Saturday, September 15, 2018

Post # 28

Quote for the Day: "If any person, or persons, shall exhibit any puppet show, wire dancing, or tumbling, juggling or sleight of hand, within this territory, and shall ask or receive any pay in money, or other property for exhibiting the same, such a person, or persons, shall for every offense pay a fine of not less than ten nor exceeding twenty dollars." Michigan Territorial law, enacted on April 13, 1827.


The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts
by John U. Bacon

The author has been writing about sports in Michigan for three decades and his stories have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Ann Arbor News, as well as Time, Sports Illustrated, and National Public Radio. The 40 stories collected here range from 1992 to 2018. They are touching, always interesting, exclusively focused on sports in our state, and sometimes funny. The book is not about winning or losing on the scoreboard but how sports reveal the true character of coaches, players, fans, and the way in which it changes lives.

There is no better example of the above than in his report entitled "Hoops the Potawatomi Way." The story introduces us to the Northern Lights Conference that is made up of five very small schools; Mackinac Island H.S., Grand Marais H. S., Paradise High, and the Hannahville Potawatomi Reservation school located some dozen miles west of Escanaba. The Hannahville students never played basketball until 1990 when they joined the league. In spite of a long winless record, the students developed a passion for the game and developed a fan base among the adults who took pride in a team that played for the love of the game. As a result students grades went up and so did the school's graduation rate. Drug use and drinking among students and adults went down. 

The book contains great profiles of Joe Lewis, Gordy Howe, Tom Izzo, Jim Abbott, Magic Johnson, and other iconic Michigan athletes and coaches.  The opening section of the book discusses kids and sports and contains a wonderful piece on how children need to invent and play games without adult supervision. Bacon recalls how his friends came up with the baloney game. At a friend's home, the guys would take slices of baloney and throw them at the ceiling in hopes they would stick. The winner was the boy whose slice of Oscar Meyer stuck there the longest. But if the boy didn't catch the falling slice of lunch meat with his mouth he was disqualified. The game went on for quite a while until the boy's mother figured out how the grease marks got on the ceiling.

The hardest hitting pieces are toward the end of the book and are in a section called "Money and Madness." One essay argues that Eastern Michigan University should drop out of Division 1 football explaining how most schools devote less than 1% of their general fund to the athletic dept. where at EMU 80% of the athletic budget comes from the university's general fund. The essays on how TV is ruining college football for those who attend games and how college sports has been overtaken by sheer greed are dire warnings about the fate of college sports.

Anyone opening this book will find great essays, great human interest stories, and an appreciation for the positive impact sports can have on individuals and the greater community.

The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts by John U. Bacon. University of Michigan Press, 2018, $24.95

Summer Rounds
by B. G. Bradley

It is always a pleasure to enter B. G. Bradley's literary world. It is peopled with unique and interesting characters facing pivotal moments in their lives. And if I can't, on the spur of the moment, head across Big Mac and soak up the UP's ambiance, limitless beauty, and enjoy its laid-back lifestyle I can pick up one of the author's books and let him take me there.

Summer Rounds, the second novel in a series about the folks of Hunter, Michigan chronicles an eventful and critical week in the life of Dale Sylvanus as told by himself. Dale is the town's handy-man, tow truck driver, alcoholic, and an ex-marine who can't erase the vivid memories of his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a victim of his low self-esteem. Dale appeared briefly in Bradley's first novel and as the author explains in the forward, the ex-marine just refused to quietly go away after appearing in a few scenes. Dale became a near-constant presence in Bradley's mind, always wanting to talk and tell his story. So the author turned over control of his second novel to a fictional character who would not leave him alone.

Dale knows he has got to get his life together before it completely unravels. He just doesn't know if he's man enough to do it. Carrie, his wife has thrown him out of the house because he spends too much time with his drinking buddies. He's lost the respect of his teenage daughter and it breaks his heart that his youngest son aches to spend more time with him. Carrie and Dale's oldest son, born before the couple wed when they were sixteen-year-olds, left home years ago.  Dale suspects the boy hates him and they haven't spoken in years. He is surprised, delighted, and very nervous when he learns his oldest son is on his way home with a wife.

