Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Apples Never Fall

Liane Moriarty

Fiction 2021 | 467 pages


Slow.  Apples Never Fall is, for me, a slow read.  Hence, two hearts.  But we will come back to that in a moment.

The background is this:  the Delaney family, in Sydney, is a tennis family through and through, from top to bottom.  The parents, Stan and Joy, comprise a doubles team with trophies lining the walls of their home. They start a school to teach and coach tennis players but continue to win in doubles tournaments.  Joy disappears on Valentine's Day, and eventually the circumstantial evidence mounts against Stan as her murderer.

All four of their children, now adults, were tennis stars in their youth ... more trophies lining the walls and surfaces of the Delaney house.

Amy, the oldest, is challenged with mental struggles, but is a rather delightful free spirit. Next comes Logan, who teaches in a university, and is not as well-developed as the other characters.  His lovely girlfriend Indira has just dumped him.  Troy becomes extremely successful financially, but also struggles with committed relationships.  Finally, Brooke is a physical therapist building her own business, and has battled debilitating migraines since she was a child. All of them have been strongly molded by a family culture that is grounded in competition and winning, both on and off the tennis court.

And then there is the wild card, Savannah,  who appears at Stan and Joy's home one night, the apparent victim of domestic violence from her boyfriend.  She moves in, cooks, befriends, and takes excellent care of Stan and Jody.   But always, always, something is not quite right.  The mystery in this novel is in discovering what happens to Joy, who disappears, and then is assumed murdered, but no body is found.

We travel between the days before Joy's disappearance and "now," which is all about the investigation into her disappearance.  Moriarty does the time shifts with aplomb. The story line is interesting. The characters are, for the most part, well-developed, if a bit stereotyped.  (By the way, the two minor characters who comprise the investigating team offer a needed relief from the intense Delaney family.)  The problem is, in my opinion, the novel is over-written.  There is too much superfluous information, too many unnecessary characters, and repetition.  I found it hard to stay engaged.  The mystery is not the best, as the denouement has too many (silly) coincidences to be believable.

It is, is a word, slow.  It was like the Italian restaurant that Charlene and Rose and Thom and I went to last Tuesday night.  They gave me spaghetti and THREE large pieces of eggplant parmigiana, when one would have (and did) suffice. There is just too much extra "meat" In this novel.

Some reviewers feel Apples Never Fall has a slow start.  I feel it had a slow middle.  You might enjoy this book more than I did.  I would love to hear! I know one of you recommended it to me ... but I do not recall who.

September 2022


Sea of Tranquility

Emily St. John Mandel

Fiction 2022 | 255 pages


Goodness.  We journey in this book to 1912, 1918, 1990, 1994, 2008, 2020, 2203 and 2401.  And we travel between Earth, the Moon colonies, and Titan.  So, clearly, this is a time traveler's tale.  Gasprey-Jacques Roberts is our time traveler, who is on assignment in the 25th century, sponsored by a curious organization called the Time Institute, to explore a vision, a point out of time and place, experienced and witnessed by four characters in some of the years mentioned above.  We move back and forth across the years, but Mandel’s skill in speculative fiction is apparent, as she never leaves us behind or confused.  (You may recognize Mandel from two of her most famous novels, Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel.  Some of the characters repeat in this book.  I gave Station Eleven four hearts, and The Glass Hotel two hearts.)

One of the characters in Sea of Tranquility, Olive Llewellyn, is an author who writes about pandemics, in 2203.  This novel was written during the Covid-19 pandemic, which influences the writing and makes it quite real.  And Llewellyn’s artistic voice helps move us from section to section, and her story is quite compelling.

I liked the writing, the ingenuity, the fantasy, and the time travel.  I can’t tell you really what “message” this book offers, thought it does make the reader think about the dimensions of space and time, and how they overlap, wrap around one another, and repeat.  Gasprey-Jacques Roberts, as he travels among the time periods, is attempting to determine the meaning of this anomaly, for humankind. Does he find it?

Sea of Tranquility is a fun and ingenious read.  I recommend you give it a try.

