I declared a reading quest last year of reading a book by an author from each state. This selection is for Delaware and I chose a young adult book A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD by  Lisa Ann Sandell. I liked it so much, I read the first book the author wrote – written entirely in verse which is no small feat – THE WEIGHT OF THE SKY.


A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD is the story of Cora Bradley beginning high school dealing with the death of her older brother the year prior in a car crash. She feels as if everybody thinks of her as “girl whose brother died”. Her best friend Rachel supports her, but Rachel is becoming more interested in boys and popularity. Her father retreats to his study every night and her mom is crazy overprotective.

But, Cora has her art. She is placed in an advanced art class with a new teacher that never knew her brother Nate. It is in this class she connects with Damian, who was in the accident with her brother. Her parent blame him for the accident but Cora is drawn to him, partially because she wants to learn more about her brother.

Damian shows Cora a secret place where he and her brother were creating their own artwork. Cora starts believing in her artistic abilities and begins a series of artworks based on maps of places that meant something to her and her brother.

It is a sweet story and perfect for young girls. While the secondary characters are not totally fleshed out, you feel Cora’s despair. The portrayal of high school is a little dramatic, but confusion around first kisses feels real. She is trying to find her own way while carving out a little independence. This is the story of an ordinary girl with an artistic talent and vision. She worries about popularity, friendship and love – what any teenage girl does! The resolution at the end seems a little “tidy”, I saw it coming, but I didn’t see another way around it.

By the way, my sister in law was visiting and took this book to send to her grand-daughter who lives in Israel!

Here are some quotes from the book I thought I’d share:

“I wish I could say we all lived happily ever after. I can’t. But I can say we lived. .”

“Nate’s journey ended too early, and I thought I had to run away to some far-off land to start mine. But, for now, it seems to me that I have enough to explore right here. There’s a whole continent to discover in myself, and I know that it’s love – love for my parents, my friends, my brother, and my art – that will guide me. Love will be my map.”

THE WEIGHT OF THE SKY was the first book by author Lisa Ann Sandell. It tells the story of 16 year old Sarah who spends the summer working on an Israeli kibbutz. She is from a small American town and is the only Jewish girl in her class.  She considers herself a dork, but the trip to Israel is a transformational experience for her. Written entirely in verse. it was named one of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

I always like to include some facts about the state, so here goes some interesting facts about Delaware.

Delaware was the first state to ratify the federal Constitution, becoming the first state in the union.

It is the second smallest state with only 1,955 square miles.

Delaware if the lowest state, with the altitude about 60 feet above seawater.

There are only three counties in Delaware.

Delaware is the only state without a National Park.

There are more doctoral-level (PhD) scientists and engineers, as a percentage, than any other state.

It is the home of the first tractor made by John Deere.

The state legislature pasted the nation’s first Coastal Zone Act in 1971, barring companies that pollute.

Delaware is one of five states that have no sales tax.

If you have any ideas of what to read as I complete the quest, let me know. I have a fairly fluid partial list of states going forward.  Here is my tentative ideas (in no particular order).

Florida – I found most writers associated with Florida are not from there. I settled on a book by Padgett Powell, who teaches at the University of Florida. I also read a children’s book about Charlie Pierce, who grew up in the jungles of South Florida, arriving there in 1872.

Georgia – I’m reading a book of short stories by Mary Hood, that is on the Dekalb Library’s (where i live) list of books every Georgian should read. (A forward by Pat Conroy was the clencher).

Hawaii – The Descendants

Idaho – a book by Vardis Fisher

Iowa – Bill Bryson

Missouri – Mark Twain

North Carolina – Reynolds Price

South Carolina – Pat Conroy (even though he was born in Atlanta, he is so associated with South Carolina and has always been a favorite of mine, I might make an exception).

Michigan – Edna Ferber

Minnesota – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Louisianna – Walter Percy

I’ll take suggestions!





