Dusty Shelves Book Blog

 

Killers of the Flower Moon

David Grann

Nonfiction 2017/ 362 pages

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"In the 1920's the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma."  (Back cover)

After oil was discovered beneath their land (and was specifically and surprisingly excluded from the contract the Indian Nations had with the US government) the Osage built mansions, educated their children anywhere in the world they wished, and were driven around in fancy automobiles.  By any standards, this Nation had come into extraordinary amounts of money delivered by the slimy black substance beneath their dry land.

And then, members of the Osage Nation began to be murdered.  At least 24 were murdered in a few short years, through guns, poison, tampered cars, and in one case, a devastating house explosion.  (Current researchers and scholars believe this number is woefully inadequate and that there may have been scores, even hundreds, of murders.)  As this blight was visited upon this remote part of Oklahoma, many of the dead were related to one another in this relatively small community.  And, bit by bit, land and untold fortunes changed hands.

In the same time frame, the FBI was being formed and was led by J. Edgar Hoover, who attempted to ferret out the murderers from his office in Washington D C.

The information, painstakingly researched by Grann, is astounding.  The majority of the book puts names, faces, history, and connections to the Indians (their word then) who were murdered and the family members who suffered as a result, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially.  I found the formation of the FBI and the identification of the investigators who traveled to Oklahoma to search for answers a bit boring, and this section moved my rating of Killers of the Flower Moon from four hearts to three.

What is shocking is how this critical, important, and essential part of our history was not (is not?) taught in our schools.  How could we (I?) not know about this blight upon our country?  It is important to learn of this time and to read this book.  Not a page-turning novel, but a true and accurate account of a truly devastating time in our history as a nation.

June 2024

Alone in Wonderland

Christine Reed

Nonfiction 2021/ 265 pages

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I picked up three books at the library earlier this week that were on the shelf, waiting for me.  (All on the shelf under one of the few logistics I have not changed in my life .... my library card still reads "Beryl Rullman").  Though I only read about ten pages in Jane Eyre and in A Little Life, neither spoke to me right now.  They simply didn't feel like what I was wanting to partake of.  So, I cracked the spine on Alone in Wonderland, the current read in my "Solo Female Adventures" Facebook group, and was immediately transported to just where I wanted to be.

Christine Reed tells her true story of hiking the Wonderland Trail 93 miles around Mt. Rainer over 12 days.  But this isn't just a hiking story.  She intersperses it with details of her life that explain how she arrived at this trail.  She is fiercely independent, searching for her strong self, surprisingly insecure, living in a black Dodge Ram van.  She abandoned the Appalachian Trail while grieving her mother's death. She never was athletic or outdoorsy, nor does she have the ideal body for backpacking adventures, but still she feels called to finding herself by challenging herself in nature.

This is not the best book I have ever read, nor is she likely to go on to become a famous author, but hers is an interesting story, told with more depth and insight into her as a person than many hiking books.  It is an easy read, and enjoyable.

June 2024

Plateau of Doubt

Jonathon Stewart

Nonfiction 2018/ 329 pages

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This is the only book I found by someone who hiked the Hayduke Trail, very different from the hundreds (thousands?) written by people who hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.  I was excited to get my hands on it!

First, the trail itself.  It isn't really a trail.  It is an approximately 800-mile route through the Southwest, including six National Parks. Most of it is not on existing trails, but rather you find your way through guides, maps, tales others tell. Not many hikers are known to have hiked the Hayduke (but the numbers do include two of my favorite hikers, Carrot Quinn and Erin Saver - Wired).  I can't find an accurate number of people who are believed to have hiked the Hayduke, but in 2019 some research was done by checking trail registers and permits, and the number then was believed to be about 40 hikers.  So now, what, 200 hikers perhaps?  A common phrase among Hayduke hikers is "figure it out."  Probably no two hikers have followed the same route.  There are challenges for getting up canyons, across washes, around waterfalls.

Named after George Washington Hayduke III, a fictional character in Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, the trail seeks to pay homage to Abbey for his tireless defense of these fragile and threatened public lands.

Though I loved this book, I must give it three hearts because I think many of my blog readers will not be enamored of it.  You must be a diehard fan of the Southwest geography and history to really enjoy Stewart's story, and be fascinated by ancestral Puebloans, red rock spires, deep rocky canyons, lizards, constant searches for water, the desert in all its glory and threats, box canyons, bitterbrush, ruins, extreme heat and cold, pour offs, and descriptions of ancient stone formation.

In addition to navigating a route, and in tribute to Abbey, Stewart mixes in many topics, which some readers may find fascinating.  The environment; the history of land preservation; water; uranium mining and contamination; climate and climate change; stock management of public and private lands; society's values; politics; endangered species; ATVs; guns; the role the Mormons played in "settling" the west; gates and locks and signs and barbed wire are all fair game in Plateau of Doubt.

The editing is atrocious.  Misspellings, missed words, repeated words. I decided to include this comment in my post when, on page 175, three glaring errors (on one page!) offended my eyes.  So, you must possess a high tolerance of errors such as these to enjoy this book..

All told, I can recommend this book to those who would be fascinated by hiking and a deep exploration of the geography of America's Southwest.

May 2024

Mad Honey

Jodie Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan

Fiction 2023 | 480 pages

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The first however-many pages of Mad Honey were all about beekeeping, as presented by the beekeeper Olivia, and were mesmerizing.  As always, Jodi Picoult did her extraordinary research.

Then, we transition.  Lily is found dead (murdered?) by her boyfriend Asher, both high school seniors.  Lily, Asher, and Asher's mom, Olivia, are the major characters in this mystery.  Told in the first person, each chapter is in Olivia's voice or Lily's voice. The tale moves back and forth in time but is quite easy to follow.  At the beginning of each chapter, we learn who is speaking, the date that person is speaking, and how many days, weeks, or months it is before or after the day Lily died, December 7, 2018.

Superbly written, we learn about love, friendship, abuse, transgender journeys, loyalty, secrets, passion.  Much of the book covers Asher's trial who, at age 18, is tried as an adult for first degree murder.  He is represented in court by his uncle Jordan, Olivia's older brother.

I am in awe at how seamlessly Picoult moves back and forth in time to create a coherent story.  And her character development is rich!  We learn about these three characters' pasts, their present lives, their feelings, their thoughts and how they think.  We truly get to know them as people.

I must highly recommend Mad Honey and am very grateful to Marian for recommending this book for book club.  I regret I will miss our book club discussion!

May 2024

 

Trust

Hernan Diaz

Fiction 2023/ 416 pages

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Goodness, this is a challenging book.  Goodreads readers gave it a 3.84 ... quite low. Mixed reviews, for certain.  I loved Diaz' writing.  I thought it was eloquent and it pulled me in and through this unusual novel.

Trust is written as four novellas, or short stories.  The topic is a brilliant financier in the early 20th century, and his management of money before and during the Great Depression.  Andrew Bevel is our financier, though he is named Benjamin Trask in the first section.  All four sections are also an interesting commentary on economics, government, and big business.

It takes a lot to make sense of the interconnections among the four sections, but I will give the structure here to help you read this book.  The first section, a novel, is titled Bonds and it is allegedly a novel that Harold Vanner has written about Andrew Bevel, his life, his financial brilliance, and his quiet, tragic wife, Mildred (renamed Helen in the Vanner novel).

The second section, a memoir, is My Life, which is Bevel's telling of his life story.  This section consists of many placeholders ... where you read that he is reminding himself to cover this topic next, or to expand on that topic later.  Sentences like, "Show his pioneering spirit" and "Short, dignified account of Mildred's rapid deterioration" are frequent.  Bevel's short section is disjointed and poorly written.  I believe this was intentional, as it demonstrates that a financial and math wizard may not have any skills in writing (and, hence, communicating on any scale).

In the third and longest section, A Memoir, Remembered, we read about a young woman who is hired to ghostwrite Bevel's autobiography; both to tell his true story and as a rebuttal to what was written about him and his wife in the novel Bonds. We discover that Bevel is quite disconnected from his life and his inner workings and wants his ghostwriter to write much that is not actually true.  Ida finds herself confused and bewildered as she attempts to draft this book from Bevel's ramblings.

The final section, Futures, is excerpts from Bevel's wife's journal.

Trust is ingeniously constructed.  It is a novel about money, power, brilliance, intimacy, perception, and introversion. It is a story that immerses you, and that also provides a literary puzzle, both in how it is written, and what the truth is in Bevel's life.  Its unconventionality will disrupt your understanding of what a "novel" is.  This is a novel that requires you to think.  Nothing about it is light or fluffy.  If you are ready to engage yourself in a thoughtful analysis of economics, relationships (with self and others), and the role of literature, I suggest you read it.

I am SO looking forward to meeting my friend René for our traditional repast of guacamole made at our table and margaritas with salt rims.  René suggested this book to me.  I keep wondering what she will say about it.

May 2024

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

Fiction 2012/ 415 pages

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You have probably heard the story ... a woman, Amy, disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary to Nick.  No surprise, he is investigated for her murder, though no body is found.

This is a psychological mystery.  As the book progresses, through various chapters written in the voice of Nick or Amy, many of them in the past, we learn how emotionally and psychological flawed these two brilliant characters are.  They destroy themselves, they destroy their marriage, they destroy the relationships that are trying to keep them safe and secure.

Flynn is a gifted, intense, genius of a writer.  This book is worth reading for her writing alone.  However, the story is difficult, depressing, bothersome.  My man Brian talks about the movie version consisting of the stuff that sources nightmares. Amy is very destructive and scary.

I cannot tell you whether to read Gone Girl or not.  It is the second time I read it, as it kept coming up in conversation.  I am not sorry I read it (again) but I am not uplifted by it.

May 2024

None of This is True

Lisa Jewell

Fiction 2023/ 370 pages

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None of This is True opens on June 8, 2019, at a nice restaurant near London. It is Alix's 45th birthday, and she is celebrating with a crowd of her friends ... noisy and boisterous, with a lot of booze flowing.  Josie is also celebrating her 45th birthday at this restaurant, but it is a quiet observance, just Josie and her husband Walter.  The relationship between Josie and Alix is kick-started in the restaurant's bathroom where Josie proclaims, "Hi!  I'm your Birthday Twin!"  They were born on the same day in the same hospital.  (My own personal coincidence is that June 8 is also the birthday of my beau Brian.) And so, a strange and unusual relationship begins.

Alix is just completing a very successful run as a podcast interviewer, featuring women who overcame obstacles and achieved or exceeded their goals.  She is ready to do something else.  Josie is about to make major changes in her life and wonders if Alix might want to do a podcast with someone during her transition ... not afterwards.  Alix warms to the idea, and they begin regular interviews at Alix's studio in her home. And Josie maneuvers her way deeper into Alix's life.

At this point, None of This is True is a page turner.  Easy and fun to read.  We learn about Josie's mom, her husband Walter, who is nearly 30 years her senior, and her two grown daughters, Erin and Roxy, both of whom have cut themselves off from the family.  As Josie draws Alix out, we learn also about Alix's husband Nathan, who has a habit of staying out all night, and their two younger children.

But eventually, about half-way or two-thirds through, the book turns dark.  As Josie's interviews become more and more personal, we learn she is psychotic, a kleptomaniac, violent, and a perpetual liar.  I found the book harder and harder to read as I progressed through the latter pages, because it turned so dark.  And the ending is filled with murders.

I cannot for a moment fault Lisa Jewell's writing.  She is a superb writer, with intensely developed characters and, it seems, tight and engaging plot lines.  I am going to pick another one of her books to read.

The disturbing nature of her main character leaves my stomach a bit upset and knocked me down from four hearts to three.  Read this mystery if you have a tougher heart right now than I have.

April 2024

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

James McBride

Fiction 2023 | 400 pages

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What a rich book this is!  The characters have purpose, meaning, and personality.  The setting is the small town of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in the late 1920's and 1930's.  This is a time and a town where Jews, Negroes, and White Christians led lives, isolated in their cultural groups, and yet thrown together by circumstance.  This is a time of discrimination, assumption, bigotry.

Our main characters are Chona and Moshe, a Jewish married couple.  Chona is the kindest, most generous woman you'd want to meet.  She runs the Heaven and Earth Grocery store, and cares also for the second floor, which is where Chona and Moshe live.  She treats Jews, Negroes, and Christians alike, with the same compassion and fairness. She lets her neighbors buy on credit, which is seldom repaid.  She lets the children buy candy with marbles, which rotate through the community of Pottstown, and the same marble purchases multiple bits of candy over time.  The Grocery is always in the red.  Moshe, quiet and self-contained, who runs two theaters in town, as well as creating income from other sources, introduces the music of these multiple cultures to the residents of Pottstown, and, in his own way, does his part to break down cultural barriers and build understanding and respect.

Chona becomes very ill, which plays a large part in this book.  They also take DoDo into their home, a black hearing-impaired orphan, which serves to unite the community when the government takes him away and moves him to an asylum for lunatics.  At 12 years old, Dodo is a fascinating character who has much to teach us.

There are other well developed and interesting characters in this astute book that explores race, poverty, bias, and history.  McBride gives us much to ponder.  Yes, I recommend this book, unequivocally.

April 2024

Royal We

Heather Cocks

Fiction 2016, 496 pages

Too sweet, too saccharin. I read 100 pages to fill up some airplane time and now I am moving on.

April 2024

 

 

Shark Heart

Emily Habeck

Fiction 2023 | 419 pages

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In 21 years of reading The Deschutes Public Library community read, this is the first book I didn’t care for.  I may not have finished it, if it weren’t for its central place among those who read in Bend.

A first novel by Ms. Habeck, but one that didn’t touch me.  A few weeks after Wren’s marriage to Lewis he is diagnosed with “Carcharodon carcharias” mutation.  In nine months, he will be a great white shark.  I like fantasy, mystical realism, and unbelievable premises, but this one never landed for me.  We watch as Lewis and Wren deal with this terrible diagnosis and the eventual absolution of their marriage.  But Wren is so analytical, I never get a feel for her feelings and Lewis is so inward-focused, he doesn’t come alive on the page either.

And the pages?  Many, many, many pages are one or two sentences long; filling maybe three lines on the page.  Why?  What is this literary tool supposed to gain us?  I don’t know.

Of course, there are many poignant moments, many quirky moments, many sad moments, many fun moments.  (Lewis’s diet changes radically as his body transforms, and he consumes copious amounts of raw fish and shrimp every day!)  It may stick with me because the premise it so odd, but not because I thought the writing was either insightful or profound.  I suggest you skip to whatever is next on your list.

April 2024

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Read

Shannon Read

Nonfiction 2024 | 329 pages

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Why We Read is like a piece of excellent flourless chocolate cake.  Truly yummy!  Shannon Reed has had a love affair with books since she was two, when her Mum-Mum taught her how to read, because she "was ready."  She taught literature to high school and college students and is now a professor in creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.  And she loves to read!

Her book is delightful.  Each short chapter focuses on a different aspect of reading, such as why we read series, reading for comfort, how we choose a book to read, reading because we have to, reading to feel superior, reading because it is fun.  It is quite an experience for the reader, as we recognize ourselves in some chapters, and not in others.  The entire premise of the book is captured in its title, Why We Read.

Reed has inspired me to reread Jane Eyre and Gone Girl.  She introduced me to The Royal We, and invited the to reconsider reading my favorite series, Robert Parker's Spenser novels and/or Outlander.  

She is a good humor writer, too.

Watch out book club!  I will suggest this book for 2025, unless too any of us have read it by then!

If you love to read, you will love Why We Read?

April 2024

The Maid

Nita Prose

Fiction 2002/ 307 pages

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(Note: To begin with a clarification, this is not The Maid, written by Stephanie Land in the same time frame, with a movie and a Netflix series to its credit.  That is a book about domestic violence and a woman making it on her own. This book, also titled The Maid, is a murder mystery set at the Grand Hotel in England.)

Our main character is Molly Gray, an exemplary maid in the hotel, with a quirky sense of perfection.  Cleaning is her calling in life.  When Molly finds a frequent well-to-do guest, Mr. Black, dead in his suite, things turn quickly awry as Molly is accused of and arrested on drug charges, possession of an unregistered gun, and the murder of Mr. Black himself.  We follow her through one week in her life; the week when her life falls apart.  It seems Molly has been inadvertently used as a pawn in a drug ring being run out of this fine hotel.

Molly lives alone in a slumlord's apartment building.  Her Gran, who taught Molly with an insatiable number of cliches and a firm sense of morality, shared an apartment with Molly, and just died just a few months prior.  Molly has/had no life of her own, other than The Grand Hotel and her Gran.

The story is fun and an easy read. The “whodunit” is revealed very near the end, and it wasn’t a surprise to me.  Was it a surprise to you?

Molly is the most naive character I believe I have ever read about in a book.  This trait, central to the theme and story line, is sometimes entertaining, but often simply frustrating to the reader.  As such, I can’t quite recommend The Maid.  However, if you are seeking a mystery read that is just pure fun, this is a good choice.

April 2024

 

Walk the Blue Fields

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2007/ 128 pages

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I believe I may simply be tiring of short stories ... not my favorite genre.  But Walk the Blue Fields did not grab me as much as Claire Keegan's other books.  The opening short story was disturbing.  If she had carried that theme throughout, I might have been more compelled.  Other stories were mixed ... some light, some heavy.   And one short story was in another book.  Don't take me too seriously; I probably just need a Keegan break!

March 2024

 

 

 

Good for a Girl

Lauren Fleshman

Nonfiction Autobiography 2023 | 274 pages

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I am a feminist, not naive, was a bit of an athlete in my earlier years, and I know something about women's health.

