Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

When All is Said

Anne Griffin | Fiction 2019

336 pages


This is our Deschutes County community read for 2020.  As always, the selection committee did a fine job.  This is the 17th year we have had a community read, and I haven’t missed one.  When All is Said is a short book, and a very sweet read.  I cried at the end of the first chapter, and again at the end of the last.  I think it is quite a testimonial to the author to have imbued such caring in me, the reader, that after just one chapter, I am emotionally affected.

This is Maurice’s story. 84 years old, each of the five middle chapters in When All is Said is a toast to someone very important in his life.  Through these toasts, we learn his history and the history of his family.  The toasts are to:  his older brother Tony; the baby he and Sadie lost, Molly; his sister-in-law Noreen; his son Kevin; and, of course, his recently deceased wife, Sadie.

His life, which is in Ireland, is not all that extraordinary or unusual, yet Griffin tells it with such grace and sensitivity, it is moving.  A beautiful and insightful book about grief, love, legacy, and joy.

This is another astounding debut novel.  I wonder what will be next from Anne Griffin.  She was supposed to present here in Bend in early May, flying over from Ireland.  I know that will not happen now.  I look forward to seeing what we substitute.  I hope there is a video or a Zoom with her.

Highly recommended.



Madeline Miller | Fiction 2018

393 pages


Circe is born to Helios and Perse as an odd child.  She seems a god without power, without beauty, without much to make her attractive to her family or the sea of nymphs and gods who surround her as she grows up. But she discovers she is a witch and learns to love mortals who love her back.  To resolve a feud, Helios and the great god Zeus create a pact, and a part of that pact is Circe is banished to the isle of Aiaia, where she is to live alone, amidst lions and pigs and laurels and flowers.  It is here she really hones her occult skill of casting spells.

Of course, she is exiled, but that doesn’t mean she cannot have visitors.  She crosses paths with many of mythology’s greats ... the Minotaur, Daedalus, Icarus, Hermes, Athena, and a central figure of this period of her life, wild, wise, and violent Odysseus.

This is a beautiful, intoxicating, and brilliant book, extremely well-written and a page-turner.  Miller is an exquisite author.  My only regret is that my book club did not select this book last year; it was recommended by Linda.  Absolutely, Circe is a meaningful and powerful mythological read, and a tale of women's power.  I recommend it highly.

Book #5 of the quarantine time.



The Second Biggest Nothing

Colin Cotterill | Fiction 2019

254 pages


Dr. Siri Paiboun is the National Coroner of Laos, retired.  In this book, set in 1980, Dr. Paiboun and his wife Daeng are first threatened through a note attached to the tail of their dog Ugly.  It is written in English, so it takes a few days for them to find a translator.  Suffice it to say, Siri, and everyone he knows and loves, could lose their lives to someone seeking violent revenge in the next two weeks.

But who wants him dead?  To search for the answer, we travel back to Paris in 1932, Saigon in 1956, and Hanoi in 1972, though we spend most of our time in Vientiane, Laos, where Siri lives.  Life goes on as usual.  He and Daeng run a noodle shop, and Siri’s best friend Civilai, as well as the chief of police and other important characters, all work to find the revenge-seeker.

I like Cotterill’s writing!  His story is good, well-paced and interesting, and his writing is captivating.  I actually laughed a few times, and this isn’t designed as a funny book ... it is designed as a mystery.  Here is one of my favorite examples of Cotterill’s writing, “It’s called brainstorming,” said Siri.  “You just say things for no apparent reason until you accidentally stumble upon a truth.  It’s like politics.”  (pg. 153)

So, why three hearts instead of four?  My fault, really.  I didn’t realize this was the 14th book in a series!  There isn’t enough character development or context for me to really understand the nuances of the relationships, their history, and the town.  If you are interested in exploring the Siri Paiboun series, you might want to start with the first book, The Coroner’s Lunch, written in 2004.


The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion |  Fiction, 2014

295 pages


Don Tillman is an Australian genetics professor who is obsessed with measurements, numbers, a high need for sameness and predictability, and schedules.  He times and plans everything to the minute.  The inference is that he is a highly functioning person with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Since his interpersonal skills are very poor, a fact which he fully recognizes, he cannot find and hold on to a romantic partner.  And so he creates a questionnaire in his “Wife Project,” designed to eliminate women who do not meet his exacting standards for a wife, and, surely, to find some good candidates.

Predictably, he meets Rosie, who does not meet the criteria ...

