Dusty Shelves Book Blog


A Slow Fire Burning

Paula Hawkins | Fiction, 2021

320 pages


After a young man is found murdered in a houseboat in London, five women and one man, who have unique and complicated connections to him and to each other, and all of whom are juggling their own secrets, become embroiled in the search for the murderer.  (And we know one of these characters will emerge as the guilty party!)

I was disappointed.  I expected more from Paula Hawkins after A Girl on the Train.  All of the significant female characters in this book are dysfunctional and some are psychopathic.  I didn't like even one of them.  I thought Hawkins did such a poor job of character development that I had to make a cheat sheet to differentiate characters, one from the other. Which was the one-night stand?  Who stole which key?  Who was related to whom?  Goodreads reviewers have rated this book lower than any other book in my blog (I think), at 3.4 out of 5.0.

So, why three hearts?  It is a compelling and interesting murder.  Who-done-it readers may well enjoy the plot development, especially if you are better at keeping the characters straight than I am.  The plot is its strength. The title works well, too.

So, try this on for size if you feel drawn to it, and let us know what you think!

January 2022


A Slow Fire Burning

Paula Hawkins | Fiction, 2021

320 pages


After a young man is found murdered in a houseboat in London, five women and one man, who have unique and complicated connections to him and to each other, and all of whom are juggling their own secrets, become embroiled in the search for the murderer.  (And we know one of these characters will emerge as the guilty party!)

I was disappointed.  I expected more from Paula Hawkins after A Girl on the Train.  All of the significant female characters in this book are dysfunctional and some are psychopathic.  I didn't like even one of them.  I thought Hawkins did such a poor job of character development that I had to make a cheat sheet to differentiate characters, one from the other. Which was the one-night stand?  Who stole which key?  Who was related to whom?  Goodreads reviewers have rated this book lower than any other book in my blog (I think), at 3.4 out of 5.0.

So, why three hearts?  It is a compelling and interesting murder.  Who-done-it readers may well enjoy the plot development, especially if you are better at keeping the characters straight than I am.  The plot is its strength. The title works well, too.

So, try this on for size if you feel drawn to it, and let us know what you think!

January 2022


The Best We Could Do

Thi Bui

Graphic Memoir, 2017 |328 pages


I am disappointed in this graphic memoir, which took Thi Bui years and years to write.  It reads more as history than a memoir or an intimate story.  It does not have the heart of the graphic memoir I recently read, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.  The Best We Could Do tells a special, unique, and complex story about the generations who preceded Thi and her siblings in Vietnam and the United States, and does not succeed at painting a broad-brush picture to help us better understand what it was like for other families emigrating from Vietnam after the fall of South Vietnam.  That being said, I am glad I persisted to the end.  The last third explains the concept of "boat people" and depicts the reality of the first few weeks after entering this country.  I also enjoyed the graphics .... rendered completely in black, white, and orange.

January 2022


Klara and the Sun

Kazou Ishiguro

Fiction 2021 | 320 pages


(re-post.  I accidentally deleted this review!)

I had no idea what I was getting into when I opened to the first page of Klara and the Sun.  A friend recommended it and I blindly set about reading it.  From the cover, I thought it was going to be about geisha girls or some such.  How surprised I was to discover it was about seeing the world through the eyes of an AF ... an Artificial Friend.  Yes, Klara is a robot who is purchased to be Josie's AF, a young teenage girl with her share of family trauma, and an illness that may take her life.

I loved this book!  What I so enjoyed is how Klara elegantly observes human behavior in order to learn what humans perceive and think ... but especially, what they feel and why they feel it.  Ishiguro especially explores love, loneliness, and hope.  He has created a simple mechanism for standing outside human consciousness and attempting to glean knowledge about what we feel and do, through the keen observation and insight of a robot.

I found Klara and the Sun not only easy to read, but delightful.  I simply enjoyed being inside Klara's observational "brain." Some reviewers say Klara and the Sun offers an exploration of how Artificial Intelligence may show up in our lives in the future. I didn’t perceive that intention from Ishiguro.  It read as a pure novel to me.

Now, for the grain of salt.  The average review in Goodreads is a 3.81. This is a fairly low rating.  As I perused the reviews, there were many five stars and many one stars.  Another book that polarizes.  So, what can I say?  I hope you read it and desire to rate it "four hearts."   But if your review is at the low end of the scale, I would love to hear that, too. Yes, clearly, I recommend this book.

December 2021



Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction 2021 | 365 pages


Astonishing.  I find this book astonishing.  I SHOULD give it three hearts, because it is clearly not for everyone who reads my blog ... but I cannot begin to tell who will love this book and who will hate it.  I inhaled it.

There is essentially no plot.  It is the story of Michaela as her husband dies in the first section, "The Vigil" and after his death, "The Post-Mortem."  Michaela and Gerard have traveled from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Santa Tierra, New Mexico, where Gerard, a distinguished academician, researcher, and professor at Harvard, accepts a guest position at the Santa Tierra Institute for Advanced Research.  While in New Mexico, Gerard is suddenly taken seriously ill, and he dies a few weeks later in New Mexico.

We witness the vigil, his death, and the early stages of widowhood side by side with Michaela, far from home and yet unable to convey herself back to Cambridge.  Reviewers describe this novel as "searing,” “disturbing,” “sad,” “chilling,” and “mesmerizing.”

What we read is an unadulterated view of intense, inexplicable, debilitating grief.  We observe as Michaela experiences and expresses her grief, but also as she loses touch with reality, and has delusions and hallucinations.  We see her physically and emotionally fall apart, unable to shower, sleeping in her clothes on top of the bed. She is buffeted by disturbing images of gods and "prank gods" associated with the ancient indigenous culture she is thrust into in this part of the country.

I experienced Oates' writing in this novel as some of the best I have ever read.  Illustrative, powerful, it has a cadence and a turn of words that I found continually drew me on to the next sentence and the next chapter.  I randomly opened to a page just now, and will share an example: “That bed – where had she seen that bed before?  Something terrifying about that (empty, stripped) bed.  Something terrifying about (re)entering this room and seeing that she was alone in this room.  For the first time, alone in this room.” (page 148).

Of course, my post would be incomplete and inauthentic if I did not report on how it affects me personally, 5.5 years a widow myself.  Yes, it draws me back into memories of Beryl and his dying.  I found Michaela’s heart-wrenching descriptions of both sorrows and delusions to be totally believable.  Her tale resonates deeply with me.

So, you must decide if you want to take on such a disturbing text as this.  I recommend you do.  I will love to hear from those you who read Breathe.  I am carrying the aura and the tenor of this book with me still.

January, 2022



The Eye of the World Graphic Novel

by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon, Chase Conley 

Fiction 2011, 237 pages

The Eye of the World is the first book in The Wheel of Time, an epic fantasy series, also known as “high fantasy”, that is quite famous, well-acclaimed, and well-loved.  I wasn’t certain I would be captivated by either the 16-book series or the Amazon Prime TV series of the same books, so I thought I would try my hand at the graphic novels.

I could not get through the first graphic novel.  This type of fantasy is simply not my cup of tea.

December 2021





The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller

Fiction, 2012 |377 pages


The Song of Achilles inspires me to wonder ... "Why do I read fiction?"  At first blush: to learn something from a different perspective; to sink into characters and personalities that differ from my own; sometimes to activate my brain to solve a mystery; and finally, most important, to be entertained.  This book does none of these.  I suppose I am to care because it is a new, deeper telling of a part of the Greek Mythology that I read in high school.  But that simply isn't enough for me.

I gave my earlier Madeline Miller book, Circe, four hearts:  "This is a beautiful, intoxicating, and brilliant book, extremely well-written and a page-turner."  I am rather surprised that The Song of Achilles did not captivate me in the same way.

I enjoyed the first third or so, about the relationship between the son of the god Thetis, Achilles, and the pure mortal Patroclus, princes both, as they grow from children to young men.  Their love is solid and true, and yet saccharine and cliche.  There is no tension either in their love, or the world’s acceptance of their relationship. It is six (nine?) years before Patroclus feels any anger towards Achilles.  That is not quite like deep love to me.

Eventually they embark on a ship to fight against the city of Troy, and, along the way, we meet more famous gods, such as Apollo and Chiron, and mortals such as Agamemnon and Hector.  The war with Troy drags on for ten years.  Ten years of war?  Oh goodness, put me to sleep.  I found Miler’s writing to be rather bland and sometimes repetitive. This section is filled with pride, posturing, maiming, violent and bloody killing, and subjugation.  And an occasional very kind deed, such as the saving of the young woman Briseis from the brutal Agamemnon.

One of the discussion questions asks about The Song of Achilles as a myth .... a story that is timeless. I will be very interested to hear what others see as the meaning or message in this myth.

I do not gleefully recommend this January Casting Crew Book Club choice!

December 2021


The Sun is a Compass

Caroline Van Hemert

Nonfiction Memoir 2019 | 307 pages


What a truly remarkable story!  Caroline and Pat travel 4000 miles from Bellingham in Washington State to Kotzebue, Alaska, completely under their own power ... hiking, paddling, and rowing.  It takes them six months in 2012 as they chase Alaska's short summer weather.  The astounding journey is one of wilderness, personal growth, adventure, memoir, and the cementing of a married couple's love.  Of course, there are close calls and harrowing tales, but these are far surpassed by her exquisite descriptions of what they see and hear and acknowledge, often far, far from any civilization.  Caroline Van Hemert is an extraordinary writer, and the pages fly by.

Caroline is an ornithologist, so we track an inordinate number of bird species on both their migration north and as they leave again to go south.  The hard part about taking in her immeasurable knowledge is not being able to SEE the birds she describes so eloquently.  I wanted this book to be a picture book!  I was quite moved by their travels through one of my own favorite places on the planet, The Brooks Range.  Of course, my short view, mostly from a prop plane, does not hold the smidgen of a candle to their crossing by foot and water.  If you enjoy the outdoors, you will enjoy this book.  It is so different from many other real-life adventure stories because the route is completely new and made up by Caroline and Pat. This is not another ascent of Annapurna, nor a story about traversing The Appalachian Trail.  Not only is the writing unique, but so is the territory, their path, and their shared journey.  I definitely recommend!

Thank you, Rynda!!

December 2021


Thye Called Us Enemy

George Takei

Nonfiction Graphic Memoir 2019 | 204 pages


You know George Takei.  His popularity skyrocketed as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and then as Commander Sulu, and finally Captain Sulu, on Star Trek.  He is an actor, an author, and an activist.  And he penned this graphic memoir.  He tells the story of being interred in American concentration camps, shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

George was four when he was first relocated to a concentration camp with his parents, brother, and sister, along with 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in America, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, like George.  Somehow, remarkably, even though he was very young, he remembers an extraordinary amount of the trauma he endured and manages to tell us his family’s story through the eyes of a naive, innocent, and confused young boy.  He also brings us up to today, with various political and government actions since 1942.

I loved this memoir on two counts.  First, it tells an intimate candid story of a big scar on our American identity that many of us only know in passing.  You may learn some history.  For example, I didn't know about the differing levels of cruelty among the ten camps, from Tule Lake in California to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas.  Second, Takei tells his story with such a strong sense of reality, of what it was truly like to live behind barbed wire for nearly five years as a child.  I really felt and saw and witnessed his tender heart.

This is a short read, and one I recommend to all people in America.

November 2021



All the Devils are Here

Louise Penny

Fiction, 2020 |448 pages


It was a struggle to wend my way through this Louise Penny.  Armand Gamache and his crew are in Paris, France, instead of the usual Three Pines.  Armand’s elderly godfather, Stephen Horowitz, is run over by a van, as the extended Gamache family emerge from dinner at a restaurant.  Who ran him over, and why?  And who is the man found murdered a few hours later in Stephen’s lodging?  And is the local chief of police, a longtime friend and colleague of Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, really a partner in Armand’s investigation, or is he culpable in some way?

Sounds intriguing, no?  But I was never drawn in and fully engaged.  I was half-way through before I felt like I had a grasp on the cast of characters.  And Penny had an obnoxious habit of changing venues numerous times in a chapter, often without any more delineation than an empty line.  I do not recall this stylistic technique from the Three Pines novels I have read, but maybe I just didn’t notice.  As a highly visual person, it was disconcerting to see the characters sitting in the Gamache sitting room, and then suddenly to be in Jean-Guy and Annie’s apartment.

And the story?  Quite a surprise.  It is fiat.  No tension to draw me in.  There was mystery certainly, but it seemed Penny was writing “about” it, rather than taking us there live.  The denouement was unnecessarily complex,  though the last ten pages or so were sweet.  A disappointment overall.

November 2021


One Last Stop

Casey McQuinston |  Fiction

2021, 422 pages

This is simply a weird experience.  I thought One Last Stop sounded like a fun book to read.  Time travel; two young women, Jane and August, who meet on the Q Train in New York and then both religiously keep the same commute so they might run into each other again; a budding lesbian romance; bizarre and interesting roommates for August (our main character).  The dialogue is delicious.  Actually, the delicious and witty conversations that occur among 20-somethings in NYC are rather unbelievable and stretch credibility.

Finally, after 100 pages, I decided to do a little research. Is this a YA book?  It just seems so shallow and targets an immature audience.  It is not Young Adult …. The target audience is 18-30.  If I were 18-30 I think I would be insulted by the grade level of this book, its lack of depth, its simplicity.  As someone who’s WAY older than 30, I have to shut it down now.  I don’t recommend One Last Stop at all. Though your teenage child or grandchild might enjoy it.

November, 2021




Edge of the Map

Johanna Garton

Nonfiction 2020 | 238 pages


This is the true story of an amazing woman, Christine Feld Boskoff. Hailing from Appleton, Wisconsin, Chris became a legendary climber. She is still the only American woman to have summited six 8000-meter peaks, including Mount Everest, Shishapangma, Gasherbrum II, Cho Oyu, Lhotse and Broad Peak.  Her love for climbing, her strength, and her leadership are astounding, while she eschewed publicity of any kind. The Edge of the Map is also a love story of Chris and her beloved climbing partners.  First we meet her husband Keith Boskoff; and then we witness her profound romance with her Coloradan climbing partner, Charlie Fowler.

Johanna Garton presents Chris’s life eloquently. It turns out her mother, a journalist, completed ten years of research before she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and passed on her extensive notes to Johanna to finish the writing. Johanna herself conducted 75 interviews plus travel to important venues.

I thought it bogged down just a bit in the middle, as Chris made so MANY interesting and dangerous climbs, but my dogs had to wait patiently for their walk as I rapidly page-turned the engrossing last 80 pages.

If you are, like I am, enthralled by real outdoor adventure, you will fall In love with Chris Boskoff and Edge of the Map.

November 2021


The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Mohsin Hamid

Fiction 2007 | 184 pages


I find The Reluctant Fundamentalist to be a beautifully written novel. Changez, a brilliant Pakistani from Lahore, is accepted Into Princeton, and later is recruited and works as a highly effective and interpersonally astute employee in an American corporation, headquartered in New York City.  Success seems to follow him whenever he goes, until his world changes on September 11, 2001.

The venue for this tale is quite interesting.  Changez is back home, living in Lahore, and he tells the story of his young adult life to an American whom he meets in a cafe, and who listens through a long afternoon and evening.  Interwoven in this story is Changez’s love for Erica.  Erica is an incredibly tragic figure, but their slowly building love relationship is fascinating.

I am quite enamored of this tragic story, which leaves threads unresolved.  It is called by many a “short novel” though, at 40,000 words it is technically a novella, which I found oddly paralleled by the novel that Erica writes, which, yes, turns out to be a novella.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is thought-provoking and enlightening.  I recommend it.

This is another book the mother and son duo read in The End of Your Life Book Club and so I must credit Will Schwalbe again with inspiring me.

