Category Archives: General

Old Fashioned Western Saga

Book Cover
Book Cover: BackLands

Destination: New Mexico

Book: Backlands: A Novel of the American West by Michael McCarrity

I felt right at home in Backlands. Not that I’m a ropin’ ridin’ cowgirl who lives in a remote New Mexico ranch, but I am pretty familiar with the lifestyle of the ranchers of southern Arizona and New Mexico, and have traveled around much of the sun-baked stretches between mountain ranges that they inhabit.

Lonely Road, Oregon
Lonely Western Road

Backlands is the second in a three-book series about the Kerney family.  McCarrity also spun a mystery series off the first book, Hard Country, that follows the adventures of former Sherrif Kevin Kerney.  The books follow a ranching family headed by the difficult father.  As Backlands opens, young Matt is being raised by his strong-willed mother, divorced from Matt’s father after their older son died in World War I.  Mother and young son live in town, while the father continues to run the Tularosa Basin ranch almost single-handedly, carefully hiding a secret past behind a wall of irrascibility.

Tularosa Basin
Tularosa Basin. Photo by Mzuriana from with Creative Commons license

We are swept up in the hard daily life of ranching in the twenties and thirties into the period of World War II.  It is the reality of life and description of the land that held my attention.  Unlike most books I have read recently, there is no one action driving the plot forward. It is, instead, incident piled upon incident that helps the reader inhabit the lives of these people.

I suppose those who idealize the West and picture themselves as heroes of Gene Autry movies, will find tidbits to sustain their daydreams. I was more inclined to appreciate the determination–yes, true grit–that kept (and keeps) dry-country ranchers going through dust storms and depressions, rustling and railroad arrivals.

If you like lots of swift action and a driving through line, a book that is over as quick as it begins, this book will not be for you.  If however, you like to curl up with a book that takes you to a new place and introduces you to some interesting people, in 500 pages, then give Backlands a read.

By the way, if you’d like to wander the back roads and see some of the ranching country from the book, McGarrity has assisted by putting a map of the American Southwest in 1930 in the front and back of the book. And it hasn’t changed much. How can a traveler resist places with names like Tularosa and Alamogorda and Socorro? Besides, White Sands is right nearby. Have you seen that wonder of nature yet?

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Istanbul and Inferno

Haghia Sophia and Sultanahmet
Haghia Sophia and Sultanahmet, Istanbul



The Tour

I have not read Dan Brown’s latest best-selling novel (out in paperback last month), Inferno. I won’t kid you. I’m not a big fan of Dan Brown. But since you may be a fan of the novel, and I am definitely a fan of travel that focuses on literature, this tour caught my eye and I wanted to share it.

In the words of the website:

When Dan Brown was researching Inferno, he visited Istanbul in 2009 and met with renowned tour-guide Serhan Güngör. Brown later revealed that Serhan was the inspiration behind the character Mirsat, the enthusiastic guide who shows Langdon around the Hagia Sophia, before becoming increasingly bewildered and concerned by the professor’s mystifying antics. In conjunction with esteemed travel agents, (FEST Travel), Serhan is now offering tours ‘In Search of Dan Brown’s Historic Pensinula.

If you want to tour Dan Brown’s Istanbul, get the scoop at that website. 

Other books set in or about Istanbul


 Istanbul: A Cultural History (2012) by Peter Clark  Like it says, a cultural history of Istanbul. Beautifully done. See the review here.

Strolling Through Istanbul, The Classic Guide to the City by Hilary Sumner-Boyd & John Freely (Originally published 1972; new edition, 2010) An old guide book that may never be topped. See the review here.

 The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich (2014) Historical novel set in Constantinople amidst the intrigue of the court. See the review here.

The Dervish by Frances Kazan (2013) Historic novel set at the end of the Ottoman Empire. See the review here.

The Serenity Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer A contemporary Istanbul mystery with a very different lead character. By a Turkish author. See the review here.

 Letter from a Stranger (2012) by Barbara Taylor Bradford Although this author is not MY cup of tea, she has some evocative descriptions of Istanbul that stick with me. See the review here.

The Topkapi Secret (What They Learn About the Koran Could Change the World…or Cost Them Their Lives) by Terry Kelhawk (2010) An adventure regarding controversial researchon the Koran. Set in today’s Topkapi Palace and various Istanbul neighborhoods. See the review here.

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