Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

The Book of Life

Deborah Harkness |  Fiction


This is the third and final book in the All Souls Trilogy. I sped through this book; it entertained me completely.  One friend said she found it dark – well, yes, quite a few souls are killed to free up the new generation.  One friend didn’t like the ending – I found it satisfying myself.

What I most like about Harkness’ deep writing is her ability to make me laugh every once in a while.  I still giggle now recalling Chapter 10 when the witches could not get Fleetwood Mac to stop playing everywhere.  “I hate Rumours!” exclaims witch Sarah.  I think it would behoove Harkness’ style if she found a way to insert just a tiny bit more humor.  She goes deep into relationships; this book has a lot of action (my criticism of the second book, Shadow of Night, was the lack of action); and she builds a creative story line.  If I smiled once or twice more, I feel it would relieve some of the tension of the conflicts.

I definitely recommend The Book of Life, but start at the beginning with the first book,  A Discovery of Witches.

Clock Dance

Anne Tyler |  Fiction


We read about the defining moments of Willa's life, each a decade or two apart, but the bulk of the story occurs after Willa receives a confusing phone call and ends up traveling across the country to care for a woman who has been shot in her leg and her daughter, neither of whom Willa knows.

The story is somewhat entertaining.  The character development, and the characters themselves, are shallow and weak.  I had hoped the ending would redeem the book.  It didn’t.

You can find something better to read.

Tip of the Iceberg

Mark Adams |  Nonfiction


I think this is probably a pretty good book.  I was disadvantaged by reading Tip of the Iceberg on my tours of Cuyahoga and Shenandoah National Parks, because my reading opportunities tended to be short and often distracted. Every time I found a reasonable period of time to read, however, I grew enamored of this book.

Mark Adams takes off in modern times (2016, 2017?) to retrace an 1899 voyage to the wilds of Alaska.  Traveling 3000 miles, Adams makes the stops the earlier voyage made, and compares his journey to the journey of the Elder.  The Elder was a steamship converted by the railroad magnate Edward R. Harriman to a “floating university” and was populated by some of America’s best scientists, biologists, archeologists, specialists in flora, fauna, geology, climate and the well-known glacier specialist, John Muir.

Adams tells a story of the changes in the culture and economies of Alaska over the 100-plus years, but also the natural history, ecological shifts, and climate change.  The contrasts are interesting.  Sometimes, not much has changed; sometimes he sees a very different world.  I particularly loved the chapter in which he and Teddy Roosevelt visit Alaska together, and he shows the President a few of the wonders of Alaska.

Tip of the Iceberg will entice you, if you have any interest at all in this wild and remote wilderness state.

By the way, some of mentioned you don't see replies to your posted reply.  I always reply to your posts!  Next time you make a comment, be sure you have the option checked to see all replies... that way, we can share our perspectives and knowledge!!

Only Child

Rhiannon Navin| Fiction


Writing Only Child took considerable courage, I believe.  This is Navin’s first novel (she has two previous nonfiction books) and it is written from the perspective of Zach, a six-year-old first grader who survives a school shooting.  Nineteen of Zach's fellow schoolmates and teachers die in the shooting, however, including one very close to Zach, so be is hardly unharmed.

We learn about Zach's feelings, his assumptions, what (and how) he discovers about the shooting, the support he receives and doesn't receive from the adults in his life. Most compelling  is how he works with his feelings.  A self-proclaimed “very good artist,” Zach becomes overwhelmed with the complexity of feelings he has, and how unrelated feelings pile upon one another.  He colors pieces of paper different hues to represent different emotions and, in this way, he is able to separate, manage and integrate his emotions.  Well done!

The entire novel is written in Zach's six-year-old voice.  While that is interesting and draws the reader in, it also left me wanting.  I wish the novel had interspersed Zach chapters with chapters by his father, who doesn't have a clue what Zach is experiencing; or his mother, who is more emotionally connected to Zach, but loses him in her obsessive search for justice; or Charlie, the father of the shooter.  I would like to know what was in their emotional library and how and why they made some of the decisions they made.  And I would have liked a break from the logic, words, and perspectives of a six-year-old.