September 2022


Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr

Fiction 2021, 623 pages

Yesterday I stepped out of my kayak in a rocky cove and my feet sank more than a foot in wet sand.  I nearly lost a shoe.  I feel as though my feet are like this, reading Cloud Cuckoo Land ... stuck in mushy sand.  I keep trying to wend my way through this novel (especially since it's our September "Casting Crew Book Club" read) but I fear I will not succeed.  I am on page 234 of 623 pages, and I find it a chore every time I pick up this large tome.

There are parallel stories of Anna and also Omier in Constantinople in the 1443; and Seymour in Idaho in 2020; and Zeno in 2020 and also fighting in the Korean War in 1953; and Konstance, some millennia in the future, on a spaceship.  They are tied together, very loosely so far, by an ancient text.  But I find the characters singularly unilluminating.  Each time we return to one, I have to pause and go back to remember who the character is and why they matter.

I (momentarily) perceive myself as not very scholarly, struggling with this long, disjointed, and not engaging book, as though, if I were smarter, I would enjoy it more. I know it has won awards, but I have way too many books on my shelf and it has taken me about ten days to make it this far, and I am about to abandon this disappointment.  Perhaps I will have a more enlightened and positive view after our book club discussion, but right now I cannot in good conscience recommend Cloud Cuckoo Land. 

With my apologies, Linda!  Sigh.

September 2022


Spiritual Partnership

Gary Zukav | Nonfiction, 2011

280 pages


A spiritual partnership is a relationship that intentionally pursues spiritual growth. It involves a commitment to grow spiritually together, not to simply soothe. Spiritual partners support each other in experiencing their fears and healing them; in creating authenticity; in caring and loving enough to support another's growth, not just to comfort them. This is what Zukav writes about.

Not every relationship will be a spiritual partnership. However, if you are interested in pursuing such a dynamic and powerful relationship with a friend, a lover, a coworker, a family member, or even just yourself .... Zukav's book will help you figure out how to do it. And trust me please, it may be difficult and challenging!

I think his early pages are a bit supercilious.  He writes in the first section (“Why,” 74 pages) about learning to be a multisensory person … living beyond the five senses. He talks about awareness, intuition, insight, creativity, choice, illumination, power, authenticity, attraction, soul (and more!) What he presents is a good reminder for humans who are sometimes trapped by the five senses. What bothers me about this section is that he presents it as though he is the first to recognize these concepts and is sharing a big ah-ha! When you ignore the ego, the content is meaningful. You may very well not have this hesitation at all in reading the chapters in “Why.”  (Perhaps it is my own ego that is offended!)

I liked the next two sections considerably more, “What,” and “How.”  To me, these 150 pages contain the wisdom … where you really begin to look deeply at the choices you make about courage, commitment, and compassion. He challenges us to investigate further, to stretch, to grow ourselves and others, to pay attention to emotions, thoughts, body sensations, intention, integrity, authenticity, power, communication.

I suspect this book is not for every Dusty Shelves reader. But if you have a craving for spiritual growth, and especially if you have the urge to bring someone else along on your spiritual journey, this book is definitely worth your time and energy.

Thank you, Thom, for your invitation. I look forward to our discussion, and what ensues!

August 2022

The House in the Cerulean Sea

TJ Klune

Fiction 2020 | 398 pages


TJ Klune has written 55 books!  How have I never heard of him?  Some are stand-alone; some in series.  He is decidedly gay-affirming, without being didactic.  I am attempting to determine if all of his writing includes magic.  Wikipedia tells me he writes fantasy and romance fiction.  AND he is a native Oregonian.  If you are more familiar with this author than I am, let us know!

A wide-hipped civil servant, Linus Baker, 40, leads a quiet, solitary life in a very small house. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of magical children in government-sanctioned orphanages.  Magical children are isolated and quarantined when they are young.  And what will happen to each of them when they become adults?

After 17 years of employment, Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management and receives a highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside and determine if this orphanage is a dangerous place. The children include a precocious six-year-old named Lucy, short for Lucifer, who just might be the son of Satan; a feisty garden gnome who only speaks gnomish; a plucky sprite; a shy boy who morphs into a Pomeranian when frightened; a young wyvern; and Chauncy, whose nature is a mystery … some hybrid of marine invertebrate and human … who is obsessed with becoming a bell hop when he grows up.  All of these children are under the loving and creative care of Arthur Parnassus.  Arthur is eccentric, wears awful socks under his too-short pants, and, as we discover, is “gifted” also.

