollection from life to life.

The vividness of the World Wars, in the lives where Ursula lives well into adulthood, is stark.  Atkinson profoundly portrays what it was like to be bombed in London in the 1940s.  Visceral, graphic, real.  She similarly tells the story of women at these times, and also, we experience a good dose of successful and failed romance.

An excellent read ... I highly recommend it.  It is very well-written and a fascinating story.

May 2022

 

 

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz

Fiction 2007, 339 pages

I am giving up and moving on.  This is the story of Oscar, and his sister Lola, and their mother Belicia.  Oscar is an overweight geeky ghetto kid who has no social skills and longs to have a girlfriend.  It moves from their lives in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again.  Except as the reader I never know which country we are in.  The writing is lazy and leaves much to be desired, with sentences often missing verbs and no quotes on dialogue.

But the worst was the incessant use of Spanish words, phrases, and entire sentences, usually with no translation.  Often, I could figure out the word or phrase from the context, but the effect of this jarring style was to continually knock me out of the story and into a place of attempting to interpret what Díaz was saying.  And I have taken every Spanish course our local community college offers.  If you want to get lost in a novel, this one does not suffice.

Long-time readers may recall that I was working my way through the Washington Post’s “Best Books from 1 to 100.”   This is the book for a 20-year old.  I appreciate Díaz's attempt to communicate what it is like to be an immigrant.  I just think he failed, miserably.

May 2022

 

 

 

Seasons in Hippoland

Wanjikũ wa Ngũgĩ

Fiction 2021 | 198 pages

two-hearts

Many reviewers describe this book as surreal. It is an accurate word, I think.  I like magic realism.  I like shifting time from past to present in a novel.  I like stories and parables.

However, I did not like this book.  Mumbi spends summers with her Aunt Sara, listening to Sara tell stories.  Sara lives in Hippoland.  The setting is the imaginary East African nation of Victoriana.  This book is really about storytelling ... the power of storytelling, the hope it can provide, the fear it instigates, the importance of history, whether true or fabled.  The stories weave in and out of this present-day tale.  Sometimes I did not know where I was in time.  The stories are surprisingly bland.  The moral is unclear.

The description on the book fly is inaccurate.  It reads as though it was written for a book that was in the author's mind, but not the book she actually wrote.  A minor point; there is inadequate copy editing.  There are missing words, punctuation errors, and grammar errors.  Not a lot; just enough to distract.

As a reminder, two hearts means " I don’t recommend it, though it was compelling enough for me to finish reading."

I suggest you pick up a different book for your May reading.

May 2022

The Buddha in the Attic

Julie Otsuka

Fiction 2011 | 129 pages

four-hearts

This is a novella, told in a mesmerizing, emotional, powerful way ... with no characters or plot.  Huh?

The story of Japanese brides shipped to the US In the early 1900s, Buddha in the Attic is told in "first person singular," which can be hard to wrap your head around.  Most of the sentences begin with "they" or "we" or "one of us" or "some of us."  Here is a short, edited excerpt to demonstrate the writing style.  It is from one of eight chapters.  This chapter is titled "Babies."

"We gave birth under oak trees in the summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth besides wood stoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the year .... We gave birth in Rialto by the light of a kerosene lantern on top of an old silk quilt we had brought over with us on our trunk from Japan ... We gave birth in towns where no doctor would see us, and we washed out the afterbirth ourselves ... We gave birth with the help of the fish-seller's wife ..."

Officially categorized as fiction, I might call it historical fiction or creative nonfiction.  While no one person's story is told, the panoply of stories is remarkable.

This short book will touch your heart and easily teach you much about the dreams and challenges of being Japanese in America before and during WWll.  It is a quick afternoon's read, and I do recommend it, for the lyrical style as well as the content, and the education.

Besides, who can resist a book whose opening line is, "On the boat we were mostly virgins."

April 2022

 

 

State of Terror

Hilary Clinton & Louise Penny

Fiction 2021 | 512 pages

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Hilary Clinton and Louise Penny team up to create this geopolitical thriller, State of Terror.  As the novel opens, bombs explode on buses in London, Paris, and Frankfurt.  Who is responsible, and will the United States be next?  Ellen Adams, Secretary of State for the new president, Doug Williams is thrown into international relationships, intrigue, and negotiations in the Mideast, in an attempt to discover who is responsible for more than 100 deaths, why, and where there are bombs placed ... nuclear, it seems ... in the United States.  There is no love lost between the President and Secretary of State, and she works incredibly hard and smart to eliminate the terror, gaining competence and respect in the process.

Blame falls to the to the ineptitude of the former President, Eric Dunn, who is not at all veiled as a reference to the United States' former president. He is presented as bombastic, mean, and an idiot, licking his wounds after he lost reelection, and playing golf in his Florida retreat. Even his closest associates called him “Eric the Dumb.”

The women reign in State of Terror.  Not only is the Secretary of State a feminist, but her adviser and counselor is a lifelong friend, Betsy Jameson, and is a tribute to Clinton's actual lifelong friend, Betsy Ebeling.  The media mogul is a woman, as is the person who receives an email with the first clue about the Frankfurt bomb.

While the plot is clearly Clintonesque, the character development, emotional sense, and relationship depths can be attributed to Louise Penny.  Louise Penny fans will revel in a special treat in the latter pages, as the tiny Quebec town of Three Pines plays a role in the denouement.

I vacillated between giving this compelling mystery three hearts or four.  I believe it is a bit overwritten, and the character list is long and can be difficult to follow, especially among the Mideast players.  I finally landed on four hearts because, not only is the story intriguing, but there is a special feeling, aside from politics, in reading a collaboration by two famous women of our time.  Yes, pick this up and enjoy the fun, the terror, the political intrigue, and the delicious characters.

