Friday, January 1, 2021

January 1, 2021 #62

Quote for the day: "This must be the North Pole." November 4, 1885, diary entry by Isle Royal lighthouse keeper John Malone.

Book Reviews

Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal                                                                  by L. David Mech


The author is a world-renowned authority on wolves. He began his life-long study of North America's iconic wilderness predator as a graduate student when he went to Isle Royale, on a newly funded three-year grant, to study, observe, and record the relationship between wolves and moose or predator and prey. The author was the first naturalist in an ongoing study that has become the longest continuous predator-prey study ever. This compelling book is the author's personal account of his three years of work on Isle Royale.

In 1958 when the grant was awarded little was known about how wolve packs were organized,  w they hunted, what they ate, and how wolves affected the density and stability of a prey population. The author spent the summer of each year hiking the island's many trails and for six weeks in late winter observing from a low flying plane how wolf packs hunted and behaved. The author shares many of the early discoveries he made in his years on the island.

The glamourous part of the summer months was collecting endless samples of wolf scat and searching through it to determine the animal's diet. The author also collected jawbones from every moose killed by the wolves to determine its age and health at the time of death. The first year he was alone on the island, the second he brought his pregnant bride, and the third he arrived with a daughter and a wife pregnant with a second child. He and his wife got to know families on the island that still fished commercially and made many friends with park employees. The couple obviously relished their remote and simple existence on the least visited national park in the lower 48 states. 

Visitors to Isle Royale who encounter a moose, nearly step in wolf scat when hiking, experience being out of sight of land however inland when crossing Superior, and have the beauty of the island etched in their memory will gobble this book up. Those who haven't yet visited the island will also find much to enjoy and many readers will put Isle Royale on their bucket list. The book is enjoyable, informative, fascinating and will convince readers Isle Royale is unique.


Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal by L. David Mech. University of Minnesota Press, 2020, $24.95.

West of the River, North of the Bridge: Stories from Michigan's U.P.                                                  by Richard Hill

These short stories are simply told and heartfelt.  Most, but not all of the stories are set north of Big Mac and reveal how long, harsh winters, isolation, lack of jobs, and the U.P.'s rugged environment is both a blessing and a curse to its inhabitants. Whether the narrative unwinds in the first or third person the stories are plain-spoken and reflect the Yooper character. All of which helps make the stories stick with you like burrs on a dog's tail. Not often, but here and there within the stories are sparkling, grin-busting moments of humor.

One of the few recurring characters in several of the stories is a teen-ager named Jake. As with most teenage boys, he has a misplaced belief in his own immortality that is paired with the recklessness of youth. The opportunities for dangerous misadventures abound in the U.P. and Jake seems drawn to them like mosquitoes to a bug-zapper. Jake finally grows up in the book's concluding short story. 

 My two favorite stories probably reflect my age. One is an oral diary of an 82-year-old Great Lakes sailor who recalls his life sailing the lakes and the guilt he carries for his prolonged absences from his family. The other tells the story of a tire shop owner who loses his wife within months of his retirement. Lonely and seeking some kind of companionship he discovers that after 60 years out of circulation he has lost everything he ever knew about dating protocol.

Stories also explore what kind of future the U.P. holds for young people, hoarding, gambling addiction, the danger of being caught in a white-out, just getting by, and the nourishing beauty of the rugged peninsula. The writing is razor-sharp and wise with characters as real as a neighbor I've lived next to for a decade. 

West of the River, North of the Bridge: Stories From Michigan's U.P. by Richard Hill. Gale Force Press, 2020, $19.95.

I Hope This Reaches You: An American Soldier's Account of World War 1                                      by Hilary Connor

In 2011 Elizabeth Field Connor helped her widowed mother clean years of clutter out of her basement and made an extraordinary discovery that resulted in this epic narrative of a Michigan man's service on the Western Front during World War I. The discovery was a footlocker containing her grandfather's diary of life at the front as an ambulance driver, over 300 letters he wrote his parents and college sweetheart during his enlistment, and two books he helped author entitled, "The History of Ambulance Company 168," and a book on the 117th Sanitary Train that included the ambulance company. 