I am currently reading a book from an author from each state  (read about my quest here)- and the most recent state I visit is Florida. Interestingly, many writers you associate with Florida are not actually from there. Because I lived in Miami for three years (and one month and 12 days, but who’s counting?), I wanted to read something written by an actual Floridian. I read two books, a children’s book, and a book that is a collection of op-ed columns from the Miami Herald.



THE AMERICAN JUNGLE, The Adventures of Charlie Pierce by Harvey E. Oyer III: This is the first book in a trilogy based on Charlie Pierce, written by his great grand nephew. Luckily for us, Charlie Pierce kept extensive diaries! His family were pioneer settlers in South Florida arriving in 1872, one of the first non-Native Americans to settle there. In fact, his sister Lillie was the first while child born between Jupiter and Miami (hard to believe since there are over 6 million people there now).  Not only do they survive a hurricane living in primitive conditions, but they planted salvaged coconuts from a Spanish shipwreck in 1878 resulting in the coconut palms that provided Palm Beach it’s name. If you are interested in the early history of South Florida, pick up this book!



DANCE OF THE REPITILES: Rampaging Tourists, Marauding Pythons, Larcenous Legislators, Crazed Celebrities and Tar Balled Beaches by Carl Hiaasen:  I have long been a fan of Carl Hiaasen and thought I’d read all his books. But I must admit I was delighted when I found this book containing almost 400 pages of his op-ed columns from the Miami Herald! Carl is a native Floridian (born in Plantation) and has been working for the Miami Herald since 1976, having his own column since 1985. If you have read Carl Hiaasen before and wondered where he comes up with the crazy stories and eccentric characters, look no further, they come from real life, as you can see in these pages! Plus, how could I ignore any book with such a great title?

You can see him being interviewed about it on 60 Minutes:

Yes, according to the world of Carl, truth is stranger in many cases than fiction. The title refers to not only actual reptiles (as in pythons and alligators), but also refers to corrupt lobbyists, politicians, developers and of course the tourists! The essays are backed up by actual facts.

Some of the topics he tackles are:

  • haul off the crazy tourists to tourist court and let the jurors consist of people from the hospitality industry.
  • The idiotic idea by tourist boat captains to feed sharks.
  • Closing major freeways for days from 9a-3p for the filming on a second rate film (Interestingly, the most profitable movie filmed in Florida was Deep Throat).
  • 144,000 pythons are imported each year into the U.S. , with many being dumped  (in the Everglades or course) – and their natural enemies are tigers and jaguars (which are not being imported into Florida that I know of).
  • Gator Panic, people shooting the alligators as we (humans) have invaded their habitation -even though only about 17 people have been killed in Florida since 1948!
  • Manatees reclassified (or downgraded) as threatened (from endangered) because there are now over 3000 of them now.  Whoopee!  a whopping 3000 (with approximately 10% killed by humans annually)  Why?  Developers want to build docks where the manatees like to frolic, and the boaters (and the boating industry) are tired of having to slow down!
  • Dolphins being hit by boats because humans started feeding them for fun (which is illegal, but who’s watching?)
  • The amount of land being encroached by developers, and how the Everglades are being slowly drained.

He also writes about national news, from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Vice-President Cheney, The NRA, The Iraq War, and Florida’s stand your ground law.

He is angry about what is happening to the environment. He is angry about government corruption, about greed, and ignorance (and the Bush administration).

He also loves Florida. Liberals will love this book, conservatives, not so much.


It is the third most populous state.

St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in North America.

Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous US.

It is the flattest state in the US (mean elevation is 100 feet).

It is the only state with an “embassy” in Washington (Florida House).

There are two rivers with the same name – Withlacoochee – and they have nothing in common but the name.

It is the largest producer of citrus fruits in the US, 2nd in the world.

Gatorade was named for the University of Florida’s Gator.

Key West has the highest average temperature of any city in the US.

Miami is the only  metropolitan city in the US that borders on two national parks, The Everglades to the west and Biscayne Naitonal Park to the east.

Florida has more golf courses than any other state.

The Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist.

You are never more than 60 miles from a beach in Florida.

Clearwater has more lightening strikes per capita in the US.

It is illegal for unmarried women to parachute on Sundays.

