The Oregon Book Report - Book News from Oregon


This curmudgeon will steal your heart

January 29, 2014 --

By Michal Ann McArthur, Bend
Author of Choking on a Camel

Her blog

Book Review: “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge is an unsentimental curmudgeon (think of the cartoon character “Maxine”) who will steal your heart. For all her glaring faults, her deep compassion and humanity forced me to fall in love with her. Like the rest of us, she’s a bundle of contradictory impulses. She can be heroic and self-sacrificing, childish and selfish. This prickly, brutally honest woman is simply unforgettable.

As is the case with most literary fiction, “Olive Kitteridge” is more about people than plot. The novel is actually a collection of 13 short stories in which Olive is sometimes the main character and sometimes in the background as the reader gets to know the other residents of Olive’s small coastal hometown of Crosby, Maine. You will meet Olive’s former student on the verge of suicide, a piano player whose lover has dumped her, an anorexic teenager, an elderly mother whose son has been imprisoned for a shocking crime. Throughout the book, Strout creates cameos of ordinary people living ordinary lives, at least on the surface, but as she shines her light on these faces, we see how extraordinary they really are.

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Marital woes gone awry in new thriller

January 28, 2014 --

gonegirlBy Chrstina Rainey,
Portland writer
Reviewing “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn gone

It is the morning of Amy and Nick Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary and Amy abruptly goes missing.  “Gone Girl”, written by Gillian Flynn, creates a story of a missing woman with delightful and tangible detail that draws you into their seemingly common marital woes: money, family, parenthood and turns them into an irresistible thriller.

The story of Gone Girl, a thriller like none other, takes those marital woes a step too far and turns them in sort of psychological warfare between Nick and Amy.  Nick and Amy Dunne appear to be a normal couple on the outside, though as the book develops, it reveals a relationship that is anything but ordinary.  And when her disappearance continues for days and weeks, Nick becomes the prime suspect and their relationship crumbles to the brink.  Nick, who has odd behavior and hasn’t been honest with the police, becomes the prime suspect. He maintains his innocence even while more evidence appears against him.  Where is Amy?  Is Nick the killer?

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A window into Portland’s wild past

January 23, 2014 --

land-sharksChristine Webb

Choosing a favorite historical novel written by an Oregon based author was not a difficult  task at all.   Hands down, my favorite novel in this category is “Land Sharks,” written by S.L. Stoner.  With a writing style that keeps the story and action moving very quickly, Ms. Stoner has crafted a historical mystery that explores the difficulties and dangers faced by the very first union supporters in Portland, Oregon, during early 1900’s.  While telling the story of these workers who risked their lives to ensure safer working conditions for everyone during this initial introduction of unions, another story evolves, one equally, if not even more devastating–the story of those involved in the business of shanghaiing.

Right downtown, at 3rd and Couch there was actually a wharf where row boats filled with drugged, beaten or tortured, unconscious men very often left to meet outgoing ships, more than likely bound for China.  Many of these men were never seen again. This novel brought to life, for me, this unsavory aspect of Portland’s history.  Many Portland citizens were involved in the trafficking of men and boys–some actively, others simply turned an uncaring eye in the opposite direction. Gratefully, there were a handful of people who risked their lives, as well, to do whatever they could to stop this abhorrent activity. 

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A student’s crisis of faith

January 21, 2014 --

Jan Sheerin, choking-on-a-camel
Bend, Oregon

Review of “Choking on a Camel” by Oregon author Ann McArthur

Rarely do I read a book twice, but this time I did, carried along by reminders of my freshman year at a similar place and time, the turbulent 60’s. Michal Ann McArthur’s “Choking on a Camel” reminds me that I, like Alex, have moved on while the memories of those formative years remain.

Alex Ferguson, in her senior year at Providence Christian University, a conservative Southern institution, faces tragedy, guilt and rebellion amid several well-characterized groups: roommates, church, campus and family. As she faces her brother Jack’s fatal accident, her parents’ divorce, campus hypocrisy and school stress, she feels “homesick for God.” Alex, a good student, is also a “self-denying little mouse,” a perfectionist pressurized by life. In the days surrounding Easter, she eventually rises to new beginnings as she finds faith in the poor and meek. For her it’s not in the talkers, the “examples” or the institutions.

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Autobiography at 33 becomes classic

January 16, 2014 --

bk-gdbyetoallthat'Kirsten S. Badger
Baker City Author
Excerpt here From Science to Selling Moose Nuggets; No Career, No Regret

Review of the book “Good-bye to All That” by author Robert Graves

Recognizing the title, but without knowing anything about it other than that is was a classic, I picked up a used copy of the revised second edition from 1957 of Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That, first published in 1929.

A quote from the prologue looked promising, I wonder how my publisher escaped a libel action.

It turned out to be his autobiography, written at the age of 33, just before he left his native England for good to live in Spain. He was by then already well known as a poet and writer.

The first 20% of the book is devoted to his childhood that mainly consisted of the trials for a non-conformist of a middle-class English boyhood at various unpleasant boarding schools. A quote, I paid so heavily for the fourteen years of my gentleman’s education that I feel entitled, now and then, to get some sort of return.

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A memoir of hurt

January 14, 2014 --

reachingBook Review By Laura Dennis

Review of “Reaching” by author Grace Peterson

Reaching shows how a legacy of abuse, neglect and maliciousness can damage a child. Author Grace Peterson had always felt a strong allegiance to her family, a closeness to her siblings, a willingness to stay in bad situations just to be loyal, good and decent. But neither of her parents saw the goodness in her, and instead belittled, abused and allowed others to abuse her–sexually, psychologically, emotionally, you name it.

The trauma of Grace’s childhood and teenage years affected her in deep and troubling ways. It’s only by what some would say “the grace of God,” or by luck, or by the fact that she is a beautiful, loving person, that she married a good man and started a strong and loving family.

But that didn’t mean that her abuse was over.

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10 good faith books I read in 2013

January 9, 2014 --

Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers,
Portland, Oregon
Catholic Speaker & Founder of Dynamic Deacon
Originally published in Catholic World Report

Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization by Dr. Ralph Martin. I found Dr. Martin’s analysis of Karl Rahner’s “Anonymous Christian” theory and his insights into the soteriology of Hans Urs von Balthazar particularly interesting.

Medieval Trinitarian Thought from Aquinas to Ockham by Russell L. Friedman. It was often thought that no significant development in Trinitarian theology occurred during the late medieval period. This well-researched and eminently readable book provides a great overview of the theologians who utilized philosophical analysis in the Aristotelian tradition to further the Church’s understanding of the Trinity.

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Using animals as weapons

January 7, 2014 --

By Michal Ann McArthur, Bend
Author of Choking on a Camel

Her blog

Book Review: Peter Fisher’s Odyssey by Michael Greenwood

Peter Fisher’s Odyssey is a compelling story of a good man who loses his way. After leading a bloody mission as a Navy Seal during the Vietnam War, Peter Fisher resigns from the military with the intention of doing something more constructive and positive with his life. His noble intentions, however, are sidetracked when he accepts an offer from the CIA to take part in the ultrasecret project of training dolphins to become weapons of war. Without realizing it, he’s sucked into the power and money game, falls prey to the intoxication of self-importance, and can’t resist the exciting prospect of “controlling, manipulating, and using animal behavior in a way that’s never been done.” The story follows him as he devotes years to the training of dolphins for marine mammal warfare and then deploys them in an international conflict involving China and Russia. The action throughout the story is intense and exciting.

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