Dedicated to book reviews and news concerning Michigan literature including; fiction, history, travel, biography, current events, industry, the Great Lakes, and the Michigan experience in all its many facets. The emphasis will be on new adult books but the blog will also revisit classic books about Michigan, and will review children's books that may be of interest to teachers.
Quote for the Day: "Flint may be the most egregious modern-day example of environmental injustice." Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See. 2018.
What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City
by Mona Hanna-Attisha
It is assumed that one of the primary responsibilities of local, state, and national government, through their numerous health and regulatory agencies, is to protect and ensure the health and safety of its citizens. This is the story of the total failure at all levels of government to protect the men, women, and children of Flint from lead poisoning via their community drinking water. The story is told by the Flint pediatrician, and her team of friends and colleagues who fought to alert Flint to this catastrophic health issue and make Flint, Genesee County, the State of Michigan, and the national government stop the poisoning of Flint by its own water department and deal with the serious health consequences that will affect thousands of Flint children for years to come.
I was born and raised in Flint and spent nearly half my adult life living and working there. I followed the news closely of the poisoning, the cause, and its far-reaching implications as they were reported. I thought I knew most of the story. But Dr. Hanna-Attisha's inside account of the crisis rocked me. At times I had to put the book down because I couldn't read through my tears and more than once I became too outraged and upset to read another word. At its heart, this is a book about how the lives of Flint's adults and especially its children were devalued by the very people empowered and entrusted with their well being. It wasn't just a failure of government it was criminal malfeasance. It was also a case of overt institutional racism. The previous sentence was the conclusion reached by a five-member state panel tasked with "reviewing actions regarding water use and testing in Flint."
Dr. Mona, as she is known by her patients, is as good a writer as she is an activist for the public good. The book reads like an edge-of-your-seat thriller as she chronicles her dawning awareness of Flint's lead poisoning. She was fully aware of the terrible long-term effects lead poisoning would have on the young but the more she tried to make public health officials aware of the crisis the more they discredited her and lied to the public. The book is absolutely gripping reading and the author does a great job of weaving her family history and home life into the story.
The book is a shoo-in for inclusion in Michigan's Notable Book List and deserves consideration for a Pulitzer Prize. It is the best book I've read this year and the most important. And I fully admit I am biased. Long before I read the book I considered Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha a personal hero and, however doubtful in the current political climate, this proud immigrant from Iraq and U.S. citizen deserves a Presidental Medal of Freedom. And if you don't believe it can happen in your city you could be dead wrong. Flint was the canary in the coal mine. If it wasn't for Dr. Mona and her team of public health activists no one would have noticed or acted upon the dead canary. What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha. One World, 2018, $28.00
by Landon Beach
At the heart of this entertaining and suspenseful thriller is one of Michigan’s great historical mysteries that has gone unanswered for more than three hundred years. The author has done his research and cleverly woven that mystery and the solving of it as the engine that drives this novel of adventure.
School teacher Nate Martin and his wife Brooke spend their summers in an old beach house on the northern coast of Lake Huron that once belonged to his parents. Michigan’s Sunrise Coast has traditionally been ignored by the wealthy but as available lakeshore property on the Lake Michigan side of the lower peninsula has become harder to find, the well-to-do discovered Lake Huron and its beautiful beaches. The coast the wealthy once looked down their noses at is presently becoming gentrified. This is the first novel or piece of non-fiction that I’ve read that describes the ever increasing shift from small, aging cottages to million dollar summer homes along northern US-23. The author is very good at capturing the feel, character, and charm of Up North small towns and cottage life on the big water.
On one of Nate’s morning strolls, he finds a peculiar and very out-of-place object on the beach. In trying to discover what the object is, where it could have come from, and if it is of any value he is told to look up Hutch, a Coast Guard retiree and widower, who lives up the coast from Nate and Brooke. The man is a bit of a curmudgeon, a jack of all trades has an interest in maritime history, and is estranged from his only daughter.
Nate’s discovery is of great interest to Hutch. The two men slowly become friends as they work to identify and research the object’s history and the adventure it soon leads them on. The author does a great job of meticulously establishing a fictional resolution of Michigan’s 300-year-old mystery and describing the adventure that ensues. As news of what Nate might have found spreads it attacks the attention of violent men in search of some quick money. The main characters are fully drawn and several minor plot threads give them added dimension. The well thought out lead up to the climax burns like a slow fuse.
In fact, the build-up to the climax is so well drawn out the slam-bang abrupt ending comes as somewhat of a disappointment. I would have liked to have read a much more detailed account of how the villains arrived at the climactic scene. Instead, they were just there. I would have also liked more character development for the villains. Especially the singularly cold-blooded killer of which there was not even a hint as to his murderous side.
Landon Beach admits to wanting to entertain the reader which he does admirably in this his first novel. As an added bonus the reader is introduced to a very good description of the circumstances and the few basic facts surrounding one of the state’s great mysteries.
The Wreck by Landon Beach. Landon Beach Books, 2018, $11.99
Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War
by J.H. Kidd
Since its publication in 1908, this memoir of a cavalryman who served in the 6th Michigan has been considered a Civil War classic. J. H. Kidd dropped out of the University of Michigan as a freshman and with the help of his influential father was conditionally appointed an officer in the 6th Regiment of Michigan Cavalry. The condition? In 15 days he had to recruit and enlist 78 men into his company. He did it in under 15 days and served throughout the war as a cavalry officer under George Armstrong Custer. As Custer rose from the command of the 6th Cavalry to command of the only cavalry brigade in any of the Union armies made up of regiments from a single state, Kidd followed him up the chain of command from Lieutenant to Brigadier General.
