Book Review | “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace” by Andra Watkins Autobiographical account of a daughter & father

Posted Thursday, 15 January, 2015 by jorielov , , 2 Comments

Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin.

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Last year, I participated in an epic historical fiction blog tour on behalf of a novel I was itching to delve into ever since it was first offered to me to review for the tour itself! The novel I’m referring to ended up being one of my Top Picks for 2014 (which is included on my End of the Year Survey for 2014; not yet released at time of this posting) due to the breadth of the story combined with the scope of a story-teller who left me ruminatively happy! “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis” changed my perception of historical fiction as much as “Inscription” by H.H. Miller. Both writers wrote genre-bending narratives that etch themselves into your mind and heart, to a level that sets the bar quite high for others who follow suit.

I was captured by the journey Ms. Watkins was taking on the Trace, camping out in front of a computer with my Mum & Da, watching her videos like you might serial tv! Each video was honest and shot straight from the Trace itself! The only takeaway we wished we had of that experience is the little green calling card for “To Live Forever” which Ms. Watkins held up during each video! She captured our spirits by her unwavering honesty and her cheeky humour which gave us a lift of joy! Whilst she was on the Trace, I hosted her for a review and an interview (the latter of which she replied to at a stop!), but I knew then, what I know now… Ms. Watkins was one author I would support throughout her career. She has something quite special to share with the world and I knew I had discovered something quite extraordinary!

I was contacted by Ms. Watkins who put me in touch with her publicist in regards to reviewing her first non-fiction release, an autobiography of her journey on the Trace and the time she spent with her father. I was honoured she had reached out to me and I quite happily returned a reply to accept. I received a complimentary copy of “Not Without My Father” from Word Hermit Press in exchange for an honest review! I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein. 

On my connection to Ms. Watkins: 

I felt connected to Ms. Watkins before and after I read her debut novel, “To Live Forever” whilst attempting to keep in touch with her via her blog. Life ebbed and flowed in the months between when I first met her through the blog tour and January 2015 when I am hosting her for the second time, but one moment in particular I remember we both experienced the same agony at the same time! In July 2014, we were both bitten by spiders and equally allergic to them! We had a lovely conversation about it on Twitter, and I couldn’t help smiling realising despite the miles, she understood what I was going through! She’s an incredible writer and motivating spirit — a person I am genuinely thankful my path has crossed with and of whom I am thankful to interact with during the year.

I am disclosing this, to assure you that I can formulate an honest opinion, even though I have interacted with her through her blog as much as I enjoy our random conversations on Twitter. I treat each book as a ‘new experience’, whether I personally know the author OR whether I am reading a book by them for the first time.

Book Review | “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace” by Andra Watkins Autobiographical account of a daughter & fatherNot Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace
by Andra Watkins
Source: Direct from Publisher

Can an epic adventure succeed without a hero? Andra Watkins needed a wingman to help her become the first living person to walk the historic 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. She planned to walk fifteen miles a day. For thirty-four days.

After striking out with everyone in her life, she was left with her disinterested eighty-year-old father. And his gas. The sleep apnea machine and self-scratching. Sharing a bathroom with a man whose gut obliterated his aim.

As Watkins trudged America's forgotten highway, she lost herself in despair and pain. Nothing happened according to plan, and her tenuous connection to her father started to unravel. Through arguments and laughter, tears and fried chicken, they fought to rebuild their relationship before it was too late. In Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace, Watkins invites readers to join her dysfunctional family adventure in a humourous and heartbreaking memoir that asks is one can really turn I wish I had into I'm glad I did.

Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction

Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

Also by this author: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, Interview (To Live Forever)

Published by Word Hermit Press

on 15th January, 2015

Pages: 238

Published By: Word Hermit Press, 15 Janaury, 2015
Converse via: #NotWithoutMyFather | #AndraWatkins | #NatchezTraceWalk444miles
Available Formats: Paperback

About Andra Watkins

Andra WakinsAndra lives in Charleston, South Carolina. A non-practicing CPA, she has a degree in accounting from Francis Marion University. She's still mad at her mother for refusing to let her major in musical theater, because her mom was convinced she'd end up starring in porn films.

