Book Review: Becoming Clementine


Jennifer Niven has written a third novel in her Velva Jean series, Becoming Clementine. As a WASP flyer during World War II, Velva Jean flies a B-17 Flying Fortress to Britain. After the delivery she volunteers to co-pilot a B-24 Liberator carrying special agents to their drop spot in Normandy, France. Besides wanting the experience of additional flying, Velva Jean has a personal mission to find her brother, a pilot who is missing in action.

The B-24 is shot down and only Velva Jean and five agents survive. Although she’s considered a nuisance, she tags along with the five, much to their agitation. Eventually she becomes one of them, a spy with the Resistance and is given the name Clementine Roux.

Clementine’s grit becomes a necessary ingredient to her survival as she encounters cruelty dealt by invading Germans. Clementine and the members of the team work toward their assigned goal to capture an operative known only as “Swan.” All the while she searches for her brother.

Although some of the situations are a bit far-fetched, I enjoyed this book. For one thing, I find the subject of the WASP’s (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of special interest. These brave women did our country a great service, but met with little appreciation and even sabotage by fellow male pilots. I also found the references to French resistance fascinating, and admire the courage and sacrifice required to regain their country from German occupation. Clementine spends some time in prison and, again, learning of those conditions reinforces the atrocities of war.

Despite the gim subject, I enjoyed the humor in Becoming Clementine and the main character’s spunk. It’s hard to imagine the hardships of war, the loss of life, the lack of basic necessities, and the hopelessness of regaining a normal life. Jennifer Niven does a good job of capturing war-time conditions.

To learn more about the author, visit

Visitors at Sea


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

On the first leg of our journey, about fifty miles out from the coast of Oregon, Bruce called me for my morning 6:00 watch. “Since about 3:30 I’ve been watching a light astern of us. It seems to be staying with us. Keep an eye on it.”

It seemed strange to have no one in sight for days and suddenly there was another boat and they seemed to be following us. I found it unsettling.

We ate our oatmeal in Impunity’s cockpit and continued to watch astern for the lights of whoever was following us. Finally, around 7:00 they called on the VHF, identified themselves as the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute. They asked who we were, the name of our boat, its documentation number, the number of crew onboard, and where we were going. Bruce answered all their questions. A long period of silence followed. Bruce wondered if something was wrong with our radio.

Finally, the radio crackled to life and the Coast Guardsman asked, “On which side of the boat do you want us to board?”

To stop the boat, of course, was out of the question. The Coast Guard wouldn’t expect that, nor would it even be possible.

Bruce offered to put a boarding ladder on Impunity’s port side. Within a few minutes a sixteen-foot RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) pulled up alongside carrying four heavily armed Coast Guardsmen. Three climbed aboard and introduced themselves, very professional and thoroughly efficient.

“We need to inspect all compartments of your boat. Please don’t be alarmed, this is mostly a safety check.”

Right, I thought. I would not have wanted to be carrying illegal cargo. These guys meant business.

The officer in charge, carrying a clipboard, nodded to Bruce. “Go ahead, Sir, lead the way.” He turned to me, “Ma’am, please stay in the cockpit with Seaman Turner. Two of them went below with Bruce. One remained in their large, inflatable dinghy, keeping pace with Impunity, but never touching it. Both boats rolled with the rough seas.

Bruce told me later that the fellows who went below decks with him searched every nook and cranny. One of them remarked that he’d never seen so many drawers and compartments in a yacht’s head. They checked the engine compartment, all the lockers, all the drawers throughout the boat. After the search, the officer in charge referred to his clipboard and began writing down the particulars of the boat. Bruce handed him a copy of our ”Vessel and Personal Information” document that he had designed. The Coast Guardsman was impressed. “All boats should be required to do this.”

In the meantime, the fellow and I sat in the cockpit and carried on a conversation. The Coast Guardsman still at the wheel in the RIB kept an even pace with Impunity, but never tied up to us.

The Coast Guardsmen then inspected the cockpit lockers. The officer in charge looked at his clipboard. They were satisfied that we’d complied, and presented us with a nice safety certificate. According to them, it’s rare to pass a safety check with no citations or warnings. In our case, not even a suggestion.