In the first 50 pages of Good for a Girl, I leaned many things I didn't know ... about how the changes in our body effects our physical performance; about the deeply challenging and disturbing studies and insights into eating disorders; about gender equity in sports.  Lauren Fleshman taught me.

And then she continues to do so for another 200 pages as we walk with her (she is running; we are walking!) through the changes and challenges in her body and in sports culture over the next 20 years or so.  And trust me, the changes have still not been all that profound.  We witness her ... no, we FEEL her win races, lose races,  become injured, develop negative self-talk, regain her confidence, fight battles, over and over. She races throughout the world ... and develops many relationships with teammates, mentors, and coaches.  If you think women who compete with each other can't be friends, read this book!  Women who compete with each can be a wildly supportive network.

I was reading this at first because of my connection.  Lauren is the daughter-in-law of one of my friends, and I had the privilege of hosting Lauren and Jesse for a short while in my Opportunity Knocks group as they were building Picky Bars.   But it didn't me long to realize, this is a well written, educational, mind-and-heart grabbing autobiography.

Every woman will likely learn and benefit from reading this book. Parents of aspiring female athletes (and the athletes themselves) should read this book.  It needs to be required reading for all sports coaches, before they apply to get the job!  And a lot of men will find it fascinating too, especially if there are active women in their lives whom they love. I sincerely recommend Good for a Girl.

March 2024

 

Small Things like These

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2021 | 118 pages

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Sometimes a man works hard at his job and provides for his family (five daughters, one wife!) whom he loves.  And these two endeavors sometimes become not enough. Bill Furlong reaches that stage, though I am unsure he recognizes it.  Instead he feels a bit out of sorts, restless, a bit of a wanderer.  But by the end of this novella, he finds what is calling him and what he needs to feed his soul and set him upon his next path.

Another beautiful Claire Keegan discovery of a character, who she makes so very real for us with superb writing.

March 2024

 

Thru-Hiking will Break your Heart

Carrot Quinn

Nonfiction 2015/ 368 pages

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I have commented in other blog posts that I am a sucker for real-life-wilderness books. This one is superb!  The manner in which adventurers on long-haul trails, whether on land, on water, or on ice, share themselves with us, the great unknown, is very pleasing. They are typically not authors, but instead are simply opening their hearts and souls to us.  Carrot Quinn is one such writer.  (Around page 100 I finally googled Carrot because I didn't know for certain if he was a he or she was a she.  She is a woman!)

Carrot sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico north to Canada.  And her message is clean.  She doesn't fill this book with her life history and what inspired her to load up and put on a heavy backpack.  She doesn't spend a lot of time studying maps and books.  She is not filled with angst like Cheryl Strayed when she began the same journey.  She has the basics that support her ... a PCT trail map and imperatively, a GPS listing and description, mile by mile, of water spots, whether springs, a trough, a cache, or a hotel/hostel/store.  We know these foundational tools support her, but Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart does not dwell on logistics, but rather on Carrot's feelings, moods, insights, thoughts ...

Hmm, I haven't read a book on hiking the CDT (Continental Divide Trail), nor the trail I really want to learn about, The Hayduke. (Update .... I found one book on each!  They are now in my possession).

Carrot meets other hikers on the trail and spends many of her days hiking with them.  They are fun and interesting. Sometimes Carrot camps alone; this cab make her uncomfortable.  It was a low-snow year in the Sierras the year she hiked the PCT (2013), so it was more about walking than post-holing.  Finding and hauling and imbibing enough water and food through any section is a constant focus for her and her co-trail-hikers.  The number and variety of Trail Angels astounds me.  Thank goodness for Trail Angels!

At the last minute I changed my rating from four hearts to three, not because I didn't love this book, but because it will appeal to a unique audience which is what my three hearts stand for.  It is a bit long.  However, if you love wilderness adventures as I do, I fully recommend this real-life tale by Carrot Quinn.

March 2024

 

 

 

Poster Girl

Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Fiction 2023 | 256 pages

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Speaking of falling in love with an author (seeing my last blog post!) I have also fallen in love with Shelley Blanton-Stroud, author of Copy Boy, Tomboy, and Poster Girl. 

Our hero, Jane Benjamin, has worked her way up to be gossip columnist for The Prospect, a San Francisco-based newspaper, in 1942.  But, as in her first two novels, Benjamin finds herself in the middle of real stories, not the stuff gossip is made of.  Covering seven days in November 1942, the novel opens with Jane attending a celebration for the first women welders hired and trained by Lowe Shipyards, a west coast shipbuilder, who is a leader among the shipbuilders in the competitive shipbuilding market as the United States enters WWII.  But one of the four new welders is missing from the celebration, and we soon find her dead, apparently from a faulty welding cable.  Jane is thrown into the mystery of her death, which is handled and investigated totally by internal Rowe employees, as well as the political and cultural struggle to bring women into patriotic, economic, and physical support of the war.

As with her first two novels in the Jane Benjamin series, Blanton-Stroud has created smart, scrappy, satisfying women’s history. Poster Girl is an absorbing mystery and a fascinating historical fiction story.  As with her previous novels, we learn that Jane Benjamin is flawed, over-zealous, ambitious, has no filter on her mouth, and among the most lovable characters you will find.  I just love this new author.  I can find nowhere on her site that she has another novel in the works.  I sure hope so!

I whole-heartedly recommend Poster Girl.  I suggest you read her three novels in the Jane Benjamin series in order.  While Blanton-Stroud does fill in all the information you need to know, I find it quite intriguing to watch Jane Benjamin grow and change, and to understand from whence she came.

March 2024

 

 

 

 

 

So Late in the Day

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2023 | 128 pages

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Sharp. Crisp. Wounded. Insightful.  These are words that come to mind when I think of how Claire Keegan develops her characters.  How can she make you comprehend an important essence of a character in 20, 30, 40 small pages?   I don't quite understand it, but I love it.  Her writing is astounding!  I am not a fan of short stories, and yet the three short stories that comprise So Late in the Day are profoundly related to each other.  They grab you, and do not let go.   She tells the stories of what goes wrong between men and women, from a place of deep insight, not surface behavior (especially, she portrays the men and their psychological weaknesses).

Take an hour or two and read this short book.  Keegan has nine books, most of them about 100 pages long, and you will see more blog posts from me on this author in the next few months.  It is wonderful to fall in love with an author!

March 2024

 

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide to American Mah Jongg

Elaine Sandberg

Nonfiction 2007/ 124 pages

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A Beginner's Guide to American Mah Jongg by Elaine Sandberg, filled with graphics, color, exercises, humor, and extremely clear explanations, is simply delightful.  I believe you could learn the game by just reading this easy 124 page book.

I own this book and it is available for loan.

March 2024

 

 

 

 

 

Hawaii

Andrew Doughty

Nonfiction

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I just read three books on Hawaii, as we plan for our trip to the Big Island.  Hawaii The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty is a real gem.  Doughty, who lives in Hawaii, won't recommend someplace in his book until he has been then, often a few times.  It feels up-to-date and clear, and it is as though you are in conversation with hm.  We expect this to be our go-to book.

Hawaii, The Best Beaches on the Big Island by Robert Frutos, is a sweet and short book.  But it fulfills for us just what we wanted fulfilled.  It markets itself with this description ... "including the very best snorkeling locations." A good reference if snorkeling is your thing.

Wind, Wings and Waves by Rick Soehren is a nature guide to Hawaii.  It covers nature, geography, volcanoes, culture, plants, animals and coral reefs across all of Hawaii. Because he includes the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i, and the Big Island, it is more of a reference guide than a tourist guide.  This book will probably stay home when we travel.

Just in case someone else out there needs these books!!

March 2024

 

 

 

 

 

West with Giraffes

Lynda Rutledge

Historical Fiction 2021 | 355 pages

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The story is narrated by Woodrow Wilson Nickel, a fictional character. When the story opens, he is 105, and being the age he is, he wishes to write of the experience of a lifetime, one he had when he was only seventeen.

Inspired by true events, the tale weaves real-life figures with fictional ones, including the world's first female zoo director, at the San Diego Zoo.  Two giraffes, named Boy and Girl, travel from Europe on a ship in 1938, and as they enter New York harbor, so does a hurricane.  West with Giraffes is the story of Woody Nickel who, having lost both his parents and his baby sister in the Dust Bowl in the Texas Panhandle, has traveled east to find Cuz, the boss of his third cousin.  He sees at the harbor these two giraffes, barely alive, and manages to finagle his way to sign on with Old Man to help drive Boy and Girl to San Diego.  And the adventures begin.

The story line is awesome; the connection to truth is intriguing.  There were moments I couldn't wait to turn the page, and many other moments I was simply bored. The writing was very inconsistent to me.  I read a lot of magazines while reading West with Giraffes, because I was often drawn to distractions, so I could put the book down.

One problem I had is I could not picture the rig, which made virtually every scene rather foggy. Rutledge was much better at telling the story than showing the story ... a writer's curse of death.  I finally looked this up on google and found about a half-dozen photos of rigs, all decidedly different, all carrying two giraffes each.  These photos gave me a better feel for what they may have been traveling in and wiped away a bit of the fog.

One reviewer wrote that the sentences were passive.  Even once I read this, I couldn't pick out passive sentences, but I had the feeling there was a dampening of the story, like the reader had on headphones or was under water.

Another reviewer writes:

"Woody drives for a while.
They stop so the giraffes can eat.
They run into road trouble.
Red is following them and takes pictures.
They solve their trouble.
They stop for the night.
Repeat the same sequence tomorrow, and the next day."

I think she hit the nail on the head.

I do not know quite how to explain this ... it is something we talk about in coaching ... putting a lid on it. I felt the whole time that there was a lid on this story, holding the energy down and trapping it inside.  If she had had fewer crises (instead of one every day) but let them explode ... be deeper, bigger, more interesting, more filled with action and emotion (I SO wanted to know more about the seven Black brothers and the big family's granddaughter) ... the story would have been more compelling.  If she had explored Old Man or Red in greater depth, instead of being obsessed with their secrets, we might have discovered more about who they are, what they felt, even their histories, about which we knew nothing, the story would have been more compelling.  We only came to know one coming-of-age character, Woodrow Wilson Nickel, and that was not enough.

Two members of my book club recommended West with Giraffes for our March read.  I will be fascinated to hear what they have to say.  In the meantime, I don’t recommend this book.  Guess I will return to my magazines now.

February 2024

 

 

 

 

 

The Art Thief

Michael Finkel

Nonfiction 2023/ 225 pages

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Stéphane Breitwieser, along with his girlfriend Anne-Catherine, is believed to be the most prolific art thief of all time, conducting 239 heists, typically in broad daylight, from 172 museums, and amassing $2 billion in art works. Different from most (all?) other art thieves, during his heyday, he never sold or attempted to sell a single piece of work.  He stole them for their artistic beauty and displayed them all in the attic bedroom and salon he shared with Anne-Catherine.  Check out this book if for no other reason than to see the drawing of these two rooms.  He was obsessed with the beauty of exquisitely completed art, much of it from the Renaissance period, and all from a wife wide range of media ... painting, sculpture, ivory, metal chalices, wood, weapons ... a large and diverse range.  His thieving eventually transforms from love to compulsion to obsession to maniacal.

And his story is absolutely true.  This is a "true crime" book.  For that reason, it deserves a read.

However (I know, it has been weeks since I did not give a book four hearts) I found it poorly written.  It reads like a spreadsheet to me. He stole this piece, from this museum or show or gallery, by removing 4 or 8 or 30 screws or two locks and stashed it under his jacket or his backpack or Anne-Catherine's large purse, and walked out of the building in the middle of the day, often chatting with a guard or patron.  This pattern repeats itself through the book, without much interlude.

Do I recommend The Art Thief?  Mildly.  The story is interesting, but I will be curious to hear/remember why my book club selected this short read.  It just didn't quite woo me.

February 2024

 

 

The Covenant of Water

Abraham Verghese

Fiction 2023 | 725 pages

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I picked it up at the library, and then took it back unread.  Then I did it again.  And then a third time.  I was intimidated by the length (900 pages large print; 725 regular print).  But this last time, I committed and read it through.  What a profound, delightful, meaningful, engaging, powerful, interesting book. (it took me 19 days to read).

We begin in 1900 and follow a family for three generations and across two continents, until Ammachi's granddaughter makes some astounding discoveries at the end of the book, in 1977.  We learn early on about "The Condition," so named by Ammachi, the 12-year-old Indian girl who is forced into an arranged marriage and who eventually becomes the beloved matriarch of this family.  She notices, as does the generation before her, that in every generation, someone dies from drowning.  The drowners also hate the water, and refuse to go near it all of their lives, from fussing under the baptismal font until their final accidental encounter with water.

But soon the book becomes not only about the family, but about land, and the caste system in India, and land growth and development, and leprosy, and advances in the medical field as well as in cultural and social norms.  There is a section near the end about the Indian caste revolution and the democratic election of a Communist government.

The family is complex, with their "secrets" like any family and generations-old relationships both within the family itself and the lower caste that serves them and their land.

Verghese is a doctor who decided mid-career to train at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and has gone on to achieve distinction in both fields.  You will enjoy his considerable medical knowledge as well as his very engaging characters and story development.

I must recommend this tome ... it is destined to be a classic.  AND, know that snow days or beach days will help you navigate the length, complexity, and depth of The Covenant of Water.  Please post your thoughts and reactions here.  I will be eager to read what you think about this delightful book.

February 2024

 

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Heather Morris

Historical Fiction 2018 | 288 pages

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This short book is another gem ... only this is one everyone SHOULD read, not only might enjoy reading!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a story of a young Slovakian Jew named Lale Sokolov who was taken from his home to save his family in 1942, and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, in Poland.  While there, he worked as the camp tattooist (Tätowierer) and fell in love with a Slovakian Jewish girl named Gita Furman. She saw no reason to get to know him, initially. To her, "they were never going to leave that place, other than through the chimney."  But they did and after the war, the lovers found each again, and were married for 58 years.

As such, the book depicts not only the nightmarish wartime reality, violence, humiliation, degradation, starvation, murder, and completely inhumane day-to-day life at a concentration camp but also describes a love story that survives despite the enormous difficulties.

For many years, this history was known only to the closest family of Lale and Gita. Lale was simply afraid to discuss his past so as not to be accused of collaborating with the Germans. Only after the death of his beloved Gita in 2003, when he first met the writer Heather Morris, did Lale decide to tell Heather about everything that had happened during the war.

Claims of factual inaccuracies have been made by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center.  For example, they say that a tattooist never had this role as his job.  The assignment at tattooists was more random and short-term than represented in the book.  Somehow, I don't find it necessary to ferret out truth from fiction in "historical fiction."  If there is a core element of truth, with attempted research behind it, and the book raises my awareness about a time period or an event, I consider myself well-served.

I heartily recommend this book.  It is insightful, yet hopeful.

February 2024

 

Tomboy

Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Fiction 2020 | 309 pages

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A book cover with a picture of a boy and the words " tom boy ".

Tomboy is an excellent sequel to Shelley Blanton-Stroud's first novel, Copy Boy.  In Tomboy, Jane Benjamin reverts to her rightful gender, female.  She has been accepted at her SanFrancisco- based newspaper, the Prospect, in a low-level cub reporter role, but, still, as a young woman during the Depression Era.

Through a series of flukes, Jane gets herself on a trip to report on a female tennis star at Wimbledon, which proves to be more than Jane bargained for when the tennis star’s coach drops dead at the game. On the trip back across the Atlantic, more questions arise, and Jane soon finds herself researching another mystery.  She wants to be a gossip columnist but keeps running into real news to write about!

I loved the way the author handles Jane's trip across the sea to England, and back again, on the RMS Queen Mary.  Each chapter opens with the deck of the Queen Mary that is the setting for the chapter, and it is fascinating to watch the workings of the ship, as well as Jane and the hardships she encounters.  I swear, I could feel the rocking of the great ship.  Jane is befriended by the tennis star, Tommie, and their relationship is complex.  They serve as mirrors to each other, right down to what shoes they wear.

Jane is not an easy-to-love character.  She lies, steals, and uses people.  She is irresponsible and selfish; naive and moody.  And yet, because she sees clearly who she is and begins to admit it to herself, she is endearing and you root for her. She is also feisty, ambitious, resourceful, and determined.  In the end, she does her best to not hurt people.

I urge you to climb aboard the lively Blanton-Stroud train.  A friend of a friend, the author recently retired from teaching writing at Sacramento State.  She is a mature writer, even in this, her second novel.  I am at the edge of my seat, awaiting the third novel, The Poster Girl. RECOMMENDED!

January 2024

 

 

Foster

Keegan Claire Keegan

Fiction 2010 | 95 pages

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A book cover with a house on it

Now I understand why everyone says, “I didn’t want this book to end….”

An unnamed girl is given to her aunt and uncle for a few weeks of fostering on the Irish countryside, while her mother delivers yet another baby.  While this girl has few words or experiences to describe her emotions, she soon learns what love is.

This novella will take you two hours to read, and it is worth every minute.

February 2024

 

 

Foster

Claire Keegan

Fiction 2010 | 95 pages

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Now I understand why everyone says, “I didn’t want this book to end….”

An unnamed girl is given to her aunt and uncle for a few weeks of fostering on the Irish countryside, while her mother delivers yet another baby.  While this girl has few words or experiences to describe her emotions, she soon learns what love is.

This novella will take you two hours to read, and it is worth every minute.

January 2024

p.s.  Published twice because this doesn't seem to have gone to the mailing list.  My apologies if you receive twice!

 

 

 

A Woman of No Importance

Sonia Purnell

Biography 2019 | 368 pages

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You can't read this like a fiction book. There is no skimming! Every single paragraph has an important piece of information in it.  I have returned to reread many a paragraph when my mind wanders.  I am not certain I have ever read a book so deep and intense in its research, and resultant writing.

