Search This Blog for Authors, Publishers, Reviewers and Books

Add Your Logo or Avatar to This New Book Review Reader List:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Don Blankenship Calls Memoir "Best"

Title: South to Alaska: A True Story of Courage and Survival from America's Heartland to the Heart of a Dream
Author: Nancy Owens Barnes
Book Link:
Nonfiction, Memoir, Travel
098239022X (Rushing River Press)

Reviewed by Don Blankenship, Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer, ( ), written originally for Amazon
5 out of 5 stars

Nancy Owens Barnes stated in the forward of this work that "Some suggested I fictionalize the story. By doing so would allow me to drive drama to a higher level and to void my worries about maintaining truth."

Well thank goodness and lucky for us she made the right decision and went with the truth. I cannot imagine how adding a bit of fiction to this story would in anyway "add to the drama" or make this a more satisfying read. I have to tell you that at the end of each year I sort of do an informal review of the books I read during the past twelve months and rank them in order of pure reading enjoyment. I will tell you right now that this read made the top three and it is quite debatable whether or not I should stick it in first place. My goodness, this book has so very much going for it.

This true story, put in a nutshell, is the telling of the remarkable journey of her father - an odyssey really, starting from the time he was a young child; a child of the Great Depression, living in Oklahoma, through his remarkable voyage in a boat he built himself and sailed it from Fort Smith, Arkansas (of all places) all the way to Alaska...for the most part, completely alone. But the book is so much more than just a sea voyage; a scary one, I grant you, but a voyage never-the less. It is also the story of her mother, Cecil Marie, a rather remarkable woman in her own right.

The author's parents, Melvin and Cecil Owens had a dream. They wanted to live in Alaska. Both these individual lived the majority of their lives in either Oklahoma or Arkansas - they were not sea dwelling people. George Owens worked construction and was one of those individuals (alas, I am not one of them) that could build just about anything he set his mind to. We are taken through the three years, where in his spare time, Mr. Owens built the ship they named "Red Dog" in his backyard and then through his remarkable journey down the Arkansas River, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal and then up the western coast of Central America, America, all the way to Ketchikan, Alaska where he and his wife finally made their home. (They ended up living in a home built by Mr. Owens near the water and forest for over twenty some odd years - remarkable!)

We travel with Melvin as he navigates river ways, crooked customs officers in foreign ports, the open sea and rather evil conmen, storms, sickness, anxiety..... Speaking no language other than English this quiet but determined man made a journey of a life time against tremendous odds.

Now let me be frank and explain. When I first heard of this book and the homemade craft, the Red Dog, I had visions of something like what I would build which would have been hammered and wired together out of scrap lumber, orange crates and empty oil cans. Mr. Owens though was a craftsman and the boat he built with his own two hands and spare parts was actually quite a sophisticated and seaworthy craft. The building alone; the process he went through absolutely amazed me.

But don't think this book is just about his two year voyage. This is actually the story of a family; a family of like mine and yours. Good hardworking people; a close family full of love and respect for each other. The author has used the techniques of flashbacks throughout the book to bring a vivid picture of a family who made it through the depression, worked extremely hard all of their lives and above all, followed their dream. (I consider myself an amature historian when it comes to the Great Depression and I have to tell you that I learned much from this book. The author was able to capture the essence of those times perfectly. I felt she could have been writing about my own family at times). I also grew up in the same area (Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma) so I knew much of the physical background the author describes and can assure you she is spot on.

Furthermore, not only do we have a wonderful story here, but we have a story written by an author that can actually write and I might say, write extremely well. Her prose borders on lyrical and her ability to describe puts her on the same level with all the great travel writers....folks, this is one talented lady!

If you have not already read this work I would strongly suggest you do so. It is a great true story that has been written by a true master writer.

Learn more about author Nancy Owens Barnes, freelance writer and author, at and  She blogs at

The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. It is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews, reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure, and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've read. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by genre, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the search engine handy for gleaning the names of small publishers. Find other writer-related blogs at Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor. As a courtesy to the author, please tweet and retweet this post using this little green retweet widget :

No comments: