Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees — or the natural beauty of our area’s farmlands, hills, valleys, forests and glades, and the animals and birds that frequent these lovely habitats.

“Missouri River Country, 100 Miles of Stories and Scenery from Hermann to the Confluence” by Dan Burkhardt, pays tribute to a plethora of natural wonders that lie right under our noses, but which we too often take for granted.

Here’s a coffee table book that would make a great gift, but one you’ll want to display in your home as well, so you’d better plan on buying a couple of copies. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to the Katy Land Trust, a mission begun to better connect Missourians with the countryside around them.

Comprised of more than 60 essays, penned by a vast range of writers, including Gov. Jay Nixon, and local folks whose names you’ll recognize, “Missouri River Country,” won’t bog you down in the mundane. The heartfelt contributions pay equal homage to our area’s historical figures, and present-day farmers who make a living off Missouri River bottomland, dealing with floods and their accompanying nightmares.

Expect to also learn more about Missouri’s bounty — wine, beer and the farm-to-table movement in essays written by St. Louis restaurateurs, Gerard Ford Craft and Bill Cardwell. These topics are just a sample of what’s in store for readers.

“Missouri River Country” isn’t comprised of text-heavy pages — most are lavishly graced with full-color spreads by local photographers and artists, among them Curt Dennison and Danny Brown, and artist Gary Lucy. Local readers will recognize many of the sights pictured — Lucy’s depiction of “The Campsite at Tavern Creek,” scenes along Highway 94, the river at sunset, tunnels formed by the trees along the Katy Trail, and a rainbow’s palette of birds at Shaw Nature Reserve.

To get a look at this “eye-candy” of a coffee table book, plan to attend a book reading and signing by Dan Burkhardt at Washington Public Library next Friday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. The free event is being sponsored by the Washington Friends of the Library. To learn more about “Missouri River Country,” go to

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Bittersweet Bliss—Bridget Jones is Back

Guest Review by Mindy Sansoucie, Missourian Staff.

Bridget is back! Helen Fielding has returned to her award-wining series, “The Bridget Jones Diaries,” with a third installment, “Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy.”

With equal doses of heartbreak and hilarity, the new Bridget Jones is the old Bridget Jones, yet tinged with a bittersweet tragedy. We meet up with Bridget, two babies and one husband later, after she has experienced a tragedy so severe that she finds herself on the edge of reason, once again.

While Bridget relishes in comfort foods, ham and cheese Panini, shredded cheese packets, chocolate buttons, too much wine and “toy boys,” she also grieves as a widow and learns how to be a single mother of two young children. Bridget must come to terms with social networking and learn how to romance via texting and Twitter.

Fielding spilled the beans early on the Darcy-death plot twist, in what seems to be an effort at cushioning the blow for readers. The name Darcy has been the epitome of Prince Charming since Jane Austen wrote him into his dreamy existence. Realizing the risk of disappointing her vast following, Fielding instead gives them what they’ve always enjoyed — Bridget Jones the singleton. Kill your darlings, as the rule goes, and Fielding certainly does.

Once readers can wrap their minds around the Darcy death, they’ll connect as intimately with Bridget Jones, the widowed mother, as they did with Bridget Jones the “wanton sex goddess with a very bad man between her thighs.” The emotional pull of Bridget’s witty battle with life is as strong as ever. She is a survivor, as are the rest of us.

Four years have passed since her husband’s death and her friends are beginning to call her a born-again virgin. Her friends, mostly familiar faces from “The Diaries,” attempt to send Bridget on a mission of sexual healing. Instead, Bridget finds a “toy boy.”

The “toy boy” relationship springs from Bridget’s maiden voyage into social networking. Tired of flirtatious men who are “all text and no trousers,” Bridget decides to broaden her network. When a 30-something sex-bot nicknamed Roxster begins following Bridget on Twitter, one tweet leads to the next and soon he’s a bona fide boyfriend.

Bridget’s story embodies the era in which she lives. “The Diaries” acts as a modern day novel of manners. To fully enjoy this latest installment, one must lighten up and accept it for what it is – an easy and fun read narrated by a beloved heroine. Savor the bittersweet moments and just laugh.

Bridget accepts that life is just “millions of seesaws all going on at the same time like nodding-donkeys. And everyone’s on one end or the other of the seesaw at different times.” As Bridget would say, “brace up. Keep buggering on” – readers will be glad they did.

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New Imagining on Classic English Favorite

Need a way to fill the gap while you’re waiting for more from “Downton Abbey?” Pour yourself a cuppa and dive into “Longbourn,” a delectable new novel by Jo Baker about downstairs life in the estate house that’s the setting of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Everything’s not tea and crumpets for the servants at Longbourn. But upstairs it’s primroses, lace and clotted cream as Mrs. Bennet schemes to get her five daughters married off to the most eligible bachelors in Britain.

The running of the household falls on the shoulders of Mrs. Hill, the stalwart housekeeper, who acts as the servants’ supervisor. Steady and stern, she harbors a secret that isn’t revealed until late in the book, long after we’ve met Sarah, a housemaid.

Sarah has a good heart and chapped hands, an orphan plucked from the institution for a lifetime of work at Longbourn. She quietly laments her lot in life, as she goes about her duties, slopping the pigs and emptying the upper-crusts’ chamber pots. Sarah accepts her servitude and is obedient and kind to the upstairs ladies, seeing to their every need and serving as a role model for Polly, a rather fly-by-night teenager, also an orphaned child.

The crease in Sarah’s apron comes when a stranger arrives at Longbourn and is hired on as a footman. With patience, author Jo Baker reveals bits and pieces about him — much too slowly for Sarah’s liking, if she had a say in the matter. Eventually, her distaste for James turns into an affair of the heart, one that causes her great heartbreak in the third volume of the novel when the action shifts to James and his experiences. Enough said. No one likes a spoiler.

Instead find out for yourself. Turn the kettle on, turn the pages and relish lovely “Longbourn,” a book long on charm and so completely English you’ll feel transported there. You’re sure to enjoy the visit.