Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

The 19th Christmas

James Patterson & Maxine Paetro | Fiction 2019

344 pages


Well, wasn’t this fun!  I took my nine books from the library and put them on the counter, spine side to the wall, so I couldn’t read the titles.  And then I picked at random. Monday’s pick was this New Women’s Murder Club Mystery, what fun!

As always with Patterson & Paetro, this was a very light read. A little murder and mayhem to brighten your day.  The women in the Women’s Murder Club, and their spouses, are always heartwarming and delightful.  In this mystery, a Christmas Day heist was in the making.  The mastermind behind it, Willy Loman (yes, puns were intended) facilitated the placement of many false leads, driving the detective team, Including Lindsay Boxer, all over San Francisco, in their attempt to discover and head off the heist.  Of course, in the end, the good “guys” win.

This is my third “isolation” book.



Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo | Fiction 2019

452 pages


This is an homage to what it means to be black, British, and female.  It is an astonishing and daring novel, both in style and content.

Stylistically, each chapter is the story of one woman.  Their lives overlap, but that isn’t really the core of the novel.  (Though the magic of the overlapping does shore up the end.) The core is each woman’s life, and her challenges, joys, struggles, successes, and failures with education, friendship, love, sex, career, race, and family.

Evaristo uses no periods or beginning-of-sentence capitals. She claims it makes the novel a hybrid of poetry and prose, a nod to how we communicate on the internet, and a more lyrical way for the characters to interact ...  Truth be told, I think she is correct.  There is something freeing and flowing about this style.

The content, however, is what makes Girl, Woman, Other so powerful.  Some reviewers marveled at how Evaristo presented different voices for her 12 main characters.  I didn’t it experience it that way.  I experienced it more as one voice, with many nuances, but an astounding number of similarities.

I think what made this book so intriguing for me ... and may make it so for you ... is that her characters barely overlap with my life experience.  And so, it was fascinating.  All(?) the major characters are black.  Their ancestors came from Africa or the Caribbean to London.  They are mostly feminist (that point I can relate to!) Some are very radical feminist.  Most are lesbian, although a couple were only experimenting.  Many became mothers.  Most, though not all, are not terribly successful in careers.  All had significant challenges to overcome with regard to race. Yes, there are also Muslims, trans people, and men in the stories! The character’s lives span a century, though most are set in the modern day.

Some reviewers call this book “hilarious.”  I only laughed once, but you know me, this book may have been quite funny, and I could have easily missed it.

I wasn’t sure while reading it who might like this novel.  I finally concluded that it is possible everyone, regardless of gender, orientation, race, or age, might find something to love.  I sure did.

Washington Post, Ten Best Books of 2019


A Pilgrimage to Eternity

Timothy Egan | Fiction 2019

367 pages


I am an atheist with an unhealthy aversion to history.  So, how is it I could like Timothy Egan’s A Pilgrimage to Eternity at a three-hearts level?  Because it is superbly written!  And if you like history, you’ll give it four hearts.  If you have a particular passion for the history of Catholicism, well, you will be in seventh heaven (yes, pun intended).  I gave the other Timothy Egan I attempted, The Big Burn, a single heart, so this is real progress.

Timothy Egan takes off on the 1200 mile Via Francigena, from Canterbury to Rome, in search of his own spiritual beliefs.  This is a trail of sorts, like the Camino de Santiago, only much less well-known. Egan walks most of the route, stays often at monasteries, and sees an inordinate number of statues, churches, Cathedrals, relics (yes, those are bones of saints), plaques, stones, arches, bridges, cadavers, and assorted other items that tell various tales of Catholicism and Christianity.  You will read about battles and beheadings, popes and princes, intellect and instability.

And what kept me enthralled is how he mixes his experience of this ancient pathway with his current life.  He connects his learning with our modern-day struggles and tells tales from his youth.  Even more intriguing to me, he talks about the food he encounters along the Via Francigena, and the difficulties and joys his body experiences in (mostly) walking 1200 miles.  So, it is a sort of long-hike travel journal, and we witness blisters and turning back when the weather becomes extreme and the joy of a stunning view. We read about pastries and cappuccinos and, of course, wines, as he travels England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. To give you a flavor, on page 138 he describes the items on a menu on Langres, France, which includes “frogs ... not frog legs, but the whole slain amphibian … and duck terrine with ‘trumpets of death’ “  All this and, too, we bear witness to Egan's search for his spiritual and religious beliefs.  What does he believe?  And why?