The material found in the footlocker became the four primary sources the author used to write this remarkable account of a young man's experiences from Jackson, Michigan an ambulance driver in Worl War I.  Byron Fiske, a devote Methodist, was attending Albion College and studying to become a Methodist missionary when the U.S. declared war on Germany. Byron's religious beliefs against killing prevented him from joining the army. But wanting to do his part in the war to end all wars, he dropped out of college and volunteered as an ambulance driver in a Michigan National Guard unit.  The unit was in boot camp at Grayling when it was nationalized and assigned to the famous Rainbow Division.

The book is a remarkable account of Byron's World War I experience because the author places Byron's story within the context of the war on the Western Front and the combat record of the Rainbow Division. The author also makes clear that throughout the war, Byron's faith and upbringing in Jackson served as a constant moral compass in the most harrowing of times.  He was gassed and survived artillery bombardments as well as German snipers who targetted litter carriers. It was not uncommon for the ambulance company personnel to carry the wounded on litters through knee-deep mud from the front to dressing stations and field hospitals miles or more in the rear. It was man-killing labor. At Chateau Thiery he saw bodies by the hundreds strewn across the landscape. The smell was so bad he wore a gas mask hoping it would filter out the smell. It didn't. The wounded lay on the ground so long he saw maggots in their wounds. Byron survived the war but like most combat vets did not want to talk about it. He came home with his faith intact, enjoyed success as a businessman, and died a tragic and lonely death.

This is a moving and powerful book and a fine addition to the literature of World War I.


I Hope This Reaches You: An American Soldiers Account of World War I by Hilary Connor. Wayne State University Press, 2020, $39.99.

The Great Lakes Rivalry                                                                                                                           by Peter Schinkai

The first meeting between U of M and MSU (at the time called Michigan Agricultural College) on the football field occurred on October 12, 1898, at Ann Arbor. There were 228 fans in attendance and the Wolverines won 39 - 0. And so was born a passionate in-state athletic rivalry that is now well into its second century.

This book may well be considered a must by devoted football fans from both universities and should be considered for inclusion in the reference section of medium and larger Michigan libraries. A  succinct chapter is devoted to every U of M/MSU football game played from 1898 through 2017.  The author begins the description of every game with a summary of each team's season prior to the big game, a report on coaching changes, and new players who can be game-changers. The details of the game itself include highlights of significant plays, outstanding players, and conclude with a roundup of each team's season record for the year.

The book is filled with interesting asides and historical tidbits on college football. Readers learn the first college football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. In 1898 five points were awarded for a touchdown or a field goal and one point was given for a successful conversion after a TD. After1898 the teams didn't play each other again until 1902, 1907, and 1908. In 1910 the two schools committed to playing yearly and that schedule was only interrupted during WWII.

Probably only the most dedicated, diehard fans will read the book cover to cover in the course of a day or two but the book makes for great browsing. Want to read about the Yost era at U of M or Duffy Dougherty's reign at MSU? Discover that MSU's first victory over U of M came in 1913, or how in 1902 season the Wolverines scored a TD on the average of every minute and 54 seconds in a 119- 0 rout. It is all here and there is plenty for fans of both schools to celebrate in this tribute to a great and enduring rivalry.

 The Great Lakes Rivalry by Peter Schinkai. Independently Published, 2020, $14.

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. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

December 1, 2020 Post # 61

Quote of the Day: "The place [Iron Mountain] was alive with men and full of sin." Rev. W. G. Pufflefoot, describing the area during the 1860s. The Minute Man on the Frontier.1895.


 Compassion, Michigan: The Ironwood Stories                                                                                      by Raymond Luczak       

This fine collection of short stories all take place in Ironwood, Michigan, and are told from the viewpoint of women. The stories are arranged in reverse chronological order from the present to the town's early history. The women tell of their lives (many of who have hidden their real selves from everyone but the reader) and their relationship with Ironwood. In the early years after the discovery of iron, the town boasted 30,000 inhabitants. But with the closing of the mines, the town began a slow decline until the present day with just 5,000 residents struggling to make lives for themselves amid the detritus of the town's glory days.