The memoir was written years after the war and was based on Kidd’s many letters to friends and family during the war. The result is one the most thorough and vivid personal accounts of a cavalryman’s daily life in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield to come out of the war. Skyhorse Publishing’s welcome reissue of the classic with an introduction by Paul Andrew Hutton will hopefully introduce new readers to the important contributions and the many sacrifices Michigan’s cavalry made in saving the Union. It will also cause readers to re-evaluate General Custer’s prowess as a leader and a soldier.
Kidd, who became a journalist after the war, is a fine writer. The book overflows with memorable passages from thumbnail sketches of the outstanding and memorable men he served with to descriptions of battles and their aftermath. Kidd wrote of his first sighting of Lincoln, “In appearance, he was as unique as his place in history…. .” Of his first glance at Custer, the author recalled his “appearance amazed if it did not for the moment amuse me.”
The regimental surgeon looked like a preacher and swore like a pirate and when he got on a roll the man “could congeal blood in one’s veins.”
When Kidd suffered his first wound in battle an ambulance carried him through the debris of the battlefield and he observed, “everything was suggestive of desolation, nothing of the glory of war.” He follows that with a devastating description of the field hospital and watching the slow, painful, and uncomplaining death of a trooper shot in the bowels who knew his wound was fatal. And like every other man who served under Custer, he thought the world of him.
This book belongs on the shelf of any Michigan Civil War buff. No, I take that back, this enduring classic belongs on the shelf of any Civil War buff.
The Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War by J. H. Kidd. Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, $14.99.
Quote for the day. "People in the U.P. really believe they have perfected life."
Roger McCoy, Channel 50 (Detroit) newscaster during a radio interview on WJR January 1, 1993.
by Joseph Heywood
A new novel in the Upper Peninsula series featuring Conservation Officer Grady Service is always cause for celebration. If you are a lover of the U.P. and its culture, great storytelling, one-of-a-kind characters, and have even a slight interest in the work of Conservation Officers and you are not a fan of the Service Grady books it's because you have yet to read one.
This eleventh in the series literally takes off where the 10th in the series ended but the book can be read as a standalone. After a record-setting number of arrests by Grady Service during the last deer season, with the ride-along help of life-long poacher Limpy Allerdyce, Service is called to Lansing and is placed on administrative suspension that grows in length from month to month. At first, Grady believes it is political revenge. But as increased visitors and suspicious activities by untraceable businesses begin to regularly occur in the Mosquito Wilderness Area it looks like the suspension might have been a way to remove Service from interfering with someone claiming mineral rights to part of the area. Grady has spent his career guarding the wilderness area and keeping developers at bay. He also knows the Mosquito area holds a secret that could contribute to its own ruin. Suspension or no suspension Grady will not stand by and watch it happen. So along with a few friends, tips from a former female governor, and a collection of wonderfully weird and amusing minor characters Service wades into the political swamp in Lansing and chases around the U.P. in pursuit of who or what is trying to pry the mineral rights from the state. Heywoods' plots are like bottle rockets that go off in all kinds of unexpected and exciting directions. His dialogue is sharp enough to cut and often very funny. But it's his wonderful sense of place and rich character development, paired with the author's innate storytelling ability that makes his books such runaway successes. In Heywood's last two books the life-long poacher and backwoods idiot savant Limpy Allerdyce has grown from little more than a walk-on part in Heywood's earlier books to a major character and a hilarious, cockeyed Dr. Watson to Gardy Service's Sherlock Holmes. Limpy, the UPs famed deer poacher, had an epiphany (he would neither know what the word meant nor how to pronunciation it) in the previous book and became Grady's unofficial partner in catching other poachers. He may have stopped killing deer but he regularly murders the English language with both outrageously original Yooperisms and his knack for mispronouncing words. In Allerdyce's world misdemeanor becomes missingdemanners, felonies become falconies, and when physically challenged while sitting and made fun of for his age and small size he replied, "I play bigger than I sit..." Joseph Heywood is a storyteller at the top of his craft. For the uninitiated, the eleven books in what the publisher calls "The Woods Cop Mysteries" is a sheer mountain of reading pleasure. If one were to ask Limpy if the latest book in the series is any good, he'd probably say, "Youse betcha, cross my harp." Bad Optics by Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2018, $27.95
Michigan's C. Harold Wills
by Alan Naldrett & Lynn Lyon Naldrett
C. Harold Wills was a brilliant designer, engineer, and metallurgist who made significant contributions to the nascent Detroit automobile industry yet is probably almost unknown outside of knowledgeable automobile historians and aficionados. There appears to be no definitive biography of the man including this brief book which serves as a useful introduction to the influential car designer and manufacturer.