In addiction to her writing talent, Andra is an accomplished public speaker. Her acclaimed first novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis was published by Word Hermit Press in 2014.

On returning to the Trace:

Part of what eclipsed the joy for me reading To Live Forever was the enriched history of the Trace and the way in which Watkins told this story with Meriwether Lewis as the lead character! Here is an excerpt of my review on behalf of the Trace:

The story is interwoven as a refractive mirror of the Natchez Trace itself. The harder you believe any blight of adversity is in your life to conquer and overcome, the more your spirit will start to believe your too fragile to try anything. The Trace is a test of wills as much as it’s a test of inner fortitude to re-strengthen our shield against unwanted storms and periods of stress which arise out of nowhere. Life can ebb and flow, bobbing us along until we’re ready to see what our eyes blinded us towards revealing. All of our passageways lead us further towards where our feet are meant to land, but what if we hold ourselves back from the greatest revelations of all? Simply because we’re not willing to alight where we’re lead to go? The Trace is unique in that it withholds its past like a tightly woven tapestry. Each piece of its innate soul is stitched inside the weathered path where feet and souls mingled into the mist. There lessons linger and their spirits shudder to grieve.

There is an ever-knowing pool of truth and hope awaiting us around each bend and turn. The people we feel we are ‘randomly’ encountering are the kind of teachers and advisers we might never expect would be important to our growth. Listen with compassion. Be kind to strangers who might one day become a cherished friend. Grow through friendship and rise each day realising the beauty of the hour. Our lives are leading us through the light and back inside it.

As you can see, I was connected to how the Trace affected Ms. Watkins as a writer and how a location like the Trace can transcend everyone who comes in contact with it. There are corridors and pockets of the outside world where when you place your foot down on their path, you breathe in a piece of it’s essence; not just the essence of that place from the time you visit but from the vacuum of where time left it’s impression on the place itself. Time is temporal and set in continuum outside our own etchings on it’s behalf — when you experience walking on a trail, walking past trees and the wildlife who call that stretch of endless mile home, you become transformed. Each step gives you strength, but inside each step is a moment of clarity welling up inside you and it is through the journey you take on that trail you start to see things differently.

I might not have walked the Trace, but I do regularly walk in nature. I understand it from that perspective of being elsewhere than here, even if I haven’t walked as many miles consecutively, I have walked and by walking your given the chance to truly see not only what is around you, but what is within.

By reading Not Without My Father, I was given a gift to return back to the Trace that enticed my own imagination and heart, whilst finishing the adventure I took through viscerally seeing everything through the eyes of Andra Watkins.

My Review of Not Without My Father:

Andra Watkins and her father have a very unique relationship, in that, they do not necessarily get-on with each other nor do they particularly know how to connect with each other without one or the other growing impatient. The first introductory bit to this memoir starts to set the stage, as we gain a small insight into how the two of these unlikely explorers are thrust together when no one else is available for a five-week jaunt through the Trace! I felt for Ms. Watkins truly, as the odds were stacked against her at the jumpstart: to walk 444-miles of a historic road before deciding to encourage her father to join her whilst knowing he isn’t going to be the easiest travelling companion to take! I tell you, she has moxie in spades, dear hearts!

Yet, not just moxie — that might explain her temptation to create a tangible thread of interactive immersion for her readers who could lay their minds around what the Trace looks like now verse what it could have looked like during Meriwether Lewis’s life; but no, what she was about to undertake with her father, took more than moxie, it took raw courage to admit that the one person she needed to take this journey with her was the one person she yearned to reconnect with on a level she hadn’t yet achieved.