November 2021


The Price of Salt

Patricia Highsmith | Fiction, 1952

292 pages


Therese Belivet is a young woman, attempting to begin her career on or off Broadway as an apprentice set designer.  But for now, she is working the Christmas holidays in the toy department of the large department store, Frankenberg’s, when she meets Carol Aird, a slightly older woman seeking to buy a doll for her daughter.

The Price of Salt presents Therese’s story of her discovery of love, sensuality, and sexuality.  The joy of this book is in its publication date.  Surprisingly well-received, 1952 was a ground-breaking time to write about lesbian love.  Patricia Highsmith, writing then as Claire Morgan, does foray into this as-yet-unfictionalized world.  The tale may not resonate quite as much in 2021, as it is sexually tame and dated, but it is powerful and bold in its original publication period as well as today.  And therefore, quite fascinating to read.

The circumstances of this book might appeal to you or not.  Some say it is a lesbian cult classic (reminiscent, to me, of Thelma and Louise).  The Price of Salt is a book the mother and son duo read in The End of Your Life Book Club and so I must credit Will Schwalbe with inspiring me.  I truly enjoyed this novel.

November 2021

The Deep Heart

John J. Prendergast

Nonfiction, 2019 |189 pages


When someone I care about buys a book for me that they have read, I pay attention.  I figure they are either sending me a message (!) or sharing something that brought them joy.  So, I read The Deep Heart slowly and intentionally this weekend.

I found Prendergast to be a particularly poor writer.  He shares many random thoughts that never quite build to a conclusion.  His thoughts are based on his own ideas and experiences, with no research and little corroborating evidence from other professionals.  And his orientation is the medical model, that of a psychotherapist.  He assumes we need to be fixed, that we are broken, traumatized, unhealthy in some way.   He doesn’t leave much space for those who are not traumatized or have done significant personal work.  This may be a useful and helpful orientation for some readers.  However, I have been a coach for nearly 25 years.  Coaches start from a very different foundation.  We assume everyone is whole, complete, resourceful, creative, healthy, and simply want to add spice to their being, or plant new flowers to bloom, or enliven some aspect of their lives that may have deadened.

He claims most people don’t know if they have core limiting beliefs.  Seriously?  Have his clients been totally unaware of their hearts and emotions?  Have they never been introspective or done any work on themselves?  Yes, some of his perspectives made me stop and think.  I particularly enjoyed his embedded meditations.  I completed each one as I read.  I love the sense of being held by an awareness, a presence of heart (chapter nine).

Deep Heart?  It remains an elusive construct to me.

Thank you, Thom, for this gift.  I love the spirituality that you have brought to our relationship.  I suspect Prendergast offers insight and clarity.  I would love to hear.

October 2021


Once There Were Wolves

Charlotte McConaghy

Fiction 2021 | 258 pages


A wolf biologist named Inti leads a rewilding project in Scotland to re-introduce wolves into the wilderness of the highlands.  She are her silent twin sister Aggie move there from Alaska, bringing with them so much pain and trauma, the reader cannot helped but be deeply touched.

Of course, it is complicated.  The local farmers and ranchers fear for their livestock.  They hate and are compelled to kill the wolves.  The animosity between Inti and the locals, who have been on this land for centuries, can be vicious and violent.  And yet, the work Inti is doing is so needed.

A completely fascinating and complex character, Inti has Mirror-touch Synesthesia, a rare neurological condition.  She experiences, she feels, what the other feels.  If you stub your toe and she is looking at you, her toe hurts.  If you are thrown from a horse, she feels the sharp pain in your arm and butt.  If you are tenderly kissed, she experiences that in her lips.  This is an unimaginable existence.

Once There Were wolves is extremely hard to read.  Not that it is badly written.  Actually, it is beautifully written, with fine turns of the phrase, deep character development, and compelling content, including mystery. McConaghy manages not to platitudinize, and yet addresses a vital environmental issue.  It is difficult to read because it is dark, harrowing, depressing, debasing.  Humans and animals are murdered, as is the soul and spirit of Aggie (and Inti?)

I am so moved by this book.  Moved by how we humans have removed wolves and harmed the planet immensely.  Moved by the deep love between two sisters that is nearly incomprehensible.  Moved by the power and fortitude within us to kill when killing is necessary, and to love even when love is devastating.

As I state above, this is not an easy read.  And yet it is a powerful, almost necessary read.  I will watch closely for your comments.  Please read this novel, which is overflowing with truth, and tell me what you think … and how you feel.

(I think it is Rynda I must thank for this suggestion; one of the Wise Owls, certainly.)

October 2021


The Reading List

Sara Nisha Adams

Fiction 2021 | 373 pages


The Reading List is a magical and beautifully written novel.  Another first-book success, IMHO!  The story revolves around a reading list of eight books, which finds its way into many hands and cultures in diverse modern West London.  It is a story about reading, and discovery, and taking risks, and imagination.  The list impacts many different people, whose paths cross as the book list is somehow shared.  The list often appears magically.  We don’t know how it arrives in the back of a shoe cartel in the temple or blowing in the wind on a London street.  But we see it weave its way to just the right people at just the right time.

The main characters are Mukesh and Aleisha.  Mukesh is recently widowed with three grown daughters and three grandchildren.  He has never read a novel; spends most of his time watching nature documentaries.  Aleisha is a 17-year-old young woman who has taken a summer job at the local small library in their town of Wembley, outside London.  These two become each other’s greatest support.  Can you imagine?

The Reading List Is poignant, and very engaging.  I read it in less than a weekend.  It is organized by the books in the order the books are read.  Many authors I have recently commented on could learn something about character development from this new writer, Sara Nisha Adams.  I feel as though I know Mukesh, his granddaughter Priya, and Aleisha personally.

No question in my mind … get your eyes on this book as soon as possible!

Here is the reading list:

To Kill a Mockingbird


The Kite Runner 

Life of Pi

Pride and Prejudice 

Little Women


A Suitable Boy


October 2021


The End of Your Life Book Club

Will Schwalbe | Nonfiction, 2012

327 pages


Tenderhearted.  I searched Google for the right word … I think this comes the closest.  Will Schwalbe casually asks his mother Mary Anne what she is reading, as they await one of her first appointments with her oncologist.  Mary Anne has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  This mother and son had often talked about books, but now the circumstances presented themselves and the conversations became more important.  More essential.  They establish a two-person book club and read many books together, typically discussing them while Mary Anne receives her chemo treatments.

Does that sound maudlin?  Well, it isn’t. It is a loving story of two people communicating over a shared passion. And Mary Anne is a fascinating person, having worked with refugees for most of her life and intent on securing funding for a library and mobile van libraries in Afghanistan before she dies.

You must love books to enjoy this book. I was concerned that the books they chose might be obscure, or all about cancer, death and dying. But they choose a wide range, from Stieg Larsson to Wallace Stegner to Karen Connelly to Kabat-Zinn.  The way in which Schwalbe describes key messages and awareness from the books, and how he and his mom agree, disagree, and learn … you do not need to have read the books.  I have read many, but certainly not all, of what they choose.  AND you may be drawn to certain books, because of the conversations they have.  Personally, I ordered from the library The Price of Salt (which they both read lightning fast), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (they fought about the ending), and Harold and the Purple Crayon. (And, about children’s books, I loved to hear them recount the family disputes about Tolkien vs CS Lewis.)

I can recommend this book to book lovers.  There is not a strong “plot” …. you know that they will keep reading until Mary Ann dies … but you may find the inner workings of this “book club” as tender and as interesting as I did.

October 2021

You’re Not Listening

Kate Murphy

Nonfiction 2019 | 276 pages


Journalist Kate Murphy writes about listening in many venues.  I was expecting her book to be about interpersonal listening, and it is, but she also addresses the wide range of listening and non-listening in our world, from news reporting to social media to political agendas to cell phones at the dinner table.  She addresses the benefits of listening and the price we pay for not truly listening.  She talks about intimacy, information, leadership, power.  It is a broad and deep exploration into the art of listening.  I appreciated, for example, her description of the shift response and the support response … a critical clarification in many relationships.

This is another book that will guide you to take what you need at this moment in your life.  In a few places I choked up, as I saw mistakes I make in listening, and what it can cost.  You may find similar moments.  Unfortunately for me, this book arrived just as a very important relationship in my life was dissolving, guess why?  In part, because we were unable to navigate the challenges of true, consistent, deep listening.

Murphy interviewed many as she researched this book, professors to politicians.  I particularly enjoyed her comments about one of my favorite interviewers, Terry Gross on NPR, and how she has perfected the art of listening. (My absolute favorite interviewer is Dave Miller on Talk out Loud, at noon and 8 PM on Oregon Public Broadcasting radio.  He, like Terry Gross, makes every interview sound like an intimate conversation, not a form of questions you might fill out in a doctor’s office).

Listening is not something we can mark off on a checklist as complete.  Circumstances, relationships, the environment, the style and voice of the other, intellect, one’s ability to laugh, articulateness, silence, eye contact, family history, personal emotional and physical pain or health, use of language, distraction … there is a plethora of circumstances that effect listening.  We, each of us, are always learning and (hopefully) refining our ability to listen, and the depth of our listening.  Listening is where growth is.

I recommend this book, even if you think you don’t need it.  It is an easy read, humorous at times, and thought-provoking.  I promise you will “hear” something that speaks to you about your own listening, and be grateful for what you heard.

Thank you, Jen, for this wisdom over watercolor!

October 2021


The Book of Two Ways

Jodi Picoult

Fiction 2020 | 413 pages


Dawn was on a path to become an Egyptologist, until that career was swept away as she cared for her dying mom.  With a radical shift to another part of her being, Dawn became a death doula instead, gracefully supporting individuals as they journey on their last path on earth.

We travel back and forth between her sudden return to Egypt, 15 years later, to explore and understand what she left behind: Egypt, the ancient tombs, the exploration, her dissertation, and Wyatt; and her present-day life with her husband Brian and daughter Meret. We also travel in time back and forth.  I found the time travel easy to follow and not jarring.  It is a nod to parallel universes.  “What if...”

Dawn’s most important death doula client during the time of this book is Win, a lovely and brilliant woman who shares Dawn’s birthday exactly and is married to Felix.  Win’s final request of Dawn is to help her write, and to deliver by hand, a letter to the man she loved before Felix.  This is a tale about how past loves effect, impact, perhaps destroy, sabotage, or corrupt current loves.  Win’s love for Thane and Dawn’s love for Wyatt wreak havoc in their hearts.  The story is painfully close to home for me.  Sobering.  Sad.  Full of grief.  Perhaps too real.

Picoult tells us a LOT about Egyptology, the history of Egypt, the gods and burial practices and tombs and hieroglyphics.  At first, I was a bit overwhelmed with how much knowledge she was imparting.  But over time, her explanations began to settle in me, and I gained appreciation for their importance.  Picoult also explains in considerable depth what a death doula is, a rather new profession she elucidates for her readers.  Through Dawn’s eyes, we gain an appreciation for the role of the doula, and the intense commitment she makes to her dying clients.

I recommend this Casting Crew Book Club read suggested by our own death doula, Marian.  Another hard-to-put-down Jodi Picoult.

October 2021


Razorblade Tears

S.A. Crosby  |  Fiction

2021, 319 pages

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood, you know.  The murder was too brutal, the language too savage, the characters too dark. A review on NPR calls Razorblade Tears a “visceral full-body experience.”  The story line … two gritty fathers attempt to discover the murderer of their two sons, who were married to each other … sounds compelling.  I just don’t have the heart for this bleak of a novel right now.

October, 2021




While Justice Sleeps

Stacey Abrams

Fiction 2021 | 384 pages


Avery Keene is a law clerk for the legendary Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn, who, in a series of moves that surprised and floored most everyone in the know in Washington DC, he put himself into a coma and left directions appointing Avery as his guardian.  And then this 26-year old brilliant woman begins to unravel the series of chess-relevant clues that Wynn left her, about why he was in a coma; about an international bio-genetics conspiracy; and about an engineered genetics-based drug intended to kill Muslims and which actually killed prisoners in tests, implicating Homeland Security and the U.S. President. This is a legal and political thriller, and thrilling it was!

A fast, compelling read, Ms. Keene and her small entourage of co-discoverers are well-developed characters.  Abrams is a surprisingly potent novelist. Yes, this is the Stacey Abrams who is a political powerhouse in Georgia.  This is not her first novel!

The series of clues were often convoluted and difficult to decipher.  And confusing.  But our main character makes sense if it all, understanding symbolism and metaphor, searching for facts and truth, and being exceptionally strong in character and compassion.

A great read (with an appropriate double-meaning title) on a beautiful autumn weekend. I recommend While Justice Sleeps.

October 2021


The Righteous Mind

Jonathon Haidt

Nonfiction 2012 | 419 pages (includes 101 pages of notes, etc.)


An astounding read!  This book answers the simple but essential question: Why don't we all get along?  Published in 2012, it does not address the Trump era specifically, but the knowledge and insight hold today.  The confounding mystery of how good people can be SO divided as we are today in our political world is finally explained.  What Haidt has to say is very revealing.  We are divided by our different moral compasses ... moral foundations, he calls them.  And none are bad.  No one is foolish or idiotic.  And, in fact, the right, which has a broader moral compass than the left (conservatives subscribe to more morals) is much better at navigating these differences than the left, who are more tightly focused on just a few moral principles.

In The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all have different understandings of right and wrong. (He also applies his works to the religious and non-religious.) We have different moral frameworks.  He argues that moral judgments are emotional, not logical—they are based on stories that evolve in our lives, rather than reason. Consequently, liberals and conservatives lack a common language, and reason-based arguments about morality are ineffective, leading to political polarization.

The Righteous Mind builds this argument on three basic principles:

  • Morality is more intuitive than rational.
  • Morality is about more than fairness and harm.
  • Morality “binds and blinds” us.

No surprise ... I read a few reviews, most of which are either five star or one star!  You will love or hate this book.   Whatever you think of his proposal, Haidt gives us a framework for looking at why we differ so much, and for, perhaps, being less judgmental about those who seem to reach some very different conclusions.

My only criticism of the book is that Haidt labels theories and ideas by the name of the professor or clinician who has researched and published.  So, the theories bear names like “Kant, Shweder, and Durkheim.”  For a lay person like myself, not familiar with these professorial researchers, I would have comprehended what he was saying if he labeled the theories descriptively and didn’t call them by the researcher’s name.  I could not remember who said what about what.

For the first 100 pages or so, I was in the place of “Huh.  I am smart, but I am not sure I understand what he is saying.”  But I was definitely intrigued.  And so I kept going, and he really did make sense of it all for me.

I think this book is REQUIRED reading, not just a recommendation.  Many thanks to wonderful artist and watercolor teacher Suze Woolf (I have two of her paintings over my guest bed) for this inspired read.  (https://www.suzewoolf-fineart.com/)

(p.s.  I was delighted to learn how the terms "left" and "right" came about! See pg 277)

September 2021

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Mark Manson

Nonfiction 2016 | 212 pages


What a surprise this book is!  Yes, it is hilarious, especially in the early pages.  And yes, you must become comfortable with the word “fuck” because you will read it or hear it A LOT.  But what totally surprised me is how much wisdom Mark Manson shares.  This short read is chock full of insights, fresh perspectives, and thought-provoking questions about how we choose our values and live our lives.  I will not tell you what you will learn from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, because it feels like Manson is speaking to us individually, one to one.  You will learn from this book what you need to learn, assuming you are open to hearing his perspectives and wisdom.  And he makes it quite easy to do just that, with short sentences and humor.  I unequivocally recommend this read!

September 2021

The Splendid and the Vile

Erik Larson

Nonfiction, 2020 | 585 pages

(80 pages are sources, bibliography, and the index)


ADDENDUM:  I just returned from book club, where I gained a much better appreciation for this book.  So, while my review and rating stay the same, I might suggest you take my two hearts with a grain of salt.  The other women enjoyed The Splendid and the Vile and learned a lot ... and I learned more than I had realized!


