Monthly Archives: April 2017


Yes, I draw the names, without looking. Between each draw, I stir up the sheets of paper with the names of those who entered. Wish everyone could win.

Congratulations to these winners!!!

1. Judith Vitali – Connecticut

2. Mary Jo Weisenburger -Ohio

3. Kim Bowden-Adair – Michigan

4. Susie Brown – Indiana

5. Nancy Skadden – Florida

Thanks so much to all who entered this time. And. Thanks for reading this blog. It is much appreciated.

The books will be in the mail in a few days.



It’s about time isn’t it? This week is your chance to win a lightly used fiction book.

The names of five winners will be drawn from the name of those of you who comment on this blog. Comment by clicking on reply and name the title of a book you especially enjoyed or comment about anything in your reading world.

Enter now through Thursday April 27 at midnight. More comments. More fun. We want to hear from you.

Winners will receive their books through the mail or hand delivered.

Good Luck!


The River of Kings: a Novel
Author: Taylor Brown
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (2017)
Genre: Historical Novel
Hardcover Edition: 315 pages
Source: Personal copy

Since I read Janisse Ray’s entrancing book Drifting to Darien about her relationship with Georgia’s Altamaha River and it’s forest of trees: water hickory, river birch, magnolia, tupelo, swamp oak and cypress, the place and its rich history have fascinated me. Now comes a novel of this river, sometimes, called the Little Amazon, the possible river monster hiding in its depths and the earliest settlement Fort Caroline, quite possibly located on the Altamaha.

Two brothers, Lawton and Hunter Loggins kayak its 137 miles to deposit their father’s ashes at the mouth of this river. What is their story? Can they unravel the mystery of their father’s death? And what of that French expedition in 1564 caught between the North America natives and the Spanish? The narrative is illustrated with drawings that survived that expedition.

It’s not an easy read, nor are the answers to those questions particularly clear, at least to this reader. The text is dense. The rhythm of the stories match the pace of the swirling muddy river. Many sentences paint a picture as clearly as a photograph. “A log juts diagonally from the water, wet-dark, upon which a line of turtles has assembled like friendly tumors, their heads extended into the shafts of sunlight.” It’s tempting to read the book a second time just to attend to all the words, unexpected or hardly understood; and how this writer strings them together in paragraphs as tight and sometimes impenetrable as the swamps. It’s the kind of book that causes a writer to open her notebook and copy down interesting words. Yet each word is to be admired, whether one has ever heard of it or not.

The characters are men. There is crude talk, swearing, fights, bragging in all three of the stories. Every imaginable weapon available in the environment is brandished, often in horrible ways and to bloody outcomes. The author spares no feeling to create his images, no matter how horrific. Yes, they are fighting, always fighting, whether large groups, small groups or in duet.

If you wonder what happened to some of the lost colonies of the first settlers in the Americas, here is your graphic answer. Much of the beauty of the river is lost in darkness of one kind and another.

Many of the published reviewers understood much more of the environment described here than did this reader. I looked up many words, but not enough, or my background is lacking. I never did know that square grouper were marijuana bales. Yet it was a review (I don’t remember which one) that sold me on this book.

Still, I must admit that in attempting to understand the story, what was happening at any point, was often obscured by the darkness of the river, the thickness of the vegetation, and the blindness of all the creeks and marshes. I wasn’t sure it was the same river as the one Janisse Ray had introduced me to in Drifting Into Darien.

Though the story of the men plying the river in 1564 and 1565 was difficult at first, ultimately I found it the most compelling. The artist was a true hero and the book needed that. The author is undoubtedly a talented writer, but to this reader it seemed a dark book, the particulars of the brother’s misunderstandings, the story of their father and the various characters met up with on this river were as if viewed from below the surface of a river black with mud, vegetation, and a history that perhaps would best stay buried among the cypress knees and tangled roots of the trees.



The language of landscape never ceases to fascinate me.

I love to look at the atlas of the Tama County, Iowa where I grew up. Waterways have mostly commonplace names as Wolf Creek, Twelve Mile Creek, Salt Creek, Otter Creek, Deer Creek, Pleasant Creek, Four Mile Creek, Coon Creek, Iowa River, Elk Run, Sugar Creek, Raven Creek and Crystal Creek to name some. It is easy to imagine how such names came to be. Wherever I go, I watch for the names of rivers and creeks.

Otter Creek

In one of my favorite Elizabeth Bishop poems, “The Moose,” she names the Bass River, and Tantramar marshes with which she associates the smell of salt hay.

Tantramar Marshes

In her poem, “Life Story,” Mary Oliver tells us she lived by Little Sister Pond. Often in her writing she identifies the landscape.

