Monthly Archives: June 2014


Everywhere the media is full of vampires, witches, horror, comics, erotica, apocalyptic and dystopian tales. Book columns, must-see TV and even the movies seem drawn to these genres. Mostly they leave me just-not-interested. I’ll keep my toe in the futuristic waters by watching for the opening of the movie Mockingjay from the Hunger Games Series. But there is so much more out there, it seems there is something for everybody.

What books are calling you? Check out these recent titles receiving media attention. Which ones might interest you? There is more available than blood and futuristic sagas.


“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” by Chris Bojalian (Doubleday, July, 2014) : This new novel from the best selling author of “Light In the Ruins” will be released in early July and is receiving high praise. It is the story of a teen, a nuclear accident and her subsequent adventures as she searches for a new life.


“Redeployment” by Phil Klay (Penguin Press, 2014): A debut short story collection described as painting a picture of war in Iraq and the psychological effects of veterans returning home. A best book of the month for Amazon.


“In Paradise: A Novel” by Peter Matthiessen (Riverhead, 2014): Also an Amazon book of the month this novel is set in a 1990’s spiritual retreat at Auschwitz. Matthiessen is a three time National Book Award Winner. This is his final book as he died in April at age 86.


“Written In My Own Heart’s Blood: A Novel (Outlander)” by Diana Gabaldon (Delacorte Press, June, 2014): Jamie and Claire are reunited in Revolutionary Times. Tangled relationships and adventures await Gabaldon’s many readers.


“The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicolas and Alexandra” by Helen Rappenport (St. Martin’s Press, June, 2014): This is an absorbing history of a time and people holding fascination for many. The book has received mixed reviews, but the relationship of Alexandra and her daughters is an interesting one; and the book cover, an arresting photograph.



The original television series Orange Is The New Black is available on Netflix, developed and written by Jenji Kohan based on the memoir by Piper Kerman of the same name. Classified as a dramedy, it features mostly female characters and is set in Litchfield Prison.

Mostly, or so it seems to me, this series raises questions. I’m wondering what you think?

1. Are you caught up in the “Orange” storm, or not?

2. Do you watch?

3. Have you watched all thirteen episodes?

4. What do you think?

5. Do you enjoy binge watching?

6. What surprised you most about Season 2?

7. Do you have a new favorite character this season?

8. Do you feel angry when you watch this show? If yes, where do you direct your anger?

9. Do you not stop to analyze, but just enjoy the action?

10. If you don’t watch, why don’t you?

11. About “Orange”, would you circle: awesome, unwatchable or just-not-interested?

12. Do you discuss “Orange” with your friends, family, anyone?

13. What do you expect from Season 3?

14. Do you most appreciate the excellence of the acting, writing, or the difficult issues the series attempts to deal with in a television series?

15. What about the male characters in the series? Are they given a fair portrayal?

16. If you have not watched this series, does the critical acclaim for Season 2 cause you to consider watching?

You are invited to comment as always. Answer these questions or ask your own. If you would like to write a blog (300-450 words) on this series, please contact me via Facebook or blog comment and I will send you my e-mail address so you can send me the copy. I will expect to post your guest blog.



The Last Kind Words Saloon
Author: Larry McMurtry
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation (2014)
Hardcover Edition:196 pages
Source: Personal Copy

Larry McMurtry’s stories of the American West have been entertaining many of us for a number of years. From Leaving Cheyenne through the thick volumes of the Pulitzer Prize Winning Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon and a stack of lighter weights like Buffalo Girls and By Sorrow’s River––to name some favorites––nothing quite lights the fire of a western reader like another McMurtry tale.

The reader floats through the first part of The Last Kind Words Saloon, enjoying the short pithy chapters and the constant crackling of the dialogue, waiting for something to happen. And suddenly with a crazy crash bang, it does. The arid plains, nearly empty of anything but grass and cracked soil, thought to be unchangeable, deliver changes, both expected and surprising. Every hallmark of the West finds a spot in this story, or so it seems. A huge stampede, storms of hail and sand, vicious wind, the sudden cliffs of Palo Duro Canyon, miles of slow travel in a carriage, wagon or on the back of a mule; it’s all here. Indians, cowboys, and rich Englishmen trying to make a fortune in beef cattle; oh, and exotic women are also to be found in the wide-open treeless spaces of Kansas, Texas, and points west. The pieces of the story fit together like a jigsaw puzzle where the background is filled with cowboys in chaps and huge tumbleweeds.

