Category Archives: MY READING QUEST


In case you aren’t familiar with my reading quest, I am currently reading a book written by someone from each state in the United States.

 I read not one, but two books written by Sarah Smarsh from Kansas. Born in rural Kansas, she grew up on farms in small towns. Her family moved frequently and she attended eight schools before reaching ninth grade. Attending the University of Kansas, she received her MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University (not a small feat!).



This is not only a powerful but a very relevant book. As Smarsh says “You can go a very long time in the country without being seen.” 

Born into a family of farmers, she traces her family through five generations of teenage pregnancies – her mother was just 17 when Sarah was born.

During her childhood, in the 1980’s, family farms were going under – sometimes a victim of foreclosure, but also often the growth of giant agribusinesses. Her father began taking any job he could get, roofing, driving semi trucks and even disposing of poisonous industrial chemicals – one that almost killed him, resuting in years of debilitating psychosis.

The family was living below the poverty line, while at the same time considering themselves middle class. She writes:

“That we could live on a patch of Kansas dirt with a tub of Crisco lard and a $1 rebate coupon in an envelope on the kitchen counter and call ourselves middle class was at once a triumph of contentedness and a sad comment on our country’s lack of awareness about its own economic structure. Class didn’t exist in a democracy like ours, as far as most Americans were concerned, at least not as a destiny or an excuse. You got what you worked for, we believed. There was some truth to that. But it was not the whole truth.”

If there is an underlying question that begs to be answered, it is how did Smarsh get out?

How did a member of the sixth generation end up with a graduate degree from Columbia, a down payment for a house, and a memoir that is nominated for the National Book Award?  There is no single answer, even she doesn’t know if herself. She suggests she had supportive male role models – her father and grandfather – in a family where many women were prey to dangerous men. She abstained from teenage pregnancy – but she was talented and worked hard. Going to the University of Kansas on a merit scholarship, she also had three jobs lined up – this is the only thing that made college possible for her.

Is it a rebuttal to Hillbilly Elegy?  Could be, because she proves that poverty is not the result of laziness and bad choices, and the American Dream is not always possible for even those that work hard. 

Not a political book, she does point out most of her family are Republicans, which for them is a matter of pride, even if it means they are voting against their best interests. 

“People on welfare were presumed ‘lazy’, and for us there was no more hurtful word.”

When she is admitted to college on a federally funded program for minority, first-generation, and low income students, she found the handful of those in the program called themselves “White Trash Scholars”.

This is not a sentimental book, but she makes a powerful point that much of the “American World” has taught them they are disposable.


It seems as if the second book would be a perfect fit, but actually I read this book first. 

SHE COME BY IT NATURAL, Dolly Parton AND THE WOMEN WHO LIVED HER SONGS – While Sarah Smarsh was growing up in poverty, she heard songs by country female artists  telling powerful stories of life, hard times and surviving. It was a language among the women – and no one said it clearer for them than Dolly.

This was originally published in a four-part series for THE JOURNAL OF ROOTS MUSIC. Smarsh feels Dolly’s songs have validated women who are invisible – the “trailer trash” women who are struggling. Dolly began singing on the front porch of her family home,  achieving stardom in Nashville – a world managed by powerful men. Along the way, she managed to found both a self-made business and philanthropy empire, in her own terms. Go Dolly!



Dodge City is the REAL Windy City in the US – average wind speed is 14 MPH

Kansas really is as flat as a pancake as it was compared topographically to an IHOP pancake.

White Castle – the first hamburger chain was started here. Weirdly, there are no White Castles in Kansas at this time.

The amount of wheat grown here would stretch all the way to the Pacific Ocean from Kansas.

The helicopter was invented in Kansas.


Next I travel to Kentucky and then Louisianna – and I have my books picked out for these states. But then I travel to the “M” states (of which there are eight!).

If you have requests for the authors from the remaining states – let me know!







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My reading quest is to read a book by an author from each state and I have made it to Illinois! 

The book was Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I loved this book so much I read it twice!!!! I would give grudgingly give this book five stars! and that is because I’d give it 500 stars is I could!

It has been described as a nostalgic “autobiographical fantasy”.  Bradbury has recreated childhood memories of his hometown, Waukegan, Illinois, known in the book at Green Town.