A Woman of No Importance is a captivating biography that unveils the extraordinary life of Virginia Hall, an American spy during World War II. Purnell skillfully narrates Hall's courage, resilience, and contributions to France, offering a compelling and inspiring story of a woman who utterly defied expectations in a male-dominated field. The book sheds light on a lesser-known hero and provides a gripping account of espionage and bravery.  (This last paragraph written by Chat GPT, edited some by me. Thought I would try an experiment. While factually accurate, it just doesn't sound like my voice, does it?)

Virginia Hall amazes me. She gathered, committed, and outfitted resistors to the Germans. She created safe houses and received secret packages of food, clothing, supplies, and cash for the men and women she recruited. She planned safe routes, actions to sabotage the movement of Germans through blowing up bridges, destruction of roads, etc. She planned and helped resistors escape from jails, prisons, and concentration camps. She learned to "play the piano" of a radio which allowed her to pass on information to her "bosses" in London. Perhaps most important of all, she created and maintained relationships with everyone from royalty to power brokers to brothel owners to clergy which allowed people with certain values and beliefs about peace, freedom, and courage, to direct their energy, do something useful, and in many cases put their lives on the line, saving their beloved country (Virginia's adopted country) of France.  She did all this with no guidance, no mentors, no training, no experience, no advice and counsel.  She relied solely on her wisdom, her own thought processes, her natural skills, her amazing brain, her warmth and care-taking, and her astounding strategy skills.

Some she saved from sure death wrote, "They had enjoyed nearly forty years of freedom since spending a mere couple of months in Virginia's presence in 1944.  But the warrior they called La Madone had shown them hope, comradeship, courage, and the way to be the best version of themselves, and they had never forgotten." (Final page of Chapter Twelve.")

And we don't know her.  She was a hero we should have studied in high school.  She was the first woman to do so much, with so much strength and courage, we should have had a chapter on her in our high school history books.  Just as important, I learned a great deal about the REAL war and what it was truly like to resist losing your freedom to a ruthless invader.  I learned about the real people in the war, not just the politics.

Thank you, Jan Baker, for this recommendation.  Although it is a bit long, I cannot help but recommend this incredibly well researched and intriguing biography to everyone.

January 2024

 

 

 

 

Watership Down: The Novel

Richard Adams

Teen Fiction 1972 | 475 pages

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What a delightful book and story!  On the very same day we decided to read a classic in book club, there was an article on NPR talking about the new Watership Down:  A Graphic Novel that was just released  earlier in the week.  We chose to read either the graphic novel, or the full original novel, or both.  I read both.

Richard Adams begins this story as a tale for his daughters while on a car journey, but gradually it grows into a life of its own.  The story is about a warren of rabbits, Sandleford,  who leave their home in search of another place to live, in part because of some destruction by humans, and in part because there are no does in the warren, and without does, there will be no kittens, and without kittens, there will be no warren in a few years.

They travel across Watership Down … an area of pasture and relatively flat land in England, in search of a new home and other rabbits.  Fiver, who has extra-sensory powers,  and Hazel, the warren’s wonderful compassionate and creative leader, are among the major rabbit characters, along with Bigwig, Bluebell, Dandelion, Wouldwort and others.  Each has their own special skills.  Each has their own special personality.

Yes, they talk as humans do, often using two primary rabbits languages that Adam created, LaPine and Hedgerow.  And we are privy to all of their delightful conversations!   This anthropomorphizing, along with violence and prejudice, (and, not noticed by many until recently, the total lack of any personality or action among the females in the book, the does) led to this being a controversial book.  Though never banned nationally, some school districts would not allow it on their shelves.  Of course, in a book this long, there are many interesting travels (along the metal road; in something that floated on the water) and many fights with Efrafa, a warren that is dictator-led, aggressive, and not compassionate or kind.  And we learn many rabbit-isms!

Many reviewers and critics say this book is an allegory for WWII and the various leadership styles … Hitler, Eisenhower, Churchill, but please allow me to quote from Adam’s 2005 introduction to a new publication of Watership Down.  “I want to emphasize that Watership Down was never intended to be some sort of allegory or parable.  It is simply the story about rabbits made up and told in the car.” (page xvi).

If your read/reread both versions (and I DO recommend you do so), I would read the novel first and then the graphic novel.  Because the novel is so rich, the graphic novel cannot begin to capture all the action.  It will make more sense and hold more context if you read the graphic novel second.  And, oh, to see the marvelous rabbits and land that the artist Joe Stuphi draws!  Beautiful!

January 2024

 

 

The Girl from Everywhere

Heidi Heilig

Fiction 2016/ 454 pages

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Sixteen-year-old Nix is a time traveler, traveling with her father in a pirate ship called the Temptation.  The challenge is, however, they can travel across distance, mystical worlds, and times ... but only if they have a map that can get them there.  Her father is obsessed with getting back to Honolulu in 1868, in time to keep his wife from dying in childbirth with Nix. Nix understands her father's obsession, but also enjoys the simple adventures of going back to China a few centuries ago, or to modern New York City, or going to a fantasy land where fish provide power and light.

The relationships were fun ... Nix is good friends with a fellow shipmate, Kashmir, who is a master thief.  Nix and her dad Slate have a very loving relationship.

I think conceptually the plot is very clever.  The relationships and the individual characters were well-developed.  However, I think the author misses the mark on the story.  So much more could have been included. We see little of the places they visit and experience no real sense of the cultures.  The author jumps around in time, especially in Hawaii, making it a bit hard to follow.  The story, the context, the various settings, including The Temptation, lack vividness, wonder, fantasy, visual clarity for me.  I could seldom "see" where they are.

The Girl from Everywhere is an easy read.  I can recommend it, but not whole-heartedly.

January 2024

 

 

 

 

Copy Boy

Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Historical Fiction 2020 | 250 pages

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Jane has a rough start in life, living impoverished in the Dust Bowl.  She and her parents ride the Okie Trail, Route 66, to Northern California, seeking a life where they may be able to stop living in tents and cardboard homes.  Their house held little, but it did provide protection for Jane's hope chest of books including self-penned notebooks filled with her detailed account of the family's migration to California in the 1930's. Always, she writes.

Jane felt she owed her Momma ... she was the first twin born: the second twin, Benjamin, was still-born. Benjamin became "a spirit, a stream of particles". Jane hadn't cleared the account she felt she owed, though she'd tried in a thousand ways.

One night, Jane's mother and father engage in oft-repeated domestic abuse.  Fists fly.  Momma, heavily pregnant, is knocked to the ground, and Jane hits Daddy with a crowbar.

Jane leaves her physically abusive Daddy and psychologically abusive Momma for San Francisco, and finds the apartment of two women she knows, who feel pity and take her in.  In order to earn her keep, Jane needs to find a job.  At 17, in the Depression, Jane knows she wants to be a copy boy.  She disguises herself as a boy, as she is six-feet tall and has a raspy voice but needs to bind her breasts and buy some wingtips!  This is the only way she can get such a job! And this is the story of her days as a copy boy.  She takes her brother's name and is now known as Benny Hopper.

An unfortunate photograph, unscrupulous photographers and writers, and a discovery that her Daddy is still alive, all add to her (temporary) demise as a copy boy.  Copy Boy by Shelley Blanton-Stroud is an excellent work of historical fiction taking place in Northern California during the Depression. It is a gem of a story about a strong young woman in history.  I enjoyed this historical mystery set during the Depression. I admired Jane’s strength and her commitment to what’s right. Overall, this was a quick and captivating historical read with some added suspense.  Blanton-Stroud’s debut novel is fabulous!  Starting with a gripping first chapter, we are suddenly hooked into Jane’s ruse as she builds her life. The story is well researched with rich detail of depression-era San Francisco and the life of journalist at that time. Quite a fascinating read!  I quite enjoyed it.

This is a fantastic debut ... another great first novel! I recommend it!  Copy Boy was written by a friend of a friend.  Thank you, Jo!

New Year's Eve 2023

 

 

 

Watership Down: The Graphic Novel

Richard Adams

Fiction 2023 | 383 pages

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This graphic novel is nothing sort of delightful to hold in your hands and let your eyes gaze on the evolving story.  The art is wonderful, the expressions on rabbit faces are astounding, the mood is consistent and pulls you along.

Unfortunately, I cannot quite tell you the story from reading this graphic novel!  While I read about many different leadership styles and their effectiveness and ineffectiveness and numerous adventures, I can't say which rabbits are victorious and who was eliminated.  There are too many rabbit warrens for me to really get my arms around the nature of each.

Watership Down has been described as an allegory, with the labors of Hazel, Fiver, Dandelion and Bigwig, "mirror[ing] the timeless struggles between tyranny and freedom, reason and blind emotion, and the individual and the corporate state." (Wikipedia).  It is a story about the survival of animals in the wilderness (I love the boat the best!) and it is thought to be a metaphor for World War II.

I loved this one sentence, and when I looked it up, I learned that it is one of numerous famous quotes from Watership Down  “ ‘My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today,’  (page 86) is the phrase the rabbits say over a fallen comrade; notice the enemy becomes one’s heart, because of the pain of loss  Not death.  Death, in other words, is not the enemy.  It is merely terrible.”  (Commentary from unknown source.)

I cannot compare this graphic novel to the actual novel, because it is probably almost 50 years since I read the 1972 book!  I have not decided yet if I will reread the full novel by Richard Adam's before book club meets at the end of January.  However, I do certainly recommend you pick up this gem of a graphic novel in the meantime!

P.s.  I read this book with my iPad and Google by my side, but was 90% through when I learned there actually was a glossary of the rabbits' LaPine language, on pages 378 and 379. This will save you some Google time!

December 2023

 

 

Ninth House

Leight Bardugo

Fiction 2019/ 455 page

Galaxy (Alex) Stern has seen Grays all of her life.  "Grays" is a Yale Lethe term for ghosts.  Alex enters Yale, and, in her first year, she becomes "Dante " ... the young novice who will eventually rise to a place of greater power by her senior year ... invited into Yale's secret societies by her extraordinary talent..

The story is intriguing.  You learn about the secret societies of Yale who perform magic, connect with beings behind the Veil, sometimes make sacrifices, and maintain the long history of these nine underground "fraternities" that all lay claim to some of the most recognizable, professional, and successful business and political leaders (mostly men) in our society since the mid-1800k.

The first two-thirds of this adult fantasy novel quite captured my interest.  it was intriguing to learn how the House of Lethe worked and interacted.  I was quite pleased to witness the suppport and friendship among Yale faculty, staff, and students who are a part of Lethe.  And the magic is delightful!

Long about page 300, Bardugo's first novel in adult fantasy, turns violent.  I began to like it less then, though it certainly shifts when Alex befriends The Bridegroom, who is dead, lives on the other side of the Veil, and who saves Alex a number of times from black magic and angry Grays.

I liked this book quite a bit, though I don't know that affinity will take me far into reading the second and third novels in the trilogy.  The end of this first book did not leave me hanging and compelled to read more. I think Ninth House will intrigue you if you like Yale, or magic, suspense, and intrigue.

December 2023

 

 

 

From Here to Eternity

Caitlin Doughty

Nonfiction 2017 | 248 pages

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This is a fascinating account of how different cultures have established different approaches to dealing with dead human bodies.   Interestingly, the people from various cultures, rituals, and processes believe other processes show disrespect. For example, cultures that prefer open cremation, where the family watches a body burn, believe that closed creation, which occurs commonly today, traps the soul in the crematorium, and does nothing to help the family come to terms with the death.  Among some other countries/cultures, we also explore cremation on a raised platform in the small town of Crestone, Colorado; and the FOREST project in Cullowhee North Carolina (Forensic Osteology Research Station) which has developed ways to speed up natural decomposition and facilitates the body returning to soil; and Joshua Tree California, where some renegades took disposal into their own hands.

Yes, Doughty writes about the experiences of her research and what she learned, but for such a topic as this, she does a good job of intersecting humor and lightness.  This is one of those great nonfiction books that teaches you about a topic you had known you were interested in!  And it makes you think about your own demise.

December 2023

 

 

 

 

The Bullet that Missed

Richard Osman

Fiction 2022/ 341 pages

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One Thursday afternoon in the seniors' center, a decade-old cold case, the murder of Bethany Waites, leads the Thursday Murder Club to a murder with no body and no answers. A new enemy they call "Viking", wants Elizabeth to kill former KGB chief Viktor, or he will kill her best friend, Joyce.

This third "Thursday Murder Club" adventure ranges from a prison cell with an espresso machine to a luxury penthouse with a swimming pool high in the sky to the Thursday Murder Club meeting room at off hours, during the Jigsaw Puzzle Club.

I agree with some reviewers who call Osman's characters "quirky and fun." They are!  And that is delightful!  There are just too many of them, in too many complex relationships with each other.  Sorry, but I am going to quit Osman and not bother with the fourth book in the series.  I think one problem I had with Bullet is that there isn't a voice that ties the book together. In earlier books in the series, Osman had Joyce writing in her journal, creating a sense of flow and a pair of eyes from which to see the action.  Now, the point of view keeps shifting, from Ron to Pauline to Elizabeth to Ibrahim to Donna to Joyce to Victor to the Viking.  It is more like a disorganized box of Legos rather than Legos together that build a tower to a climax.

I am rating it three hearts because if you are a mystery lover, I think you may like this book.  Many people have!

December 2023

 

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Stephen King

Fiction 1999 | 262 pages

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Trisha, nine years old, is on a hike with her older brother and mother, who are arguing so much and so vociferously, they do not hear her say she is stopping to pee.  She goes off the trail to pee, and since she is at a Y, she decides to go cross country a bit, just to pick up the other trail.  She hears voices on both trails.  But she never finds the other trail.

At nine-years-old, she is resourceful and smart.  She makes her tuna sandwich and Twinkies last a few days, and then she finds checkerberries, beechnuts, and fiddleheads to help sustain her.  Though one of these, or drinking straight from the stream, sends her belly on a roller coaster.

She is out for a week and walks miles and miles away from the search site, well into New Hampshire and up the chimney.  Of course, the mishaps are way too many to mention, but do include bug bites, falling, dead deer, torrential rain, swamps, and occasional tears.

Her passion is for Tom Gordon, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.  She has her Walkman with her and is able to listen to three Red Sox games before it dies.  Tom Gordon is with her, encouraging her on, keeping her sane .... though it is all fantasy in her mind.  As is the evil "thing" that she imagines is out to get her, out there in the woods.

The typical King horror is downplayed in this book.  It consists of what a nine-year-old girl imagines in her mind, and the simple but challenging horrors of being lost in the woods.  There is no axe murderer or rapist following her.

I love Trisha!  She does not do everything perfect, but what a survivor she is, out for over a week until she finally sees a person.  I wonder if I would be as strong, committed, and brilliant as she is.

This is a great Stephen King novel.  He is such a good writer!  If you know other novels of his that are not filled with gore and real terror, and over-zealous bad guys, please let me know.  I would be glad to try another.

December 2023

 

 

 

The Chuckling Fingers

Mabel Seeley

Fiction 1941 | 385 pages

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The Library is a restaurant in International Falls, Minnesota.  The walls of the restaurant are lined with shelves filled with books ... and you can take as many as you want when you go there to enjoy lunch or dinner.  This is where I acquired Chuckling Fingers. Yes, the plot summary on the back of the book intrigued me, but it was the title that caused me to place this next to my plate of fresh walleye fingers.

The Chuckling Fingers has a smart protagonist, a complicated plot, and a range of characters.  Published in 1941, this book was delightful to read in part because it was written 80 years ago.  The Heaton family, lumber barons, are together in their estate called "Fiddling Fingers" on Lake Superior, near the town of Grand Marais in Minnesota.   Ann Gray is our protagonist and narrator.  She is a stenographer in her real life, but comes to visit Jacqueline, her very good friend and cousin, when she learns something is seriously wrong.  And she turns into a detective.

"Tricks" keep happening .... Bill's suit develops holes all over, when he and Jacqueline are on their honeymoon.  And then there is a fire in their bed, a shredded bathrobe, a missing piece of blue chalk ... all these tricks and more are perpetrated by the villain, and the tricks soon evolve into murder.

I like this book because it is a real mystery, right from the start, with characters that intertwine, and lots of vexing action, a sense of tension in the writing, and a satisfying denouement.  Seeley was a well-known mystery writer of her time.

I have finished and I still chuckle (no pun intended) at the title.  You will find it refers to the noise made when dangerous waters crash against the finger-shaped rocks on Lake Superior.

I recommend this book ... it is fun and gratifying.

November 2023

 

 

The Places that Scare You

Pema Chödrön

Nonfiction 2001/ 212 pages

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If you read a lot of Pema Chödrön, there seems to be very little new in her books.  Useful reminders, but the content is just too repetitive for me.  Loving-kindness, tonglen, mindfulness, bodhicitta, etc. I know many who love every single of her books ... please continue to enjoy, if that is your pleasure!

November 2023

 

 

One Step too Far

Lisa Gardner

 Fiction 2022/ 416 pages

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Tim and his buddies go backpacking (with lots of beer!) for his bachelor party, into a remote section of the Wyoming mountains.  But Tim never returns.  Five years later, Tim's dad Martin is still searching for him or his body in remote wilderness areas.  On this particular journey, we have Martin; Tim's three friends who were with him that fateful night; Nemeth, a local guide for this remote section;  Bob, whose hobby is being a Sasquatch seeker;  Luciana and her tracking dog Daisy; and our main character and narrator, Frankie, who really calls no place home, but seeks missing persons as a unpaid profession of sorts.  Except Frankie has never been in the wilderness before.  She has done all of her tracking in cities, especially inner cities, where she finds the bodies of people who have OD'd, or are victims of violence.