An essential message appears on page 64 and again at the end.  It comes from Labre, the patron saint of wandering souls, “There is no way.  The way is made by walking.”

Thank you to Ralph from water aerobics class for this interesting recommendation.


My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Ottessa Moshfegh |  Fiction 2018

Some found it amusing, some bemusing.  Let’s face it, this is a dark book about a privileged woman who is severely clinically depressed and designs her life so she can spend a year sleeping and popping an extraordinary number of pills prescribed by an irritating and unethical psychiatrist, who is devoid of values.  The narrator’s sometimes boyfriend and best friend are nearly as dysfunctional as the psychiatrist.

I came back from yoga class this evening and couldn’t even pick it up.  It was simply too depressing, and also too unrealistic.  I was hoping the psychiatrist would be the real thing, and we would watch her attempt to help our narrator.  Instead, the psychiatrist is a caricature, and the narrator takes advantage of this.

Someone recommended this to me, but I can’t for the life of me remember who, which is probably good.




Olive, Again

Elizabeth Strout | Fiction 2019


Crosby, Maine is a small bucolic town right on the ocean.  Olive, Again tells the story of many of the people who live there.  If you read Olive Kitteridge, you will recognize the style.  Olive, Again is actually the sequel.

As in the earlier book, there is no plot as such, but there are 13 stories of people in Crosby.  Olive Kitteridge is the thread that ties these stories together.  She is central in some chapters, an important character in others, and makes only a fleeting cameo appearance in some.

Caustic, witty, sad, kind, insightful, mean, opinionated, gleeful, loving, discounting, sometimes a deep listener, sometimes she doesn’t listen at all; we follow Olive as she ages from 73 to 86 in this book.  Her edges have softened from the original Olive Kitteridge.

Strout’s tales are fascinating.  The characters who live in Crosby Maine are not all that quirky or original, and yet they are each totally fascinating.  We have Andrea, a former Poet Laureate of the US; a Somalian woman, Hamila, who works as a home health worker; Kayley, a teenager who cleans houses and allows an old man to see her breasts; a couple who have lived together for 42 years, but for the last 35 have used yellow duct tape on the floor to divide her space from his space and who talk with each other by making comments to their dog; a guest at a baby shower who goes into labor herself during the shower and has her baby in Olive’s car before the ambulance arrives.  And of course we have Olive’s second husband Jack who gets a speeding ticket for driving his sorts car too fast and cannot understand why his daughter is lesbian.   There is also a dominatrix and a few people who have gone “dopey-dope.”

As Olive and her connections in Crosby have aged, there are also quite a few widows and widowers, including Olive herself.  Their stories left me feeling hopeful.  They live normal, if lonely, lives.

This is a wonderful book.  Sprout is a gifted and brilliant writer who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge and has written five other well-regarded novels.  Yes, definitely read Olive, Again.


A Fatal Grace

Louise Penny | Fiction 2006


No one in Three Pines liked CC DePoitiers.  But someone hated her enough to electrocute her in the middle of the Boxing Day curling match out on the lake.  Armand Gamache is called upon to solve his second murder in the enchanting Canadian town of Three Pines.  CC is an arrogant self-appointed guru who believes enlightenment comes from burying all emotions.  No wonder she left enemies everywhere she went.

Once again, I found Penny’s writing fun and delightful.  I read the entire novel as I was traveling from Bellingham Washington to home, a 14-hour trip, on Amtrak and a bus.  Her writing is light.  Maybe too light, given the plethora of books waiting to be read.  This is the second novel in the series. I think I will read one more.

Unfortunately, I thought it was clear from the beginning who the murderer was, even though the reveal doesn’t come until the last couple of pages.  Penny’s hints were too obvious to me.  Of course, that doesn’t hurt the charm of the characters in Three Pines or the wittiness of the victim and why she was murdered.  But the suspense was dampened.

Your choice!


The Guise of Another

Allen Eskens | Fiction 2015


The Lexus jumped the median In Minneapolis and crashed headlong into a Porsche.  That’s what happens when you are busily having sex and driving at the same time.  When the Highway Patrol arrived at the scene, they found the two occupants of the Lexus half-naked but still alive.  The poor guy in the Porsche, James Erkel Putnam, was driving in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was dead.  Only, it turns out, he was not actually James Putnam.  Who was he?  That’s when the mystery begins.

Detective Alexander Rupert was recently demoted to the Fraud unit, due to his suspected theft of cash from his dealings with dealers in Narcotics.  But this juicy case lands in his lap, as he tries to figure out who was masquerading as James Putnam.  And why Putnam was so rich.

