Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Women Rowing North

Mary Pipher  |  Nonfiction 2019

Washington Post “100 Books for the Ages” Age 76 (and various friends)

It just didn’t interest me very much to read about the challenges of women growing older, even when the author threw in a few ideas for solutions.  I don’t really want or need a self-help book at this juncture.  I look forward to hearing perspectives from those of you who love this book!!



The Dutch House

Ann Patchett | Fiction 2019


The Dutch House is about siblings Danny and Maeve, as told by the younger Danny, over five decades of their relationship.  And it is about the quirky Pennsylvania mansion that defines their family relationships and, to some extent, their demise.

Maeve and Danny are close, loving, interwoven, and highly connected.  It is truly a beautiful partnership to behold.  With resilience, they maneuver their way through all the Dutch House throws at them:  parents, step-mom and step-sisters, death, love, careers, expectations, disappointments, successes...

I found this book to be interesting, but not astounding.  I give it three hearts ... it might tickle your fancy, but I make no promises.



The Hazel Wood

Melissa Albert | Fiction 2018


Alice Crewe Proserpine is seventeen and lives with her mother Ella as nomads, moving from place to place around the country for all her life.  She never understood why there was constant upheaval, and why she lived in studio apartments, or converted barns, or someone’s couch, or other unsavory places until one day, suddenly, her mom would move them on.

And then Alice’s grandmother Althea dies, who has lived in an old beat up mansion called Hazel Wood.  Alice learns that Althea has a cult of fans who latched on to the one book Althea wrote.  But the book, Tales from the Hinterland, is impossible to find.  It is as though it is destroying itself. Alice has been searching for it for most of her young life.

One day Ella disappears, and Alice takes off to find Hazel Wood, the one place her mother told her never to go.  The adventure begins, as Alice enters Hinterland, the dark fairy tale land.

I found Hazel Wood on a list from Book Riot.  The list was “ten books you might enjoy if you loved The Night Circus.”  Well, I loved The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and I picked one that sounded like an enjoyable mix of reality and fantasy.  I enjoyed Hazel Wood, though I didn’t fall in love with it.  I particularly liked the first half, where the real world and the fantasy world were interspersed, and we traveled from one to the other.  Around page 200, just over halfway in, Alice bridges the gap to the fairy tale world and we are there for most of the rest of the book, until the resolution at the end.  I didn’t care for the Hinterland story quite as much as the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality as told in the first half.

You might like this, if occasional magic is your thing.  Albert is a good writer.  Her pace is quick and sharp.  She has a predilection for metaphors that sometimes don’t make sense to me, but that is a small complaint.


The Topeka School

Melissa Albert  |  Fiction 2019

Time liked it and so did the Washington Post.  I will have to take a pass on this one.  I made it to page 80, but couldn’t bear another moment.  To me, I read a compilation of words from a profession presented as ridiculously ego-maniacal .... psychiatry and analysis; psychiatrists, psychologists, and analysands. Characters were defined not by their qualities or values or even behaviors, but by what they said in analysis and how they described their dreams and their emotional outbursts.  There is still no plot at 30% in.  I am moving on.

Did you read this and enjoy it?  I’d love to hear!




Min Jin Lee | Fiction 2017


Pachinko follows one Korean family through two World Wars, and their life in Japan as it evolves, away from their beloved homeland.  It is not a story of a particularly tragic family, or a wealthy or powerful family.  It is just a family.  A poor family who lost their home in Korea during WW2 and made a life for themselves. You will follow this family through four generations and 80 years, and they will touch your heart, as well as teach you something about our world history.  They endure catastrophe, tragedy, poverty, discrimination, and they manifest wisdom, joy, passion, laughter, and a powerful sense of self.

The word is difficult to find … but we will settle on “saga.”  Pachinko is a 500-page tale of this small family and is an eminently readable saga.  You will come to love the characters and cheer for their triumphs.  I quite like this quote by award-winning author Darin Strauss, “Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a great book, a passionate story, a novel of magisterial sweep.”

I do recommend this book.  It is simply a good story.  Yes, it is long; I read it over the first half of the Christmas break.  A nice time to read such a tale, while it is cold outside.



The Language of Flowers

Vanessa Diffenbaugh | Fiction 2011


I often read a book with a desire to move through it, to soak it up, and move on to the next interesting tale.  But this book, The Language of Flowers, I wanted to savor. The writing, the story, and the exploration of flowers and their meanings all created a delicacy to enjoy slowly.

Victoria is a foster child, experiencing the worst of the foster system, traveling from a group home to a private home to a group home over and over.  Then, at age eight she meets a possible new mother, Elizabeth.  Theirs is a fast and deep bond.  But the fates work against this relationship.  While at its apex, Victoria learns from Elizabeth all about flowers – how to tend, harvest, and arrange them, and above all, the meaning of each flower.  She is a fast learner and this learning is the most fulfillment she has experienced in her young life.

