If any parts of the valley aren’t parched and fried to a crisp by July, they certainly will be by the end of August. Moisture can seem a long-ago dream.

For a chilling watery change of pace, try “Something in the Water” (Ballentine Books, June 2018) by Catherine Steadman. A couple honeymooning in Bora Bora discover something in the water while they are scuba diving. Should they reveal what they have found? Could their choice have devastating consequences? This psychological thriller is the debut novel of Steadman, who is better known for her role in “Downton Abbey.”

New – and watery – for children is “Llama Llama Learns to Swim” (Penguin, June 2018). The book is based on an episode of the Netflix series that is based on Anna Dewdney’s picture books for children. One of her early books was “Llama Llama Red Pajama,” published in 2005. Several others have the same rhyming pattern – “Llama Llama Misses Mama,” “Llama Llama Mad at Mama.” Dewdney died in 2016 at age 50, but her stories continue to charm children.

Not new, but of lasting importance, is James McBride’s “The Color of Water” (Riverhead Books, anniversary edition 2006). Subtitled “A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother,” the book explores the life of McBride’s mother, a woman who married a black minister, would not admit that she was white, put all 12 of her children through college and told her church members that God was the color of water.


James R. Varner, Bakersfield architect and world traveler, published “A New Age” in April last year. His book deals with the fact that empires come and go, but somehow mankind’s inner spirit always persists. Varner says he has wondered what life is all about since childhood. His quest took him through Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Mexico. His earlier publications include “A Tree in Paradise.” On his blog, he discusses topics such as “The Rise of Artificial Intelligence,” “The Stagnation of Technological Invention” and “Can Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology Be the New World Currency?”


The Central Coast Writers Conference sponsored by Cuesta College will be held Sept. 27-29. Registration is $250 through Sept. 21. Six-hour master classes are new this year for an additional fee. Rachel Herron presents the opening keynote “Fast-Draft Your Memoir.” Jean Moelter will be the closing keynote speaker performing six comedic stories from her one-woman show.  Details at: https://www.cuesta.edu/communityprograms/writers-conference/schedule.html.


Entries will be accepted through Oct. 1 for the Phillip Levine Prize for Poetry sponsored by the Department of English at Fresno State. Entries must be in English and original, unpublished poetry manuscripts of 48-80 pages with no more than one poem per page. This year’s final judge is Peter Everwine, a good friend and contemporary of Phil Levine. Levine, Everwine and last year’s contest judge, C. G. Hanzlicek, were professors together at Fresno State beginning in the 1960s when there was a blossoming of creativity known as the Fresno Poets. The winner receives $2,000 and publication by Anshinga Press. Details at: https://www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/english/levineprize/guidelines.html.


An aureole is a circle of light or brightness surrounding something and, fittingly, some of the brightest lights in Fresno poetry are represented in publications from this Toledo, Ohio, press. This includes Peter Everwine’s “A Small Clearing,” Phillip Levine’s “The Language Problem” and “Smoke,” and Gary Soto’s “The Three of Them” and “Gil Mendez & the Metaphysics of a Blimp.”


The last Respite by the River for this year will be on Sept. 12, with music by Barry Shultz and Megan Bohigian at 6 p.m. and the poetry of Peter Everwine following at 7 p.m. Guests may bring a picnic and chairs or blankets. Wine and desserts can be purchased. The Riverview Ranch House and Art Gallery will be open. More information at riverparkway.org. or (559) 248-8480.


“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter … to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.” (John Burroughs 1837-1921)