Readers will quickly understand how the author simply couldn't stop listening to Dale because neither can they, and Dale will stay in their minds long after they turn the book's last page. Dale is a likable guy. He's a better and a stronger person than he thinks and he has people who will do everything in their power to help him right his course through life. Even though she threw him out of their house Carrie lets Dale know she believes in him. So does the local Catholic priest who has been through hell and back and is there to set him on the not always straight and difficult path to sobriety and a renewed faith in himself. 

It is a very stressful week for Dale and he is constantly being tested and tempted. This reviewer is not going to reveal the challenges Dale must face and overcome in seven short days because I don't want to be a spoiler for future readers and I couldn't tell it as well as Dale does. By the end of the book, readers know Dale Slyvanus as well as they know their next-door neighbor and good friend of twenty years. They will also wish there was a real Hunter, Michigan to visit. The inhabitants have become good friends who will be missed until the next book in the series makes its way to publication. I look forward to having my ear bent by another character in Hunter who wants to tell their story, so get the lead out of your pencil Bradley and onto paper.

Summer Rounds by B. G. Bradley. Benegamah Press, 2018, $9.95

Ira's Farm: Growing Up On a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930's and 1940's
by Virginia Johnson

In 1929, just a 100 days before the stock market crashed and the Great Depression brought the country to its economic knees Virginia Johnson's father bought a 60-acre farm in Harlan, Michigan. Harlan has since fallen off the map making Mesick, some seven miles away, the next nearest town to the farm on which the author grew up. Virginia was born on the farm and in a simple and straightforward memoir takes the reader into a world few remember and even fewer can even imagine -- that of life on a self-sustaining Michigan farm in the Depression. 

In the first few years, the little income from the farm came from the sale of eggs and milk from five cows. The family worked the farm with a team of horses, a tractor wasn't purchased until after WW II. The house had no electricity or an indoor toilet until 1943, and it was heated by a "monstrous" iron, wood burning, potbellied stove that also served as a water heater, baking oven, cook stove, and a drier of mittens, dish towels, and anything else that might get wet in winter. Kerosene lamps lit the house and chamber pots resided under every bed so the family didn't have to walk to the outhouse in the middle of a northern Michigan winter night. The author's only comment on the outhouse was, "Using catalogs for bathroom tissue took the art of recycling way beyond necessary."

During the course of the year, the family ate what they raised. Potatoes were stored in a Michigan basement as were countless Mason jars filled with canned vegetables from the garden and fruit from their orchard, or what could be gathered from the wild. Butter and milk came from five milk cows, pigs were raised for meat.  It was ceaseless work from spring through fall and when Virginia's older brother went off to war in 1941 she became the number one farm hand.  If it was endless work, and there was more than a little worry as to whether they could make payments on the farm for the first few years, Virginia remembers the life as rewarding and filled with a high level of contentment.

This short and evocative memoir of life on a small Michigan farm between the wars is a valuable addition to a little known or written about era in Michigan history. I found it not only pleasant reading but filled with surprises. For instance, it wasn't until 1939 that the first piece of plastic found it's way into Virginia's home and it was in the form of a toothbrush. Or, that milkweed became important to the war effort when it was discovered milkweed pods could be used in floatation vests. Children across Michigan would take empty sacks into the fields, collect the pods, and get paid for the amount they bagged.

This is Michigan history as lived by its everyday citizens. It deserves consideration as a Michigan Notable Book, should be required reading in Michigan history classes and is even suitable for reading to upper elementary students who might wonder if life was even liveable without smartphones, the Internet, TV, and the social network, let alone indoor plumbing and electricity.
Ira's Farm: Growing up in a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930's and 1940's, by Virginia Johnson. Harlin village Press, 2018, $15.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Post # 27

Quote for the day. "(Detroit), where they stand in line for a glass of beer, ...where more dames wear slacks than in Hollywood,... and where everybody has two sawbucks to rub against each other. Detroit, the hottest town in America." Daily Variety. October 1943.

This post marks Michigan in Books second year in operation. In its first half-dozen posts, the blog might have gotten 50 page views a month. In the past quarter, page views have averaged over 600 a month. Thank you, readers.


Rosie: A Detroit Herstory
by Bailey Sisoy Isgro, Illustrated by Nicole Lapointe

This well-told story introduces young readers to one of the most remarkable and major social, cultural, and economic changes in American and women's history. The agent for change was World War II. When American men went to war in December of 1941 and the United States, by necessity, became the arsenal of democracy women flooded the workforce taking jobs previously considered not fit for, or simply undoable by women.