In one story a  woman from LA who was adopted learns she was born in Ironwood and returns to the city of her birth searching for clues to her birth parents. She even picks through the goods for sale in a church's second-hand shop that is full of items chronicling the city's downward spiral. In another powerful story set in the Great Depression Ironwood is experienced and observed by a New York transplant who teaches ballet to the daughters of mine owners. In a more current story, a grandma and granddaughter make pasties together and the idea of a U.P. culture becomes a topic of conversation and grandma learns she is aYooper.

Each of the stories is anchored by distinct and wholly original characters who deal with loss, love, family, and personal crises ranging from living with a violent, alcoholic father who's a walking timebomb, to the deeply felt story of a gender-neutral person born a female who has to deal with being alone and different from everyone. 

Powerful and moving short stories that reflect the human experience set amidst the history of a Michigan town in decline. One resident observes, "There's a lot of good-ol'-days residue in this town. It's in the oxygen we breathe."


 Compassion, Michigan: The Ironwood Stories by Raymond Luczak. Modern History Press, 2020, $21.95.

The Star in the Sycamore: Discovering Nature's Hidden Virtues in the Wild Nearby                    by Tom Springer 

In this fine book of essays, the author looks at nature, life, and the everyday common things around us in uncommon ways. Many of the author's musings focus on elements of life and nature that are often overlooked. There are essays on the difference between country dogs and city dogs and the elevation of the dogs' social status in recent years. The author maintains dogs now substitute for children or best friends. No, you say? Well, how many times have you heard a dog owner refer to themselves as the dog's mommy or daddy?

Other essays pay tribute to Serviceberry trees and their wonderful fruit that few if any appreciate. In the essay "A Young Girls Guide to Powers Tools" Springer rails and vents against chainsaws, snowblowers, leaf blowers, and rototillers. He praises hand tools because none of them have off switches, they just stop when you do. There are essays on stars, constellations, cross-country skiing, bird feeders, "Five Ways to Tell if its Winter in a Michigan Farmhouse," and a tribute to a good dog he had to put down. Springer includes a beautiful essay about his father on his death at 82. He was a man who led a "contented life."

Readers should have a highlighter handy when opening the book because there are so many great turns of phrase, unique and pleasing descriptions, and memorable sentences. A pickup truck is described as, "tastefully dented and rusted per farm truck specifications." He writes, "... italics, whether written or spoken are the last refuge of anemic writers and ineffective parents."And one of my many favorites is Springer's description of a nun ordering a fast-food burger with no ketchup, mustard, pickles, or onions. The author wrote, "For her, this small act of self-denial was condiment enough."

This book showcases a fine essayist at the top of his form. A delight to read.


The Star in the Sycamore: Discovering Nature's Hidden Virtues in the Wild Nearby by Tom Springer. Mission Point Press, 2020, $17.95.  

Stories from the Attic                                                                                                                                 by Marcina McKeon Foster

The author has taken a deep dive into her family's genealogy, sorted through an attic full of dusty family artifacts, nick-nacks, and memorabilia, and researched the history of the village of Fenton and the surrounding area to write this book. In a short forward the author says her, "...intent is to bring our family stories to life and introduce our descendants to their ancestors." She then admits the family members in these stories are real and events depicted are based on real events, but the "book is a work of fiction," What? She further tells the reader some events and secondary characters are pure fiction.

It was with some confusion and concern I turned to page one.  The confusion and doubt evaporated within a few pages as I found myself immersed in an authentic recreation of small-town America from the Gilded Age through World War I. Some chapters take a dozen pages or so to tell of the courtship and marriage of grand or great grandparents' others are mere vignettes capturing important moments in the family's story. Some chapters are so brief they are literary snapshots.

I grew up on Lake Fenton, just north of Fenton, and my favorite chapter reads as if it was written by a participant on a day trip to the lake in 1893. The family boarded a narrow gauge horse-drawn railroad car that took them to the lake. There the family boarded the Belle of the Lake, a 200-passenger steamer, for a trip to Case's Island where they picnicked on fried chicken and the children cavorted in a playground. 