Key West has more bars per capita than any other place in the US.

There are more crazy facts about Florida, but with all the eccentricities, I still love it!

Next up, I’m traveling to Georgia. Oh wait, I live here!

You can see past posts regarding my quest below:

Alabama – Truman Capote

Alaska – Heather Lendt

Arkansas – Maya Angelou

Arizona by Jeannette Walls

Colorado by Kent Haruf

Conneticut by Sloan Wilson

Delaware by Lisa Ann Sandell






My reading in February included a spy novel, a graphic novel based on the life of possibly the first person that was famous for being famous, two books I read for my quest of reading an author from each state, a classic children’s book the author didn’t allow the sequel filmed after hating the the film based on this book, and more.


THE ENGLISH SPY by Daniel Silva – I love this series of books, based on secret agent Gabriel Allon – world class art restorer by day, assassin and spy by night. Gabriel’s wife Chiara is pregnant with twins and he is going to become the head of “The Office”. But, he is called into service again to track down the Irish bomb maker Eamon Quinn, who has killed around the world, with his most recent victim a royal princess aboard a private yacht (seemed like shades of Diana). He recruits previously seen character Christopher Keller and the story moves between  Moscow, Vienna, Hamburg, London and Belfast. It is fast and exciting, and you don’t need to read any previous Gabriel Allon books to enjoy this one!  An aside Daniel Silva is married to reporter Jamie Gangel, previously of The Today Show and now CNN.


A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD by Lisa Ann Sandell  – I am on a quest to read a book by an author from each state, and this is my selection for Delaware. I enjoyed it so much, I read another book by this author, THE WEIGHT OF THE SKY – which was this author’s first novel and written entirely in verse. These will be discussed in another blog devoted to my quest, but I want to mention, these are both Young Adult novels about finding your way, your home and your heart.


KIKI DE MONTPARNASSE by Catel Muller and Jose-Luis Bocquet – A graphic novel, it is based on the life of Alice Prin. Alice was born in 1901 in rural france and raised by her Grandmother. She was sent to Paris at age 12 and was caught modeling nude by her mother, she was kicked out and began living on the streets. The book focuses on the wild bohemian lifestyle in Paris after WWI. She befriends artists such as Picasso, Calder and lived with Man Ray for several years.  In fact, the cover of the book is based on a famous photograph by Man Ray of her (see below based on the photography Le Violon D’Ingres). She became known as Kiki, and became known as the Queen of Montparnasse. It is a riveting story, and I must admit, I read it as research for another blog series I am writing about women in art. Kiki dabbled in everything from painting a little (and having a sold out show) to singing bawdy songs in nightclubs, to abusing alcohol and drugs. Sadly, she became a shell of herself and died at the age of 52. This was fun to read, and  even though it is a graphic novel, IT IS NOT FOR CHILDREN!


DELIVERING HAPPINESS: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh – Tony is the CEO of Zappos – and this book chronicles the rise of the company to $1 billion sales a year. Beginning with Tony’s life and his history of entrepeneurship it is a mostly fun read. He explains the importance of corporate culture and why customer service is something for the entire company, not just a department. (They will pay an employee $2000 to quit if they don’t fit.)  Zappos has been named one of the Fortune magazine’s top 25 companies to work for. While employee growth is encouraged, so is playing hard together. In another younger life, I would have loved to work at a place like this, but I’ve worked too long to want to work with the seemingly fraternity atmosphere (to me anyway).

THE TEMPEST TALES by Walter Mosely – This book was chosen by a book club to read in honor of Black History Month, and I am so thankful I was introduced to this book. For a book of only 165 pages, it packs a moral punch like I’ve never read before. Tempest is “accidentally” shot by the police and sent to the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter condemns him to hell. Tempest refuses to go explaining that as a black man living in Harlem, many of his choices were made for his survival and for his friends and family. He ends up back on earth with a black guardian angel. The pace if fast and often funny.When a white man shows up – Basel Bob (get it? aka Beezelbub) the dialogue and the exchanges turn almost devilish as they begin making deals for hell, heaven and life on earth.  I will read more of Walter Mosely – he did after all create the character of Easy Rawlins!

