Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Martin Marten

Brian Doyle|  Fiction


I searched in my brain for a long time for the right word to use to describe this book.  Then, in a review, I found it.  Magic. To see through the eyes of Martin the Marten, and Louis the Elk, and Dave the 14-year-old boy, and his younger sister Maria, and Miss Moss and Moon – what a gift!

All these creatures and, literally, millions of other sentient beings, live on Wy’east,  high in the mountain.  You and I know this mountain as Mt. Hood in Oregon, but Doyle never mentions the name Hood; he calls it by the ancient Multnomah name.

We mostly follow Dave in the years he is 14 and 15, and Martin from his birth to his nearly-full-grown 3-foot-long body at 17 months.  Their paths run parallel, with an occasional intersection – a tribute to the relationships humans can have with other animals.  But this isn’t a mushy “Dave and Martin” story.  The way Doyle explains their relationship is, frankly, quite believable.  Even if it is still magical!  The story of the small community of Zigzag is completely interwoven with the story of the mountain and its myriad other communities. 

Doyle’s style is filled with intriguing visual images and playful words and delicious lists.  His writing style is more than half the fun of reading Martin Marten.  Doyle draws us in, sometimes quite directly.  There are moments when he speaks to us, his readers, and he often refers to the page we are reading as part of a book. 

This is a book to read, savor, and read again.  It is a joyous celebration of life.  Tell your friends.

(Thank you Marian for this fine selection for book club.)

Crashing Through

Robert Kurson|  Nonfiction


What, another Robert Kurson?  Yes!  Crashing Through was written between Shadow Divers and Rocketmen.  Though not as popular as either of these bestsellers, I just may have liked Crashing Through best of all!  It doesn’t struggle with a massive amount of technical data, like Rocketmen does, nor is it a mystery awaiting revelation, like Shadow Divers.  It is simply a story about one man.  A story that wants to be told and to be read.

At three years old, Mike May is blinded by an explosion.  43 years later he discovers that he may be a candidate to have his vision restored.  He has developed an amazingly full and rich life as an adventurous, courageous, and very curious blind person.  What will happen to his life if he can suddenly see again?  It is a momentous decision.  The first third of the book is about him making the decision to pursue the surgery that would change his life.  I really appreciated the care Kurson takes in presenting May’s thoughts and decision-making processes.

May does decide to go through with a highly risky procedure.  Then we get to witness what happens when he sees his world for the first time in 43 years, but with underdeveloped, inadequate, and insufficient vision.  I found it fascinating to be inside his brain, which Kurson communicates so very well.  

Just one little oddity that bugged me.  Kurson refers to Mike by his last name, May.  Many, many times he talks about Mike May and his wife Jennifer, and he always refers to them as “Jennifer and May” or “May and Jennifer.”  I found this quirk jarring; I don’t know why he didn’t call him “Mike”.  Writer's prerogative, I guess!

This was a faster read than the other two Kurson books I have read, and well worth your time.  It is an insight into the human spirit.

Nine Perfect Strangers

Liane Moriarty |  Fiction


From the sublime to the absurd.

Moriarty introduces us to nine people who sign up for ten days at a remote health spa.  I had visions of Agatha Christie.  Unfortunately, her character development is nil.  The nine characters, along with three staff, are transparent stereotypes of potentially real people.  There is no depth to these characters … I never developed much of an interest in most of them.  Had she been able to create complex, real characters, I think the book would have had promise.  But she didn’t.

And then the plot takes a bizarre turn.  This was the one time where the book was  interesting.  It was so absurd, I wanted to know what each of the nine thin characters experienced.  That lasted a few chapters.  I think she needed this absurd twist because her characters were so shallow.  I mean, nine of them – 12, really – and she couldn’t find enough to say about them and their interactions without a bizarre twist?  It seemed to me to be something a highschooler would do in writing class.

I read the whole thing.  I was entertained by it in a bizarre sort of way. It was just so, um, light.  But I cannot think of a single person I would recommend this book to, so I had to go with two hearts.  I hope my next choice of books to read is better!