Set during the summer of 1928, the main character is Douglas Stratton.  The title refers to a wine made with dandelion petals by Douglas’s grandfather, and refers to packing all the joys of summer into one bottle (or one book).A series of short stories, they are loosely connected with Douglas and his family as recurring characters. In fact, many of the chapters were published as individual short stories between 1946-1957.  While the plots are realistic, there is a touch of fantasy and magic  along the way!

Some of the wonderful things that appear in the book are:

  • When Douglas goes with his father and brother to pick fox grapes, he comes to the realization that he is alive and finds it “glorious”.

 “I’m ALIVE. Thinking about it, noticing it, is new. You do things and don’t watch. Then all of a sudden you look and see what you’re doing and it’s the first time, really”.

  • A neighbor attempts to make a “happiness machine” in his garage.
  • Douglas and his brother meet a living “Time Machine”, a 90+ Colonel who lived in the Old West, during the Civil War for starters.
  • A serial killer on the loose in the town is referred to as “The Lonely One.
  • While at an amusement park, the boys get fortunes from a mechanical Tarot Witch, believing they have been given special fortunes in invisible ink.

The book is full of magic!!!

Ray Bradbury said that Douglas is based on himself. In fact, “Douglas” was his middle name, and “Spaulding” was his father’s middle name. It is the first book of a trilogy continuing with SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and FAREWELL SUMMER.

In 1972, the Apollo 15 astronauts named a moon crater “Dandelion Crater” after this novel!

Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012) wrote in many genres, but his most famous books are probably Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles.  

I love to include facts about each state too – so here are some facts about Illinois:

  • The first Aquarium opened in Chicago in 1893
  • Metropolis, the home of Superman, is located in Southern Illinois.
  • Illinois was the first state for ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
  • Des  Plaines is the home of the first McDonald’s.
  • President Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois.
  • The state dance is the square dance.
  • Illinois has more personalized license plates than any other state. 
  • The Chicago Public Library is the world’s largest public library with a collection of over 2 million books (I need to visit it!)

Here are some (what I consider magical) quotes from the book:

  • “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
  • “The first thing you learn in life is you’re a fool. The last thing you learn in life is you’re the same fool.
  • “No person ever died that had a family.”
  • “Sunsets are always liked because they only happen once and go away……If the sunset stayed and we got bored, that would be real sadness.”
  • No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now.”

Now I will be reading books by authors from Indiana and Iowa. If you have any favorite authors from those states, let me know!




I am currently on a quest to read a book written by an author from each state. I have finally reached Idaho, reading two books by Idahoan authors (yes, I looked up the word Idahoan!)

First – MOUNTAIN MAN by Vardis Fisher, the book the movie Jeremiah Johnson is  based on. Sam Minard is a hunter/trapper wandering through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.  This book isn’t for the faint of heart, beginning with Sam coming upon a horrific scene of an Indian massacre, where a lone woman is left alive after her three children are murdered and her husband is kidnapped and scalped. Sam builds her a cabin and get word out to other “mountain men” to look out for her. He takes an Indian Wife, and simplifies her name to Lotus. When it is time for him to leave in the winter to trap fur, he leaves her pregnant in the winter (in the comfort of their cabin). He returns to find his family has been slaughtered most likely by the Crowe tribe. This begins a murderous path of vengeance, vowing to kill every member of the tribe that killed his family. Again, this isn’t for the faint of heart.

Then I found another book that is probably stylistically on the other end of the spectrum! Echoes from the Hills of Idaho by Ruth Butler. This is the humorous, tragic and folksy memoir of Ruth, a girl who lived the first few years of her life on a thousand acre dry farm, which was near the Grand Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone Park was only a few miles away. Surrounded by the grandeur and beauty of the area, she also lived in a loving family. Her heartfelt stories are of growing up during the twenties and thirties. Complete with pictures, it is an endearing memoir and this childhood must have ignited a sense of adventure in Ruth because  she worked as an airplane mechanic in WWII, raised a family in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and traveled America solo in her motorhome after retirement. She wrote this book in her 90’s and even though she is in now in a wheelchair and suffers from glaucoma, she writes every days, writing her third memoir!



Idaho is called the “Gem State”, because nearly every known type of gemstone has been found in Idaho. 