April 2022

 

The Seed Keeper

Diane Wilson | Fiction, 2021

372 pages

three-hearts

In its 19th year, the Deschutes County Public library is the largest community reading program in Oregon.  Every year I read, enjoy, and discuss the current community read.  This year's selection disappointed me a bit.

Rosalie Iron Wing, our primary character and narrator, grows up in the woods with her father, learning the stories of her Dakota people, the plants in the woods, and the stars.  Many years later, after two decades married to a white man, she returns to the family cabin, a grieving widow and a mother, and begins to search for her family and her community.  She comes from a family line of trauma, and the stories of Native children who were stolen and moved into boarding schools infiltrate Rosalie's family, neighbors, and this novel.

The narrative is multi-generational as Wilson weaves into Rosalie's life story, her friend's life, Gaby Makespeace; her great-great grandmother, Marie Blackbird; her great Aunt, Darlene; her deceased mother; and numerous other family characters, male and female, alive and dead.  We learn important – and often untold – stories about the treatment of indigenous peoples on this continent.

The diction is wonderful.  Strong, poetic, beautiful, interesting, descriptive words.

The message is important.  It is to be read, contemplated, and understood.

However, I found the story boring. I do not quite know how to expound on my opinion ... the important message was told in a manner that did not capture my enthusiasm, my imagination, or my interest.  It starts out slowly and tenses shift oddly.

The title, on the other hand is perfect, and hearkens back to what I think is the most interesting theme in The Seed Keeper ... learning the value of selecting, drying, storing, and keeping seeds from the food you grow.  When there was a fire, a crisis, or as sudden departure, the first item that Rosalie's family took with them was the basket or box or bag of seeds. Seeds are the heirloom that ensures that people can feed themselves after their move, in the next few years, and from generation to generation. They represent, quite literally, the heritage of earlier generations.

I think many of my readers will enjoy this novel more than I did.  Yes, I do recommend it.

April 2022

 

 

The Ranger The Ranger (with comment capability)

Beryl Rullman

Fiction 1992 | 406 pages

four-heartsfour-hearts

Some of you know this book, I am certain.  Others may wonder why I am reviewing a 30-year-old out-of-print book.  (And breaking all my rules by giving it eight hearts!) April 1, 2022 was the thirty-year anniversary of this murder mystery, written by my husband.  Though I spent untold hours (and hours) editing this book, that was about 31 years ago and I did not, frankly, remember much if it.  I thought I would honor the novel and the author by rereading it at this time.

Yes, I am biased. AND, this is darn good writing!

A psychopath is using bows and arrows to murder hikers in Pacific Crest National Park, inciting fear, terror, trepidation.  Stan, the Park Superintendent, must search for the killer, knowing that it is highly likely it is one of his staff, a park ranger.  He is joined by the FBI, bounty hunters, dog trackers, military personnel and others who are skilled with tracking and weapons, to uncover the murderer. Eventually, the park is closed to all tourists, but still the havoc occurs, and more people are killed.

While this sounds gruesome and horrifying, the author has a wry sense of humor, a surprising amount of knowledge about both National Parks and archery, an amazing Springer Spaniel named Cassie (the only true-to-life being in the book), and a fondness for falling in love.  The Ranger, while a murder mystery at its core, will entice you into page-turning through the vivid descriptions of the wilderness, and the tenderness of relationships between and among many of the characters.

Yes, absolutely, read or reread this book!  You won't be able to find a copy, in all likelihood.  And this afternoon I just bought the last used copy I could find on the Internet.  So, if you wish to enjoy this bit of fantasy (which is surprisingly imbued with many reminders of my own personal history), I will loan you a book.  I have a few sacred copies in my home library.

I would be honored if you read this work by my deceased husband, Beryl Rullman, which I recommend highly.

Thank you, Thom, for your eagerness to read The Ranger, and for inspiring me to read it again.

April 2022

 

 

The Ranger

Beryl Rullman

Fiction 1992 | 406 pages

four-heartsfour-hearts

Some of you know this book, I am certain.  Others may wonder why I am reviewing a 30-year-old out-of-print book.  (And breaking all my rules by giving it eight hearts!) April 1, 2022 was the thirty-year anniversary of this murder mystery, written by my husband.  Though I spent untold hours (and hours) editing this book, that was about 31 years ago and I did not, frankly, remember much if it.  I thought I would honor the novel and the author by rereading it at this time.

Yes, I am biased. AND, this is darn good writing!

A psychopath is using bows and arrows to murder hikers in Pacific Crest National Park, inciting fear, terror, trepidation.  Stan, the Park Superintendent, must search for the killer, knowing that it is highly likely it is one of his staff, a park ranger.  He is joined by the FBI, bounty hunters, dog trackers, military personnel and others who are skilled with tracking and weapons, to uncover the murderer. Eventually, the park is closed to all tourists, but still the havoc occurs, and more people are killed.

While this sounds gruesome and horrifying, the author has a wry sense of humor, a surprising amount of knowledge about both National Parks and archery, an amazing Springer Spaniel named Cassie (the only true-to-life being in the book), and a fondness for falling in love.  The Ranger, while a murder mystery at its core, will entice you into page-turning through the vivid descriptions of the wilderness, and the tenderness of relationships between and among many of the characters.

Yes, absolutely, read or reread this book!  You won't be able to find a copy, in all likelihood.  And this afternoon I just bought the last used copy I could find on the Internet.  So, if you wish to enjoy this bit of fantasy (which is surprisingly imbued with many reminders of my own personal history), I will loan you a book.  I have a few sacred copies in my home library.

I would be honored if you read this work by my deceased husband, Beryl Rullman, which I recommend highly.

Thank you, Thom, for your eagerness to read The Ranger, and for inspiring me to read it again.

April 2022