Voice fatigue aside, what I find at best disappointing and at worst unconscionable and irresponsible is that Navin apparently does no research for this novel.  She doesn't talk with a single child survivor.  She doesn't interview a crisis counselor.  She doesn't speak with school administrators.  She readily and proudly admits in interviews and on her website that her “focus group” comprises her own three young children.

The story is an interesting and quick read.  I was going to take it on a plane with me this Sunday, but I finished it already!  The lack of research, however, makes me hesitant to believe I have read something that is based in truth, real information, or accurate perception and insight.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring

David Michie |  Fiction


This is the second book in David Michie's trilogy about Buddhism through the eyes of the cat adopted by the Dali Lama.  His Holiness’s Cat (HHC), aka Rinpoche, Little Sister, Snow Lion, Mousie Tung, Swami (a new name she acquires in this book), is delightful!  Smart, articulate, able to read and understand human conversation, she allows us to see Buddhism through her innocent eyes.  These short novels are really fun!  The voice of HHC is pure delight.  She knows it is impossible not to love her.  She knows she is gorgeous.  And she is the most intellectually curious and humble cat.

The Art of Purring came to my shelf at a particularly good time.  This book is about happiness; how to acquire it; how to stay with it; how to choose it; how to BE it, and, of course, its relationship to purring. I began reading The Art of Purring after returning from a delightful trip with my college roommate Janet and her husband Mark, to Isle Royale and Voyageurs National Parks.  The trip was perfect, but upon my return I found myself thrust into a sad grieving funk with days of crying and loneliness.  Michie’s book arrived in my life not only when I needed it, but also when I was quite motivated to read it.  For this, I am grateful.

This trilogy is quick, enjoyable, fun and enlightening!  I heartily and highly recommend it  Thank you, Julia!

Shadow Divers

Robert Kurson |  Nonfiction


In 1991 two divers discovered the remains of a U-boat deep in the Atlantic off the New Jersey coast.  But this was a U-boat that could not be there.  No American, German or British records indicated a sunken or lost U-boat anywhere in the vicinity.  As the mystery unfolded, I learned a great deal about deep diving to explore wrecks, U-boats, World War II action off the U.S. coast, and especially about the values and uncompromising integrity of the men who discovered, researched, and dove this wreck, not all of whom survived.

Shadow Divers is dense and rich with knowledge and mystery.  This is not a book you will read in an evening.  It takes thinking to read this true narrative.  You will follow six years of diving and research to positively identify the U-boat’s number and crew, 1991-1997. It is, however, quite a fascinating and satisfying read, and I highly recommend it.  The story is compelling, the characters are complex and real, the writing is engaging.  I cried reading the Epilogue. 

The New Yorker describes Kurson’s writing as “adrenalized prose.”  I will recommend this book to the "Casting Crew Book Club" as a 2019 read, and I recommend it to you.

Thank you, Dan, for this magnificent addition to my reading list.

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas

James Patterson |  Fiction


This love story is sweet.  Actually, it slides over into saccharin.  it's just too sweet, too simple and shallow, for me.  Matt and Katie are in love ... until one day Matt just leaves.  A few days later he drops off on her front porch a journal for Katie to read. Through this journal, written by his former wife Suzanne, to their son Nicholas, we learn all about Matt's life before Katie; all the experiences he couldn’t tell her and could barely tell himself.  This is Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas.

If you want to distract yourself for an afternoon and an evening sitting by a campfire, go ahead and read it.  If you want to engage your brain in something stimulating, pick another book.

This cannot REALLY be the same James Patterson, can it?  Yes, it is one and the same.  I guess he has a split personality.  Don’t bother with this one.


The Lost City of the Monkey God

Douglas Preston |  Nonfiction


I am impressed when an author catches my attention on a topic I had no apparent interest in.  Douglas Preston does this in The Lost City of the Monkey God.  This is the story of the first modern exploration of Ciudad Blanca – the White City –  deep in the jungle of Honduras. No humans had been to this site in memory or recorded history.  But there was reason to believe the site existed. Preston was a part of the expedition, as the resident author.  I learned the history of the exploration and colorful details of the challenges and discoveries the team made, when they did in fact uncover the Lost City of the Monkey God.