As you know the language of landscape goes well-beyond place names. In her poem “Field Guide for Wildlife Clinics”, Janisse Ray reminds readers of the landscape she has roamed with such words and phrases as “Boreal forests”, “Eastern deciduous slopes”, …”The relief of waves lapping a beach.” And at greater length from the poem “Noticing”. “The bay recedes, abandoning more of its red-pebbled beach, leaving rocks blanketed with orange seaweed. Notice how, back along the cliff, white asters with gold disks bloom in pockets of loose mineral, and the strange branched milkweed hangs with frittalaries (She likely means a lily-like flower)

butter-tubs, Yorkshire, England

The place of the title of the poem quoted below is in Yorkshire England where the writer, an Iowa native who became a resident of the northeast and a well-known poet, clearly spent some time. The flyleaf of her Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt reminds us her themes are often place and displacement. “She wrote with lasting and deep feeling about all sorts of landscapes – the prairies of her Iowa childhood, the fog-wrapped coast of Maine, and places she visited in Europe.”

From “At Muker, Upper Swaledale”

As Muker Beck aswirl, hurtling
to enter the River Swale: peat-
dark in spate, hour by hour
engorged with braidings, with
sheeted seethings of rainfall

fallen yet again: the trickle
of the damp’s wrung increment
down limestone’s fluted hollows
(buttertubs is what the locals
call them) that pock the pass

along the road to Askrigg––

Authors whose work is quoted and who write lovingly of the landscape include: Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Janisse Ray and Amy Clampitt.

Novelists also use the language of landscape effectively, but since April is Poetry Month, it seems the time to focus on the poets.

I encourage you to read any of these poets as they bring to life the world around us. Some poems from these authors can usually be found on the internet by using your browser. April an appropriate month to investigate these writings. Some of these landmarks may not always be with us. This seems so here in America.

I’m especially enjoying some of Clampitt’s work this month. I hope you’ll seek her out, or any of the others that interest you. Perhaps you have another poet whose writing about landscape you want to bring to our attention. Thank you for doing so.

Note: I originally worked on this post for the writing page of this blog, but I am so revived by reading some of the poetry in preparation, most particularly Amy Clampitt, that I decided to post this on the home page. Though I can’t say I remember ever meeting Ms. Clampitt, two of her brothers and their families were friends of my Dad’s and they often met at regional fairs where they and my father both showed their prize Milking Shorthorn Cattle. While Amy Clampitt probably did not forget she was the child of pioneer Iowa farmers, much of her writing is about other places she called home, and places she visited in her extensive travels.


I don’t know about you, but….
Seems like I often have unfinished reading tasks piling up, some reads are unfinished, and I want to read the rest of the story. Some reads are appropriate to the time of year, or the time of life and I want to read them soon. Some lurk in a basket or pile in the bedroom, for a variety of other reasons.

Here’s my commitment over the next four weeks of reading. It’s a sort of checklist. I’ll let you know how I do.

‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” by Walt Whitman
This long poem was written to mark the mourning of President Abraham Lincoln. I usually enjoy Whitman’s poetry. This poem has been called lively and joyful vision of death by the writer of A Reader’s Book of Days. Lincoln was shot on April 14 and died the next day. I’m fortunate to have my daughter’s notes to help me with this poem.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset part three “The Cross.”
A year ago this past winter, I reread the first two sections of this long classic novel, perhaps my all-time favorite. All year I have meant to finish it. This is the month to do it. It is a novel of a young woman in 14th century Norway. Two or three years ago I bought a beautiful paperback edition, which includes helpful notes and introduction. I’m excited about this one.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley.
I don’t yet have this novella in hand, but it is on order. Some consider this early piece a Smiley masterpiece. According to Tom Nissley author of A Readers’ Book of Days, this is the time of year to read this classic. Since Smiley is an absolute favorite of mine. I cannot but agree.

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
This book begins in the spring. Such a favorite of so many, young and old. Should be a good gift and great fun to share with my almost three-year-old granddaughter.

And waiting for me to finish reading: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, On My Own by Diane Rehm, Evicted by Matthew Desmond. As this list shows (four are non-fiction), I’m great at starting non-fiction, not quite so good at finishing.

Let’s see how I do over the next four weeks.


This book is hard to like. And just what real-life character in this memoir can we love––or even like very much, let along want to know more about? I didn’t find one. Lack of caring, distraction, destruction, seem to sweat from the pores of this book. Infidelity, alcoholism, ambivalence and estrangement abound, not to mention dishonesty. Did a thirty-eight year old journalist really think she would get everything she wanted out of life. Is she just now finding out that isn’t going to happen? What planet has she been living on? What plants has she been cultivating?

According to reviewer Leslie Jamison, a stranger asked Ariel the following: “:Are you the Ariel who all the bad things happened to?” This reader would ask her: “Why did you do so many bad things to so many people?” Levy’s surface view of life is exemplified in a phase from her book, “somehow things got better.” Apparently she seldom stops to look at her own behavior or to search beneath the rocks for understanding.