Wills attended post-high school night classes in metallurgy, mechanical engineering, and chemistry in Detroit in the late 1880s but it appears he was pretty much self-taught, and from childhood on had a talent for drafting. He was the first person Henry Ford hired when the Ford Motor Company was founded. Wills became Ford's right-hand man during the pre- WWI years. He designed and served as the chief engineer of Ford's Model T. Wills developed vanadium a light-weight alloy stronger than steel which was used extensively in the car, invented the transmission, and helped develop the Model T's four-cylinder engine. Wills also helped perfect Ford's assembly line by having a man drag a chassis, by rope, down the line while Wills attached doors and other parts to the car. Although this is a biography of Wills the authors can't pass up interesting and intriguing automotive historical oddities. The Dodge Brothers allowed kegs of beer in their plant and workers could partake of the suds while working. This was done so the plant didn't lose workers to bars during their shift. After instituting $5 a day pay Ford created a Sociology Department and posted rules of conduct that set limits for alcohol consumption, cleanliness, and what workers could spend their wages on. Agents called on homes of Ford workers to be sure rules were followed, monitored bank accounts, checked children's school attendance, and decreed any male over 22 who worked for Ford must be married. After WWI Ford and Wills began drifting apart. Wills wanted to update and improve the Model T while Ford felt it was perfect as is. When Henry and his wife went to Paris, Wills built a new prototype to succeed the Model T. When Ford returned and saw the new model he tore the doors off and took a sledgehammer to the car. Ford also didn't like it that Wills shared his dividend check with fellow employees and didn't live a quiet and sedate lifestyle like the Fords. In 1919 the two parted ways and Wills started his own car company. When the first Wills Sainte Claire rolled off the assembly line in 1921 the authors easily support their claim that it was a car ahead of its time. They point out it was precision engineered and made wide use of a new alloy that was lighter and stronger than steel which made for a very durable car. It also had a number of innovations including backup lights, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and a twin overhead cam. To house his workers Wills built the model city of Marysville that had paved streets, street lights, public parks, schools, churches and new homes with running water, indoor plumbing, and electric stoves. For unmarried workers, he built dorms with cafeterias that rivaled the finest colleges dormitories. This short, quick read features an abundance of photographs and illustrations. It is a welcome introduction to and a fascinating portrait of an important automotive engineer, innovator, and visionary who for too long has been either ignored or forgotten. Michigan's C. Harold Wills by Alan Naldrett & Lynn Lyon Naldrett. History Press, 2018 $21.99
100 Things To Do On Mackinac Island Before You Die
By Kath Usitalo
I like everything about this book except the title. There are simply too many bucket list books or alternatively titled "100 Things to Do In (insert place name) Before You Die." I'm betting there is someone out there writing "100 Things To Do When Waiting in the Checkout Lane at Meijers Before You Die." These books imply your life or accomplishments are in part measurable by these books.
That said, Usitalo’s second "100 Things to Do...." book is both a unique and often surprising guide to a one-of-a-kind place. Mackinac Island is unique in that it seamlessly, artfully, and maybe simply by happenstance combines history, soul-touching natural beauty, a time-machine trip to the past, fudge, crass commercialism, outstanding examples of the 17th and 18th Century architecture, and more fudge.
Usitalo’s descriptions of her select group of 100 Mackinac Island tourist spots, restaurants, historic sites, fun activities, shops, guided tours, adventures, and special events are concise (never more than a page long), enthusiastic, and capture the ambiance of the island and the attraction. Her recommended eateries include dinner-jacket-required dining to relaxed bar and grills where you can eat high off the hog at the island’s only BBQ joint, or partake of the delectable whitefish in any number of ways including the Seabiscuit Café’s Whitefish Reuben with coleslaw and Swiss on marbled rye. You can also drink yourself into a caffeine high at a coffee house or tip back a Michigan craft beer, mixed drink, or even a fudge cocktail at a number of quaint establishments.
The book is full of surprises for even those who visit regularly. There are three places to overnight with your dog and Fido rides free on any ferry. The island is home to one of the oldest (founded in 1884) family-owned grocery stores in the nation. You can square dance weekly at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, or visit a bar that does business in a building that dates back to 1780. The public library welcomes visitors who can peruse newspapers and magazines from an Adirondack chair on a deck overlooking the Straits. There are also kayak tours that last a half hour or include an overnight campout on Round Island. I especially liked the very thorough index and an appendix of suggested itineraries that range from Fun for the Family to Winter on the Island.
This is a handy, compact, and a valuable guide for fully experiencing and enjoying Mackinac Island.
100 Things To Do On Mackinac Island Before You Die by Kath Usitalo. Reedy Press, 2018, $16. If you decide to purchase one of the above books, clicking the mouse on the book's cover will take you to Amazon where you can often buy the book for less than the list price. Purchasing a book by clicking on the cover also helps support this blog.
Quote for the day: "Those gulls that strolled the beach at Tawas Bay would eat anything. Anything. Anytime. Apples, hot dogs, smoked herring, Michigan dill pickles, Jewish dill pickles, garlic dill pickles, Name it, they'd eat it. They'd eat it even if it didn't have a name." Hazel Girard, Blow for Battens Corner, 1979.
American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Michigan
By Allen T. Chartier
Casual and intermediate Michigan birdwatcher’s will find this American Birding Association Field Guide a must-have book. It will not only help make Michigan bird identification easier but is filled with a treasure trove of information that will make the reader more knowledgeable and a better-informed birdwatcher.
The three hundred species detailed in the book include all the birds that visit or nest in the state annually plus a few rarities that are seen with some regularity over the years. The fewer birds to sort through than the hundreds listed in a field guide to the eastern United States makes it measurably easier to pick a bird out of a smaller lineup. And because the book is aimed at the beginning and intermediate birdwatcher the birds are not always arranged under the usual taxonomy which sorts them via evolution and relationship, but rather by similar looking
The book’s introduction will be of special interest to inexperienced birders. Sections discuss bird habitat in the state, tips on how to identify species, several pages of illustrations detailing bird anatomy, and an introduction to field marks and how to look for them. I especially liked an essay on birding throughout the year that highlights what to look for each month. A list of the state’s best birdwatching sites and a map on the front endpapers showing the general locations of state game areas, state parks, state wildlife areas, and National Wildlife Refuges will tempt the beginning birder to go in search of birds other than those seen in the backyard.
Each individual bird listing gives its size in inches and both common and Latin name. The listing usually features more than one photograph of the bird, discusses its general shape and size as compared to similar birds, habitat, behavior, and field marks. The narrative often highlights an unusual or interesting idiosyncrasy of the species' life history or character. At the back of the book, the reader will find an index and a complete checklist of every bird ever seen in Michigan, including the extinct Passenger Pigeon.
