Book Review: The Blues

Hang on to your cowboy hat for this action-packed contemporary western novel by Susie Drougas.

When Attorney Dusty Rose accepts a wrongful death case, he’s excited that he can combine business with pleasure since the location of the incident is the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon. Together with his private investigator, Mike, who also happens to be Dusty’s riding side-kick, they load up the horse trailer and drive from the greater Seattle area to where the death occurred.

The case involves a couple who had made arrangements with an outfitter to celebrate their anniversary by taking a picnic lunch to the peak of the Eagle Cap. From their base camp, they rode horses as far as they could, but then planned to hike the last 500 feet to the peak. During this stretch of the trip, the woman fell to her instant death. The widowed husband was now suing the outfitter for wrongful death.

On the way to meet the outfitter and investigate the scene, Dusty and Mike stop at a bar for dinner, the only place open at that time of night. They encounter a beautiful young woman, Stevie, and there is an instant attraction between her and Dusty. It’s a regrettable encounter because Dusty already has a wonderful woman in his life, a fellow lawyer, and he instantly regrets his lapse in good judgement. But the damage is done.

The next day Dusty and Mike talk to the outfitter and ride their horses, then hike, to the scene of the accident. Later, they talk to the widowed husband, but are puzzled by the conflicts and inconsistencies of the various stories.

The Blues, a name which refers to a location in the book, is rich in landscape descriptions and of wilderness horseback riding. As a real-life court reporter, the author also exhibits professional knowledge of legal procedures, which add significantly to the realism of the story.

The Blues is the fourth of the Dusty Rose Series. To learn more about the preceding novels and the author, visit

Our First Landfall: The Marquesas

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We had been at sea for 35 days. Except for the day we left San Diego, we hadn’t seen another boat. It had been just the two of us in a world surrounded by endless water. Like a little kid, I asked Bruce when we would “get there,” reach the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

“Oh, probably early Wednesday morning.”

If that happened, I would be impressed with the exactness of his calculations. Without navigation know-how, you can miss an island by days, going right past it. If an island is more than 10 miles away, a small-craft sailor can’t see it. To cross an ocean with no landmarks, using only the stars and sun for navigation, takes skill.

In any event, I had my sights set on Wednesday. I was ready to get there, to set foot on land, take a long walk, and drink something cold. Strangely, I also felt reluctance to again open our lives to others. We’d been in a world of our own and we were comfortable with that.

On Wednesday, as we approached the Marquesas, from miles away we were aware of the islands’ aroma, a tropical arboretum rich with scents of earth tinted with tropical flowers and fruits. We passed north of Ua Nuka before approaching Nuku Hiva, the largest of the twelve Marquesas Islands.

As we neared land, dolphins greeted us with wild cavorting around Impunity’s bow, slicing the water at extraordinary speeds. Our depth sounder was turned on and the dolphins kept setting off the shallow water alarm. We finally turned off the depth sounder since we had plenty of good light to see any obstacles. I stood in the bow, ready to signal Bruce if I saw any coral heads or changes in water color. I had to laugh at the dolphins’ playful antics as they welcomed us to French Polynesia.

Bruce found a place to anchor among other boats in Taiahoe Bay, yachts from the United States, Sweden, New Zealand, France, Zambia in South Africa, Germany, plus a French Navy ship. The rattling of our ground tackle was a welcome sound as the anchor was lowered 28 feet into the bay.

We made it! We’d traveled 3,200 miles in 34 days. This was the first of many landfalls, but probably the most exciting. We’d proven to ourselves that Impunity was sail-worthy. And so were we.

Book Review: The Road We Traveled

Jane Kirkpatrick has written another memorable work of historical fiction, The Road We Traveled, which takes place in the mid-1800’s.

When Tabitha Brown’s son, Orus, returns from the Oregon Territory and announces that the whole extended family should return with him, Tabitha is excited. It’s daunting, but she’s game. But when she learns that he feels she’s too old, too lame to go, she’s incensed.

As it happens, her late husband’s brother, John, comes to visit and the two of them decide to partner and join the Oregon-bound party, despite her son’s objection. Not everyone in the family is happy about leaving their homes, but they succumb to Orus’s insistence. They pack only absolute necessities, leaving their homes, family treasures, and friends.

As the family travels west, together with other Oregon-bound families, they encounter difficulties they never imagined. On foot much of the time to lessen the strain on stock, at times without adequate food and water, they face trials that test their endurance, courage and faith.

When a part of the group hears of an alternate route, a short-cut, they agree to take it, not realizing how difficult it will be. During this period, Tabitha’s real courage is tested as she and John leave the starving families to venture even deeper into the wilderness to seek help.