They climbed into their RIB, still never having tied to Impunity, and were off, back to the Resolute. They were onboard Impunity for about an hour.

We wondered if the Coast Guard thought perhaps we were carrying drugs. We didn’t mind the boarding. In fact, we approved. It was our tax dollars at work.

Book Review: The Borrower


Rebecca Makkai has nailed the personality of a precocious 10 year-old boy in The Borrower, and I have no doubt that she’s captured the essence of a children’s-book librarian, too.

Lucy Hull, a Hannibal, Missouri children’s-section librarian is the center of Ian Drake’s world. She holds the key to his happiness, since it appears he’s only happy when he’s reading. But they hit a snag when Ian’s mother insists he should not read anything except books that contain “the breath of God.” When Lucy tactfully suggests it is not the librarian’s job to censor books, she realizes she must be careful not to create a situation where Ian would be forbidden to come to the library.

Lucy and Ian find creative ways to smuggle prohibited books past his overbearing mother. Lucy is concerned about Ian’s increasingly disturbing life, not only the censorship of his reading material, but also that his parents have enrolled their son in religious anti-gay classes.

One early morning before it officially opens, Lucy finds that Ian has run away from home and is hidden in the library. He insists she take him on a road trip. She knows his home life is endangering his mental health, but can she take a boy away from his own parents? It seems he is giving her no choice.

This book is more than a fun read, it’s a story that weaves social activism, literary culture, together with a somewhat wild road trip. It’s a coming-of-age book for all ages. Makkai’s comical writing offers sojourns into the character’s Russian ancestry, as well as the mind set of a young woman determined to make her own way. She openly discusses the dangers of interfering with a child’s sexual orientation, but she does so with honesty and enlightenment, and always with humor.

The Borrower is Rebecca Makkai’s first novel and it is a gem. To learn more about the author, visit

Provisioning for a Sea Voyage

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

The challenge of cooking at sea can be daunting. Beb-w-fish-at-seasp_t2_27fore we left on our 13,000-mile voyage through the South Pacific aboard our sailboat, Impunity, I tackled the task of determining our grocery needs for two years.

Many offshore sailboats don’t have refrigeration, nor did ours. Refrigeration systems often break down in rough seas, leaving sailors without food they had counted on. Luckily, our 40-foot sailboat had a lot of storage space below decks.

After much reading and talking with sailors who had “been there,” we learned what worked and what didn’t, to plan ahead, keep it simple, and to not rely on buying it there.

I wanted to ensure we ate healthy foods, but knew the limitations and challenges of cooking at sea on a rolling, pitching boat. We bought bulk rice, pasta, dried beans, peas, and lentils. For dry storage, I used Seal-a-Meal and heavy plastic bags. In each bag I measured enough for two meals for both of us. For instance, once at sea I planned to prepare at one time enough rice for two meals. We’d have it the first meal with something like a tin of roast beef and canned green beans. The next night I’d use the already cooked rice and make Spanish rice, sautéing onion, and adding canned tomatoes and spices to the cooked rice. I had several simple meals in mind which later turned out to be a great help when cooking at sea.

We also dehydrated and vacuum-sealed fruit–apples, peaches, and pears–which proved to be wonderful additions to our morning oatmeal. Also, we often used these packages of dehydrated fruit as gifts when invited aboard other boats or to islanders’ homes..

I made lists of meals I could fix at sea, calculating how much we would need over a two-year period. We knew that in some ports of call we could buy supplies, and others perhaps not. From all that we read, food in Polynesia was expensive. We hoped to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and bread when reaching landfalls, and use our stored supplies for the basics.

We planned to fish while at sea, but knew that we couldn’t count on fish alone, or even that we’d have success with our equipment. As it turned out, we didn’t catch fish on the way, but after learning what equipment the “locals” used, a double hook with 120-pound test, we had good luck on the return voyage.

We’d heard the argument: Why bother taking all that food? Wherever you go, people have food. You can eat what they eat. That’s true, but island people often eat what they grow themselves, like taro leaves and roots, eggs and meat from their own chickens, or fish they’ve caught at sea. After researching the possibilities, we decided not to rely on local fare.