The story follows some characters western aficionados are likely to know something about: Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Doc Holliday and a cattle driver Charlie Goodnight. But it is the female characters McMurtry creates who spice up the tale like a sauce of hot peppers. This time favorites are Jessie Earp, Wyatt’s wife, Mary, the wife of Goodnight and San Saba, a woman who has traveled the world and for a time finds a place on the plains. These women spit and sizzle. They join hands making the best of less-than-perfect situations, and somehow make those situations better. The reader may well wonder what the colorless arid plains or this story would be like without them.

This book took me back to my days long gone when Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage carried me through a rainy afternoon like the pulsing melodies from a favorite long-playing album. The mix of legend, history and imagination is powerful and soothing in its own way, the best kind of escape. There’s no one better to travel the Old West with than McMurtry. In this book he takes the reader from the small settlement of Long Grass to Denver and Tombstone and finally California. Traveling with him is mostly fun, and yes, he shows compassion and acceptance for his characters, a trait I treasure in a writer.




To my surprise one of the most viewed summer 2013 posts was a short story I wrote titled “The Wardrobe” inspired by an antique wardrobe I saw on Facebook posted by an antique shop in Story City, Iowa. The story relates an imaginary incident from the Underground Railroad in Tama County, Iowa in the mid-nineteenth century.

Since last summer’s posting, the story has been revised and polished thanks to several readers. It appeared in the anthology Spindrift 8, published by the Florida Writing Group, Seaquills. I am most thankful for the support of that superb writers’ group.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to read the story last year, or you’d like to read the new, improved version, I hope you will enjoy it.