I like the writing of Erik Larson, and this is another of his extremely well-researched and well-written books.

The story Larson tells is one year of Winston Churchill’s life, from the day he became Prime Minister during WWII, May 10, 1940, to May 10, 1941.  Unfortunately, I found it boring.  Not only is it about history, but it is about war (to me, unappealing at best; irksome at worse).

We read about Churchill the man, and the book is sprinkled, not very judiciously, with tidbits about his children and Churchill’s wife, Clementine.  Mostly, however, we learn about Churchill’s relationships with his advisers, his strategy to engage the US, war strategy, the Blitz (important and comparatively interesting), fighters, bombers, incendiaries, explosions, war-time production, and massive destruction and death.  (The epilogue, nevertheless, provides solid conclusions of the individual players.)

This is a book club read so I managed to complete it.  I cannot recommend it, though. (My apologies, Marian).

September 2021


The Splendid and the Vile

Erik Larson

Nonfiction, 2020 | 585 pages

(80 pages are sources, bibliography, and the index)


I like the writing of Erik Larson, and this is another of his extremely well-researched and well-written books.

The story Larson tells is one year of Winston Churchill’s life, from the day he became Prime Minister during WWII, May 10, 1940, to May 10, 1941.  Unfortunately, I found it boring.  Not only is it about history, but it is about war (to me, unappealing at best; irksome at worse).

We read about Churchill the man, and the book is sprinkled, not very judiciously, with tidbits about his children and Churchill’s wife, Clementine.  Mostly, however, we learn about Churchill’s relationships with his advisers, his strategy to engage the US, war strategy, the Blitz (important and comparatively interesting), fighters, bombers, incendiaries, explosions, war-time production, and massive destruction and death.  (The epilogue, nevertheless, provides solid conclusions of the individual players.)

This is a book club read so I managed to complete it.  I cannot recommend it, though. (My apologies, Marian).

Septmeber 2021


Fifty Shades of Grey

EL James | Fiction, 2011

514 pages


On a whim, I reread Fifty Shades of Grey.  This book is not for everyone, I know!  I quite enjoy the eroticism, the explicit sex, the romance, and the naïve, sensual, and highly intelligent main character, Anastasia Steele.  Yes, you know what it is about ...  a young woman who is introduced to BDSM by the exceptionally rich and handsome Christian Grey.

While I find the eroticism delightful, there are two additional aspects of the book that make it enjoyable for me.  First, the e-mail interchanges between Ana and Christian are remarkably clever.  Read the titles and signatures of each email they send!  Also, EL James’ ability to push me out of my safe and sheltered box, and explore an aspect of the world, of life, I will know only by reading about it.  This edge-pushing makes me more tolerant of life choices I do not understand or would not choose for myself.

I cannot recommend this book, readers, one way or the other.  You must decide for yourself.  (BTW, no, I haven’t seen the movie.  I generally don’t like to see a movie after I have read a book, because the book is always richer and more complex).

August 2021

susan, linda, nina & cokie

Lisa Napoli

Nonfiction 2021 | 340 pages


It was August 1971 when I drove away from my parent’s home in suburban Detroit, maneuvering my Chevy Vega, which was packed to the hilt with clothes, records, books, pens, notebooks, and probably chocolate chip cookies, for the hour drive to Ann Arbor.  Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan was my ticket into my real life. That same evening, I participated in a candlelight protest against the war in Vietnam.  On the drive to A2, I discovered NPR for the very first time.  50 years later, almost to the day, NPR remains my primary source of news.  I was so excited when susan, linda, nina, & cokie was published; a tribute to the founding mothers of NPR.

This book takes place almost exclusively in the 70s and before, as we learn about how these women broke into the broadcasting industry, the fascinating stories of their education, their lineage, and how they came together as colleagues.  Inextricably woven with the creation, challenges, and growth of NPR, Napoli’s book also catalogs the development of public broadcasting in general and NPR specifically.

Delightful footnotes will lead you to audio and video clips from the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964; to the first All Things Considered theme song; to the first on-air original NPR broadcast, May 3, 1971, on the March on Washington Vietnam War protest; and ultimately to Cokie’s funeral mass.

I love this book and will be recommending it to my book club.

August 2021

The Other Black Girl

Zakiya Dalila Harris

Fiction, 2021 | 368 pages


I don’t appreciate it when an author writes a second story line and doesn’t ground it … keeps you guessing well into the second half of the book who s/he is writing about in the smaller story she is interweaving into the larger story.  To me, this “clever” author trick makes me feel duped.  I don’t know where to hang the information I am receiving from the sub-plot.

So, let’s go the main plot.  Nella, a young Black woman, is an editorial assistant at Wagner, a major publishing house in New York City, and a second young Black woman, Hazel, is hired on.  What happens in their relationship?  Friends?  Enemies?  Are they out to help each other succeed or fail?  Or, perhaps, does the relationship grow beyond the workplace, and effect their personal lives and fears?  And why does Nella begin to receive anonymous notes, the first of which says “LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.”

Part mystery, part literature, part apparent tongue-in-cheek, especially about the care and styling of Black hair, Harris does a good job of developing Nella’s character.  You can understand her, root for her, feel her pain and her challenges and her joys.  Nella is the saving grace of this book, because otherwise it feels wooden and without depth.

I also felt talked down to.  If you really have read nothing about being Black in this country (and are not yourself Black), especially since the murder of George Floyd, you may find Harris’ writing enlightening.  If you HAVE been socially aware and conscious of injustice, you may find her descriptions of the experiences of these Black women to be a bit condescending.  I did.

Spoiler alert:  And ultimately, in the denouement, you will read that this book is actually about the betrayal of Black people by Black people.  I cannot imagine who would find pleasure in reading this bizarre concoction.  I cannot in good conscience recommend this book, whether you are white, Black, or a mystery reader.  (Sorry, Scott Simon).

August 2021


The Physics of God

Joseph Selfie | Nonfiction, 2018

207 pages


Reading The Physics of God, I learned that meditation moves our brains from alpha-waves to theta-waves, which activate imagination, creativity, planning, concentration, morals, manners, and the opportunity for transcendence; offering a much richer space than I realized possible in my meditation practice.

AND, The Physics of God raises a myriad of questions …. and confirmation of truths I find difficult to comprehend.  At the core, there is considerable evidence that an object does not truly exist until it is perceived by consciousness.

In the 20th century, many physicists came to the conclusion that consciousness was the underlying foundation of reality, substantiated and coalesced as the "intelligent-observer paradox".  Intelligent Consciousness creates matter.  This, of course, is very challenging to truly grasp.  This is an argument for a God of some sort …. a Divine Intelligent Consciousness.  Read this short, clear book to gain a deeper level of understanding than I can begin to explore here.

And, still, I am left with a sense of “so what?”  How does this knowledge impact my life, or those around me?  It is interesting, yes.  And to what end?  What insight?  What manifestation?  Selbie argues that only science and religion together explain “Reality.”  I would love to hear your thoughts and questions after you have read this decidedly mind-expanding and thought-provoking book.

August 2021



Braiding Sweetgrass

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Nonfiction 2015 | 408 pages


How sweet!  I love the idea that anything alive is a being and not an “it.”  A chair is an “it” … an apple is a “who.”

Braiding Sweetgrass is unlike any book I have read.  Using the natural world as a vehicle for educating us about indigenous culture and history AND about how to protect, preserve, respect, and love the natural world in which we live, Kimmerer is an extraordinary teacher.

I was astounded at what I learned.  Just a sampling: The Three Sisters … corn rises, beans weave themselves around the corn, and squash grows across the ground, protecting the soil.  When these three are grown together, the yield is always higher than when they are grown separately.  She uses this relationship to teach us about collaboration and cooperation.

And, lichen, a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, fungus and alga, demonstrates the vitality of even the most simple life forms on our planet.

We learn about cedars, pecans, salmon, sweetgrass, maple syrup, asters, goldenrod, lilies, salamanders, Windigo, and much more on this simultaneously broad and deep exploration of the natural world.  And she does it all with a writing style that is engaging and full of life.  I particularly enjoyed the stories she tells of her students on field trips (Dr. Kimmerer is a professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) during which young people get their hands dirty and learn native ways and vital ecological and environmental lessons.

Kimmerer’s philosophical stand is she wants us to take only what we need, and do so with respect and gratitude.  She shows us over and over again how the indigenous people harvested only a percentage of plants, which assured their regeneration, protecting and growing the resources.  She teaches us to actively protect and deeply respect our planet.

Braiding Sweetgrass is important to our education.  It is best read slowly, a chapter here, two chapters there.  Her messages need time to sink in.  I recommend this book highly.

(Though this book decidedly earns four hearts, I will admit I struggled to conquer its length.  Because I could not get my hands on a paper copy in a timely manner, I listened to an audiobook.   I do not much care for audiobooks, so that probably was why I struggled. It is 16 hours and 44 minutes).

August 2021




Melissa Febos

Nonfiction Biography, 2021 | 320 pages


I certainly have earned my wings as a Feminist.  About 50 years ago and ever since.  However, some of you might want to banish them (or me!) when you read this post.

I struggled to finish this book (though I enjoyed her use of the language). I simply could not believe the truth of this biography, and I checked numerous times to confirm it was a biography and not fiction.

Febos talks about the difficulties and trauma associated with developing breasts and hips before her contemporaries, and how she was treated, what she was subjected to, and challenges to her own evolving sense of self.  She writes about events that occurred when she was 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, as well as events as a young woman. Now, I know I do not have the best memory.  But the manner in which she replays these stories … with extreme detail, emotional understanding and maturity that could not have possibly existed at 12, intellectual understanding that I believe can only come with considerable time … caused me to doubt her veracity. I did not believe her stories.  I DO believe these stories exist; I DO believe she could have presented them as examples of experiences, if she was quoting a woman or girl who was just a few years from the experiences, but as biographical truth, I could not convince myself.

Further, and this makes me angry, later in the book she discusses “empty” consent versus “affirmative" consent versus “enthusiastic” consent.  Her very small sample of interviews confirms in her mind that every young woman has given empty consent to sexual experiences she did not want.  I believe she lets women off the hook and, more damaging, seems to make it “okay” for young women to use empty consent because everyone does it or did it.  (In simple words, “empty” consent means allowing a boy or man to do what he wants to your body rather than expressing your wishes, setting boundaries, saying no, angering the male, or, god forbid, embarrassing him).  To me, this is irresponsible, and likely the opposite of what she was writing to accomplish.

Finally, I do not have a prudish bone on my body.  I enjoy reading (and more!) about sex.  Girlhood, however is about sex, sex, and more sex. Though this enticed me early in, I became quite tired of it.

I do not recommend Girlhood.

July 2021


The Third Pole

Mark Synnott

Nonfiction 2021 | 428pages


The picture in my mind is a mature tree, tall and strong, with many branches, limbs, twigs.  That's what The Third Pole brings to mind.  The trunk of the tree is the main story line … the search for the body of Sandy Irvine on Mt Everest, and for his Kodak camera.  Brits Sandy Irvine and Gregory Mallory have held the distinction of being the first to summit Mt Everest, in 1924.  Except, we don’t know for certain. They died on the mountain. Did they die on their way back down after summiting, or did they die on their way up?  This is the story of the author and a group of supporters who embark on a journey to find the answer.  And it is a fascinating journey!

So, back to the tree.  The main line of the story could have been told in about half as many pages. But Synnott adds an enormous amount of context — about many of the deaths on Everest; about the politics of the Chinese who claim to have been the first and are very protective of information and access; about the evolution of mountaineering clothing; about the many nationalities represented among the ranks of porters, climbing sherpas, cooks, guides and other support roles; the history of Everest climbs; the weather, etc. etc.  He dives into these contexts artfully.  I find the branches and twigs to be quite informative, though I occasionally longed for a return to the main story, with just a bit more focus.

One of the components of the search for Irvine that I particularly enjoyed was the team’s use of drones, for the first time at such an altitude, to gather footage for a National Geographic special.  There were political challenges to overcome, as well as interesting technical hurdles.  I have not yet watched Lost on Everest.

Yes, I recommend this long but engaging read.  Thank you Mary (?) for this suggestion.

July 2021, read while camping on the Oregon coast


Midnight Library

Matt Haig | Fiction, 2020

288 pages


Nora Seed, depressed and suicidal, is stuck between life and death, in a place called the Midnight Library.  In the Midnight Library she selects books, with the assistance of her former school librarian, Mrs. Elm.  There are an infinite number of books Nora can select, and each takes her to a different life.  One decision away from her “root life” or one choice or a series of choices creates a plethora of lives.  We see Nora actually marry Dan, whom she left at the altar; not give up on an Olympic swimming career; stay with the highly successful band The Labyrinth and become a superstar; actually accept the coffee date with Ash; become a glaciologist in the Arctic; teach philosophy at Cambridge University.  She explores what she sees as “better” lives, guided by her own personal “Book Of Regrets.”  In the end, of course, it isn’t the circumstances of her alternative lives that are essential … it is her perspective.

This is a clever story line I think, with its bits of magic.  So I keep asking myself why I am giving it three hearts instead of four?  I believe it comes down to Nora.  I don’t really like Nora.  She is shallow and I cannot find her redeeming or endearing qualities.  I want a richer, deeper character.  More introspection, more angst perhaps, more joy.  I recommend Midnight Library with hesitation.

July 2021



Your Body is Your Brain

Amanda Blake | Nonfiction, 2018

300 pages


Because of some jaw-dropping experiences in which I discovered that my body held wise answers to puzzling situations in my life, I began to seek a person or book to help me notice and read more clearly the wisdom of my body sensations.  I have to say, I don’t think such a resource exists.  Your Body is Your Brain came highly recommended, and it did not match my request.  However, I was able to glean a modicum of answers to the question I am pondering.  Particularly useful is chapter three, “Embodied Self-Awareness.”  Also, the author’s many case studies about how individuals were unaware of their bodies gives clues about how to be more attuned.  Most of the book, however, addresses how to use your body, not how to read your body.  Amanda Blake excels at this.  She takes a magnifying glass to leadership and writes about how your body can help you with courage, compassion, credibility, composure, confidence, collaboration, and other important characteristics.  If you are interested in that topic, you may find this book delightful and insightful.

July 2021


The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah

Fiction 2021 | 464 pages


What I knew about The Dust Bowl could have filled a very small thimble.  This novel graphically teaches us an important piece of history about the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the mistreatment of US residents who went west to find work after their farms and ranches were destroyed by drought.  Hannah’s characters are gripping, rich, and deep.  Her ability to tell a tale is astounding.  We follow the life of Elsa and her two children, Loreda and Ant, thrust into unimaginable poverty and the desperate struggle to survive.  We witness the physical, emotional, financial, and familial devastation of the Dust Bowl. And we are viscerally educated about the rise of the farm-workers’ rights movement in the west.  I highly recommend.  This is a good summer read that is hard to put down.

July 2021



The Turquoise Ledge

Leslie Marmon Silko  |  Nonfiction Memoir

2010, 319 pages

I didn’t like her voice.  So self-centered, I could not find anything to grab on to.  I have a BIG pile of books awaiting me, so I will move forward.