No where in America was the ground-shaking societal change more evident than in Detroit. The city's factories that put America on wheels turned from making cars to making weapons of war.  With the men from the factory filling the ranks of the military, women filled the vacant jobs on the assembly line. But instead of cars, the women were making Sherman Tanks, machine guns, ammunition, and airplanes. At the Willow Run Plant, the largest factory in the world, women assembly line workers built B-24 bombers. In the course of the war 8,600 bombers rolled out of the plant and in the last months of the war, a bomber was coming off the assembly line every minute. 

The author tells the story of Detroit's WWII female defense workers in a narrative verse accompanied by colorful illustrations that are full of energy, strong women, and the flavor of the times. The author explains how the hundreds of thousands of women workers got the nickname "Rosie the Riveter," their deep patriotism, and immense pride they took in doing a job once thought only men could do. The thousands of Rosie the Riveters made a huge contribution to the war effort and the book, written for 8- to 12-year-olds, is a fine overview of how women flooded the workplace during WW II, helped win the war, and changed American society. 

At the end of the war, most of the women lost their jobs to men returning from the war. Many women were glad to become homemakers once again but they returned home filled with a new confidence in themselves and their new found independence. As the author shows, some women didn't want to give up their jobs and decided on careers outside the home. That women, in significant numbers, are working today in factories and on assembly lines is traceable directly back to Rosie the Riveter.  

This book offers children valuable insights into a significant and often overlooked aspect of American history and how World War II changed forever women's place in society. The book also contains a glossary of terms from the era and a timeline of the war.

 Rosie: A Detroit Herstory by Bailey Sisoy Isgro, Illustrated by Nicole Lapoint. Wayne State University Press, 2018, $16.99.

The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage.
by Keith Gave

Hockey fans will enjoy this fascinating book. Detroit Redwing fans will love it. The book will salve the wounds of Detroit's hockey fans suffering through the often painful rebuilding of a team that won three Stanley Cup's from 1997 to 2002 and two seasons ago ended a 25-year streak of making the playoffs.  

Keith Gave covered hockey for the Detroit Free Press for fifteen years and his insider's book tells the story of how Detroit made history by drafting Russian players and within a few years revolutionized North American hockey by putting five former Russian players on the ice as a unit and letting them play the game as they learned it in their homeland. In what reads like a good spy novel the author even played a part in the Wings acquisition of their first two Russian players. It is a book filled with both never-before-told stories and a vivid retelling of the familiar with new information added to the mix. 

In June of 1989 NHL draft, Detroit picked Russian Red Army hockey players Sergi Federov in the 4th round and Vladimir Konstantinov in the 11th. Within a few days of the draft, Jim Lites called Gave and set up a meeting. Lites knew that Gave had spent six years working as a Russian linguist for the National Security Agency and spoke fluent Russian. He asked Gave to fly to Finland where the Russian Red Army team was playing an exhibition game with the Finnish National Team. Lites wanted Gave to speak to Federov and Konstantinov, let them know they'd been drafted by the Wings, talk to them about Detroit, NHL salaries and signing bonuses, and a promise that the Wings stood ready to help them escape Russa. After some thought Gave agreed to go to Finland but decided to neither accept pay nor travel expenses from the Redwings. His price was exclusive first rights to the story.

Within a year Federov walked out of a hotel in western Canada, jumped into a car driven by Mr. Lites for a short ride to Mr. Ilitch's private jet which flew them to Detriot. Konstantinov was a captain of the Red Army team and an officer in the army. If he defected he could be charged with desertion and face the death penalty. A paid Russian agent for the Wings bribed six doctors to diagnose Konstantinov with inoperable brain cancer. He was allowed to resign his commission and permitted, with his family, to travel to America for advanced cancer treatment. Just stepping off a plane in Detroit miraculously cured his cancer and within days was skating with the Wings. The next year the Wings drafted Slava Koslov. Shortly after the draft, he was involved in a terrible automobile accident. Russian doctors were paid to declare he would never play hockey again. And he didn't -- until he arrived in Detroit.

When the Wings hired Scotty Bowman to coach the Wings he arranged trades for defenseman Slava Fetisov and center Igor Larionov. Bowman made the trade with the idea he would put the Russian five together as a unit. When he told the Russians they would play as a unit he also told them to play the game their way and they would receive no coaching from the staff.