My only regret is that I was so caught up in my own life during the Spring, I wasn’t able to keep a daily eye on Ms. Watkins on the Trace through her video uploads! I felt devastated when I realised that I had nearly waited too long to watch all of them, as my tour stop for To Live Forever was coming up fast and here I was completely oblivious to most of her journey on the Trace! However, as I read her memoir what saddened me the most is that she never thought a reader (such as I) would want to read her novel! I still remember the extreme joy I had in writing Ms. Bruno my wicked delight in being selected for the blog tour! There was truly something quite brilliantly magical about the premise, and whilst I read the novel, I felt as though I was given a unique story spun out of the heart of a story-teller who had not yet found her confidence. By page 22 inside Not Without My Father, I realised just how much her confidence had faltered whilst on the verge of starting the Trace itself!

Similar to Watkins, my own life has a non-traditional trajectory with it’s own unique rhythm and pace, as like her, I am still a singleton as a thirty-something without children. I do chronicle my joy of adopting in the future as I seek out stories of adoption to blog about but the truth remains, that her life and mine were writ to their own seasons. Not everyone goes from high school to college to career to marriage to children to retirement. If we all elected to take the same path, we’d all have the ability to tell the same story; we’d be a dull society – where no one would dare live outside the lines of what was expected. The hardest bit to being non-conventional is owning your life and the story it has to tell the world. In this, I completely understand the undercurrent of Watkins attempting to weigh what she has the strength to undertake against the truth she is living. Taking a risk isn’t easy; if it were everyone would take one. What keeps us invigorated in living our own story, is the need for a challenge to step out of the ethers of what we consider ordinary and dare us to go out there and do something quite extraordinary!

I truly enjoyed seeing Ms. Watkins through the eyes of her father, as his portions of the memoir were in italics and threaded through her own recollective memories! The strongest bit I could tell is how hard he was trying to show his love for his daughter, and how much saying he loved her was not something that came easy. I think in some ways, they had a communication break-down because both of them loved each other, but it is not as easy to know this when you reach a point where you question if what you think you know is enough; sometimes you want to know for a bonefide fact rather than a plausible theory of logic. In reading her father’s observations, you can see where Watkins has garnished her non-nonsense approach to writing and life; they truly have a heap in common, even if they tend to be at odds with each other. She comes from strong stock, that much cannot be denied.

I loved how a rendezvous at a dive led to unearthing a bit of history about John Grishman’s first novel and how one reader was in firm belief of purchasing unknown writer’s first novels on the larkspur hope that one day, the unknown writer might truly grow into being the writer no one can stop talking about! I loved this tidbit of joy from the road, because it proved what I had found on the road with my Mum: quite unexpectedly you start to see the connecting threads of how all our lives are not that far apart from each other! I still remember finding a connection to my own family whilst lunching in Alabama — never knew you could tie together your own ancestral history by dining in a treehouse!

Each day Watkins walked the Trace she learnt something new about herself, her father, and the life she had lead up until that moment. All the disconnected pieces of her life’s tapestry were becoming stitched together with a new thread of enlightenment. Peace was starting to wash over her but moreso than even serenity of having this new insight was the reassurance that she had found just enough time to spend with her father before there wouldn’t be time left to give them the hours they needed to truly see each other for the first time.

I come from a small family and each time I had to resolve I was on the verge of losing one of my loved ones, I started to think about the hours that would be lost in the future. The hours where I wouldn’t be able to confide a story woven out of an everyday moment of joy or a rush of excitement to share the news of a new book I’d read or a film I couldn’t stop talking about. Memories help evoke how we relate to each other, but it is the conversations and the words we give to each other that help knit our love into each other’s souls. No matter how old you are, you want to find a way to forestall time’s expanse into the future — to carve out a bit of a space where you can hold a bit tighter to the people who mean the world to you, and give yourself a measure of calm knowing that you had something to fondly look back upon once the anguish of grief leaves your heart. Joy has a way of returning out of sorrow but only if you had the courage to seek out a way to curate it before you lost the time to capture it.