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John LeCarré |  Fiction


 My credibility as a blogger may be called into question with this post.  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold spent 34 weeks on The NY Times bestseller list, and most everyone knows the title, at least.  But I didn’t get it.  Literally.  The first time I understood the story line at all was at the beginning of Chapter 20, “Tribunal” on page 167.  The entire book is only 225 pages.  I felt no tension, couldn’t figure out who the bad guys and good guys were, and there was no spying in the entire book.

My friend Jan W is on a journey to read all of John LeCarré’s books.  I haven't read him, but Jan’s commitment inspired me to try him on for size.  It will be a while before I venture into another LeCarré.

I have read everything by Robert Parker (which is why two of my cats are named Spenser and Hawk), and, when much younger, J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut.  Have you intentionally read everything published by a particular author?  If so, who?


Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens |  Fiction


Three out of the last five books I read were non-fiction, and I claim to be primarily a fiction reader, so it was terrific to be deposited into the arms of a wonderful novel.  I felt like I was lying in a big pile of pillows whenever I read a few chapters from Crawdads.

This is the story of Kya, “The Marsh Girl” who grew up completely alone in the marshland of North Carolina.  When her tale begins, it is 1952, Kya is six, and for a few chapters she has family around her.  And then no more.  We live with her for 18 years, through 1970, and participate in her remarkable development as a marsh specialist, having attended school for only one day.  In 1969, this isolated young woman who has no friends and no standing at all in the nearby community, except as an anomaly to be feared, is accused of murder.

This is a great read!  I am quite enamored.  I must eat a bit of crow, however, for my criticism in other blog posts of The New York Times Bestseller List. During my reading of Where the Crawdads Sing, it was in the top spot on The NY Times list. 

The End of Night

Paul Bogard |  Nonfiction


“Seriously?” I thought.  “A 325-page book about darkness?”  Well, yes.  325 pages and great inspiration for reading more!

Bogard is searching for night, for true darkness, throughout the world.  We learn what we have lost, what we have left of nighttime darkness, and what is achievable if we focus on the possibilities to regain the night, especially through managing our light pollution.  He begins at Las Vegas’s Luxor Beam, the brightest spot on the planet, and takes us to many, many places where the stars are actually visible.  We visit neighborhoods in Paris lit by gas lamps; we watch the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin; we are educated about bird mortality at the CN Tower in Toronto; we visit the island of Sark (the first “International Dark Sky Island”) in the English Channel; and we travel with him to numerous other places in the world.

I finished this book much more educated about the importance of dark skies, and much more inspired to work for them now, before it is too late.

The End of Night inspired me to go outside at my own home, last night, at 10 PM and again at 2 AM.  One of the selling points of this house, when we bought it 19 years ago, was that you could see a full night sky.  (I live far from town, on five acres, in the midst of other 5- and 10-acre properties.)  I wondered how much had changed in the ensuing years.  It was a cloudless night and, without even trying, I happened to pick the night of the new moon, so I was in perfect position for viewing!  Yes, light pollution has encroached somewhat in these 19 years, as Bend grew from 14,000 to 90,000 people.  Last night I saw Cassiopeia, Leo, Orion, Cepheus, the Big and Little Dipper, and, at the 2 AM sighting, literally thousands of stars.  But as I gazed west, toward Bend, the stars became fainter and fainter behind the orange glow of a town.  While I could see stars at the southern and eastern horizons, there were none to see in the low west sky.  What can you see from your backyard?

Bogard numbers his chapters backwards.  You will enjoy discovering why!  This book, recommend by Jan B. for our book club, it definitely worth a read, and is surprisingly interesting and engaging.  You will become very aware of your own sky, as well as the skies in the places you visit.

Seventh Heaven

Alice Hoffman | Fiction


What is this book about?  The reviews and the back cover imply that it is about Nora, a newly-divorced woman who moves into a rundown house with her two sons.  She is a major character, but it really isn’t all about her and the influence she has on her neighborhood.  Really, it is about the teenagers and children and moms and dads who inhabit Nora’s neighborhood.