More sober stories tell of a descendant who lost a husband and child to consumption, another recounts a fire that destroyed the largest employer in the village. As with almost all of the stories they are written as if the author is channeling one of her ancestors. The author has convincingly captured the feel, the temper, and the culture of a bygone age.

Stories from the Attic by Marcina McKeon Foster. Independently Published, 2020, $12.99 pb.

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. 



Sunday, November 1, 2020

November 2020 Post #60

Quote for the day: "This is one of the most dramatic coastlines in North America, perhaps in the world. Rising almost directly from the surf behind a tiny striplet of beach, the face of Sleeping Bear heaves skyward like the flank of some enormous buff-colored animal, hulking and severe." William Ashworth. The Great Lakes. 1987.


World War II Conscientious Objectors: Germfask, Michigan The Alcatraz Camp
by Jane Kopecky

The treatment of conscientious objectors (COs) in World War II is a subject rarely written about even in histories of the homefront during WW II. As a history major at CMU let alone in high school I never read or heard it mentioned. Which, after reading this meticulously researched and revelatory book seems all the stranger because the treatment of COs during the war goes to the very heart of the Constitution, religious freedom, and personal rights.

The primary focus of this book is the CO camp at Germfask in the U.P. Out of the 151 CO camps in the country during WW II the camp at Germfask was where all the trouble makers were sent. The author presents a concise and very informative overview of how COs were handled before delving into life at the Germfask camp. When inductees declared they were conscientious objectors they were offered non-combat positions in the military. If they rejected that option the COs were sent to camps (usually old CCC camps) where they were given work of supposedly vital importance to the nation. The government assumed COs came from churches that held pacifism as a basic tenant of their faith. The camps were even turned over to members of the peace churches to administer. The "campers," as they were called, had to pay $35 a month while at the camp. What Select Service didn't understand was that many of the COs refused to serve due to their personal belief that war and killing were morally wrong. Many were inspired followers of Gandhi. 

This later group refused to pay for being forced into confinement and knew they were given unimportant make-work jobs. They protested being held in involuntary servitude, tried to spread their belief in pacifism, and most refused to do any work. In short, the Selective Service considered them trouble makers and sent them to the Germfask camp in order to isolate them from other COs, public view, and simply incarcerate them. 

Impressive primary research went into telling the Germfask story. Kopecky interviewed many of the "campers" in person, by phone, or letter. She also included short autobiographical essays by a few of the "campers." The COs at Germfask were a widely diverse group. Many were highly educated. Counted among them were lawyers, teachers, writers, artists, and scientists who continued their research at Germask. And most continued to be trouble makers. As one camp administrator wrote, "... the main activity of this camp was refusal to work." The camp earned the reputation as the Alcatraz of CO camps because it became the epi-center of non-violent resistance to the very principle of removing conscientious objectors from society.

The book examines how the general public's opinion of COs has changed since WW II and makes it more than clear that the people of the area held "campers" in contempt and on more than one occasion COs were threatened with violence when they got an occasional pass to Manistique or Newberry. Although the camp was only in existence for 13 months the author notes that many of the "campers" became neurotic or deeply depressed. 

The Historical Society of Michigan recently presented the author with the 2020 State History Award for a Privately Printed Book. It's also sure to make the Michigan Notable  Book List.

World War II Conscientious Objectors: Germfask, Michigan The Alcatraz Camp by Jane Kopecky. Privately published. 2020,  $19.95.

The Snow Killings: Inside the Oakland County Child Killer Investigations
by Marney Rich Keenan

For thirteen months in 1976-77, the Detroit metro area was held in a reign of terror as four children ranging in age from 10 to13 were abducted on city streets in plain sight, held captive for four to nineteen days as they were tortured, sexually molested, then murdered. Their bodies were then left beside roads and highways like pieces of litter thrown from a passing car. It resulted in the formation of the Oakland County Child Killer Task Force and at that time became the largest manhunt in history. It was headed by a ranking Michigan State Police Officer. After two years the task force was disbanded saying all leads were followed and no suspects were identified.