The author does a great job of describing the Russian style of play and how the rest of the Wings held them in awe. Brendon Shanahan remembers players on the bench laughing in pure delight at the way the five played the game. The Russian Wings influenced the rest of the Wings to play a possession game instead of the dump and chase style of play. Eventually, they even helped change the way the league played the game.  

The author provides personal, up-close portraits of the five distinctly different personalities of the five Russians and makes clear their huge contribution to winning the Stanley Cup. The book is also a very good recapitulation of the run-up to the 1997 Stanley Cup, the horrendous injuries to Konstantinov and the team's Russian masseuse in an auto accident within a week of the cup victory. The tragedy made the team determined to win another cup for their injured teammates. And when they did win Lord Stanley's cup the following year, in Washington D.C., Capt. Steve Yzerman took the cup from the NHL commissioner, skated the length of the ice and placed it in the lap of wheelchair-bound Vladimir Konstantinov who had been wheeled onto the ice by Fetisov. Gave writes, "With Fetisov and Larionov on either side of the wheelchair and Yzerman skating shotgun, holding the Cup steady, the entire team skated a victory lap that had nothing to do with a sporting event and everything to do with the triumph of the human spirit." There wasn't a dry eye on the ice or among the thousands of Washington Capitol fans. Chris Draper said, "he experienced no finer moment in his career."

If you're a Redwings fan this is a must read. It's a literary hat-trick.
The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage by Keith Gave. Goldstar Publishing, 2018, $24.99.

Death Lease
by Peter Marabel

As penance, I will not wipe the egg off my face until I've written this review. In this blog's last post I admitted to having a serious craving for mysteries set in Michigan and said something about how I actively search them out. Yet here is the fourth in a series of mysteries featuring a private detective who works out of Petoskey that I've never previously run across. Peeking around the humiliation of not having found this author years ago is the keen sense of anticipation in having the first three Michael Russo mysteries to enjoy.

Russo, a former downstate lawyer, operates a private detective business in Petoskey's Gaslight District. He isn't cut from the same cloth as the world-weary and often cynical private-eyes found in Estleman's, Chandler's, or Hammett's works, but that attitude would be pretty hard to maintain living in Petoskey with a view of Little Traverse Bay and having a beautiful and understanding woman deeply in love with you. What Russo does have in equal amounts to the above authors' famed hard-boiled detectives is doggedness in searching for the truth, loyalty to his client, and a loyalty to justice, even if it comes to administering their own kind of justice. 

I particularly liked this book because the plot hangs on a singular arrangement by which most cottage owners live on Mackinac Island and which I was unaware.  Most of Mackinac Island is state land and years ago wealthy families built and spent most of the summer on the island in their huge Victorian style cottages. But they did not and do not own the land their building sits on, They must rent that land from the state park and leases are renewed every thirty years. Obviously, many of the cottages and leases have stayed in the same families for generations.  

The Sanderson family built their cottage on the island's East Bluff in 1922. The latest leaseholder is Camille Sanderson. The cottage and the lease stayed in her name even after she married Conrad North who turned out to be a cruel and morally despicable husband. When Conrad filed for divorce from Camille she was shocked to learn her name had vanished from the lease and had been replaced by Conrad North's.  Camille's divorce lawyer sent her to Michael Russo in hopes he could discover how her client's name disappeared on the lease and was replaced by her estranged husband's. Camille is, of course, baffled, outraged, and fearful of losing the family summer home. 

Russo can't find a clue as to how the switch was made but apparently, his snooping is not welcome and a killer is soon stalking him. As Russo digs into the case and investigates how the state park handles and records a lease he hits one dead end after another. One of the dead ends is a murder in Mackinaw City that leaves Russo without a client. The author builds his plot slowly and realistically to a satisfying if not fully resolved conclusion with hints of a sequel. The author also brings Petoskey and the Straits area to life in all its flavor, sights, and sounds. The book could almost serve as a walking tour of Petoskey and Mackinac Island's commercial and tourist area surrounding the island's harbor. And if you are not familiar with some of the better restaurants in Petoskey you will be before the books final page.

The only fault I can find with the book is that Russo never made it to Jesperson's Restuarant in Petoskey and had a piece of their world-class Coconut cream pie. 