July, 2021




House of Rain

Craig Childs

Nonfiction 2006 | 496 pages


Monochrome and polychrome pottery styles, doorways, kivas, cliff dwellings, home designs, turkey feathers, ancient roads and waterways … these and more give us clues about the cultural, societal, and geographic evolution of the vanished civilizations of the Southwest US and Mexico.  Craig Childs is the perfect author to tell us about them.  He is an extraordinary writer and an amazing researcher and explorer.  This book, recommended by many on my Great Old Broads raft trip on the San Juan River, tells history from a perspective that is unique, interesting, and informative. Childs tells the tale of multiple migrating cultures over many centuries, by traveling and writing about their apparent journeys. This is what is so remarkable about House of Rain.  Childs catalogs recent knowledge of the journeys of the Anasazi, Salado, the Puebloan people, and numerous other communities, through his own and other academics’ research, and he conveys this to us as he travels from the north … Utah and Colorado … to northwest Mexico, along the same routes the indigenous peoples traveled over hundreds of years.  If you visit Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, you will see and learn about a place and a point in time. What Childs captures in House of Rain is the geographical movement of civilizations across many centuries, through prerecorded history.

This book is an excellent read, whether you are a connoisseur of the southwest ancient peoples, or know very little about their communities.   A small example of his vivid writing (page 197): “We found red pottery at nearly every site, rose petals lining the path.”

(A note to my Audible readers ….  Thom and I read this book together, and he listened to it on Audible, as read by the author.  It seems Childs is a superb writer; however, he is not a good orator.  Read House of Rain instead of listening, if you can.)

June 2021



The Island of Sea Women

Lisa See | Fiction, 2018

375 pages


I just finished reading a somewhat interesting novel (a little bit of a slow read) based upon truth, about the haenyeo, the women who dive in Korea and lead the society and its matrifocal culture.  Two young girls become best friends, and we watch Mi-ja and Young-sook as they become baby divers, internationally traveling divers, wives, and mothers, through the considerable turmoil and chaos prior to and during WWII.  I found, by the way, the decline of their friendship rather implausible.  I cannot fathom how people can forgo forgiveness for 40, 50, 60 years. And I know I can be a Pollyanna sometimes.  You may find this quite plausible, given the pain they endured.

Just over half-way in, Lisa See begins to describe the atrocities that occur under the confusion and disregard of American invaders.  She describes in extremely graphic detail murder, rape, torture, and psychological trauma, and I became literally sick to my stomach.  I felt abandoned by this author.  I thought she took an Intensely hard left-hand turn and changed the tenor of her novel dramatically.  I was floored and upset.

My friend Marian tells me it was important for her to do this, to explain the contexts of WWII and the Korean War.  She is probably right, but I was quite shocked.  Now that you have been warned that this is going to happen, The Island of Sea Women is a strong novel, and one you may quite enjoy.

June 2021



As Long as Grass Grows

Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Nonfiction, 2019 | 210 pages


This is perhaps the most poorly written and boring book I have ever navigated.  She uses ridiculously obscure words when easy words would suffice.  Her sentences run on, with numerous clauses.  And there is very little feeling, virtually no emotional connection in her writing.  It is facts, pure and simple.

I wanted to learn something about the topic, “The indigenous fight for environmental justice” so, after many pages, I finally figured out how to read As Long as Grass Grows.  I simply read every word without attempting to comprehend the complexity of the sentences, knowing that some of the information would sink in.

Eventually, much of it did.  I DID learn by reading this book; have some ah-has; entertained some new perspectives; discovered some history I knew nothing about; have some new views about colonization, a word I am still attempting to truly understand.  And this is worthwhile.  However, I find history to be most valuable as context to assist us in addressing current situations and planning for and envisioning the future.  Gilio-Whitaker does not address present-day implications or possible actions until the 8th and final chapter; the last 15 pages of the book.

This was a huge disappointment for me.

While there is much to learn about the history of colonization of the indigenous peoples, this book does not stand alone.   If you read it, you will learn new perspectives on history, but you will be left powerless about what to do with your new knowledge.  Perhaps there is a broader, more action-oriented book on this topic.

June 2021


What Comes After

Joanne Tompkins

Fiction 2021 | 419 pages


Two teenage boys die tragically.  Daniel is killed by his best friend Jonah, who later kills himself.  Two families are torn apart.  There is grief and shock in this small coastal town in Washington.  And then a teenage girl, house-less and pregnant, abandoned by her mother, emerges from the woods and is taken in by Daniel’s father, Isaac.  Yes, Evangeline knew these boys in the last two weeks of their lives.

This is Evangeline’s story.  How difficult it is to trust, to maybe accept love, to give compassion.  She is “fiery in hair and spirit” ... a red headed enigma.  And she is about to have a baby and, for the first time in months, perhaps a roof over her head. We experience Isaac’s grief, as well as the complicated grief of Jonah’s mother, Lorrie, and Jonah’s sister Nells.  We witness resiliency, confusion, sorrow, miscommunication, deep communication, love. Amazingly, we can see into the souls of the two adults, especially Isaac, as well as 16-year-old Evangeline.  There are also some very interesting minor stories, like Isaac’s best friend Peter, and the role of Quakers in the lives of the characters.

What Comes After is powerful and engrossing.  It is very emotion-centric.  Why I mean by that is we are privileged to observe the feelings and depth of the characters.  Nothing is shied away from.

This is Thompkins’ first novel, and it is astounding.  Well written, but also the most interesting plot I have read in a long time.  No surprise, I recommend What Comes After wholeheartedly and enthusiastically!

May 2021


Holding Fast

Karen James | Nonfiction,  2008

 225 pages


Holding Fast is the gripping story of Kelly James, who dies after reaching the summit of Mt. Hood, a few days before Christmas 2006, as told by his wife Karen.  They were married just over six years.  Sitting on an airplane when I reached the pinnacle ... when rescuers found Kelly’s body ... I cried.  I cried again when she describes Christmas Eve alone.  She told her kids she was with friends.  She told her friends she was with her kids.  It was a time to truly begin the journey of grief.  My heart broke for her.

The tale of his death, of which we know little but supposition, is really the tale of the living; of what it’s like to experience eight days awaiting the fate of your husband and father who has lost contact in the icy storms of the Cascades.  Karen writes well (she has been a journalist with ABC, CBS, and NBC).  Her story is intimate, emotional, strong.

I knocked Holding Fast down to three hearts for two reasons.  First, the James family is very religious, and I lost a bit of patience with all the prayers and supplications.  More important, I thought Karen James was simply unconscionable and selfish by reporting, for the entire book, about her pain, with very few and rare words about the wives of the other two climbers who were lost with Kelly, Brian Hall and Nikko Cooke.  She writes a bit about this part of the tragedy on page 147.  It is as though these two men were not much more than precious climbing equipment that was also lost on the mountain.

Karen James writes a great deal about her grief, which may or may not speak to you.  And, as with any outdoor adventure and tragedy, the story touched my heart, and I believe it will touch yours.

May 2021


Front Desk

Kelly Yang

Fiction, 2018 | 287 pages


Regular readers will know that once a year our local library system selects a book for a community read, and it is always delightful!  This year, they also selected a young adult community read, so I thought I would try it on for size.

Mia immigrated from China to Anaheim, California with her parents, just two years ago.  At 11, she is extremely precocious and smart, though not very street-wise in the ways of racism.   She and her parents run a hotel, under the direction of a mean-hearted employer.  Mia learns about the two roller coasters in our culture ... the one well-to-do people are on, and the parallel one that poor people are forced to. Mia wants to change her roller coaster!

While Front Desk does teach young adults about racism, judging, discrimination, self-confidence, assertiveness, love, and hate, I found it a bit too distant from reality.  Mia’s success at addressing some of the ways black, brown, and yellow people are treated in her diverse neighborhood is rather Pollyanna-ish.  For this reason, I find I do not choose to recommend this easy-to-read book.

May 2021


Hudson Bay Bound

Natalie Warren | Nonfiction,  2021

224 pages


A fascinating book to enjoy while on my very first overnight rafting trip!  While experiencing four nights and five days on the San Juan River in Southern Utah, it was remarkable to read this true story of two women, Natalie and Ann, who make the 2000-mile journey from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay in a Kevlar canoe. Their story is surprisingly interesting ... I was not certain that paddling for three months would encompass enough drama, but between weather, the people they met, snakes, hunger, what they learn about the land, their near disasters, the challenges to their relationship as best friends, and acquiring a canoe dog, Hudson Bay Bound kept my interest throughout.  It is not the best writing I have ever read, so likely will work best for those of you, like me, who have a penchant for true nature adventure stories.

May 2021


Just Us: An American Conversation

Claudia Rankine

Nonfiction 2020 | 342 pages


I had a small pile of books sitting next to me, for the purpose of deciding what to read next.  I picked up Just Us and before I knew it, I was on page 55.  This is a nonfiction book, but it does not have the statistics and history and analysis and “shoulds” associated with a lot of nonfiction writing.  There is no explicit call to action, though there are calls to introspection throughout.  It is prose, imbued with a mix of poetry, essays, quotes, white space, a Twitter post or two, and photos, presented on high quality slick paper (Just Us weighs in at two pounds.)

Claudia Rankine, a black woman and a professor of poetry at Yale, attempts to engage strangers and other people she meets at the airport, the theater, interviews, and dinner parties, in the question of “what is it to be white?”  If you seek intimate and authentically honest encounters as she explores this and similar questions, you will enjoy this book as much as I did.  It is facile, yet meaningful, reading.  Some of the images and words will stay with you.  If you want an easy entree into the topic that is consuming many thoughtful readers’ reading lists these days ... racial injustice, racial experience, white privilege (or you want to introduce someone else to this topic) this is your book!

(Hmmm.  There is an extraordinarily long section near the end of the book [37 pages] on blondness, and dyeing one’s hair blond.  If you read this book, I am curious to read your reactions to this topic.)

I fully recommend, and will explore her prior books.  This is actually the third book in a trilogy, the first two being Don’t Let Me be Lonely and Citizen, written over 16 years.

April 2021


The Daughters of Erietown

Connie Schultz | Fiction,  2020

466 pages


The Daughters of Erietown is a tale of resilient women in Erietown, Ohio, on Lake Erie.  Spanning 1957 to 1994, we see the generations unfold alongside growing feminism and radically changing roles for women in the world.  Ellie, our main character, has dreams of nursing school and of marrying Brick McGinty.  Her second dream comes true, but not quite the way she expected, when she and Brick became pregnant in her senior year of high school.  Her daughter Sam is born ... another major character, who we witness growing into womanhood.

Brick, of course, is a significant player in the book.  In more ways than one. He is not quite all that Ellie had dreamed of.

Schultz’s character development is very strong.  After a while, we really come to know Ellie and Sam, and can anticipate their reactions to circumstances and situations.  The story is also strong and pulls us along.  We are compelled to witness what choices Ellie and Sam make, as well as those of Brick and Sam’s brother Reilly.

So, why only three hearts?  Remember that three hearts represent, “I recommend with some reservations.”  I would call The Daughters of Erietown a romantic novel.  Not intending to be sexist here, I suspect it will appeal more to women readers than men, as the only significant male character is flawed.  And frankly, he is not very interesting. This novel is an appealing dive into the lives of a mid-20th century family in middle America.  I recommend it, but with caution.

April 2021

The Liar’s Dictionary

Eley Williams  |  Fiction

2020, 270 pages

Voluminous use of highly cerebral words, over-written to the max, and boring, in my very humble opinion. I am moving on, with no regrets.

April, 2021




The Other Americans

Laila Lalami| Fiction,  2019

301 pages


The Other Americans begins when a Moroccan immigrant named Driss Guerraoui is killed by a hit and run driver one evening while leaving his diner, near California’s Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park.  Driss’s American born daughter Nora opens the book by telling the story of the death of her father, as she enters as the main character.

After Nora’s initial recounting of the news, Lalami introduces her other narrators.  There are nine in all, including Jeremy, an old school friend of Nora’s, who is white; Efrain, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who witnessed the hit and run; Maryam, Driss’s Moroccan wife; Salma, Nora’s overachieving sister; and Coleman, the black woman detective working Driss’s case.

This is a mystery, a love story, a family saga, and a commentary on American culture.  The Other Americans is our community read this month, presented by the county library.  This is the 18th year our county has enjoyed a community read, called “A Novel Idea.”  The book was chosen by both my book clubs to read this month, and so my expectations were high.  And dashed.

Moroccan-born Laila Lalami introduces so many cultural components, including xenophobia, undocumented immigration, race, opioid abuse, PTSD from the war in Iraq, family expectations, and more, that she does not cover any of them with particular depth, clarity, or expertise.  I felt she did an especially poor job of writing about race and culture.  She mentions these elements only casually, and without an exploration of either her character’s internal experience, or much depth in the relationships among the characters.

That being said, her development of Nora’s character is very strong, and the mystery storyline (who DID kill Driss, and was it an accident or murder?) make the tale readable and engaging.  But it was neither the social commentary nor the learning I was hoping for.

April 2021

The Improbability of Love

Hannah Rothschild

Fiction  2015 | 406 pages


If it were winter, I would recommend this book for a long, cold, winter weekend.  It is a novel that you just want to lose yourself in. A cup of hot chocolate at your side, you will eagerly turn the next page.  Rich with story, character development, and depth, an improbable tale weaves together centuries of art, Naziism and Jews, culinary delight, and the beginnings of love.

The Improbability of Love is not what you likely imagine right now ... it is actually the title of an 18th century oil masterpiece. The painting is fictional; the painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau, is not.

Annie McDee, a struggling chef, buys this painting at a junk shop for a man she met at a speed-dating event.  He stands her up and the painting becomes hers.  Annie’s alcoholic mother Evie has an intuition that this painting is important and urges Annie to research it.  Thus begins a tale of London’s outrageous art scene, with dealers, museum curators, art auction houses, authenticators, art authors, restorers, socialites, and a delightful gay “fixer.” We follow all these characters through the discovery of the real provenance of this dirty and smudged lost painting.

The most delightful chapters are those written by the painting itself, as it informs us about how it feels about all these shenanigans, as well as a bit about all the walls it has hung on over the centuries.

Yes, there are a few discontinuities in Ms. Rothschild’s writing, but not enough to upset.  This is Rothschild’s first novel, though she has written non-fiction in the art scene. The book integrates passion, power, violence, loyalty, intrigue, mystery, love.  And yes, you can read it in the spring in your back yard as the daffodils begin to bloom, just as well as on a wintry eve. I recommend you do so.

Thank you, Claire, for a gratifying recommendation.

April 2021


Dog Songs

Mary Oliver

Poetry 2013 | 121 pages


Someone I dearly love gave me this book of poetry by the infamous Mary Oliver.  I read it.  And then I read it again.  It is a book about a woman and her dogs.  But, of course, it is also much more than that.  Here are two favorite stanzas:

  • You may not agree, you may not care, but
  • If you are holding this book you should know
  • That of all the sights I love in this world —
  • And there are plenty — very near the top of
  • The list is this one: dogs without leashes.  (pg 5)


  • A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
  • Smells of the world, but you know, watching her,
  • That you know
  • Almost nothing. (Pg 27)

Yes, take 15 minutes to read this book, if you love dogs.  Or freedom.  Or life.

March, 2021



The World According to Fannie Davis

Bridgett M. Davis

Biography 2019 | 308 pages


I cannot disentangle my (suburban) Detroit upbringing from my assessment of this book as a biography, as a tale to be told.  So, please recognize my bias when I tell you I love this book!  You never know when someone writes a memoir or autobiography or biography ... even if the story is wonderful, is the author?  Both work exceedingly well in The World According to Fannie Davis.

Davis writes about her mother Fannie, who ran an entrepreneurial and illegal numbers business (a community-based precursor to state lotteries; more on that when you read this book) in Detroit, from the 60’s to the early 90’s, keeping her family firmly in the black middle class of the Midwest, and avoiding poverty.  There were illegal numbers being run in many cities in the Midwest and East, so her memories also make a statement about what it was like to be black in big-city America, in the 60’s and 70’s especially. This is the story of family, but also it is an education on race, survival, thriving, secrets, and consciousness.  In Detroit in particular, this story includes the unionization of black workers in the automobile industry, racial unrest, white flight, police brutality, community love and connection, discrimination, riots, family loyalty, graft and corruption, the mafia, JL Hudson and Maurice Salad, and, nearest and dearest to my heart, the rise and pervasive influence of Motown.

