River Queens is the story of a voyage through America. But more than that, it’s the story of Alexander Watson, Dale Harris, their dog Doris Faye, and their boat the Betty Jane. It made me laugh, learn, and even shed a tear.

Watson and Harris are landlubbers from Dallas who seize the opportunity to restore a vintage wooden boat. They have plenty of experience restoring houses, but a boat is entirely different. And they’re not really boat people. And it takes a village of them (or more accurately, a marina) to get the Betty Jane running up river.

Watson is the author, storyteller, and often the one yelling his head off at Dale for one reason or another. Their relationship goes through everything you’d expect during a complex restoration project. And, like the very best HGTV shows, the couple willingly shares their ups and downs.

But this isn’t a deep dive into couples counseling. In fact, the cast of characters is large and colorful as the Betty Jane makes her way from lakes in the Texas / Oklahoma region to the rivers of the Midwest. Somehow, Watson tells just the right stories to capture each of the colorful people they meet along the way. He honors the tattooed couple equally with the white-gloved grandmothers.

As per my usual, I started checking the locations on Google Maps as they traveled, inspecting the riverside topography via the satellite images. Only the best travelogues make me want to do that!

My conclusions

River Queens is escapism in the very best sense. I’ve spent my share of days on friends’ boats. But I know nothing about the money pit and time suck that is boat ownership. And clearly, restoring a vintage boat is an entirely different matter. And once I started to immerse myself in the Betty Jane and her owners, I was hooked.

Watson has an easy writing style, conversational and vivid. He’s by turns vulnerable and circumspect, but more often the former. His tone and voice are informative, gentle, and regularly hilarious.

If you like memoirs about overcoming challenges, interesting small towns, and unique people, this is for you!


Many thanks to Alexander Watson and Orange Frazer Press for an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.