The author is a retired Detroit News reporter who followed the case from day one and has continued to write and research the killings for more than forty years. The book is disturbing, sad, revealing, important, and a brilliant example of great writing and reporting. The author leads the reader through a complicated and convoluted history of the case with great clarity and mounting anger. Especially as she details the growing concern by some dedicated detectives who worked it as a cold-case thirty years later and harbored a growing suspicion there was a police cover-up. 

The book highlights the work of Detective Cory Williams of the Livonia Police who began investigating the killings as a volunteer and spent decades looking for the killer. He found inexplicable mistakes made by the Task Force. He also developed new leads and help uncover a state-wide network of pedophiles who worked together to entrap and trade victims, make videotapes and take photographs of sexually abused children. He found the Task Force failed to even consider a 4-time convicted pedophile living in Birmingham. He was never questioned or even considered a suspect probably because his father was an influential GM exec. The pedophile was later found dead of an apparent suicide which baffled a new task force that reopened the case and found the man's suicide was more likely a murder. 

Thirty years after her daughter was grabbed off the street and murdered the victim's mother said in part, "In my opinion, they (the police) have stonewalled and attempted to block every effort to solve these cases. They have refused to answer even the most basic questions. I don't know who is the bigger monster here - the people who murdered these children, or the people who refused to bring them to justice," Keenan has written a true crime epic that will remain with the reader long after the last page has been turned.
The Snow Killing: Inside the Oakland County Child Killing Investigation by Marney Rich Keenan. Exposit, 2020, $29.95.

When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties
by Richard Bak

For more than half a century Detroit Lions fans have come to accept the fact that the franchise is the place where head coaches come to die. In seventy years the team has qualified for the playoffs just once and lost that game. A winning season is rarer than a four-leaf clover. But if you're old enough and your memory is sharper than any of the team's recent general managers' grasp of football fundamentals you may remember that in the 1950s the team was the toast of the NFL. And if you don't you will want to read Richard Bak's entertaining and revealing history of the decade when the Lions won three championships and was one of the league's most popular teams.

The book offers readers and fans an intimate, up-close look at the team and the league in the 50s. The author captures the personalities and idiosyncrasies of a team with a roster full of unforgettable characters starting with quarterback Bobby Lane. As one reporter wrote, "They were the living example of the power of positive drinking." There are play by play descriptions from some of the most significant games of the decade and seemingly every page contains great anecdotes and interesting insights into the team. 

In surveying the league in the 1950s the author found the NFL was pretty much Lilly white. There were no minority coaches, executives, shareholders, or even waterboys. There were very few Black players and in 1953 when the Lions won the championship game it was the last year an all-white team won the title. The author also covers in some detail how little was done to make the game safe for players. Concussions were an everyday occasion on the practice field and on game days. The personal cost in cases of dementia and crippling arthritis as the players grew older was and still is epidemic.

The fact that jumped off the page and slapped me in the face was that in the 1950s when the Lions led the league in ticket sales the ownership cleared an annual profit of between $100,000 and $200,000. Today the team that has perfected losing when they go into the fourth quarter with a lead and have seldom recorded a winning season find the Fords pocketing $75 million annually in profits. No wonder the owner is content with a mediocre team, it's simply a case of profits over pride. This is a very good book about a team that once long, long ago was a world-beater. I know, it sounds like a fairy tale. A word must be said about the care and beauty that went into the design and production of this book. From page layout, cover design, artwork, and the selection of paper this is a championship effort. 
When the Lions were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties by  Richard Bak. Wayne State University Press, 2020, $39.95.

The Widow and the Warrior
by John Wemlinger

Anna Shane is the national political editor for the Washington Post and is busier than a hamster on a treadwheel trying to keep up with a President that seems to thrive on chaos and sets policy and runs the country via Twitter. But Anna's life is about to change forever when her mother dies and she returns to Frankfort, Michigan to bury her. She meets with her mother's attorney and to her surprise learns the lawyer's sole client was her mother and she died a billionaire. That is not the only surprise in store for Anna in Wemlinger's hopelessly addictive and immensely readable novel.