I didn’t cry at the end, but I did have a lump in my throat.  This biography is intimate and draws you right in.  I will remember this book for a while, I think.  If you read it (which I suggest!) I will be interested to share this story with you and to read or hear your reactions.

Mary (another Detroit woman), thank you for suggesting this fine biography.

March 2021


Kimiko Does Cancer

Kimiko Tobimatsu

Nonfiction Memoir 2020 | 101 pages


At the tender age of twenty-five, Kimiko is diagnosed with breast cancer.  This graphic memoir explores what she encounters as a mixed-race, young, queer woman, but I found its real value in how she explores life after treatment.  If you have had cancer, or know someone who has, this beautifully illustrated novel will offer insight into what happens for months and perhpas years after treatment is complete.  It will take you about 30 minutes to read and is absolutely worth your time.

March 2021




The Crossing Places

Elly Griffiths

Fiction, 2009 | 303 pages


Well, I made it all the way through.  And that’s about the biggest praise I can muster.  Bad writing, in my opinion, with very shallow characters; even the main character, Ruth Galloway.  Too many men characters for some bizarre reason, and I couldn’t keep them straight.  The ending of this mystery was good, however ... written in a manner to make my heart pound.

Ruth Galloway is an archeologist who lives alone on a saltmarsh in England and becomes embroiled in amateur sleuthing when some children are lost and presumed murdered.  There are 14 Ruth Galloway mysteries, so someone likes Griffiths’ writing.  I personally am going to forgo 13 of them.  Sorry, Jan D.

March, 2021


The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett

Fiction 2020 | 352 pages


“Brilliant, stunning, eloquent, gorgeous, thought-provoking, intricate, moving.”  These are just some of the words reviewers have written, and for good reason.  The Vanishing Half is a novel about identical twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, born in 1952, in a minuscule Louisiana town that prides itself on breeding light-skinned Black people, some of whom are light enough to pass for White.  And Stella does, separating herself from her twin and her family for 25 years.  They each have a daughter ... Jude, who is so black they call her “blue black” and Kennedy, a blond violet-eyed beauty.  The daughters’ lives eventually intersect and, of course, all their lives are irrevocably altered.

The story is exceptional and difficult to put down. I was often reading pages this last week at 3:30 in the morning.  The writing is simply superb. Brit Bennett was listed by Time magazine on March 8 as one of the next “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

There is no hesitation on my part.  Read this four-heart book as soon as you can get your hands on it ... there is already a long wait for it at your library!

March 2021




Brown Girl Dreaming

Jaqueline Woodson

Nonfiction autobiography,  2014

325 pages


I am disappointed in this book.  It is the story of author Jaqueline Woodson’s life, told in poetic form.  It feels to me forced and artificial.  “Now, for interest, this time I am going to write my autobiography in poetry.”  It is contrived.  What we lose is a coherent emotional story.  What we lose is artful writing with images and compelling turns of phrase .... which I would expect from true poetry.  A waste of effort on both the author’s and the reader’s part.


March, 2021


When They Call You a Terrorist

Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele

Nonfiction memoir 2018 | 257 pages


At first, I wasn’t all that thrilled about reading When They Call You a Terrorist.  I am not sure what I expected.  Some sanitized ... or perhaps glorified ... biography of the woman who first posted #BlackLivesMatter ... that is what I thought I was about to read. But it is not. It is her personal memoir.  It is the story of Kahn-Cullors' childhood and her youth, growing up poor and Black in LA County, with her two brothers and one sister, raised by a mother who works three jobs, and still does not rise about the poverty level.  It is the story of her two fathers.  It is the story of unjust prison sentences and unrecognized and untreated mental illness.  It is the story of immeasurable discrimination, violence, assumptions, injustice, and more.  It is the tale of lives gone awry, with no possible redemption.  Her narrative is personal; her writing is easy to read; but the content of her story is profoundly disturbing.  Reading this memoir left me with a single question .... how could she NOT start the Black Lives Matter movement?  With her intelligence, wisdom, compassion, passion, and history, it is inexorable.

Yes, read this book and learn about a woman whose name we should all know, but don’t.  Which, in itself, is part of her story.

March 2021




The Murmur of Bees

Sophia Segovia

Fiction, 2020 | 461 pages


The Murmur of Bees is a gorgeous story.  When you are ready to lose yourself in a novel that is artistically written, with deep and complex characters, find yourself a copy of The Murmur of Bees.

Set in the small town of Linares in Mexico, south of Monterey, the story begins when Nana Reja discovers an infant, abandoned under a bridge, disfigured (harelip?) and covered with bees who do not harm him.  He is named Simonopio.  He goes to live with the Morales family, landowners who take him in and raise him as their own. We follow the Morales family though many decades, deaths, and, in the first half, the great plague of 1917/1918.

The tale is narrated by Simonopio’s younger brother, Francisco, who is born when Simonopio is 12.  The bind between these two brothers is intense and unbreakable during their early years, though Simonopio cannot speak except in his own self-formed language.  And there is magic.  Magic that is imbued with wisdom, wanderlust, safety, communication, adventure, prediction of the future.  Simonopio is intimately linked with bees, in their mutually beneficial relationship.  It is with the bees, following the bees, learning from the bees, being protected by the bees, that he develops into a man.

The first of Segovia’s novels to be translated from Spanish into English, it is well worth your time, sitting on the couch with a cup of tea.  I recommend it highly.  Thank you, Carolyn, for this luscious read.

March 2021




Culture Warlords

Talia Lavin

Nonfiction, 2020 | 273 pages


This is the most profound, most devastating book I have read.  The author, a Jewish female journalist,  uses various guises, disguises, names, personalities, and personas, to enter the “dark web of white supremacy.”

I cannot begin to truly understand all I read.  First, I thought anti-Semitism was only a part of the white supremacist agenda.  It is not.  It is at the center, the core. The first few chapters explain much more, but in a few words, “What underpins this fixation — the intellectual foundation of the white-supremacist movement — is a stalwart belief in the omnipresence of the cunning, world-controlling, whiteness-diluting Jew ... the Jew is most dangerous because of his adjacency to whiteness, and a desire to destroy it, with crafty malice, from within.”  (pg 24/25).

You will read about race violence and race war, and about a dating site designed only for white supremacist men and women.  You will learn about an eleven-year-old imbued with racial hatred; about the role and agenda for intentional violence in our country; and about mind-numbing conspiracy theories.

The chapter on incels completely alarmed me.  “Incels” are men who are “involuntarily celibate.”  The misogyny, hatred, self- and other-loathing is shocking.  Incels on Incels.co and braincel actively encourage a suicidal poster (pg 115) to complete his agenda.  The author, who was not allowed to post as a woman, created a young 21-year-old angry white male, Tommy O’Hara, in order to dialogue with incels.  This chapter especially, and the entire book, are not for the faint of heart.

Lavin’s writing is inconsistent.  Some chapters are engaging and move the reader deeper into the material.  Other chapters seem to rely on context to such a great extent, that the point of the chapter, and subsequent learning, is lost.  The difference is when she writes of events where she is an intimate and involved player, and when she writes about topics from an intellectual distance.  The former is quite engaging.  The latter is important, though more difficult to absorb.

I must recommend this disturbing book.  It is important, distressing, terrifying.  Truthfully, I believe we all need to know of that which Lavin writes.




The Sirens of Titan

Kurt Vonnegut

Fiction, 1959 | 326 pages


Many argue that The Sirens of Titan is Vonnegut's greatest work.  It is dark and funny; classic and counter-culture; warm and cold; satirical; melancholic; bizarrely imagined; philosophical.   I loved it!  But that must be taken with a grain of salt.  I am a huge Vonnegut fan.  I first read this book in 1971, when I took an English course on Kurt Vonnegut at the University of Michigan.  Yes, that was 50 years ago!

The plot?  Hmmm.  The main character is Malachi Constant, the richest man in America, who has his memory wiped when he is recruited into the Army of Mars that is planning an invasion of Earth. Tying the story together is Winston Niles Rumfoord, who, in his private spaceship with his dog, Kazak, accidentally flies into an uncharted chronosynclastic infundibulum, which scatters his particles through space and time, giving him the ability to see the future, and to appear at set intervals on various planets.  We follow Constant’s life through meaningless wealth in America, his time on Mars and Mercury, and finally on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.  We also meet a Tralfamadorian, invented here in The Sirens of Titan, and which reappears in Slaughterhouse Five.  Tralfamadore is the planet where all beings live in all times simultaneously.

Vonnegut makes me wonder what I am missing, what he infers, what the hidden meanings and suggestions are, what is truth, what is satire.  I never know the answers to these philosophical questions, but thank goodness his writing is so damn engaging!  How can you fault The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent?  Or a world with UWTB .... the Universal Will to Become, i.e., that which makes universes out of nothingness at both macro levels and mundane day-to-day levels.

Along with his 14 novels, three short-story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction books, Vonnegut was revered, studied, interviewed, loved, and always prolific.  He penned much about writing, including his brilliant “8 Basics of Creative Writing.”  My favorite is number 4: “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”

This is our February read in my Casting Crew Book Club.  I am fascinated to hear what less biased Vonnegut fans have to say about The Sirens of Titan.  Yes, I absolutely recommend it, along with anything else by this writing genius.




Octavia’s Brood

Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha, editors

Fiction, 2015 | 296 pages


The two editors of Octavia’s Brood invited social justice activists who had never written before, many of whom are marginalized, to write a science fiction short story; to dream and imagine a different vision, a different way of being.  The stories do not necessarily present a better scenario, but an altered reality. A few of the 22 authors are journalists and have writing experience, though not in speculative/visionary fiction.  At the end of the last century, speculative fiction by black authors enjoyed a surge of interest.  (Check out Dark Matter).  But this work goes further, inviting writing from many walks of life, circumstances, and cultures.  (Yes, the book is dedicated to and inspired by the writing of Octavia Butler, especially Lilith’s Brood.)

I am not much of a short story enthusiast.  Some of the stories in Octavia’s Brood are badly written, some are well written.  Some are interesting, others a little more boring.  Some are profoundly clear, several are more cloudy and even confusing.  However, this anthology does not read like a collection of short stories.  It seems congruent to me, a unified yet diverse voice of marginalized peoples.  The stories don’t overlap in any way, and yet together they feel like a “whole.”  They present a rainbow of experiences, perspectives, pain, pretend, magic, possibilities, imagination.

In my Decolonization book club, we discussed the stories and then took 15 minutes to write one of our own.  That was a fantastic creative experience, to write and then read each member’s tales. (Our prompt was to write a story as though one institution we know today is gone).

I found this book fascinating.  I highly recommend it for immersing yourself into a new reading experience.

(I have a copy of the book, by the way, if you want it.)





Jane Smiley  |  Fiction

1995, 414 pages

204 pages in, and I just must quit.  I really tried.  The characters in this novel about a fictional Midwest University are universally forgettable.  I mean, I forget who is who in-between chapters.  I keep looking for a list of characters and their roles, and there is not one.  There are too many to keep straight, and there is NO plot of any interest at all.  Of course, it goes without saying that I have not laughed at this ”humorous” novel once. Some of the relationships are interesting for a chapter or two, especially when there is a sexual connection.  I really tried.  My apologies, Teresa.  Too many days and my entire weekend slogging through this book have left me vacuous.  I must find something engaging to read. Now!

Posted 2/21




The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Christy Lefteri | Fiction,  2019

313 pages


Nuri and his cousin Mustafa are beekeepers in Aleppo, Syria, along with Nuri’s wife Afra, who is an artist.  All is idyllic and calm, until war arrives, the hives are destroyed, and they must flee for their safety and to begin a new life in a new land.

Lefteri’s writing is captivating. A somewhat random example, “Afra’s soul was as wide as the fields and deserts and sky and sea and river that she painted, and as mysterious.  There was always more to know, to understand, and, as much as I knew, it wasn’t enough, I wanted more.”  (Pg 21)

What I liked is how deeply we become familiar with Nuri’s heart and soul.  What astonished me is how the realities we make up can be so clearly intertwined with the realities that are in the world we inhabit.  What confused me is how Lefteri intersperses Nuri’s and Afra’s challenging journey to England with their arrival in England.  The time frame shifts were not smooth for me; they were jarring.  I wish she had made the shifts clearer with chapter titles or some such.

This is politically insensitive of me, but I am simply tired of stories about people facing incredibly difficult challenges to move themselves from one place to another, whether as refugees or slaves.  I need new plots; I have become somewhat bored by their stories.

A Chinese concept I learned, that resonates, and that will stay with me from this book is that of (pg 303) “Yuanfen, the mysterious force that causes two lives to cross paths ...”



The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates| Fiction, 2019

416 pages


The writing is eloquent; the story of the Underground and of Conduction and The Task is fascinating.  You will know the main character deeply, Hiram Walker, when you finish The Water Dancer.  Based on a true tale of slavery and the urge for freedom, I wonder how much is fiction and how much is true.  The dramatic story is infused with magic; I am so curious about the author’s intention!

Just over half-way in, I think Coates loses his footing.  The book becomes more about the institution of the Underground Railway.  Even though we see everything through Hiram’s eyes, I feel less connected to him for a significant number of chapters. Plus, I find the growing cast of characters a bit confusing.   Ultimately, we wind up back in Walker’s character with strength and power to wrap up the conclusion.

Tough decision .... three hearts or four?  I decided on four because of the writing, the story, and the character development (not only Walker, but some other characters as well). Perhaps my getting lost was just me .... I choose to give Coates the benefit of the doubt.  This is Coates first novel, though he has written non-fiction. Have you read anything by him?



James Nestor |  Nonfiction, 2020

280 pages


This is an interesting book, presenting some potentially useful ideas and posing interesting questions.  It also infuses a history of yoga and meditation practices, which were originally developed as breath practices.  However, the book seriously lacks in real medical double-blind studies, and is over-reliant on the author’s and others’ anecdotal evidence.

As I progressed, Breath moved from four hearts for its interesting hypotheses, to three hearts for its complete lack of statistical evidence, to two hearts as the techniques for “better breathing” grew more and more bizarre.  Like giving a woman 35% carbon dioxide through an inhaler bag to spark her fear, because she had never felt fear and kept putting herself in danger.

Among the more useful health/breathing considerations, if you do only one thing, learn to breathe in for 5.5 seconds and breathe out for 5.5 seconds, for a total of 5.5 breaths per minute.  Here is a simple tool to help.  https://www.google.com/search?q=breathing+exercise

So, read if you are interested, but not if you are looking for sound medical advice.



Hood Feminism

Mikki Kendall| Nonfiction, 2020



Deenie was a roommate senior year in college.  She introduced me to the concept of feminism.  Being one of a handful of women in the Business School at the University of Michigan, I immediately glommed on to what she was teaching me.  That was 46 years ago.

Hood Feminism is like a long consciousness-raising session on feminism, elaborating on all the ways we (White & privileged) feminists have ignored the full scope of women in the world, and have let women down.  I love what Kendall says in her interview with Trevor Noah (yes, surely worth the 7:10 commitment...) https://youtu.be/D4DaBn4uHi4  “If we are going to do feminism for all women, we have to make sure that the poorest women have everything they need to survive.”

In Hood Feminism, Kendall addresses a myriad of topics, including, but not limited to, hunger, murder, housing, gun violence, reproductive justice, poverty, parenting, education, patriarchy, allies, fears, and fierceness.

If you consider yourself a feminist, and/or simply are committed to social justice, this is a book you must read.  It will expand your perspective significantly.  At least, it did mine.


Desert Notebooks

Ben Ehreneich  |  Nonfiction

2020, 325 pages

I am sad to write three low-hearts reviews in a row, but that is what the pages have offered me.