Idaho is one of only two places in the world where star garnets are mined in significant quantities (the other place is India).

Idaho’s state capital building is the only one in the United States that is heated by geothermal water. 

Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls, drops 52 feet further than Niagara Falls

Known for potatoes, Idaho produces one-third of the potatoes grown in the U.S. (it also produces the most lentils).

Hells Canyon, (in the Western portion of the state) is 7,993 feet deep, making it the deepest river gorge in North America (The Grand Canyon is only about 6,000 fee deep).

The state seal of Idaho was designed by Emma Edwards Green, making this the only state seal that was designed by a woman. (The state seal is used in the flag too).

Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition as an intrepreter was born here (and so was Sarah Palin, but we’ll forgive that).

The Salmon River is the longest free-flowing river that flows within a single state.

63% of Idaho is public land

The capital city of Boise was named when French-Canadian trappers arrived in the early 1800s and were so relieved to see the forest and river that they exclaimed “Les bois! Les bois!” (“The trees”)

In 2004, the mayor of Wallace, Idaho, a town with a population under 800 people declared the town as the Center Of The Universe, complete with a manhole cover painted to mark the site.

The Boise State University  Broncos play on the only blue football field in the world, known as The Smurf Turf!

This football field is also immortalized in Matthew (my art isn’t for everyone) Barney’s Cremaster series (and Barney grew up in Idaho too.)

There are more than 3,100 miles of rivers in Idaho, more than anywhere else in the US!

Napoleon Dynamite lived in Preston, Idaho – in fact they whole a Napoleon Dynamite festival every summer. 

If you know of other authors that are FROM Idaho, let me know!

Next, I will be traveling (by book of course) to Illinois (Ray Bradbury, Indiana (Kurt Vonnegut) and then Iowa (Bill Bryson)!


No, my quest (at this time) is not to visit the entire United States, but it is to read the United States. So join me  in my journey across the nation as I read a book by an author from each state. Today I am visiting Hawaii – and the book I chose was The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. When I saw the movie, I knew I had to read the book!


This was originally published as a short story (The Minor Wars” from the book House of Thieves).  The main character is Matt King, a descendant of Hawaiian Royalty and American missionaries, sounds like aperfect life. But, his luck has changed. His wife, Joanie, is in an irreversible coma, following a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support.

But, before this happens, he wants everybody to have the chance to say goodbye to her, and in contacting everyone he finds she was having an affair with a real-estate broker. Is this the person that the apparent adrenaline junkie Joanie ever truly loved? To make matters worse, his cousins are pressuring him to sell the valuable landholdings for development, which to him would be the last link to their past of their native Hawaiian ancestry.

All of this compels Matt to travel, and reconnect, with his two daughters – smart mouthed 10-year old Scottie and 17-year old Alex, a former model and also fresh from rehab. They go from Oahu to Kauai to find Brian Speer, the real estate broker Joanie was having an affair with.

Sounds pretty terrible – right? However, this DEBUT gentle novel is also funny. You can read it in a day. Frankly, I was sorry for it to end. I actually downloaded the book of short stories this originally came from. One interesting fact in the book, the daughter Scotty is sporting a George Clooney t-shirt – remember, he played Matt in the movie.

Here are some interesting facts about Hawaii:

The word Hawaii is from the Polynesian word hawaiki which means “face of the god” or homeland.

Hawaii is the only state that is not geographically located in North America. It is the only state that is surrounded by water and it does not have a straight line in it’s boundaries.

Because Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, he is the only president from outside the continental United States (oh yea, he was born in Kenya).

Hawaii is the only state to have increasing land area. Why? volcanic eruptions.

No other state grows coffee or has tropical rainforests.

The astronauts trained for the moon voyages by walking on Mauna Loa’s lava fields.

Hawaii is the only state to honor a monarch, celebrating King Kamahameha Day since 1872.

Hawaii 5-0 was the longest running police drama until Law and Order (shocking, I know). While the show was, and is,  about the state police department, Hawaii doesn’t have a state police department .

The hula was originally a form of worship performed by men.

Surfing, or as it is known in Hawaiian, heenalu, was invented thousands of years ago by the Polynesians, who first settled Hawaii.

My next stop is Idaho!

Is there anybody else doing any kind of quest?






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






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!!!! 