Death Lease by Peter Marabel. Kendall Sheepman Co., 2018, $15.95

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Post # 26

Quote for the day: "The statistics from this era [19th Century], which some historians portray as the romantic age of sail, are chilling: once a man went sailing, his life expectancy dropped to between ten and fifteen years. Men fell from masts, were swept off by the jibes of unskilled helmsmen, slipped on icy decks, were  crushed by cargo, and drowned or froze when ships sank or were driven ashore." White Squall: Sailing the Great Lakes by Victoria Brehm.


White Squall: Sailing the Great Lakes
by Victoria Brehm

Invariably, whenever I opened this book I recalled my first, intimate experience with the Great Lakes. While still in elementary school I crossed the Straits of Mackinac on a car ferry. In a voyage that was over far too quickly, I soaked in the grandeur of the Great Lakes, spied the log ramparts of Fort Michilimackinac, and spotted an incredibly long, lake freighter crossing the ferry's wake. On that short voyage, I became incurably addicted to the romance and history of the Great Lakes and this fine book has fed that addiction. 

Victoria Brehm's wonderful book is an anthology of rare firsthand accounts gleaned from reports, letters, memoirs, stories, poems, and diaries of those who sailed paddled or steamed the Great Lakes from the early 1600s through the 1900s. It even includes an excerpt from a David Mamet play. It is an outstanding example of dogged research accompanied by brilliant commentary. The book had me wallowing for days in my fascination and passion for Great Lakes maritime history and heritage.

The White Squall is divided into several thematic sections each of which is introduced by Brehm. Her introductory essays are filled with fascinating details such as how the birchbark canoe was a perfect marriage of function and beauty. Incredibly lightweight but able to carry large loads, it also took great skill to maneuver the craft. She quotes Hemingway after his first try at piloting an Indian canoe proclaiming, "Just as sturdy as a church, like hell. You have to part your hair in the middle to balance it." In the 1600s voyagers paddled from sunup to sundown and when they came to portages each had to carry 90 lb. packs or more which explains why more voyagers died of strangulated hernias than drowning. In another introduction, she succinctly explains how Great Lake schooners differed from their saltwater counterparts and why. 

The author explains the conditions that made the Great Lakes the most dangerous waters in the world to sail and reports that experts estimate 6,000 to 10,000 boats have been claimed by the freshwater seas, including the first sailing ship and first steamboat launched on the Lakes. Ships went down with such regularity in the 19th Century a Congressional investigation was held to determine the causes and remedies. 

But the meat of the book and the reason for its endless fascination are the eye-witness accounts and first-person narratives. There is the account of a gun captain who describes the Battle of Lake Erie from the blood-soaked deck of Commodore Perry's flagship in the War of 812. Brehm estimates that up to 30 percent of Perry's squadron's crew were African-Americans. James Fenimore Cooper helped a friend in an Old Sailors Home write his autobiography in which he describes the sinking of his warship in a sudden squall on Lake Ontario. There is a vivid description of a perilous voyage by canoe from the Soo to Detroit that is juxtaposed to a recent first-person account of a woman kayaker's life and death struggle to survive a storm on the north shore of Lake Superior. 

Women officers aboard 1,000-foot bulk carriers detail their experiences as sailors and officers,  their life at sea, and the book concludes with one of the women's poems describing being outbound from Duluth in a Lake Superior storm. One line reads; "In a gale there is no horizon to hope toward, only the greedy, relentless wind of exactly this spot." There is an account of how a schooner is built almost by hand in a small boatyard in the 1800s. Not to be missed is the 62-year-old Bay City woman who was the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Her brief and precipitous voyage is excerpted from her autobiography which she hoped would make her wealthy. She died poor. The book is filled with diverse and always interesting primary source material from great voices that tell great stories. The book is complemented with illustrations, and a helpful glossary which includes the term, "Barney's Bull." The term has an English /Canadian heritage and is slang for worthless. There is also a bibliography that can yield a lifetime of further reading. 

This book deserves the "Great Lakes Literary Heritage Award for 2018," if there was such an award. On second thought there is, I just created it. Ms. Brehm, your certificate will be in the mail shortly, along with a monetary prize up to, but not to exceed Barney's Bull. Seriously, this book should find shelf space on every medium-sized and larger library in the Great Lakes region and anyone with an interest in Great Lakes maritime history will find it totally engrossing.