The best field guide to date on Michigan birds with a wealth of valuable information on how to improve your birding skills.
American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Michigan by Allen T. Chartier. Scott & Nix, 2018, $24.95
The Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: An Illustrated History by Phil Porter
One's second or even the third visit to Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island can be as interesting and fascinating as the first because of the island fort's outstanding scenic beauty, historical significance, and the overwhelming palpable sense that you are walking in the footsteps of history. I don't remember how many times I've walked up the steep incline to the fort's entrance and stepped back in time but if I ever go there again I want to take this book with me because it puts faces on the fort's history.
From 1780 to 1895 over 4,500 British and American soldiers were stationed at the fort. It was built by the British to control the fur trade and the Native American tribes that were both military allies and important contributors to the area's economy. Early in its history Fort Mackinac was the most important post in the upper Great Lakes. The book devotes a page each to approximately 150 enlisted men and officers who served at or commanded the fort during its military existence. There is a portrait, sketch, or photograph of each soldier followed by a paragraph that covers his military career and the years when he was stationed on Mackinac Island. In a few instances, a photograph or painting of the soldier's family or home is also included in this abundantly illustrated book. A twenty-plus page introductory essay gives a concise but thorough history of the fort.
In addition to England and America, soldiers came to the fort from Prussia, Chile, Ireland, and Scotland. They were a diverse and interesting lot. Lt. Governor Patrick Sinclair was appointed Superintendent of Fort Michilimackinac in 1775 but didn't reach the fort until 1779. He immediately realized the old French-built fort on the mainland was vulnerable to attack by colonial rebels and began construction of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. He spent so lavishly on its construction he was recalled to Quebec to explain his expenditures. Sinclair is the only subject in the book without a likeness other than a silhouette. Major Henry Burbeck was the first U.S. commander of the fort. When he arrived in 1796 he wrote, "I find this place abounds with health, rocks, and fish, that's the most I can say for it." Among other officers that caught my attention was the uncle of the famous painter James Whistler, Lt. Smith whose brutal punishment of enlisted men, that went well beyond the military code and was inflicted without trials, sparked the famous "Christmas Day Mutiny" of 1829. Several officers who served tours on the island resigned their commisions to join the Confederate army during the Civil War, including Lt. Pemberton who rose to the rank of General in the Confederacy and punctuated the end of his military career by surrendering Vicksburg to General Grant in 1863. Then there's Ordinance Sgt. David Marshall the oldest and longest serving soldier at Fort Mackinac. He spent 61 years in the army of which nearly thirty were at Fort Mackinac where he died in 1884 at the age of 84. The author is the Director of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. His agency working with the Michigan State University Press have together produced a beautiful and historically important book. The Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: An Illustrated History by Phil Porter. Mackinac State Historic Parks and Michigan State University Press, 2018, $39.95
Tuebor: I Will Defend: Anatomy of a Michigan State Police Trooper
by Robert Muladore
The author, a twenty-five-year veteran of the Michigan State Police explains why he wrote the book in the preface’s first paragraph. He wanted to give those considering becoming an officer a feel for what the job is about. Secondly, to pass along what he learned about law enforcement to new officers, and extend a “helping hand to experienced officers who may need a gentle reminder to help move them along on the path of a truly professional, caring, and effective police officer.” Finally, to provide the public some insight into the daily rigors faced by police, to entertain, and pass along hard-earned life lessons. The author set high goals for himself and he clears the bar on every single objective.
Muladore divided his book into 40-plus short chapters. Each chapter recounts a traffic stop, an emergency call, an arrest, telling a family of a loved one's death, and routine duties that suddenly became potentially dangerous and deadly. The stories span the author’s career and he picked them because he considers they were learning experiences that made him a better trooper. They are also great examples of the narrow margin between life and death within which police do their daily job.
The stories in the book are riveting and cover the entire spectrum of emotional involvement. When Muladore had to inform parents their child died in a car accident the father performs an extraordinary act of kindness for Muladore. Realizing how hard it is to be a bearer of such news he relieves Muladore of his burden and in a way comforts him. Then there is the routine traffic stop in which the rich Grosse Pointe couple are both obviously drunk. When Mulaodore relaxes and lowers his guard the husband throws him to the ground and tries to take his gun.
Muladore is a very good storyteller and it is clear that he is the consummate police officer. What shines through almost every story is the author’s admonition to would-be police or rookie cops to never let your guard down, always be alert, and let your sixth sense guide you when something doesn’t ring true or seem right. It is a job of constant stress but the author repeatedly asserts a good cop never lets that get in the way of being respectful, compassionate, or apathetic toward the public.
It is also obvious that any officer who servers even a few years will develop PTSD. Muladore admits the faces of the dead are always with him and he has regular nightmares related to the job. He has been threatened with death by numerous men he arrested and even after retirement he is constantly on the lookout for familiar faces who might try to harm him or his family. Of note, in an afterward Muladore laments and condemns both the use of force that results in police shooting unarmed citizens and the cold-blooded murder of policemen.
This is an honest and revealing portrait of the professional life of one of Michigan’s finest.
Tuebor: I Will Defend: An Anatomy of a Michigan State Police Trooper by Robert Muladore. Principia Media, 2016, $16.99
Quote of the day: "[In Calumet] the company owned everything: the mines, the school, the library, the stores, the hospital, the coal supply, the water pumps, the garbage wagons, the church and the hymnbooks in the church. It owned the houses. It owned the red paint that added the identical finishing touch to every identical house. It owned the toilets." Robert Conot, describing Calumet during the 1870s in his book The American Odyssey.