Margaret stood quietly for a moment before the wardrobe, her brother Matthew’s most skilled piece of cabinetry work. No one who saw it would deny the giant wardrobe was a beautiful piece of furniture, handmade in 1861. Carefully worked molding complimented the graceful elegant lines of the tall cupboard.
It had a small drawer above, but below, the apparent drawer was a door. It pulled down for easier access to the floor of the wardrobe. Hand cut dovetails, mortise and tenon joinery showed careful workmanship. It stood sixty-eight inches tall on feet perfectly proportioned and boasted a depth of twenty-two inches.
With its dark varnished finish, it was an impressive piece of furniture. The wardrobe held a power, a palpable presence. The family appreciated and loved Matthew’s handiwork. He had finished it only weeks before his death from summer quick pneumonia.
Oh yes, she remembered, she had come to fetch a shawl for her mother. She opened the large doors of the wardrobe and nearly cried out in surprise, clamping her hand against her mouth for she heard the quick breath of children. She pulled back her abundant hair with fingers roughened red by the week’s work. She blinked her blue eyes to check the images before her. She saw the round whites of their eyes surrounding dark pupils. It made her think of seeing cats at night when only the eyes are visible, glinting a yellow white against the night darkness. Two little boys with brown skin sat close together. They played at passing a belt buckle back and forth between them.
Margaret stared at the wee boys. They stared back at her, their round eyes growing larger. Were they contraband as runaway slaves were called?
She could hear her two-year-old son Mattie playing in the kitchen, tumbling pieces of wood on the kitchen floor, building something. She knew her mother was near him slicing cheese and bread to add to their supper. She hoped he would stay in the kitchen. It was the only way she could hope to keep things quiet.
Before Margaret looked into the wardrobe and saw those wee boys, she never thought much about enslaved people. She paid little attention to some of the conversations after Sunday services, or other times neighborhood people gathered. Around the family dinner table it was not a topic much talked about.
A question flashed across her thoughts: What happened to those who assisted runaways? She did wonder if these young children in the wardrobe were alone? Where had they come from?
Margaret thought she had not had time to think about slavery because she was so busy with a new baby and the family. Her mother had injured a leg while still in Scotland. It was difficult for Mother to get around. And she tried to keep up her cheese-making business. They were a household of eight, her oldest brother, who had found the land in Tama County, and three other siblings in addition to herself , wee Mattie, and her father. They crowded first in a tiny cabin, but now, blessedly a frame house had been built, a house with proper space for Matthew’s wardrobe.
Margaret looked deeper into the shadows of the wardrobe. She saw a wisp of a woman sitting against the back corner nursing a baby. The woman looked at her and spoke in a soft voice. “I be Dorcas,” she said. “This here is Alec and his brother Archie. Celia is getting her supper. I sorry we hide in your home. Someone will come for us when night falls.” Margaret thought most likely they had come in while the whole family was at Tranquillity Church Services.
Margaret knelt in front of the wardrobe, her hands on the closed lower door. In a few words difficult for Margaret to understand, Dorcas let her know that they had been hiding in a wagon headed toward the village. A man the driver knew to be a Copperhead halted the wagon. The two men talked briefly. As soon as the Copperhead was out of sight, their driver left the Ridge Road and hid the family in a thicket of bushy shrubs and trees near the creek. But the children became strangely afraid and restless there in the out-of-doors with no building, no wagon, no fire to anchor them. So they had wandered into the McKie’s house while the family was away and found a hiding place in the wardrobe. “We safe here, out of sight,” Dorcas whispered.
It was now late afternoon.