CHARLIES AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl  – written in 1964, it is the adventures of Charlie Bucket and his tour of the chocolate factory led by Willy Wonka.  I found this was inspired by Dahl’s experience with chocolate factories in his childhood. Cadbury sent packages to schoolchildren and asked for their opinions (around 1920). Apparently the largest chocolate factories at the time sent spies into other factories. I want to read the sequel – CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR, which has never been made into a film. Story goes, Dahl was so disappointed in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he refused to have the film version of this book made.

Let me know what you think – leave me a comment! March reading has another morality story, as well as a famous horror story that was written by an 18-year old!



I declared a quest back in 2014 to read a book by an author from each state, so here is what I read for Connecticut (the 7th installment)

p552_p_v8_aa The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – the title conjures up so much – the life of the uninspired doing undistinguished things. But, it this our hero Tom Rath?

Tom has a beautiful wife, three kids, a house in the New York suburbs and a good job with a future. Getting off the 5:30 train, he arrives home for a cold martini and a meal from his wife. He is even about to inherit a mansion on Long Island from his wealthy grandmother. Is this the perfect life? Apparently not, because neither Tom, or his wife Betsey, are remotely happy. 

His wife finds him emotionally distant since returning from World War II, his kids are spoiled and the mansion he is inheriting from his grandmother is more than a fixer-upper, it is bogged down with zoning problems and lawsuits. The great job he has in New York is a total bore.

See, Tom suffers from PTSD, (a phrase not known until the late 1970’s);  he killed 17 men, including his best friend and now he finds out he fathered and left a child in Italy. Sloan Wilson himself talked about moral ambiguities as stated below:

“there was considerable irony in the fact that he had been highly praised for killing seventeen men during the war, but was in peril of disgrace for fathering one son.”

So, is Tom going to open up to his wife, is he going to be honest or suffocate in his past?

By today’s standards, the book seems a little sentimental and a little dated. But, the writing is sharp and the heart of the book still resonates today (and Sloan Wilson likes happy endings).

Sloan Wilson graduated from Harvard University in 1942 and served in World War II as an officer of the Coast Guard. He worked as a reporter for Time-Life and was a professor at the State University of New York’s University of Buffalo. Success made him wealthy, and as I mentioned previously, he struggled with alcoholism and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He spent several years living on a boat in Virginia and also off Virginia Key near Coconut Grove, Florida.

He also wrote the classic A SUMMER PLACE, which I also read. I’m not going to discuss it here, but I will say, the movie made in 1959 is a pale portrait of the book.

UnknownHere are some fun and interesting facts about Connecticut

  • The name comes from a Mohegan Indian word for “long river place” or “beside the long tidal river”
  • called the “nutmeg state” because residents were ingenious enough to sell wooden carved nutmegs disguised as real ones in colonial America, as nutmeg was very valuable at that time.
  • Connecticut had two capitals from 1703 to 1875 – Hartford and New Haven.
  • The first revolver was produced here in 1836.
  • The first portable typewriter was produced in 1843.
  • The first automobile law was passed in 1901 with an astounding speed limit set at 12 mph! 
  • “The Hartford Courant” is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States (since 1764.
  • The oldest public library in the US is in Connecticut.
  • The first pay phone in the United States was established here in 1877.
  • The Polaroid camera was developed here.
  • Because candy was too large for a child’s mouth, George Smith (of course, from Connecticut) put the candy on a stick and named it after a racehorse, thus the Lolly Pop was born.
  • Famous sons and daughters include Ethan Allan, P.T. Barnum, Charles Goodyear, Katherine Hepburn,  Noah Webster, among others.

Next up is Delaware, I have chosen books through Hawaii, so I’m back in the saddle of my quest!!!

Any suggestions for Idaho? I have a book chosen for Iowa, Louisianna, Missouri and North Carolina – random isn’t it?





