Dusty Shelves Book Blog


I Never Thought of it That Way

Mónica Guzmán

Nonfiction 2022 | 257 pages


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


“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


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


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


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


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



Anthony de Mello

Nonfiction 1992/ 184 pages


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



Julia Watts

Fiction 2018 / 289 pages


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


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


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


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


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


Rachel Wooten

Nonfiction 2020 | 311 pages


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



Akwaeke Emezi

Fiction 2022 | 264 pages


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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)


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Yuval Noah Harari

Nonfiction 2015 | 443 pages


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Thich Nhat Hanh

Nonfiction 2020 (fourth edition), 182 pages


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


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


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


Naomi Slade

Nonfiction 2018 | 240 pages


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


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


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


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


(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


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!


December 2022

Lost in Time

A.G. Riddle

Fiction 2022 | 451 pages


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


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


Ron Rash

Fiction 2008 | 362 pages


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

Buddhism Plain & Simple

Steve Hagen

Nonfiction 1997 | 161 pages


I was raised Catholic.  I suddenly realized while reading Buddhism Plain & Simple that we had ONE book to go to, if we wanted to understand the teaching of Catholicism.  The Bible.  Okay, and maybe The Catechism.  Buddhism doesn't have a Bible of sorts, and so the dharma is written about by scholars, teachers, buddhas, monks, nuns, lay people.  No wonder I have been confused!

This book, Buddhism Plain & Simple, has begun to make it clearer to me.  No matter what words are used, or the interpretation provided, at least part of the foundation of the dharma of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.  I know this is over-simplifying, but a framework is starting to build for me that I can hang other teachings onto.

Hagen, in this book, writes unrelentingly about "seeing."  Seeing reality, seeing truth, seeing right action, seeing duhkha (suffering).  I feel urged and encouraged to "see."   While I don't exactly know how to do this in all circumstances, I find this to be a clear and powerful message.

The last third of the book focuses on the illusion of self.  I don’t understand this concept at all!  Of course, “understanding” is not even the “right” word ... it is about seeing.  Anyway, I have much more to learn.  How thrilling!

This is a great book for us beginners!  I recommend it highly!

Thank you for the loan, Thom.

P.S.  I still haven’t seen the "Mysterious Figure" on page 28, for what it actually is.  Do you see it?

November 2022

Inside of a Dog

Alexandra Horowitz

Nonfiction 2009 | 362 pages


I found this book fascinating, cover to cover.  Horowitz is a cognitive scientist and she reports on significant dog research, introducing me to the concept of umwelt (an organism's unique view of the world; how they interact with the environment); addressing what we have discovered about how dogs communicate with one another and us; how they see, smell, and hear; how and why they bond; what they learn and how they learn it; how they change as they age; and other topics.  She intersperses the research with tales about her own dog Pump (aka Pumpernickel) and frequent humor.

I read Inside of a Dog with thought and considerable interest.  The only criticism I have is that it is so chock-full of information, it will be difficult to retain much.

Goodreads readers were not nearly so enamored.  3.6 on their 5.0 scale is not glowing. Many found Inside of a Dog boring and long-winded.  I did not!  I recommend this book strongly if you are a dog lover.  If you love it or if it bores you to tears, either way, please leave your comments!

November 2022

The Art of Living

Thich Nhat Hahn | Nonfiction, 2017

224 pages


I have decided to learn more about Buddhism, so you will see a few more books over the next months.

This book disappointed me. I assumed I did not know much about dharma.  I guess I do.  There was some, but not much, that was new to me.  It is broadly about a spiritual practice of mindfulness, compassion, and enlightenment, presented through the Buddhist Three Doors of Liberation: emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness, but with a preoccupation with suffering and attachment. The perspective of "she needs to be fixed" is central to this writing.  He clearly states we "need to live differently," as though we all are unconscious, unlearned, unaware, un-awake.

That being said, the concept of inter-being (chapter 2) is a great reminder of truth and reminds me of Braiding Sweetgrass and The Overstory ... tomes about the environmental unity of all beings, and about transformation from one form to another.

I most enjoyed learning about the eight bodies.  In my mind, it is a useful model or metaphor that helps me comprehend the various ways I am pulled; the various aspects of deep joy I feel; the sometimes-conflicting sources of wisdom I experience.  The eight bodies are the:

  • Human body
  • Buddha body
  • Spiritual Practice body
  • Community body
  • The Body Outside the Body
  • Continuation body
  • Cosmic body
  • Ultimate body

If you simply want to learn what to do or how to be ... read the “Afterword."  It is an excellent summary of the implications of the material in this book, and the choices and perspectives you might invite into your life.

I recommend this book if you want to consider another perspective on your own spirituality.

October 2022

The Mirror Pond Murders

Ted Haynes

Fiction 2019 | 236 pages


While dredging Mirror Pond in downtown Bend, a skull is found.  It is a young woman.  Who was she and how did she arrive here?  She has an interesting story, all wrapped up in who her relatives are, the cities of Bend and Prineville, and Rajneeshpuram.

As with the last Haynes' book I read, the Mt. Bachelor Murders, Haynes begins with a good solid mystery, but then confounds the story by adding murder after murder and crime after crime into it.  Again, the story is overly complex and poorly written.

The only reason to read these Haynes books is to enjoy the city of Bend, Bend history and stories, the vividness of the Bend topography.  Otherwise, I do not recommend.

October 2022

Under the Whispering Door

TJ Klune | Fiction, 2021

376 pages


I love his characters; I love his magic and whimsy; and how he suspends reality; I love his gayness.

In this TJ Klune, Wallace Price is a mean, unkind attorney who dies suddenly of a heart attack.  Mei, the Reaper, comes to Wallace's funeral to collect him.  The only other people at his funeral are the partners in his law firm and his ex-wife.  A sad showing!  Wallace crosses over into a holding place ... a tea shop ... in which he transforms himself from an angry being into a kind one and prepares for the final crossing into whatever is next.

So, yes, there is un-realism and magic (some of the characters, including the endearing dog Apollo, are ghosts, and some are still-alive human beings.)  We witness Wallace's transformation, and, though the novel is a touch saccharin and maybe a little too long, still it is playful and engaging.  It will inspire you to a range of emotions and thoughts about death, kindness, transformation, relationships.  Klune interjects humor into this topic, which could be maudlin.  Here is a place I laughed aloud.  Wallace, in his ghost form, is moving the planchette on a Ouija board for a cruel and obnoxious visitor to the tea shop. It is quite difficult for a ghost to learn to move items!

""What are you, ten?' Nelson asked, though he seemed to be fighting a smile. 'You need to be scarier.  Tell her you're Satan, and you're going to eat her liver.'

'This is Satan,' the Thin Man says as the planchette moved.  'I am going to eat your diver.'

'Liver!' Nelson said.  'Liver.'

'I'm trying,' Wallace said through gritted teeth.  'It's slippery!'" (Pg 170)

Oddly, it strikes me that this novel would make for an excellent play. Except for one very brief moment when Wallace wants to escape death and runs off into town, the entire novel takes place in one house where Mei, Nelson, Hugo, and Apollo live.  It would require one single stage set ... all the great action that occurs, occurs right there in the house and tea shop.

Though this book doesn't quite live up to its successor, The House in the Cerulean Sea, it is still a delightful read.  I am going to pick up another TJ Klune and explore this interesting author further. Yes, I recommend Under the Whispering Door.

October 2022

Portrait of a Thief

Grace D. Li

Fiction 2022 | 375 pages


Portrait of a Thief received 3.5 out of 5.0 on Goodreads. Quite a low score!  So, I read a pile of GR reviews and, truthfully, they did lower my opinion a bit.  But let’s look at what we have here in Grace D. Li's reasonable attempt at writing a delightful first novel!

Li has crafted a story about five Chinese-American college students (some just beyond college) who are recruited to steal five important pieces of Chinese art, housed in five museums in Europe and the United States. Asian-American diaspora is actually the major theme of this book for Daniel, Lily, Alex, and siblings Will and Irene, not the thefts themselves.   I am intrigued by the angst of young people in their junior and senior years in college, wondering if and how they can succeed in the world.  I do not remember having such concerns.  I just assumed I would enjoy the rest of college and then go find a job.  I suspect this is a learning for me, as our characters self-define as American of Chinese heritage or Chinese-American. This book is more about what the characters expect of themselves and what their families and cultures expect of them, than it is about sophisticated heists.  While some reviewers scoffed at 20-something’s planning a major heist, I found the plotting and executing of thefts to be quite delightful!  Yes, they meet on Zoom and use Whats App and plan on a Google Doc.  No, they have no idea what they are doing.  At their first gathering they watch Oceans Eleven!  Yes, it is terribly fun!