Gardner's characters have depth and personality.  Unfortunately, it took the whole first half io the book to set the context and help us really get to know her characters. There are simply too, many, and some seem not necessary to the story line.  Of course, Frankie is a delight right from the start, with her adventurous spirit and total lack of knowledge about how to survive a week in the woods.

Halfway in, the mystery began to take over the plot, and things became exciting until the very end, when all is discovered.  Except the violence was too gruesome for me.

This is a good, solid mystery, with suspense, and terror, and humor.  But it was not my cup of tea.  I will not read another Lisa Gardner.  She spent too much time in context setting, sacrificing a bit of the actual mystery search and discovery of clues.  And I don't need her violence.

The story kept me engaged, especially the second half.  I recommend this with a grain of salt ... Mystery lovers may quite appreciate it!

November 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Woman’s Daughter

Kim Michele Richardson

Historical Fiction 2022/ 356 pages

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I enjoyed this book, though it doesn't have the same complexity or depth of relationships as its predecessor, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. If you read that book, you will recall that near the end of that book, Bluet acquires a baby girl, who is also blue.  Honey becomes her daughter.

This book is Honey's story, as she follows in her mother's footsteps, experiencing similar discrimination while becoming the new "book woman."

If you have read and enjoyed The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, you may enjoy this as well.  Otherwise, I think you will be missing too much context to find this book meaningful or interesting.

November 2023

 

 

 

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Shelby Van Pelt

Fiction 2022 | 360 pages

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I finished this book about two hours ago and am still smiling about how the title emerges near the end of book.

Once again, a debut novel that astonishes me! The story is scrumptious!  Marcellus McSwiddles is a Giant Pacific Octopus who cannot only think and feel as humans do, but also figures out how to let himself out of his tank every night.  Remarkably, the information about octopuses in this novel is true.  They are warm and intelligent and really do know how to unscrew a jar!  (You will likely learn a few octopus facts.  I did!)

Tova, our main character, cleans at the Sowell Bay Aquarium (a fictional town in Washington).  She is 70, widowed, and also grieving the loss of her son Eric when he was 18.  Tova and Marcellus develop a beautiful relationship, as she helps him navigate his excursions outside his tank.  At the beginning of the book, Marcellus determines that he can be outside this tank for 18 minutes before he encounters "The Consequences."

The novel, however, is not only about Tova and Marcellus, but also about Cameron.  The first few times we meet Cameron, who lives in California, is 30, and cannot hold onto a job or a relationship or any sense of stability, we don't know who is he is or how he will fit into the story.  But eventually, all is revealed, And Cameron and his relationship with Tova are a central theme of the book.  Well, perhaps THE central theme.

This book is warm-hearted, delightful, hard to put down.  The characters have depth, the story line is surprisingly interesting, and the short sections written by Marcellus will tickle you!  Do not hesitate to read this debut novel as soon as possible.  What will she write next?  I have joined her email list so that I will know!

October 2023

 

 

 

Attachments

Rainbow Rowell

Fiction 2012/ 323 pages

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A clever plot .... Lincoln is hired by the Courier, a local newspaper, to provide internet security.  A specific part of his job is to read emails that have swear words in them or some other messages that seem inappropriate for the workplace.  A piece of software called WebFence flags these emails and puts them in a folder for Lincoln to read.  Lincoln has the ability to send people warning notices to cease and desist.

Lincoln is uncomfortable with his job .... he works nights and feels like a Peeping Tom.  But then WebFence captures some emails between best friends Jennifer and Beth, and Lincoln becomes an e-mail voyeur.  He falls in love with Beth, without ever meeting her or even seeing her.

Meanwhile, Beth keeps seeing this "Really Cute Guy" at work, though she never finds out his name or what he does at The Courier.

Of course, you know from this summary where the plot will take us.

As I say, it is a clever plot.  However, its execution is a little too "cutesy" for me.  The book is an easy, entertaining read, but I cannot find a truly redeeming reason to recommend it.   It is entertainment and nothing more.  And so, read it if you want something light and fluffy.  And cutesy.

October 2023

 

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Kim Richardson

Fiction 2019 | 320 pages

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(I do not know how to put two photos in my blog, so I am leaving the book cover out and using this photo of the Fugate family instead).

The truth:  The Blue Fugates were a family from Eastern Kentucky, notably recognized for their blue skin, a genetic condition passed down over generations.  The peculiar story of the Fugate family begins with a French orphan named Martin Fugate. In 1820, Fugate claimed a land grant in Eastern Kentucky on the banks of Troublesome Creek.  He, and four of his seven children, were blue.  They married and had children, and the number of blue people in eastern Kentucky grew.

The blue-skinned Kentuckians existed for 200 years, until modern science discovered the genetic reason.  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is historical fiction.  The story, the characters are fiction, but the contextual facts are true.

And what a delightful story this is!  Not only did I fall in love with our main character, Cussy Mary (aka "Bluet"), but the writing thrilled me.  Cussy Marie is 19 years old for much of our story, which takes place in 1936.  She is a "book woman."  She rides her mule Junia into the hills five days a week, delivering books, magazines, and other reading materials to extremely poor and very remote homesteads. She is also "colored" by the definition of that time, and experiences all the disrespect and brutality of those times.  She lives alone with her father, who is dying from the grim, sad, and ubiquitous employment in Kentucky, coal mining.

I had many examples of the writing that tickled my inner logophile. Here is a short one.   "Junia raised her upper lip and nibbled the breeze with tall, talking teeth."  (End of chapter six).  I love the visual!

There is a sequel; I intend to read it.

Yes, certainly, read this novel.  You will be glad.

October 2023

 

 

I Never Thought of it That Way

Mónica Guzmán

Nonfiction 2022 | 257 pages

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The author's personal experiences and convictions make this a very plausible and realistic telling.  She stays in conversation with and continues to love her parents who are Mexican immigrants (she was only allowed to speak Spanish at home) and avid supporters of Trump, while she describes herself as a moderate liberal, who voted for Hilary Clinton.  She is SO committed to listening, finding common ground, respecting, thinking ... with these two people who are very important to her.

This book is really grounded in creating relationships across difficult differences, such as politics, values, race, gender, guns, health care .... However, the skills, tools, and ideas apply in ALL relationships!  I was thinking about a difficult conversation I had recently, and how I stepped over some of what Monica Guzman tells us about curiosity, listening, bonding, assumptions, getting traction, clarity, honesty, attachment and non-attachment.  (Okay, I didn’t step over ALL these skills in my difficult conversation, but you get the idea…!)  Her writing is engaging, light, and it opened me up to new ideas.  She also includes a lot of (IMHO) cute little graphics.

I recommend this book, yes.  Whether you are on a journey to bridge the divides we are facing, or simply want more self-development, you will find some gems in here.

September 2023

 

The Man Who Died Twice

Richard Osman

Fiction 2021/ 355 pages

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The Man Who Died Twice is the second book in Osman's "Thursday Murder Club Mystery" series.  As with The Thursday Murder Club (see my review in August), we are privileged to be a part of the four-member Thursday Murder Club and watch the (often brilliant, often humorous) interactions of Joyce, Elizabeth, Ron, and Ibrahim. These characters remain interesting, sometimes surprising, always engaging of the reader.

20 million in diamonds (nearly $25 million in US dollars) are at the center of this mystery.  Did Douglas (Elizabeth's former husband) actually steal them?  And why does he come back to her to protect him when his life is at stake?  And the subplot ... who stole Ibrahim's cell phone and beat him up severely?  Both of these plots are interesting and complex, and you cannot miss the love between the four main characters.

I enjoyed The Man Who Died Twice but am giving it three hearts instead of four because the denouement, the solving of the mysteries, is overly complicated, with a variety of minor characters. I am no mystery writer, and I assume it is difficult to craft a meaningful yet hidden "who done it and how was it done" mystery, but I became lost at the roles some of the minor characters played.  I wish we had the same cops (love Chris and Donna and don't need additional investigators), and a sufficiency, but not a plethora, of supportive characters to add juice to the mystery.

I will give Osman the benefit of the doubt and have just requested the third book in the series, The Bullet that Missed, from the library. The Man Who Died Twice was an enjoyable read, but not as engaging as his first book.

September 2023

 

The Day the World Came to Town

Jim Defede

Nonfiction 2002 | 244 pages

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This is a fascinating and inspiring story that I certainly missed, and perhaps you did, too. On 9/11, thirty-eight jetliners bound for the United States (commercial, military, and private) were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada.  6595 passengers and crew and a dozen animals descended on this town with a population of 10,000.  This is the inspiring story of how the people (the heroes) of Gander cared for stranded passengers with gestures of friendship and acts of kindness and goodwill.

The unintentional visitors were housed in schools, the VA Hall, the Salvation Army, churches, and townsfolk's homes.  The town rose to the occasion, taking the sheets off their beds and the towels and sheets from their linen closet to these locales.  The people of Gander cooked for them, provided showers, medicine, toys, access to phones, beer and most of all, listening ears and hearts filled with compassion. Local businesses such as WalMart and Canadian Tire donated camping equipment and as many clean clothes as they could scrounge up.

It is a hopeful record of the best of humanity ... generous, thoughtful, and deeply caring.  Gander embraced all these strangers for four or five or six days, dropped everything else they were doing, and made these temporary refugees very welcome.

This isn't a long book, and is certainly an easy read.  Frankly, I think we all could benefit from reading this book, and regaining a modicum of hope in our world and caring for our co-inhabitants on Planet Earth.

September 2023

 

The Old Woman with the Knife

Gu Byeong-Mo

Fiction 2013, 280 pages

This is a story of an organization that provides contract killing services for clients.  The killers, who receive assignments and work on their own, have names like Hornclaw and Bullfight.  Reading about their killings and their relationships with each other seems to have no redeeming value.  Besides, I find the book poorly written.  120 pages in, I am moving on to some other read.

Keep looking elsewhere for your end-of-summer novel!  That is what I am going to do.

September 2023

 

 

How We Live is How We Die

Pema Chödrön

Nonfiction 2022 | 221 pages

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This is one of the more engaging, interesting, inspiring, and provocative books on my recent spiritual quest.  Thank you for the recommendation, my friend.

Chödrön talks about death from a Buddhist perspective, but you need not be Buddhist to gain insight and wisdom from How We Live is How We Die.  As with many (all?) spiritual writings, I think you will take what you are ready to take from Chödrön's writing.  A few concepts and teachings that particularly resonated with me, I include below.

One specific teaching that I especially appreciate is “using our emotions as the path to awakening." She speaks to the five "kleshas" or negative emotions (craving, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride), and how, when we are able to 1) refrain from reacting and 2) adopt a positive view of these emotions, and 3) use these emotions as the path to awakening, we can gain the wisdom that each of these emotions teaches us.  If we build these habits as we live, we will be able to face death with curiosity and learning, and not fear.  Whatever klesha consumes us most frequently and most powerfully is the one we can gain the most wisdom from.

I also found quite fascinating the "stages of dissolution " or the changes our bodies and minds experience as we journey near to death: earth into water (body feels heavy, sight disappears), water into fire (feel thirsty, hearing goes), fire into air (feel cold, smell goes), air into consciousness (hard to breathe, taste goes), consciousness into space (respiration ceases, touch goes).

What you take with you into death are your "propensities."  Your propensities follow you into the death process.  For example, if you have a propensity for anger, you are likely to be angry as you die.  But we can change our propensities now.

There are some concepts Chödrön presents that I have heard too many times, or that simply do not resonate with me.  I will be curious to hear what resonates with you, if you take me up on this recommended and satisfying read.

September 2023

 

The Interestings

Meg Wolitzer

Fiction 2013, 468 pages

You know what?  The Interestings is not very interesting.  The story line doesn't amount to much.  The characters are awkward and stilted.  Their depth is missing.  The timeline shifts around inexplicably and leaves the reader feeling un-grounded.  I keep falling asleep reading this book; there is no tension. I am on page 135, but am deciding to call it quits.  I see that many people on Goodreads seem to agree with me.

Keep looking elsewhere for your end-of-summer novel!  That is what I am going to do.

September 2023

 

 

Rough Sleepers

Tracy Kidder

Nonfiction 2023 | 320 pages

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I enjoy Tracy Kidder and his way of presenting reality.  I read House and Soul of a New Machine prior to Rough Sleepers. I expected Rough Sleepers to be about the state of homelessness in general, but instead, Kidder takes us on in-depth tour of homelessness in Boston, following the story of Dr. Jim O’Connell, a man who conceived of and made real actions to create a community of care for a city’s unhoused population, including those who sleep on the streets — the “rough sleepers.” Kidder spends five years following Dr. Jim and his dedicated colleagues as they serve thousands of homeless patients, both at Mass General Hospital and in a van the travels every Thursday night to find homeless people on the streets of Boston who need medical attention.

We also follow Tony Columbo, one of the homeless clients/patients of Dr. Jim, and the roller-coaster ride of homelessness.  We see the system through his eyes; someone who has spent three (or more?) decades on the streets.

I learned a great deal about homelessness from reading this non-fiction, which reads like a novel.  It is easy to absorb the story he tells, though it is often sad, and you may pull your hair out as your read about the challenges of the homeless seeking shelter beds, finding vouchers for studio apartments, staying safe and warm, and addressing the many medical issues that plague the “rough sleepers,” caused by drugs and alcohol addiction, mental illness, physical challenges, and the cold and violence of living on the streets.

I really appreciated this quote from page 349 in the Large Print edition, “At a gala to raise money, in 2018, Jim tells the audience, ‘I like to think of this problem of homelessness as a prism held up to society, and what we see refracted are the weaknesses in our health care system, our public health system, our housing system, but especially in our welfare system, our educational system, and our legal system --- and our corrections system.  If we are going to fix this problem, we have to address the weaknesses of all those sectors.’"

This bleak assessment helps us to see why solutions are so complex and elusive. Rough Sleepers helped me to understand why our myriad of quick-fix solutions don’t work.

I heartily recommend this book.  It will shed a humane light on the challenges of homelessness for you, without being overly solicitous or sappy.

August 2023

The Thursday Murder Club

Richard Osman

Fiction 2020 | 355 pages

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Four septuagenarians in the retirement community of Cooper’s Chase in Kent England, meet every Thursday afternoon over bottles of wine to discuss and attempt to solve cold case files, until they are faced with two actual present-day murders and one mysterious skeleton.  Joyce, Elizabeth, Red Ron Ritchie and Ibrahim each bring his or her own skills and experience to the group.  The mystery ensues as they attempt to discover the murderer(s), occasionally informing the police of their efforts!

The characters are dedicated sleuths, and yet, Osman's writing is quite fun.  He develops his characters well; each has a unique and interesting personality.  The story brings to mind Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series.

While sitting on the podiatrist's office, another woman in the waiting room said to me, "Oh, you are reading The Thursday Murder Club!"  She read it, enjoyed it, and then told me there are four more in a series.  As an aside, I do appreciate the dying craft of people reading books they hold in their hands ... it often leads to meaningful literary conversation!

This is fun, light reading for the dog days (or the smoky days, depending upon where you live).  No hidden or important messages ... just pure entertainment.  Recommended by NPR. I have just requested the second book in the series, The Man Who Died Twice, from the library.  I recommend The Thursday Murder Club for your enjoyment.

August 2023

All the Missing Girls

Megan Miranda

Fiction 2016/ 371 pages

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Corrine Preston goes missing ten years ago from a small town of Cooley Ridge in North Carolina.  When our narrator, Nicolette Farrell, returns home from her life in Philadelphia to help her brother Daniel cope with the needs of their aging father, another young woman, Annaliese Carter also goes missing.  What and who connects these two missing girls?  Is it Daniel?  Is it Nic’s high school boyfriend Tyler?  And what do Jason and Nic have to do with it? And what about Nic’s father, Patrick, who has dementia?

The author, Megan Miranda, tells the story backwards, day by day for 15 days, which is an interesting methodology.  It works!  It is helpful to simply trust the author, that you are reading information in the right order.

If someone else has read this, I would love to chat with you.  I am a bit confused ... about the ring (rings?) and the pregnancy test, and the burying of Corrine …

This is a fun mystery (even if I am a bit confused!)  I read it camping, and it was great for sitting by the motorhome.

August 2023

 

Cemetery Dance

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs

Fiction 2009 | 448 pages

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“It takes a certain amount of guts to start a novel by killing off a popular recurring character, but no one has ever accused this writing team of lacking guts.” From David Pitt

Pendergast, the FBI special agent who frequently takes on personal assignments on a freelance basis, teams up with New York police lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta to solve a crime that has ties to the supernatural. Apparently these two characters are regulars in the Preston/Childs books.

In the opening pages, a murder is committed by a man who, 10 days earlier, was pronounced dead and then buried. But the eyewitness is sure it’s the same man, and footage from a security camera appears to confirm it. How does a dead man commit murder? And why this particular victim?

I cannot fault the writing of these two prolific and successful writers.  It is a sharp, fast-paced, hard core murder mystery.  However, I had great difficulty in finishing this novel because of the subject matter:  Vodoo, reanimated dead people, animal sacrifice.  I found the content rather repulsive, though again, the mystery itself is exquisite.

As such, I slogged my way through to the end, but find I cannot recommend it.

August 2023

 

 

Fully Awake and Truly Alive

Rev. Jane E. Vennard

Nonfiction 2013 | 176 pages

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Regular readers of the Dusty Shelves blog know that I have been exploring spiritual texts for a while now, often with disappointment.  Fully Awake and Truly Alive is the first of many books that I can unequivocally say I enjoyed and found within its pages significant value. It is a book about spiritual practices ... creating actions you can take, perspectives you can hold, thoughts you can align.  The author, calling upon and gently integrating Christianity, Buddhism, the Koran, the Veda, Torah teachings, and a wide range of spiritual tomes and teachers, presents eight practices that you can engage in right now.  Chapters include practices such as silence, rest, community, and service.