We were glad we’d decided to provision for the long haul. We felt we ate more nutritionally balanced and far less expensive meals by planning ahead.

Book Review: One Who Loves


A captivating read, One Who Loves by Toni Fuhrman features complex and believable characters. The novel provides a refreshing look at ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances.

Jon is the first person Liz meets at Bo House, a residence for university students in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is immediately attracted to him, but once Jon meets another newcomer, Tess, Jon and Tess become a “couple.” Although Liz and Tess are friends, they have opposite personalities. Liz is cautious, carefully plans her life, and finishes what she starts. Tess has a flair for life and intends to live it to the fullest. Liz dates Patrick, a pre-med student, but her love for Jon secretly smolders in her heart.

The two couples remain friends. Liz and Patrick marry, as do Tess and Jon. Their lives evolve over a 20-year period as they experience love, anger, triumph and disappointments. As the two couples have children, go on vacations together, live their day-to-day lives, the reader experiences a rich texture of their different personalities. Through it all, Liz carries in her heart a love for Jon, though she performs her responsibilities as a loving wife and mother. Tess remains flamboyant, bringing vivid color and eloquence to everyone and everything she encounters.

When tragedy strikes, strength of character is shown, along with weakness and denial.

Although an accomplished writer of poetry, essays and technical articles, One Who Loves is Toni Fuhrman’s first-published novel. The novel takes place in Michigan. where Fuhrman spent most of her adult life. This excellent novel is currently available as an ebook, but soon may be published by New Libri Press in trade paperback..

Creating a Hook to Grab Readers’ Attention

rough-seas-sp_t2_33What grabs readers’ attention, compelling them to commit their time to read a story? With this prologue, I attempted to hook readers’ interest in my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

The boat hummed with built-up pressure. We were going too fast. I hated to wake Bruce, so I waited until the change of watch to call him. Finally, at ten in the morning, I gently shook him awake. He’d only slept for an hour, but that was enough to hold him until two that afternoon when I’d again take the watch and he could sleep a bit more.

Bruce’s eyes flew open and he was immediately awake. I doubted if he ever truly slept while we were at sea.

We were both exhausted. This 3,000-mile leg of the journey from Samoa to Hawaii would be the most difficult of our entire journey. We beat against the wind during the whole passage, making the boat climb each wave and then pound the ocean’s surface coming down. During the past three days, we had passed just west of a tropical depression, and the stormy weather tried our patience and made our lives even more difficult.

“We need to shorten sail. We’re pushing the boat too hard.”

Bruce stood and reached for the overhead rail to steady himself against the boat’s crazy lunging. “Okay, I’ll be right up.”

Once on deck, he slipped on his life vest and harness, glanced at the compass to confirm our course, watched the raucous seas for a moment, noting streaking foam atop the 10- to 12-foot waves, and looked up to survey the already reduced mainsail. He stepped to the upper deck and eased the halyard. Knealing and leaning against the boom to free both hands, he pulled the mainsail down, preparing to take in another reef.

I stayed in the cockpit to handle the coiled halyard. I heard a loud bang, a noise I hadn’t heard before, and looked up. “Bruce, what was that? Bruce!”

No answer. He wasn’t there. I let out a garbled scream. My worst nightmare! Bruce had fallen overboard! The boat surged ahead as my mind whirled with what I must do. I’d rehearsed it often enough. Forcing myself to think, I went through the steps.

Reverse our direction. I always knew our reciprocal course—180 degrees from the direction we were headed. I had to start the engine. I had to drop the sails or they would work against me. I needed to throw the man-overboard pole, but I had to see him first, so he could get to it. Wait a minute! Was there an electronic box on the pole that I was supposed to set? Oh, God, I can’t remember! My mind screamed with panic.

But where was he? I looked around—I’d lost him already! Had his lifeline failed? The waves were so high, he would be out of sight as soon as two or three swells came between the boat and him.

Truly, I had always thought that if one of us fell overboard, I hoped it would be me. I knew Bruce could find me, I seriously doubted I had the skills to find him.

