Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Why We Read

Shannon Read

Nonfiction 2024 | 329 pages


Why We Read is like a piece of excellent flourless chocolate cake.  Truly yummy!  Shannon Reed has had a love affair with books since she was two, when her Mum-Mum taught her how to read, because she "was ready."  She taught literature to high school and college students and is now a professor in creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.  And she loves to read!

Her book is delightful.  Each short chapter focuses on a different aspect of reading, such as why we read series, reading for comfort, how we choose a book to read, reading because we have to, reading to feel superior, reading because it is fun.  It is quite an experience for the reader, as we recognize ourselves in some chapters, and not in others.  The entire premise of the book is captured in its title, Why We Read.

Reed has inspired me to reread Jane Eyre and Gone Girl.  She introduced me to The Royal We, and invited the to reconsider reading my favorite series, Robert Parker's Spenser novels and/or Outlander.  

She is a good humor writer, too.

Watch out book club!  I will suggest this book for 2025, unless too any of us have read it by then!

If you love to read, you will love Why We Read?

April 2024

The Maid

Nita Prose

Fiction 2002/ 307 pages


(Note: To begin with a clarification, this is not The Maid, written by Stephanie Land in the same time frame, with a movie and a Netflix series to its credit.  That is a book about domestic violence and a woman making it on her own. This book, also titled The Maid, is a murder mystery set at the Grand Hotel in England.)

Our main character is Molly Gray, an exemplary maid in the hotel, with a quirky sense of perfection.  Cleaning is her calling in life.  When Molly finds a frequent well-to-do guest, Mr. Black, dead in his suite, things turn quickly awry as Molly is accused of and arrested on drug charges, possession of an unregistered gun, and the murder of Mr. Black himself.  We follow her through one week in her life; the week when her life falls apart.  It seems Molly has been inadvertently used as a pawn in a drug ring being run out of this fine hotel.

Molly lives alone in a slumlord's apartment building.  Her Gran, who taught Molly with an insatiable number of cliches and a firm sense of morality, shared an apartment with Molly, and just died just a few months prior.  Molly has/had no life of her own, other than The Grand Hotel and her Gran.

The story is fun and an easy read. The “whodunit” is revealed very near the end, and it wasn’t a surprise to me.  Was it a surprise to you?

Molly is the most naive character I believe I have ever read about in a book.  This trait, central to the theme and story line, is sometimes entertaining, but often simply frustrating to the reader.  As such, I can’t quite recommend The Maid.  However, if you are seeking a mystery read that is just pure fun, this is a good choice.

April 2024


Walk the Blue Fields

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2007/ 128 pages


I believe I may simply be tiring of short stories ... not my favorite genre.  But Walk the Blue Fields did not grab me as much as Claire Keegan's other books.  The opening short story was disturbing.  If she had carried that theme throughout, I might have been more compelled.  Other stories were mixed ... some light, some heavy.   And one short story was in another book.  Don't take me too seriously; I probably just need a Keegan break!

March 2024




Good for a Girl

Lauren Fleshman

Nonfiction Autobiography 2023 | 274 pages


I am a feminist, not naive, was a bit of an athlete in my earlier years, and I know something about women's health.

In the first 50 pages of Good for a Girl, I leaned many things I didn't know ... about how the changes in our body effects our physical performance; about the deeply challenging and disturbing studies and insights into eating disorders; about gender equity in sports.  Lauren Fleshman taught me.

And then she continues to do so for another 200 pages as we walk with her (she is running; we are walking!) through the changes and challenges in her body and in sports culture over the next 20 years or so.  And trust me, the changes have still not been all that profound.  We witness her ... no, we FEEL her win races, lose races,  become injured, develop negative self-talk, regain her confidence, fight battles, over and over. She races throughout the world ... and develops many relationships with teammates, mentors, and coaches.  If you think women who compete with each other can't be friends, read this book!  Women who compete with each can be a wildly supportive network.

I was reading this at first because of my connection.  Lauren is the daughter-in-law of one of my friends, and I had the privilege of hosting Lauren and Jesse for a short while in my Opportunity Knocks group as they were building Picky Bars.   But it didn't me long to realize, this is a well written, educational, mind-and-heart grabbing autobiography.

Every woman will likely learn and benefit from reading this book. Parents of aspiring female athletes (and the athletes themselves) should read this book.  It needs to be required reading for all sports coaches, before they apply to get the job!  And a lot of men will find it fascinating too, especially if there are active women in their lives whom they love. I sincerely recommend Good for a Girl.

March 2024


Small Things like These

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2021 | 118 pages


Sometimes a man works hard at his job and provides for his family (five daughters, one wife!) whom he loves.  And these two endeavors sometimes become not enough. Bill Furlong reaches that stage, though I am unsure he recognizes it.  Instead he feels a bit out of sorts, restless, a bit of a wanderer.  But by the end of this novella, he finds what is calling him and what he needs to feed his soul and set him upon his next path.

Another beautiful Claire Keegan discovery of a character, who she makes so very real for us with superb writing.