What fun!!!

The vivid characters are simply magical, both in their reality and in reading about them. Of course, predictably, Linus falls in love with all of them during the month he spends on the island, sending back weekly reports to Extremely Upper Management. Both the story and Klune’s writing are enchanting, engaging, and delightful.

The tale is sometimes funny, often heartwarming. You will find yourself humming tunes by Bobby Darin and other rock & rollers, as both Lucy and Linus are big fans of old R&R.  The moral message is clear. Yes, no surprise, there are obvious ties to all sorts of discriminatory practices in our society.  Klune’s righteous message that all people deserve freedom and humanity will warm even the coldest misanthrope’s heart.

I loved this book!  I am researching his 54 others and have just put Under the Whispering Door on my library list.  Please read a TJ Klune and tell us what you think!!  (The House in the Cerulean Sea is apparently his most popular tome).

August 2022


The Great Circle

Maggie Shipstead

Fiction 2021 | 593 pages


Shipstead is an exquisite writer!  Not only are her characters developed fully and deeply, but she also does magic with the language.   This is one long sentence from a two-page dialogue about Los Angeles.  "Then he said something about how L.A. is dust and exhaust and the hot, dry wind that sets your nerves on edge and pushes fire up the hillside in ragged lines like tears in the paper that separates us from hell, and it's towering clouds of smoke, and it's sunshine that won't let up and cool ocean fog that gets unrolled at night over the whole basin like a clean hospital sheet and peeled back again in the morning."  (Pg 265)

The story is mesmerizing and hard to put down.  There are two parallel tales.  One is the story of  Marian Graves, a young woman who learns to fly at the age of 14 in 1928.  (Some of what follows is loosely borrowed from a review in Outside Online, May 9, 2021).  A fictional female pilot, Graves disappears in 1950 while attempting an unprecedented north-south circumnavigation of the earth. She had only one leg left in her trip, a final leap from Antarctica to New Zealand, when she vanishes in the South Pacific. We learn about Marian's life, fictional, yet created through significant research of early female pilots, conducted by Shipstead.  She cargoes illegal spirits; she flies non-combat planes in WWII; she marries a criminal.  Her story is unorthodox, with desire, ambition, romantic entanglements, and a strong and clear sense of herself guiding her life.

Braided with Marian’s story is a contemporary narrative, set 100 years later.  Hadley Baxter is a troubled young Hollywood actor, who plays Marian in a film version of Ms. Graves' life. Marian and Hadley have more in common than just a casting decision: Hadley’s parents crashed into Lake Superior in a small plane when she was a toddler, and Marian's mother was lost at sea when she and her twin brother Jamie were babes in arms.  Both are raised by dissolute uncles.

Marian's life is fascinating, and we come to know her intimately, as well as her brother Jamie, and her most powerful love interests.  Hadley is also a deep character who struggles with fame but becomes fascinated by researching the Graves character she must portray.

No kidding, I highly recommend this book.  You will not be disappointed by the fascinating reality of early women pilots, as well as the intimate lives of Marian and Hadley.

August 2022

The Mothers

Brit Bennett

Fiction 2016 | 304 pages


Luke, the pastor's son, impregnates one teenage woman, and eventually marries her best friend.  These three characters form the foundation of The Mothers, while many of the older women in the Upper Room church (especially Luke’s mother) give their opinions and advice, gossip, and attempt to orchestrate the young people's lives.

It sounds like fun, as well as an in-depth coming-of-age story.  Unfortunately, it disappoints.  Somehow, I don't care much about Nadia, Aubrey, or Luke.  There is something about these characters that feels unreal.  Aubrey and Luke, with their purity rings, seem to be somewhat unthinking.  Nadia is the most interesting of the characters .... she becomes pregnant, she leaves Southern California to attend the University of Michigan, she spends many years attempting to process her mother's violent suicide.  And yet, I never find myself really cheering for her.