White Squall: Sailing the Great Lakes by Victoria Brehm. Ladyslipper Press, 2018, $29.95.

A Dangerous Remedy: A Sheriff Matt Callahan Mystery
by Russell Fee

Loren Estleman, Steve Hamilton, and the great Elmore Leonard are three of my favorite mystery authors not only because they are masters of the genre but because they set many of their mysteries in Michigan. The above trio is to blame for my longstanding, slavish devotion to constantly being on the lookout for new mysteries set in the state. So it's hard to explain how I missed the 2016 publication of A Dangerous Remedy. I just feel very lucky I somehow recently discovered it. 

The book is set on Beaver Island, the most remotely inhabited island in the Great Lakes. The author has used his literary license to make it Michigan's smallest and least populated county. Just the place for former Chicago policeman Matt Callahan, who is not sure he is ready to come out of his self-imposed withdrawal from society and attempt to restart his career as a police officer.

Matt Callahan is one of the most compelling characters in any novel or mystery I've read in some time. He is still healing, both physically and mentally, from a horrifically disfiguring wound. It is so bad he wears a mask over half his face from which scars peak out and hint at the devastation thrown acid has done to his face. For Callahan, the job of Sheriff of Nicolet County on Beaver Island seems like a quiet, undemanding, corner of northern Michigan to resume his life as a cop. Of course, it proves just the opposite and tests Callahan's strength of character, physical and emotional health, and whether he can still function as a cop and deal with imminent physical danger.

Callahan is a fully developed, fascinating character and his struggle to overcome his injuries are as involving as the deadly, and well-plotted mystery the island hides. Even the minor characters are believable and well drawn. The author has done a great job of capturing the essence of life in up north Michigan. Not the tourists on vacation, but the people who have lived there for generations or pulled up stakes and headed north to escape the rat race of urban life in southern Michigan.  Fee writes, "People in the Northwoods didn't so much as want to make it as to make do. Ambitions were less abstract and more concrete...they by and large aimed for community and connection with place. Their pace was steady and synchronized to the passing of the seasons." Or was until Callahan begins looking into three seemingly unrelated files mysteriously left on his desk by the last sheriff, with a note to the new lawman to make them a priority.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying mystery with a great sense of place. Anyone who reads it will impatiently await the next novel in the series.

Dangerous Remedy by Russell Fee. Boreas Press, 2016, $12.99

Of Things Ignored and Unloved: A Naturalist Walks Northern Michigan
by Richard Fidler

Written by a retired high school biology teacher, this book vividly reminds me of the many walks I took with my dear-departed friend Dick Derenzy, also a high school biology teacher. When you went for a walk with Dick he was constantly calling your attention to this or that plant, an insect, or small creature.  He'd then tell me a curious or interesting aspect of its life history, or how early homesteaders used that plant for scouring pots and pans, the curative effects of this plant, or the benefits or depredations of that little creature. Every walk with Dick Derenzy was both an education and a heightened appreciation of the natural world.

When I say that this book is as enjoyable and informative as a walk with Dick Derenzy I am paying it the highest of compliments. The reader gets the sense that the author is not sitting at a desk deciding which seemingly innocuous plant, or yuck inducing creature to write about, rather he's strolling through the backcountry of northern Michigan and writing about what he stumbles across.

Richard Fidler introduces the reader to the tiny parasites found in some of the most beautiful lakes in northern Michigan. During the creature's life cycle they pass through snails, lodge in the digestive tract of ducks who (to put it as delicately as possible) evacuate the creature into the lake where they cause swimmer's itch among bathers. He explains why and how leaves change color. He describes how leeches inject their victim - including humans - with both an anticoagulant and an anesthetic so the creatures will not be felt sucking your blood. Surprisingly, they are still used for medicinal purposes to increase flow to blood deprived parts of the body such as a reattached finger or toe.

Then there are the microscopic tardigrades, often called "water bears," that deserve to be included among comic book superheroes. They can be removed from the water, completely dried out and left in that state for years. Add a drop of water and they come back to life. You can't kill  Water Bears by freezing them to absolute zero, that's -273.15 degrees Celsius, or by boiling them. Scientists can't figure out where to fit them in the evolutionary tree. And if we didn't know enough about the sea lampreys Fidler tells us that Europeans ate them with great relish, or used to, and includes a Medieval recipe that sounds utterly disgusting. But evidently not to England's King Henry the 1st who ate himself to death gorging on sea lampreys.

