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Posts Tagged ‘Andra Watkins’

As good ideas have a tendency to do, this one rose like dumplings in a bubbling pot of chicken stew.

The idea, the Field School Book Group, now aged to perfection, has been meeting and discussing books – and just about everything else – for 30 years!

Our bookish circle of avid readers was a spontaneous outgrowth one evening following a PTA board meeting. Parents and the principal from Field School gathered to tend to the usual business at hand. Chatting over this-and-that afterwards, the idea emerged and we’ve been meeting happily ever after.

While none of us now have children attending Field School, several grandchildren do. A few of our members are former Field teachers and most of our members live close to the school, while several travel a little further afield to attend. Some of us have been members since the beginning and a few of us are relatively new, but, I can honestly say that we all fit in like well-developed characters in a novel and that each member brings me to books I might not otherwise have read and add interesting thoughts and points of view to our discussions.

We’ve read everyone from Noah Chomsky to Judy Blume, and everything from  “Hatchet”  to “The Gold Coast Madame”. We have had the pleasure of hosting a few authors who have joined us in discussions of their books, both as part of our monthly meetings or on a more casual venue (think wine and dinner/coffee cake).

We are, shall I say, a “gabby” bunch and sometimes we talk about the book. Actually, we always talk about the book. When we began, three decades ago, book discussion questions were hard to find. Now, they are as easy as the tap of computer keys and many books have discussion questions in the back of the book.

We occasionally take excursions after reading a book. A tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park followed a reading of Nancy Horan’s “Loving Frank” with lunch at Hemingway’s Bistro.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a tour of the location of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition after reading The Devil and the White City by Erik Larson.

Isn’t the tea candle great? One of longest attending members, Sharon, presented each of us one at our recent January meeting, where we have a very lively discussion of “Mrs. Poe” by Lynn Cullen.

Are you in a book discussion group? What have you read lately?

Amazing authors who have spent time with the Field School Book Group:

Tracey Bianchi https://www.amazon.com/Green-Mama-Guilt-Free-Helping-Planet/dp/0310320364

Andra Watkins http://andrawatkins.com/?wref=bif

Tyra Manning http://tyramanning.com

 

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img_1406Navigating the rough, tumultuous afterlife waters, rails, and hidden corners of Nowhere is, well, it is complicated. Nowhere: a place where suspenseful characters, who have died under questionable circumstances, must complete an assignment in order pass through to the world of the truly dead. So it is in Andra Watkin’s riveting “Hard to Die”, a sequel to her first journey to Nowhere, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, where Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr, finds herself seeking her assignment while circumventing characters even more notorious in the afterlife as they were in real life.

A mix of historical fiction, after-life exploration and spy thriller – this novel is as hard to put down as it for the protagonist, Theo, to die, and it is as riveting as “To Live Forever. . . “ where Meriwether Lewis first appeared. Merry, as he was known by in his time and place, is featured again in this sequel.

Set in the spy and counter-spy intrigue of the 1950’s, Theo becomes entangled with Richard Cox, a former spy turned West Point Cadet, along with a host of other characters, some spies, some otherworldly agents, all who help to keep the pace of this book moving.

The Christmas season is a perfect time for readers to visit ghosts of the past and present – and Andra Watkin’s book is just the book to read as we drift into the longest nights of the year, and it just might be the perfect gift to give or receive.

(Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of Aaron Burr, who killed Alexander Hamilton. Theodosia died at sea. )

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DSCN7096 - Version 2What’s a gal to do when she’s just finished a book, for the second time, whose ending she knows and whose author will be visiting the Cutoff when the very next day dawns?

Well. she sheds a puddle of tears for, though she knows how the story ends, it is the journey that is the protagonist in an adventure that is both funny and sad, painful and celebratory. It is the story that is both physical and personal for the author, and it reminds the reader, perhaps, of one’s own long travelled road; of memories made, bridges crossed, battles fought (some won and some lost), of lessons learned and of those lessons she keeps learning. It brings to home and to heart the value of family and friends, and of those who have cheered us on and had our back along the way.

 “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace”, is the book and the author is none other than the remarkable and gifted Andra Watkins.

Andra’s name often appears in the comment section here on the Cutoff, for which I am grateful. Her name also sometimes appears in the body of a post, especially when one of her books is published, such as last year’s “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, which I wrote about here.