To say I’m behind is an understatement. I have some catching up to do. In the past three months I read some crime stories, an older classic children’s book, a Russian novel, Science Fiction and my new standby Sherlock for starters!  So – here goes!

FATAL EMBRACE, THE INSIDE STORY OF THE THOMAS CAPANO/ANNE MARIE FAHEY MURDER CASE by Cris Barrish – I originally started this book as part of my quest, to read a book by an author from each state. This was originally my book from an author from Delaware – but about halfway through the book, I decided Delaware deserved better. However, this is an unbelievable true story. Thomas Capano was the former deputy attorney general of Delaware, married with children AND the last person seen with Anne Marie Fahey. Her body was never found, however, his brother admitted to helping bury her at sea. Compano  was convicted and actually sentenced to death. This is a fascinating crime story, actually made into a movie starring Mark Harmon and it inspired an episode of Law and Order!

PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf – I read this as part of my quest, this was my selection for Colorado – you can read about it here! I am currently reading the sequel Eventide.

A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway – I read this as a reading group selection. It is important to note, this book was published posthumously in 1964, edited from his manuscripts and notes by his fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway. It consists of Hemingways personal observations of life in Paris in the 1920’s. It is a quick and enjoyable read.

A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD by Lisa Ann Sandell – this is my selection for my quest for the state of Delaware – I will be blogging separately about this book.

THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT by Sloan Wilson – This is my selection for my quest for the state of Conneticut – so I will be blogging separately about this book (I’m behind on blogging about my quest!).

A SUMMER PLACE by Sloan Wilson – I enjoyed the book The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit enough to read another book by Sloan Wilson. The 1959 movie starring Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee is but a sliver of the book.  The book focuses on the lives of teenage loves, Ken and Sylvia, who end up marrying other people and meet up years later. The movie focuses on the children of Ken and Sylvia – Molly and Johnny. The book has a lot more depth and texture than the movie. Both the book and movie were considered controversial in the late 50’s, focusing on  divorce, adultery and sexuality.

BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA by Roland Merullo – this is a delightful little book – considered “spiritual fiction”. It follows Otto Ringling, a food book editor living in New York, who travels to his parents home in Bismark SD to liquidate their estate. He reluctantly agrees to take Volya Rinpoche, a Siberian Monk, with him at the urging of his sister. Along the way, they go to a chocolate factory, go bowling, and attend a baseball game at Wrigley field. Otto begins this journey  as a skeptic, but he slowly gains new perspectives on the world and his life with Rinpoche’s company. There have been two sequels, titled Lunch with Buddha and Dinner with Buddha. It was a sweet and somewhat thought provoking book – I plan on reading the sequels,

FIRST LOVE by Ivan Turgenev – Originally published in 1860, it begins with a 16 year old boy falling in love with a 21 one year old neighbor. The girl, Zinaida, has several other suitors, and the boy, Vladimir, gets in line. However, Vladimir eventually discovers the true object of her affection is his own father, and the last two chapters take a tragic turn. This is a wonderful and beautiful written little gem of a novella – and it is free on Kindle.

THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub – The Post family is spending two weeks in Mallorca to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of Franny and Jim. Franny is a food editor, Jim was recently forced to resign as an editor of a New York Magazine because of an affair with a 23 year old intern. Obviously, their marriage is in trouble. Their daughter Sylvia has recently graduated high school with a goal to lose her virginity. Son Bobby arrives from Florida with his much older girlfriend, Carmen. Then there is Charles, Franny’s best friend, and his husband Lawrence. The book is very well reviewed, but I found it kind of exasperating.

BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter – I love books about movies. Beginning in 1962 in Porta Vergogna, a tiny Italian coastal town, you meet Pasqual who’s family owns the only hotel in town.. There is an American tourist who comes annually to work on his novel for two weeks a year.  A beautiful actress, Dee, arrives from Rome, where she has been filming the movie Cleopatra. It jumps around in time, going to modern day Hollywood with a legendary producer as well as a character that is pitching a movie about the Donner Party. Richard Burton makes an appearance. I found this book entertaining – even though it is almost epic in scope, moving around time and also moving around the world.