The Recipe Box
by Viola Shipman
This is a love story. Love of food, baking, family, generational traditions, orchards, the Grand Traverse and Leelanau Peninsula area, recipes, and even old fashion romance.
Sam Nelson’s family owns one of those destination orchards that rim Grand Traverse Bay and entice locals and tourists to stop for pastries, cider and donuts, jams and jellies, and the choice of u-pick the fruit or buy it off the shelf. The orchard has been passed down through several generations of Nelsons and traditionally it’s been the mother of each generation who became the innovator and driving force behind change and renewal of the family business. The wife of the orchard’s founding couple kept a box of her favorite recipes and began the tradition of giving her daughter a copy of the recipe box when she turned thirteen.
Although she loved the area, the family business, and was a natural at baking, Sam couldn't resist a desire to broaden her experience and see if her talents were good enough to make it on her own. Sam attended a culinary school in New York before being hired by a non-cooking TV celebrity chef who takes all the credit while berating his staff. Sam finally reaches the point where she can’t take anymore, quits, and heads for home to re-evaluate her goals and career path. Her mother and grandmother, co-managers the orchard's pastry shop and store, hope she's home for good. This all occurs in the book’s first forty pages. It takes another 280 very entertaining pages for Sam to decide whether to return to New York or stay and leave her imprint on the orchard as her mother and grandmother have.
Sam finds new joy in baking with her mother and grandma from the recipes handed down through the ages. As her grandmother explains, “The recipe box is the story of our lives, of where we come from, how we got here, and where we are now.” When the women bake a family recipe the narrative flashes back to earlier generations and how they managed to keep the business afloat in the Depression or when all the apple trees died off. The characters are well-drawn, likable, and the reader can’t help but be pulled into their lives and the connectedness to their land and orchard. When a possible love interest from New York arrives at the orchard for a visit Sam's conundrum becomes more difficult.
The “Pure Michigan” campaign couldn’t have written a more glowing and alluring description of the Leelanau and Traverse Bay region. The beauty of the bay and the land around it literally leap off the page. The book also contains mouth-watering recipes from the fictional Nelson family. The author lifted many of the recipes from his grandmother who was a great baker, the rest came from friends. The author took his grandmother's name as his pen name as a way of honoring her.
Frankly, this is not the kind of book I’m drawn to but it hooked me within a few pages. And I continued wolfing it down like a piece of coconut cream pie from Jesperson’s in Petoskey, even though I was pretty sure of Sam’s choice by the book’s mid-point.
The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman. St. Martin's Press, 2018, $26.99
Notes from a Public Typewriter
edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti
In 2013 the newly married Michael and Hilary Gustafson, against the advice of nearly everyone, opened the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. From day one an old manual typewriter was placed in a quiet corner of the store with an empty piece of typing paper in the roller. There were no posted instructions, or rules. The silent, non-judgmental, no password necessary, archaic instrument of social and business intercourse welcomed anyone’s thoughts, feelings, or concerns who sat down and began striking its keys.
Initially, Michael posted the more interesting or funny pieces on what became known as the Wall of Fame. Then a few of the best were painted on the store’s outside wall in an exact replica of an old Smith-Corona’s font. And finally, for the benefit of those, like myself, who seldom if ever make it to Ann Arbor, Michael Gustafson teamed up with Oliver Uberti to collect, organize, and send the most memorable heartfelt notes, jokes, or observations out into the world between the covers of a book. The collection is divided thematically and each chapter is preceded by a short and thoughtful essay on subjects ranging from old typewriters to the true story of Ann Arbor’s Violin Monster and his act of kindness toward a boy who left him a message on the typewriter.
The notes are funny, sad, joyful, sarcastic, and thoughtful. The old typewriters (the store's patrons have worn out several) seem to bring out the best in people. The click-clack of striking the keys and the letters hitting the paper is the sound of the anonymous revealing their inner thoughts or playing with their sense of humor. Some of my favorites include:
“I walked in expecting to fall in love with books, not the person I walked in with.”
“I wrote a letter to Santa today so he doesn’t think we only talk to him when we want something.”
“My mom used to be a mime. I just found out. She never mentioned it.”
“In loving memory of my older daughter Rachel, who died of cancer at age 26, a year before this store opened. I would get her lots of cookbooks, but…. I can’t.”
“If I had to write a five-paragraph essay on this thing, I would withdraw from middle school.”
This copy will be thumbed through daily as I look for a connection (however tenuous) with anonymous writers who touch my heart, make laugh, or renew my faith in humanity by banging away at an old typewriter.
Notes from a Public Typewriter, edited by Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti. Grand Central Publishing, 2018, $18
Inside Upnorth: The Complete Tour, Sport, and Country Living Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area and Leelanau County
by Heather Shaw, Jodee Taylor, Tom Carr
I like the way the amount of information on enjoying, appreciating, and seeking out the unusual in the Traverse Bay area and the Leelanau Peninsula has been crammed into this fun and informative book with a shoehorn. The authors even boast that this is a "complete guide" and challenge the reader "to find one as thorough."
Within, the reader will find walking tours of Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, guides to area golf courses, restaurants, the best coffee houses, craft breweries, hiking and skiing areas, farm markets, orchards, natural areas, and historic sites of interest. I especially liked the list of 63 summer festivals and concerts in the wider area. Then there are the many how-tos or instructional entrees such as: How to Pee in the Woods, (the following pun was avoidable but I couldn't) How to Harvest Leeks, How to Parallel Park, How to Cast a Fly-Line (which it fails to do), How to Plow Your Driveway, and, in a mere two pages, How to Build a Canoe.
The book warns that global warming may be the end of the area's cherry orchards and affect the production of Maple syrup. It seems warmer weather makes Maple syrup less sweet. Fifty years ago it took 25 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup, today it takes 50 gallons. The danger of the Enbridge Pipeline also gets a few lines.