Kathy and Leslie and I read this book together, and all three of us liked it and found actions to honor and include in our lives right now.  This is a great book, if you are on a spiritual path.

August 2023

The Marriage Portrait

Maggie O'Farrell

Fiction 2022 | 352 pages

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A spectacular and delightful book!  Lucrezia de'Medici, at the untenable age of 13, is married off to the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonzo.  The setting is Florence Italy, in the 1550s.  While this sounds as though it might be tepid and boring, it is neither!  This delicious, rich, textured novel, based on historical fact, is a page-turner.  I read it in two days camping (and yes, I also kayaked and hiked.)

The dashing Duke Alfonzo is intimate and caring to Lucrezia one minute, and brutally cruel the next. He has a personality that is either sociopathic, or he has dissociative identity disorder.  Lucrezia, who, in her soul, is independent, creative, and not easily controlled, sits for a court artist during the first year of your marriage, who paints her portrait according to the desires of her husband.  Hence, the marriage portrait.  She attempts to learn the role of a very young Duchess, which is challenging and seriously rubs against her own personality and values. There is vivid description of the servants who serve her, and how they endear themselves to her.

Life in court is described with detail and pizazz, but it is not the center of this novel. The center is Lucrezia and her personality. The 1550’s was not a good time to be a woman – there are not many options open to women.  O’Farrell’s depiction of Lucrezia is deep and detailed.  You gain a great sense of life in Renaissance Florence, and the difficult prescribed roles played by both women and men, as well as Lucrezia herself.

I definitely recommend this book as an engaging read.

July 2023

Simply Lies

David Baldacci

Fiction 2023/ 432 pages

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I have not been reading much of the “psychological thriller/mystery” genre lately, so perhaps what I am about to type is not very relevant, but once again, I found the mystery, it’s development, and it’s resolution, overly complex.

Mickey Gibson, a single mother with two young children, and a former detective, now works for ProEye, doing investigative work from the comfort of her computer screen in her home.  When someone allegedly from ProEye asks her to go visit a client, she does so, and finds him dead; murdered.  Harry Langhorne (aka Daniel Pottinger) was a former mob account in Witness Protection.

And then she receives a call from a brilliant unnamed woman with a hidden past and hidden motives, who wants Mickey to track down the killer, and the circumstances and people surrounding Langhorne’s death and what is reputed to be an untold fortune, held somewhere.  While she is strong-armed and intimidated by this woman at first, eventually her competence and brilliance wins and the two women become unlikely partners in solving the complex crimes.

Though there are characters which seem to add unnecessary complexity to the story, Baldacci, as the stellar writer that he is, writes the denouement with page-turning, thrilling skill.  If you like this genre, I think you will enjoy Simply Lies.

July 2023

 

The Three of Us

Ore Agbaje-Williams

Fiction 2023 | 192 pages

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The story is about a woman, her husband, and the woman’s best friend, who spends way too much time at the couple’s home.  Reviewers call it “very funny” and “astute” and “bold, brilliant satire.”

I found it shallow, not credible, and essentially boring, though I did read it in its entirety.  It is written in three sections … each in the voice of our three different characters, about a single afternoon and evening in the couple’s home.

I find it not so much irritating as distance-creating, that the three characters are always referred to as “my wife” and “my husband” and “my wife’s friend” and “my friend”.  This has a way of keeping the characters in relationship with each other, and not exploring the depth in any of them. An odd literary technique I think …

Dumb ending.  Read something else!

June  2023

 

Awareness

Anthony de Mello

Nonfiction 1992/ 184 pages

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This is another book that is allegedly about spirituality but seems more about psychology.  That being said, I found some useful perspectives, such as exchanging a concept or idea about something or someone and replacing it with reality.  I also resonated with the admonishment to view emotions as though they are outside of you.  He talks about the difference between “I am depressed” and “there is depression.”  Interesting psychological and emotional advice, but somehow it does not make the link to spirituality for me.

June 2023

 

Quiver

Julia Watts

Fiction 2018 / 289 pages

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I often enjoy, as you know, teen novels.  This one is a little too teen ... a little too simplistic.  But still, it is such a delightful story, I gulped it down!

Libby (short for Liberty) and her family are devout conservative patriarchal Christians. At 16, she is the oldest of six children (Patience, Justice, Faith, Charity, and Valor are her siblings, with #7 on the way ). They are home-schooled, live under the loving but highly controlling rules of their father, never socialize with anyone outside of their church, and spend their days insulated in their family, studying, reading the Bible, preparing food, playing games together.

And then the Forrester family moves in next door, in their rural community. Zo is Libby's age, and suddenly Libby is exposed to blue jeans and shorts, atheism, vegetarians, equal decision-making between parents, questioning, thoughtful consideration of life, lifestyles, values, and culture.  Libby makes a gender-fluid friend in Zo.

Of course, you know what is going to happen as Libby actually does become liberated.  But the journey is interesting, especially as both sets of parents try to be good neighbors to each other, even though their belief systems are diametrically opposed.

This is a fun, if easy, read.

June 2023

 

Demon Copperfield

Barbara Kingsolver

Fiction 2022 / 560 pages

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Demon Copperhead is Barbara Kingsolver’s retelling of Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield. This is the basis of many reviews … was this a brilliant idea on her part, or inappropriate, baffling, and unwarranted?  Since I read David Copperfield in high school, approximately 55 years, and don’t remember one word of it, I am not entering into the debate at all.  I take Demon Copperhead as a new and original literary work.

Demon Copperhead is born Damon Fields in 1988 in southern Virginia to a teenage mother addicted to gin, amphetamines, and Vicodin.  A troubling attitude earns him he name Demon and bright red hair gets him “Copperhead.”  Demon’s father died before he was born, and when his mother ODs on Demon’s 11th birthday, Demon becomes a ward of the state.

Thus begins this gritty and depressing book, as Demon is moved from untenable living situations to even worse living situations.  The book is a series of unrelenting tragedies, with occasional minor victories on Demon's part that keep you rooting for him.  There is abuse, an excessive amount of illegal and addictive drug use, and sex way too early.  People continue to disappoint hm, but some, like his boyhood friend Maggot, and he new friend Angus, stay as close as they can.

The context, the social message, is about the incessant poverty in Appalachia, and how people survive it, or don't. High school football and, at last, a decent foster home to live in, provide Demon with a respite of success.  Until his knee is badly injured and opioids take over his life and his well-being.  It is rather amazing to learn about how much effort it takes to score illegal or legal addicting drugs.  As Demon is a budding artist/writer, this book also looks at how the artist's consciousness is built.

But for all the difficulties our main character faces, sometimes with astounding weakness of spirit, sometimes with profound resolve, it is, after all, written by Barbara Kingsolver, who is an extraordinary writer. From a New York Times review:  "Kingsolver’s prose is often splendid. There is the 'dog-breath air of late summer,' the guy with 'wrongful' eyebrows,  the man who makes his way down a staircase 'like something dumped out of a bucket.' Episode by episode she persuasively conveys the mind of a teenage boy."  While Demon Copperfield drags a bit in the middle, as many long books do, I keep reading and it keeps intriguing.  I am giving it three hearts because, while it is definitely a good summer read, it is NOT a light beach read!!!

I do recommend it! My high-school friend Mary and I decided to read this book together before my upcoming visit to her cabin.  I will be intrigued to hear what she has to say!

June 2023

 

The Spirituality of Age

Robert L. Weber & Carol Orsborn

Nonfiction 2015 / 233 pages

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My friend Kathy and I are exploring books on developing and affirming our spirituality in our latter years.  The Spirituality of Age is our first choice, and I must say I am disappointed.  I would like to re-title it The Psychology of Age.  It is filled with psychological advice, perspective, and counsel, that ties very loosely to spirituality, in my mind.  This is the major contribution of Robert L. Weber, PhD, a former Jesuit and clinical psychologist.  Carol Orsborn, PhD, has her doctorate in History and Critical Theory of Religion.  With her degree, and Weber’s former vocation as a Jesuit, the book is replete with religious and bible references that, try as I may to translate into secular experience or ignore, became tedious and boring.  Furthermore, the entire book is about the lives and stories of Weber and Orsborn.  There is nothing I find quite as irritating as an author telling his/her story because they are so egotistical to think it alone informs others.  A story here and there to elucidate a point is welcome.  But this book is almost 100% their stories.  Yawn me to death!

HOWEVER, my conversation with Kathy was enlightening!  She was less critical and gleaned some useful pieces from this book.  We had a good conversation about one of the questions incited by the book ... What does mature spirituality look like?  The words we used, for us, included acceptance, being present, spaciousness, quiet, prayer and meditation, being in nature, and being in our bodies.  A good question from the book we are both pondering is “What does the divine want to awaken in you now?”  My current answer is gratitude and clarity.  We also spoke about letting go of old beliefs AND creating new ones.

I think the most profound part of our discussion was around loss, and how loss contributes to our sense of the spiritual.  Health issues, loss of strength and stamina, and of course, the loss of very important people (and pets) in our lives, has raised a question for us, i.e., how to be with loss as part of our spiritual practices.

All in all, we had a great conversation, even though I am not enamored of the style of writing of these two authors.  For those of you who are tracking my posts on Buddhism and on spirituality, please note that Kathy and I are next reading Awareness by Anthony de Mello, and will discuss it in late June.  We invite you to read along if you wish!

June 2023

The Dictionary of Lost Words

Pip Williams

Fiction 2021 | 376 pages

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A novel based on the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we follow the life of Esme (Es, Essy, EssyMay), the daughter of one of the lexicographers (a person who compiles dictionaries).  As a young motherless child, she often stays under the table in the Oxford Scriptorium where the lexicographers do their work. Looking at the words with her Da, she learns to read, and builds a fascination and reverence for words. At a very young age, she finds a stray paper slip of a word that was dropped on the floor. Wanting to possess one of these special objects, she stashes it in her pocket. She instinctively knows taking it is wrong, but the possession is something so special, she cannot help herself.  Lizzie, the servant girl, offers Esme a hiding place in a small trunk under Lizzie’s bed. Thus begins Esme's collection. This collection becomes an important element in Esme's life, and eventually leads to the creation of The Dictionary of Lost Words.  The lost words are "women's words". They are words about women’s bodies, which many consider vulgar, and the men lexicographers refuse to include in their professional dictionary.  They also include words used by commoners, by poor people, by people not in sophisticated society. "Bondmaid" for example becomes an important word through the novel.

The dictionary was created during a time when social mores are in upheaval.  It is also the time of women's suffrage and the beginnings of WWI.  Esme is living at the end of the Victorian era when the roles of women are defined, restrained, restrictive.  Essy wants out from the shackles of these times.

I am a logophile; I love words.  If you love words, you may just be as fascinated by this book as I was.  Our language both defines us and reflects us.  Word usage changes constantly and is an anthropological study of the history of peoples and cultures.  The Dictionary of Lost Words is not a page turner or a fast read. It is a book to be savored and read slowly.  It is a beautiful history (herstory?) of the times.  The only challenge I had is picturing the Scriptorium and the printing processes.  I never created a fully satisfying visual.  For example, I was two thirds of the way through the book before I realized that "pinning" together the small slips of paper that have word definitions and quotes of the word in actual usage, was accomplished through the use of an actual straight pin stuck through the bits of paper!

This is our May book club read and will lead to a delightful conversation, I suspect.  Thank you, Louise, and Pam for encouraging us to read this novel.  It is a worthwhile read!

May 2023

Lessons in Chemistry

Bonnie Garmus

Fiction 2022 | 400 pages

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From what I heard, I expected this book to be good.  I didn't expect to be astounding!  This is a must read.  Another debut novel to celebrate!

The story is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Elizabeth Zot is a chemist.  It goes without saying, a woman chemist at this time was more than an anomaly.  She was also dismissed, misunderstood, feared, abhorred, discriminated against, and pushed hard towards other, more appropriate roles, i.e., wife and mother. She is serious and cerebral.  No surprise, her cerebral-ness keeps her at arm's length from many people, but it also provides the reader with eye-rolling giggles.

She meets and falls in love with another brilliant chemist ... one who is no smarter than her, but is famous for his work, because he is a he.  Elizabeth and Calvin Evans are soulmates, as is their adopted dog, Six-Thirty (who knows 981 human words by the end of the book.)

Elizabeth Zot's story includes fighting to be seen and respected by the misogynist scientific community.  It includes battling blatant gender-based discrimination, sexual assault, and a man who puts his name on her research, which was funded by a man who believed Zot was a man.  Elizabeth Zot is eventually demoted and then fired from her research position.  I won't tell you why ... too many spoilers if I do!  She goes on to host an afternoon tv show called "Supper at Six" in which she teaches "housewives" the chemistry of cooking and becomes famous in spite of herself.

The sport of rowing, also dominated by men, plays an interesting role in Lessons in Chemistry.  It is its own character, with a personality all its own.  And then there is my other favorite character in the book, Mad.  But I will let you find out who Mad is.

It sounds a little heavy, doesn't it?  Well, Lessons in Chemistry is not arduous, despite the serious subjects it tackles. Bonnie Garmus' writing is fun, engaging, often humorous, and thought-provoking.  Garmus says in her follow-on interview with Pandora Sykes, "I wanted to salute that generation of overlooked women, to highlight their enormous and often underused capabilities."  This is the generation of her mom.

I like this sentence from a review at Amazon.com, so will steal it:  “Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.”

No question, read this book!!  And post your comments when you do, please!  I am actually sorry it is complete.

May 2023

Tara

Rachel Wooten

Nonfiction 2020 | 311 pages

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Tara is another book about Buddhism that disappointed me.  I was excited about this one, because Tara is the female Buddha, and she is sharing her wisdom with us in 22 meditations.  I was so excited, I bought the Tara cards so I could pull one randomly, when faced with a situation or question or dilemma. There IS wisdom here ... I read about and meditated upon many useful concepts such as patience, peacefulness, energy, focus, love, loneliness, clarity, richness, truth.

As with many Buddhist books I have read so far, there is much filler.  Wooten repeats the process ... the Tara Appearance, the Visualization, the Refuge Prayer, the Praise, the Mantra, and the Meditation, over and over in every chapter.  Once again, it feels like there are so many words in-between the pages and paragraphs of wisdom. And the cards have very little of Tara’s wisdom written on them.  Just a sentence or two; so they too are disappointing.

I will continue to develop my one Tara ... my own sense of feminine (and feminist) Buddhism, as with every aspect of Buddhism, taking what is right for me and what resonates.

April 2023

 

Bitter

Akwaeke Emezi

Fiction 2022 | 264 pages

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After a tumultuous childhood in foster care, Bitter, 17, is invited to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting, surrounded by other creative teens. But outside the residential school, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the city of Lucille.  Lucille is a hotbed of racial violence, though Bitter, Black herself, like many of the kids at Eucalyptus, is tempted to stay inside the safe walls of her school.  She is, however, pulled in multiple directions among her friends, her passion for painting, and a new romance.  Bitter isn’t sure where she belongs—in the studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, at what cost?

This young adult novel is being read by the Decolonization book club I used to be a member of.  It explores youth, protest, art, values, innocence, friendship, trust, truth.  It also has an engaging and fantastical component of magic, that is first introduced to us through Bitter’s art as a young child.

Many of the characters in Bitter have remarkable names like Bitter, Aloe, Blessing, and Hibiscus. The author tells us this in an homage to Toni Morrison.

It is a timely novel and is quite riveting.  Bitter and her friends are simply irresistible characters.  Sometimes I really like reading YA novels ... there is a freshness to them that is not always found in adult serous novels addressing similar topics.  (I have two more on my shelf right now!)  Yes, I recommend Bitter.  I believe it will cause you to think.

April 2023

 

She Comes First

Ian Kerner

Nonfiction 2004 / 22o pages

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Yes, if you are wondering if this book is about what you think it is about, it is! She Comes First is about sexually satisfying a woman first. I can't believe someone actually wrote this book, so I had to check it out.

(Not to apologize, but I can imagine some blog readers wondering, “why is she blogging about books on sex?”  I realize it may seem odd from your perspective, but even when you are almost 70 (or maybe especially when you are almost 70!) and new relationships, new love, new sexual experiences present themselves, interest in sex re-emerges.)

This book is fascinating for women as well as men. Did you know there are 18 parts to a clitoris, some visible and some not?  I didn't ... and I learned much more about my own sexual body reading She Comes First.

While jam-packed with useful information and humor, I think it reads like a YouTube video on how to rebuild your car's engine.  It is very descriptive, with lots of "how to" ... prescriptive, detailed, informative.  I would not want to be a man reading this ... it is TOO directive in my opinion.  However, a thoughtful perusal to pick up an idea or two might serve us all?!

My disappointment is that Kerner does not represent older women and our unique challenges.

Overall, I do recommend it for anyone who enjoys or would like to enjoy more satisfaction in giving or receiving cunnilingus.  (Wow, did I actually write that line?)

April 2023

48 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister

Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction 2023 | 297 pages

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Beautiful Marguerite (“M” to her family) disappears from her small town in Upstate New York. But is foul play involved? Or did she merely make the decision to leave behind her claustrophobic life?

Her younger sister Georgene (G) wonders if the flimsy silk Dior dress, so casually abandoned on the floor, is a clue to Marguerite’s having seemingly vanished. The story is set 22 years after M’s disappearance.  The police examine the footprints and other (46 more!) clues. We slowly learn of G's love/hate relationship with the perfect Marguerite.