I liked the characters.  It is true  they do not differentiate themselves very well.  I did not always remember which character was which, when we arrived at one of their chapters (The chapters are each perspectives from one character as the take unfolds).  Nevertheless, I found them interesting, and I recall them now as a gestalt, a compiled character.  One was a car racer in her spare time, one quit college to take an exorbitantly high paying job at Google.  One had a father who worked, coincidentally, in stolen art recovery.  They all were uncertain, youthful, brilliant, passionate, adventuresome, thought-provoking.

One of the major criticisms, I am chagrined to say, I didn’t notice at all!  And that was phrase repetition.  Apparently (one reviewer had her e-book count!) the air or sky is “full of possibility” at least 20 times, and “the curve of [character]’s cheek/lips” was repeated at least 10 times .

It is not a believable story … no one would really hire these five kids.  But, so what?  It is a novel!  I was entertained; I enjoyed the story; and truthfully, I learned something about being Chinese-American in this country, as well as a bit of art history, museum security, and had a small glimpse into the minds of today’s young adults.  I must come down on the side of recommending this debut novel.  It is a pleasurable read.  (Now … do I give it four hearts or three???)

October 2022


Tara Austen Weaver

Nonfiction 2022 | 140 pages


When the gopher finally ran away from my yard for good, the rabbits moved in.  I love my wild cottontails.  Cuter than cute, and fun for the dogs!  But rabbits eat every annual I could plant, within 24 hours.  An internet search led me to dahlias, apparently not a favorite for bunnies’ taste buds. I unexpectedly and unintentionally fell in love.  Dahlias are truly amazing flowers and bearers of joy, grace, astounding variety, and beauty.

As the long blooming season winds down, I am inspired to learn a bit more about my new passion.  After Thom, the dogs, and I visited Wild Swan Dahlias, the largest commercial dahlia farm in the US, just over the mountains in Canby, Oregon, he bought me Dahlias: A Little Book of Flowers. This is a short, sweet start, and I KNOW there will be another dahlia book or two under the tree come December.  Perhaps soon I will be able to explain the eight (nine?) different categories of dahlias, which hold literally thousands of varieties, as any grower can create hybrids.

If you have neither a clue about nor an apparent interest in dahlias, you still may very well find pleasure in the watercolor-painted dahlias pictured throughout this small book.  Enjoy!  (Be careful, though.  Love may capture your heart too!  And your yard will never be the same!)

Thank you, Thom.

October 2022


Apples Never Fall

Liane Moriarty

Fiction 2021 | 467 pages


Slow.  Apples Never Fall is, for me, a slow read.  Hence, two hearts.  But we will come back to that in a moment.

The background is this:  the Delaney family, in Sydney, is a tennis family through and through, from top to bottom.  The parents, Stan and Joy, comprise a doubles team with trophies lining the walls of their home. They start a school to teach and coach tennis players but continue to win in doubles tournaments.  Joy disappears on Valentine's Day, and eventually the circumstantial evidence mounts against Stan as her murderer.

All four of their children, now adults, were tennis stars in their youth ... more trophies lining the walls and surfaces of the Delaney house.

Amy, the oldest, is challenged with mental struggles, but is a rather delightful free spirit. Next comes Logan, who teaches in a university, and is not as well-developed as the other characters.  His lovely girlfriend Indira has just dumped him.  Troy becomes extremely successful financially, but also struggles with committed relationships.  Finally, Brooke is a physical therapist building her own business, and has battled debilitating migraines since she was a child. All of them have been strongly molded by a family culture that is grounded in competition and winning, both on and off the tennis court.

And then there is the wild card, Savannah,  who appears at Stan and Joy's home one night, the apparent victim of domestic violence from her boyfriend.  She moves in, cooks, befriends, and takes excellent care of Stan and Jody.   But always, always, something is not quite right.  The mystery in this novel is in discovering what happens to Joy, who disappears, and then is assumed murdered, but no body is found.

We travel between the days before Joy's disappearance and "now," which is all about the investigation into her disappearance.  Moriarty does the time shifts with aplomb. The story line is interesting. The characters are, for the most part, well-developed, if a bit stereotyped.  (By the way, the two minor characters who comprise the investigating team offer a needed relief from the intense Delaney family.)  The problem is, in my opinion, the novel is over-written.  There is too much superfluous information, too many unnecessary characters, and repetition.  I found it hard to stay engaged.  The mystery is not the best, as the denouement has too many (silly) coincidences to be believable.

It is, is a word, slow.  It was like the Italian restaurant that Charlene and Rose and Thom and I went to last Tuesday night.  They gave me spaghetti and THREE large pieces of eggplant parmigiana, when one would have (and did) suffice. There is just too much extra "meat" In this novel.

Some reviewers feel Apples Never Fall has a slow start.  I feel it had a slow middle.  You might enjoy this book more than I did.  I would love to hear! I know one of you recommended it to me ... but I do not recall who.

September 2022


Sea of Tranquility

Emily St. John Mandel

Fiction 2022 | 255 pages


Goodness.  We journey in this book to 1912, 1918, 1990, 1994, 2008, 2020, 2203 and 2401.  And we travel between Earth, the Moon colonies, and Titan.  So, clearly, this is a time traveler's tale.  Gasprey-Jacques Roberts is our time traveler, who is on assignment in the 25th century, sponsored by a curious organization called the Time Institute, to explore a vision, a point out of time and place, experienced and witnessed by four characters in some of the years mentioned above.  We move back and forth across the years, but Mandel’s skill in speculative fiction is apparent, as she never leaves us behind or confused.  (You may recognize Mandel from two of her most famous novels, Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel.  Some of the characters repeat in this book.  I gave Station Eleven four hearts, and The Glass Hotel two hearts.)

One of the characters in Sea of Tranquility, Olive Llewellyn, is an author who writes about pandemics, in 2203.  This novel was written during the Covid-19 pandemic, which influences the writing and makes it quite real.  And Llewellyn’s artistic voice helps move us from section to section, and her story is quite compelling.

I liked the writing, the ingenuity, the fantasy, and the time travel.  I can’t tell you really what “message” this book offers, thought it does make the reader think about the dimensions of space and time, and how they overlap, wrap around one another, and repeat.  Gasprey-Jacques Roberts, as he travels among the time periods, is attempting to determine the meaning of this anomaly, for humankind. Does he find it?

Sea of Tranquility is a fun and ingenious read.  I recommend you give it a try.

September 2022


Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr

Fiction 2021, 623 pages

Yesterday I stepped out of my kayak in a rocky cove and my feet sank more than a foot in wet sand.  I nearly lost a shoe.  I feel as though my feet are like this, reading Cloud Cuckoo Land ... stuck in mushy sand.  I keep trying to wend my way through this novel (especially since it's our September "Casting Crew Book Club" read) but I fear I will not succeed.  I am on page 234 of 623 pages, and I find it a chore every time I pick up this large tome.

There are parallel stories of Anna and also Omier in Constantinople in the 1443; and Seymour in Idaho in 2020; and Zeno in 2020 and also fighting in the Korean War in 1953; and Konstance, some millennia in the future, on a spaceship.  They are tied together, very loosely so far, by an ancient text.  But I find the characters singularly unilluminating.  Each time we return to one, I have to pause and go back to remember who the character is and why they matter.

I (momentarily) perceive myself as not very scholarly, struggling with this long, disjointed, and not engaging book, as though, if I were smarter, I would enjoy it more. I know it has won awards, but I have way too many books on my shelf and it has taken me about ten days to make it this far, and I am about to abandon this disappointment.  Perhaps I will have a more enlightened and positive view after our book club discussion, but right now I cannot in good conscience recommend Cloud Cuckoo Land. 

With my apologies, Linda!  Sigh.