The author has boldly woven a novel that combines elements of a variety of genres.  It is family history with a dark past, a political thriller, and the rise of armed militias that could have been ripped from recent Michigan headlines. If that's not enough to keep you frantically turning pages there's the contract killer hired to keep Anna from getting her mother's money, Anna learns who her father was, and finally, there is the moving plight of families' who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afganistan and a noble plan to help them. After all the above, be ready for a jaw-dropping twist in the last few pages. This novel is the literary equivalent of dipping a spoon in a memorable bouillabaisse. 

A hallmark of any Wemlinger novel is the creation of believable and interesting characters, even the minor ones are well-drawn and attention-grabbing individuals. Once again John Wemlinger has demonstrated that he is one of Michigan's most under-rated and under-appreciated authors. His last two novels are on my own personal list of Michigan Notable Books. 
The Widow and the Warrior by John Wemlinger. Mission Point Press, 2020, $16.95

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.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

October 1, 2020 Post # 59

Quote of the Day: "The Sault canal system, which links Lake Superior and Lake Huron at the twin towns of Sault Sainte Marie, in Michigan and Ontario, is the most important mile in America." National Geographic Society, 1950.


The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster
by Eric R. Faust

This readable and always interesting history of the 6th Michigan presents readers with a glimpse of the often miserable conditions Civil War soldiers had to endure, the hardships caused by poor leadership, and the unique character of volunteer regiments in the Civil War. Many volunteer regiments did not take well to discipline, of which the sixth served as a sterling example. The regiment was recruited from southern Michigan and in late August 1861, the 996-strong unit left for Washington. Their journey was interrupted in Baltimore where they encamped for several weeks. Baltimoreans said they were the best-behaved regiment to enter the city. It was the last such compliment they would ever receive.

Brigadier General Williams, who disliked volunteer troops, commanded the brigade to which the 6th Michigan was assigned. The dislike soon turned to hate which was returned in full by the men. On the brigade's first foray into the field, Williams ordered no one was to allow slaves to follow them to freedom and there was to be no foraging from rebel households. When Williams caught a private from the 6th with a turkey he charged him with theft. The man swore he paid for the bird and Williams couldn't prove otherwise so in disgust he dropped the charges. As Williams walked away the entire regiment began to yell gobble, gobble. From then on many of his orders were met with the same refrain.

The 6th along with the brigade was transferred to New Orleans where the regiment suffered from the climate, the officers, and the ever-present pestilence in the field. Williams literally drilled the men to death in malarial swamps and marshes. At one point the 6th was housed in the New Orleans mint until Williams ordered them to set up camp, without tents, in inhospitable wetlands. The 6th's Lt. Colonel refused the order as did the major. Both were dismissed and Williams turned to the regiment's captains to carry out the order. One after another refused until Williams threatened to have the next captain who refused the order put before a firing squad. That is only one of several jaw-dropping instances the reader will find here.

In spite of Williams who was killed in battle and officers who were either drunks or cowards and ran when a shot was fired the 6th performed admirably in battle. If they were magnificent in a fight they were equally impressive at foraging and outright theft. The 6th suffered more deaths, from illness and battles combined than any other Michigan regiment. In 1863 the 6th was converted to a heavy artillery unit. The author makes great use of soldiers' diaries and letters giving a-you-are-there intimacy to the narrative. Faust has written an engrossing and eye-opening regimental history. The book contains maps, numerous photos, and includes a complete regiment roster.  I'm looking forward to the author's earlier book on the 11th Michigan which I hope to review this fall.

The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Eric R. Faust. McFarland and Company, 2020, $49.95 pb.

Find Me When I'm Lost: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery
by Cheryl A. Head

I was somewhat chagrined to discover I had never heard of, let alone read any of  Cheryl A. Head's private eye novels until I stumbled across this fine mystery. The series is obviously set in Detroit and features Charlie Mack, a lesbian and woman of color who heads up her own detective agency. The characters ring true, the depiction of Detroit and its movers and shakers is right on the money, and the plot has the narrative pull of a Kenworth.

