Monthly Archives: July 2017


MANY THANKS to all those who commented and entered the contest. Many thanks to all those who read the blog!!!!

Here are the July winners of a fiction book:

1. Betsy Hemming – Michigan Reader

2. Patty Hunt – New York Reader

3. Judith Vitali – Connecticut Reader

4. Bonne Hall – New York Reader

5. Bernadette Mainzer – New York Reader

Hopefully your book will be in the mail early this week!


Yes. It’s that time again! A good-sized stack of fiction is looking for a new home. Five books will be given away.

Enter by commenting on this post with a suggestion for a book I might like to read. I’m in the reading doldrums so I’m looking for suggestions. If you don’t have one, comment as you wish about summer reading.

The contest is open July 27, 28, 29 and will close at midnight on July 29, Saturday. Names will be drawn from the entries and winners will likely be announced Sunday or Monday July 30 or 31. Books will be mailed or delivered to winners the next week.

More entries, More fun!!!! Don’t let this chance for a free book pass you by.


American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life In A Vanishing Land
Author: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Norton , 2017
Genre: Non-fiction, True Crime
Hardcover Edition: 240 pages plus notes
Source: Personal Copy

Author Monica Hesse writes a compelling narrative of multiple arsons in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, including an account of those involved: perpetrators, firefighters, law enforcement and citizens in that isolated rural area. She paints a clear portrait of life in that place.

Even if non-fiction is not your usual genre, this is true crime at its best. The depictions are vivid. At the end of each chapter without realizing it the reader begins the next chapter and reads on. It is more suspenseful than fiction. Who would set these fires and why? Most of the burned buildings are empty, the fires not particularly well-set. Everyone is suspicious. In a thinly populated area someone must know something.

Hesse is a talented writer, so much so I would read anything she puts her pen to paper to write. She does not sensationalize but keep things factual. Beyond that she is caring toward her characters, giving anyone and everyone the benefit of the doubt, a level of understanding seldom seen in the magazine world. She is a feature writer for the Washington Post and the author of a previous book of fiction Girl In The Blue Coat.

No book is perfect. The end of this one is perhaps a bit of a let-down, fading into the sunset after the high noon intensity of most of the story. As a reader I had cared so much about these characters through the main part of the book and now as I was about to leave them, well- not so much. Seems to me that is life.


Camino Island
Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Doubleday, 2017
Genre: Mystery
Hardcover Edition: 290 Pages
Source: Personal Copy

All the characters in this one are fun – even the crooks. And maybe the line between who is a crook and who isn’t is a bit thin, but all ends well. Who will outsmart whom? Grisham is the master storyteller. Structure, plot, setting, characters all work together as they should for the best kind of read.

Life in a beach cottage on a North Florida Atlantic Coast Island – just where the reader would like to be; well, this one anyway. Much of the action takes place in a bookstore. The tale is all about books and manuscripts. Coastal lunches, what a life! And yes, there is a lovely young heroine who may well save the day; a conflicted writer trying to finish a novel and desperate to figure out how to pay off college loans.

The story begins with a complicated heist at Princeton University. The details are interesting and carefully laid out by Grisham. A reader can’t turn the pages fast enough. Goodreads gives this book four stars. This reader gives it 5. This may be the most appealing of Grisham’s books and certainly a summer favorite. Many readers agree as it sits atop multiple bestseller lists.

Don’t miss this one. Lose yourself at the beach. You won’t regret it. Delectable, delicious….you get the idea!


I must be because mysteries are building my book stack. Here’s a few climbing to the top.

American Fire by Monica Hesse
This is nonfiction true crime reporting involving arson on the rural Virginia Coast. The critics are raving. The first 20 pages indicate it will be a page-turner with much information about the community and the crime.

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
The print is small in this edition published in 2009, but I always like her books and have not read any of the early ones. Again the reader will find a suspenseful tale lurking in the village of Three Pines located in Quebec.

Camino Island by John Grisham
Likely the first one I’ll crack in this stack. From Princeton to Florida, it sounds exciting. Not sure where Camino Island is located but I always enjoy his Florida settings. This mystery is currently topping many best seller lists.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly
Readers will meet a new LAPD female detective. She works the overnight shift hence the title. There’s often some heart in Connelly’s police procedurals so I’m looking forward to this one, though I don’t yet have it in hand.


This week-end I wish I could be in East Central Iowa to gather with family for the last Mitchell Cousin Reunion. The next best thing is sharing a few pictures. I have many memories and I wish a great day for all my family, those present and those like me who cannot be there.

A couple of years ago some of my cousins sent me information about how their family enjoyed butter horn rolls made from a recipe from my mother. One particular family enjoyed the rolls almost weekly as a week end treat. This picture shows a cousin preparing the rolls for her family. If possible I will try to repost the story about recreating the rolls this past year.

We cousins have so many precious ties and each of us with our children, spouses, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and the many grandchildren and great-grandchildren have had special experiences we have shared. I want to thank all of these cousins and their families for the good times and caring they have shared with me and my family.

The red brick church pictured above is where the clan will gather. Both sets of my great-grandparents on my father’s side founded this church. The original families came to North Tama County from Scotland, many via Canada in the 1860’s and 1870’s, pioneering on the lush prairies of that area.

Today I salute those who are gathering as well as all the family members who have gone before. So many stories, so much courage!