But circumstances interfere and Victoria leaves Elizabeth’s house to finish out her final youthful years in a group home until she is “emancipated” on her 18th birthday.  With no skills and no family, Victoria becomes homeless, until Renata, a florist, discovers how brilliant Victoria is with flowers.  Of course, Victoria has no reason to trust anyone. She doesn’t even know what trust is, much less love.

The book follows two journeys, one when Victoria is eight and living with Elizabeth, and the other when she is 18 and out on her own.  And flowers and their meaning are at the center of both journeys.

This is a beautiful book, another debut novel.  It is finely crafted and hard to put down, even though it wants to be relished.  I highly recommend it.


The Girl Who Lived Twice

David Lagerkrantz | Fiction 2019


Lagercrantz took over the Dragon Tattoo series with Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist after Stieg Larsson died in 2004, so you may very well already be familiar with the primary characters in The Girl Who Lived Twice, Lisbeth and Mikael.

I believe Lagercrantz does quite a good job of carrying forward the Larsson legacy.  That’s a hard task!  The Girl Who Lived Twice is fast-paced, interesting, a mystery and thriller.  I enjoyed it, especially the author’s ability to move the story forward at a good pace.

There are two plots that interweave.  One is Lisbeth’s hate for and revenge for her sister, who Lisbeth THINKS she wants to kill.  The other is Mikael’s search for the identity of, and the story behind, a homeless man who dies on the streets, but has a colorful Everest history!  The Washington Post couldn’t resist this statement in the opening line of their 08/23/2019 review, “Salander irons an abusive husband's dress shirt with him in it.”  Piques one's interest at least!

However, Lagercrantz has too many characters and not quite enough of Lisbeth and Mikael.   He put a character list at the beginning of the book, but unfortunately, only included major characters.  It is not the major characters that the reader has trouble keeping track of!  So, I was confused at times.  Hence, three hearts.


Tin Man

Sarah Winman | Fiction 2017


Ellis and Annie and Michael are in love with each another.  It is a nearly perfect love.  Tragic, yes, but also full of soul, depth, authenticity, tenderness, laughter, play, learning, exploration, and intensity.

If I were an English Professor, I would assign this book as a study of character and relationship development.  Ellis and Michael are particularly strong souls, whom we discover so much about.  Winman has done an extraordinary job of delving into the hearts and souls of these two men, and providing us with a window.  Though the location and the timing, recent decades in Oxford, add much context and beauty to the tale, they are not central to the story line.  In some ways, this could be three people anywhere.

The reviews on this are all-or-nothing.  People love this book or hate it and are bored to tears.  People think Winman did a superb job with character development, or a truly lousy job.

I wish this was a book club because I would like talk about the roles that were played by sunflowers, swimming, mothers, and floorboards.  My friend Rene recommend this short novel.  I will be eager to hear if you love it or hate it ...


A Single Thread

Tracy Chevalier | Fiction 2019


The broderers did exist and did create embroidery for Winchester Cathedral.  Louisa Pesel was renowned for her designs and she has a history of accomplishments before leading the project to embroider for the cathedral.  Interestingly, embroidery was taught to men in WWI as a form of occupational therapy, to help them deal with their physical and mental trauma.

From the very first page I anticipated that this would be a novel that was finely written with much attention to detail.  And I was not wrong.  Chevalier (this is her 11th novel) is a master of character development and scenery description.  She places you right in context, in her main character’s heart and mind.  She is perhaps most famous for The Girl with a Pearl Earring.  

The time is 1932.  Violet Speedwell, 38, lost her brother and her fiancé in World War I.  She is now one of the “surplus women” of her time.  Too old to marry, not likely to have children, “spinsters” in the awfullest sense of that word.

But Violet strikes out on her own, leaving her hyper-critical mother behind.  Moving to Winchester from Southampton, she takes a room in a boarding house, is a typist for an insurance company, and soon discovers the broderers, who are embroidering kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral.  She demonstrates her talent and becomes one of them.  Of course, this action opens her to become self-sufficient (if quite poor), develop friendships, learn about the art of bell ringing, and perhaps even to fall in love.

This is a story of the times after WWI in England, of friendship, of the strict roles men and women held at this time, of maturing into one’s own person, and of the beauty of needlepoint.  Though the topic might seem rather odd to some readers, its uniqueness is part of its charm, and I am giving it a full four hearts.

Recommend by numerous publications as one of the best books of 2019 including The Week, Time, Real Simple, Goodreads, and Overdrive.