One singular truth I have known and experienced is that when you walk on a trail for any length of time, your entire essence (here this infers your ‘light’) is a part of that tangible and living space. Ms. Watkins wondered if the Trace would remember her or have a memory she had been there? I can affirm that the Trace has already embraced her because the Trace was a big part of how she healed and left the Traces transformed. Her journey not only changed her but it changed the Trace because each of us have the power to affect where we go and it is through what we choose to do that has the greatest goodwill to be given perpetually forward through time.

My commitment to the “Make A Memory” Campaign:

Originally when Ms. Watkins asked me about joining the “Make A Memory” campaign in connection with reading her memoir Not Without My Father, I was truly overjoyed! I wanted to start planning a ‘new’ endeavour that would involve both of my parents, as in the past I have to admit, one of the best “Make A Memory” projects my Mum and I undertook was the 15,000 mile road trip we forged out of a desire to see not only different parts of America between the Northern Plains of the Upper Mid-West, the Mid-Atlantic, and the East Coast but rather, we were in search of our ‘next home’. A place to lay our hat, knit ourselves into a community and seek out a climate which was not hugged so tight to one season but rather was a celebration of four!

My Dad played a smaller role in this journey as he was unable to travel with us exclusively due to work, however, he would fly in to certain cities along our route for a weekender! When Ms. Watkins first asked me about this project, this road trip I took with my Mum was the very first thing I thought of because it was just us out there with a heap of maps, a quasi-certain route (of which never quite took us where we thought we’d go!), and a lot of serendipitously lovely discoveries along the way! We have the hand-written journalling I did as navigator as much as numerous road stories such as when I took the wheel and drove when my Mum took ill from food poisoning for 15 solid hours whilst attempting to find a ‘pet friendly hotel’ in an un-pet friendly state of Louisiana! (at least the portions where we were driving through at the time!) There were the times where we were interacting with storm victims from Hurricane Katrina to ducking inside a petrol station during a tornadic outbreak in Alabama!

The air was so pure up in the Dakotas you’d wish you could bottle it straight out of the winds and take it with you! And, lest I mention how we had an affinity for finding Starbucks tucked into curious locales between here and there, whilst enjoying their green tea mistos? The trip itself was a succession of adventures on the road spilt out over two years. We even called radio stations to join in on a local joke about a landmark being dressed up for a holiday as much as we chatted with people we met along the way; learning about our country from the friendliness of strangers. We took in the atmosphere of walking downtown in all the lovely small townes we came across; much to the chagrin of librarians in one city and a patrolmen in another (mind you, the weather was ducking below the 20s!).

It is our desire to compile the memories, the faded route from our recollective stories, and a criss-cross of where we were and where we had hoped to go as a way to give a footing of what we accomplished to those who will come up in our line next. We want to write and curate a book we can keep in our family as a way to pass down one portion of our living history in book form. It might turn into a scrapbook journal or it might become a POD edition (such as at an Espresso Book Machine location).

All I know is this: Mum and I took a daring chance to pack up a car with enough clothes to last a certain length of time, a spirit of adventure, and an optimism for knowing somewhere we’d find our compass point. The irony is that it were all those beautifully (at times) random moments stitched in time that gave us the most laughter, the most joy, and the most delightful hours of mother-daughter blissitude! Sometimes you cannot always wait for the ‘best moment’ to go off and seek an experience; sometimes you just have to believe in being able to ‘go’ when you have the chance to just ‘leave and sort it out’ on the road!

The new endeavour will be a journey of three: daughter, Mum, and Da! Still in the planning stages but within the possibility of happening lateron in 2015! I will continue to update my readers as much as I alert Ms. Watkins on what we did, why we chose to do it, and what we learnt along the way!