Margaret told them all to stay in the wardrobe, and she would go to the kitchen to get food. They could eat in the bedroom. She spread an old quilt on the floor. She did not want Mattie to see this family. He would get excited and disrupt everything. Who would come for them? How would anyone know to come here? She asked Dorcas, but Dorcas only shook her head and said, “Someone always come. I know it.” Could she have left some sign in the woods? What sign could that be? Margaret feared no one would come. Who would come? Where would these people go next?
Margaret went into the kitchen. She talked with her mother about the food she gathered. Mother had prepared a Sunday night supper of Scotch Broth, heated on the stove, along with the bread and cheese sliced on a serving board. Father, brothers and sisters were outdoors doing evening farm chores.
Margaret took Mattie outside to be with his grandfather who was feeding the horses. He lifted Mattie up to stroke the muscled neck of Henry, their dappled gray horse. Mattie giggled. He clung to his grandfather with his arms around his neck.
She spoke to her father about what she had found in the wardrobe. She said she planned to give the family supper in the bedroom. Could he do his best to keep little Mattie at his side?
Margaret thought this mother traveling with three young children certainly needed their help, and she said as much to her father. He nodded his agreement. Margaret knew he usually appreciated her sense of kindness and justice toward others. Then Margaret remembered she had heard him talk about the Copperheads. “They round up escaping enslaved people from Missouri,” he had said. “They stick their noses in other people’s doings. They are angry. I dunna understand why?”
On her way back to the house she thought about Dorcas who seemed calm, almost relaxed. How could she be so brave? How could she face the risk and uncertainty ahead of her so easily? As Margaret marveled at Dorcas’ courage, it birthed in her an understanding. Dorcas was less fearful of the unknown than she was of the place she had escaped. Then too, Dorcas’ features held a pose; her face didn’t reveal anything.
What did the Copperheads want anyway? Did they think two sweet quiet little boys should be sent back to slavery––owned, mistreated? When this family was on their way to Canada they would not bother anyone in Tama County.
As the little family ate, Margaret learned they had come through Illinois and eastern Iowa hidden on a train to Tama City. They expected to go north to Minnesota and Canada. Margaret held the baby while Dorcas took each boy to the outhouse. Margaret played a number game with pegs with the boy who took his turn inside. In between trips, Dorcas ate a few mouthfuls of soup.
One little boy had an endearing smile that peeked out when he finished his soup. The other, Archie Margaret thought, gazed about, frightened. The boys were four or five, small for their ages but certainly older than Mattie. Their ankles were skinned, probably from the sharp, tangled undergrowth near the creek, and bitten by insects so numerous in that area. When Dorcas returned from her second trip outside, Margaret went to her room and traded the baby’s wet smelly diaper cloths for dry ones to be used on the trip. The boys finished eating. They climbed into the wardrobe. It was a safe place. It opened its arms to them.
Margaret joined her family for supper. She was aware that over the last minutes, each family member paid no mind to anything but supper. It was the way of the parents, and it was the way they had trained their children not to notice what was not pertinent and necessary to them. They were not to intrude into what was the business of others. Margaret had directed Dorcas through the parlor and out the front door to the necessary, avoiding the kitchen where Mattie and the family were busy with supper. The little boys had been quiet. The baby slept.
. After supper, while her sisters took care of the dishes, Margaret brewed chamomile tea for Dorcas. Dorcas took the tea with a grateful look, wrapping her fingers around the mug. Margaret noticed the pink color of the insides of her fingers and hands. The calluses on her finger pads and palms showed a strange white. Margaret observed wee Celia was a quiet baby, a fortunate thing.
She could not help but worry about what would happen if the sheriff or some stranger from Tama City should approach the house while they were eating; or what could happen if the wrong person arrived this evening before someone came for this family. Her stomach tightened at the thought. She looked at those children and at the baby. She could think only about spiriting them to some kind of safety. With a firm resolve she put the sheriff and the Copperheads out of her mind.

