Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Post #19

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.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

Quote for the Day: "(During the 1880s) the only toiletries north of Saginaw were mustache wax and alkali soap." Russell McKee. Aud...