Desert Notebooks is a very distinctive book.  The author interweaves science, creation myths, ancient history, Greek mythology, Native American traditional stories, and present-day experiences of the desert to explore the nature of time and the existential crisis of climate change.

Huh?  What is she saying?  I cannot be much clearer.  It is challenging to explain this book.

There are moments of lucidity and clarity when the author returns to the present day and makes sense of the ancient tales he just retold.  But those moments happen every dozen(?) pages or so.  And I am tiring of reading different interpretations of Lilith.  I have given this a respectable try ... 88 pages.  And I am going to abandon it now.

(BTW, my next two books appear as auspicious as my last three, so you can expect Dusty Shelves to end the year with a dearth of hearts. Sigh.)

Posted 12/20




Beyond Your Bubble

Tania Israel  |  Nonfiction

2020, 175 pages

Oh, I am so disappointed.  I was hoping this book would tell me how to find people to engage in dialogue with, beyond my liberal/progressive bubble.  Instead, it teaches how to be in dialogue ... how to listen, to talk, to manage emotions, and to understand others.  Absolutely useful and important skills!  Just not what I was seeking.   All that is useful to me is a list of three resources in the “additional resources” section at the end.

Posted 12/20




The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

Adrian Tomine |  Biographical, 2020

162 pages


Longtime Dusty Shelves readers know my fatal flaw.  I don’t often find the written word funny.  A few reviewer's comments on this book: “painfully honest and often hilarious” and “deeply aware, darkly funny ...”

I did not find a single pane of this graphic novel funny.  I just found it depressing.  And sad.  Amen.  The end.  No recommendation from me!

NYT 100 Best Books of 2020.  (Again, NYT disappoints).



A Burning

Megha Majumdar | Fiction,  2020

293 pages


I wouldn’t quite deem A Burning “electrifying” or “all-consuming,” words used by some reviewers.  I would call it a good story.  Good, but not great.

This is the tale of three people in modern day India:  Jivan, a young Muslin woman, is falsely accused of a horrific crime and thrown in jail; PT Sir, a gym teacher at the local school seems to lose touch with his moral compass, bit by bit, page by page; Lovely, a hijra, is an appealing and endearing young woman(?), an impoverished beggar, who aspires to be an actress, and around whom the emotional story evolves.

Majumdar’s character development, in this, her debut novel, is astounding.  These three figures are unique, strong, and distinguishable in their differences and depth.  I very much enjoyed getting to know each of them.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, I did like the story and learning about the injustices ever-present in India; I simply did not find it a page-turner.  It is a rather quick read, and I recommend it.  I look forward to your comments and thoughts and reactions, especially from those of you who may love this book dearly...


The Adventurer’s Son

Roman Dial | Nonfiction, 2020

355 pages


This book is a sleeper, in my opinion; at least for those of who revel in true outdoor adventures.  It was recommended by my library in their “Armchair Travel” newsletter. And it deserves greater visibility.

Cody Roman Dial disappears in the back-country of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, known as “the most biologically intense place on earth.”  This park is so wild, it is illegal to enter it without a guide. Yes, our heroes break the law.  This is the story, written by his father, of a father’s search for his son, filled with adventure and mystery, after Cody misses his “out date,” July 15, 2014.

But first, for almost half of the book, we watch Roman Dial and his wife Peggy raise Cody and his younger sister Jazz.  Ice climbing, pack rafting, obsessed with animals and flora, adventure finders, mountain climbing, camping, skiing, hiking long distances are just some of what the Dial family explores together.  There is such a huge, shared love for the natural world, it will take your breath away.

This is a slow read, to be savored.  I became lost in the physical descriptions of places the Dials traveled that bear no resemblance to the United States geography I know well. Borneo, the northwest corner of Australia, Gunung Palung, Guatemala, Mexico, Tasmania, Bhutan, and many locales such as the Brooks Range, Usibelli, and Umnak Island in their home state of Alaska.  I was enthralled with the descriptions of animals and plants I could not even picture, they were so different from what we encounter locally.

Dial is not an author ... he tells a realistic and beautiful story.  This isn’t the best writing I have read, and perhaps his penchant for descriptions may derail a reader or two.  As a non-scientist, however, I found none of his writing above my head or off-putting.  Simply, it was fascinating.

Do I rate this three hearts or four?  I would only go with three because I know not all my blog readers are as enamored of wilderness adventures as I am.  However, that would do The Adventurer’s Son a disservice.  I will stay with a solid four hearts and recommend this book with enthusiasm.


There There

Tommy Orange | Fiction, 2019

304 pages


There There astounded me.  It rearranges what you might think about Urban Native Americans and their lives, identities or lack of identities, passions, families, loves.  Twelve independent people make their way to a powwow in the town where they all live, Oakland, California.  They have vastly different reasons for being there, and different expectations.  And yet in so many ways, their lives overlap.

Orange’s character development is magnificent.  I feel as though I know some of these characters intimately ... and yet, I know them not at all, for their experiences are so counter to my experiences.

“You were white, you were brown, you were red, you were dust.”  I don’t fully understand this statement, and yet, it feels quite important.  I was surprised to learn about how different people saw themselves, as more or less Indian, depending in large part on how their parents/caregivers viewed being Native.  Some wanted it hidden, discouraged, ignored.  Some wanted it understood and embraced.  Some didn’t care one way or the other.  All dealt with their Indianness.  “Indianing” by the way, is a word that Orange coined – (defined in my own words ) as taking on attributes or culture or attitudes or clothes or gestures to appear Indian, for yourself or for others.  How “much” are you Indian?

Interestingly, while most of the profiles are written in first person, some are third, and a few even in second person.  Fascinating mix.  I wonder how he decided?  When you read this, pay special attention to the “prologue” and the “interlude.”  They inform the story significantly.

Another superb debut novel.  There There is a book I could read again.  I do hope you read and enjoy it.  And please write your thoughts here.


Save Me the Plums

Ruth Reichl | Nonfiction Memoir,  2019

288 pages


LA Times food critic Ruth Reichl catapults into the opulent, gastronomically eloquent, ostentatious world of billionaires, Gourmet magazine and its owner, Condé Nast.

It is astounding to read of her experiences entering this whole new world and working to find her place.  And then, as the book progresses, we are witnesses as she shakes up the staid Gourmet magazine and it becomes more radical and more relevant.  This is a respite from the last few books I read, which were ponderous and serious (Me and White Supremacy and An Indigenous Peoples’ Guide to American History).  Save Me the Plums is light and easy to read.

However, its gift is also its demise.  It is too light. Reichl, surprisingly for a memoir author, is not transparent or reflective.  She tells us what occurs, but she doesn’t tell us how she feels about it or what she is thinking.  One example is when she receives pressure in this new New York world of hers, to buy a $6500 dress.  She eventually decides, which we learn about, but we don’t read of her internal conflict, or her values, or her feelings, or even her decision-making process.  She is either a poor writer or a shallow writer, and I am inclined toward the latter because her descriptions of food and their tastes and textures are positively mouth-wateringly yummy.  Her lack of real authenticity and depth moved this book from four hearts to three for me.

She also repeats a perspective that has shown up in a few books I have read recently. Authors sometimes enter the corporate world and write about it as if they are the first to discover and reveal the machinations of big business.  What she writes of is neither new nor news.  It is boring if you have spent 40 years of your career interacting with big corporations, and I find the surprise and fascination of these authors to be naïve.

Read Save Me the Plums for the fun, the grandiosity, and the almost tactile delight of exploring new foods.  But don’t read it for insight into a food celebrity or you will be disappointed.

From “Booked in Bend” book club list for 2020.



Me and White Supremacy

Layla F. Saad | Nonfiction, 2020

256 pages


For 28 days, addressing 28 topics associated with white supremacy, such as power, relationships, and white silence, Me and White Supremacy follows this pattern: “What is <topic>? “How does it show up?” and “Why do you need to look at it?” Then she presents “Reflection time journal prompts” intended to guide you through the 28 days of this workbook, keeping a journal as you proceed.

At first I was very frustrated with this book.  For the first few days, the introspective questions she asked were too obvious; too simple.  They were about behaviors or attitudes I left behind in college. I wanted juicier, more insightful questions that would make me ponder and think and reflect and re-examine my attitudes and actions.

Be careful what you ask for.  As I progressed in the book, the questions did get tougher and inspire more self-examination.  About day 19, everything shifted for me. Chapter 19 is about “optical allyship.”  In my own words, “optical allyship” is about saying the right things, and believing the right things, but not ever doing the very hard work to break the systems of power that oppress.  It is to be visible as an ally, but only in tone, voice, attitude, and not action.

I realized that I have been more than an optical ally to the LGBTQ+ community.  I have marched.  I have worked to change corporate policies and practices.  I collected signatures in freezing temperatures for a ballot measure to create marriage equality in Oregon.  I have coached leaders in the LGBTQ+ movement.  I have had numerous meaningful conversations.  And I have examined my own sexual orientation and its relationship to being in community with others.  Now, I am not intending to say this is sufficient work nor am I lauding what bits I have done. My point is, as haven’t done anything, taken any significant action, to be proud of in support of BIPOC.  I have been merely an optical ally.  Wow.

I have seen a model of resources for White people that identifies six stages of growth and development of White privilege consciousness.  This book is recommended in stage three.  The next book on my list for this topic is How to be an Anti-Racist, which is a stage four resource.

What can I say?  Of course I recommend this book, at least to my White readers.  Know that it will take you a while to read and journal your way through this small book.  You can scroll through my blog to see some other books on this topic, but there are many, many more resources than what I have read.  I have been inspired since the events of this summer ... I hope some of you are, too. There is work to be done.   Please let us know here on Dusty Shelves what you discover!



Salt Houses

Hala Alyan | Fiction, 2017

310 pages


I must give Salt Houses four hearts.  I can’t be critical of it; it has many good reviews.  My life was in chaos in the last ten days or so, between work, volunteering, and relationships.  I could not focus on this book, and so I just pushed my way through, because I wanted to finish it for my Decolonization book club.  Whenever I did connect with it, however, I found the relationships and the characters multidimensional, complex, and real.   Spanning March 1963 to 2014, it is the moving story of a single family, living In Nablus and uprooted by the Six-Day War in 1967. Eventually, parts of the family live in Kuwait, Boston, Paris, Beirut, Amman, and Jaffa.  It is criminal that the publisher did not include a map in this book.  It would have helped readers to better understand the implications of the moves they chose to make or were forced to make.  However, I am grateful for the family tree.  Along with the Yacoub family’s reactions to war and unsettled lands, we witness the rise of feminism and the influence of American culture as we read about the generations.  The author refers to herself as Palestinian-American.

Have you read Salt Houses?  What comments do you have?


Montana 1948

Larry Watson | Fiction, 1993

175 pages


“From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a season of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them …”  This is the opening of Montana 1948.  But don’t begin to think that this novel is about a 12-year old boy in Montana and his coming of age by fishing and kicking a ball around in the street during a long summer. No, his story is exceedingly more powerful.  This is David’s tale of what happens when, at a very impressionable age, he is confronted with unthinkable crimes, tragedy, grief, loyalty, love, and angst in his protected world of rural white people and American Indians, living side by side, and recovering from the trials of WW2.

Watson’s writing is simple, clear, and captivating.  Prepare yourself ... this short book will entice you to read cover-to-cover in one sitting.

Once again, my friend Teresa knows exactly what books to loan me.  Thank you, Teresa.



What You are Going Through

Sigrid Nunez | Fiction, 2020

224 pages


From the back cover: “A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life.  Some, like the old friend she goes to visit at a cancer clinic, are people she knows well; others are total strangers.  In each of them, she finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and have an audience to their experiences.”

Nunez demonstrates how to listen and for that alone I am very grateful for this book.  The back cover is accurate, but insufficient.  The story actually is driven mostly by her relationship with the friend who has cancer and who asks her to help her die.  It sounds like a grim tale, but it is not.  How much they laugh in the final days!

I was amazed to read the author’s and her characters’ feelings about death, cancer, untold stories, kittens, and overpopulation.  She shared some of my own feelings ... some I thought only I had ever felt!

This book kept crossing my radar screen.  An NPR review, Time magazine, other references to it. I was surprised to learn it was a novel; I thought it was nonfiction. What You are Going Through is short and will give you pause.  I quite liked it and I just requested at the library her earlier book, The Friend.


Prisoner’s Dilemma

Richard Powers | Fiction,  1996

348 pages


Eddie treats every encounter with his four children as a learning opportunity.  At breakfast, there is a line from Shakespeare.  At dinner we contemplate what happened at Dachau.  And, of course, one evening there is the presentation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma ... intended to play with the brains of all the Hobson family members.  Actually, many of his statements and queries have to do with game theory.  His behavior has created a generation of thinkers, but his offspring at times talk in the same riddles and well-turned phrases Eddie does. One night he says to his eldest, Artie, “calamine.”  It is up to Artie to figure out what his father is saying. And the Hobson family, consisting of Eddie Sr., his wife, two sons and two daughters, is not only bright, but also humorous. The family car, a Pinto, is named Mr. Nader.

And Eddie is ill. He vomits, passes out, becomes non-lucid.  And then he bounces back.  He has been this way for 30+ years and refuses to see a doctor. His children, now age 18 to 30(?) are worried about him.  But he finally decides to go to the VA hospital ... the only institution he can maybe trust.

The love of these grown children for their father is astounding.  They keep circling back to the family home, despite their busy lives, especially when Eddie Sr. seems particularly ill.

This is my third Richard Powers, and my least favorite of the three. A profoundly excellent writer, this Powers novel is cerebral, and can be a challenge to read. At times, amazingly engrossing, interesting, and insightful. At other times, simply confusing in pure Hobson-talk and Hobson-recollection.  And at first, I enjoyed the Walt Disney flashbacks.  But later, they became too much.

I recommend this book if you are in the mood for something articulate, intelligent, thought-provoking.  Or if you are simply on a path to explore this legendary author.  One reviewer on Goodreads was reading or rereading one of Powers’ 12 novels every month for a year.  This is not a beach read.  There will be times you will pause and reread a section, musing.  If you do choose to read this, please help me understand the ending.

(p.s. I just ran across an article about this book and Family Systems Theory.  The article did explain the ending to me, but now I wonder ... how did I miss this during my reading?  And, what else did I miss?  Huh.)


Year of Wonders

Geraldine Brooks | Fiction, 2002

352 pages


360 souls live in this isolated village in England in 1665.  By the time of “Leaf-Fall” 1966, two thirds have died from the Plague.  This novel is based upon Eyam, a town in England where the Plague did hit and consumed many residents.  Brooks builds a novel from a woman who is mentioned only briefly in the actual historical accounts, a maid to the Rector.  Anna, our main character, is that maid.

An odd time to read a book about the Plague?  Actually, it made me realize how fortunate we are. The Plague erupts in boils that burst.  People generally live only about 24 hours once they contract the disease, and very few survive.

I thought this book was beautifully written.  I love Brooks’ command of the English language, and her ability to contextualize it to 17th century England.  Anna is extraordinarily well-developed as a character.  I couldn’t help but love her.  And other main characters are also rich and full.

Anna works not only as a maid to the Rector Michael and his wife Elinor, but soon is caring for the sick throughout her village and, once the local midwife is taken by the Plague, learns to midwife as well.  Yes, there are times the Plague is graphically portrayed.  Appropriately, I think.  An interesting title for the year of the Plague, no?  Year of Wonders.  It tells you something about the author's orientation toward the Plague and how she tells the story.

Some reviewers did not like the ending.  I won’t create a spoiler here, but I seldom question an author’s ending.  They end it to tell the story as they see fit.  I thought the ending made perfect sense.

This is a book that engages and will draw you in, because her writing is so rich.  I recommend it fully.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing this read with me/us.