The faith of Dorcas was rewarded. At full darkness Margaret heard a wagon rumbling quietly into the yard and the sounds of the horse’s trappings. Harness always made music. Margaret and her father went out into the lane to see about the visitor. Margaret was grateful that Mattie had gone to sleep directly after dinner and warm milk. She recognized the Wilson’s wagon. But her hand flew to her mouth to cover her exclamation of surprise at seeing the driver was her friend Flora Wilson.
Flora was somewhat disguised, but still Margaret recognized her. Tall Flora had been the first to befriend the McKie family on their arrival in Buckingham. They lived for a time in the village in a cabin across the street from the Wilson house. Flora was unmarried, maybe thirty years old, and she kept house for her brothers and her elderly parents. Flora was Margaret’s closest friend outside the family. Margaret realized that clearly, she didn’t know all there was to know about Flora. Flora had her secrets.
Margaret walked to the wagon and leaned against the side of the wagon seat.
“I’m here for your guests,” Flora said. She looked down at Margaret, serious business written on her face.
Margaret turned and nodded to her father. Without a word he went into the house to fetch the runaways. In a few moments he came to the wagon carrying the smallest boy who had a grin on his face. Maybe he liked wagon rides. The other held his mother’s hand and walked behind. The baby lay in a sling fashioned from a scarf hanging across her mother’s chest.
Flora handed Dorcas a shawl for warmth. Dorcas thanked her. “Mam,” she said. “I need this. I from the south of Illinois. I be some ill with fever and chills.”
She and the boys climbed quickly into the wagon and settled among its contents. Flora had loaded the wagon with sacks of grain and turnips as well as some produce ready to sell. Food was packed into a clothesbasket: cooked meat and boiled potatoes and turnips. Flora had jugs of tea and milk. She had brought a small basket for the baby.
Dorcas lowered the baby into the basket and covered her with a dishtowel. She bedded down the boys and pulled up a much-darned quilt that Flora had put in the wagon to cover them and the baby. Then she tied her scarf tightly around her head and redid the knot. The scarf frayed in places and her bushy hair poked through.
Father pulled the sacks of grain and turnips to the back of the wagon. If the gate was opened, the contents appeared a load for market. Dorcas secreted herself quickly. Margaret had no idea where she might be hidden, or how she might have curled herself among the contents of the wagon.
Flora said little during the few minutes it took for Dorcas and the children to settle. Flora wore a grey roundabout coat with deep pockets. Her hair was tied up in back and under a black felt hat. Margaret marveled at the intense secrecy of this situation. How could she have known Flora so well for several years and been completely unaware of this kind of activity? Maybe this was a first time. Still, Flora was a capable woman. It did not completely surprise her. She thought earnestly of a future time when she could talk more with Flora about this. What would Flora say? When would they have such opportunity? Questions clattered in her brain. In that instant she prayed for Flora’s safe return.
Father stood at the front of the team and steadied the horses. A crock of butter beans occupied the seat next to Flora. They infused the night air with a delicious smell that trailed down the lane to the road as Flora drove away.
Flora maneuvered the horses out onto the road. She allowed herself a small smile at Margaret’s shocked look. It was fun to surprise her friend. She was feeling confident and in-charge, blessed with a good wagon and a sure-footed team. She expected no trouble.
If Copperheads stopped her, she was ready with her story of delivering supplies to the Flemings who lived north and west some seven or eight miles, up near another village. They were a well-known family who had fallen on hard times. Both parents were ill, hence the butter beans to help feed the family. Flora was aware that with the harboring of runaways, she violated the Fugitive Slave Law and was liable to fine and imprisonment. She accepted this risk. She wanted to help in the war effort. She wanted to be as brave as her brother who was serving in the Union Army in unpleasant country in Arkansas and Texas. At any rate, she imagined it hot, barren and uncomfortable.
She drove along the road north. She knew it well. Moonlight was in short supply with only a quarter moon. She could barely make out the movement of the clouds across the sky. They were faster than the horses, but if she tried to keep up, haste might make waste. The likelihood of meeting anyone seemed slight. All the same, she hoped to stay alert and vigilant. She drove across open prairie and then through Fleming Woods.
It angered Flora that this subterfuge was necessary since Iowa was a free territory. But she knew the Copperheads were up-in-arms. They believed the recently enacted Emancipation Proclamation would cause freed slaves to swarm into Iowa. Their speeches and items in the local newspapers warned against this. She also knew of trouble as close as Grinnell over allowing free black men to attend school. This issue had led to violence there. It divided church congregations and the entire community.
Flora listened carefully to the night’s song: the frogs, crickets, an occasional owl, insects she couldn’t name. The beauty and calm of the night seemed a sign she was doing right. As she drove she whispered the words of Psalm 23. She believed she would arrive at her destination, but exactly when? Later she heard prairie wolves howling in the distance and thought they probably frightened the woman and her children. But she knew the wolves were some distance away and probably no danger to travelers this time of year.
She did not wonder at this frail but strong black woman, whose name she did not know, a woman who wanted a new life. She shuddered to think what the woman’s life had been like, enslaved to others, owned. Flora was not familiar with slave life. She only thought the woman must have had to work very hard with no freedom to come and go. To Flora, the most awful part for Dorcas must have been the lack of freedom to be her own person. Though she had heard tales of the evils of slavery, of horrific conditions, she did not know what part of such might be true.
Yesterday Elias Burnwell, a pharmacist in Tama City had stopped at around noon to tell her about this duty he was assigning to her. He had stayed overnight with a farmer friend. That farmer had a boy Silas. After Elias left the woman and her children in the brush by the creek, he returned to the farm. Silas was sent to watch the woman and her children, unobserved, and so he brought word that they had gone into the McKie house. Thus had Elias learned the situation and decided to ask Flora to provide the ride north to Hudson Grove.
Flora urged the horses on toward Hudson Grove where she expected her passengers would be sheltered in a small neat white house at the edge of town. Flora recited prayers of thanksgiving for the fact she heard no horses behind her. Therefore no armed gang of ruffians with rifles could be following in pursuit.
After a few more miles, Flora praised the Lord. Her trip had been uneventful. The woman and her wee ones were safely delivered. Stars still filled the sky as she helped them into the house and the waiting arms of another woman whose name she did not know or ask. She did know the next stop for her passengers would be a cornstarch mill in Cedar Falls located some miles further northeast on the banks of the Cedar River. How or when they would go there was not for her to know.


