Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

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.


Metropolitan Stories

Christine Coulson  |  Fiction 2019

It is my fault this book is receiving one heart.  I seem to have misheard or misunderstood the interview I listened to on NPR.  The author is a 25-year veteran of the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  As I understood from the interview, this short book was filled with vignettes written by the pieces of art in the Met.  It sounded as though the pieces of art were going to speak and tell a story.  In the first chapter, this is what happens.  A 1749 chair crafted for the Duchess of Parma is eager to attract a modern-day child to her lap, to drool and wiggle.  She cheers this little guy on!  But mom reaches out in the nick of time and grabs the little boy before he is able to put his rump or even his fingers on the chair.  The chair was sad.  Ingenious!

In the second chapter, the Director of the Museum is looking for a Muse to bring to a meeting.  The curators of numerous exhibitions bring more than a hundred art pieces to the Director’s office.  The Three Graces, naked, headless, and inextricably linked together, are sent back.  “They shuffled out clumsily. The stuttering step of the conjoined, silent in their headless disappointment.”  (pg 16) Zeus’s nine daughters disagree over whether the Director is “a real creep” or “hot” or “a total god.” (pg 17)  Broken and naked women muttering among themselves arrive from the Romans and Greeks section, and the Director simply stares.

These chapters were absolutely delightful!

And then, they were done.  I made it through 2/3rds of the book, but Coulson left her artwork behind and told stories of some of the 2200 members of the Met staff.  Unfortunately, since she spent 25 years there, she must have assumed these stories were unique and bizarre and interesting, but you could tell the exact same stories (in a different physical setting) about the high technology and hospital organizations I have worked in.  Not interesting.

Maybe she is inspired by her own Muse and creates other stories from works of art by the end of the book, but I perused to the end and didn’t see any more.  She certainly seems to have the ability to do so.

I SO wish she had written what I though she had written, rather than what she actually wrote!


Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home

Heather Anderson | Nonfiction 2019


Heather Anderson was the fifth person overall and the first woman to hike the Triple Crown (the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail) in one year.   She holds the women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Appalachian Trail, and the FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), having bested the male holder of that title by four days.  She is humble and not much interested in publicity.  She tried marriage and a job for a while, but they just didn’t take.

This is the autobiographical story of her 60-day record breaking PCT hike. This is no Wild.  Heather, whose trail name is Anish, is clearly a highly experienced hiker. Since 2003, she has hiked over 30,000 miles ... longer than the equator.  Thirst tells her story on the PCT, a solo hiker who does things her way (she hikes in sundresses!) for an average of 42 miles a day.  Aptly titled, she began in the desert at the south terminus on June 8 .... the hot dry desert.  This is a serious hiker’s journey.   As she is traveling alone, she is also quite introspective.  I found her philosophizing to be insightful and timely, though her self-esteem could use some reinforcement.  If you like wilderness adventures, you will eat this one up. (Or should I say, “drink” it up.)

Heard on OPB.

Never Have I Ever

Joshilyn Jackson | Fiction 2019


The story opens at a neighborhood book club.  Suddenly the woman renting the Air B&B down the street, Angelica Roux, knocks on the door and decides she is going to join.  Pouring excessive amounts of alcohol for all who are in attendance (none of which does she contribute), powerful Roux takes over the book club, eventually getting the drunk women to play an adult version of “Never Have I Ever” and revealing secrets about themselves they would not reveal to anyone.

I thought at first, this was going to be rather silly.  But it doesn’t take long to figure out that Roux is one very evil person, with her eyes set on blackmail.  As the tale progresses, it actually becomes a thriller, with Roux manipulating our major character, Amy Whey, through her painful past that Amy has held secret, even from her beloved husband, Davis.  Amy can neither give her what she wants – cash – nor reveal the sins of her past.  So she must figure out how to out-maneuver Roux.  And Amy has no experience at such detective work and maneuvering.

Roux's son Luca and Amy's daughter Maddy form another subplot, and scuba diving plays a major role in this drama from Pensacola, Florida.  This book was recommended by Time magazine in an article called “Summer Thrills.”  It is worth your time.  About half-way through, you may be turning pages as fast as I did.


Evvie Drake Starts Over

Linda Holmes | Fiction 2019


As Evvie is packing her car with her one blue suitcase on the day she has chosen to leave her husband, the phone rings.  Tim, Evvie’s husband, has been killed in an auto accident.  Evvie’s relationship with grief is, no surprise, rather confused and convoluted!