I declared a quest several month back – I am reading a book by an author from each state – alphabetically of course  (you can read about my quest here).  For my selection from California, I chose John Steinbeck;  the book – Travels with Charley In Search for America.


In 1960, at the age of 58, John Steinbeck bought a truck, modified it with a camper, and drove across the United States with his  10 year old “blue” standard poodle Charley. He named the truck Rocinante, Don Quixote’s horse. According to his son, Steinbeck wanted to know what Americans were like, after all, he’d been writing about America for decades.

Starting off in Long Island, he travels up to Maine and then over to the Pacific Northwest, down into his native Salinas Valley in California, over to Texas, to New Orleans and back, covering nearly 10,000 miles. In a 50th anniversary of the book, the introduction stated:

“it would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist.”


I don’t want to recount his entire journey, I want you to discover it yourself.  At times it is comical, as when he tried to pass into Canada and couldn’t because Charley didn’t have the proper identification.

Steinbeck made it clear he found wastefulness and technology pervasive in America. He developed a fascination with mobile homes, which allowed American’s to pick up and leave. And, he felt the government made the “people” feel small, the government just didn’t care.

Here are some quick facts about John Steinbeck:

  • Born in 1902 in Salinas California, living there most of his life, but later moved to New York City and Lake Tahoe
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath in 1939
  • Won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962
  • Worked as a correspondence in WWII and injured in North Africa returning home in 1944
  • He had a very left wing political leaning, attending strikes and meetings of workers unions
  • Stood up for Arthur Miller during the “House Un-American Committee” trials
  • Traveled to Russia many times and he felt it made him an FBI target (which they continue to deny)

Here are some quotes from Travels with Charley:

  • “I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”
  • “A sad soul can kill  you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
  • “I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”
  • “we value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.”
  • “A journey is like a marriage, the certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
  • “There are two kinds of people in the world, observers and non-observers.”
  • “I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.”
  • “I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments.”

john-steinbeck-rocinante-camperThere has been much written about the book being primarily fiction, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that he only apparently spent a handful of nights in his truck, that his wife met him along the way several times  – I just didn’t care. I still enjoyed reading it.

Oh – I admit it – I had to make sure Charley made it through the book prior to reading it. I enjoyed it so much, I now have Cannery Row sitting in my stack to read!

Just so you know- Salinas, California, Steinbeck’s birthplace is known at the “Salad Bowl of the World” – over 30% of all the lettuce in the world is grown there. Throw that little tidbit out at your next cocktail party!

Now, on to Colorado!



This is my fourth installment in  my QUEST – I’m reading a book by an author from each state (alphabettically)  For the state of Arkansas,  I chose I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS  by Maya Angelou (published 1969).

It follows Maya, from age 3 to age 17 ending with the birth of her son.

After the divorce of her parents, Maya, at the age of three,  and her older brother, Bailey, are sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. Calling her Momma, she owns the only store in the black section of Stamps. Struggling with feelings of rejection, Maya also believes she is an ugly child that will never measure up to the white girls, and doesn’t feel equal to the black children in Stamps. 

The children move to St. Louis to be with their mother. It is here that Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After being acquitted in court, he is murdered.

Returning to Stamps, Maya is introduced to an educated  woman, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, who encourages her to read and gives her books of literature and poetry.

There are several instances along the way that show how insidious racism can be. Her mother sends her and Bailey to live in San Francisco. Here she studies drama and dance and becomes the first Black female conductor in San Franciso.  Visiting her father in Southern California, she drives a car for the first time (she has to get her drunk father home from Mexico), leaves after a fight with her father’s girlfriend and ends up living in a junkyard with other kids.

I recommend this book – I feel it is time well spent. There is much more in the book than what I mentioned here!

Maya Angelous was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4th , 1928. She published seven autobiographies, several books of poetry, and was awarded more than 50 honorary derees. She worked as a cook, prostitute, nightclub singer and a journalist in Egypt.  Other interesting facts about her:

She wrote Hallmark greeting cards

She loved Law and Order

She wrote a couple of cookbooks

She danced in a touring company of Porgy and Bess in the 50’s

She was a guest on Sesame Street

A lover of country music, she said she was “seriously affected by the breakup of Brooks and Dunn”

Won three Grammy awards

Fluent in six languages; English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and West African Fante

First African-American female of the Directors Guild of America

Appeared in the television mini-series Roots

Appointed to the Bicentennial Commission by President Gerald Ford

Recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s innaguration, only the 2nd poet to participate in an innaguration (Robert Frost read in 1961)

Received the National Medal for Arts in 2000

She died May 28, 2014.

