Thursday, August 1, 2019

August 1, 2019 Post # 45

Quote for the Day: "When the population along the river above Detroit becomes greatly increased the waters of the Detroit River will become unfit for domestic use."  Robert Kedzie, doctor and chemistry professor. 1898.


I'm Fine and Neither Are You
by Camille Pagan

Camille Pagan's thoughtful, witty, and perceptive novel is the story of a marriage under stress and what happens when the wife decides it's time to right the trajectory of her marriage before it crashes.
Penelope Ruiz-Kar is juggling a career, a family, and a marriage stuck in a rut. She finds married life not quite what she expected and her life, in general, is beginning to come apart at the seams. 

Her husband, Sanjay, is unemployed and isn't really interested in finding work because he wants to write a book. Which evidently doesn't leave time for him to be even a so-so house-husband as he neglects to clean or cook, parent the couple's daughters, and doesn't rise to the occasion when it comes to conjugal relations with his wife. Penelope's job, hunting down benefactors, donors, and bagging endowments for a high profile Michigan university, is full of pressure made worse by an overbearing boss.

The only positive thing in Penepole's life is her best friend Jenny, who from Penelope's viewpoint is living a perfect life. Jenny has a model husband, she lives in a beautiful house, and has a wonderful daughter with great manners. Jenny is always there for Penelope, is filled with good advice, and is constantly telling her friend to make changes in her life and marriage. Then Penelope finds Jenny alone and dead in her perfect house. Her best friend's tragic passing reveals a multitude of cracks in what Penelope thought was a perfect life.

The tragedy prompts Penelope to make her marriage better and insists she and Sanjay must be honest with each other if they are going to improve their relationship. They commit to writing down changes they would like to see in their spouses and discussing them honestly. The wisdom of the proposal comes into question with the first desired change each reveals to the other. And Penelope begins to have serious doubts as to whether honesty will really save their marriage.

This is a wise and compassionate examination of a modern marriage that is often as funny as it is thoughtful. The author is a natural-born storyteller with what seems like a natural instinct for creating believable characters and mirroring the universal desire to achieve a good and meaningful life. Memorable.

I'm Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan. Lake Union Publishing, 2019, $24.95.

Waterfront Porch: Reclaiming Detroit's Industrial Waterfront as a Gathering Place For All
by John H. Hartig

This is a richly detailed history of Detroit's riverfront from its wild and beautiful pre-Colonial days, through its slow decline to the point where heavy industry and later abandoned buildings and vast parking lots cut Detroiters off from the river that had become an ecological disaster. In even greater detail the book chronicles the near-miraculous recovery of the river and the vision and work of many groups, organizations, and businesses to create a beautiful riverside walk that stretches from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle.

By the 1960s after two centuries of polluting one of the great wildlife habitats and avian flyways of North America with sewage, phosphorus, mercury, and oil it was a river of death. Between 1946 - 48  5.93 million tons of oil and petroleum waste was dumped into the Detroit River annually. A Canadian firm discharged 200,000 pounds of mercury into Lake St. Clair that closed fishing from Lake St. Clair to western Lake Erie. In 1948, 11,000 waterfowl died on the river from pollution. another great die-off occurred in1960, and in 1969 the Rouge River caught fire. There was no documented spawning of whitefish in the Detroit River from 1916- 2006. If the river was dead the sprawl of heavy industry and urban decay effectively walled off the river from the people of the city.

The author points out that a public accessible riverfront was promoted as early as 1889 but it wasn't until efforts to clean up the river began in the late 1960s that the call for the development of an extensive RiverWalk was heard. Hartig does a fine job of outlining the various political. cultural, businesses, and foundations that contributed money, ideas, and initiatives that slowly transformed the riverfront into a 5.5-mile long park. The book sometimes reads more like an academic report with numerous tables, charts, and lists throughout and each chapter closes with a stated conclusion. I hasten to add this doesn't make the book any less readable. 

Of special note is the description of the parks and attractions along the RiverWalk which includes Michigan's smallest and only urban state park, Michigan DNR's  Outdoor Adventure Center, the Hart Plaza, and Chene  Park with its outdoor amphitheater that was rated among the top one hundred concert venues in the world. The book is as helpful as any Detroit travel guide to the attractions found on the RiverWalk.