Head's novels, based on her latest, are not the usual detective mysteries and I'm not referring to Charlie's ethnicity or sexual orientation. The main character is not a tough guy with a drink in one hand and a gun in the other who blunders around like a drunk in a glass factory gets beat regularly and has a whip-smart retort for every remark thrown his way.

Instead, Charlie and the two other detectives in her agency are methodical, by-the-book investigators who work as a team to uncover and collect evidence and follow it to a conclusion. In the current case, Charlie is hired by the wife of her ex-husband Franklin, who she married years ago when still unsure of her sexual orientation. Franklin appears to have shot and killed his second wife's no-account brother and gone on the lam. Complicating the investigation is Franklin's second wife who believes her husband is innocent, her influential upper-crust parents, and Franklin's strong-willed parents. They all have an oar in the water and are rowing in different directions.

The team's unraveling of the who-done-it is realistic and absorbing. The narrative gets even more compelling when one of Charlie's investigators is shot at, the evidence leads to an unthinkable conclusion, and a professional hitman enters the picture. If you enjoy mysteries and especially if they are set in Michigan then Ms. Head's Charlie Mack Motown Mysteries deserves your attention. I know I'll be reading the four previous books in the series.
Find Me When I'm Lost: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery by Cheryl A. Head. Bywater Books, 2020, $16.95.

Water Dance: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story
by Kathy Fawcett

This second novel in the Lake Michigan Lodge Series is once again told in the first person by Kay, the novel's main character as if she was telling her best friend about the trials and tribulations of owning a charming but old Lake Michigan resort. In the first of the series, Kay Kerby recounted how she inherited the lodge from her parents and her determination to modernize and update the resort she long neglected. 

The second in the series opens with Kay and her husband returning from their honeymoon with Kay having to deal with all the problems of running a successful resort. And at the same time working on ways to expand her business and adjusting to the married life at the age of 34. One of her ideas is to make the resort a wedding destination and faces the embarrassment of having her summer intern layout the multitude of details that go into offering that option. The author does a fine job of describing the stress and rewards of running a bed and breakfast including the challenge of making it a perfect day for your guests while yours devolves into chaos. The series is a good introduction and a cautionary tale for anyone who may consider opening a B & B. 
Inexplicably, Kay's biggest and most challenging problem is the arrival of her two teenage nieces. She has seldom seen the sisters and hopes to get to know them better, but finds it hard to connect with them and the girls don't make it easy. The problem isn't simply that they are rude, independent-minded, obsessed with boys and don't like imposed limits. It's that they are teenagers and that's problem enough.

This is the kind of book one reads in the summer on the beach or saves until winter and opens it beside a fire while a storm keeps you housebound. It's light, pleasant reading during a pandemic, in the off chance one occurs. Depending on the season the book is well paired with a hot cup of cocoa or a salt-rimmed glass brimming with a Marguerita.
Water Dance: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story by Kathy Fawcett. Privately Published, 2020, $12.95.

Laughing in Leelanau or, I Swear It's True
by Scott Craig, Illustrated by Henry Coleman

The author of this slim and very amusing book was at his regular men's morning coffee klatch in Leelanau County when the inspiration for this book walked in the door. Another member brought a book on Maine humor to share. It immediately occurred to Scott there were enough great stories, great characters, quick wits, and just laugh-out-loud funny happenings in Michigan's Little Finger to fill a book. The author went to morning coffee clubs across the county asking for funny true stories, mined the local paper for odd quips, and talked to folks known for their sense of humor. The result is this treasure of local humor assembled by Scott Craig and ably accompanied by Henry Coleman's sketches, cartoons, and maps. The book's introduction describes the county's geography including landmarks, climate, scenic beauty, agriculture, and the hard to believe claim that the county has no chain fast-food restaurants. 

The following is a brief sampling from the book but they come with a warning. You'll be very tempted to buy the book.

A woman called the sheriff because she was upset by the number of deer hit by cars near the deer crossing sign. She asked the lawman if the sign could be moved to a spot where it would be safer for deer to cross.  A man impressed by the number of trout he saw in the Leland River asked a local what they were biting on. With a straight face, the man said trout were crazy for Barbie Dolls to which you just added hooks. Within days a Barbie Doll couldn't be found in any Traverse City store. Another downstater asked if the salmon trying to jump the Leland River dam were freshwater porpoises.