In this prologue, I tried to capture the essence of the story— a high seas adventure—plus create enough suspense to compel the reader to delve into the rest of the story.

Idaho’s Bruneau Dunes State Park

Bruneau Obs Dune

On a typical two-week vacation, we stay at a difference place practically every night. Traveling with a truck and camper, this is how we like to spend our vacations. The exception is the weekend between the two weeks. Then we usually try to spend Friday and Saturday nights in the same place, since a campsite can be harder to find on a weekend.

This year, it was our good fortune that we stopped at Bruneau Dunes State Park in southwest Idaho’s high desert. With so much to do and see, it was a perfect place to spend two nights. The 4,800-acre park is the site of North America’s highest single-structured sand dune, which is approximately 470 feet high. (North America’s highest multi-structured dune is at Great Sand Dune National Park in Colorado and is approximately 660 feet higher than its immediate base.)

The dunes at Bruneau are unique in North America. While other dunes in the Americas form at the edge of a natural basin, the Bruneau Dunes form near its center. The dunes are ancient, probably forming with sands from the Bonneville Flood about 15,000 years ago. These dunes are fairly stable with winds blowing from the southeast and from the northwest. Unlike most dunes, these do not drift far.

No vehicles are allowed on the dunes, but visitors may climb and even zoom down on sand boards, similar to snow boards. Seven- and nine-mile horseback riding trails wind around the dunes. An equestrian overnight facility, with corrals, is also available.

We found the campsites spacious with grassy lawns and shade from willow and cottonwood trees. Eighty-two sites have water and electricity, plus there are 31 standard campsites. Two cabins are available for rent.

The park contains several habitats: desert, dunes, prairie, lake and marsh. Wild predators, which are protected within park boundaries, maintain a natural balance of animal population. Fishing for bass and bluegil is popular. It’s a peaceful lake with only non-motorized boats, canoes, rafts and float tubes allowed.

A big attraction at this park is the Steele-Reese Education Center, which includes an observatory. At dusk each Friday and Saturday from April through mid-October local astronomers present a multimedia introduction to the night sky in the comfort of an indoor auditorium. Once the stars begin to twinkle, visitors can observe through the rotating observatory planets, galaxies and nebulae, which I learned is a cloud of gas and dust in outer space. Visitors can observe the night sky through a collection of other equipment, including refractor and catadioptric telescopes.

Bruneau Dunes State Park is just south of Mountain Home, the county seat of Elmore County, and the home to Mountain Home Air Force Base. Mountain Home is a good place to provision and it also has one of the largest laundry facilities I’ve ever seen.

If you’re in southwest Idaho, plan to stop by Bruneau Dunes State Park. It’s a special place.

Book Review: She’s Come Undone


Wally Lamb has an uncanny sense of what goes through the female mind. She’s Come Undone covers Dolores Price’s life from age 4 to 40. When Dolores is 4, her family receives a television as a gift from her father’s employer. Television becomes a core part of Dolores’s life and paves the way toward viewing the world through the lens of television fantasy.

When her parents’ marriage ends, Dolores’s mother has a mental breakdown and is institutionalized. Dolores moves to her grandmother’s house in another city. The grandmother constantly complains, watches television endlessly, and has no concept about Dolores’s needs.

The mother is discharged and joins Dolores at Grandma’s house. Neither her mother nor grandmother has a clue about raising a child. Junk food was always available and no encouragement given to this young girl to do something worthwhile with her time. Dolores has no friends, does not participate academically or socially at school. She steadily gains weight, reaching an enormous two hundred fifty-seven pounds.

She’s Come Undone covers a realm of obesity, rape, abortion, mental illness, and deceit, but it is also about love, understanding and hope. Despite the novel’s grim subject matter, the story is told with humor. The novel reads like an autobiography and every once in awhile I reminded myself that the author was a man, a man of extraordinary insights.

This novel changed my way of thinking about obesity, about why people behave in destructive ways, and the awful consequences of inappropriate guilt. This book is not for everyone. Tender souls need not bother. But I value this experience, this look at another side of life.