I think I may have unrealistic expectations, because I am so enamored by Bret’s later novel, The Vanishing Half.  In this case, the debut novel by an author does not reflect her real skill, in my opinion.

August 2022

The Mt. Bachelor Murders

Ted Haynes | Fiction, 2020

268 pages


Erik Peterson is a very skilled skier. So, how did he end up dead in a tree well on Mt. Bachelor under four feet of snow?   And who was that man with the Norwegian chullo hat who joined Erik, riding up the hill with him on the Red Chair lift, in February 1966?

The story expands, and murder becomes the conclusion, with no apparent motive.  We soon learn of connections all over Bend, and also with Norway and WWII.

The mystery is engaging, though the denouement is perhaps more complicated than it need be.  The characters are interesting, especially as we follow Erik’s daughter Lisbeth and her best friend Sally from the fateful day in 1996, when they were skiing with Mr. Peterson, through 50 years, until the mystery is finally solved.

However, the writing is rather amateurish.  I don’t know quite how to explain my assessment ... it is just rather simplistic.

If you are a Bender, you may enjoy this book, as I did, for its considerable integration of Bend sites, from the mills, to Hosmer Lake, to Bend High, to Wall Street, which was, in earlier days, definitely NOT tony.  If Bend is not a place you know and love, you might want to skip this novel.  There are certainly better-written murder mysteries

That being said, Hayne’s newest book, The Mirror Pond Murders, just arrived for me at the library, and I am going to give him another try.  I was entertained, certainly, by The Mt. Bachelor Murders.

July 2022

The Speckled Beauty

Rick Bragg

Nonfiction 2021 | 239 pages


What a delightful story!  Rick Bragg has written 11 books.  The Speckled Beauty is his most recent.

This quick read is for true dog lovers. Speck is not a hero dog like Marley or Old Yeller or even Chet of Chet & Bernie fame.

Bragg’s rescue dog is truly a bad dog.  The worse dog ever.  He doesn’t obey any commands; he doesn’t leave farm or wild animals alone, instead either torturing or chasing them; he herds everything, even birds; he wanders; he fights; he won’t sleep indoors; he tears apart dog beds and towels and rubber balls; he snaps and growls.  In short, you are likely to fall in love with him.

I was so surprised to glance at the spine of this book and discover it is nonfiction.  Only truth could be this intriguing!

Thank you, Rene, for telling me about Rick Bragg's writing, and especially this dog book.  If dogs touch your heart and speak to your soul, then I highly recommend The Speckled Beauty.

July 2022


The Lioness

Chris Bohjalian

Fiction 2022 | 314 pages


Katie Barstow, a well-known actor when this novel is set, 1964, takes an entourage on a safari in Africa, to the Serengeti.  The entourage includes her new husband David (this trip is part of their honeymoon!), her husband’s best friend and his wife (Billy and Margie), Katie’s best friend Carmen and her husband Felix, another actor (Terrance), her publicist (Reggie) and her agent (Peter).  It appears to be the trip of a lifetime!  And, for some, it is the last trip of their lifetime.

The novel is intriguing.   The story line is clever and engaging.  And violent.  We know that the African Safari “turns deadly,” but, dear reader, don’t expect there to be one accident or murder or goring and then the tale plays on.  We actually follow the entire entourage over a few days while they are in capture by a group of perhaps-Russian men, for reasons unknown.  There is considerable violence and death.

The format consists of 31 short chapters, each from the perspective of one character from the entourage, or their safari guides.  Each chapter moves the story forward AND tells us something about the character’s background and/or their relationship with other characters.  So, bit by bit, the characters build and we acquire a strong sense of who they are … their strengths, dreams, histories, and foibles.

Somehow, Bohjalian writes these chapter flawlessly.  Through the use of a centered dividing ellipse, he moves us from the present to the past and back again.  I was, never once, confused about where we were in the timeline.  I think that took real authorial skill on Bohjalian’s part.

So, my recommendation.   Hmmm.  It is good story, a powerful story, an engaging story.  And you learn a great deal about the savanna and the current (1964) attitudes towards race, both in Africa and in the US.  I am very violence-averse, and yet this novel did not send me running.  The author built tension that held me until the very last page. If it appeals, yes, pick it up.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

July 2022