September 2022


Spiritual Partnership

Gary Zukav | Nonfiction, 2011

280 pages


A spiritual partnership is a relationship that intentionally pursues spiritual growth. It involves a commitment to grow spiritually together, not to simply soothe. Spiritual partners support each other in experiencing their fears and healing them; in creating authenticity; in caring and loving enough to support another's growth, not just to comfort them. This is what Zukav writes about.

Not every relationship will be a spiritual partnership. However, if you are interested in pursuing such a dynamic and powerful relationship with a friend, a lover, a coworker, a family member, or even just yourself .... Zukav's book will help you figure out how to do it. And trust me please, it may be difficult and challenging!

I think his early pages are a bit supercilious.  He writes in the first section (“Why,” 74 pages) about learning to be a multisensory person … living beyond the five senses. He talks about awareness, intuition, insight, creativity, choice, illumination, power, authenticity, attraction, soul (and more!) What he presents is a good reminder for humans who are sometimes trapped by the five senses. What bothers me about this section is that he presents it as though he is the first to recognize these concepts and is sharing a big ah-ha! When you ignore the ego, the content is meaningful. You may very well not have this hesitation at all in reading the chapters in “Why.”  (Perhaps it is my own ego that is offended!)

I liked the next two sections considerably more, “What,” and “How.”  To me, these 150 pages contain the wisdom … where you really begin to look deeply at the choices you make about courage, commitment, and compassion. He challenges us to investigate further, to stretch, to grow ourselves and others, to pay attention to emotions, thoughts, body sensations, intention, integrity, authenticity, power, communication.

I suspect this book is not for every Dusty Shelves reader. But if you have a craving for spiritual growth, and especially if you have the urge to bring someone else along on your spiritual journey, this book is definitely worth your time and energy.

Thank you, Thom, for your invitation. I look forward to our discussion, and what ensues!

August 2022

The House in the Cerulean Sea

TJ Klune

Fiction 2020 | 398 pages


TJ Klune has written 55 books!  How have I never heard of him?  Some are stand-alone; some in series.  He is decidedly gay-affirming, without being didactic.  I am attempting to determine if all of his writing includes magic.  Wikipedia tells me he writes fantasy and romance fiction.  AND he is a native Oregonian.  If you are more familiar with this author than I am, let us know!

A wide-hipped civil servant, Linus Baker, 40, leads a quiet, solitary life in a very small house. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of magical children in government-sanctioned orphanages.  Magical children are isolated and quarantined when they are young.  And what will happen to each of them when they become adults?

After 17 years of employment, Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management and receives a highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside and determine if this orphanage is a dangerous place. The children include a precocious six-year-old named Lucy, short for Lucifer, who just might be the son of Satan; a feisty garden gnome who only speaks gnomish; a plucky sprite; a shy boy who morphs into a Pomeranian when frightened; a young wyvern; and Chauncy, whose nature is a mystery … some hybrid of marine invertebrate and human … who is obsessed with becoming a bell hop when he grows up.  All of these children are under the loving and creative care of Arthur Parnassus.  Arthur is eccentric, wears awful socks under his too-short pants, and, as we discover, is “gifted” also.

What fun!!!

The vivid characters are simply magical, both in their reality and in reading about them. Of course, predictably, Linus falls in love with all of them during the month he spends on the island, sending back weekly reports to Extremely Upper Management. Both the story and Klune’s writing are enchanting, engaging, and delightful.

The tale is sometimes funny, often heartwarming. You will find yourself humming tunes by Bobby Darin and other rock & rollers, as both Lucy and Linus are big fans of old R&R.  The moral message is clear. Yes, no surprise, there are obvious ties to all sorts of discriminatory practices in our society.  Klune’s righteous message that all people deserve freedom and humanity will warm even the coldest misanthrope’s heart.

I loved this book!  I am researching his 54 others and have just put Under the Whispering Door on my library list.  Please read a TJ Klune and tell us what you think!!  (The House in the Cerulean Sea is apparently his most popular tome).

August 2022


The Great Circle

Maggie Shipstead

Fiction 2021 | 593 pages


Shipstead is an exquisite writer!  Not only are her characters developed fully and deeply, but she also does magic with the language.   This is one long sentence from a two-page dialogue about Los Angeles.  "Then he said something about how L.A. is dust and exhaust and the hot, dry wind that sets your nerves on edge and pushes fire up the hillside in ragged lines like tears in the paper that separates us from hell, and it's towering clouds of smoke, and it's sunshine that won't let up and cool ocean fog that gets unrolled at night over the whole basin like a clean hospital sheet and peeled back again in the morning."  (Pg 265)

The story is mesmerizing and hard to put down.  There are two parallel tales.  One is the story of  Marian Graves, a young woman who learns to fly at the age of 14 in 1928.  (Some of what follows is loosely borrowed from a review in Outside Online, May 9, 2021).  A fictional female pilot, Graves disappears in 1950 while attempting an unprecedented north-south circumnavigation of the earth. She had only one leg left in her trip, a final leap from Antarctica to New Zealand, when she vanishes in the South Pacific. We learn about Marian's life, fictional, yet created through significant research of early female pilots, conducted by Shipstead.  She cargoes illegal spirits; she flies non-combat planes in WWII; she marries a criminal.  Her story is unorthodox, with desire, ambition, romantic entanglements, and a strong and clear sense of herself guiding her life.

Braided with Marian’s story is a contemporary narrative, set 100 years later.  Hadley Baxter is a troubled young Hollywood actor, who plays Marian in a film version of Ms. Graves' life. Marian and Hadley have more in common than just a casting decision: Hadley’s parents crashed into Lake Superior in a small plane when she was a toddler, and Marian's mother was lost at sea when she and her twin brother Jamie were babes in arms.  Both are raised by dissolute uncles.

Marian's life is fascinating, and we come to know her intimately, as well as her brother Jamie, and her most powerful love interests.  Hadley is also a deep character who struggles with fame but becomes fascinated by researching the Graves character she must portray.

No kidding, I highly recommend this book.  You will not be disappointed by the fascinating reality of early women pilots, as well as the intimate lives of Marian and Hadley.

August 2022

The Mothers

Brit Bennett

Fiction 2016 | 304 pages


Luke, the pastor's son, impregnates one teenage woman, and eventually marries her best friend.  These three characters form the foundation of The Mothers, while many of the older women in the Upper Room church (especially Luke’s mother) give their opinions and advice, gossip, and attempt to orchestrate the young people's lives.

It sounds like fun, as well as an in-depth coming-of-age story.  Unfortunately, it disappoints.  Somehow, I don't care much about Nadia, Aubrey, or Luke.  There is something about these characters that feels unreal.  Aubrey and Luke, with their purity rings, seem to be somewhat unthinking.  Nadia is the most interesting of the characters .... she becomes pregnant, she leaves Southern California to attend the University of Michigan, she spends many years attempting to process her mother's violent suicide.  And yet, I never find myself really cheering for her.

I think I may have unrealistic expectations, because I am so enamored by Bret’s later novel, The Vanishing Half.  In this case, the debut novel by an author does not reflect her real skill, in my opinion.

August 2022

The Mt. Bachelor Murders

Ted Haynes | Fiction, 2020

268 pages


Erik Peterson is a very skilled skier. So, how did he end up dead in a tree well on Mt. Bachelor under four feet of snow?   And who was that man with the Norwegian chullo hat who joined Erik, riding up the hill with him on the Red Chair lift, in February 1966?

The story expands, and murder becomes the conclusion, with no apparent motive.  We soon learn of connections all over Bend, and also with Norway and WWII.

The mystery is engaging, though the denouement is perhaps more complicated than it need be.  The characters are interesting, especially as we follow Erik’s daughter Lisbeth and her best friend Sally from the fateful day in 1996, when they were skiing with Mr. Peterson, through 50 years, until the mystery is finally solved.

However, the writing is rather amateurish.  I don’t know quite how to explain my assessment ... it is just rather simplistic.

If you are a Bender, you may enjoy this book, as I did, for its considerable integration of Bend sites, from the mills, to Hosmer Lake, to Bend High, to Wall Street, which was, in earlier days, definitely NOT tony.  If Bend is not a place you know and love, you might want to skip this novel.  There are certainly better-written murder mysteries

That being said, Hayne’s newest book, The Mirror Pond Murders, just arrived for me at the library, and I am going to give him another try.  I was entertained, certainly, by The Mt. Bachelor Murders.