I don't know Joyce Carol Oates well, but a few reviewers called her "creepy."  Our narrator and main character G IS rather creepy.  This book is more a study of the psychological state of G, than it is about solving the mystery of M's disappearance. Oates' ability to create a character, if this book is a typical indication of her writing skill, is astounding. G is not very likable, is socially incompetent, is angry, bitter, jealous, and resentful.  She has moments of psychological distress and mental un-health, and creates fantastical stories.  The story is both fascinating and disturbing. There is an undercurrent of evil.  G will stay with you four days after you put this book down.

And, an ambiguous end to boot!

Yes, I recommend this book.  It is not a mystery in the truest sense of the word ... it is more a psychological character study.  And I found it quite interesting, engaging, thought-provoking, sometimes amazing.

April 2023

 

A Big Little Life

Dean Koontz

Nonfiction 2009 | 279 pages

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I didn't know when I put this Dean Koontz on my library list, that it was nonfiction.  Koontz has written over 130 books of which five or so are nonfiction.  This is the story of Dean and Gerda’s first dog, Trixie.  Koontz assures us in chapter one, though he is a prolific fiction writer, every story he tells about Trixie is true.  And the Trixie stories are completely amazing; it is hard to believe some of them.  But if you ever wonder if dogs have the ability to remember, to recognize, to learn, to express love or joy, Trixie will convince you.

Trixie came to the Koontz’s in her third year.  Rescued from the Canine Companions for Independence, Trixie had a career as an assistance dog to Jenna, who had lost both legs in an accident.  Trixie needed elbow surgery that required her retirement from assisting.

Not only is the story of Trixie purely delightful, but you get a strong sense of the man, the author Dean Koontz, his personal life with his wife Gerda, his desires and likes and dislikes. A Big Little Life is reminiscent of Stephen King's On Writing, where we gain insight to the writer himself.

A Big Little Life will make you laugh, cause you to sit up in astonishment, and touch your heart on every page.  I read the end sitting on the floor, petting Charlie, as I know how sadly all books about dogs end.

This is a must read, even if you are not a dog person, I think.  It is very well-written and such a glorious tale!

April 2023

 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Fiction 2019 / 270 pages

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There is a 100-year-old cafe in a basement in Tokyo that has no windows, three clocks that tell different time, and is always cool, no matter how hot it becomes outside.  It is small, with just three tables.  But one chair, at one of the tables, is quite unusual.  If you sit in the chair and obey all the rules, you can travel back in time for a few moments.  One if the rules is, nothing you do when you travel back will change the present.  Another is, you must return to the present before your cup of coffee gets cold.

The premise is sweet.  The characters are the manager and workers in the cafe, and a few regulars.  We watch as four women take the opportunity to time travel, to learn something they otherwise would never know.  Different from some other time travel books, there is neither technology nor science.  It is all about the women who travel and the most important relationships in their lives.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold is an odd book; an unusual book.  It is difficult to say what didn't work well for me.  It was over overly sentimental.  All four characters who time travel are women, and I found that somewhat sexist.  Are women the only people who care about relationships?  And Kawaguchi is extremely repetitive.  He repeats the rules, and explains about the clocks, and tells about the making of coffee over and over again.  Nevertheless, it is tender; it is redeemable.

I can't quite recommend this book, and I can't quite not recommend this book. In the end, I give it three hearts ... it may be worth perusing and reading a few pages to see if it appeals to you.

April 2023

Fractured Infinity

Nathan Tavares

Science Fiction 2022 | 359 pages

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At first, I was excited to read a science fiction book! It is a genre I don’t read often.  Film-maker Hayes Figueiredo is struggling to finish an important documentary about his best friend, an AI named Genesis, when handsome physicist Yusuf Hassan shows up and kidnaps Hayes, claiming Hayes is the key to understanding the Envisioner– a mysterious device that can move people through various universes. This is after the second American Civil War, and the country as we know it today has been divided into multiple countries ... a quite interesting context for this tale!

It turns out an alternate self of Hayes, a man always referred to by their last name, Figueiredo, is an angry, obsessive, brilliant man who creates the Envisioner and sends hundreds of these machines throughout the multiverses.  The story is about Hayes and his lover, Yusuf, unlocking the secrets of the machine, and visiting multiple universes to attempt to save humanity and especially, Yusuf himself.  I found it interesting, surprising, and disappointing that the multiple universes (mulitverses) where Figueiredo sends his machines are, in fact, only on Earth and Earth’s moon. Oh yes, and one pivotal one on an asteroid.

Tavares’ cast of characters includes queer couples, people of color, robots, robots rights advocates, and scientists. As a matter of fact, there are no male-female love relationships in this book; they are all male-male.

The story SOUNDS intriguing.  The only thing I can say, humbly, and as only a reader who does not live inside Tavares’ head, is that I think Tavares is simply not a good writer. There is no tension; no real mystery; no page-turning “what is going to happen next” in reading this book.  It is slow and deliberate with many scenes (like Hayes and Yusuf traveling to a different multiverses) repeated over and over.  And though we see everything through Hayes’ eyes, I still l managed to find him a shallow character, with little substance and no soul.  Sort of like an outline of a character; a flat cartoon.

Clearly, I don’t recommend this book.  I struggled this morning to get it done so I could move on!  Let us know if you read it and like it!!

March 2023

 

Fair Play

Tove Jansson

Fiction novella 1982 | 100 pages

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I can’t seem to remember how Fair Play made it on to my reading list.  Did you recommend it?  It is sweet book.  No, more than sweet.  It's about two women in a very long-term relationship who are completely honest with each other, seem to be fully authentic.  Whatever needs to be said, wants to be said, completes an urge to be said, is said.  And yet, always, love shines through and  the relationship remains kind.  Mari doesn't like a B-Western movie, and makes a big fuss over it; leaves the room. But later, when Jonna comes to bed after the movie, Mari asks if they might watch it again sometime. Such honor and respect, about movies, about life, about their art. They are both artists; Mari writes, Jonna makes films. They live at opposite ends of a large apartment building near a harbor, and between their studios lay the attic.

There are not many really good books that portray functional relationships.  We are attracted as readers to angst, problems, resolutions, dilemmas.  Fair Play, Tove Jansson’s 1982 semi-autobiographic portrait of a partnership, is an exception.  (Jansson is a famous writer of children's books about The Moomins.  "...the central characters in a series of novels, short stories, and a comic strip by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson ... a family of white, round fairy-tale characters with large snouts that make them resemble the hippopotamus."  Wikipedia)

I love the closing sentence of the novella.  I went back and reread it:  "She felt something close to exhilaration, of a kind that people can permit themselves when they are blessed with love."  I do not know why this book ended up on the shelf at the library, under my name.  I do not recall reserving it.  I don't have any context for it.  And yet, here it is.  It portrays what a healthy loving committed relationship sounds like, looks like, and above all, feels like. Maybe it was given to me as a reminder.  Enjoy!

March 2023

The Art of Gathering

Priya Parker

Nonfiction 2018 | 304 pages

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I was anxious when I first began reading this book.  I thought I would have to learn all about how to design great gatherings and then put it in place in my work.  Oh.  Right.  I don't work anymore.  So, I was able to read this book for the pure delight of the wisdom and knowledge.  And, goodness, is it delightful!

The author, Priya Parker, does a marvelous job of applying the principles not just to the corporate world (actually she rarely does so).  It is about birthday parties and family gatherings and board meetings and fundraisers and conferences and learning and nonprofit educational events, and one memorable story about a bachelor party.

The author talks about a plethora of deliberate choices ... venue, purpose (real purpose, not just historical stated purpose), agenda, the events before the event, creating temporary worlds, how not to manage logistics,  who to invite and not invite and why, what to ask people to leave at the door, how to prepare them for the event, creating intimacy, designing connection, encouraging authenticity and vulnerability, problem-solving, how to close, when to introduce meaningful conflict and when not, how to have people feel special, clothing, atmosphere, surprises ....

The book opens with a tale about the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, New York.  The community wants a courtroom that will serve everyone involved in a case to help improve behavior, instead of merely punishing it.  So, they begin with a major change in venue as well as the roles played by judges, prosecutors, defenders, lawyers, community members.  Windows, people all sitting at the same level, pre-trial assessments of the defendants, comfortable chairs all ultimately help to reduce recidivism.

The Art of Gathering is surprisingly readable and enjoyable.  I recommend it for everyone who wants to invite someone over for dinner.

Thank you, Michelle, for this delightful gift. And Kathy, this book fulfills my assignment to "learn something new before our next monthly Zoom."

March 2023

Side by Side

Caryl & Jay Cabson

Nonfiction 2023/ unknown # of pages (and no image available)

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While all of my blog posts are personal, I would say, this one is among the most vulnerable.

Side by Side is designed and written by an interfaith minister/spiritual director and a retired University professor/Provost, wife and husband, who have a heartfelt intention to explore spirituality and aging in older couples' relationships, and they do so through interviews with older couples, which they report on in each chapter.

I cried, or at least sighed, in almost every chapter.  I could not help but read the stories of these long-term committed couples through my own lens.  First, from the perspective of my marriage.  I would say Beryl and I shared a spiritual connection but did not have the words or the contexts presented here.  I wish we had this knowledge ... I think we would have been more intentional about our co-spirituality.  (Co-spiritual is my term, not the Casbon's).  Second, I look through the lens of my more recent relationship with a man who read a lot about Buddhism, but didn't appear to put it into practice, and me, trying to find a coat rack on which to hang my spiritual hat.  We had lovely, meaningful conversations, but were never fully capable of putting our co-spiritual ideas into action, beyond meditating together.

As I began to read the journeys of these couples, I attempted to keep opening my heart to their experiences, to embrace their wisdom and learning.  In the first half of the book, all of the couples' spiritual frameworks have strongly religious foundations.  I wished for more insight into couples who built a strong spiritual foundation outside religion.  Later couples in the book have broader underpinnings.  Still, I wish the authors were more intentional about discovering and exploring spiritual practices that were deliberately Atheist, Buddhist, Wicca, Hindu ... whatever.

Caryl and Jay Casbon say that many of their couples are "unchurched" but that does not ring true in the stories.  They say their work was "too public" for gay couples, and I find that to be a huge hole in what they produced. I think they didn't work hard enough to find diverse couples, and I think this weakens their ideas tremendously; enough to have me consider not recommending this book.

The end pages finally gave me what I was seeking by reading this book.  Stories on their own are not very informative to me.  In the last few pages, I found the questions to ask and the wisdom of how to approach being a co-spiritual couple.  Don't miss the Appendices, The Reader's Guide, and especially the Reflection Questions.  These managed to get me sobbing again, as I perceived what is missing from my life, and hopeful about what may be possible. If you are in a significant relationship, these end pieces may be very insightful for you.  The quotes throughout the book are appropriate and excellently placed.

I must recommend this book for those of you who wish to see your relationship as, or to build a greater container around, spirituality with a partner.

Side by Side is scheduled to be published in June by Creative Courage Press.  (Thank you for the preview copy, my spiritual friend.)

March 2023

The Piano Teacher

Janice Y.K. Lee

Fiction 2009 | 328 pages

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It is interesting to me that The Piano Teacher has such a low rating on Goodreads, 3.4.  I read numerous reviews, at all levels of rating.  In general, I would say that the naysayers do not like the characters, or the character development.  Almost everyone found the 1940's story line, Hong Kong in WWII, enlightening and interesting ... more so than the actual piano teacher story set in the 1950’s.

Personally, I found the quirkiness of the characters quite delightful.  I liked that Claire (the piano teacher) stole items, and that her behavior was never explained.  I like that bold, brash, loud Trudy was appreciated and loved by everyone, even with her often undesirable personality.  And I found Will's experience in the internment camp to be riveting (even though he does not have the most riveting personality!)

Okay, so, I have not yet explained the plot!

Claire Pendelton is a recent arrival in Hong Kong from England, in 1951, along with her husband Martin.  Melody Chen wants her daughter to learn the piano, so she hires Claire to be her teacher, and Claire becomes entangled with the Hong Kong rich.  The Piano Teacher explores how lives in Hong Kong in the 1940’s were affected by the Japanese invasion of the British colony during the war, and the fallout in the early 1950’s.  The Piano Teacher alternates between Will (British) and Trudy (Eurasian; Portuguese, Chinese mix) in the year 1941 before the start of the war, and Claire's story eleven years later, in 1952. The story weaves back and forth between these two time periods, in chapters.

Some say it is mis-titled, and I understand that.  The more riveting and powerful story is the 1940’s tale about the impact of WWII in Hong Kong.  This history is certainly something I had no knowledge of.  It is such a good WWII book not addressing the Holocaust and not told from European soil. Hong Kong is invaded by the (then) =terrorist, fascist Japanese; raping, pillaging, living where and how they choose to live, while the Hong Kong rich are forced into jails with contaminated water, little to eat, and many secrets. Trudy and Will are lovers at this time, and Will is taken to an internment camp, while Trudy stays on the outside, currying favors with people who have power.   Some of the minor characters confuse me a bit, but I printed a list of characters to help me with them.

I recommend this book!  (Thank you, Jan for suggesting to for book club!)  It will open your eyes, and keep you entertained all at once.

March 2023

How to be an Artist

Jerry Saltz

Nonfiction 2020/ 129 pages

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A delightful and insightful book!  There are 63 short one-page reads (some with assignments) that present ideas, perspectives, attitudes, reflections, and questions about art, mostly about YOUR art.  Saltz calls them "rules." Well, these DO sound like rules, don't they:

  • Listen to the wildest voices in your head
  • Have courage

I read no more than one each day, so the little book lasted me a few months.  It inspired me to think and experiment.  Thank you to the person who gave me this on my birthday.  It is a wonderful gift.  You know who you are.

I gave this book three hearts because Saltz really only addresses himself to visual artists.  I don't think this would translate well to performing arts.  But if you are an artist ... or are thinking maybe someday you will be an artist ... or you are dreaming of being an artist ... this book is a gold-mine!  (Benders ... I own my copy, so if you'd like to borrow it, please let me know!)

March 2023

The Fun Habit

Mike Rucker

Nonfiction 2022 / 267 pages

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What I liked about this book is the different perspectives and topics Rucker brings.  As a student of Happiness, Positive Psychology, and human behavior, I am familiar with many of the studies and researchers he quotes, but this is not a "self-help-how-to-be-happy" book.  He makes me think differently.

Happiness is a reaction, an attitude, a perspective, perhaps a choice, an emotion.  Fun is action.  This is an essential difference, I believe. Fun is not about how you perceive your circumstances, whether or not there is suffering, reframing your experiences, or making a mental/emotional shift.  It is taking action that offers you the opportunity to enjoy, to laugh, to giggle, to increase connection to self and others, to send in oxytocin.  You can have fun if you are happy, sad, grieving, angry, or lonely. If you are wondering if fun is a luxury or gratuitous, Dr. Rucker will also help you to see how important it is to our mental, emotional, and yes, even physical health.

I wish he had asked more powerful questions.  Instead of great questions to help generate new ways of having fun, he has you rely on your life to create a long list and short list of past, present, and future “fun” items.  He didn’t push me out of the box very much for creating new ways to have fun.  That being said, one cool list I created is things I used to do that were fun.  Among many others, are bowling and miniature golf.  (Anyone in Bend want to go bowling?)

He also makes a good case for not doing fun alone ... it is more fun to share, to laugh together, to inspire each other.  You CAN have fun alone, but inviting someone else along seriously raises the ante, and the laughter.

I liked his application of fun to parenting (okay, I only skimmed that chapter) and to work, and to nonprofit fundraising,  Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Pat Quinn and Pete Frates were two young men struggling with ALS (they both died in their 40s) and they challenged others to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads and make a donation to the ALS Association.  Their fun activity went viral; celebrities (e.g., George Bush, Oprah, Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio) as well as everyday people took videos of themselves dumping ice water on their heads.  This was fun with a cause.  The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $115 million for ALS Research.

I became intrigued by the book because when I rated my values on January 1, I noticed the lowest rating for a number of years has been on “play, humor, fun.”  The next day a link to this book appeared in LinkedIn and I had to take note!

I recommend this read, if it grabs your interest.  I know there can be a sense of opulence or maybe guilt about reading about and planning for fun.  But fun and seriousness are not mutually exclusive.  Fun and responsibility live side by side. They pose a classic case of the improvisation mantra “Yes, and ...”  I think you will learn something, as I did.  And perhaps make some new commitments to yourself, as I have.  It is a rather easy read.  Rucker’s style is flowing, friendly, and engaging.

March 2023

 

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Erika L. Sánchez

Fiction 2017 | 344 pages

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You can tell by the title, there is bound to be some humor in here.  And there is!  I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is the story of Julia (pronounced hoo - lyah, please!) in her last two years of high school. Her older sister Olga is killed when she attempts to cross a street while texting.  Julia's parents believe Olga is the perfect Mexican daughter.  The two girls are first-generation Americans, living in a Mexican ghetto in Chicago.  Their apá works in a candy factory, and their amá cleans houses for rich white folks.  Poor, and with traditional values, Julia's parents do not understand her at all.  She is not the perfect Mexican daughter.

Julia, of course, wants a better life.  She doesn't want to be a receptionist like Olga.  She wants to go to college in New York City and be a writer. She is angry, passionate, smart, assertive, and can’t hold her tongue.  She gets in trouble in school constantly.  After Olga's death, she is very depressed, though everyone seems to look right past the impact this death must have had on her.  And she discovers that Olga was not quite the perfect Mexican daughter everyone thought she was.  But I will not expound upon that, as that is the mystery that pulls this novel along.

I often laughed.  Here is one time (page 114).  "The girls next to us are now scandalized, call her a slut, skank, whore, and so many other synonyms in both English and Spanish that is seems like they have consulted a bilingual thesaurus."

