The Other Sequel: The River Bank

Book Review: The River Bank by Kij Johnson

There have been a number of sequels to The Wind in the Willows, but the two most recent ones are mine, In the Wake of the Willows and The River Bank by Kij Johnson.  These two books are poles apart, both geographically and stylistically for The River Bank takes place in England, during Edwardian times, on the same river as the original book.

While I was writing my book, I assiduously avoided reading any of The Wind in the Willows sequels because I did not want to subconsciously pick up any concepts, ideas, terms or phrases that were not mine.  However after I finished the first draft of my book in 2017, I cast around looking for other sequels and found Ms. Johnson’s The River Bank. I immediately ordered a copy from Partner’s Village Store and had my heart in my mouth waiting for it.  When I got the book I was relieved that there was no possible overlap in our stories, but I was very impressed by the high-level of craftsmanship in this book.  Ms. Johnson, currently a professor of fiction writing at the University of Kansas, is a prolific author of fantasy books and articles, but her River Bank is neither fantasy nor sci-fi. It is shocking to me, and showed her power as a writer, that someone so busy could pivot so beautifully and produce such a book.

Johnson’s The River Bank is a masterful work of art.  It is exquisitely perfect in every subtle nuance of the language and the times.  The perfection of Kij’s prose seems almost superhuman.   I found the book to be transporting, intriguing, lovely, and gentle.  It provides a long overdue feminine touch to the hide-bound Men’s Club that was the original.  If you need a gentle escape from today’s current events, try this book.

Big Sky for Me!

As some of you may know, I had prostate cancer last year (now in remission).  Last summer I attended a fly fishing retreat in Montana for men with cancer run by Reel Recovery.

The Montana retreat was a wondrous and life changing for me, but also emotionally challenging.  During the three days I was there, I scribbled some observations on scraps of paper. A couple of memories were especially poignant: While sitting in on the heart-wrenching “courageous conversations” that we had each day, I would stare out the picture windows of the lodge at the Absaroka mountain range, imagining them as cathedrals of stone.

During the closing ceremony, when this band of new friends was breaking up, thunder echoed off the Gallatin Range like the bass drums of heaven as it opened its gates; I had to wonder how many of these tough, brave men had made their last cast.

The next day tears ran down my cheeks as I compiled my notes in the restaurant at Chico Hot Springs Resort in Emigrant, Montana (my waitress was perplexed).  A few days later, I sent excerpts to all the attendees and volunteers at the retreat.  I did not know what I had.  Was it any good?  I wanted to hear what they had to say.  The feedback was very positive and they encouraged me to publish it.  The article was sent off to various outdoor and fly fishing magazines, but the initial response from them was tepid or just plain ole crickets.  I had just about given up when the Big Sky Journal contacted me last weekend to say they loved the article and wanted to publish it!  I am very excited by this news; Big Sky Journal is a beautiful, prestigious journal covering the northern Rocky Mountain area, but is distributed all across the country.  I could not have hoped for a better venue.  The article will run in the spring fly fishing edition of the Big Sky Journal in 2021.  It will be titled “Mending on the Yellowstone”

I hope to do more with Reel Recovery.  I may attend the fly fishing retreat for men with cancer that will take place in October in Grand Lake Stream, Maine.  The plans for this have not firmed up yet, but I would like to be part of this program again, this time as a reporter.  It is my way of giving back to Reel Recovery.

Silent Sparks

Book Review: Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis

In general I don’t do book reviews, except when something exceptional comes across my desk.  Sara Lewis’s Silent Sparks is one of those special books.  This book works on so many levels that I barely know where to begin.  I guess the most impressive thing about the book is how it seamlessly integrates the enchanting world of a summer evening in a meadow with the science of fireflies.  This narrative flows so smoothly and gracefully that you hardly realize that you are absorbing the latest biological and ecological research on fireflies and related insects.  The book never feels dumbed down, or didactic.  Even when Dr. Lewis discusses the threats to fireflies (development, light pollution, pesticides, and, alas, collecting), she never gets preachy, and I found myself nodding, yes, yes, yes to every point.

What makes this book so magical is not only its eloquence but, of course, the subject matter.  Who knew that the secret lives of fireflies were full of such poisons & potions, romance, intrigue, disguises, competition, and even treachery, deadly treachery?  Well they are, and this book is a page-turner.

Dr. Lewis, a Professor Evolutionary and Behavioral Ecology at Tufts University, is at the forefront of firefly research.  I was delighted to read her account of one of the original pioneers in the field, the late John Buck, a biologist at the National Institutes of Health. In the 70’s I spent a delightful evening with Dr. Buck at his Woods Hole house talking about synchronization of animals, especially fireflies.  That and some of the other fascinating people in Woods Hole helped fuel my early interest in the natural world.