July 2022

The Speckled Beauty

Rick Bragg

Nonfiction 2021 | 239 pages


What a delightful story!  Rick Bragg has written 11 books.  The Speckled Beauty is his most recent.

This quick read is for true dog lovers. Speck is not a hero dog like Marley or Old Yeller or even Chet of Chet & Bernie fame.

Bragg’s rescue dog is truly a bad dog.  The worse dog ever.  He doesn’t obey any commands; he doesn’t leave farm or wild animals alone, instead either torturing or chasing them; he herds everything, even birds; he wanders; he fights; he won’t sleep indoors; he tears apart dog beds and towels and rubber balls; he snaps and growls.  In short, you are likely to fall in love with him.

I was so surprised to glance at the spine of this book and discover it is nonfiction.  Only truth could be this intriguing!

Thank you, Rene, for telling me about Rick Bragg's writing, and especially this dog book.  If dogs touch your heart and speak to your soul, then I highly recommend The Speckled Beauty.

July 2022


The Lioness

Chris Bohjalian

Fiction 2022 | 314 pages


Katie Barstow, a well-known actor when this novel is set, 1964, takes an entourage on a safari in Africa, to the Serengeti.  The entourage includes her new husband David (this trip is part of their honeymoon!), her husband’s best friend and his wife (Billy and Margie), Katie’s best friend Carmen and her husband Felix, another actor (Terrance), her publicist (Reggie) and her agent (Peter).  It appears to be the trip of a lifetime!  And, for some, it is the last trip of their lifetime.

The novel is intriguing.   The story line is clever and engaging.  And violent.  We know that the African Safari “turns deadly,” but, dear reader, don’t expect there to be one accident or murder or goring and then the tale plays on.  We actually follow the entire entourage over a few days while they are in capture by a group of perhaps-Russian men, for reasons unknown.  There is considerable violence and death.

The format consists of 31 short chapters, each from the perspective of one character from the entourage, or their safari guides.  Each chapter moves the story forward AND tells us something about the character’s background and/or their relationship with other characters.  So, bit by bit, the characters build and we acquire a strong sense of who they are … their strengths, dreams, histories, and foibles.

Somehow, Bohjalian writes these chapter flawlessly.  Through the use of a centered dividing ellipse, he moves us from the present to the past and back again.  I was, never once, confused about where we were in the timeline.  I think that took real authorial skill on Bohjalian’s part.

So, my recommendation.   Hmmm.  It is good story, a powerful story, an engaging story.  And you learn a great deal about the savanna and the current (1964) attitudes towards race, both in Africa and in the US.  I am very violence-averse, and yet this novel did not send me running.  The author built tension that held me until the very last page. If it appeals, yes, pick it up.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

July 2022



Robyn Davidson | Nonfiction, 1980

270 pages


(Republished to add to website.  No content change from first posting).

Tracks presented me with a rough start. Section One, Alice Sprung, is about Robyn learning about camels, acquiring camels, and healing camels through incredibly graphic infections, contusions, anger, erratic behavior, and even one euthanasia with a gun, all in a racist and sexist culture I could not wrap my head around.  I was a bit sick to my stomach, and Section One is 107 pages long.

But then we turn to Section Two, Shedding Burdens, and the story I was waiting for begins!  The author, Robyn Davidson, finally leaves on her self-designed journey, to travel with four camels and one dog across 1700 miles of the hostile, unpopulated Western Australia outback ... an unparalleled and difficult journey.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't turn another page after page 170.  Ms. Davidson writes well, but is depressing, whining, sullen.  This book is way more about the Aboriginal vs White culture wars, the destruction of ways of life, and hostility, than it is about a physical outdoor challenge.

I am going to break my own rating rules and give it three hearts even though I didn't finish it because I believe Tracks will actually appeal to many of my readers.  So, try it on if you like, and please leave your comments here!

For those of you who are also members of the "Solo Female Hikers and Adventurers" Facebook group, this is a "group read" for July.

June 2022

Tell Me How to Be

Neel Patel | Fiction, 2021

324 pages


Tell Me How to Be follows two characters—Renu and her son Akash. They come together, along with their son/brother Bijal, to pack up and sell the family home on the one-year anniversary of Renu’s husband’s death.  We go inside Renu’s mind and then Akash’s and then Renu’s again. Back and forth.  We know there is a possibility of reconciliation among the family members, but really the story is more about Renu’s internal journey and Akash’s journey of life thus far.

Part One, the first 100 pages or so, is the most challenging, I believe.  Akash’s alcoholism is like a raw, rough, searing, burn every time we get to an Akash section.  He is so self-destructive.  Renu is easier, though her disappointment with being an Indian woman raising a family in American is palpable.  In their individual sections, each is talking to someone else, and who that someone is, is not revealed for quite a while.  Suffice it to say that, as they muse, they address former, long-lost loves. Renu’s secret is that she has been in love with a man from before, for their duration of her marriage.  Akash’s secret is also that he has been in love with a man since his teenage years ... and he is in the closet..  He has admitted to no one in his family that he is gay.

I found the characters interesting (especially Renu) and the relationships sadly intriguing.  I think this comment from a reviewer is quite enlightening:  “Tell Me is a perfectly average novel about the Indian experience in the US, of racism, bullying, homo­phobia.”   Yes, Patel seems to be a rather average writer; there is not much to complain about and not much to laud.  If you like books about complex relationships and their resolution, this book is worth your time.

July 2022

The Last Season

Erich Blehm

Nonfiction 2006 | 335 pages


"The least I owe these mountains is a body."  Randy Morgenson, McClure Meadow, 1994

This is a truly remarkable book, well written and researched with significant depth.  I have an affinity for reading real-life backcountry adventures and even tragedies, but Blehm rises to the top of the pile of authors.  His research is so inspired, broad, deep, and detailed, that I feel as though I know Randy Morgenson personally.  Or, at least, I sure wish I had.

Randy Morgenson was a back-country park ranger for 27 years in one of my own favorite parks ... Kings Canyon National Park.  In 1996, he disappeared while on patrol, off trail, high in the Sierras. Randy was not just compelled by these mountains, he was obsessed.  It is hard to imagine his life without his dedicated years of this often disrespected, sometimes thankless, decidedly low-paying job, protecting the people from the Park and the Park from the people.

His life story is complex, with strong ties to and learning from his wilderness-inspired parents (he grew up in Yosemite, for heaven's sake!) His marriage to Judi was filled with love and respect, and yet he leaves her every summer for five months at a time.  His knowledge of the land and its inhabitants is unparalleled. And he is is blessed with writing and photography skills.

The SAR ... the Search and Rescue effort after Randy's disappearance ... is written by Blehm with extraordinary sensitivity.  It doesn't have the melodrama nor the boring technology detail some SAR stories have, and yet it is the most emotional and intimate search story I have read ... because it is conducted by Randy's fellow rangers.  This is no tourist they are searching for ... this is someone they have spent years with, call a friend, and love.

I cried on page 291.

If you have any affinity at all for nature, the outdoors, the National Parks, or a well-told true story of love, passion, sacrifice, and commitment, read The Last Season.

July 2022



Maggie O'Farrell

Fiction 2020 | 305 pages


Pardon me if this is too much information, but I am going to share a "hint" for reading this book.  There are two timelines, but, IMHO, the author does not distinguish them very well in the beginning chapters.  The primary timeline is the story of the twins Hamnet and Judith, 11 years old, their older sister Susanna, their mother, Agnes, and their father.  The year is 1593.

The second timeline occurs 15 years earlier and revolves around Agnes meeting and marrying her husband, the Latin tutor and glover's son.  Agnes's brother Bartholomew plays a major role, and there are other siblings and extended family members.

O'Farrell never names Agnes's husband, but in the last few pages we become clear that he is in fact William Shakespeare.  Why she does not name him, I don't know ... it seems this sense of mystery is part of her style.  This ambiguity is confusing and stilted. (If you hear that Hamnet is about Shakespeare writing Hamlet, as I did, take that with a grain of salt.  That happens in the last 20 pages.  Hamnet is, however, a story about what might have led up to that historic literary event.)

The primary story considers two families, Agnes's, and the family of the man she marries. The relationships are intricate and many.  We gain deep insight into Agnes herself, who is the star of this tale, and the twins.  We also achieve significant glimpses of her husband and of her powerful and strong brother, Bartholomew.  A disappointment is how shallowly the author creates the character of the twins' older sister, Susanna.