Almost every page in the book has the potential to surprise. A lot of the surprises come from the authors' intimate knowledge of the area but some are the result of the book's strange organization and lack of an index. Thumbing through the book I came upon a nude beach but neither chapter headings or an index led me there or helped me find the page again. On one page the book warns that Lake Michigan can be very dangerous for swimming because of rip tides. Dozens of pages later there is a warning about the danger of the big lake's many sandbars. Their distance offshore can be misleading and often swimmers will find themselves in water over their heads long before reaching the shallower sandbar. Poor swimmers can find themselves in dire straits. These two warnings should be on the same page. I was disappointed in not finding a guide to private campgrounds, Traverse City's food trucks, or a comprehensive listing of the best swimming beaches in the area. The greater Traverse City area and Leelanau County hold a world of adventure, an indelible scenic beauty, great food and drink, enough shopping to max out a Platinum credit card, and hordes of people who come for all of the above. If you don't believe it, just thumb through this attractive, entertaining, and one-of-a-kind guidebook.
Inside Upnorth: The Complete Tour, Sport, and Country Living Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area and Leelanau County, by Heather Shaw, Jodee Taylor, Tom Carr. Mission Point Press, 2018, $16.95
Leelanau by Kayak: Day Trips, Pics, Tips and Stories of a Beautiful Michigan Peninsula
by Jon R. Constant with Larry Burns
The author is a retired high school teacher and coach from the Traverse City area who became a devoted kayaker who with his friend, a more experienced kayaker, decided in their mid-sixties to kayak the Leelanau Peninsula in its entirety. Meaning the pair kayaked around the peninsula on Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay and then apparently launched their kayaks on any body of water or stream big enough to float their boats.
The book is both the story of their grand adventure and a guide for kayaking either around the peninsula or any of its inland lakes and streams. For the novice kayaker, he lists the necessary equipment from the size of a kayak best suited for the big lake to all the esoteric paraphernalia needed for the paddler, including the paddle. The author fills nearly two pages on just preparing for a kayak outing and offers valuable safety tips which include being very cautious and conservative on the big lake, don't kayak alone, check and recheck the weather before leaving home, and stay close to shore.
The kayakers grand adventure was accomplished solely by day trips over the course of three years. Each day trip is treated as a chapter in which the author gives a short introduction to the area being paddled. Then covers specifics such as the date of the trip, the location, access points for launching the kayaks, the planning, time and distance of the voyage. Under the heading "Features," the author recounts the history of the villages, ghost towns, shipwrecks and other places of interest their kayaks take them. This section also includes vivid descriptions of the landscape and natural beauty that unfolds before them with every stroke. Accompanying the text is an abundance of photographs recording each day's journey.
Anyone considering kayaking this corner of Michigan should consider the book a must, and if the reader is not a kayaker they may well be tempted to give it a try after dipping into the book. Leelanau by Kayak by Jon R.Constant with Larry Burns. Mission Point Press, 2018, $21.95 If you decide to purchase one of the above books clicking the mouse on the cover of the book will take you to Amazon where you can often buy it for less than the listed price. Purchasing a book by clicking on an above cover also helps support this blog.
Quote for the day: "Torch Lake has driven writers to exhaustion when trying to describe its beauty." Glen Ruggles. Michigan History Magazine, January/February 1979.
Voices from the Rust Belt
Edited by Anne Trubek
This is not the usual book on the Rust Belt which is commonly defined as the post-industrial Midwest centered on Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Rather than an economic overview of how and why manufacturing jobs and industries supplying the jobs fled the Midwest like crooks fleeing the scene of a crime, it is a deeply felt, eye-opening testament on what it means to live and survive in the worst pockets of rust.
The book is comprised of 25 personal essays by residents who live amid the corrosion and toxic remains of once great manufacturing cities. Of the 25 essays six are written by residents of Flint or Detroit. But all the pieces capture the emotional impact of living within the Rust Belt and the hard facts, and often the absurdities of residing in Flint, Cleveland, Buffalo, Youngstown, and other once-thriving Midwest industrial cities. The experiences recorded here share many commonalities, including feelings of abandonment, betrayal, anger, white flight, disgust with government inaction, and racism. In many cases, the people who remain do so because they don’t have the money to move, or stayed because they refused to give up on the town they grew up in. In either case, they are among the forgotten or purposely overlooked by those in power. Or, are until gross mismanagement poisons an entire city and then attempts to cover it up.
That said, each of the individual contributors has different and personal stories to tell. Like the African American Detroiter who was a kid in the late 60s and 70s who thought his white friends were being kidnapped because they disappeared from the neighborhood so fast. Only later did he learn how realtors as early as the 1950s inflamed racism and encouraged white flight by papering neighborhoods warning whites to leave before the price of their homes dropped. A 40-year-old welfare intern tells of the frustration and powerlessness to help those in need. An award-winning Flint sports reporter tells of the murder of his friend because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and how easy it is for trouble to find you after dark. A young Flint woman explains why “I blame this city for my fear of feeling vulnerable.”
A Cleveland resident describes the last assault on urban poor. He notes artists are moving to his town because rent is cheap. But following the artists come coffee shops, diners, laundry-mats, and God forbid – art galleries. “The first sign of the coming apocalypse is the art walk: the Typhoid Marys of Gentrification.” The last piece in the book is by a Flint resident who recounts what should be one of those special times of day between parent and child – the daily bath. Yeah, well not in Flint.
This important book gives a voice to the voiceless, to the political and corporate abused, used, and abandoned.
Voices from the Rust Belt, edited by Anne Trubek. Picador, 2018, $16 paperback.