This tale of tall, fearless Flora and the dark-skinned Dorcas and her children was handed down through the generations of our family for many years. Margaret and our own ancestors were seen as resourceful and courageous. The story was always told with humble pride, as is thought appropriate by our Scottish people.
Margaret, the McKies and Flora as well as those of us who told the story through the years never knew what happened to Dorcas, Alec, Archie and Celia. We never knew from what exact place Dorcas had fled or why? Had she been mistreated or was she simply responding to an urge to be free? There was, of course, nothing simple about it. But we always thought the best when we imagined the rest of their journey in following the North Star, since once north of Cedar Falls, it was likely that the underground railroad to Canada ran smoothly.
As for the wardrobe, due to its beauty, its exciting history and amazing presence, it was well-cared for and passed down from generation to generation. Today it is as lovely as ever and painted white. It decorates the front hall of my home in Des Moines.

Paulette Mitchell Lein



Featuring Good Food, Good Company and Lovely Views

Note: Here’s one of last summer’s most popular posts. Alas, it was buried on the food page. So today it occupies a feature spot on the Home Page.
 Hope you enjoy reading it and thinking about summer.

For our last stop (a reverse chronology here) in the city of Detroit, my husband and I sat in the window of Tom’s Oyster Bar on E. Jefferson. The flowers across the street in front of the General Motors Towers and the Marriott Hotel made for a pleasant view as we watched the traffic roll by on Jefferson Ave while we sipped drinks and waited for a late lunch. The aromatic clam chowder that arrived at our table was the best I’ve ever had: a thick roué, plenty of meaty clams, vegetables and thyme. A lot of thyme, but that is part of what made it so very good. The flavors melded perfectly.

Soon, a blackened grouper sandwich and an oyster po-boy, as we had ordered, graced our table with sides of tangy coleslaw and fat hot fries. Fish and fries were cooked to perfection, oysters lightly breaded and fried to a golden color. The grouper sandwich had the scent and blackening that made one want to bite into it immediately. We could have been in Apalachicola, Florida––a place we love to eat the local seafood, most notably grouper and oysters. The fish at Tom’s was that fresh and cooked well by someone who knows how to cook fish. My oysters came from Prince Edward Island, and if not the gulf, than Prince Edward Island is my next choice. Oh, I‘ve had great oysters from Galveston, too.

Before lunch we sat in the bleachers at the MISCA Swim Finals held at the Detroit Yacht Club located on Belle Isle. Belle Isle is in the middle of the Detroit River and most of the island is a city park. We drove by many families gathered for cookouts and picnics. At the Yacht Club our view of the river and the city glimmered in the sunshine. The Belle Isle Bridge is one of the premier sights in the D. I don’t see it often enough.

Because we were on a tight morning timeline, we began our day at the Royal Oak Farmers’ Market rather than at the larger Detroit Eastern Market. Both are first rate. We are more familiar with Royal Oak, and since we were transporting family members to the swim meet, this week we shopped the Royal Oak Market. Soon I hope to visit Detroit’s Eastern Market. The Farmer’s Market in Royal Oak (an inner-ring suburb close to the city) was overflowing with fresh vegetables. Corn, red leaf lettuce, Early Girl tomatoes, baby yellow tomatoes, carrots, golden beets, and Michigan peaches filled our bags along with goat cheese and John Henry’s bacon.
Be alert now, reader. Here comes maybe the most important info in this blog––the best, most economical breakfast in the D: an egg sandwich at the market. A fried egg and bacon on an English muffin with cheese priced at $3. I don’t know where they get the eggs, but I know that as a true egg sandwich lover, I pronounce this version one of the very best!
(And yes I know, no more fried food for quite a while.)

I offer this account of a recent day in Detroit in answer to questions that came my way while traveling in the Midwest over the past couple of weeks. A crooked former mayor, bankruptcy and neglected neighborhoods are real, but so is the pleasure of a day in the “D”. And next time: Eastern Market, the River Walk, Detroit Institute of Arts, Westminster Church, and a visit to one of the many restaurants I haven’t tried or haven’t been to in quite a while.

Tell us your favorite places in the city of Detroit. We need to know.
Here are the favorites of locals who responded on Facebook: DIA, Historical Museum, Suppino Pizza, Orchestra Hall, Eastern Market, Mexican Village, Opera House, Music Hall, Russell Street Deli, Comerica Park. Among these commenters DIA and Eastern Market were the most popular.
More comments are welcome!


butterfly on flowers

Thank you to blog viewers/readers. I am grateful for every one of you and for every time you visit Whether you come to pass the time, to find a new book, bookstore, author, restaurant or recipe or to investigate whatever else I may have posted, each of your visits is important to me. Writers write so someone will read and share an interest.