March 2024


Thru-Hiking will Break your Heart

Carrot Quinn

Nonfiction 2015/ 368 pages


I have commented in other blog posts that I am a sucker for real-life-wilderness books. This one is superb!  The manner in which adventurers on long-haul trails, whether on land, on water, or on ice, share themselves with us, the great unknown, is very pleasing. They are typically not authors, but instead are simply opening their hearts and souls to us.  Carrot Quinn is one such writer.  (Around page 100 I finally googled Carrot because I didn't know for certain if he was a he or she was a she.  She is a woman!)

Carrot sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico north to Canada.  And her message is clean.  She doesn't fill this book with her life history and what inspired her to load up and put on a heavy backpack.  She doesn't spend a lot of time studying maps and books.  She is not filled with angst like Cheryl Strayed when she began the same journey.  She has the basics that support her ... a PCT trail map and imperatively, a GPS listing and description, mile by mile, of water spots, whether springs, a trough, a cache, or a hotel/hostel/store.  We know these foundational tools support her, but Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart does not dwell on logistics, but rather on Carrot's feelings, moods, insights, thoughts ...

Hmm, I haven't read a book on hiking the CDT (Continental Divide Trail), nor the trail I really want to learn about, The Hayduke. (Update .... I found one book on each!  They are now in my possession).

Carrot meets other hikers on the trail and spends many of her days hiking with them.  They are fun and interesting. Sometimes Carrot camps alone; this cab make her uncomfortable.  It was a low-snow year in the Sierras the year she hiked the PCT (2013), so it was more about walking than post-holing.  Finding and hauling and imbibing enough water and food through any section is a constant focus for her and her co-trail-hikers.  The number and variety of Trail Angels astounds me.  Thank goodness for Trail Angels!

At the last minute I changed my rating from four hearts to three, not because I didn't love this book, but because it will appeal to a unique audience which is what my three hearts stand for.  It is a bit long.  However, if you love wilderness adventures as I do, I fully recommend this real-life tale by Carrot Quinn.

March 2024




Poster Girl

Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Fiction 2023 | 256 pages


Speaking of falling in love with an author (seeing my last blog post!) I have also fallen in love with Shelley Blanton-Stroud, author of Copy Boy, Tomboy, and Poster Girl. 

Our hero, Jane Benjamin, has worked her way up to be gossip columnist for The Prospect, a San Francisco-based newspaper, in 1942.  But, as in her first two novels, Benjamin finds herself in the middle of real stories, not the stuff gossip is made of.  Covering seven days in November 1942, the novel opens with Jane attending a celebration for the first women welders hired and trained by Lowe Shipyards, a west coast shipbuilder, who is a leader among the shipbuilders in the competitive shipbuilding market as the United States enters WWII.  But one of the four new welders is missing from the celebration, and we soon find her dead, apparently from a faulty welding cable.  Jane is thrown into the mystery of her death, which is handled and investigated totally by internal Rowe employees, as well as the political and cultural struggle to bring women into patriotic, economic, and physical support of the war.

As with her first two novels in the Jane Benjamin series, Blanton-Stroud has created smart, scrappy, satisfying women’s history. Poster Girl is an absorbing mystery and a fascinating historical fiction story.  As with her previous novels, we learn that Jane Benjamin is flawed, over-zealous, ambitious, has no filter on her mouth, and among the most lovable characters you will find.  I just love this new author.  I can find nowhere on her site that she has another novel in the works.  I sure hope so!

I whole-heartedly recommend Poster Girl.  I suggest you read her three novels in the Jane Benjamin series in order.  While Blanton-Stroud does fill in all the information you need to know, I find it quite intriguing to watch Jane Benjamin grow and change, and to understand from whence she came.

March 2024






So Late in the Day

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2023 | 128 pages


Sharp. Crisp. Wounded. Insightful.  These are words that come to mind when I think of how Claire Keegan develops her characters.  How can she make you comprehend an important essence of a character in 20, 30, 40 small pages?   I don't quite understand it, but I love it.  Her writing is astounding!  I am not a fan of short stories, and yet the three short stories that comprise So Late in the Day are profoundly related to each other.  They grab you, and do not let go.   She tells the stories of what goes wrong between men and women, from a place of deep insight, not surface behavior (especially, she portrays the men and their psychological weaknesses).

Take an hour or two and read this short book.  Keegan has nine books, most of them about 100 pages long, and you will see more blog posts from me on this author in the next few months.  It is wonderful to fall in love with an author!

March 2024





Andrew Doughty



I just read three books on Hawaii, as we plan for our trip to the Big Island.  Hawaii The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty is a real gem.  Doughty, who lives in Hawaii, won't recommend someplace in his book until he has been then, often a few times.  It feels up-to-date and clear, and it is as though you are in conversation with hm.  We expect this to be our go-to book.

Hawaii, The Best Beaches on the Big Island by Robert Frutos, is a sweet and short book.  But it fulfills for us just what we wanted fulfilled.  It markets itself with this description ... "including the very best snorkeling locations." A good reference if snorkeling is your thing.

Wind, Wings and Waves by Rick Soehren is a nature guide to Hawaii.  It covers nature, geography, volcanoes, culture, plants, animals and coral reefs across all of Hawaii. Because he includes the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i, and the Big Island, it is more of a reference guide than a tourist guide.  This book will probably stay home when we travel.

Just in case someone else out there needs these books!!

March 2024