It is New York, Long Island, 1959.  The houses in Nora’s neighborhood are identical.  So identical, in fact, that it takes people almost a year to stop pulling into the wrong driveway or walking up the wrong front walk.  But, of course, the people inside are not identical, even if at first blush they all seem to be cut with the same cookie cutter .... one for the husbands, one for the wives, another for the children.

Hoffman’s writing is smooth and engaging.  She draws you right into her story, and into the lives of these ordinary people.  I like the LA Times Book Review quote on the back cover.  “ gives one new respect for tender suburban dreams.”  An apt description, I think.

Not being clear what the book is about, or really finding its meaning or purpose, is what knocked it down to three hearts for me.  It is, however, a quick read, and you might find deeper meaning than I did.

Finally, I haven’t a clue why this book is titled Seventh Heaven.  I don't remember the phrase every coming up, and I think it is a diminutive title for the book.  I would have titled it Identical.


Rocket Men

Robert Kurson |  Nonfiction


Rocket Men is another fine non-fiction book by Robert Kurson.  I didn’t like it quite as much as I enjoyed Shadow Divers (reviewed 8/19/2018), by the same author, perhaps because of the mystery that was inherent in the story of an unknown sunken vessel, but Kurson’s writing and research were just as intelligent in Rocket Men.  He tells the story of Apollo 8 ... the first manned spaceship to orbit the moon.  He has such breadth and depth in his writing! Reading Rocket Men, you learn about the three astronauts; their personalities, passions, dreams, values, wives, and families.  You will learn about NASA and the scientific, technological, and political challenges endured by this agency to achieve the Apollo 8 mission in just a few months, arriving at its moon orbit on Christmas Eve, 1968.  Interwoven with the space story is the state of the country in 1968, a year of great unrest, race riots, the murders of King and Kennedy, the fractious nature of the war in Vietnam, the clashes between hippies and old-time values, and the heating up Cold War, aggravated by the race with Russia for the moon.

Rocket Men is our community’s read this year.  Everywhere you go, people are carrying copies of the book and reading it and talking about it.  I will hear the author present in just a few days.  I heartily recommend Rocket Men and Kurson’s other works.  I am awaiting his latest, Crashing Through:  The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See, to become available at my library.

(Yes, I know I have been quiet for two months.  I am back now!)

The Dry

Jane Harper | Fiction


It has been 20 years since Federal Agent Aaron Falk has been to his home town, the drought-stricken Kiewarra, five hours from Melbourne.  But when his childhood friend Luke dies, and Luke's wife and son are murdered, Falk returns, compelled by a note from Luke’s father that reads, “Luke lied.  You lied.  Be at the funeral.”

There is a strong story line and quite well-developed characters in this debut novel. It is a very good read, when you want a mystery in-between other book journeys you are on. The plot is complex and, yes, I think the resolution is a surprise.

I gave it three hearts because I found it a bit slow.  Despite what some other reviewers write, I did not find this novel a page turner.  Good story, good writing, but It was easy for me to put it down on the table.  

If you like mysteries, or Australia, or debut novels, you will likely enjoy The Dry.

The Cellist of Sarajevo

Steven Galloway |  Fiction


For four years beginning April 1992,  the city of Sarajevo was under siege from the Bosnian Serb Army.  Shelling and shooting at the civilians of the city from the surrounding hills, the criminal army averaged 329 shells per day, and killed or wounded tens of thousands of civilians.

One day, 22 people are killed while waiting in line for a loaf of bread.  The cellist decides to play his cello at the spot of the massacre at 4 pm for 22 days.  We each have our gift to give.

This is not the story of the siege.  It is a novel about four people who lived through this time, the cellist, a counter-sniper, the man trying to get to the bakery, and the man on a journey to fill his family’s water bottles.  The walkers move in and out of the line of possible sniper fire as they travel what remains of the streets of their beloved city.

This is one one the best books I’ve read.  It is profound, startling, gripping, beautiful.  We encounter the humanity of these characters, and truly feel their fear, their desire to find grace and meaning, their passionate urge to remain human.  

It is well written, short, and with gorgeous visual images.  I highly recommend it.  

Gratitude to Rene for reading and recommending this book while we were in the Galapagos.