Agnes, as well as her twins, Hamnet and Judith, have paranormal powers. Agnes can see the heart of a person, and glimpses of their future, by holding tight to their hand between the thumb and forefinger. Hamnet and Judith are so bonded from their time together sharing a uterus to the present day, that they can be confused, one for the other, and they are capable of assuming each other's emotions, sensibilities, desires, and yes, even their lives.

This is an engrossing and intellectually smart story, with a view of the times, the Black Plague, and the interesting twist of a little paranormal behavior.  I recommend this Casting Crew June Book Club read.  Thank you for suggesting it, Bev.

June, 2022

The Once and Future Witches

Alix E. Harrow | Fiction, 2020

516 pages


Beatrice Belladonna (the oldest, and a librarian); Agnes Aramanth (street savvy and unintentionally pregnant); and James Juniper (wild and rural) Eastwood are sisters who have been raised by their grandmother in the art of witchery.  The setting is 1893.  When the Eastwood sisters find each other at a Suffragist rally in New Salem, after seven years apart, the forgotten words and ways of witchery re-emerge, many from re-examining nursery rhymes.

This is a tale of sisterhood, of women's power, of loyalty, of love, of unbreakable bonds, of the stark need of women to vote, of magic, of witchery.  It is a story about what happens when women build community, share power and knowledge, learn and dream.

Our three main characters are developed fully and deeply, and the surrounding characters include a diversity in color and sexual orientation that adds a lovely modern flavor.

Unfortunately, I found it rather boring.  It took me two weeks to read, because I never experienced it's alleged page-turning qualities.  While prettily written, I would call it over-written.  Too many spells enacted too many times.  I am particularly disappointed by this because I loved Ms. Harris' first novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January.


I am going to give this three hearts (although it leans towards two.). There are so many rave reviews, my opinion on The Once and Future Witches feels off-kilter, like maybe I missed something important or lovable.  I am eager to hear what you think!

June 2022



Harlem Shuffle

by Colson Whitehead

Fiction 2021, 336 pages

I had to restart twice because I couldn't seem to remember what was going on. 0n my third try, I made it to page 80. This story is about Freddie, who is nearly making ends meet as a legitimate furniture store owner, but who falls in with a crew of Harlem robbers to supplement his income, 1959-1964.

I keep falling asleep, finding the writing completely boring.  I hope you enjoy Harlem Shuffle more than I did!

May 2022




10 Minutes and 30 Seconds in this Strange World

Ekif Shafak

Fiction 2019 | 309 pages


"Tequila Leila" is murdered in November 1990, her body left in a garbage dumpster.  She was 43 years old.  After her heart and lungs stop, her mind stays alive for 10 minutes and 38 seconds.  This story is what she recalls from her life in those 10 minutes and 38 seconds. Yes, there is scientific research that indicates this may actually be what happens when our heart and lungs shut down ... brain activity continues for another 10 minutes.

And how fascinating, what she vividly recalls from her life as a child in the province of Van, Turkey and then of her adult life in Istanbul.  Time is fluid, and her memories are vividly clear.  You know from the very beginning, when her mother is forced to turn her over to her husband’s first wife and be forever be known as Leila's "auntie," that life is not going to go smoothly for Leila.

Leila is brutalized but courageous.  She is dealt unbelievably challenging blows but is resilient.  She has every reason in the world to isolate herself from other people, but she has intimate friendships and a short, happy marriage.

Raped at six years old by her uncle, a relationship that goes on for years, life conspires to take her into the work of a prostitute.  Istanbul is a nearly impossible city to survive in, much less thrive.

Smells and tastes are her access points to her life remembrances, which makes each memory vivid, tactile, and palpable. During her time in Istanbul, she is subjected to unspeakable patriarchal atrocities.

The story is brutal, bleak, and violent. Shafak's writing is poignant, descriptive, lucid, and may make you need to catch your breath.  But also, Leila is such a real person with such an intriguing heart, Leila had me in awe.  I did not see this in any review I read, but personally I found some very intelligent humor spread throughout the book, and certainly in the ending.  In addition to her husband D/Ali (his name was Ali, but he aspired to be a painter like Dali), she had five incredibly close friends:   Nostalgia Nalan, transgender; Sabotage Sinan, the Pharmacist’s son; Jameelah, a trafficked African woman who sees into people’s souls;  Zaynab122, the religious one who is 122 cm (4 feet) tall; and Hollywood Humerya, the singer.  These wonderful friends of Tequila Leila not only add immense warmth and humanity to 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World, but they also add just a bit of balance and lightness.

This book is brilliant.  The plot is creative and inventive.  The writing is outstanding.  I am very intrigued to hear what my book club has to say when we discuss it next week.  Recommend by Sara.  And now, also recommended by me.

May 2022

What do the hearts mean?


Every once in a while, I like to remind you what my four-point rating scale means.  Right now, with all these new folks signing up and Dusty Shelves actually working again(!), this is a good time.

FOUR HEARTS: Like it a lot or loved it; I recommend it; put it on your list!

THREE HEARTS: Like it; I recommend, with some reservations.

TWO HEARTS:  I don’t recommend it, though it was compelling enough for me to finish reading.

ONE HEART:  I couldn’t get through it

Andrea, May 2022



The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

V.E. Schwab

Fiction 2020 | 448 pages


A page-turner!  Every time I read a few sentences, I was challenged to put this book down.

On July 29, 1714, Addie LaRue is supposed to marry.  Desperate to get out of the marriage and to control her own life, she makes a deal with the devil, Luc (yes, short for Lucifer).  She trades her soul for immortality, but of course, the "deal" is not as simple as that.  For the duration of her immortal life, she cannot be remembered.  As soon as she walks away from a person she met, conversed with, shared a bed with, inspired, was healed by, learned from .... the other person can no longer remember her.  At first blush, we can see how lonely this is; she is unable to establish relationships.  What is not immediately apparent are the nuances.  She cannot hold a job (who is this woman in my shop?) nor rent a place to live.  She cannot leave a mark .... anything she writes or draws disappears within moments.  And she cannot say her name.

The first 50, 100 or more years of her life, therefore, are difficult beyond heart-breaking.  She learns to survive by selling her body, stealing clothes and food, encountering violence, occasionally finding shelter in abandoned derelict buildings.

V.E. Schwab's profound writing transports us back and forth between the first 300 years of Addie's life after the devil's curse, and the most recent two years, 2013-2014, in New York City.  We vividly witness the industrial revolution, numerous wars including the two World Wars, changes in fashion and culture and work, the growth and expansion of technology and the world's population.  There is a constancy in our sense of world history in this novel, experienced through the eyes of just one woman.

Sporadically, sometimes just a year apart, sometimes decades apart, Luc appears in Addie's life on July 29.  Stubborn and steadfast, Addie refuses to turn over her soul to him, choosing to stay alive, no matter how tormenting the cost.

And then on March 12, 2014, she meets Henry at the bookstore where he works, The Last Word, and everything shifts.

Without hesitation, this book comes with my recommendation.  I am eager to read your thoughts!

May 2022



Life After Life

Kate Atkinson

Fiction 2013 | 560 pages


Ursula Todd is born in England on a very snowy evening, February 10, 1910. Except she is strangled by her umbilical cord and dies.

Until the next time she is born.

Kate Atkinson takes us on many journeys of parallel and alternate lives, as Ursula is born again and again and lives out different lives, or, more precisely, encounters different life circumstances.  Situations, chance meetings, and occurrences in her life shift in her reincarnations and, of course, impact how long her life lasts and how it plays out.  She remains in her same nuclear family, the Todd family, with the same parents, siblings, and Aunt Lizzie ... all characters which are drawn irrevocably and clearly.  You don't confuse Ursula's sister Pammy with Aunt Lizzie.  The characters are strong and unique.

Atkinson does this without any kitsch.  This isn't Groundhog Day.  It is a serious and highly engaging exploration of chance events ... brother Maurice throwing a doll out the window in one life; a rape on a stair well in another; meeting Eva Braun when Eva was 17 in a third life.  Ursula has a sense of deja vu, but not a strong recollection from life to life.