The Road We Traveled by Jane Kirkpatrick is based on the true character, Tabitha Moffat Brown, a pioneer woman whom the Oregon State Capitol honors as “The Mother of Oregon” for her charitable and compassionate work in Oregon’s early days. The impeccably researched historical novel is rich in setting and the events surrounding the hardships of the Oregon Trail, and the early days of what would become the 33rd state of the Union.

I was delighted when the characters in The Road We Traveled linked with other true characters from Jane Kirkpatrick’s previous novels, such as Letitia Carson (A Light in the Wilderness) and Eliza Spaulding (The Memory Weaver).

I’ve always loved stories of the Oregon Trail. The Road We Traveled stands among the best.

To learn more about the author, visit

Rain! At Last!

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We were hungry for rain. There’s something a little sticky and abrasive about dried salt water. The backs of my legs became tender from the crustiness of it, so when in the cockpit I sat on a towel.

We bathed in salt water, but rinsed in fresh water, but we never felt completely clean. Salt water doesn’t suds with regular soap, but we had learned that Prell Shampoo worked for both hair and body in salt water. The same with laundry—we used Joy detergent for laundry and dishes. Although when doing laundry I used fresh water for the final rinse, our clothes felt a little stiff and didn’t smell as fresh as we’d like. But fresh water is at a premium at sea, too precious to squander on bathing and laundry.

One day, approaching the equator, we had a heavy rain squall. At first we rushed around to take advantage of the abundance of fresh water. After the scuppers and deck were cleaned with the hard-driving rain, Bruce opened the deck plate to fill the water tank. We took showers, letting the rain run off Impunity’s mainsail so we could get a good stream. We washed our hair, and I washed clothes. The deck got a good scrubbing. We exposed the boat’s salt-encrusted bench cushions to the fresh water.

When the rain passed, six hours later, we marveled at our soft skin and hair, at how clean everything felt. Coming from the Northwest, I was used to rain, but I’d never realized how important it would be at sea, and how much comfort rain would bring.

Book Review: Morning Glory

Author Sarah Jio takes her readers to a house boat community on Seattle’s Lake Union. Morning Glory was a fun novel for me as I vicariously revisited Lake Union houseboats and a part of Seattle I know so well.

Ada Santorini tries to find a new life after the tragic death of her husband and young daughter. She rents a furnished houseboat and discovers not only a new lifestyle, but an unsolved mystery that occurred a half-century earlier.

The story toggles in first-person accounts between Ada and a former resident of the houseboat, Penny Wentworth, the young wife of an established artist. Ada is intrigued when she discovers an old wooden chest left by Penny. The chest offers just enough clues to keep Ada on track to unravel the mystery of Penny’s disappearance.

Some residents on Boat Street remember Penny, but they are closed-mouth and avoid the subject when Ada asks. Ada and Penny’s stories come full-circle in a surprising revelation.

Sarah Jio is a best-selling author of several books and an acclaimed journalist of major magazines. For more information about the author, visit

Surrendering our Weapons in The Marquesas

First Landfall: Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas

First Landfall: Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas


Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

At our first landfall, The Marquesas, we had an experience we later laughed about, but which at the time was no laughing matter.

Upon Impunity’s arrival and after clearing customs, we were required to surrender our weapons at the police department, more property called gendarme, since French was the official language. We had brought our weapons on our journey in case we should be accosted by pirates at sea, a very real concern in some areas. Before relinquishing them to the local authorities, Bruce had put trigger locks on both our handguns, his Ruger .357 Magnum and my Smith & Wesson .38 Special. We had been warned to lock the triggers so they couldn’t be used by others. The law is that visitors leave the country with the exact weapons and ammunition they had when entering.

Surrendering our weapons made us nervous, but it was the law and we would comply. Luckily, this was the only location we would be visiting in the in the South Pacific where this action was required.

We found the gendarme, a Marquesan, helpful and friendly. He admired our guns and said French weapons lacked accuracy. He spoke a little English and explained that with a French gun you aim here (he pointed) but it shoots there (he pointed in a different direction). We were given a carbon copy of the form we had signed surrendering our guns and about 100 rounds of ammunition.

Two weeks later, when we prepared to leave The Marquesas, we walked the distance to the gendarme station and presented our receipt to the same fellow who had originally taken our guns. His dark face colored as he said, “Yes, well, the Commissioner would like to talk to you.”

“Is there something wrong?” Bruce asked.

“Oh, no, no. But before I can give you your weapons, the Commissioner has asked to see you.”