I loved Julia and how she pushed at boundaries.  I loved her best friend Lorena and Lorena's good friend, Juanga, who is unabashedly all-out gay, colorful, and unashamed.

This was a book my decolonization book club was about to read, when I left that book club.  I think it presents a delightful picture of being poor, Mexican, first generation, and the spunk and love it takes to rise above it. I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a satisfying read, and I recommend it.

February 2023

Start Where You Are

Pema Chödrön

Nonfiction 1994 | 221 pages

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I started reading this book and had the urge to underline and comment in the margins, but I was reading a digital version from the library, so I paused and ordered my own copy (which came in a package of three Pema Chödrön books.  You will read more here, later.  I know I am very late to discover Chödrön).

Pema Chödrön is an American-Tibetan Buddhist.  She is a nun and a very well-respected teacher.  And so, this book is based on Buddhism, but not so academic or "preachy" as some.  She is very down-to-earth and modern in her writing style; I find it easy to read her words.

Chödrön writes in this book about Tonglen and Lojong.

Tonglen is the practice of taking in and sending out in meditation.  It builds compassion.  In Tonglen meditation we imagine that as we breathe in we are taking away the suffering of a particular individual, group, or animal. Then, as we breathe out, we imagine that we are sending out positive energy, comfort and happiness to that object of our meditation.

While there is much wisdom in this book, Tonglen is one of the concepts I have embraced and am using daily.  There are two people in my life who I care about deeply, and who are struggling and suffering, and Tonglen informs my relationship with them, even though neither of them knows this.

Then there are the 59 slogans of lojong! Overwhelming In number, but so meaningful in content, such as:

  • Regard all dharmas as dreams
  • Self-liberate even the antidote
  • Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation
  • Always maintain only a joyful mind
  • Don't be so predictable
  • Don't wait in ambush
  • Don't expect applause

Some of what I will remember from Start Where You Are is the reminder that each moment is unique, precious, fresh, and sacred, regardless of what is occurring in that moment. Also, she teaches that when you connect with pain, with suffering, your heart expands.  Such connection touches tenderness, openness, spaciousness, and vividness.  The heart simply keeps growing.  It is as wise to not resist the suffering as to not resist the joy.

You will take from Start Where You Are whatever is important to you right now.  I cannot tell you what benefit this book will bring to you personally.  I can certainly suggest that it will not be precisely what I took.

Yes, read this book, quietly and with intention.

February 2023

 

My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout

Fiction 2016 | 209 pages

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In the mid-1980s, Lucy Barton arrives at a New York City hospital with a ruptured appendix, develops a mysterious illness, and is in the hospital for nine weeks.  This is before cell phones and in the midst of the aids epidemic.

One day, Lucy awakens to find her mother sitting in the chair by her bed. It has been years since Lucy has seen her; she has never before come to New York. Lucy’s mother stays right at the foot of her bed for many days, speaking mostly about the marriages among their friends and family that have fallen apart.  During her visit, Lucy comes to terms with the harsh poverty that isolated her family and the abuse she and her siblings faced because of their father’s untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lucy details how her father would lock her in his truck for entire days while her parents worked. The sound of children crying (and snakes) trigger Lucy’s traumatic memories. Lucy also remembers how she would escape the brutal cold of her family’s one-room garage home by staying longer at school and reading. Eventually, this experience shapes her into the writer she longs to be.

Though lauded by some (using words such as powerful, meditative, and haunting), Goodreads reviewers only rate it as 3.57 and I must join the less enthusiastic readers.  I found the tale interesting, but not captivating. I felt as though I was watching Lucy and her (unnamed) mother, and not really entering into who they are as people.  Shallow, I would say.  Lucy’s mother cannot say the words “I love you” to anyone; however Lucy declares her love for everyone, from her doctor to her friends, and to about every man she has encountered in her life.  It is endless and seemingly insincere.

This is, by the way, a very short read!  While it lists at 209 pages, I have the large print edition, and it is only 175 pages.  For those of you who are local, if you play it as you leave from the West Hills of Portland (as I did today), you will finish it just as you turn into your driveway in Bend!

As an Elizabeth Strout fan, who you might want to read this novel, but I don’t come up with any other compelling reason to read it.

(Okay, we need a four-heart book next, eh??)

February 2023

Sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari

Nonfiction 2015 | 443 pages

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We all know we are Homo sapiens, but did you know that there were multiple species of humans, as few as six, and perhaps as many as 14?  Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, and Homo neanderthalensis are three that might seem vaguely familiar to you.  What happened to the other species?  We do not actually know.  We DO know that Homo sapiens managed to rid the world of thousands of species of other animals.

And Home sapiens really began to dominate the planet with the development of fiction.  As far as we know, Home sapiens are the only animals that have the brain capacity to create fiction.  Fiction changed everything.  It is fiction that creates religion, corporations, countries, cultures, the economic system, capitalism.  It is all made up, and only because we agree about what we imagine, does it carry any weight or have any power.  A corporation, for example, is not a physical entity you can touch.  It is only an imagined agreement we have ...

“…today the very survival of rivers, trees, and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.” (page 32)

I was fascinated to begin this book, but started to skim just over halfway in.  Some of you who have a keener interest in history may find this anthropological history fascinating all the way through.  I made it through the hunter-gatherers and through the Agricultural Revolution, but then my interest simply waned as we arrived at the Scientific Revolution (500 CE).   But still, what I learned and retained is fascinating.  I eventually made it through the entire book, and the last couple of chapters were fascinating to me again.

By the way, if you choose to try Sapiens on for size, I recommend you put your hands on a hard copy.  The book itself is beautiful. It is heavy (literally as well as figuratively), with glassy two-color print and many photographs, drawings, and maps that elucidate what you are reading.

Joanne, I hope you complete it!  Post a comment if you do, please ... anyone!

February 2023

 

Charlotte’s Web

E. B White

Children's Fantasy 1952 | 184 pages

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I cannot clearly see why NYT selected this book as the tale to read when one is 78 years old!  I suspect it has something to do with reminding us jaded old folks about the importance of love, friendship, caring, and humble, radiant, giving and receiving.  I shed a tear at the end.

Charlotte’s Web is, of course, a child's tale.  Did you read it when you were young?  I missed this gracious story about animals in a barnyard who talk with one another (Well, it is a “possibility, - ility,- ility” according to the goose!), and how the spider Charlotte saves the pig Wilbur from becoming Christmas dinner.

Charlotte’s Web is delightful, sweet, tender.  Read or reread it whether you are 30 or 90 to reawaken your heart.

February 2023

 

 

Why Fish Don’t Exist

Lulu Miller

Nonfiction & Memoir 2020 | 240 pages

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Wow!  I would NEVER have picked up a nonfiction book about a taxonomist/ichthyologist born in 1851, until Josie, a member of our book club, convinced us this was the perfect read for our February discussion.  This is an astounding book!

David Starr Jordan (some of you may know this name ... I did not) was obsessed with identifying new fish.  He ultimately is credited for discovering more than 2500 fish species.  He carefully stored and tagged thousands of them in glass jars, until the great San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906, and his life's work lie broken amid shards of glass on the floor.  He immediately picked up a needle and began to sew the fishes' tags onto their bodies.

Miller, a reporter for NPR, was captivated by Jordan, wondering what made him so hopeful, so resilient, when he met numerous disasters and roadblocks.  How did he maintain his optimism?  Why was he obsessed with Chaos (yes, with a capital C).

Miller's writing is what makes the book so fascinating, so engaging.  She isn't simply doing a biography of the man, she in interacting with every part of his life story, and sharing with us, her readers, her reactions, opinions, desires, hopes, disappointments about Jordan and about how these feelings are a mirror for her life.  Yes, she too was obsessed, with the curly-haired man who would never come back to her.  She too observed and interacted with Chaos.  Jordan, as a scientist, was compelled to attempt to create organization and categorization out of Chaos. Miller feels a similar compulsion in her career as a journalist.

Yes, this is the same Jordan who was later to be the Founding President of Stanford University.  Miller's view of the man, her admiration of his remarkable talent, is destroyed as she learns more about his life.  She says in her interview on NPR (April 17, 2020, All Things Considered),   "I mean, the breadth of his wreckage, his violence, his cruelty is utterly stunning. Like you can't imagine that a single person can harm so many people's lives."

David Starr Jordan becomes an ardent, passionate, vocal, powerful proselytizer for eugenics.  Other topics in this book, in Jordan's life, in addition to fish and Stanford, include rape, forced sterilization, Nazism, childhood incarceration, delusion, self-grandeur, and murder.

Absolutely, unquestionably, read this excellent book.

February 2023

 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Balli Kaur Jasmal

Fiction 2017 | 298 pages

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This is a delightful read!  (Thank you, René!)

Nikki, about 22 years old, lives alone in London and tends bar at the local pub, having quit law school to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  Of Indian descent, she has spent her years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, even as her sister Mindi decides to seek an arranged marriage. Trying to find herself, and also wanting to be of service, Nikki takes a job teaching a brand-new creative writing course that is marketed to widows at the community center in the heart of London's closed-knit Punjabi community, Southall.

However, the women who arrive are not literate.  Nikki goes in search of "learn your ABC's" books and is disappointed she will not be teaching creative writing.  But then she discovers that, while they cannot write, these women can tell stories, and especially fantasies ... sexual fantasies.  Some are made up; some they experienced when their husbands were alive.  News of the class gets out and more and more women come.  News also travels to the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the "morality police" in Southall.

Lest you think this is just some sexy, light reading, that is only the stage for exploring patriarchy, indoctrination, cultural and societal norms, and the unsolved and unattended murders of young women.  This is a thought-provoking tale about East-meets-West, with several important subplots.  The diversion into steamy stories helps to normalize the characters and to remind us of our similarities as well as our differences.

The eroticism is lively and sexy.  The story line is serious and educational. The seven or eight erotic stories play a decidedly positive role in the relationships of women who are still with men.

I surely recommend this book!

January 2023

Listening Still

Anne Griffin

Fiction 2021 / 342 pages

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Regular readers of Dusty Shelves know that I have an affinity for debut novels.  It is refreshing to hear a new voice, and you can just FEEL how hard they worked to get it right.  And then they publish their second novel.  And sometimes the artistry and magic do not carry over into manuscript number two.  I fear that is the case with Anne Griffin.  Listening Still is just not in the same ballpark as When All is Said (see my review in Dusty Shelves).

The plot is wonderful!  Jeanie Masterson can hear the last words of the dead and they can hear her. Her father also has this gift, and together they run the family business ... a funeral home in Ireland.  The ONLY Irish funeral home that talks with their dead.  We watch Jeanie as she enters her teenage years, falls in love twice, and tries to manage her varied emotions when her parents tell her they are retiring to the coast, and leaving the business to her.

Sometimes when you hear the dead speak their last words (while lying in their coffin), you decide the words are too painful to pass on to friends and relatives.  Sometimes not.  But Jeanie and her father find themselves in such situations often ... and this sometimes-withholding and sometimes-giving becomes the way of not communicating with her family and friends as well.

There are a variety of secondary characters who serve as foils to Jeanie and are often delightful.  Her Aunt Harry who works as an embalmer in the business; her friend Niall from the toddler days who waits and watches while Jeanie falls in love with someone else; her deliciously autistic brother Mikey; her best friend Peanut; and Arthur, the postman, all move the story forward.

However, the fatal flaw in this book is the main character, Jeanie.  A number of reviewers wrote that Jeanie frustrated them, because she cruelly spends years not answering the questions of people who love her, leaving herself and them hanging, with no end in sight. I didn't find Jeanie as frustrating as I found Anne Griffin.  Jeanie is a shallow character, and we see only her external behaviors and not her inner soul.  I checked twice to see if this is a YA book, and it is not. It has that sense of action with no depth to it ...

This was a quick read and an easy read.  If you are looking for something to lightly entertain you this weekend, this is a good choice.  If you are seeking something with profound meaning that will cause you to think, I suggest you look elsewhere.

January 2023

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (corrected)

Jonathon Safran Foer

Fiction 2005 | 335 pages

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Oskar, the nine-year-old protagonist of this novel, is vegan and only wears white.  He is extremely precocious and incredibly imaginative; always creating new inventions in his mind.  After his father is killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11, with his body never found, Oskar's tendency towards fear, worry, and anxiety is further augmented by grief and survivor guilt. Oskar describes his sorrow and sadness as "heavy boots" ... a delicious and meaningful metaphor.

Oskar finds a key in a blue vase in his dad's closet after his dad dies. He decides to find the purpose of this key, which is in an envelope with "Black" written on it. He figures out that Black is last name of the person who knows something about this key, and he decides to visit everyone in New Your City with the last name of Black, in alphabetical order of their first name, not geographic order.  He walks wherever he goes in New York City, as he has a fear of public in transportation, heights, and bridges.  He always carries a tambourine, which he shakes to try to calm himself. Oskar is also insatiably curious, brilliant, and has a huge range of interests and an amazing memory for obscure facts.

There is a strong secondary plot in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, through which we are exposed to a long series of letters written by Oskar's grandfather to his unborn child (a bit confusing at times, this.)

The novel is extraordinary.  It has an odd and quirky plot.  The writing is magnificent.  Just a single sentence from page 165, to offer a flavor of the writing: "He looked at me and through me at the same time, like I was a stained glass window."

This is the second time I read this book. RARE for me!   It came up in a recent conversation and sounded like a good idea to reread.  Thanks, Joanne.

Yes, I recommend Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

January 2023

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Jonathon Safran Foer

Fiction 2005 | 335 pages

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Oskar, the nine-year-old protagonist of this novel, is vegan and only wears white.  He is extremely precocious and incredibly imaginative; always creating new inventions in his mind.  After his father is killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11, with his body never found, Oskar's tendency towards fear, worry, and anxiety is further augmented by grief and survivor guilt. Oskar describes his sorrow and sadness as "heavy boots" ... a delicious and meaningful metaphor.

Oskar finds a key in a blue vase in his dad's closet after his dad dies. He decides to find the purpose of this key, which is in an envelope with "Black" written on it. He figures out that Black is last name of the person who knows something about this key, and he decides to visit everyone in New Your City with the last name of Black, in alphabetical order of their first name, not geographic order.  He walks wherever he goes in New York City, as he has a fear of public in transportation, heights, and bridges.  He always carries a tambourine, which he shakes to try to calm himself. Oskar is also insatiably curious, brilliant, and has a huge range of interests and an amazing memory for obscure facts.

There is a strong secondary plot in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, through which we are exposed to a long series of letters written by Oskar's grandfather to his unborn child (a bit confusing at times, this.)

The novel is extraordinary.  It has an odd and quirky plot.  The writing is magnificent.  Just a single sentence from page 165, to offer a flavor of the writing: "He looked at me and through me at the same time, like I was a stained glass window."

This is the second time I read this book. RARE for me!   It came up in a recent conversation and sounded like a good idea to reread.  Thanks, Joanne.

Yes, I recommend Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

January 2023

The Heart of Tantric Sex

Diana Richardson

Nonfiction 2003, 256 pages

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So, this is a rather odd posting, eh?  I am a little embarrassed, but not so much that I will keep quiet!

Tantric sex originates from ancient Hinduism and revolves around sexual practices that focus on creating a deep, intimate connection. During tantric sex, the aim is to be present in the moment to achieve a sensual and fulfilling sexual experience. Tantric sex is not about excitement and orgasm ... simply put, it is about relaxation, fulfillment, satisfaction, and connection.

This is a delightful and potentially very satisfying book for couples to read together.  (Unfortunately, she only addresses heterosexual couples.  I have looked at her other books, and only found a podcast where she touches on same-sex couples.  https://vitalveda.com.au/learn/emotional-health/tantric-sex/)

I read and applied the first half of this book when I was partnered.  It is a major shift in how one makes love, with its focus on awareness and relaxation and not on excitement, tension, and orgasm.

I read the second half when I was no longer in a relationship and found it almost as valuable.  While Tantric Sex may be revolutionary for female/male couples, it can also be an insightful experience for someone on their own.  What you learn about in reading this book includes lessons in: connection, presence, awareness, relaxation, energy, physical energy channels, breathing, eye contact, peace, inner awareness, polarities, and consciousness.

I know this won't resonate with all my readers, but especially if you are in a long-term relationship, Tantric Sex may offer you a delightful adventure and shift your sexual relationship.  BTW, if you are uncomfortable with seeing the words penis, vagina, erection, and orgasm on the printed page, this book may not be for you!

Enjoy, if you choose!  I am going to lose myself in a novel now!

January 2023

The Guide

Peter Heller

Fiction 2021 | 257 pages

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25-year-old Jack leaves his father's ranch for a job as a fishing guide at an upscale resort, Kingfisher Lodge, on pristine river waters in Colorado.  Dealing with grief over the loss of his best friend, Jack knows he finds solace, relief, and serenity whenever he stands in his waders and fishes.  And what a gorgeous place to be able to do so!

Except, upon his arrival, he begins to question his decision.  The lodge sits behind a locked gate, surrounded by barbed wire, and a sign that shouts "Don't Get Shot!"  There are hidden cameras everywhere ... on a bridge crossing the river, fastened onto trees in the woods, even in Jack's cabin.  He is assigned as a guide to a well-known singer, and his job is to carry her gear, set up her line, and find the best trout he can for her adventure.  And then ... a human scream pierces the night, death is revealed, and Jack comes to realize that his lodge, a respite for wealthy clients during the time of a pandemic, may be a cover for a way more nefarious operation.

This is a wilderness story, a mystery, and a love story.  What could be better?  Heller’s writing simply astounds me,  especially as he writes about fishing,  I am not a fly fisher-woman, but Heller’s vivid description of the sparkle of the river, the beauty of the surrounding land, and the excitement of the chase, once you have a trout hooked, is spellbinding!  He also paints a vivid picture of our two main characters, Jack, and his singer-star client, Alison K.  And the mystery pulls you in … where are those breakfast trays going, and why is there a young girl in a hospital gown fleeing on the road?  And what about the boot in the dirt, that disappeared?