Richard Fidler's inquisitive nature and fascination with the natural world shines through on every page. The book is almost as pleasant and enjoyable as a stroll through the woods and fields of northern Michigan, and Fidler will be sure you don't miss the easily overlooked or previously unknown natural phenomena that are always there but seldom seen or understood. 
Of Things Ignored and Unloved: A Naturalist Walks Northern Michigan by Richard Fidler. Mission Point Press, 2017, $15.95

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually get the book at a discount price. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Post # 25

Quote for the day. "Those who sail the Lakes are men of iron -- men of iron nerve, iron will, and iron faith." William Ratigan, Great Shipwrecks and Survivors. 1977.


Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America
by Michael McCarthy

On the morning of July 24, 1915, 2,500 men, women, and children dressed in their finery hurried aboard the SS Eastland, berthed on the Chicago River at South Water Street, for a short voyage to Michigan City, Indiana where the Western Electric Company of Chicago would hold its annual employee picnic. The last passengers had just boarded the huge passenger liner, which was still tied to the pier when the great ship first tipped one way, recovered and rolled in the opposite direction. Then it tipped yet again, its shorelines snapped and in the blink of an eye, the Eastland capsized. It would prove to be the worst maritime disaster in Great Lakes history with 844 fatalities including the deaths of 22 entire families. Ashes Under Water is the masterfully told story of the disaster, the ship's troubled history, and the epic court battle in which the ship's owners tried to pin the blame for the tragedy on the Eastland's engineer, who was represented by Clarence Darrow, and several federal inspectors.

The Eastland was built in 1903 by a Port Huron shipbuilder for a South Haven, Michigan shipping company. The newly formed company hoped to entice fares from the town's growing number of tourists from Chicago and to ship fruit from the area's bountiful orchards to the huge market lying just across the lake. But South Haven presented a navigation problem the ship had to overcome. Just offshore of South Haven's port was a sandbar that wouldn't allow the passage of large ships with deep drafts. As the author deftly explains the solution was water as ballast which could be pumped in or out of huge holding tanks. Pump out the ballast and the ship passes over the sandbar and then the tanks are filled. With the ballast restored the ship rides properly through the seas. The water could also be pumped to side tanks to counter passengers or cargo causing the ship to list.

But pumping ballast in or out could get tricky and on two occasions the ship unexpectedly listed 25-degrees with screaming passengers and chairs sliding across the ship's deck. When the South Haven company went broke the Eastland was purchased by a Cleveland company to transport pleasure seekers from that city to Cedar Point sixty miles to the west. The ship got such a poor reputation for safety the company ran ads and posted rewards for anyone who could prove it unsafe. Once again the ship failed to make money and was sold to a St. Joseph, Michigan company hoping to attract more Chicagoans to their resort town known as, "The Coney Island of the West." Less than a year after purchasing the Eastland it turned turtle in Chicago.

The author has written an enthralling, authoritative, and a heart-breaking account of the Eastland's Great Lakes career and paired it with the story of the ship's chief engineer's career. Joseph Erickson was an immigrant who worked tirelessly to become accredited as a chief engineer. On the day of the tragedy he showed himself a hero and as payment, the owners of the company tried to hang the responsibility for the ship's demise around his neck. Great Lake sailors contributed enough money to hire Clarence Darrow as his lawyer.

Michael McCarthy spent years researching this book and it shows on every page. It is an important contribution to Great Lakes and Michigan history, in addition to being an immensely readable and moving story.
Ashes Under Water by Michael McCarthy. Lyons Press, 2018, $25.95

She Stopped for Death
by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

Beaver Falls is a fictional Michigan village located somewhere between Kalkaska and Mancelona and yet a stone's throw from Lake Michigan. The quiet little village has more than its share of eccentrics and topping the list is Emily Sutton, a once-famous poet, who seems nuttier than a bag of pistachios. The poet lives in near total seclusion in an old family home down the street from Dora Weston whose yard sports one of those little libraries on a post where readers can leave a book and take a book.