Oh boy, what was this all about? We followed his directions to a big concrete building, the Commissioner’s residence and office. We were escorted to a large bare room with only a wooden desk in the middle and a chair behind the desk, where the Commissioner sat, and two wooden chairs in front of the desk. A huge ceiling fan slowly rotated above his desk. Tall, shuttered windows lined the outside wall. For some reason, the movie Casablanca popped into my mind.

The Commissioner rose, warmly greeted us and invited us to sit. He could speak very little English and what little he could was difficult to understand. After saying what we supposed was something to the effect he hoped our visit there had been satisfactory, he came to the business at hand. Leaning forward and folding his hands, he directed his attention to Bruce.

“I want to sell your small gun.”

I looked at Bruce’s furrowed brow. He didn’t understand, either.

“Oh!” I said, the Commissioner’s meaning dawning on me. “You want to buy the Smith & Wesson.”

“Yes, yes! That’s it. I want to buy that gun.”

In the first place, what he asked was illegal. I’m sure that’s why the gendarme looked so embarrassed. The law dictated we leave with the exact number of weapons and ammunition with which we arrived. Now the top official on the island was asking us to do something illegal?

In the second place, that was my handgun, a gift from Bruce, and I didn’t want to part with it.

My mind whirled. I glanced at Bruce. He was thunderstruck.

“But you see,” I said, gesturing to Bruce, “my husband gave that gun to me for Christmas. I cannot part with it.” I looked lovingly at Bruce.

The Commissioner was quick to respond. “Oh, but of course. It was a gift from your husband. I do understand.” His manner was gracious and he seemed to completely agree with our position.

The Commissioner stood and shook our hands. “Enjoy the rest of your journey.” At least that’s pretty much what it sounded like.

Book Review: Finding Dorothy Scott



Sarah Byrn Rickman has written a captivating, scholarly biography of Dorothy Faeth Scott, the 25th woman to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in November, 1942. Finding Dorothy Scott: Letters of a WASP Pilot is a masterpiece, written by an author who has made a years-long study of these fascinating women who gave so much to our country.

America was at war, in both Europe and the Pacific, and pilots were critically needed for combat. In order to free up the male pilots, civilian women were trained and called into service to deliver liaison and fighter planes from factory to training fields and embarkation bases throughout the continental United States.

Even before the war, many women showed interest in flying and some had even made a living as pilots. As a child, Dorothy had been fascinated with flying and was a regular visitor at the small airport near their hometown of Oroville, Washington. Dorothy Scott graduated from the University of Washington Pilot Training Program, and after joining WAFS had extensive additional training in the various planes being used in combat. Much to their chagrin, the women were only allowed to ferry planes within the United States and Canada, not overseas like their fellow male pilots.

WAFS’ life was not easy. They weren’t always well received and, although they followed military protocol, WAFS were still civilians. They didn’t have the advantages of male military pilots, such as riding back to their base aboard military transport after delivery. The American Red Cross played a significant role in assisting the women pilots with a meal and transportation to civilian airports so they could return to their home base.

In 1943 the name WAFS was changed to WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), which also broadened the scope of their duties. Many graduates of flight school served in different jobs around the country, such as instructors, in addition to ferrying planes. But the women were still considered civilians without the privileges or pay of military pilots. When their unit was disbanded in 1944, many WASP even had to pay their own bus fare home.

The driving forces in this biography are the letters Dorothy wrote to her family during her time of service, letters that surfaced in 2000. These letters give a sense of time, place and mood of the country during these war years. Through her letters, Dorothy’s strong, steady voice relates her struggles, victories and her love of family.

Finding Dorothy Scott is an intriguing study of the life and times of these exceptional women who filled a needed void during World War II. After a long struggle, the WASP were afforded Veteran status in 1977. The biography concludes with news of belated but much-welcomed recognition when, on July 1, 2009, President Obama signed into law a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The description of the ceremony and a joyous reunion serves as a satisfying ending to this extraordinary story.

Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of five previous books about the WASP, the women who flew for the U.S. Army in WWII. To learn more about the author, visit

The Deckhand Who Never Sleeps

The wind vane's paddle is to the far right

The wind vane’s paddle is to the far right

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Impunity’s Aries wind vane proved to be one of our most valuable assets. As we prepared the boat for off-shore cruising, we even sent to England for spare parts for our wind vane, knowing how valuable it was to have self-steering capability. A wind vane is so valuable, it’s often thought of as an extra deck hand.