Power Play: My Life Inside the Red Wings Locker Room
by Cynthia Lambert
Cynthia Lambert scores a hat-trick with this autobiographical account of her 14-year career as a beat reporter covering the Red Wings for the Detroit News. It is a fascinating and often humorous story of her experiences in and out of the locker room in the 1980s as one of the first female sports reporters covering a male professional sports team. The book also serves as an informal tutorial on what it takes to be a good reporter and portrays the daily grind of covering a sports team throughout the course of a season. Lastly, the book is filled with both touching and laugh-out-loud humorous stories about individual Wings players that any Hockey Town fan will treasure.
In 1984 she was studying journalism at Wayne State and was determined to become an accredited sports journalist. To do so, one had to be officially working for a professional news outlet. She finally landed a job as an unpaid contributor to a free, weekly newspaper called the Northeast Detroiter. It got her a Media Game Pass from the Wings and the 22-years-old college student headed to Port Huron to cover a Wings preseason game. Lambert’s account of her first time in a Wings locker room and the first time the players found a woman reporter in their locker room is priceless. Even thirty years later reporters who witnessed the event were still laughing about it.
With a degree in journalism she got a job in the Detroit News sports department and within a short time was named the beat reporter for the Wings. Except for one glaring incident Lambert was treated with utmost respect and great kindness by the team’s players and management. The author presents a host of memorable vignettes of Red Wing players from the 80s and 90s and there is a wonderful retelling of her brief encounters with her hockey god – Gordie Howe – over the course of a season. The story perfectly captures the essence of both Mr. Hockey and the author.
The author was once asked how different or challenging (I’m paraphrasing) it was to be a woman sports reporter rather than a man. Cynthia replied she really couldn’t say because she had never been a man. Power Play is a great read any time, but in May and June, the book seems to possess the healing qualities of a salve that Wings fans can use to ease the pain of missing the playoffs.
Power Play: My Life Inside the Red Wings Locker Room by Cynthia Lambert. Balboa Press, 2017, $15.99.
Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara
by Deborah K. Frontiera
Frontiera’s book offers a rare window into the people, work, history, and culture of the Keweenaw Copper country from the 1890s to the 1930s through the photographs of the region’s first professional photographer. J. W. Nara was a Finnish immigrant who came to Calumet early in the 1890s and opened a photographic studio. In a career spanning almost half a century, Nara’s striking photographs recorded the life, work, culture, towns, and people of the Calumet/Houghton area. The formal studio portraits range from a trio of Chinese gentlemen clad in three-piece suits who ran the local oriental laundry to a young lady in traditional Finnish dress, a wrestler in a pair of trunks, and what is inarguably a very proud dog nobly posing atop of a small round side table.
But it’s outside the studio that Nara went about capturing and preserving Keweenaw’s copper boom era. Nara’s photos include typical company homes in Calumet, farmhouses, a barber shop, churches, offices, school houses, street scenes in summer and winter, a train depot, labor strife, the areas people at work and play, and even a circus coming to town. The last chapter in the book covers the tragic 1913 strike which led to the Italian Hall tragedy in which 74 people, mostly children, died at a Christmas Eve party. The hall was on the second floor and reached by a narrow staircase. When someone yelled fire the crowd panicked and ran for the staircase where children and adults tumbled down the stairs as more came behind them adding to the mass of humanity crammed like sardines in a can. Those caught beneath the growing pile of Christmas celebrants trying to flee a nonexistent fire slowly died of suffocation or being trampled to death. Nara’s photos of the rows of holiday attired children’s bodies laid out for parents to identify, even one hundred years after the fact, is heartbreaking. Each chapter is preceded by a short essay by the author who introduces the subject of the photographs.
J. W. Nara took hundreds of photographs during his career and only a few of them had his name imprinted on the photograph. This book is an effort by Nara’ grandson and the author to gather what they consider to be the best of his work and credit Nara as the photographer of many of the early photos that were not imprinted with his name. It is estimated that 90% of the unaccredited photos from that era were taken by Nara. This very attractive book is a fascinating glimpse into Michigan’s early copper mining era and an invaluable record of Keweenaw area history.
Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara. by Deborah Frontiers. Shining Brightly Press, 2009, $27.95
Quote for the day: "And so we saw Traverse City, Michigan. The less said about it the better." From Governor Milliken's grandfather's diary. The 1873 entry records his first day in the city.
Black and White Ball
by Loren D. Estleman
Since 1980, when the first Amos Walker mystery appeared in print, I have been an unabashed fan of Loren D. Estleman. Therefore, I’m not sure what I’ve started here will turn out to be a review of the latest Amos Walker mystery or a piece that pays homage to the author’s forty years of remaining at the top of his art form. He’s an acknowledged master of the hard-boiled, private-eye genre and has four Shamus Awards to prove it. He has also been nominated for the National Book Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery, and he’s won a saddle bag full of Spur Awards for the year’s best western.
From his first appearance in Motor City Blue, private-eye Amos Walker has been and remains an anachronism. He’s an old-fashioned gumshoe that feels more akin to Sam Spade, or Chandler’s Philip Marlowe than any contemporary fictional private detective. Walker has never had a cell phone, used or owned a computer. He leases a seedy office in a building sporting gargoyles and rarely has more than a few bucks in his checking account. He’s put more hard miles on his body than a 10-year-old Detroit taxi that’s never missed a Michigan pothole. And I challenge you to name any current fictional PI who says, “Malarkey!” Lastly, Walker has a sardonic, world-weary view that perfectly matches the town he inhabits and the work he does. Walker solves cases by hard work, a closely observant eye for details, a keen mind, dumb luck, by taking his lumps, and a near ruthless devotion to doing the right thing.