Book Review: That Went By Fast

That Went by FastFrank White wrote a remarkable autobiography, That Went by Fast: My First Hundred Years. A Canadian born in 1914, White spins a lively, event-filled story. His life was far from ideal or genteel–it was full of hard work, grit and the kind of knowledge you learn the hard way.

When his mother is widowed, White, still a young boy, works to help the family. By age thirteen he has two professions: butcher and truck driver. He marries Kay when he’s 25 and soon goes into the logging business.

White describes the early days of British Columbia’s gyppo logging, and his descriptions are harrowing. Raising a family in logging camps, learning various types of logging, moving logs on water, surviving logging camps in the dead of winter—the stories of sheer survival are incredible.

As his family grows, White becomes owner of a gas station in Pender Harbour, B.C. which proves to be non-stop work and worry. They ride the tide of 1970s hippies which causes a lot of local friction. In White’s view, while the hippies seems hopelessly inept, many of them find their way into worthy occupations. After several years, the Whites sell the garage and White travels first to Alaska, and then eventually abroad. Typical of White, he travels the back roads, sees the countries and people with fresh inquisitive eyes, always open to learning new ways.

White has a piercingly honest way of describing people, situations and places. He’s a tough man with low tolerance of flakiness and frills. I loved this book, the honesty of living a full life, of owning up to wrong-doing and living with regrets, but generally attempting to do the right thing. He’s lived from the horse-and-buggy days to jet travel, from scratching notes on paper to computers. White says “living to the age of one hundred is not all it’s cracked up to be, but it has some pluses.” He’s taken it all in and put his own mark on it. It’s an amazing story.

A Welcomed Oasis: Bates State Park

Bates State Park OPRD VisitorsAlthough it was only mid-June, eastern Oregon was hot. We happened upon Bates State Park, near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the John Day River, and discovered a lovely oasis with shade trees and green grass. At 4,000-feet elevation, the park offered cool relief at night.

Bates State Park is the site of a former thriving lumber mill that operated for nearly 60 years. The 131-acre park is adjacent to the former Bates company town, home to about 400 families at its peak. In 1975, when a new mill was built in nearby John Day, the Bates mill was shut down and the town gradually disappeared. After the mill and many of the homes were dismantled, the land sat empty for more than 35 years.

A non-profit group, later named Friends of Bates State Park, worked tirelessly for many years advocating for the property’s preservation as a state park. Oregon Parks & Recreation Department purchased the land, and the park officially opened in 2011.

One of the central features of the park is the mill’s log pond. In its hey-day, local mill workers and ranch hands used to water ski in the pond, towed by a pick-up driving the bouncy road at the edge of the pond.

The park offers more than three miles of well-maintained hiking trails along the Middle Fork John Day River, Bridge Creek and Clear Creek. Interpretive panels throughout the park describe Bates life in the early to mid-20th Century and the steps taking place now to restore the land and waterways.

Although the park’s 28 sites do not offer hookups, there’s plenty of space to park rigs or to set up tents.

The area is a rich fish habitat. The Middle Fork of the John Day River and its tributaries are home to Chinook salmon, steelhead, trout and other native fish. Oregon Parks & Recreation are currently in the early stages of a restoration project, including a fish ladder, that would improve access to 14 miles of ideal fish habitat.

We found that Bates State Park makes a great home base when touring the area. The campground is situated between three nearby Wilderness Areas: Strawberry Mountain and Monument Rock to the south and North Fork John Day to the north. Hikers can climb to spectacular views atop Indian Rock and Vinegar Hill, which together make up the summit of the Greenhorn Range of the Blue Mountains.

Bates is convenient to the Old West Scenic Bikeway, a 174-mile loop that passes through landmarks such as John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The park is also on route for cross-country cyclists touring the TransAmerica Trail, which runs along nearby Oregon Highway 7.

On U.S. Highway 26, nine miles from Bates State Park, we found a nice little hike at the old Sumpter Valley Interpretive Trail that overlooks the historic Dixie Switchbacks. The tracks were used by the Sumpter Valley Railway that connected Prairie City, Oregon to Baker City, Oregon.

Bates State Park was a great find–just our kind of place.