The book closes with a report on the economic benefits of the RiverWalk and the key lessons learned from the long term project. Hartig has made a unique contribution to the history of Detroit, the river that helps define it, and shines a light on one important aspect of the Auto City's rebirth. 
Waterfront Porch: Reclaiming Detroit's Industrial Waterfront as a Gathering Place For All by John H. Hartig. Michigan State University Press. 2019, $24.95

The Summer Cottage
 by Viola Shipman

Although I read and very much enjoyed this author's last novel, The Recipe Box, I didn't hold out much hope of making it to the last page of this book. First, this is clearly intended as women's fiction from page one. Secondly, the author is a man who writes under the name of his grandmother. Even the author concedes it, "sounds like a terrible (idea)."  But I had forgotten how easily the author engages readers and effortlessly pulls them into the story like hooked fish.

Adie Lou, who is at the center of this novel, has always loved her parent's cottage on Lake Michigan, in the village of Saugatuck. It is and was a place where life was good, love of family abounded, and cares could be forgotten.  In fact, the forgetting of cares was only one of a dozen rules strictly enforced at the cottage which also included Be Grateful for Each Day, Build a Sandcastle, and Go Jump in the Lake among others. As the book opens Adie Lou's life is near melt-down due to a broken marriage, the creep of middle-age, the on-set of the empty nest syndrome, and a job that pays well but sucks the life out of her. On her parent's death, she inherits the cottage and while her ex urges her to sell it for a small fortune, Adie Lou decides to make it the vehicle that will turn her life around. She quits her job, takes her savings, moves to Saugatuck and sets out to transform the cottage into a bed-and-breakfast inn.

The novel follows Adie Lou's transformation and remodeling of the cottage into a bed-and-breakfast and chronicles the host of problems and long hours of work that it entails. The book captures the charm and the importance of the cottage that was a beloved summer family retreat. The challenge is turning it into bed-and-breakfast that has its own unique, warm and welcoming ambiance.  The author has come close to weaving a complete how-to manual for creating a bed-and-breakfast within the story of Adie Lou's struggle to become an empowered and confident woman who runs her own business. Except for the fact that the book never mentions that Saugatuck is one of the most popular Gay and Lesban travel destinations in the country, Shipman does a fine job of describing the beauty, atmosphere, and charm of the village.

This is an involving, honest, well-told story of a woman who wants to honor her family while making a new life for herself. The Summer Cottage is a good choice for a women's book club and conveniently comes with a Reader's Guide and questions for group discussion.

The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman. Graydon House, 2019, $16.99.

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

Many years ago my family vacationed two years in a row on Beaver Island. It left me with indelible memories of a beautiful, take-your-breath-away scenic world insulated from the hustle, bustle, work-a-day-world, and tourist-clogged northern Michigan by 35-miles of  Lake Michigan and a two-hour-plus ferry ride. Circumstance and missed opportunities have kept me away ever since. Thanks to Russell Fee I have revisited the Emerald Isle twice in the past two years by way of the author's very satisfying Sheriff Matt Callahan mystery novels.

Fee has used his literary license to reimagine Beaver Island as Michigan's smallest and most remote county and Matt Calahan, a former Chicago homicide detective, as Sheriff of Nicolet County. For those who haven't had the pleasure of reading the first in the series, Calahan suffered a horrible disfigurement when acid was thrown in his face in Chicago and like the Phantom of the Opera he wears a mask to hide the worst of the scars from the acid attack. Callahan took the job of sheriff in Nicolet County as a way to withdraw from the world and hide his disfigurement. But Beaver Island, sorry, Nicolet County is not as peaceful, quiet, and free from crime as I remember.

Callahan is called to the scene where the nude body of a young woman has washed ashore. The body is covered with deep circular cuts like a spiral-sliced ham and the woman has been decapitated, but her head lies nearby. The dead woman had no identification, no one on the island recognizes the deceased, and it is unclear to Sheriff  Callahan whether this was a murder victim or the result of a terrible accident. Little does Matt know that his investigation into identifying the body and what he has come to believe is a murder case will almost get him killed, threaten the lives of the woman and her young son Matt has fallen in love with. Political bribery, oil pollution, the infamous oil pipeline that runs under the Straits, exploratory drilling on the island, and a second murder are all central to the plot.

Russell Fee is an under-appreciated and sorely overlooked mystery writer. His two mysteries set on Beaver Island are well-plotted, rich in character, and Beaver Island ambiance. A check of MelCat, which lists the holdings of 400 Michigan libraries revealed that not one of them owned A Dangerous Remedy, the first book in the series, or A Dangerous Identity, and that is a downright shame. The book and its Beaver Island setting deserve consideration for inclusion in every mid-sized and larger library in Michigan. Readers who like a good mystery set in Michigan can either buy the book or ask their local library to add it to their collection.

A Dangerous Identity: A Sheriff  Matt Callahan Mystery by Russell Fee. Borias Books, 2019, $12.99

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April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, alw...