Readers who’ve followed Estleman and Amos Walker from the early 1980s until today have also been treated to ironic, biting, and often funny observations of the evolution or de-evolution of Detroit and its rich suburbs. For this reviewer, much of the enjoyment of reading Estleman’s crime fiction is the barrage of quips, unique observations, similes, and memorable metaphors that often litter every page. Such as: “The luminous dial on my watch said the sun was up, but the sky lay on the ground like a fat lady with a broken ankle.” Or this telling description of Grand River Avenue, “a fairly dirty stretch of urban landscape with all the architectural innovation of an aircraft hanger…”
Finally getting to the current tale, it features two of Estleman’s series characters who cross paths and appear in the same book for the first time. Peter Maklin is a for-hire professional killer. The hitman hires Walker as a bodyguard to protect his second wife, who is in the process of divorcing Maklin. It appears she’s been threatened with death unless Maklin coughs up $100,000. The monkey wrench in what becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse played against a snowbound Detroit, is that the person bent on wiping out the second wife is Maklin’s son from his first marriage. The dialogue crackles with electricity, the action seldom allows the reader to catch a breath, and the plot is in the hands of a master. Which means the book is grandly entertaining and Estleman delivers a twist in the final pages that will leave the reader gobsmacked.
Black and White Ball by Loren D. Estleman. Forge Books, 2018, $25.99
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Pocket Guide – 2018
by Sandy Richardson
If you’re planning a trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park this compact handbook is an excellent resource for planning your trip and a handy guide for once you’re there. And if you are not planning a trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State – Why Not? It’s the jewel of Michigan’s State Park system and has been voted the second best state park in the nation. It encompasses 59,820 acres or 94 square miles, contains the largest stand of old growth forest on Lake Superior, 100 waterfalls, scenery you’ll remember and treasure for a lifetime, vistas to take your breath away, and a you-pick-your-level of comfort and adventure in both exploring the park and its overnight accommodations. You might not be lucky enough to spot one but you will be sharing this remarkable hunk of glorious territory with bears, the occasional moose, deer, bobcat, cougar, timber wolves, bald eagles, coyote, pine martins, and river otters.
It’s the park’s size, plus the variety and level of immersion in a wilderness experience a visitor can choose from that makes Richardson’s guide so helpful when planning a trip. Overnight choices range from a lodge that includes every comfort of home plus a view of Lake Superior, to both rustic and full-service RV campgrounds, twenty-two Spartan frontier cabins and yurts set in the wilderness, and for the hardiest visitor, 63 backcountry camping sites that come with a fire ring and either a bear pole or box. Dispersed camping anywhere in the park is no longer permitted. This guide covers the fees, regulations, and amenities for all overnight accommodations, in addition to the distance from a trailhead to backcountry cabins and yurts.
The author lists the absolute necessities that should be stowed in even a day hikers pack and warns that a day hike can unexpectedly turn into an overnight stay. She also cautions it’s easy for park visitors on the 90 miles of wilderness trails to underestimate both their endurance and the amount of water they need to carry. The book introduces and briefly describes all major trails noting the difficulty, length, and special features. Many of the trails in the park have unbridged stream crossings and rises of elevation of 600 - 800 feet in less than a mile. All of which accounts for the 1-mile-per-hour rate of backpackers and day-hikers blistering pace of 2-miles-per-hour.
For the less athletic, there are full descriptions of the park’s scenic jewels that can be driven to or require just a short walk. And to give a real feel for the beauty to be found here, the author has splashed the book with scores of color photographs. I especially liked the author’s description of the park in each season of the year and the attractions of visiting the park in fall, winter, and spring. This little book is chock-full of vital information for fully enjoying, on any level, one of the top two or three attractions in the state. Excellent maps are found in the back of the book and surprising tips and facts crowd every page from the days in winter when you can ride bikes with fat tires down the ski sloops, to where you can buy an ice cream cone. And all that comes in a book small enough to stick in a pair of cargo shorts.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Pocket Guide -2018, 2nd edition by Sandy Richardson. Cuyahoga Press, 2018, $24.95, pb.
Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River Valley Cats: Earth, Wind and Sky Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends
by Gretchen Preston, Illustrated by Karen Neumann
These three children’s books are set in and around the author’s home in a pleasant valley near the U.P. town of Marquette and not far from Lake Superior. As the titles suggest, the three books follow the growing friendship of two cats, Boonie and River, and the adventures they have with their many animal friends. The beauty and adventure to be found in the U.P. is brought to life by the author and is also captured in Neumann’s detailed illustrations. These hardback books are physically beautiful and very professionally produced, printed, and bound. They set a high benchmark for self-published books.
Since the three books are written at a fifth-grade reading level, I asked fifth-grader Molly O -- a voracious reader who consumes books faster than I could eat a handful of M & Ms -- to read just the first book in the series and tell me how or if she liked it. She finished the first book in a day and flew through the other two almost as quickly, and then wrote a critique. The following is a review of the trilogy by Molly O, our twelve-year-old guest reviewer.
“The Valley Cats series, written by Gretchen Preston, is a great choice for children of all ages. It shows the point of view of all the animals and is full of adventure. The books take place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at a real spot. The animals in the story are even based off of real animals. The books are very action packed and have many twists and turns that you never see coming. Go along with the Valley Cats on their next adventure and I am sure that you will love it.”
Molly loved them – enough said. Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River, by Gretchen Preston, Illustrated by Karin Neumann. Preston Hill Press 2014, $19.95. The above book can be purchased from Amazon by clicking the mouse on the cover.
, Valley Cats: Earth, Wind and Sky and More Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends both can be purchased from www.prestonhillpress.com. All books are $19.95.