An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz | Nonfiction,  2019

270 pages


I have joined another book club, “Decolonize this Book Club” sponsored by Embrace Bend.  It has a very specific objective.  We gather to read and discuss voices and stories of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color), 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, disabled folks, Jews and Muslims, Palestinians, migrants and refugees. Here is a link:  https://www.embracebend.com/decolonize-this-book-club

The “young people” version of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People is not as dense as the adult version, for sure.  I had both in my possession for a while, so I compared a couple of chapters.  However, the essence is well represented in the version for the youth.  Plus, they added photographs, maps, etc.  and best of all, activities such as: discovering how many indigenous words there are for “corn” (62), and common words that came from indigenous languages (I will let you find those on your own.)  And seeing how many of the 573 sovereign nations in the U.S. you can name in three minutes (I was really bad at that).

I didn’t have this context in my brain: White supremacy as a concept has existed at least since the Crusades.

I didn’t know this:  Colonists scalped and collected bounties for scalps. I thought it was only the Indigenous people who scalped.  Boy, was that incomplete information.

I think the title of this book is a bit misleading.  A more accurate title in my opinion would be A History of the United States’ Treatment of Indigenous Peoples.  The “eye,” the “view,” in this book is from the perspective of the colonists and the United States, i.e, what actions they took that are not reported in our typical American History classes.  What it doesn’t show us (and this may not be possible) is the view of a Cree, a Cherokee, a Ute, a Sioux, a Klamath, etc.  What was it like to be peacefully raising your children, growing corn, eating bison, participating in spiritual ceremonies, and have your village invaded and burned down, your land taken, your children killed?

This is another book every American should read.  I became sick and tired of studying account after account of colonists burning, killing, driving off, ignoring treaties, dehumanizing, slaughtering animals ...  No wonder Trump signed an executive order to establish the “1776 Commission” and whitewash our history.  Between this book and Caste, we learn some (much?  most?) of our history is simply abhorrent.


The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute

William Sullivan | Fiction,  2012

411 pages


William Sullivan CAN write fiction! I have read and perused numerous William Sullivan books, all non-fiction (see my recent review of Listening for Coyote), but this is the first fiction of his I have read.  And yes, he is multi-talented.  He can write trail descriptions, nonfiction, and fiction.

In this tale, we discover there are two D.B. Coopers ... the Good Cooper and the Bad Cooper.  Portland police lieutenant Neil Ferguson leads the search for both of them.  Sullivan has well-developed characters, with breadth and depth, and his take is interesting and somehow, credible, more than 40 years after D.B. Cooper hijacked a plane and parachuted out with $200,000 somewhere over the Pacific Northwest.

I finally decided to go with three hearts because I think The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute is somewhat over-written.  I think it could have been tighter, more condensed, a few characters lighter.  If you are a Portlandian, or a frequent Portland visitor (I am not), you may particularly enjoy this mystery which, except for a brief foray to Russia, takes place almost exclusively amidst the landmarks and alleyways of Portland.

Long Story Short

Margot Leitman | Nonfiction, 2015

290 pages


I haven’t had this much fun reading a book since Me Talk Pretty One Day.  I don’t know how it ended up in my hands.  It simply appeared near the end of the list of 20 books I put together during quarantine, when I couldn’t access my favorite hangout in town, the Eastside branch of the library.

But there it was, on my “to read” pile, and I wondered why I wanted to read this book about effective storytelling.  I didn’t fit any of the criteria she lists on page xxvii (why do authors label pages “xxvii”?  Doesn't life begin on page 1?) for who should read this book.  It is for people who make business presentations; are going on job interviews; want to tell stories onstage; are preparing to make a speech for a wedding or funeral; or who are dating. “Dating?” I asked with incredulity.  “What does this book have to do with dating?”  Then I realized that this book was going to help address one of my deeply held secrets about myself.  I am boring.

Be prepared to read the short book with pen and paper in hand.  There are many, many prompts, from ones I could easily answer ( _____ makes me cry.   _____ makes me so angry) to real mind-benders like “Tell a story about a time I was proven wrong.”  Wrong???

You will learn a lot about yourself, maybe create a juicy story, and have fun.  Leitman is decidedly entertaining. But be careful when buying or requesting this book.  There is a book with the same title that is ten-minute gospel stories for sharing with your children.  Unless of course, that actually is the story you want to tell.  “The time I bought a book that was the complete opposite of what I was looking for.”

p.s.  I couldn’t help but think of many of my friends as I read this book.  Leslie and Carol, who are simply enjoying writing.  Charlene, who is working on her memoir.  Jan, who revels in the form of 50-word stories.  Bev, who writes stories and plays.  And, above all, Joanne, who helps people tell their stories for a living.  (Joanne ... this is an essential book for you!  Yes, I will take my 45% cut.)

Have fun.  Create, write, and have lots of fun.

Time to do kitty litter now.  "Did I ever tell you about the time I was cleaning kitty litter and ....."

Trespassing Across America

Ken Ilgunas | Nonfiction memoir, 2016

267 pages


Longtime blog readers know I read a lot of books about trails, and the people who walk/hike them and write about their experiences.

Well, Trespassing Across America is about a long hike, too ... only there is no trail.  Ilgunas decided to walk the XL Pipeline from its beginning in Alberta to its terminus in Texas.  He walks prairies, ranchland, gravel roads, climbs an uncountable number of barbed wire fences, and simply uses his compass to walk south/southeast.  He is walking for adventure, and he is also walking to raise awareness of the pipeline.  And much of his walk is illegal.

Because he doesn’t wax eloquent about mountain peaks or other hiker’s trail names, and because there is only so much one can say about prairie land and cows, we also learn a lot about the history of the Great Prairie, oil, and environmentalism.  Ilgunas is not a staunch environmentalist as the book begins.  He is walking and listening to the people he meets in small towns and is open to all ideas and opinions and perspectives on the pipeline, climate change, and government in general.  At least until page 190, when he finally takes a stand.

My Canadian readers might particularly enjoy this book, as he doesn’t leave Canada until page 117, so we learn quite a bit about Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the tar sands.  And, intriguingly, he doesn’t see a “no trespassing” sign until he crosses the border into the US. Us US-types have an unusual relationship with the land we occupy and believe that we “own” and others should stay off.

This is a worthwhile, interesting, and educational read ...




Listening for Coyote

William Sullivan | Nonfiction memoir, 1988

238 pages


Over the next few years, it is my intention that my motor-home Udea and I visit many of Oregon’s parks that I have missed along the way.  So, I thought reading Listening for Coyote, which is William Sullivan’s journal as he walks from the westernmost point of Oregon to the easternmost point, would be a fine inspiration.  And that it is.

This book was published in 1988, the year Beryl and I made Oregon our adopted home.  So, fitting for my Oregonian beginnings as well. Of course, things looked different when Sullivan made this 1361-mile solo backpacking trip in 1985.  For example, dear Bendites, the Badlands Wilderness was not a reality then.  And growing marijuana was illegal and done under circumspect circumstances in the wilderness.

As with other Sullivan writings, he is clear, accurate (or as accurate as one can be in the wilderness), and remarkably observant.  This book is rich with tidbits like this, “This ancient Klamath shale is just the place to look for the fossil imprints of trilobites and sycamore leaves, since shale preserves fossils as neatly as wildflowers pressed in the pages of a dictionary.” (pg 68).

I give this book 3 hearts because if you are not an Oregonian and not a Sullivan fan, you might not appreciate it all that much.  But my local friends who enter the mountains with pages copied from one 100 Hikes book or another, may just revel in his experiences.  I did.





Isabel Wilkerson | Nonfiction, 2020

479 pages (includes 88 pages of notes, acknowledgements, a bibliography, and an index)


In a single word, powerful.  I am floored by this book.  Wilkerson presents a history of caste.  Not race, but caste ... a ”stubbornly fixed ranking of human value.” (pg 24). There are only three examples of caste systems in the modern world.  India, Nazi Germany, and the United States.  She compares and contrasts these systems, spending most of her time on the US institution of slavery as a prime component of caste in this country.

Of the many, many things I learned, here are three.

  1.  Slavery was in place in America for 12 generations.  I knew how many years in my head, but the impact of seeing it in generations is profound.
  2. The United States served as the model for the Third Reich’s Nuremberg Laws.  As they began to define the ideology, the early designers of the Nazi philosophy first looked to the US to understand how we were so effective at institutionalizing racism.
  3. The caste system provides offers an important explanation for the US 2016 elections.  Suicide rates rose among middle-class whites in the late 1990’s as labor unions were eroded, more people of color and women took middle-wage jobs, and there was a general sense of “dominant group status threat.”  Plus, a lower caste member rises to the highest station in the land in 2008. The bottom caste seemed to be rising, pushing upon the security of the castes above.

This is a hard book to read.  While Wilkerson uses a lot of metaphor, especially early in Caste, to engage the reader, it still is not a story in the way The Warmth of Other Suns was.  It is pure non-fiction. And the facts are extremely hard to take.

No question, I highly recommend this book to all of you.  It could be required reading for every single student or teacher of American History.  It is what “Patriotic education” should really be about … telling the truth.  It teaches an important story we never, ever learned in fifth grade.


The Neighbor

Lisa Gardner | Fiction, 2009

462 pages


I ran out of books!  Not wanting to drive to the library, I walked down to the bottom of my driveway, to the Little Library I put there on the corner (no surprise, I am sure), and grabbed this mystery to read.  It is pretty good!

Sandy Jones disappears one night.  Her four-year-old daughter Ree knows more than she is saying.  Her husband Jason is, of course, a suspect in her disappearance and possible murder.  Then again, the convicted sex offender who lives five doors away is also a suspect.  As is the man Sandy had a short affair with.  And then there is 13-year-old Ethan, who is in love with “Mrs. Sandra.”  What role does he play?

It is an interesting story, and the resolution is clever, I think.  This is one of a series of books written by Ms. Gardner about the Boston Police Department investigator, Sargent D.D. Warren.  I don’t think the author does a good job at all developing D.D.’s character.  The only thing we really learn about her is that she is, um, horny.

So, all in all, a fun and appealing read.  Not compelling enough to go chase down more Lisa Gardner books.  Read it for fun, but not for any great insight.  (As an aside, I think someone turned off their creative genius when they titled this book The Neighbor.  Seriously boring and not all that accurate.  I would have titled it Steel Doors.)

I now have ten (10!) books in my to-read pile.  What is next, I wonder?  It is a mystery even to me!


Epic Solitude

Katherine Keith | Nonfiction memoir, 2020

280 pages


Epic Solitude is a memoir by a woman who answers a call to find her purpose, her home, and her soul in the wilds of Alaska.  She and her husband build a long cabin miles from a road, in the deep wilderness of Alaska.  Alaska calls for so much strength, resiliency, sacrifice, hard work, self-knowledge, and the ability to stay warm ...  I cannot even begin to imagine it!  At one point, in the "Sheefish" chapter, Kat talks about her clothes, including boots that are three sizes too big, to get all her socks in, four tops, three pairs of long underwear, and mitts that are eight times her hand size so she can add so many layers.

Yes, she takes us on numerous dog-sled races across Alaska and into the Yukon Territory of Canada.  And these are fascinating!  And the book is much more than her physical adventures as a musher and an “iron-woman.”  It is about her development from a young girl and a very troubled teen/young woman, struggling with depression, bulimia, and cutting.  The first quarter of the book is hard to read at times, as Kat is really mentally unhealthy.  But stick with it .... she does heal herself and grows into an unimaginably strong woman who faces and conquers many hardships in her adult Iife.

My three hearts is because I was looking for a wilderness adventure, and this is more the story of her life, and how the wilderness saves her.  In truth, it is probably MORE than I anticipated.  With that knowledge, you can begin this book with a clearer expectation of what you are taking on, and perhaps enjoy it at a four-heart level.  I do recommend it, with that caveat.


The River

Peter Heller | Fiction, 2019

272 pages


This is the perfect book to read when you are housebound in hazardous smoke due to exploding wildfires.  Wynn and Jack, friends since freshman orientation at Dartmouth, are spending a couple of weeks in August canoeing the Maskwa River in Canada, which eventually empties itself into Hudson Bay.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a great story if all they were doing was fishing for brookies and picking blueberries.  Instead, they rescue a woman who has a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, is bloodied and bruised, and is in shock.  Is her husband the cause of these injuries?  As they begin to paddle her downstream, they are about ten days away from a Peawanuck village and safety.  Meanwhile, a crackling, smoky wildfire off the western bank grows closer and closer.

How they complement each other!  Jack has a hunter’s instinct and can see movement on land far away;  Wynn can read the water like a pro.  As fly-fishers, Jack casts easily with grace; Wynn studies and calculates before he casts, cutting the water into quadrants.   Wynn studies the arts at Dartmouth; Jack, engineering and math.  But they both have an insatiable love of books, poetry, fiction, and of course, expeditions.

The writing is superb, visceral, urgent, terse.  I couldn’t read it fast enough.  Especially for those of you who are engulfed in smoke right now, Chapter 16 is amazing.  It is when they are really IN the wildfire, and Heller writes about the brutal sounds of a wildfire.  Spellbinding.  I chose a quote that illustrates both his writing style and the intense love these two best friends have for each other, as Heller writes about paddling together.  “Wynn notices that after a while he barely had to utter ‘hut’ before Jack switched and the paddles swung up and forward in perfect synchrony and their four hands changed position on shaft and handle midair and the blades hit the water at exactly the same moment ...”  (chapter 11)

After finishing Nobody’s Fool, The River was a big breath of fresh air; a delightful and fast read.  I highly recommend it.  I want to thank Teresa for this recommendation ... AND for recommending Nobody’s Fool.  Interesting, no, that we can agree so strongly on one book, and disagree so strongly on the other?  I love that about books, and about friends!


Nobody’s Fool

Richard Russo |  Fiction, 1996

549 pages


Perversely, I finished it.  It was in large part because I was confined to the house with the Air Quality Index in the 500’s.  Thanks to the breath-stealing wildfire smoke, I finished it.  However, I didn’t enjoy it at all.

The novel's main character is Donald “Sully” Sullivan, who is stuck in bad luck, as an unemployed construction worker with an arthritic knee that has him on disability, with a truck that is dying, a long-time mistress he doesn’t know what to do about, friends and a lawyer who are not very bright, and an estranged son, Peter, whose marriage is falling apart.  And three odd grandsons. He does have an interesting relationship with his spry octogenarian landlady and eighth-grade teacher, Beryl Peoples (okay, I admit to a little bias in her favor due to her cool name).

Nobody’s Fool is mostly men expressing their caring for one another through negative humor.  Sully, as the protagonist, does manage to pull himself out of this way of communicating occasionally, especially with the women in his life and his grandson, and you cheer him on every time he does so.  Truthfully, I fell in love with Sully eventually.  He kept trying to be human.  In the end, however, there is no conclusion or obvious growth or resolution.

Sometimes I read reviews of books when I am partway in, if I am having difficulty either understanding the book or appreciating it.  I did that with Nobody’s Fool and learned that Publisher’s Weekly loved it; felt it was “biting wit and potent insight” about blue-collar people in a small New York town.  Kirkus was not so positive: “Russo's third <novel> is a slice of small-town life: thick slice, big cast, much bustle, but no story line, no climax, no epiphanies.”

I felt this compulsion to read this book, and I don’t know why.  I struggled throughout its 549 endless pages.  I know it is supposed to be funny (here I go again) but I did not find it funny to hear/read the interactions between not-very-smart men who often don’t understand a plethora of words or phrases, and who don’t get jokes, and who don’t know how to communicate, and who are decidedly not self-aware, and who are taken advantage of, and who devise their own wiles for surviving in a difficult world.  I just didn’t find these interactions laughable.  I found them tragic and difficult.  Somehow, I was engaged enough to keep reading, all the way to the very end, but I cannot recommend this book.