A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett – as a child, I loved the movie that starred Shirley Temple. The story line is basically the same, Sara arrives from India to London to go to Miss Minchin’s school, enjoying a life of privilege. All of this changes for her in a classic riches to rags story. Her father is killed and she becomes a beggar and a servant. But Sara is kind and becomes inspirational. The movie ads an entire plot line that doesn’t appear in the book. Surprisingly, Frances Hodgson Burnett also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden!

A STUDY IN SCARLET by Arthur Conan Doyle – I think I need a monthly does of Sherlock these days. This is considered the first Sherlock/Watson pairing. The best part is also when Sherlock begins his deductions to Watson’s amazement, who proclaims “You are wonderful, Holmes!” – you know what? I agree!

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir – the story about this being published is almost as interesting as the book itself. I really loved the book and can’t wait to see the movie!

THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN by Jonas Jonasson – this should be a Wes Anderson film. Nombeko is born in 1961 in Soweto. She becomes imprisoned and ends up as a housecleaner for an incompetent engineer in a research facility working on nuclear bombs. There is an extra bomb and Nombeko excapes to Sweden (along with the bomb) where she meets the twins Holger One and Holger Two, whose father wanted to take down the King of Sweden. The Mossad gets involed, as well as Jimmy Carter and other dignitaries from the time. I could go on about the story, but it sounds crazy when trying to recount it!  Even so,  enjoyed this, but if you want to read only books that are realistic, this isn’t for you. If you like crazy, fantastic stories that somehow make sense, enjoy!

Any suggestions?




Almost exactly a year ago, I declared a quest to read a book by an author from each state (read about it here).  For Colorado at the urging of more than one of my readers, I chose a book by Kent Haruf, a native of Colorado who died in November 2014. The book I chose is  Plainsong, which is the first book of a trilogy.

“This ain’t going to be no goddamn Sunday school picnic” (quote from book)

The book is set in the fictional town of Holt Colorado, located in the eastern plains near Kansas and Nebraska. According to New York Times author Verlyn Klinkenborg, 

“Haruf has made a novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader.”

In fact, the title Plainsong refers to unaccompanied church music that is typically sung in unison.

The book begins with teacher Tom Guthrue. His wife Ella is lying in the guest bedroom for who knows how long. Their sons, Ike and Bobby (9 and 10 years old) watch their mother slowly disappear mentally, until she physically leaves them.

High school student Victoria Roubideaux finds herself pregnant and evicted by her own mother. She turns to Maggie Jones, who is also a teacher. Maggie takes her in, but her senile father frightens Victoria. Maggie turns to the McPheron brothers, elderly gruff unmarried cattle farmers who agree to take her in.  

The book follows these characters from fall until late spring. While the  language is almost minimalistic, it packs a punch. There is heartbreak, grief and anger. But there is also love, humor and  kindness – as well as  beginnings of new lives and new families. The characters are decent, somewhat troubled human beings that are going on with their lives.

I loved this book, and I have the sequel Eventide to read!  While the book is somewhat stark, it steers clear of melodrama and sentiment,  telling the story of characters I deeply cared about.

I was just disappointed to find out Holt Colorado is a fictional town!

Some interesting facts about Colorado:

Is home to the world’s largest rodeo in Denver, The National Western Stock Show

Has the highest suspension bridge in the nation over the Royal Gorge 

Pagosa Springs is the home of the deepest hot spring in the world

Colorado means “colored red” and is known as the Centennial State.

The US federal government owns more than 1/3 of the land in the state.

It contains 75% of the land mass in the US with an altitude over 10,000 feet.

The 13th step of the state-capital building in Denver is one mile above sea level.

There are 52 peaks over 14,000 ft.

“America the Beautiful” was inspired by the view from Pikes Peak

and my favorite fact:

The world famous Read Rocks Amphitheatre is located here – it took 300 million years to create!

Next up – Connecticut. I have to admit, my reading is ahead of my blogging – I had read through Delaware and have made preliminary choices through Hawaii. But – I’ll still take requests!!!!