Virginia Johnson

The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

“The crime that inevitably intrigues me most is murder. It’s so final.  At a fresh murder scene you can smell the blood and hear the screams; years later, they still echo in my mind. Unsolved murders are unfinished stories. The scenes of the crimes may change over the years; highways are built over them, buildings are torn down, houses are sold. I drive by and wonder if the new occupants, as they go about their daily lives, ever sense what happened there. Do they know, or am I the only one who still remembers?” – The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edna Buchanan spent years covering Miami, “America’s Hottest Beat,” for the Miami Herald.  Edna went from factory worker to crime reporter in a matter of just a few years with nary a college degree. Though at first appearances she was simply another beautiful blond in high heels and a mini-skirt, beneath her glamour lay the steel-trap mind of a reporter who always wants to know who, what, when, where, and why.

Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty

In colonial days, Baptists, Methodists and other dissenters from the Church of England might be jailed for preaching in the streets or fined for keeping their own churches. Evangelical Christians were an important factor in the American Revolution's success.

A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley

In A Vision of Light, Margaret Kendall of Ashbury is a young and beautiful housewife living in 14th-century England. She is the mother of two healthy children, loved, and surrounded by many luxuries, but there is one thing more Margaret wishes, and her doting merchant husband is pleased to indulge her. Yet it is such a shocking thing that it is a harder wish to grant than a ring of rubies. Margaret wishes to write a book.

There are many difficulties. Of course, Margaret can not write--or read, for that matter—so she must find someone willing to take down her words. Three clerics refuse her, but they snigger as they point out their compatriot. Tattered, starving, and arrogant, Brother Gregory takes the job--which comes with frequent visits to Margaret’s well-stocked table. But he does so very grudgingly. What could such a feather-headed female have to say that is worth the expense of setting it down on vellum? A monk-in-training should be writing down great deeds and high-minded, philosophical points—not recipes and domestic notions.

Moosewood Restaurant: Cooking for Health

I’m a fan of the Moosewood Collective and own a lot of their cookbooks. Last year, I was given another entry to their line, Cooking for Health. I was pleased to see their fresh and easy philosophy of the 1970s had been updated for modern tastes. Never heard of Moosewood? Not everyone has, yet they were named one of 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century by Bon Appétit magazine, and our own Sammy T’s seems to have drawn on them for vegetarian inspiration. 

Moosewood Restaurant began in 1973 in Ithaca, New York, back when vegetarianism was a new idea for most Americans. It was a popular place, and soon enough their dishes were gathered into a bestselling book. The listings in the first editions of the original Moosewood Cookbook drew a lot on established recipes that happened to be vegetarian and were adapted to be prepared easily with nothing fancier than a blender.

Accommodating Revolutions: Virginia’s Northern Neck in an Era of Transformations, 1760-1810 by Albert H. Tillson, Jr.

The Northern Neck runs from Falmouth in Stafford County all the way down to Windmill Point in Lancaster County, bounded by the Rappahannock River to the south and the Potomac River to the north.  Now it’s a sleepy section of Virginia but it was once called the Athens of the New World.

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War

If your early education taught you something about Thomas Jefferson, it likely included facts on his part in authoring the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson was an ideas man—a deep thinker. Well-educated in the classics at the College of William and Mary, he stayed out of the usual undergrad troubles by keeping at his studies and socializing with the professors while classmates spent their time drinking, gambling, and racing their horses through the streets. As historian Michael Kranish relates in Flight from Monticello, he made plenty of friends, but they were from the same landed gentry class as himself.

He first encountered an upstart farmer named Patrick Henry at a friend’s dinner party. Jefferson was not impressed by his dress, candid manners or frank speech, which drew a crowd of admirers. Not so much the classical scholar, Patrick Henry was already a practicing attorney while Jefferson was still in school.  While Jefferson carried on learned conversations with his professors, Henry was winning cases—not with references to Greek and Roman scholars but by spelling out the plain merits of the case and the rules of law. Jefferson found his courtroom arguments crude but admired his ability to turn a phrase and set a crowd on fire.

Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday

I love the rich, warm flavors of Mexican food, but trying to create anything more than a simple, kid-pleasing taco or Sundays at Moosewood’s tortilla casserole (a family favorite) has left me uncertain as to how to begin.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is one of those simple, spiritual tales that captures modern-day imaginations and becomes a best-seller. As I read it on the beach, I felt the brush of Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s wings—or perhaps those were the wings of the laughing gull trying to steal my son’s peanut butter sandwich.

In this extended fable, the teenage shepherd Santiago has chosen his free and lonely life over a more respectable one that would have bound him tightly to his community and family. Content as he is with the wisdom he gained while wandering the Spanish hills, he is nonetheless being drawn to change his path. The dark-eyed daughter of a prosperous merchant awaits his marriage proposal, but Santiago’s prophetic dream in an abandoned and ruined church leads him further away from his homeland than he ever imagined.

A Painted House by John Grisham

Rural 1950s Arkansas is the setting for John Grisham’s Southern thriller, A Painted House. It’s the beginning of a summer full of sweltering days, acres of cotton to pick, dangerous desire, and deadly secrets to keep. 

This season--at its start the same as every other--finds the Chandler family on the road in their dusty pick-up looking for migrant workers to hire. Young Lucas is certain from what he has observed in his short life that once the season’s work is done, his family will go back to its quiet ways, sitting through another winter, readying for another spring planting with Grandpa, “Pappy” Chandler, heading the household.
 
Lucas’ family has worked the land for generations, and this summer’s batches of migrant help—Mexicans and hill people--will work alongside them to bring in the crop before the weather destroys their chance to make a little profit on the farm or at least get further out of debt. Lucas expects the workers to come stay for a few months, do their assigned work, and then go their way—never leaving a lasting impression on his family and their way of life.

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold

"Now we see in a glass dimly, but then face to face."

Long before C.S. Lewis created the land of Narnia and wrote his many books exploring Christian faith, he was fascinated with Greek mythology. Till We Have Faces is Lewis’ reworked story of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which has come down to us in modern times as Beauty and the Beast. It was a story he began as an undergraduate and was to become his favorite work when he completed it years later.