Silent Sparks is a lush, beautifully-illustrated, semi-coffee table book that nevertheless was on my bedside table for a month as I slowly digested every delicious page.

We live in a great area for fireflies and I expect that they will be more appreciated than ever this summer.  If you are interested in these elfin creatures of the night, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this book.

I don’t know where the title of the book originates from.  Could it be a poem by Emily Dickinson?  Here is one example:

“A winged spark doth soar about —

I never met it near

For Lightning it is oft mistook

When nights are hot and sere“

2nd Edition Now Available


Happy April Fools, but this is no joke.  It’s the day the 2nd Edition of In the Wake of the Willows was born.  It also decided to defy the signs that Spring is here by showing us a bit of snow.  Ah well, the newly arrived winter wren greeted us this morning with his bubbly song, and the grass is decidedly greener on this side of the calendar.

Ironically, In the Wake of the Willows begins it’s story on a fine day in mid-April.  Join in the adventure.  When we hold a book in our hands during these difficult times; we can take a journey, become inspired, fall in love, or forget, forget, forget…

The 2nd Edition tells the same wonderful story, but with new material, added paragraphs, more full page illustrations, and a new postscript, and appendix.  My favorite new addition is the Song of Spring.  Look for it in the Epilogue.

During this time of COVID-19, our local book sellers need your support.  Please contact them to get your copy of the 2nd Edition.

Elizabeth at Partners Village Store can take your special orders and have them available for pick up at their take-out window:

Titcomb’s Book Shop fills online and phone orders for delivery or curbside pickup:

See our website for more info on how to get your copy:



Happy Birthday Kenneth Grahame

It’s the birthday of essayist and children’s author Kenneth Grahame, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). He is best known for his book The Wind in the Willows (1908), which he composed from bedtime stories he told to his son.

He had already published two books of stories for children, but The Wind in the Willows was rejected by publishers because it had talking animals in it. At the time, talking animals were considered too fantastic. Teddy Roosevelt, a fan of Grahame’s earlier work, convinced a publisher to take the book. It was a huge success, and it continues to sell well, over 100 years later.

Grahame was able to retire from his bank job because of the book. He lived for another 25 years, but he never wrote another one.

From The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Hard to Kill

ArrowHeadSomeone upstairs or something is trying to kill me.  They have not succeeded yet, but I gotta wonder.

Last week it was a BMW on I-195; it hit my car so hard that I spun around two or three times, bounced off the guard rail, and popped back into oncoming traffic in the middle lane.  By some miracle I was not then hit by another car or, gulp, a truck.   I loved that car and only owned if for year or so; it is now a pile of junk.  I have not recovered yet; I still have headaches and various pains and bump & bruises.

Last summer it was a guy drag racing on Hixbridge Rd who t-boned me at high speed and wrecked my previous Honda Fit.  He drove off, but left his license plate at the scene and was quickly apprehended by the Westport police.

Before that it was prostate cancer, but I am in remission and currently my PSA is a very satisfying 0.0.  I am still really messed up because of the cancer drug (Lupron) but that should be out of my system in 4-5 months.

Before that, I chain sawed my foot when in the woods.  Luckily the wound was not too deep and I did not bleed out in the woods.  St. Ann’s hospital patched my up with 22 stiches and now the foot is fine.  The bright side of the chainsaw accident was that I wrote my book while in bed.

Someone or something is trying kill me.  Except for the chainsaw pedicure, none of these disasters were my fault.

Maybe it is one of my siblings with a voodoo doll.  Maybe not; but I am still on this side of the grass.  So take that!

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


Every so often a transcendent book comes along, and I feel that Where the Crawdads is one of those.  It is probably the best book I have ever read.  I finished it last week, and I am still stunned.

Initially, I did not know a thing about Where the Crawdads Sing, but I did know of Delia Owens from Cry of the Kalahari, a wonderful book she wrote with her husband, Mark (they have since divorced).  As a nature writer, I try to read all the natural history classics and Cry of the Kalahari was one of the better ones (and certainly one of the most hair-raising).

So without reading any reviews or commentary, I started listening to an audio version of Where the Crawdads Sing on my daily commute. I was immediately struck by the elegant natural history observations and metaphors that Ms. Owens employed.  As a nature writer myself, I greatly admire such a writing style. But there was more, much more; this book drew me in like few have before; Ms. Owens deftly weaves a tale of heartache, romance, betrayal, and, well, I leave the rest up to you.

I cannot say enough good things about this masterpiece.  If you are interested in lyrical nature writing, romance, and intrigue, you will love this book.

Last Book Signing of 2019


Fred loves the Westport Farmer’s Market.  Throughout the market season he collects all the onions, peppers, eggplant, garlic, tomatoes and squash he can stuff in his reusable bags, and cooler.  It’s the start of his weekend.

Imagine his delight when they asked him to join in the last market of 2019 to sign his books!