It’s time to celebrate one year of blogging. It’s hard to believe. Yes, readeatlive is one year old. The first post was on June 11, 2013. To celebrate I’ll be reposting some of last summer’s most popular views. I’ll repost on different pages and mix it up a bit. If you have favorites you think should be reposted, do let me know. Hopefully this will give me some time to attend to some of the technical aspects of blogging. (??)

I have three requests for you to consider.

Please comment on what you like, what kind of posts you want to see more often. Also, tell me what you find less interesting.

Please, Please consider subscribing. On the top left of the home page, you may enter your e-mail to subscribe. You will receive a notice when there is a new posting on the Home page. For the Food, Reading and Writing Page, you will need to check these at you convenience or when you go to the home page. Use the menu across the top to go to different pages. Rest assured your e-mail will not be used in any way. And many thanks to those of you who are already subscribers!

If this blog gives you a few minutes of thoughtful pleasure, please, please, please send the website to five friends who love books and food. Chances are they will like the blog.

As year number two gets underway, you and I will be thinking about the pleasure of reading and what it may mean in our lives and in the lives of others. Most of us want to share our reading, writing, and ideas with others. Much of the fun of books lives on in our connections with others. There are rewards to our reading adventures, though I don’t understand entirely what they are. What do you think is your greatest reading reward?

Guest bloggers are always welcome. Send me an e-mail or alert me in the comments section.

OK! Off and running for another year! Join the fun!



Reader Interview with Judith Vitali, Old Lyme, Connecticut
Conducted June, 2014

Another reader interview in the Readeatlive Interview Series. Good friend Judith Vitali always has interesting things to say about reading.

Why do you read?
I basically was an only child (one half sister wasn’t born until I was sixteen and I really didn’t meet the other until a few years later) … books were my friends, my escape, and my ticket to other worlds. Our librarian (in Stonington, CT) would allow me to take a bag of books home rather than the limit of two, and I would devour them eagerly. (Yes, I was one who read with a flashlight under the covers.) Although I have many human friends, books continue to be constant companions.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
You will find children’s books on my shelves. My favorite from childhood is The Secret Garden, which I still read every few years. I also have kept books that my fifth graders and I enjoyed so much … The Cay, The Giver, My Side of the Mountain, The Homecoming, and Pink and Say to name a few. Can’t wait to share them with my grandsons.

Do you have a favorite book of the last year?
I was enchanted by The Storied Life of AJ Fikry … for all the reasons you mentioned in your blog, Paulette … it was charming and quirky. I also liked Necessary Lies … it introduced me to a part of our history of which I had little knowledge.

What authors would you like to invite to tea or lunch? And why?
There are ever so many authors who would provide scintillating conversations; but when I was a young mother of three boys, I so enjoyed Judith Viorst’s column in LHJ. She later wrote the delightful Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. She also had three sons and her sense of humor really appealed to me. I would like to invite her to tea and some one-on-one time. I’m certain we’d have a lot of laughs sharing our ‘boy’ stories.

What book was a disappointment to you and why?
I am so unhappy when a book starts with great promise, and then the ending is disappointing … I despised the ending of Gone Girl and couldn’t understand why it was on the bestseller list for so long. Then again, I am a sucker for a happy ending.

Where do you read?
I read absolutely everywhere … as a passenger in a car, at the doctor’s office, in bed, at the beach, etc etc … I guess my favorite reading environment is a snowy day sitting by the fire.

How do you decide what to read?
I have many sources for reading recommendations … newspapers and friends, of course … some great blogs, the RJ Julia bookstore in Madison, CT, and I actually select a lot based on Amazon reviews.

Tell us about what you are reading.
I am rereading a ‘serendipity’ book I picked up at the airport many years ago … Guilt by Association by Susan R. Sloan (not Marcia Clark) … I think it appeals to me because it takes place in the sixties and on … if anyone decides to read it, do not read the book jacket first … it contains a terrible ‘spoiler’.

What books are you hoping to read soon?
I am on the library wait list for Shotgun Lovesongs, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, and The Housemaid’s Daughter.

Do you have a favorite author or two or more?
I love the writing of Cynthia Voigt (a YA author) and anxiously am awaiting the next book from Markus Zusak … his The Book Thief is one of my all-time favorites.