And then, half-way through, the story-line changes.  After the team members return to their regular lives, an entire new catastrophe occurs, and we are drawn in to the health and medical implications of the team members who spent time in this extremely remote jungle, surrounded by unfamiliar insects and larger animals.

I love Preston’s vivid voice.  A random example, page 178:  "The river took a ninety-degree turn at a place of heartbreaking loveliness, with thick strands of flowers giving way to a lush meadow and a beach. The river flowed in a singing curve over round stones and spilled in a waterfall over a ridge of basalt.”

Preston has written six other nonfiction books, five novels, and 24 books with Lee Child (of Jack Reacher fame).  I would definitely read another Douglas Preston if I could figure out which one to read next!  (Do any of you have a suggestion?) and am pleased to have read this one.

Thanks, Jan, for this fine recommendation for book club!


Tara Westover |  Nonfiction/Memoir


Hmmm, Educated is difficult to rate.  It hovers between three and two hearts, but I have settled on three.    This is the true story of Tara Westover, raised Mormon by her survivalist father and mother, never sent to school, forced to work dangerous jobs in her father’s scrap and junkyard business.  It is the story of her survival under a mean but loving patriarch.

I found her narrative at times riveting, especially once she leaves the family home and begins to pursue her education at BYU, and at times boring.  Her writing is inconsistent.  I think she is not a very good writer and includes too many details of her life.  Then again, with six siblings living in their family home in Idaho, the stories, the catastrophes, the violence, and the relationships are numerous and complex.

The abuse she endured was not like my recent reads, My Absolute Darling and The Great Alone.  There is no sexual abuse.  More, there is religious abuse.  Educated portrays very well the Mormon doctrine of the power of men, and the servitude of women.  I don’t think most of the Westover family ever sees the gross error of these doctrines.

So, do I recommend it?  Yes, I guess, but not wholeheartedly.  I think you will just have to try it on for size!


Theft by Finding

David Sedaris |  Nonfiction


David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day and numerous others) decided to revisit his diaries, which he began in 1977.  Though the first few years were handwritten, when he printed off the digital diaries, he had 8 inches of paper to wade through!  Wow!  He decided to edit selected passages from his diaries into two books.  Theft by Finding is the first volume, 1977 through 2002.  The second volume (I cannot find the title) will cover 2003 – 2017.

I knew Sedaris had a rough start, but this book is depressing.  Drugs, poverty, and violence are much of the tale he tells.  I actually think he may have been better off if he didn’t self-edit his own diaries to create these books.  He seems obsessed with people who are differently abled ... in wheelchairs, sight-impaired, have acne scars, or who are mentally unstable.  He has an extraordinary number of stories about being approached for a cigarette or money by very angry people, and a whole trove of times he was assaulted on the streets of New York for appearing gay.

He has a proclivity for telling his life story with these depressing episodes.  About halfway though, he begins to mature, have success, and find love.  But the sum total of his relaying to us his experience of meeting Hugh is two short sentences, something like, “I met this cute guy, “ and “I think I am falling in love.”  I would have been much more engaged in this book if he were able to share more of his internal emotional experiences, and less of how he found abuse in the world.

Two-thirds of the way through (I kept reading because I AM interested in his long-term love with Hugh, and his success as a comedic and serious writer, and I wanted to read some of these entries), I realized this book was probably supposed to be funny sometimes.  Now, it is a character flaw on my part, I know.  I seldom find the written word funny.  You could read aloud to me from an amusing book and I would laugh.  But when I read the same words on paper, I don’t find them funny.  I laughed only once when reading Theft by Finding.

Theft by Finding depressed me, disappointed me, and was often confusing.  Actually, I suspect his second volume will be better, because his life will be less dire, but I don’t have the stomach for another Sedaris right now.  I even removed his newest book, Calypso, from my library list.  Sorry to say.