While I acknowledge that this novel provides hope for people on the autism spectrum, I am hard pressed to recommend it for the typical reader.  I found it rather unimaginative.  The professor laughs at himself and his faux pas over and over and over again.  I might call it, well, “cute.”  The outcome is fully present in the unfortunate title, so you know from page one what is going to happen.  Now, I laughed once, so I suspect this book may be entertaining because it is funny.  But, regular blog readers know me ... if it is funny, I can’t tell!

My apologies to my friend who recommended this.  Life is interesting ... I am glad our tastes differ at times!



The 19th Christmas

James Patterson & Maxine Paetro | Fiction 2019

344 pages


Well, wasn’t this fun!  I took my nine books from the library and put them on the counter, spine side to the wall, so I couldn’t read the titles.  And then I picked at random. Monday’s pick was this New Women’s Murder Club Mystery, what fun!

As always with Patterson & Paetro, this was a very light read. A little murder and mayhem to brighten your day.  The women in the Women’s Murder Club, and their spouses, are always heartwarming and delightful.  In this mystery, a Christmas Day heist was in the making.  The mastermind behind it, Willy Loman (yes, puns were intended) facilitated the placement of many false leads, driving the detective team, Including Lindsay Boxer, all over San Francisco, in their attempt to discover and head off the heist.  Of course, in the end, the good “guys” win.

This is my third “isolation” book.



Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo | Fiction 2019

452 pages


This is an homage to what it means to be black, British, and female.  It is an astonishing and daring novel, both in style and content.

Stylistically, each chapter is the story of one woman.  Their lives overlap, but that isn’t really the core of the novel.  (Though the magic of the overlapping does shore up the end.) The core is each woman’s life, and her challenges, joys, struggles, successes, and failures with education, friendship, love, sex, career, race, and family.

Evaristo uses no periods or beginning-of-sentence capitals. She claims it makes the novel a hybrid of poetry and prose, a nod to how we communicate on the internet, and a more lyrical way for the characters to interact ...  Truth be told, I think she is correct.  There is something freeing and flowing about this style.

The content, however, is what makes Girl, Woman, Other so powerful.  Some reviewers marveled at how Evaristo presented different voices for her 12 main characters.  I didn’t it experience it that way.  I experienced it more as one voice, with many nuances, but an astounding number of similarities.

I think what made this book so intriguing for me ... and may make it so for you ... is that her characters barely overlap with my life experience.  And so, it was fascinating.  All(?) the major characters are black.  Their ancestors came from Africa or the Caribbean to London.  They are mostly feminist (that point I can relate to!) Some are very radical feminist.  Most are lesbian, although a couple were only experimenting.  Many became mothers.  Most, though not all, are not terribly successful in careers.  All had significant challenges to overcome with regard to race. Yes, there are also Muslims, trans people, and men in the stories! The character’s lives span a century, though most are set in the modern day.

Some reviewers call this book “hilarious.”  I only laughed once, but you know me, this book may have been quite funny, and I could have easily missed it.

I wasn’t sure while reading it who might like this novel.  I finally concluded that it is possible everyone, regardless of gender, orientation, race, or age, might find something to love.  I sure did.

Washington Post, Ten Best Books of 2019


A Pilgrimage to Eternity

Timothy Egan | Fiction 2019

367 pages


I am an atheist with an unhealthy aversion to history.  So, how is it I could like Timothy Egan’s A Pilgrimage to Eternity at a three-hearts level?  Because it is superbly written!  And if you like history, you’ll give it four hearts.  If you have a particular passion for the history of Catholicism, well, you will be in seventh heaven (yes, pun intended).  I gave the other Timothy Egan I attempted, The Big Burn, a single heart, so this is real progress.

Timothy Egan takes off on the 1200 mile Via Francigena, from Canterbury to Rome, in search of his own spiritual beliefs.  This is a trail of sorts, like the Camino de Santiago, only much less well-known. Egan walks most of the route, stays often at monasteries, and sees an inordinate number of statues, churches, Cathedrals, relics (yes, those are bones of saints), plaques, stones, arches, bridges, cadavers, and assorted other items that tell various tales of Catholicism and Christianity.  You will read about battles and beheadings, popes and princes, intellect and instability.