Do you have a favorite genre?
I absolutely do not have a favorite genre … enjoy them all … well, not sci-fi or horror.

And, please tell us more about your reading habits.
I read strictly for pleasure these days … unfortunately, the next day I may not be able to tell you the plot of the book I just read … I remember only those that have a great impact. I also find as I age that I do not have the endurance for lengthy novels any more. I once was a fan of Russian literature, but the thought of reading something like War and Peace truly overwhelms me.

Judith, thanks so much for sharing your ideas and reading habits. I know readers will be inspired and connected.



It’s time to celebrate another independent bookstore. This one is owned by author Ann Patchett and can be found on Hillsboro Pike in Nashville, Tennessee.

I loved hearing Ann Patchett’s account of the excitement of the bookstore business in her recent memoir. (The Story of A Happy Marriage, review in the April Archives) I planned a visit there first chance that came along. Here we are in Nashville, Tennessee. Come along for a tour.


Books are the stars in this place. Must be one of the reasons I love bookstores so much.

Greetings from Books New This Week meet me right inside the door.


Friendly staff and happy patrons are a good mix.

One hallmark of this place is the feel of endless books communicated here, an important key to this bookstore’s welcome to book lovers.


The store features well marked genres and an inviting organization.






Mysteries stacked to the ceiling are ready to add intrigue to your summer.


The children’s section has its own charm. Books and more books. All kind of interesting things here.. The area is inviting.




Ann Patchett has some picks worth a second look.


Here’s a favorite table with new fiction.


This book store is current and fun.

Picks for Dad’s Special Day


Exciting Author events. I’d like to be there for most of these.


Lots of stuff for book lovers.


When you visit here, you will have book recommendations to last a lifetime.

This was a hard place to say good-bye. Hope you can visit some time.

Here’s the link to the bookstore website, always open for browsing.



Lev Grossman calls this a memorable year for books, and he selects the best of the year…so far. I applaud the diversity of his list. Will be interesting to see how the list may change as the year progresses. Which books will find a wide audience? What books will be published later this year?

One of the books he names has been featured on the pages of this blog. Sous Chef by Micheal Gibney, reviewed on the Food page a few weeks ago. It is a real page-turner. Click on Food on the menu above and when the food page comes up, scroll down several stories for that review.

Here’s a brief sketch of several of his top 15 that you may find of interest.

Lawrence Goldstone. Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss and the Battle to Control the Skies. This historian writes a narrative of the rivalries in the early days of American Aviation.

E. Lockhart. We Were Liars. Also Amazon’s pick for Young Adult Book of May. A novel of twists and turns, called an unforgettable summer read. The story is set on Cape Cod.

Olivia Laing. The Trip To Echo Spring:On Writers and Drinking. The author focuses on a group of American male writers, and in doing so, she examines the links between alcohol and creativity. She also considers their literary work. At least one reviewer has called it a powerful and rewarding book.

Roz Chast. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir. This is described as witty look at life with and without ageing parents. Reviewers and readers are raving about it.

Kai Bird. The Good Spy. This one is a biography of a CIA operative who died in the Beirut Embassy bombing.

It’s largely a non-fiction list. Let’s see what comes in the second half of the year. Since this blog might be justly accused of focusing too much on fiction, this list names some promising books in non-fiction catagories. (Non-fiction lovers don’t give up on this blog.)

Here’s the link to Time’s complete list:

Or just google Time’s Best Books of 2014.

Have fun thinking about what you might read. As always, comments are welcomed.




1. Great quotes. “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

2. Quirky in-a-good-way characters.

3. Literary references. “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte/1868. This is a story I have enjoyed and will enjoy again even if the A.J. Fikry of the title calls it “overly sentimental.”

4. The story takes place in a bookstore. Reading this book is a good way to spend more time in a bookstore.

5. You heart will ache for every character. The question is: Which one will you love the most?

There’s so much to love about this book. I’d like to run a contest to find out which character is your favorite or to list the greatest number of things you loved about it, and offer prizes. If you read this book tell us which character you loved the most. All comments are welcome.