The vividness of the World Wars, in the lives where Ursula lives well into adulthood, is stark.  Atkinson profoundly portrays what it was like to be bombed in London in the 1940s.  Visceral, graphic, real.  She similarly tells the story of women at these times, and also, we experience a good dose of successful and failed romance.

An excellent read ... I highly recommend it.  It is very well-written and a fascinating story.

May 2022




The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz

Fiction 2007, 339 pages

I am giving up and moving on.  This is the story of Oscar, and his sister Lola, and their mother Belicia.  Oscar is an overweight geeky ghetto kid who has no social skills and longs to have a girlfriend.  It moves from their lives in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again.  Except as the reader I never know which country we are in.  The writing is lazy and leaves much to be desired, with sentences often missing verbs and no quotes on dialogue.

But the worst was the incessant use of Spanish words, phrases, and entire sentences, usually with no translation.  Often, I could figure out the word or phrase from the context, but the effect of this jarring style was to continually knock me out of the story and into a place of attempting to interpret what Díaz was saying.  And I have taken every Spanish course our local community college offers.  If you want to get lost in a novel, this one does not suffice.

Long-time readers may recall that I was working my way through the Washington Post’s “Best Books from 1 to 100.”   This is the book for a 20-year old.  I appreciate Díaz's attempt to communicate what it is like to be an immigrant.  I just think he failed, miserably.

May 2022




Seasons in Hippoland

Wanjikũ wa Ngũgĩ

Fiction 2021 | 198 pages


Many reviewers describe this book as surreal. It is an accurate word, I think.  I like magic realism.  I like shifting time from past to present in a novel.  I like stories and parables.

However, I did not like this book.  Mumbi spends summers with her Aunt Sara, listening to Sara tell stories.  Sara lives in Hippoland.  The setting is the imaginary East African nation of Victoriana.  This book is really about storytelling ... the power of storytelling, the hope it can provide, the fear it instigates, the importance of history, whether true or fabled.  The stories weave in and out of this present-day tale.  Sometimes I did not know where I was in time.  The stories are surprisingly bland.  The moral is unclear.

The description on the book fly is inaccurate.  It reads as though it was written for a book that was in the author's mind, but not the book she actually wrote.  A minor point; there is inadequate copy editing.  There are missing words, punctuation errors, and grammar errors.  Not a lot; just enough to distract.

As a reminder, two hearts means " I don’t recommend it, though it was compelling enough for me to finish reading."

I suggest you pick up a different book for your May reading.

May 2022

The Buddha in the Attic

Julie Otsuka

Fiction 2011 | 129 pages


This is a novella, told in a mesmerizing, emotional, powerful way ... with no characters or plot.  Huh?

The story of Japanese brides shipped to the US In the early 1900s, Buddha in the Attic is told in "first person singular," which can be hard to wrap your head around.  Most of the sentences begin with "they" or "we" or "one of us" or "some of us."  Here is a short, edited excerpt to demonstrate the writing style.  It is from one of eight chapters.  This chapter is titled "Babies."

"We gave birth under oak trees in the summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth besides wood stoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the year .... We gave birth in Rialto by the light of a kerosene lantern on top of an old silk quilt we had brought over with us on our trunk from Japan ... We gave birth in towns where no doctor would see us, and we washed out the afterbirth ourselves ... We gave birth with the help of the fish-seller's wife ..."

Officially categorized as fiction, I might call it historical fiction or creative nonfiction.  While no one person's story is told, the panoply of stories is remarkable.

This short book will touch your heart and easily teach you much about the dreams and challenges of being Japanese in America before and during WWll.  It is a quick afternoon's read, and I do recommend it, for the lyrical style as well as the content, and the education.

Besides, who can resist a book whose opening line is, "On the boat we were mostly virgins."

April 2022



State of Terror

Hilary Clinton & Louise Penny

Fiction 2021 | 512 pages


Hilary Clinton and Louise Penny team up to create this geopolitical thriller, State of Terror.  As the novel opens, bombs explode on buses in London, Paris, and Frankfurt.  Who is responsible, and will the United States be next?  Ellen Adams, Secretary of State for the new president, Doug Williams is thrown into international relationships, intrigue, and negotiations in the Mideast, in an attempt to discover who is responsible for more than 100 deaths, why, and where there are bombs placed ... nuclear, it seems ... in the United States.  There is no love lost between the President and Secretary of State, and she works incredibly hard and smart to eliminate the terror, gaining competence and respect in the process.

Blame falls to the to the ineptitude of the former President, Eric Dunn, who is not at all veiled as a reference to the United States' former president. He is presented as bombastic, mean, and an idiot, licking his wounds after he lost reelection, and playing golf in his Florida retreat. Even his closest associates called him “Eric the Dumb.”

The women reign in State of Terror.  Not only is the Secretary of State a feminist, but her adviser and counselor is a lifelong friend, Betsy Jameson, and is a tribute to Clinton's actual lifelong friend, Betsy Ebeling.  The media mogul is a woman, as is the person who receives an email with the first clue about the Frankfurt bomb.

While the plot is clearly Clintonesque, the character development, emotional sense, and relationship depths can be attributed to Louise Penny.  Louise Penny fans will revel in a special treat in the latter pages, as the tiny Quebec town of Three Pines plays a role in the denouement.

I vacillated between giving this compelling mystery three hearts or four.  I believe it is a bit overwritten, and the character list is long and can be difficult to follow, especially among the Mideast players.  I finally landed on four hearts because, not only is the story intriguing, but there is a special feeling, aside from politics, in reading a collaboration by two famous women of our time.  Yes, pick this up and enjoy the fun, the terror, the political intrigue, and the delicious characters.

April 2022


The Seed Keeper

Diane Wilson | Fiction, 2021

372 pages


In its 19th year, the Deschutes County Public library is the largest community reading program in Oregon.  Every year I read, enjoy, and discuss the current community read.  This year's selection disappointed me a bit.

Rosalie Iron Wing, our primary character and narrator, grows up in the woods with her father, learning the stories of her Dakota people, the plants in the woods, and the stars.  Many years later, after two decades married to a white man, she returns to the family cabin, a grieving widow and a mother, and begins to search for her family and her community.  She comes from a family line of trauma, and the stories of Native children who were stolen and moved into boarding schools infiltrate Rosalie's family, neighbors, and this novel.

The narrative is multi-generational as Wilson weaves into Rosalie's life story, her friend's life, Gaby Makespeace; her great-great grandmother, Marie Blackbird; her great Aunt, Darlene; her deceased mother; and numerous other family characters, male and female, alive and dead.  We learn important – and often untold – stories about the treatment of indigenous peoples on this continent.

The diction is wonderful.  Strong, poetic, beautiful, interesting, descriptive words.

The message is important.  It is to be read, contemplated, and understood.

However, I found the story boring. I do not quite know how to expound on my opinion ... the important message was told in a manner that did not capture my enthusiasm, my imagination, or my interest.  It starts out slowly and tenses shift oddly.

The title, on the other hand is perfect, and hearkens back to what I think is the most interesting theme in The Seed Keeper ... learning the value of selecting, drying, storing, and keeping seeds from the food you grow.  When there was a fire, a crisis, or as sudden departure, the first item that Rosalie's family took with them was the basket or box or bag of seeds. Seeds are the heirloom that ensures that people can feed themselves after their move, in the next few years, and from generation to generation. They represent, quite literally, the heritage of earlier generations.

I think many of my readers will enjoy this novel more than I did.  Yes, I do recommend it.

April 2022



The Ranger The Ranger (with comment capability)

Beryl Rullman

Fiction 1992 | 406 pages


Some of you know this book, I am certain.  Others may wonder why I am reviewing a 30-year-old out-of-print book.  (And breaking all my rules by giving it eight hearts!) April 1, 2022 was the thirty-year anniversary of this murder mystery, written by my husband.  Though I spent untold hours (and hours) editing this book, that was about 31 years ago and I did not, frankly, remember much if it.  I thought I would honor the novel and the author by rereading it at this time.

Yes, I am biased. AND, this is darn good writing!

A psychopath is using bows and arrows to murder hikers in Pacific Crest National Park, inciting fear, terror, trepidation.  Stan, the Park Superintendent, must search for the killer, knowing that it is highly likely it is one of his staff, a park ranger.  He is joined by the FBI, bounty hunters, dog trackers, military personnel and others who are skilled with tracking and weapons, to uncover the murderer. Eventually, the park is closed to all tourists, but still the havoc occurs, and more people are killed.

