Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

State of Terror

Hilary Clinton & Louise Penny

Fiction 2021 | 512 pages

four-hearts

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

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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

 

 

The Lincoln Highway

Amor Towles

Fiction 2021 | 576 pages

four-hearts

Amor Towles’ writing is once again, superb.

Emmet Watson, 18 years old and just released from a juvenile work farm in Salina, Kansas, returns to his Nebraska home, driven by the warden.  There, he is reunited with his delightful and precocious brother, 8-year-old Billy, and faces the foreclosure of his family farm, as his unsuccessful father has just died from cancer.  Going through their father’s belongings, Billy discovers a packet of postcards sent from their mother to the boys as she traveled west … this is news to both the boys!  Billy and Emmet decide to travel the Lincoln Highway to San Fransisco to find their mother, who abandoned them years ago.

Except, once the warden drives away, much to everyone’s surprise, they learn that Wooly (a medicine-addicted young Northeastern boy from money) and Duchess (the son of a vaudevillian, with his own significant cadre of questionable judgements and reckonings), two of Emmett’s compatriots at the work farm, stowed away in the trunk of the warden’s car and were now ready to travel wherever Emmett’s adventures were to take them.

But California is not in the picture.  Indeed, not only do Emmett and Billy never make it there, they don’t even advance one westward mile. In fact, they travel about as far away from California as is possible in the continental United States, to New York City.  But only after Emmett’s Studebaker is stolen, and relatives need to be found and visited, Billy meets Ulysses and Abacus Abernathe, and Duchess’ orphanage needs strawberry preserves, to name just a few of the side trips.  “Detours beget detours” (NYT review).

Amazingly, we witness ten days and 600 pages of adventure, youth, and remarkable characters.  The tone is mostly light, though some darkness shows up at the end.

The only aspect of this book I did not like is that the characters never ever manage to travel west on the Lincoln Highway!

Yes, I surely recommend this novel by a fine author.

March 2022

 

Bewilderment

Richard Powers

Fiction 2021 | 278 pages

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I am shocked to discover that there exist people who did not like this book! I think it is nothing short of brilliant.  Theo Byrne is raising his neurodivergent, undiagnosed, nine-year-old son Robin, after his mother’s accidental death.  This, all alone, is the making of a challenging story.  But add to it, in true Powers’ sentiment, a dying planet, climate change, and species extinction, and you reach a deeper level of sorrow.

Theo is an Astrobiologist.  His work is searching for other planets, perhaps planets that sprout life. He tells Robin numerous bedtime stories about made-up planets, where something unique is occurring In the ecology or with the inhabitants.  These are great stories, fueled by a vivid imagination.

Meanwhile, Robbie becomes a patient in an experimental neurofeedback treatment program.  He learns to use his mind to move a dot on a page, and then he and the artificial intelligence (AI) take off from there. Eventually the researchers invite Robbie to witness a similar treatment, done a few years earlier, with his mother, and Robbie begins to experience his mother Aly more clearly his life, including her knowledge, her values, her sensibilities, and her love.  It is quite amazing what happens for him, and how he improves in managing his fear, anger, confusion, and neurodiverse behavior.

While the story line is intriguing and compelling, the real reason why I fell in love with this book is the writing.  It simply is beautiful writing.  Clear.  Dynamic. Sensual even.

Read this.  Do not hesitate to read it as soon as you can get your hands on a copy.

March 2022

 

Go Tell the Bees I am Gone

Diana Gabaldon

Fiction 2021 | 903pages

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(TRYING FOR THE TENTH(?) TIME … PERHAPS, JUST PERHAPS, WE HAVE SOLVED THE WORD PRESS ISSUES.  SORT OF.)

This is the ninth book in the luscious Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  I carried the 903-page 2.2 pound brick with me on airplanes and throughout my week at beaches and infinity pools at Puerto Morales.  It was a constant, but heavy, companion! Drawing me into the American Revolution and entertaining me with the lives of the Frasers, MacKensies, and many (many!) other characters.

Unfortunately, I think Gabaldon has run out of things to say and stories to tell.  Her tales of life on Fraser’s Ridge amidst the families … Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Quaker … who have come to build homes, feed their families in the 1770s, add many children to the growing generations, survive and even thrive in the western mountains of North Carolina; were engaging, interesting, and built upon the extremely well-developed characters of Claire, Jamie, Brianna, Roger, and numerous natural and adopted offspring.  However, her stories of many men, negotiating their way through the politics, loyalties, and very confusing family lineage in the war, were often confounding and difficult to follow.  And I found little tension in her story … little mystery to uncover.  I seldom cared what might happen next.