A Spark of Light

Jodi Picoult | Fiction, 2018

384  pages


Another Picoult masterpiece.  She certainly doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects.  A Spark of Light is about a single day at a women's health clinic that performs abortions.

We have wonderful characters in this book, such as Wren, who is at the clinic only to get contraception; her Aunt Bex who brings her; Joy, the woman who has an abortion this fateful day; Dr. Louie Ward, who performs abortions at the only remaining clinic in Mississippi where a woman can get an abortion; Janine, an anti-choice activist who is in the clinic under cover, trying to catch them on tape doing something wrong.  A few other essential characters grace the pages of this story.  Of course, there is George Goddard, the gunman who holds them all hostage, and Hugh, the police negotiator who is also Wren’s father.

The story of this fateful day, Hugh’s 40th birthday, is told backwards, hour by hour.  We see what happens at 5:00 pm, then 4:00 pm, then 3:00 pm.  It is an interesting design, I think.  Instead of being focused on how the story turns out, we focus on how it is these individuals came to be where they are on this day.  Effective, I think.

There was a time when I said “huh!” aloud, in the 1:00 pm section, when Dr. Ward muses,  “This woman lying feet away from him would probably be surprised to know that she was not the first pro-lifer to walk into the Center. He had personally performed abortions on at least a dozen.”

There is a formula to a Picoult book.  She takes a controversial ethical issue ... designer babies, high-school shootings, the death penalty, white supremacy, and, in this case, abortion, and she writes a novel with real people exploring both or all sides of the issue.  I always feel just a little embarrassed when I am reading a Picoult novel ... interesting books; they make me think; but they aren’t exactly literature.  Whatever the heck I mean by that.  They seem to be written for the NYT Bestseller list ...  Recall my posting (Nabakov’s Favorite Word is Mauve) about the NYT having “dumbed down” their target reading level to grade six from grade eight.

However, her books engage, educate, inform, and cause me to reconsider how much I think I “know” on a particular topic.  I undeniably recommend A Spark of Light.  Especially if you think you know a lot about pro-choice and pro-birth perspectives.



The Echo Maker

Richard Powers | Fiction, 2006

451  pages


Mark Schulter, 27, has Capgras.  Capgras is a psychological condition in which an individual believes someone they love and is important to them has been replaced by an imposter.  Mark flips his truck on an icy road in February in Kearney, Nebraska and nearly dies, during the annual migration of the sand cranes landing on the Platte River and heading north for the spring and summer. Soon, his body is healing but this psychological condition remains.  His sister, Karin, leaves her job the night of the accident to come care for him, and, yes, Mark believes Karin is an imposter ... a government agent who has been schooled in the ways and history of Karin and Mark, for reasons unknown.

We watch the sorrowful and frustrating story unfold, as Karin does all she can for Mark, who never trusts her and is sad and worried that his only sister has not come to care for him.

And then there is a note left by his bedside in the ICU.  Who left the note?  What do they know about how Mark flipped his truck?  Did someone run him off the road?  The note reads:   

I am No One

but Tonight on North Line Road

GOD led me to you

so You could Live

and bring back someone else 

So, there is also a mystery in addition to the dense relationship between brother, sister, caregivers, and lifelong friends in Kearney.

Also, there is a third major character, a neurologist, researcher, and best-selling author, who teaches at NYU School of Medicine, Dr. Gerald Weber.  Weber, who Mark calls “Shrinky,” comes to study Mark, and perhaps to help. Many of us of a certain age just might relate to Weber's musings and discomfort.  “Did I do enough in my career?  Was my writing and publishing good?  Did my research really inform anything?  Did I exploit people in the process?  How much of my work was just about my ego? Did my work matter? Can I actually do anything to help Mark?  Am I done now?  How do I know?”

I am becoming a Richard Powers fan.  As with The Overstory, he writes smart.  You don’t breeze through his books.  There are times when I have to stop and reread sentences or paragraphs, especially, in The Echo Maker, when Weber is lecturing to his class or on the book-promotion circuit.  Richard Powers is a physicist, which informs his writing in cerebral and intriguing ways.  I must admit, I did research to fully understand the ending.   I will be curious to learn if you understand the ending on your own!

I feel like, in reading this novel, I am reading something important; something that matters.  Simultaneously I am drawn into Powell’s well-developed and differentiated characters.  Yes, I fully recommend The Echo Maker.  Yes, I am going to read another Richard Powers.


29 Gifts

Cami Walker | Nonfiction, 2009

226 pages


The author, Cami Walker, is diagnosed with MS just three weeks after her wedding to Mark.  Two years later she is profoundly Ill, in debilitating pain, and struggling with many tragic symptoms of MS.  After a move from San Francisco to Los Angeles, she begins to acquire new support, Western medical doctors as well as numerous Eastern and alternative practitioners.  Her doctors decide, jointly with Cami and Mark, to take her off all but one of the 15 or 20 prescriptions she is on, and detox during an eight-day stay in a psychiatric wing.  This is not the first time Cami has had to detox.

Along the way, her spiritual mentor and friend Mbali suggested she try 29 days of mindful giving.  A gift a day ... the value is inconsequential ...  it must be given with gratitude, from a place of abundance and not scarcity, mindfully, and from the heart.  This is the story of Cami’s 29 days on this enlightening, healing, joyful journey.

No surprise, I found this book inspiring.  I am intrigued by the idea of 29 days of gift-giving! Though I don’t know how to accomplish it during these days of seeing few people and not baking or otherwise touching objects to give away.  I am camping right now, but when I have internet access again, I am going to www.29gifts.org and seeing what I can learn about how people embark on this journey during a pandemic.  September 1 sounds like a good day to begin!  This books was on some “how to feel better” list during Covid.  I think it is worthwhile, though may not appeal to everyone.


Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel | Fiction, 2014

333 pages


This is a dystopian novel like no other.  It will fill you with hope, gratitude for the world around us, and an appreciation for the relationships in your life.

Station Eleven moves back and forth between the current days, 20 years after civilization ends, and the weeks and months just before 99.9% of the world’s population dies of the Georgian Flu.  Once infected with the Georgian Flu, people become sick within hours and die in one to two days.  The flu arrives in Toronto the same night the famous actor, Arthur Leander, succumbs to a heart attack while performing King Lear at the Elgin theater.

And the stage is set for us to follow the characters who miraculously survive.

Survivors settle in small peaceful bands in abandoned towns near Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, in what was once Michigan. The Traveling Symphony is such a band, but it moves from town to town, playing classical music and performing Shakespeare.

This page-turner of a novel is haunting and melancholy, while simultaneously being captivating, tender, encouraging, and evocative.  Emily St. John Mandel is a superb and elegant writer.

I absolutely recommend!  Thank you, Carolyn for loaning me this memorable book.



Writers & Lovers: A Novel

Lily King | Fiction, 2020

320 pages


Casey is 31.  She is working as a waitress and has spent six years writing a novel.  $72,000 in debt, she is living in a former potting shed in the Back Bay region of Boston.  This is her story.  Dating while being a writer is challenging – some writers won’t date other writers.  Some share a passion and an ego.  Casey has wonderful friends, male and female, who serve as supportive mirrors as she works to get her life together.  Some reviewers call Writers & Lovers a coming-of-age novel.  Coming of age at 31???  Well, actually, yes.

At first, I found the book and the writing trivial.  It was so light, and so shallow to read about a young woman and her challenges with becoming an adult, finding a relationship, meaning, purpose, and success.  And then I began to be pulled in.  Her romances hooked me (Silas or Oscar?), and her challenges with writing were so very real.  As the book progressed, I became more interested in her and more committed to discovering what she discovers.  If you have any Boston in your background, you will find King’s descriptions of Boston and Cambridge delightful, as Casey travels by bicycle, so we see the river, the people, the squares, with a sense of photographic intimacy.

In addition to writing and dating, a major theme in this book is Casey’s grief over the recent death of her mother.  Four of my friends/colleagues have lost their moms in the last year, and I have watched each work through their grief, with awe and intrigue.  Like Casey, each experienced varying levels of sorrow, loneliness, anger, gratitude, maybe fear, and love.  I have found their grief insightful and have learned from them.  My mother died 41 years ago.  I have yet to shed a tear or feel any sorrow over her death.  Casey’s grief in this book is palatable, understandable, and educational, and for that I am grateful.  I am a better person for having read this novel, with a better understanding of the possibilities for relationship between mother and daughter..

All told, I recommend Writers & Lovers: A Novel.  It isn’t Herman Melville or even David Sedaris (though there is considerable humor in Writers & Lovers) but it is a book to enjoy.  It will bring you hope.


The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin | Fiction, 2015

471 pages


This was my second “alternative universe” read in the last few weeks, and I am quite glad I chose this one.  I wasn’t looking for a science fiction or fantasy book when I happened upon The Fifth Season, I was looking for a fiction novel written by a Black woman, as part of my ongoing learning this season.  And I found a distinct one, for certain.  This is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy. Jemisin earned a Hugo award for all three books in her series.  She is the first writer ever to win a Hugo three years in a row.

On the continent, The Stillness, there are five seasons:  spring, summer, fall, winter, and death.  The people of The Stillness are always preparing for the fifth season which can last from months to more than a century.  The main characters, sort of, are Syenite, Essun, and Damaya; strong and powerful women.

One of the elements of science fiction writing I don’t like is the endless war between factions.  This was a relief from that tendency.  There isn’t a battle, per se, in The Fifth Season, until right at the end.  The people in this fantasy world, living on a fantasy continent, have powers.  There are seven powers in all.  The powers become like races, in that they distinguish and have their hierarchy of supremacy, one over the other.  I began to get a sense how N.K. Jemisin’s race informed the essence of this tale.  She speaks herself to this, here: http://nkjemisin.com/2015/08/creating-races/

Here is what one reviewer had to say, which I found after I finished the novel (Celline, NYX Book Reviews).  ”A common thread throughout the novel is a commentary on race and Othering. To give a quick summary, theories around Othering try to explain how groups of people can be made to seem inhuman, not one of us, the Other. Throughout history, racial difference has often been used to treat groups of people horribly, a rhetoric employed to justify acts up to and including genocides. In The Fifth Season the racial Other is displaced unto the magical/powerful Other. It is not skin colour that sets people in this world apart (what we now would see as blackness or a mid-African phenotype is a point of beauty) but what they can do. While the characters face terrible injustices because of their capabilities, the reader feels that their powers are actually amazing and should be cherished.”

Reviewers who had criticism of this book didn’t like that the characters were not well-developed or very likeable. Somehow, that didn’t seem relevant to me.  It didn’t feel like it was about the characters so much as it was about the society.

Part way through I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, and so I Googled some words: rogga, orogene, sessapinae.  Imagine my delight to find that an author can make up her own words in her own book and with enough fame, Google and Wikipedia will define these words.  How cool!  Of course, when I arrived at the end of the book, I discovered there was a glossary of all her invented words.  Oh.

I recommend this.  It is a very odd read for me, and it will be for some of you also.  The genre is officially “Science Fantasy.”  I found the writing interesting, the tempo fast and engaging, the “not-knowing what is going on” a relief for my brain. I intend to read book two in the trilogy.


Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson  |  Fiction

1992, 569 pages

I must have been in some interesting space during the building of my 20-book “the library is closed for the pandemic and I can’t get any books until it reopens” time.  I have three “alternative universe” books currently in my pile.

I gave this one a really good try, 143 pages.  The two major characters, Hiro and Y.T., are quite interesting.  In Reality, Hiro delivers pizza and Y.T. skateboards by "pooning" on cars. Once I realized this book is about a possible time in the future, and I didn’t need to map it against current reality, I relaxed into the story.  It genre is referred to as "cyberpunk."

Still, I reached a point where I asked, “Why am I reading this?  I am not really enjoying it.  The plot is very thin.  If there is a message, it is probably hundreds of pages away.  And what am I learning as I watch avatars interact with each other?”

And so, sadly, I hung it up.



The Overstory

Richard Powers | Fiction, 2018

502 pages


The writing is exquisite. The range of characters is diverse and fascinating.  The story line is ambitious, engaging, powerful, and thought-provoking.  Except when it’s not (more on that later).

We meet nine (?) characters whose lives, in some way and at some time, are made richer and fuller by a tree.  We learn how a tree(s) has shown up in their childhood, and the impact that tree has on their adult lives.  Eventually, even though they enter a variety of lifestyles and careers, their relationships with trees cause each of them to become a “tree-hugging” activist, working against the destruction of trees, especially old growth trees in Oregon and the Northwest.  This is where their lives, and our story, intersect.  You will learn about trees, about people, about the sacredness of our planet, about passion and commitment, sorrow and confusion, love and longing.

As with many very long books, there comes a time when the book overwhelms.  I think Powers veered off the path in a long section called “The Crown” where we follow our character’s Iives after the zenith of their time together as activists.  I would have liked about 50 pages edited out around page 400.  But, of course, eventually Powers gets back on track for the evocative conclusion.

I found the writing in this epic novel so mesmerizing, for 90% of the book, I decided to keep it at four hearts.  Yes, definitely try this novel on for size.



A Bad Day for Sunshine

Darynda Jones | Fiction, 2020

390 pages


Sunshine Vicram was elected sheriff of her hometown, Del Sol, New Mexico.  Which is pretty interesting, considering she wasn’t even a candidate, nor living there.  So she and her daughter move from Santa Fe to the “guesthouse” her parents built for her behind their home in Del Sol, and both embark upon reestablishing themselves in a town that has buckets full of memories, some very painful.

We follow Sunshine as she searches for a missing girl, a missing boy, and, in the background, for the identity of the man who abducted her when she was 17.  Okay, sounds morbid, eh?  But it is not. This is a fun detective novel, reminiscent of Nevada Barr.  Sunshine’s 14-year-old daughter Auri is a delightful, smart, major character, as in Sunshine’s BFF, Quincy.  And the connections between and among the people of Del Sol are intriguing, reminding me of the town of Three Pines (Louise Penny).

I found the book surprisingly slow to start, but it picks up. Hence the three hearts.  The last half is page-turning.

If Sunshine were a male main character, you would throw this book against the wall as offensive and misogynist.  You will find you need to decide if you can actually like a main character who ogles every good-looking man she sees, and keeps a running commentary in her mind about his face, chest, muscles, ass.  I enjoyed her hormone-driven fantasies, but don’t tell my friends.  My feminism may come into question(!)


The Impossible First

Colin O'Brady | Nonfiction, 2020

279 pages


For someone with a deep fear of the cold (I have Raynaud’s and a slight drop in my core temperature means numb hands, toes, and tongue) this was armchair reading at its brilliant best!  Colin O’Brady writes about his attempt to be the first person to cross Antarctica, unassisted and unaided.

I love first person accounts of epic adventures, such as Krakauer, Wells, Honnold, Strayed.  O’Brady’s is marvelous.  Well written, a page turner, and a powerful adventure sprinkled with some insights and memories.  If you like reading about courage, commitment, grit, fear, and accomplishment in the wilderness (along with a potent love story), you will surely enjoy The Impossible First. Great on a hot summer day!!



My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me

Jason B. Rosenthal  |  Fiction Memoir

2020, 239 pages

Too saccharine for me.  And Rosenthal can’t write.

This is the story of a widower whose wife published an article titled “You May Want to Marry my Husband” ten days before she died.


The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison| Fiction, 1970

216 pages


I watched the PBS special on Toni Morrison, which is excellent, and it inspired me to reread The Bluest Eye.  This is the story of Pecola Breedlove, a Black girl In America who has learned racial self-loathing at a very young age, and yearns for the pretty blue eyes that so many White girls have.  While sad and insightful, rereading it was not as powerful or profound as I anticipated.  If you have never read this first novel by Morrison, I do suggest it.  As with all her novels, she tells the stories of being Black from the perspective of being Black.  Black readers confirm they see themselves for the first time in literature when they read Toni Morrison.



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