While this sounds gruesome and horrifying, the author has a wry sense of humor, a surprising amount of knowledge about both National Parks and archery, an amazing Springer Spaniel named Cassie (the only true-to-life being in the book), and a fondness for falling in love.  The Ranger, while a murder mystery at its core, will entice you into page-turning through the vivid descriptions of the wilderness, and the tenderness of relationships between and among many of the characters.

Yes, absolutely, read or reread this book!  You won't be able to find a copy, in all likelihood.  And this afternoon I just bought the last used copy I could find on the Internet.  So, if you wish to enjoy this bit of fantasy (which is surprisingly imbued with many reminders of my own personal history), I will loan you a book.  I have a few sacred copies in my home library.

I would be honored if you read this work by my deceased husband, Beryl Rullman, which I recommend highly.

Thank you, Thom, for your eagerness to read The Ranger, and for inspiring me to read it again.

April 2022



The Lincoln Highway

Amor Towles

Fiction 2021 | 576 pages


Amor Towles’ writing is once again, superb.

Emmet Watson, 18 years old and just released from a juvenile work farm in Salina, Kansas, returns to his Nebraska home, driven by the warden.  There, he is reunited with his delightful and precocious brother, 8-year-old Billy, and faces the foreclosure of his family farm, as his unsuccessful father has just died from cancer.  Going through their father’s belongings, Billy discovers a packet of postcards sent from their mother to the boys as she traveled west … this is news to both the boys!  Billy and Emmet decide to travel the Lincoln Highway to San Fransisco to find their mother, who abandoned them years ago.

Except, once the warden drives away, much to everyone’s surprise, they learn that Wooly (a medicine-addicted young Northeastern boy from money) and Duchess (the son of a vaudevillian, with his own significant cadre of questionable judgements and reckonings), two of Emmett’s compatriots at the work farm, stowed away in the trunk of the warden’s car and were now ready to travel wherever Emmett’s adventures were to take them.

But California is not in the picture.  Indeed, not only do Emmett and Billy never make it there, they don’t even advance one westward mile. In fact, they travel about as far away from California as is possible in the continental United States, to New York City.  But only after Emmett’s Studebaker is stolen, and relatives need to be found and visited, Billy meets Ulysses and Abacus Abernathe, and Duchess’ orphanage needs strawberry preserves, to name just a few of the side trips.  “Detours beget detours” (NYT review).

Amazingly, we witness ten days and 600 pages of adventure, youth, and remarkable characters.  The tone is mostly light, though some darkness shows up at the end.

The only aspect of this book I did not like is that the characters never ever manage to travel west on the Lincoln Highway!

Yes, I surely recommend this novel by a fine author.

March 2022



Richard Powers

Fiction 2021 | 278 pages


I am shocked to discover that there exist people who did not like this book! I think it is nothing short of brilliant.  Theo Byrne is raising his neurodivergent, undiagnosed, nine-year-old son Robin, after his mother’s accidental death.  This, all alone, is the making of a challenging story.  But add to it, in true Powers’ sentiment, a dying planet, climate change, and species extinction, and you reach a deeper level of sorrow.

Theo is an Astrobiologist.  His work is searching for other planets, perhaps planets that sprout life. He tells Robin numerous bedtime stories about made-up planets, where something unique is occurring In the ecology or with the inhabitants.  These are great stories, fueled by a vivid imagination.

Meanwhile, Robbie becomes a patient in an experimental neurofeedback treatment program.  He learns to use his mind to move a dot on a page, and then he and the artificial intelligence (AI) take off from there. Eventually the researchers invite Robbie to witness a similar treatment, done a few years earlier, with his mother, and Robbie begins to experience his mother Aly more clearly his life, including her knowledge, her values, her sensibilities, and her love.  It is quite amazing what happens for him, and how he improves in managing his fear, anger, confusion, and neurodiverse behavior.

While the story line is intriguing and compelling, the real reason why I fell in love with this book is the writing.  It simply is beautiful writing.  Clear.  Dynamic. Sensual even.

Read this.  Do not hesitate to read it as soon as you can get your hands on a copy.

March 2022


Go Tell the Bees I am Gone

Diana Gabaldon

Fiction 2021 | 903pages



This is the ninth book in the luscious Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  I carried the 903-page 2.2 pound brick with me on airplanes and throughout my week at beaches and infinity pools at Puerto Morales.  It was a constant, but heavy, companion! Drawing me into the American Revolution and entertaining me with the lives of the Frasers, MacKensies, and many (many!) other characters.

Unfortunately, I think Gabaldon has run out of things to say and stories to tell.  Her tales of life on Fraser’s Ridge amidst the families … Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Quaker … who have come to build homes, feed their families in the 1770s, add many children to the growing generations, survive and even thrive in the western mountains of North Carolina; were engaging, interesting, and built upon the extremely well-developed characters of Claire, Jamie, Brianna, Roger, and numerous natural and adopted offspring.  However, her stories of many men, negotiating their way through the politics, loyalties, and very confusing family lineage in the war, were often confounding and difficult to follow.  And I found little tension in her story … little mystery to uncover.  I seldom cared what might happen next.

For diehard Outlander fans, Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone, is a book to read out of loyalty and curiosity, but not out of a sense of “it is compelling, and I can’t put it down” commitment.  So yes, continue the saga, and read it.  For non-Outlander fans, you MUST go back to book one, Outlander, and start there!  Yes, if you begin and become hooked, you have 8047 pages of reading ahead of you, and Gabaldon is writing book 10 of the series as I type!  I do love the series, I just don’t feel this is her strongest work.

March 2022

The Book of Longings

Sue Monk Kidd

Fiction 2020 | 432 pages


Writing this post feels like a sacred act.  For centuries biblical scholars have debated whether or not Jesus married.  The scholars have convened on “no” as the most likely answer.  However, Sue Monk Kidd has wondered all of her life if perhaps there is another story to tell.  She writes this novel from the perspective that Jesus did, in fact, take a wife.  Her name is Ana, and this is her story.  Fully immersed in the stories, fables, truths, realities, and parables that appear in the bible, Kidd adds a layer that will cause you to think, wonder, and enjoy the possibilities.  This is a truly engaging piece of art!

We see Judas (Ana’s brother), Lazarus, Mary and Martha, John, who baptizes new Christ-followers, Herod, Pilate, John and Joseph, Jesus’ mother Mary, and more.  All the context we would expect.  And yet this additional perspective retells the story of Jesus on this earth in a new light, especially the years that bible does not address at all, Jesus between the ages of 12 of 30.

I am not a Christian, and so I wondered how I would engage with this tale.  I found it delightful!  First of all, it is a love story.  A profound, beautiful, enduring love story.  Second, is a magnificent statement on women at the time of Christ … an entire gender we hear little about in the bible.  The women in this novel are surprisingly strong, delightfully self-knowledgeable, intriguingly active.  Ana, of course, portrays a strong and powerful woman who finds her voice, her destiny, and her passion for writing.  And her Aunt Yaltha, her mother-in-law Mary, her sister-in-law Pamphile, Chaya (Ana’s cousin) and numerous other women are not as we might picture them from reading the bible alone ... where they are often depicted as chattel, powerless, demure, hidden.  So, in truth, this is also a feminist novel.  Actually, it is an intriguing and useful accompaniment to the bible.

I highly recommend The Book of Longings and look forward to your comments.

March 2022

Call Us What We Carry

by Amanda Gorman

Poetry 2021, 228 pages

I am sure this is a delightful collection of poems. From what I read, Gorman's poems are creative, relevant, easy to understand, stark, and beautiful ... I am simply an unpracticed poetry reader, so I struggled. Please blame my paltry single heart on my own deficiency.  If you love poetry, you will enjoy this collection from the amazing Amanda Gorman, I am certain. (In case there is a bell ringing in your head, but you can't quite place the name, Amanda Gorman is the youngest [age 22] inaugural poet ever to grace the stage at a presidential swearing in.  Joe Biden, 2021).

March 2022






Nothing to See Here

Kevin Wilson

Fiction 2019 | 254 pages


Ingenious, original, clever, witty, and touching.  Some reviewers say this book is about friendship.  I say it is about love.