The wind vane, a thin plywood paddle that caught the wind’s direction, automatically adjusted the self-steering gear. Without it, all steering would need to be done by hand. Bruce kept an eye on the direction of the wind and tweaked the sails accordingly while the wind vane kept us on course. When the Aries steered the boat, the tiller was engaged to a chain hooked to the wind vane.

With favorable winds, hand-steering was rarely required. The wind vane did its job keeping us on course. Every once in awhile, it was necessary to make some adjustments, but for days on end we didn’t have to hand-steer or even change course.

Our easiest passage, a ten-day sail from Bora Bora to American Samoa, was blessedly uneventful. For awhile, we averaged 125 nautical miles a day; but settled into 100. Under these steady conditions ,the passage was so consistent that once Bruce adjusted the sails after an early rain squall, we sailed day-in, day-out with the same configuration. We never had to change sails or even adjust the wind-vane steering. It was the smoothest sail of the journey. The wind vane added immeasurably to our comfort and ease in sailing.

Months later, during one of our most difficult periods, a 30-day passage between American Samoa and Honolulu, we had some anxious moments with our wind vane. Around 3:00 a.m. while Bruce was on watch, he called to me, asleep below decks. He needed my help. Our steering vane had become partially detached from the boat. If Bruce couldn’t repair it, or worse, if we lost it altogether, it would mean having to hand-steer for the rest of the journey. Hand-steering makes a watch a real chore because you can’t leave the wheel or tiller without going off course.

Working upside down in the dark, his face inches from the rolling sea, Bruce hung over the transom to replace bolts while I shone a flashlight for him and held onto the seat of his pants to keep him from falling in. After about 20 minutes of fitting and tightening bolts, all the while upside down, he made the repair and reset the wind vane, and we were off again. Losing the vane wouldn’t have been life-threatening, but it would have been extremely inconvenient.

Again, we were thankful for our strict watch system. If no one had been on deck keeping watch and making routine checks on the equipment, the problem would likely have gone unnoticed until it was too late to save the vane. And, this was yet another affirmation of having spare parts on board for all the important systems on the boat, and also a reminder of the importance of a sailor knowing his boat intimately.

Our Aries wind vane was one of our most useful tools. It helped to make our journey a pleasurable success.

Book Review: Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun


Jass Richards has written a fun, lively collection of dog stories, tied together by Brett, a woman who’s had a hard time hanging on to traditional jobs. She already has two dogs, Kessie and Snookums, and she likes nothing better than to hang out with them. Why not make this interest an enterprise and get paid for something she loves?

Brett easily acquires four regular “customers,” Chum, Hunk, Little Miss, and Spunk, and they rotate their daily activities between going to the beach, dog park, field, or whatever else comes along. And plenty of other things come along.

Jacko won’t leave his property, Carson won’t come into the house, Rosie is a depressed former race dog. Biscuit refuses to go on walks, and Winner, a blue-and-grey Australian shepherd is an over-achieving herder. Amber is a distraught search-and-rescue dog, Toby’s a wall-flower unless he’s wearing his turtle costume. Cookie, a puppy-mill casualty, sees the light of day, probably for the first time in her life. Can Brett and the pack help Bo and his person compete in serious Frisbee competition? And can they help Nisha, a blind lab, swim again?

The author’s descriptions of the various breeds and their problems are poignant and heart-warming. As a dog lover, I enjoyed the stories in Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun and could relate to many of the situations. The main human character, Brett, is funny in a caustic, quirky sort of way, with a heart for dogs in need and a propensity for knowing how to have fun with them.

To learn more about the author, visit

The Loretto Chapel of Sante Fe



The Loretto Chapel in old Sante Fe, New Mexico is as mysterious as it is beautiful. While attending the Women Writing the West writers’ conference, I joined our group on a walking tour of the old Sante Fe’s historic district. The highlight of that tour was the Loretto Chapel.

Loretto Chapel was almost completed in 1878 when the builders realized the chapel had a major flaw: there was no access to the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded that building a staircase would take too much space from the limited seating of the small chapel, and that the only access would be a ladder.

The Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared with a donkey and toolbox looking for work. He had two requirements: that he work completely alone and that the nuns furnish vats of hot water several times a day. They honored his request.

Months later, on the appointed day, the nuns entered the chapel to find an elegant circular staircase with two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. The staircase was built without nails, only wooden pegs. Mysteriously, the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks.

The staircase was said to sway slightly and ten years later bannisters were installed for safety in climbing to the loft.

Today the chapel is a private museum and maintained for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the Chapel itself. Besides museum visitors, the Chapel is a popular site for weddings.

If you’re in Sante Fe, be sure to visit this lovely chapel. It’s an amazing experience.