The story is good; Esken’s writing again engaging.  I read the whole book while Amtraking up to Bellingham, Washington.  I marked it three hearts instead of four because the bad guy killed people gratuitously.  There was just more murder than necessary.  For example, he needed to get Putnam’s girlfriend out of their house for a day, so he killed her mother.  To me, it felt like Eskens was simply being lazy.  He could have had the assassin break Mom’s hip or some such.

All In all, a good story with a diabolical plot.



Blake Crouch | Fiction 2019


I learned a new phrase in reading about Recursion, “speculative fiction”.

The book opens on November 2, 2018, when Detective Barry Sutton arrives to the 41st floor of a New York City skyscraper and attempts to stop the suicide of a woman whose legs are dangling over the edge.  Ann Voss Peters has FMS, False Memory Syndrome, and she can no long cope with the life in her false memory.

And then we meet Dr. Helena Smith, in October of 2007.  She is a brilliant scientist whose mom has Alzheimer’s, and Helena is trying to build a machine that will allow Alzheimer’s patients to revisit and retain memories.  Eventually, she builds such a machine, but it does more than expected.  It allows patients to visit the memories and change them, with, of course, disastrous unintended consequences.  And so we enter the world of speculative fiction.  To enjoy this tale, you’ll need to be able to suspend your current reality and believe this alternative reality.

Over time, as we vacillate between current days and ten years ago, we discover that someone can change the past, but then, on the day they do so, they suddenly recall all the various paths they have created in their memories.  Very disorienting.

So, though it was hard work sometimes to keep track of what year, and what memory path, we were in of our primary characters, Barry and Helena, I liked this book.  It is smartly written, and it made me think, both because of the structure of the novel, but also because of the issues it raises about technology, values, consequences. It has suspense, terror, fear, love, and triumph amidst its fast-turning pages.

Recursion will soon be a Netflix movie and tv series but read the book first.  If you can be intrigued by speculative fiction, pick this one up.  It is a winner.

A "Top Pick of 2019" by AARP Magazine.

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles  |  Fiction 2016

I really want to like this book, but I keep falling asleep or getting distracted, or picking up my iPad to see if anyone emailed me in the last ten minutes.  I am 100 pages in, which represents a significant commitment, and I think I must close the book and return it to the library.

I keep thinking that I "should" like it, and if only I were a more mature reader who could revel in the rather heavy-handed writing style, I would be a better person.  There IS humor and some fascinating visual descriptions, but the theme .... a Count who is under house arrest in a hotel in Moscow in 1922 ... is boring.  The inner flap tells me he will meet some interesting people, but he hasn’t yet.

An interesting review was written by Bill Gates.  He said you do not have to be a Russophile to like this book.  I think maybe you do.

I am surprised, because my dental hygienist Julie and I consistently agree about books we like and don’t like. I hope she remains gentle with my mouth when she discovers I abandoned this recommendation from her.



The Rent Collector

Camron Wright | Fiction 2012


This is a GREAT book.  I am moved and hopeful.

Sang Ly, her husband Ki Lim, and their ill young son, Nisay, live in a shack at the edge of Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in Cambodia.  They make their living sorting through the trash the trucks bring every day, finding valuable scraps to sell to sometimes unscrupulous buyers.  Yes, The Rent Collector reminds me of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers.  The Rent Collector, however, is above all, a book of hope.

While this is a novel of life and death at the dump, the story line is about Sang Ly and her discovery of literacy and literature.  It is as much a tale of the role of literature in our world as it is a tale of hardship, friendship, and love in the dump.

Here is a sample of the intelligent and visual writing by Camron Wright.  “I always tell Ki that it’s a dangerous thing sending me to work at the dump, not because I’ll get run over by a truck, burn my legs and feet, or fall into a pool of toxic sludge—though all these are possibilities.  It’s dangerous because my thoughts get away from themselves.  Mixed with emotion, they pile up like the garbage that surrounds me.  They stack layer upon layer, deeper and deeper, month after month—crushing, festering, smoldering.  One day something is certain to combust.”  (pg 25)

Mary—my good friend from high school—recommended this book to me.  Once again, Mary, you are spot on.  I will recommend The Rent Collector to my book club for 2021 because it is not only an excellent and enlightening read, but also because of what we can learn about literature.

Yes, blog readers, you might want to read this book.  I recommend it without hesitation.