Lillian struggles in her life, working at the Save-A-Lot in Franklin Tennessee.  She lives with her estranged mom, in the attic of the house she grew up in and has no friends.  Except for Madison.  Madison is an odd type of friend ... they knew each for a year at a girl's boarding school.  Lillian was thrown out before the end of that first year, taking the fall for Madison for illicit drugs in their room. And now Madison, who stayed in touch through letters, is married to a Senator and living in a mansion.  And she has a job for Lillian.

She asks Lillian to come to the mansion and take care of her husband’s 10-year-old twins, Roland and Bessie.  They had been living with their mother, but that ended when their mother died, and now the Senator has to figure out what to do with them; how to integrate them into his life with Madison and their toddler son Timothy.  Bessie and Roland will live with them for the summer, and Madison hires Lillian as a governess of sorts.

But these kids are not exactly normal.  They spontaneously combust when they get angry, anxious, or scared.  Yes, they literally burst into flames.  It does not hurt them, but the fire is real enough and burns their clothes, and anything combustible in the area. Yes, an odd premise (hence, “original, clever.") Somehow, Kevin Wilson pulls it off.  As a reader, I found I accepted the premise and became a cheerleader for Bessie, Roland, and Lillian. The tone is fun, irreverent at times, but also emotional and serious.  I found the friendship between Lilian and Madison to be intriguing for sure.  But the love that develops between Lillian and her two charges is the soul of this novel, I believe.

This is an easy read, and I do recommend it. The Casting Crew Book Club likes to read short, fun novels in February.   Thanks to Louise for suggesting this one! Nothing to See Here is fun, engaging, and will shift your perspectives on power, politics, and how inconvenient children can be.  The only criticism I have is the title.  I can’t ever remember it.  I would have preferred something along the lines of Fire Children or Fire Starter.

February 2022




All About Love

bell hooks

Nonfiction 2001 | 238 pages


I am lost.  WHY are we reading this book in my Decolonization book club?  It is a diatribe on everything that is not working.  It begins with multiple chapters that point fingers at parents who lead dysfunctional families and do not teach their children how to love, and it goes downhill from there.  I kept reading, seeking for when she might turn positive, and found a bit of redemption in the chapter on spirituality.  I was hoping there might be more "new visions" (this book's erroneous subtitle) in the chapter on romance, but she begins “Romance” with the assertion that we all have not been "schooled" in love, and therefore don’t know how to do it.  It isn't that hard, Ms. hooks. You open your heart and make a choice.

Plus, she quotes the Bible about 27 times more often than I am comfortable with.

A depressing book ... I can't come up with any reason to recommend it.  She has written 39 (or so) books.  I am not putting any on my reading list.   This ranks near the top of my "books I struggled to finish because I sincerely disliked them" list.

February 2022


The Every

Dave Eggers | Fiction, 2021

577 pages


I think of satire as  funny.  And some reviewers found this book hilarious.  Longtime Dusty Shelves blog readers know that I am not particularly adept at finding humor in the written word.  And I found no humor at all in The Every.  I was, well, "terrified" is perhaps too strong a word, but certainly "afraid" and "uncomfortable" fit.  Perhaps it is all my years working in and consulting to technology organizations that led me to find the scenarios in Egger's latest to be too realistic, too possible, too earth-shattering, too controlling, too depressing.

Have you read The Circle?  It isn't necessary to have read The Circle to understand The Every, but it does provide useful context.  The Every is a gigantic monopolistic organization headquartered on Treasure Island, that has bought and engulfed The Circle, along with untold numbers of other businesses.  It is a super e-commerce conglomerate.  The Every controls 82% of e-commerce, which is 71% of all commerce at this novel’s unstated date in the future.

Delaney Wells, a former park ranger, gets herself hired at The Every, with the intention it taking it down.  While she looks for ways to destroy it, she suggests technology products that she expects the company to find reprehensible, and instead, they embrace every single one.  The Every believes everything is measurable and therefore trackable and therefore goal-able and not private. Early in the book, it is technology we know well, like our smart watches and cell phones, that not only give US useful Information about our health, well-being, finances, and steps, but that transmit ALL of it to databases to analyze it and set us up to exercise, sleep, and eat on a schedule that the devices control.  But that is only the beginning.  Soon, we are able to buy our clothes only through an Every-owned project that ensures each piece is environmentally sound.  And then there is the project that tracks our personal carbon use.  Next, the Every is providing live data when you talk on the phone (or your personal cam) with someone, assessing their facial expressions, body temperature, and so forth, that tells you how honest the other person is being.  By the end of the book, every conversation in our homes Is being listened to and analyzed for certain words, phrases, or tones.  If a flagged word, phrase, or tone is heard, the police are promptly sent to your home.  This particular project is developed as a way to prevent child abuse.  And the list of Every projects goes on and on and gets more and more invasive.  Eventually the company comes to fully believe that people want neither freedom nor choice.  And Delaney's attempts to destroy The Every ramp up.

I enjoyed reading The Every, though I do not think it rises to the level of The Circle.  The Every is over-long, and the "projects" become the plot line, which isn't over-compelling.  However, I am glad I read it.  And things heat up about page 400, when Delaney decides it is time to initiate her destruction.

(For those of you who are readers from Bend, know that there is a one-sentence reference to our fair town on page 528.)

Here is the link to the meaning and types of satire.  I found this quite interesting.


So, do I recommend It The Every?  Well, if you haven't read Eggers and his technology-driven dystopian novels, I would recommend The Circle over this book.  If you read and were moved by The Circle (a book I think about often), I recommend this.  It takes every terrifying technology abuse one (or more) steps further.

January 2022


Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown

Nonfiction 2021 | 297 pages


(My website encountered the “white screen of death.”  In recovering my site, thank goodness, I lost only one post.  So, here it is again ... my apologies if this or a similar version reaches you twice).

This may be the most difficult blog post I have written.  It is a mixed review, for sure!

I am not a fan of Brené Brown. I find her assumption offensive:  that people are broken, in need of help or assistance, even unhealthy.  This, of course, is the opposite of a coach who works from the starting point and the basic assumption that people are already strong, wise, healthy, and effective in their lives.  Plus, Ms. Brown has a love affair with the concept of shame.  I am a surprised at how often "shame" comes up even in this book ... it is a frame she returns to constantly.  And I find I disagree with her adamant claim about shame: “We all have it.  Shame is universal and one of the most primitive emotions that we experience.  The only people who don’t experience it are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.” (pg 136)

Nevertheless, I thought Atlas of the Heart sounded intriguing and interesting.  And it is.

The further I read, the more respect I gained for this book.  It isn't really an "atlas" in the sense of a map. It is more a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  She writes two or three pages on each of 88 emotions, incorporating many research studies, stories, quotes, and art; making the descriptions of each emotion rich.  And when she makes distinctions, such as between envy and jealousy, and among discouraged, resigned, frustrated, disappointed, and regretful ... she relates quite helpful differences.

Of course, I don't always agree with her definitions or distinctions. I think she has joy and happiness 180 degrees off; I would switch the definitions around.  But wrong or right doesn’t matter much ... I appreciate her causing me to think and clarify for myself.

Since there is not a plot, nor a single unifying message, I struggle with deciphering how this book "fits" in my life. I came to this conclusion:  it is a book to have on a table in the living room, or on a side counter in the kitchen.  Any place you might wonder what emotion you are feeling or find yourself interested in a broader and deeper definition of an emotion, is where this book should live.  I have already opened it to reread about a particular emotion, maybe five times, and sent copies of pages to clients.

The detractors:  I wish she had written fewer stories from her own family and more stories of other people in the world in other circumstances.  And I wish she had posed questions to ask the reader to ponder.  Her writing style is quite didactic.  Irritatingly, she refers to her prior published works so often in Atlas of the Heart, I wonder how much  is new.  It is a long commercial for her other published works.

Nevertheless, on final analysis, even with its flaws, I do think this beautiful book (be sure to read it in hard cover to get the full experience) is quite worth your while.  Yes, I believe it is worthy of four heats.  What do YOU think of it?

Thank you, Thom, for this lovely gift.

January, 2022



A Slow Fire Burning

Paula Hawkins | Fiction, 2021

320 pages


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

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

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

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

January 2022


animated image of three book stack

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