Projects like these truly warm my heart, as my family was one who liked to build an hourglass of memories within the fabric of everyday life. I have so many treasured moments where my Da took out a niche amount of time from his chaotically full 24/7 work schedule to be with my Mum and I. He was a father who put his family first, even when his job did not warrant the grace of being close-knit; he found ways to connect and be connected. My grand-parents were in my life since before I was bourne, which is why I have a strong bond with my family, and why I cherish the times where we can do things outside our routines that create a nexus of love out of a living memory.

On why I love the writings of Andra Watkins:

Due to the nature of what is included in the video I decided not to embed it directly to my blog, as it is for mature audiences as Ms. Watkins is quite descriptive in what she is attempting to bring to the table in her talk. However, it is based on historical fact and is quite interesting on that level! The reason I am sharing the link is because at the very end of her short talk, she is inspiring everyone to pick up a book, any book, and to sort out why you stopped yourself from reading an experience that could effectively change your stars! Change your perception and perhaps even change the way in which you live.

Andra Watkins | Motivational Speaker <— click to discover what I did!

Watkins has a frankness about her where she doesn’t hold back from talking straight from the hip, sharing raw emotional honesty with her readers inside her fiction and non-fiction releases alike!

The only bits I honestly glossed over were the conditions of her sore feet, mostly because I had a hike once where I endured blisters that eventually worsened and required surgery. No one wants to backtrack on a memory like that, so when the nitty-gritty bits were mentioned, I sort of just glossed over to the next line of words or started the next sentence. For those who are not as familiar with what happens to your feet, trust me, for all your strength sometimes you find your body isn’t able to compensate for certain elements: in my case, it was breaking in a new pair of hikers whilst going through switchbacks and miles of endless back-country trails! Aye!

I felt as though I was with the Watkins as they took this journey one day at a time, one rest stop at a time, and one arduous trek into the unknown one hour at a time! The way Watkins has written Not Without My Father, you start to feel for both of them; for the hardships they’ve each faced throughout their lives to the hard history of her father’s life growing up in places that were not respectable for toddlers. Part of my heart volleyed between rallying for Ms. Watkins and then her father; they each had so much to prove to the other, it places your emotions on the forefront of each page your fingers turnt.

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This book review is courtesy of:

Andra Wakins & Word Hermit Press

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{SOURCES: Cover art of  “Not Without My Father”, author biography and book synopsis  were all provided by Word Hermit Press and used with permission. Author photograph of Andra Watkins provided by HFVBTs and was re-used with permission of the author & Word Hermit Press. Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin. Bookish Events badge created by Jorie in Canva. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination.}

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Thursday, 15 January, 2015 by jorielov in 21st Century, A Father's Heart, ARC | Galley Copy, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Book Review (non-blog tour), Father-Daughter Relationships, Indie Author, Inspirational Fiction & Non-Fiction, Jorie Loves A Story, Memoir, Modern Day, Mother-Daughter Relationships, Natchez Trace, Non-Fiction, Philosophical Intuitiveness, Post-911 (11th September 2001), Seclusion in the Natural World, The Natural World, Travel Narrative | Memoir, Vignettes of Real Life, Walking & Hiking Trails

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2 responses to “Book Review | “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace” by Andra Watkins Autobiographical account of a daughter & father

    • Dear Ms Watkins,

      My apologies for the delayed response – between my migraines and other health afflictions over the years since I read your Memoir and now, I admit, I fell short of timely replies to the beautiful notes left on my blog. Becoming a part of your life through this book and experiencing your vlog updates from the Natchez Trace whilst I participated on the blog tour for your debut novel was part of the joy of my first years as a book blogger. I was humbled to have such an interpersonal view of the ‘life behind’ the experience and journey whilst learning more about you in the process.

      Thank you for writing such an honest and raw Memoir. Realising my words not only resonated with you but honoured the content of what you’ve written truly gave me a lift of joy at the time this review was published.

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