This is the story of her life after Tim’s death – not at all maudlin or sad.  She decides to rent out the apartment in her house, and rents it to Dean, a former major league baseball pitcher who has the “yips.”  He suddenly is no longer able to pitch and he gets fired from the Yankees.

Reviewers used words like “pleasant” and “smart” and “sweet.”  These are rather accurate.  This is a pleasant and uplifting novel.  Holmes does a good job of exploring the friendships in the novel … Evvie with her best friend Andy; Andy with Dean – they have been friends since grade school; and, of course, the new relationship, Evvie and Dean.

Read this for fun, not for a big message!




Robin Sloan |  Fiction, 2017


I found Sourdough to be foolish and a waste of time.  Lois Clary is a programmer of robotic arms for a high technology company in San Francisco.  Her favorite take-out restaurant shutters its doors because its owners have lost their green cards, and they will onto Lois, “their number one eater,” their sourdough starter.  Lois proceeds to bake sourdough bread (perfect every time ... has Sloan ever baked at all?) and, of course, this action is life- and career-changing.  I don’t think Sourdough has anywhere near the depth, interest, and charm of Sloan’s earlier novel,  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.


The Testaments

Margaret Atwood | Fiction



It is 15 years after the events recorded in The Handmaid’s Tale and not all is well in Gilead!  This is the story of the demise of Gilead, as told through the eyes of three women who lived it.

Two were young women.  One grew up in Gilead as the daughter of an important Commander; the other grew up in Canada, a small distance from the borders of Gilead, protesting and marching against the horrors of Gilead that we learned about in The Handmaid’s Tale.  The third woman is older – Aunt Lydia – probably the most powerful woman within the Gilead culture.  The stories of these three characters come together in ways that are touching and difficult.

Atwood is a superb writer!  Her sharp commentary and clear visuals will keep you engaged in this page-turner.  How does Gilead come to its demise?  The Testaments is suspenseful and, being dystopian, also psychologically scary at times.  Atwood attempts to explain the inner workings of women (and a sub-culture) we may find difficult to understand, not being members of the oppressive Gilead society.

This is a fine sequel to The Handmaids Tale and I surely recommend it.


Once Upon a River

Bonnie Jo Campbell |  Fiction, 2011


Washington Post “100 Books for the Ages” Age 17

It has been a long time since I was 17, and I don’t know a 17-year old, but I am struggling to understand why Once Upon A River was chosen by the Washington Post as the most important book for a 17-year old to read.  Our hero, Margo, is 15 when the story begins.  She is raped twice in the first 100 pages and is obsessed with guns, killing any male deer that happen by her home and cabin on the Stark River in Michigan. Reviewers laud her journey, her bravery, her coming-of-age when she leaves her family home and ventures out onto the river in her rowboat.  However, she never travels more than 30 miles upstream on the river, only to places she has been before. She finds a roof for her head in two cabins that belong to her cousins, and she is overly reliant on men, living first with Brian and then Michael.  And then taking succor from XXX (yes, that is all we learn of his name) and Smoke, during her not-very-adventurous trip downstream.  And there are no women characters except for a few cameos, the mom who abandons her, and the angry and worried nieces of Smoke. This is no story I want a teenager to read and take wisdom from.

As an adult, it is an okay-interesting tale, but with so many books calling out to you from your dusty shelves, like mine, I would forgo this one.


Find Your Artistic Voice

Lisa Congdon

Nonfiction, 2019


I loved this book!  I was searching for books on my finding my artistic style, when I ran across this gem in the St. Louis Art Museum.  The first insight I learned from Ms. Congdon is that “style” is only one piece of the picture.  Style is the look and feel of your work.  Skill is the second component; and subject matter is the third.  Media -- the substance and tools you use to give expression to your voice -- and consistency are the final two components of voice.

Your story, history, experiences, passions, culture, values, truths, dreams, fears, race, gender, identity ... all of these and more contribute to your “Voice.”  What struck me in reading her perspective on Voice is that it isn’t just relevant to artists.  It seems finding your Voice as an entrepreneur, as a community member, as a career person is vital.

As I read this book I recalled the first piece of art I ever bought.  It was a pen and ink drawing sold at the Summer Festival in Ann Arbor, circa 1973. This memory contributes useful images to my own Voice.

This may not resonate with you, but if it does, pick up this little gem.  It has lots of artistic illustrations in it, no surprise!