Some facts about Arkansas:

 The mockingbird is the state bird

The square dance in the state dance

Milk is the state beverage

The fiddle is the state instrument

The honeybee is the state insect

The state tree is the southern pine

It is illegal to mis-pronouse the state name – it is Ar-Kan-Saw

The only active diamond mine in the US is located in Arkansas

Well, my next stop on my quest will be California!  Any suggestions for a writer from California??



This is the third installment in my quest, which is to read a book by an author from each state!  This selection is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells. glasscastleJeannette Wells was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1960.  The daughter of Rex and Rose Mary, she lived a nomadic life, with a family that was constantly doing the “skeedadle” when bills were due. She left home at age 17, moving to New York City and eventually graduated from Barnard with honors. She was the gossip columnist for MSNBC and left in 2007 to pursue writing full time.

The Glass Castle is her memoir of growing up, beginning at age three. Actually, in  the opening of the book she sees her mother digging through a garbage dumpster in lower Manhatten as she retreats to her Park Avenue home. 

The 2nd chapter opens with the line “I was on fire”. That will get your attention. At three years old her favorite pink dress caught fire  as she tried to make herself a hot dog. When they asked her at the hospital why she was cooking, she said “Mom says I’m mature for my age and she lets me cook.”.   Her mother often consumed by finishing her latest painting, she often couldn’t be bothered to cook, why spend the time on something that will be consumed in 15 minutes when she can spend time on a painting that will last forever?   

This is the story of her family  – much of is pure horror. But it is told with love and affection for her nomadic parents. Her father is an alcoholic that often can’t hold a job. He doesn’t trust the government with his money, and is always talking about the “glass castle” they will build when he makes his fortune. Her mother often hoards candy bars when they children have no food. 

The family settles for a time in a mining town in Nevada and she spends much of her time exploring the desert with her brother Brian, while her sister Lori reads. Mom even takes a break from painting and teaches for a bit. But, when there is an altercation with the law, the family is forced to “skedaddle” again.  

Mom has inherited a house from her mother and they move to Phoenix, and they have some stability for awhile. Dad works, but the alcoholism always comes back.  In a touching scene, Jeannette asks her dad to give up drinking for her 10th birthday, which he valiantly tries to do. But, when the car breaks down, and mom decides she needs more adventure, they move to dad’s childhood home in West Virginia. 

West Virginia is terribly depressing. Rex’s mom is abusive and she tries to sexually abuse brother Brian. The town itself is depressing, segregated and impoverished. They buy a shack on a hill – no indoor plumbing or central heating. Dad’s drinking gets worse and the children are often hungry. She and sister Lori plan an to escape to New York, and the girls manage to do it! Brian joins them later (at this point there is a younger sister Maureen). 

Not to give too much away, the parents get a little lonely and follow the children to New York – but they are unwilling to work and instead live as squatters. Maureen doesn’t adjust well and ends up in a mental institution.

Somehow the story is told with genuine love for her parents, and also a sense of adventure in growing up.  This is a well written memoir, a tale of survival that includes near starvation, abuse and poverty, but also of love.  Jeannette current lives in Virginia with her husband, with her mother close by (her father died in 1994).200px-Jeannette_walls_2009

Some local sayings about Arizona:

Arizona looks like a battle on Mars.

Welcome to Arizona, where summer spends the winter – and hell spends the summer.

You know you are from Arizona when you feed your chickens ice cubes to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.


Copper is the most abundant mineral

The bola tie is the official state neckwear

Petrified wood is the official state fossil

Turquoise is the official state gemstone

The saguaro cactus blossom is the official state flower

The saguaro is the largest American cactus

Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon

Arizona observes Mountain Standard time year round – except in the Navajo Nation

Frank Lloyd Wrights studio Tallesin West was built near Phoenix

Arizona has the most land set aside and designated as Indian lands

Next – I will be reading from Arkansas!