And what kept me enthralled is how he mixes his experience of this ancient pathway with his current life.  He connects his learning with our modern-day struggles and tells tales from his youth.  Even more intriguing to me, he talks about the food he encounters along the Via Francigena, and the difficulties and joys his body experiences in (mostly) walking 1200 miles.  So, it is a sort of long-hike travel journal, and we witness blisters and turning back when the weather becomes extreme and the joy of a stunning view. We read about pastries and cappuccinos and, of course, wines, as he travels England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. To give you a flavor, on page 138 he describes the items on a menu on Langres, France, which includes “frogs ... not frog legs, but the whole slain amphibian … and duck terrine with ‘trumpets of death’ “  All this and, too, we bear witness to Egan's search for his spiritual and religious beliefs.  What does he believe?  And why?

An essential message appears on page 64 and again at the end.  It comes from Labre, the patron saint of wandering souls, “There is no way.  The way is made by walking.”

Thank you to Ralph from water aerobics class for this interesting recommendation.


My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Ottessa Moshfegh |  Fiction 2018

Some found it amusing, some bemusing.  Let’s face it, this is a dark book about a privileged woman who is severely clinically depressed and designs her life so she can spend a year sleeping and popping an extraordinary number of pills prescribed by an irritating and unethical psychiatrist, who is devoid of values.  The narrator’s sometimes boyfriend and best friend are nearly as dysfunctional as the psychiatrist.

I came back from yoga class this evening and couldn’t even pick it up.  It was simply too depressing, and also too unrealistic.  I was hoping the psychiatrist would be the real thing, and we would watch her attempt to help our narrator.  Instead, the psychiatrist is a caricature, and the narrator takes advantage of this.

Someone recommended this to me, but I can’t for the life of me remember who, which is probably good.




Olive, Again

Elizabeth Strout | Fiction 2019


Crosby, Maine is a small bucolic town right on the ocean.  Olive, Again tells the story of many of the people who live there.  If you read Olive Kitteridge, you will recognize the style.  Olive, Again is actually the sequel.

As in the earlier book, there is no plot as such, but there are 13 stories of people in Crosby.  Olive Kitteridge is the thread that ties these stories together.  She is central in some chapters, an important character in others, and makes only a fleeting cameo appearance in some.

Caustic, witty, sad, kind, insightful, mean, opinionated, gleeful, loving, discounting, sometimes a deep listener, sometimes she doesn’t listen at all; we follow Olive as she ages from 73 to 86 in this book.  Her edges have softened from the original Olive Kitteridge.

Strout’s tales are fascinating.  The characters who live in Crosby Maine are not all that quirky or original, and yet they are each totally fascinating.  We have Andrea, a former Poet Laureate of the US; a Somalian woman, Hamila, who works as a home health worker; Kayley, a teenager who cleans houses and allows an old man to see her breasts; a couple who have lived together for 42 years, but for the last 35 have used yellow duct tape on the floor to divide her space from his space and who talk with each other by making comments to their dog; a guest at a baby shower who goes into labor herself during the shower and has her baby in Olive’s car before the ambulance arrives.  And of course we have Olive’s second husband Jack who gets a speeding ticket for driving his sorts car too fast and cannot understand why his daughter is lesbian.   There is also a dominatrix and a few people who have gone “dopey-dope.”

As Olive and her connections in Crosby have aged, there are also quite a few widows and widowers, including Olive herself.  Their stories left me feeling hopeful.  They live normal, if lonely, lives.

This is a wonderful book.  Sprout is a gifted and brilliant writer who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge and has written five other well-regarded novels.  Yes, definitely read Olive, Again.


A Fatal Grace

Louise Penny | Fiction 2006


No one in Three Pines liked CC DePoitiers.  But someone hated her enough to electrocute her in the middle of the Boxing Day curling match out on the lake.  Armand Gamache is called upon to solve his second murder in the enchanting Canadian town of Three Pines.  CC is an arrogant self-appointed guru who believes enlightenment comes from burying all emotions.  No wonder she left enemies everywhere she went.

Once again, I found Penny’s writing fun and delightful.  I read the entire novel as I was traveling from Bellingham Washington to home, a 14-hour trip, on Amtrak and a bus.  Her writing is light.  Maybe too light, given the plethora of books waiting to be read.  This is the second novel in the series. I think I will read one more.

Unfortunately, I thought it was clear from the beginning who the murderer was, even though the reveal doesn’t come until the last couple of pages.  Penny’s hints were too obvious to me.  Of course, that doesn’t hurt the charm of the characters in Three Pines or the wittiness of the victim and why she was murdered.  But the suspense was dampened.

Your choice!