The Guide is a selection in our local county library’s annual community read (they selected four books this year).  I can see why!  Over the last few days, I carried this book with me, and was eager to find moments to read a few pages or a chapter.  Delightful!

I heartily recommend The Guide.

January 2023

 

Interbeing

Thich Nhat Hanh

Nonfiction 2020 (fourth edition), 182 pages

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There is an apple sitting on my counter. As I look at it, if I bother, I can envision the interconnection of this apple. I think about the person at Whole Foods who piled it attractively.  Was it the handsome guy with the beard, or the woman who is often grumpy?  I imagine the truck driver who brought the apple and a myriad of other fruits and vegetables to the loading dock. Then I travel back to the person who picked the apple. The apple itself was fed by the rain and warmed by the sun.  The tree on which the apple grew has deep roots into the earth to tap the nutrients there.  The squirrel or pica consumed a seed and dropped it where it took root and apple tree grew (or maybe a human planted it there). And, if this is not enough, think about the path and the people involved in making the box that the apple was shipped in.  Think about the origins of the truck and the metals and the fuel that brought the box that carried the apple.

This is all the concept of interconnection, and I became very aware of it by reading Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  (Please check out my blog posting).  Interconnectedness among native populations is (author not identified):  "This all-encompassing world view embraces the idea that people are tightly connected to their communities, to their ancestors, to future generations, to the lands on which they live and to all of the animals, plants and even inanimate objects that reside on these lands."

I was delighted to discover a similar concept in my research on Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term "Interbeing" and although similar, it is not quite the same. This book, Interbeing, gives you a sense of what all this means in Buddhism ... all fourteen mindfulness components, including Freedom of Thought, Awareness of Suffering, Taking Care of Anger, Right Livelihood, and ten others,   Thich Nhat Hanh turns this concept into something complex and diverse.  And thus, this can be an interesting, useful, and educational read.  Pages 29 - 84 explain and teach about the 14 “trainings.”  This is where the wisdom is.  These pages are preceded by 48 pages of introduction and context setting that doesn’t say much, and the last large section is irrelevant to new learners as it is about the Order of Interbeing ... the structure and the organization that is dedicated to understanding, educating, and revising the mindfulness trainings.

Hahn has a delightful, engaging tone.  I understand he is wonderful to listen to.  AND, I now know just a modicum about Buddhism; just barely enough to begin to have an opinion.  And my present opinion is, "My goodness, so many people/Buddhas have made this all very complicated and complex!"  So far in my learning I have read about Four Noble Truths, the Eight-Fold Path, 14 Mindful Trainings, Ten Precepts, Nine Virtues, Three Sins, Five Powers, and 31 Realms. As with every Buddhist book I have read so far, Interbeing loses a lot of meaning when the teaching is made so complex and non-memorable.  Another case of a large amount of filler to turn a simple concept into a book.  So, enjoy the middle of this book if you wish!

January 2023

The Night Watchman

Louise Erdrich

Fiction, 2022, 451 pages

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Louise Erdrich has written 28 books, and won a Pulitzer Prize for this novel, The Night Watchman, based upon her own grandfather's life, who was in fact, a night watchman, and fought against Native dispossession in 1953.

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. The bill is actually a “termination” bill that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their cultures,  and their identity.

Patrice, trying to overcome her childhood name of Pixie, works at the plant also.  With a devastatingly alcoholic father, and a delightful mother, Zhaanat, Patrice works both hard and competently.  She takes a short leave from work to attempt to track down her sister Vera and Vera’s baby, who have disappeared.  Patrice travels by train to Minnesota, where she immediately is thrust into a world of exploitation and violence and endangers her life.

Before the story is complete, a number of the significant characters make their way to Washington DC on a three-day train trip, to testify to Congress against The Termination Act of 1953.

One reviewer described this book as “a mosaic of voices.”  An apt phrase!  Yes, there are many characters (I sought out and downloaded a character list), and they DO create a mosaic, because no two are alike.  They each have their own personalities, quirks, views, and histories.

Erdrich is an elegant writer. I enjoy her words, phrases, sentences, and flow.  I believe she did a phenomenal job with the development of the main characters (something I often grouse about in my blog postings, eh?) ... Thomas, Patrice, Zhaanat, (even the ghost, Roderick) and a few others.  But the novel won three hearts from me because I felt the story was disjointed.  At times it was hard to follow.  At other times, it simply didn't flow; it was choppy.  Great writing, great characters, troublesome plot line.  It is a good thing for Ms. Erdrich I am not on the Pulitzer Prize selection committee!  Ha ha!

All in all, I suggest you read The Night Watchman and form your own opinion.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.  This is our January book club read, so I look forward to a juicy conversation!

January 2023

The Hour of Land

Terry Tempest Williams

Nonfiction 2016 | 400 pages

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Terry Tempest William's writing is gorgeous, literary, torturous, visual, revealing, thought-provoking, sweet, humorous, powerful, inspiring, inciting, creative. This book portrays her personal reactions, responses, and thoughts about eight of our National Parks, two National Monuments, one National Seashore, one National Military Park, and one National Recreation Area. She inspires us to visit, protect, and preserve these national treasures, and understand what they represent for our future, if we are to be an environmentally healthy planet.

I am biased.  Canyonlands National Park is my favorite wilderness in this country.  But what she writes!  Oh my!  This chapter is filled completely with letters she wrote to the likes of Edward Abbey, John Wesley Powell, Sally Jewel, Tim DeChristopher and numerous news media editors.  Here, Williams gives us an intimate view of her values and principles and how this parks entices them.

A few chapters earlier, she shares Big Bend National Park with us through the lens of 13 colors, among them are purple, blue, red, and pink.  Clever; engaging.

You should read this book if you love literature.  You should read this book if you are inspired by our National Parks. You should read this book if you have any interest at all in protecting our environment.  I received it as a gift from Thom 18 months ago and wish I had not put I on the "to be read" shelf for so long.  It is a stunning piece of literature.

December 2022

Dahlias

Naomi Slade

Nonfiction 2018 | 240 pages

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This is primarily a picture book of dahlia varieties, but if you happen to have developed a passion, this is a fine book for a cold winter day.  And it is Interesting to read about the origins of the names of some of the 42-49 species of dahlias, and the thousands of individual flower types, such as Happy Singles First Love, Franz Kafka, Rip City, Checkers, and Hootenanny.

December 2022

Women Who Run with Wolves

Clarissa Pinkola Estés | Fiction, 2009

2 hours, 18 minutes

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I like Estés style!  She tells stories and fables, and the interprets them in Jungian archetypal terms, with an accessible lightness.  She is not heavy, heady, or didactic.

I found these stories to be meaningful  for my younger self, as they focus on discovering one’s power, identity, and freedom.  Still, they are interesting to listen to.

I am QUITE looking forward to listening to a Christmas gift from Thom that has not arrived yet, by the same author:  The Power of the Crone.  I anticipate Estés will be sharing with us tales that speak more to the older woman.

December 2022

Fairy Tale

Stephen King

Fiction 2022 | 608 pages

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Once upon a time there was a 17-year-old boy named Charlie. Charles Reade, actually.  His mother dies in a terrible accident when he is seven, and his father turns to drink, but Charlie grows up to be a good, strong, clever young man. He promises God to do good as recompense in exchange for his father's sobriety. Which, yes, happens. Charlie then saves his neighbor from a fall off of a ladder, grumpy old Mr. Bowditch, who has an equally elderly dog named Radar, and a crumbling old house. The first half of this long book is a delightful story about Charlie, his father, Mr. Bowditch, and Radar.

And then Mr. Bowditch dies and all is revealed about how he can afford his considerable medical expense.  Out in his back shed is the entrance, long and steep, to another world, where gold pellets flow freely. Upon his death, Mr. Bowditch explains about this world and tells Charlie how to get there.  He is especially interested in convincing Charlie to go, because there is a sundial there that, when spun backwards, can revert someone who stands on it, to an earlier stage in their life.  Both Mr. Bowditch and Charlie want the German Shepherd Radar to take a spin on the sundial, as he too is dying.

Still fun, yes!  Soon we enter this other word, Empis, where its citizens suffer from a disease called “the gray” that slowly and brutally turns their faces into misshapen mounds of gray skin.  Charlie has many adventures and meets some very interesting characters who have lost much of their faces and often a sense – sight, hearing, eating, etc.

The Guardian and others call this book “terrifying.”  I am not certain I would have read it, if I had read these reviews first.

After Charlie and Radar travel deep into this land where evil creatures have overtaken the society and created the gray, depression, foreboding, and poverty, Charlie is thrown into prison.  Here is where the 200 pages of terror begin. The story here is brutal and murderous.  Even though I found this section of the book repulsive, still, I kept it at four hearts.  The tale is amazing, and woven throughout are stories, references, and metaphors that hearken back to numerous fairy tales.  Again fun!

With a grain of salt,  and a bit of self-surprise, I recommend this Stephen King.

December 2022

Buddhism is Not What You Think

Steve Hagen

Nonfiction 2003 | 255 pages

two-hearts

I was quite disappointed in this book, especially since I so enjoyed the other Hagen book I read, Buddhism Plan and Simple.  I just don’t think there was nearly enough content to fill this book.  I found it extremely repetitive.  He says the same thing over and over, sometimes not even changing the words.

That being said, here are some of the gems I took from his writing:

Pg 40. It's better instead to just look at the situation you're in and see immediately and directly what's going on.  If you do this honestly and earnestly, you'll see that you're already sustained, complete, and whole and that everything you'll ever truly need is at hand.

Pg 49.  The Buddha pointed out that any idea of existence or persistence is faulty. But he also pointed out that any notion of nonexistent is also flawed.

Pg 65. Instead of just seeing, most of us most of the time search for a better idea, a more useful concept, a clearer explanation that will at last crack open the world for us.

Pg 66, 67. We overlook that we cannot have "off" without "on."  We cannot have "this" without "that." In fact, no object can form in the mind without its very identity being wrapped up in all that it us not ... Nothing stands on its own.  Nothing has its own being. Each thing is inseparable from, and inter-identical with, all that it's not.

Pg 80. The Buddha said that he taught only two things:  dukkha--which can be translated as change, sorrow, loss, suffering, vexation, or confusion--and release from dukkha.

Pg 101.  It doesn't matter what the activity is.  If you really understand meditation, it can reach into every activity of your life, 24/7.

Pg 107.  The Way – Truth, Reality, Enlightenment – is always with people.  It's with you now.

Pg 123.  So what is the most precious thing?  It's not a thing at all.  It's this very moment.

Pg 180.  It is said that a Bodhisattva comes into the world forsaking understanding and being understood.  This is true.

Pg 185.  In this moment it is possible to realize that we do not need to understand, to be understood, to have the right idea.  All we need to do is awaken to here and now – to stop jabbering to ourselves and be present in this moment.

There's nothing to prove, nothing to figure out, nothing to get, nothing to understand.  When we finally stop explaining everything to ourselves, we may discover that in silence, complete understanding was here all along.

Pg 209.  That this will never come again is what it actually means to be born again and again.  We, and indeed the whole world, are born repeatedly, over and over, in each new moment.

December 2022

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Helen Simonson

Fiction 2010, 355 pages

Boring!!!

(FYI, this is the book for age 62 in the NYT "Best books from 1-100.")

December 2022

 

Bear, Otter, and The Kid

TJ Klune | Fiction, 2011

370 pages

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The plot is delightful!  On his 18th Birthday, Bear (aka Derrick), finds himself completely responsible for his eight-year-old brother the Kid (aka Tyson), when their mother leaves them a letter with $135.50, and takes off with her boyfriend, never to return.  Three days later, Bear graduates from high school, along with his two best friends since second grade, Creed and Anna.  His plans for college disappear and his life is in disarray ... he will never abandon the Kid, whom he loves very deeply.  Anna (now Bear's girlfriend), Creed, Creed's older brother Otter (aka Oliver), and next-door neighbor Mrs. Pacquin all commit to fully support Bear and the Kid, with love, babysitting, school pick-ups, money (Bear won't take any of that) and whatever else is necessary for the care and feeding of his young brother, a brilliant vegetarian ecoterrorist-in-training who refuses to watch cartoons and instead watches documentaries on cruelty to animals, PETA, environmental change, and radical ecoterrorism.

The plot is pure delight!  Such love and support all around!

That is the plot, but the interwoven story is about Bear and Otter, and Bear, with considerable difficulty, coming to terms with being gay. I am a romantic, and I love reading about love, sex, romance, joy, and anguish.  However, I am giving this book three hearts because I want you to go into this novel with your eyes wide open.  There is A LOT of  love, sex, romance, joy, and anguish between Bear and Otter!!  If that works for you, you will find this novel enjoyable.

Bear, our main character, is expertly written in first person, and his inner thoughts are included in italics.  His inner thoughts are a riot!  There is much in this book to smile, giggle, and laugh at.  I guffawed loudly near the end a few times! Plus, of course, there is the pure sentimentality of a family (created) that we all perhaps deeply desire.  Heartwarming and funny, this is another TJ Klune success.  It is a tough call if this book or House on the Cerulean Sea is now my favorite Klune!

Enjoy!

December 2022

Lost in Time

A.G. Riddle

Fiction 2022 | 451 pages

four-hearts

A small group of scientists creates a company called Absalom and invents a machine that can send people into the past ... way into the past, like the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago.  They were attempting to build a machine that would transport an object instantaneously to a different location.  (Watch out, FedEx!) Unsure of the market for transporting people, they discovered countries and governments found the technology useful for coping with hardened criminals … getting them out of this place and time, but not actually killing them.

And then, one of the Absalom scientists, Nora, is murdered.  Her business (and love) partner, Sam, and his daughter Adeline are prime suspects.  Sam quickly realizes he needs to confess to the murder, which he didn’t do, to remove suspicion from his daughter (who is also innocent!)  His colleagues send Sam back to the Triassic Period, as he is now officially a “murderer.”  Meanwhile, the scientific team improve and adapt the machine, making greater and more significant innovations, until they agree with Adeline’s intention to travel back to 2008, the year of her birth, and relive the past up to and through the time Nora is killed ... to find the murderer.  One the murderer is found, the advance time-travel machine can bring her father back, and life will continue on its journey!

The time travel is fun (though sometimes a bit confusing).  The character development of many characters … Sam, Adeline, Nora, Daniele, Constance, Elliott, Hiro … is astounding.  It takes great talent to develop clearly this many characters and A.G. Riddle is up to the task!  Eventually, many threads come together in the end of the novel, and confusing pieces make sense.  There is such a sense of compassion in this novel ... FROM some characters (Constance, e.g.) and FOR others (Hiro, e.g.)  This is a fun read!  I think I will try another A.G. Riddle.  He has written ten other novels.

November 2022

A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L'Engle

Fiction 1962 | 236 pages

four-hearts

A Wrinkle in Time is a 1962 classic young adult novel about Meg, a 13-year-old girl who is unsure of herself, quite sensitive, doesn't know her place in the world, and has two scientist parents and three brothers. Meg travels across space and time to achieve her own coming of age. Though I am reading this classic 60 years beyond its publication, I found it fun, engaging, even if somewhat dated in its science.  What's not to like?  Some didn't like its Christian message.  Huh?  As an atheist, I consider myself somewhat hyper-aware of Christian messages.  I missed the "Christian message" completely myself!!

A Wrinkle in Time follows three children as they cross the barriers of time and space.  Mrs Whatsit, a very old celestial being disguised as a woman (and has two compatriots, Mrs Who and Mrs Which) visit Meg, her mother, and her younger brother Charles Wallace.  Soon Meg, her prodigious younger brother Charles Wallace, and friend Calvin travel across the universe in search of Meg’s father, who, once found, does NOT solve all their problems.  It is Meg, a girl who combines both the ordinary and the extraordinary, who overcomes the book’s villain with the power of a simple human emotion, love.

If you read this in fourth grade, as my friend Jen did, or missed it all together, it is a delightful quick read into the early days of science, science fiction, and fantasy.  Enjoy it now, as an adult!

November 2022

Serena

Ron Rash

Fiction 2008 | 362 pages

two-hearts

During the depression, in 1929, newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to harvest timber and create a timber empire.  Their story is dark, visceral, deadly, and, yes, loving.  Serena, our main character, is an unfathomably strong and powerful woman, capable and resourceful (an anomaly at the time) who knows her own mind.  She is also ruthless, ambitious, greedy, malicious, amoral, a megalomaniac, and a sociopath.  And a murderer.  The 100 timber workers, with the Pemberton’s at their head, struggle with death, maiming, poverty, issues of significant safety, and a government movement to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, right on their land.  (As an aside, the most-visited National Park in the US!)

Many reviewers write about the beauty of Rash’s writing.  He has a beautiful turn of the phrase; eloquent, descriptive, intense.  However, I did not find his writing quite as compelling as many did.  He solves every problem by murdering someone.  I found this very uncreative.  I think it would have been a more interesting story if he explored other means for solving problems.

We get to know Serena in depth, and to some extent, her husband Pemberton.  But the rest of the characters blur together in their superficiality.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to judge a book harshly by the story it tells, but I have.  There are many murders, along with countless deaths and loss of limbs by logging.  Virtually all the murders are not explained. It is unclear why these people must die.  I abhor gratuitous violence, and I believe that is what Rash writes about, his strong female characters notwithstanding.  I finished this because it is a book club read, but I do not recommend it. I am very intrigued to hear why the gentle spirit who recommended this book to us, did so.

November 2022

A cartoon of three books stacked on top of each other.

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