I was delighted when I won an advanced reading copy of Andra’s second book, “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace”.  “Not Without My Father . . . ” is Andra’s memoir of her trek along the Natchez Trace, promoting her first book. It entails how she drafts her father to be her “wingman” on her journey – the angst and pain, frustration and hilarity that occurs along the way. Roy Lee Watkins is bigger than life, a natural storyteller, and a bit of a character, to say the least. The book is the story of her journey along the Trace, as well as their personal journey as father and daughter.

In the book, we also meet her mother, Linda, her friend, Alice, and others; from the innkeepers that provide a nest’s rest, to the National Park workers she meets along the Trace, as Roy sells her book from the trunk of his car and weaves his own tales.

It was in my second reading of Andra’s book, once it was published, that I realized I was mentioned in the acknowledgments, along with a host of other readers, for song suggestions, which are used as chapter heading in the book. What fun it was to discover.

So, in honor of Andra, who will be wending her way to the Cutoff as part of the Chicago leg of her book tour, here’s a little Ray Charles and a lot of hope that she does come back some more, some more, some more, some more . . .

 

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DSCN7010Sun. Glorious sun. It visited me here on the Cutoff. It warmed my bones as it cast its rays over a precarious pile of TBR books, and illustrated the need to chase the dust motes away.

I have been spending time reading Willem Lange, who wrote a favorite story of mine, Favor Johnson, can also be found in Lange’s Tales From the Edge of the Woods. A compilation of  stories from radio broadcasts, “Where Does the Wild Goose Go”, sits on the top of this pile. It has kept company on these bitter, cold days.

Just under Lange’s autobiographical book of essays is a reader’s copy of a book I loved. You will, too.  “Not Without My Father” by Andra Watkins is a companion book to her breakthrough adventure/mystery/ghostly book,  “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”.  I wrote about here.

“Not Without My Father” is about Andra, and her father Roy, an engaging, larger-than-life, storyteller extraordinaire. Roy was Andra’s “wingman” as she hiked the Natchez Trace in 2014. It was a remarkable personal achievement, and an arduous trek, to promote “To Live Forever. . . “.

“Not Without My Father” is their story;  a father and a daughter and their lifelong journey, as well as their very personal adventure along the Natchez Trace.  More information can be found here,

“Half Broke Horses”, midway down the stack, is by Jeannette Walls. It is my book discussion group’s January selection.  Does anyone else cram for their book discussions? Here I am, in the winter of my life, still pulling “all nighters”. I know it will be a lively discussion later this week, but, I do need to get cracking on it. Our little book group has been meeting for 27 years!  We are pre-Oprah – and still going strong. We read Walls’ autobiographical work, “The Glass Castle”, a few years ago. It kept us chatting well into the night. I’m sure we will have a similar discussion with “Half Broke Horses”.

“All The Light We Cannot See”, by Anthony Doer, is on loan from my dear friend, Marilyn, who keeps me challenged with insightful reads.  Highly acclaimed, this is certain to keep me turning the pages; soon. I hope. Have you read it?

There are a few Pulitzer’s on my pile, as well as a biography I brought home from the library; “Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life”, by Susan Hertog. I will need to renew it soon. So it goes with my best intentions – they are forever being renewed. How marvelously convenient it is that library books can be renewed in the middle of the night in the comforts of home.

“The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week)”, is doing its best to hold up two-thirds of the pile. It came home with me last fall when I discovered it in the Morton Arboretum’s gift shop. I was rather intrigued by such a long title, and, of course, it IS about food. I have read a bit of it and can’t wait to take a bigger bite.

Enough, already, about dust motes and the best intentions of this sluggish reader. I think I will pour myself  a cup of some freshly brewed coffee, whose aroma is as intriguing as “The Feast Nearby …”,  and maybe savor an Ethel cookie from the diminishing Christmas stash.

What are you reading? What awaits you on your literary pile? Do you always read what is in your pile of books?

Ethel Cookie on Cup:Saucer

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DSCN4343It wasn’t until I was immersed in the task of writing a short informational piece several years ago for our garden club’s garden walk guidebook that I learned what a trace was. I had heard the word, knew it had something to do with the outdoors, which was mostly a contextual guess. This is my own photo, taken several years ago, of Wild Meadows Trace in Elmhurst, Illinois.