For diehard Outlander fans, Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone, is a book to read out of loyalty and curiosity, but not out of a sense of “it is compelling, and I can’t put it down” commitment.  So yes, continue the saga, and read it.  For non-Outlander fans, you MUST go back to book one, Outlander, and start there!  Yes, if you begin and become hooked, you have 8047 pages of reading ahead of you, and Gabaldon is writing book 10 of the series as I type!  I do love the series, I just don’t feel this is her strongest work.

March 2022

The Book of Longings

Sue Monk Kidd

Fiction 2020 | 432 pages

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Writing this post feels like a sacred act.  For centuries biblical scholars have debated whether or not Jesus married.  The scholars have convened on “no” as the most likely answer.  However, Sue Monk Kidd has wondered all of her life if perhaps there is another story to tell.  She writes this novel from the perspective that Jesus did, in fact, take a wife.  Her name is Ana, and this is her story.  Fully immersed in the stories, fables, truths, realities, and parables that appear in the bible, Kidd adds a layer that will cause you to think, wonder, and enjoy the possibilities.  This is a truly engaging piece of art!

We see Judas (Ana’s brother), Lazarus, Mary and Martha, John, who baptizes new Christ-followers, Herod, Pilate, John and Joseph, Jesus’ mother Mary, and more.  All the context we would expect.  And yet this additional perspective retells the story of Jesus on this earth in a new light, especially the years that bible does not address at all, Jesus between the ages of 12 of 30.

I am not a Christian, and so I wondered how I would engage with this tale.  I found it delightful!  First of all, it is a love story.  A profound, beautiful, enduring love story.  Second, is a magnificent statement on women at the time of Christ … an entire gender we hear little about in the bible.  The women in this novel are surprisingly strong, delightfully self-knowledgeable, intriguingly active.  Ana, of course, portrays a strong and powerful woman who finds her voice, her destiny, and her passion for writing.  And her Aunt Yaltha, her mother-in-law Mary, her sister-in-law Pamphile, Chaya (Ana’s cousin) and numerous other women are not as we might picture them from reading the bible alone ... where they are often depicted as chattel, powerless, demure, hidden.  So, in truth, this is also a feminist novel.  Actually, it is an intriguing and useful accompaniment to the bible.

I highly recommend The Book of Longings and look forward to your comments.

March 2022

Call Us What We Carry

by Amanda Gorman

Poetry 2021, 228 pages

I am sure this is a delightful collection of poems. From what I read, Gorman's poems are creative, relevant, easy to understand, stark, and beautiful ... I am simply an unpracticed poetry reader, so I struggled. Please blame my paltry single heart on my own deficiency.  If you love poetry, you will enjoy this collection from the amazing Amanda Gorman, I am certain. (In case there is a bell ringing in your head, but you can't quite place the name, Amanda Gorman is the youngest [age 22] inaugural poet ever to grace the stage at a presidential swearing in.  Joe Biden, 2021).

March 2022

 

 

 

 

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Nothing to See Here

Kevin Wilson

Fiction 2019 | 254 pages

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Ingenious, original, clever, witty, and touching.  Some reviewers say this book is about friendship.  I say it is about love.

Lillian struggles in her life, working at the Save-A-Lot in Franklin Tennessee.  She lives with her estranged mom, in the attic of the house she grew up in and has no friends.  Except for Madison.  Madison is an odd type of friend ... they knew each for a year at a girl's boarding school.  Lillian was thrown out before the end of that first year, taking the fall for Madison for illicit drugs in their room. And now Madison, who stayed in touch through letters, is married to a Senator and living in a mansion.  And she has a job for Lillian.

She asks Lillian to come to the mansion and take care of her husband’s 10-year-old twins, Roland and Bessie.  They had been living with their mother, but that ended when their mother died, and now the Senator has to figure out what to do with them; how to integrate them into his life with Madison and their toddler son Timothy.  Bessie and Roland will live with them for the summer, and Madison hires Lillian as a governess of sorts.

But these kids are not exactly normal.  They spontaneously combust when they get angry, anxious, or scared.  Yes, they literally burst into flames.  It does not hurt them, but the fire is real enough and burns their clothes, and anything combustible in the area. Yes, an odd premise (hence, “original, clever.") Somehow, Kevin Wilson pulls it off.  As a reader, I found I accepted the premise and became a cheerleader for Bessie, Roland, and Lillian. The tone is fun, irreverent at times, but also emotional and serious.  I found the friendship between Lilian and Madison to be intriguing for sure.  But the love that develops between Lillian and her two charges is the soul of this novel, I believe.

This is an easy read, and I do recommend it. The Casting Crew Book Club likes to read short, fun novels in February.   Thanks to Louise for suggesting this one! Nothing to See Here is fun, engaging, and will shift your perspectives on power, politics, and how inconvenient children can be.  The only criticism I have is the title.  I can’t ever remember it.  I would have preferred something along the lines of Fire Children or Fire Starter.

February 2022