Living with Dora is her daughter Jenny who has come home to lick her wounds after a painful divorce. Their constant visitor, friend, and next door neighbor is the irascible Zoe Zola, a Little Person, who writes big books on famous literary figures. The threesome often enjoy an evening sitting on Dora's front porch shooting the breeze and catching up on Beaver Falls gossip. One evening as they're discussing village affairs a shadowy figure totters down the street in an ankle length old dress, walks up to the little library, and instead of leaving and taking a book just leaves a sheaf of papers.

When Dora checks the little box she discovers hand-written poems. Dora, Jenny, and Zoe are agog over the apparent re-emergence of a celebrated poet. As an act of friendship, Jenny and Zoe visit Horizon Books in Traverse City and select a sampling of current poets and leave the books on Emily's porch. Emily returns the next night to Dora's porch and tells the trio she appreciated the books and needs help.  Emily's sister who lived with her for years has run off with a man, and a cousin from Traverse City who dropped off her groceries has unexplainably quit. Would someone do her grocery shopping? Zoe reluctantly volunteers and soon begins to suspect Emily and her self-imposed isolation are even stranger than they appear.

The news of Sutton's appearance back in the world takes Beaver Falls by storm and a poetry reading is set up by the village's lone grand dame and a soldout reading is booked for the Traverse City Opera House. Ah, but the train is about to leave the tracks. A gruesome murder leads back to Beaver Falls, the Beaver Falls reading is just plain weird, and Emily Sutton is moving the needle from eccentric to completely unhinged. 

Buzzelli writes with a keen eye for character, sharp wit, clever literary asides, and knows smalltown life in northern Michigan. The pace is leisurely and the plot builds from the quaintly odd to a full-blown novel of terror with a great twist at the end. This is billed as a cozy mystery and I just don't understand the term. What's cozy about a mystery, unless it's where did that darling cat find that ball of soft and fuzzy Alpaca yarn?  A third mystery in the series is due out this fall.

She Stopped for Death by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli. Crooked Lane Books, 2017, $25.99

Secret Detroit: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure
by Karen Dybis

In the introduction to this consistently engaging and wonderfully eccentric book the author defines secret, "as something unusual, surprising, or extraordinary." At first glance, the book includes many famous and well-known sites, places, and attractions like  Comerica Park or the Detroit Public Library, either of which hardly qualifies as secret by any definition. But no matter how well known the site, place, or thing the author more often than not, manages to surprise the reader with something they were previously unaware of. Or in other words, surprise readers with the unusual or extraordinary. 

Then there are the places one never heard about before cracking this book. Like the 2.2 acre Beth Olem Jewish Cemetery, founded in 1860, that is completely surrounded by GM's Poletown Plant. It is open to the public twice a year and visitors must pass through plant security gates. Or, the revelation that one of the last remaining Negro League ballparks in the country can be found in Hamtramck. Attempts are underway to preserve the crumbling structure and turn it into a  community park and a monument to the Negro Leagues.

The author doesn't turn a blind eye to Detroit's history of racism and segregation. I'd heard about the 8-mile Wall that a developer built to separate a black neighborhood from a new, lily-white subdivision. But I didn't know that the Federal Housing Administration and the Home Owners Loan Corp. refused to approve loans to the white-only project unless the developer built the wall. It still stands as a memorial to institutional racism and today is decorated with murals.

Also found in the book is Baker's Keyboard Lounge, the world's oldest continuously operated jazz club. Detroit's famous Elmwood Cemetery where the famous and near famous lie in perpetual rest in a cemetery that received accreditation as an arboretum and offers regular tours of its plantings. Also found in the book is a Mortuary Science Museum, the state's largest used and rare bookstore, a parking garage built in a former theater, Detroit's oldest house, Detroit's Jewish bathhouse dating to the 1930s, and St. Anne Catholic Church, the second oldest Catholic parish in the USA. 

There are 90 sites in this fascinating book. Each write-up is succinct, informative, and quickly gets to the essence of why the site has been included in the book. Open the book to any page and it's like opening a bag of Better Made Potato Chips (also in the book), you just can't stop diving back into the book or bag.

Secret Detroit: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Karen Dybis. Reedy Press, 2018, $20.95


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Post # 24

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

The Wreck
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.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Post # 23

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.


Bad Optics
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 CafĂ©’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.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Post # 22

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


Post # 28

Quote for the Day: "If any person, or persons, shall exhibit any puppet show, wire dancing, or tumbling, juggling or sleight of hand, w...