A few taps on the keyboard led me to descriptions and examples and so forth, and I came to know that a trace is a path or trail, worn through time by the passage of animals and/or people. These trails tend to connect places along the way;  settlements, waysides, towns, parks, etc. They are like ink on parchment, tracing places where footfall has landed, connecting the dots of time-worn travel.

It was, with more than mild curiosity, that I embarked on an adventure on the Natchez Trace. It was an adventure filled with bits and bobs of history, a legendary explorer whose courage and skills stretched a young United States from “sea to shining sea“, a precocious little girl fleeing from a pack of thugs to find her beloved father in Nashville, a sinister New Orleans judge with a duplicitous and century bending nature, not to mention a host of characters from the distant past and the book’s 1977 setting,  all along the infamous Natchez Trace.

DSCN4186Andra Watkins has masterfully woven a tale as dense as the forests along the Natchez Trace and as simple as the spirit of a child in her genre bending novel, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”. This is a book that defied me to put it down; which I did, only because I kept veering off the Trace to look up the likes of Hector de Silva, Bear Creek Mound, encampments along the Trace during the War of 1812, governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, John Wilkinson – oh, I could go on and on with the chance encounters and mysterious travelers who appear in this amazing journey of Andra’s. but, I won’t, because if I did, I would rob you of your own pleasure in the reading of  “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, where you will come to know Merry and Em (Meriwether and Emmaline) as you flee with them from New Orleans to the notorious haunts along the Natchez Trace. (I just left this as a review on Goodreads – you might want to click and see what others are saying about this book at Goodreads and Amazon.)

Andra is currently walking the 444 miles of the Natchez Trace, with her own personal cast of characters cheering her on along the way. You can read about her own personal journey here, read back to the beginning of the walk, listen to Andra answer her question of the day along the Trace, browse photos of her along the walk, and, well, get caught up in following Merry and Em’s footsteps in this afterlife journey.

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DSCN4104Good things really do come in small packages.

Case in point. As I motored down our long drive driveway, which currently looks like a luge, I  thought to check the mailbox before turning onto our road. Skidding to a stop, I bounded out the door, up a mini-mound of packed snow left by municipal street plows, leaned down into the mailbox (for the mound is currently higher than the regulation mailbox height) and burrowed in to see what the postman left. There I was, Queen of the Mountain, balancing on two of the only remaining petite portions of my physique, discovering a box, addressed to me. “Oh, goody” says I. I love, Love, LOVE getting packages in the mail.

Tumbling back into my mochamobile, I noticed the name on the return address, Michael Maher, and wondered what my friend’s husband could possibly be sending me. Showing uncharacteristic self control, I set the box and mail on the car seat, and went on my errand packed way.

Home again, I set about seeing what was in the box, still pondering what Michael sent. As soon as the box opened, I  chuckled with childish glee, realizing that the package was from a different Michael Maher, which I would have known first off had I looked at the Charleston address. The box was from the ever-delightful author, Andra Watkins, and she had used a return address of her talented architect husband, more commonly known to readers of Andra’s blog, The Accidental Coochie Mama, as MTM.

My childish glee, however, was over the contents of the box. Penguin sock #2 copy

Some time ago, Andra did a  post displaying a pair of penguin slippers, which I commented on, mentioning my own pair of Mary Jane slippers which are, sad to say, a mismatched set of two left feet.

Yep. That’s me. Two left feet; fitting for someone who is always taking a tumble, like that ill-fated day we went cross-country skiing and I landed in someone’s cup of Campbell’s tomato soup!

Back to the box. There, snuggled inside the box sat none other than the pair of penguin slippers!

But, wait . . . also in the box was the official announcement of the upcoming release of Andra’s novel, which is about to be released in paperback and e-reader, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, which I am most anxious to read.

Friends, I have a stone in my slippers, those of the two left feet, that I mean to rectify asap. While I await deliverance of Meriwether Lewis, which I have just ordered from Amazon, I would like to spend time highlighting a few of you who have also written books, some of which I have sitting right at my elbow and have not yet gotten to. I blame my two left feet and I mean to rectify this as soon as I get my toes sorted out.

In-the-meantime, said toes are cold,  so off I go, to put Nick and Nora (the brand on the soles) on my feet, and to think happy feet thoughts of my friend Andra.

Thanks, Andra – and best of luck as your launch your book and as you soon set out on your trek, walking the 444 mile Natchez Trace, following Meriwether’s footsteps.

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