She writes many words. But, what do they say other than mean things? Finally near the end of the book, I cannot read anymore of her words, and I close the book for good. The promise of something creative, something surprising, something outside the box, has evaporated, worse, for this reader, apparently it never existed.

Surviving loss is difficult. At best such survival is imperfect as I read in Jamison’s review. This reader simply could not connect with Levy’s emotion, her loss or her life. I wonder if some readers will be able to be more understanding.


Lilac Girls
Author: Martha Hall Kelly
Publisher: Ballantine Books (2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 476 pages
Source: Personal Copy

This is a necessary book – a look at WWII that will likely present new perspectives to many readers––the horrors of the concentration camp for women more graphic and the view more personal for each of the women whose viewpoints are represented than is the norm in World War II fiction . The reader experiences the war from different perspectives, national, and personal than is often the case in this genre.

The author of this first novel based her story on real people and a real place, Ravensbruck, Hitler’s only major concentration camp exclusively for women. Much of the novel takes place in Poland. Author Martha Hall Kelly became interested in the story of the American Caroline Ferriday and the tremendous work she did helping European women during and after the war. She created characters for her story that are a tribute to many women of the era, real and imaginary and their power to make history.

Characters are one of the strongest aspects of this work. The author also brings to reality not only the concentration camp, but also New York City and Paris during those years, as well as other European settings. One of the most arresting scenes is the arrival at Ravensbruck of Kasia, a young woman from Lublln Poland. This reader found the three separate stories: New York socialite, Carolyn Ferriday, young Polish woman Kasia, and a young German Doctor, Herta, all nearly equally compelling. Exploring how different readers feel about the three stories is a worthy book club discussion topic. Certainly the critics don’t all agree. The author is also particularly adept at helping the reader understand an unfamiliar situation through analogy.

If there was a surprise, it was this. The first two-thirds of the book holds the reader’s attention as if one were watching the tightrope portion of a circus show. The last third seems to move more slowly. Perhaps the reader tires of waiting for the three stories to intersect. Perhaps, one tires of waiting for something to gel with Carolyn’s long romance? I found myself wondering if the last part of the book could have been tightened or compressed, keeping suspense and the momentum of the story in spite of the passage of time. Parts of the story are unsettling and haunting, as they should be. War produces chaos and unhappy endings. Endings are difficult to write as they are to live.

In summary, this is a remarkable first novel. The author’s extensive research pays off as she creates a compelling story. This is women’s history at its best.


For this interview welcomes our first Kentucky reader to the hot seat. Sincere thanks to Jim Paris for sharing some of his thoughts on reading. He is a native of Kentucky and currently lives in the Lexington area. Recently, he’s likely to have been watching NCAA basketball on TV.

We thank him for stepping up to the plate and sharing some thoughts on his reading habits.

How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or simultaneously? Morning or Night? Do you have a favorite spot for reading?

I generally read during the day, and either watch television (limited for sure) or work crosswords or other types of thinking games on the tablet or phone. I don’t usually have two books going at the same time. I don’t read many novels except when I am in Florida for the winter and I like mysteries and scifi. I don’t read non-fiction unless it has something to do with my deacon ministry in the Catholic Church. I read several on-line sites that produce topical, and thought provoking materials in the form of essays on a daily basis. I read them more for my ministry of homiletic preparation (aka preaching) in the Catholic Church than for pleasure.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? Do you have a genre you might call a guilty pleasure?

Scifi and mystery novels

Do you have a favorite fictional hero? Or a favorite biographical subject?

I like the Alex Cross mysteries. Dean Koontz is a favorite author and James Patterson.

How do you organize your books?

At home, I have a library, mostly to do with deacon ministry and personal spirituality. It is organized by topics.

Do you give books as gifts? What are you likely to gift?

I will lend books from my personal library at home.

What’s the best book you ever received as a gift?

“The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis

Do you have a book related to your work or your life that has been especially important to you.

I am no Biblical scholar but appreciate the Gospels and all the Bible texts. One can never run out of interesting insights into Scripture and I enjoy the challenge of applying texts written 2000 years ago to our daily lives in the 21st Century.

Tell us anything else you would like us to know about your reading or your reading habits.

Much of my two careers of working for banks and the Catholic Church were spent reading materials that I had to read to do my job properly. Thus, I did not read a lot when I was off work because I needed the down time. I tend to read much less in the summer when I enjoy yard and garden work and attending my grandchildren’s sporting events.

Note from Paulette: Earlier this winter Jim expressed interest Hillbilly Elegy, a nonfiction book featured on this blog. Jim, if you do read this book, we will be interested in what you think about it. And thanks again, for answering these questions! Happy gardening and Happy reading.