To blog readers, thanks for sharing a few of my family notes, and enjoy your families. Most families are filled with all kinds of stories!


Great Gray Owl

This issue is a standout. I’m enjoying it and want to alert you to some interesting features. The pictures alone are definitely a pick-me-up! Audubon shares the beauty of birds.

This issue contains the 2017 Audubon Photography Awards.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Birds need water. They depend on it during migration, breeding and nesting. One special report examines the Colorado River Basin. Titled “Oases in a Dry Land” this feature looks at the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado that supports more than 200 bird species. Some of the priority species in the Colorado Basin are Sandhill Crane, Yellow Warbler, Summer Tanager and others. It is an in-depth article that also includes information on saline waters in the West.

Audubon maintains an excellent website.

Enjoy. I’m missing some of the summer birds since I have been unable to get the back deck cleaned up and set up a new bird feeder. Audubon is the next best thing.

Yellow-breasted Chat


The Fallen Land: A Novel
Author: Taylor Brown
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (2015)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback Edition: 274 Pages plus Conversation with the Author, Reader’s Guide. Reading List and other extras.
Source: Personal Copy

Wait and Want

The above headline appeared recently in relation to another type of literature. It seemed appropriate here. This is a story where the reader waits and waits with a young boy and a girl traveling through the rugged Mountain South ravaged by the Civil War and being chased by a group OF ugly, murderous marauders. Keep reading, waiting for something to happen; will they be injured, caught, will they lie down from hunger and exhaustion? The reader admires their survival tactics, their personalities, and waits and wants for something good to happen to them.

Many of the things that do occur are frightening, even horrible. And so the reader keeps on waiting and wanting, hoping through dense descriptions of the land. A noble horse named Reiver is a guiding light, the character who keeps hope alive for many pages.

Dense, descriptive and beautiful prose lead the reader to continue on the trail with Callum and Ava. “Trees grew sun-straight from the slanted ground to either side and they rode with their eyes cocked up the slopes for men lying in ambuscade. Highwaymen or irregulars or bounty hunters. Boulders and stones and scree fallen from either side littered the trail. The horse wended between these with high and careful steps. By noon they were descending the far side of the pass.”

I picked up this book when I was looking for a paperback, light to carry around with me. Two young people together in the wild during the last year of the Civil War, seeing the devastation from Sherman’s March caught my interest. It was, however, a hard read and a book that is hard to write about because the world as portrayed here is so difficult and cruel. The book clutched at me the same way the cold and hunger clutched at Ava and Callum. Late in my reading I discovered Brown was also the author of another book I read recently: The River of Kings. (See a previous comment)

Danger and destruction is a hallmark of this kind of fiction. If you like dark, this may well be the read for you. Think Cormac McCarthy and you will have an idea of what is in store for you as you read this book. It has been well-reviewed and recognized by Independent Booksellers.


The Snow Leopard
Author: Peter Matthiessen
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2008 (1978)
Genre: Nonfiction/ scientific log/travel
Paperback Edition with Introduction by Pico Iyer, and maps, 316 pages
Source: Personal copy

This summer I am reading Peter Matthiessen’s classic nonfiction The Snow Leopard, first published in 1978 and winner that year of the National Book Award. I have been a fan of his fiction for a number of years. I was especially taken with his trilogy set in southwest Florida in its early years of white settlement. The three titles Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone were revised by Matthiessen and republished not many years ago under the title Shadow Country. The Snow Leopard is quite a different book and because it is so well known, I have long meant to read it. Now I am deep into this log of a climb in the Himalayas.

In this telling of a search in the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and possibly glimpse the rare snow leopard, the reader climbs and climbs, trekking through rock and slush with wet sore feet. Little remains dry. The Tamangs go barefoot so their sneakers may be sold later. At the point I now find the group, the clouds lift revealing a place to camp at 12,500 feet. There are ever more heights to climb.

There is constant description of the terrain, always stunning. There are maps and I am surprised to learn of the many groups of different peoples who are part of the expedition. As they trek, they are accompanied by skilled mountaineering Sherpas, porters, Tamangs, hill people of Mongol origins, Tibetians, Gurangs and Magars, also inhabitants of Nepal from ancient times. How these peoples fit together and the parts they play in the journey this reader is still learning. It can be as confusing as the sentence in which they are listed. But among other things, I read to find out more about them. The intrepid, stern and decisive George Schaller, an eminent field biologist and apparently a long-time acquaintance of Matthiessen, leads the pilgrimage.

The language may be the most beautiful I have ever read in non-fiction, a constant poem to the people and the region. The opening sentence of the previous day begins thus: “In the clear night, bright stars descend all the way to the horizon, and before dawn, a band of black appears beyond the peaks, as if one could see past earth’s horizon into outer space.” And a bit later “With the first sun rays we come down into still forest of gnarled birch and dark stiff firs. Through light filtered by the straying lichens, a silver bird flies to a cedar, fanning crimsoned wing on sunny bark.” The text is dense but alluring.

I cannot imagine that I will not keep on with the reading. This book promises beauty and suspense. Along the way Matthiessen shares personal information. He died in spring of 2014 and is aptly described as a naturalist and author. I urge you to sample his writings.


Wishing all blog readers a wonderful holiday.

Today we celebrate our great country. We appreciate the beauty of the land and the people. We rise above divisiveness and hate. Together with respect, dignity and kindness toward each other, we can help our country flourish. We have much to be grateful for this day and every day.