Then there was the charter boat captain setting lines out near North Manitou Island for his customer when he asked the captain, "Where exactly is Lake Michigan?" Lastly, a man who wasn't a native of  Leelanau County but had moved there three years earlier asked if he was now considered a local. After some discussion and rumination, it was decided he qualified as "perma-fudge."

I dare you not to laugh out loud at this good-hearted and very funny book. It sure brightened my day and I know I'll never get tired of returning to it now and again whenever I need a laugh. It also presents a wonderful mosaic of the character and characters of Leelanau County.

Laughing in Leelanau or, I Swear It'sTrue by Scott Craig, Illustrated by Henry Coleman. Mission Point Press, 2020, $14.95. 

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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

September 1, 2020 Post #58

Quote for the Day: "Once in Detroit, Burr took the Lodge downtown, got off at the Jefferson exit and drove past the Renaissance Center, which hadn't renaissanced anything." The Pink Pony by Charles Cutter.

The King of Confidence: A Tale Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
by Miles Harvey

I don't know of a more interesting story or fascinating man in Michigan's history than James Strang.  And I can't imagine a better book will ever be written about Strang and his place in Michigan and American history than this marvelously compelling biography. The future emperor was born in western New York in what has been called the "Burnt Over District" because of the religious fervor that swept the area and from which new religions were born including Mormonism. The future monarch left New York in the early 1840s a failed man who had served as postmaster, lawyer, newspaper publisher, and a real estate agent who was arrested and jailed for selling a non-existent Ohio farm. Within a few years, the avowed atheist would claim to have received a letter from Joseph Smith naming Strang to succeed Smith as head of the Mormon church and soon thereafter proclaimed himself King of Earth and Heaven.

Harvey writes that as a youth Strang dreamed of doing great things including marrying Princess Victoria and thought Napolean was heroic, especially after reading a book that praised his hero for his trickery, falsehoods, cunning, and the ability to mislead his followers. The man seems to have held his boyhood hero's shameful qualities dear as he battled for control of the Mormon church claiming an angel appeared before him saying he was to succeed Smith. To further his claim Strang unearthed metal plates only he could translate that, surprise, named him the new leader of the Mormons.

After leading his flock to Beaver Island, Strang adorned in a paper crown and carrying a wooden scepter announced his kingship and became "master of every human thought and action" of his followers. He encouraged his flock to steal from gentiles, it was called "consecrating" needed supplies. He forced the island's gentiles to convert or leave, practiced piracy raiding towns on the Michigan coastline, took his first polygamous wife in secrecy, and became a state legislator in a rigged election, and finally was assassinated by two men of his congregation. The author does a masterful of detailing Strang's remarkable life.

Equally important in recording Strang's life is the author's ability to place it in the contemporary context of America's mores and culture. It was an era that produced many strange and remarkable characters. Utopias sprang up like weeds. Self-made preachers plowed the land with new ideologies, and the author notes one self-anointed preacher had 50,000 ardent followers. Crime had become epidemic and it was estimated 50% of all paper currency was counterfeit. Cheaters, thieves, and scam artists flourished. It was the age of quick buck confidence men who were so ubiquitous the term "confidence man" was coined. It was an era made for Strang, the confidence man.

Not the best biography I've read this year but the best I've read in the last three or four.

The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey. Little Brown, 2020, $29.

Hungry for the Harbor Country: Recipes and Stories from the Coast of Southwest Michigan
by Lindsay Navama

This beautifully produced cookbook is filled with unusual, intriguing, and tempting recipes based on locally raised (Berrian County) ingredients that are complimented by drool-inducing color photographs of the finished dish. The author has lived in both L.A. and Chicago and worked as a recipe developer, private chef, and owner of a boutique bakery. To get away from the hustle, bustle, and crowds of "The City of Big Shoulders" the couple started driving south around Lake Michigan to the pastoral, scenic, and the laid-back lifestyle found in Berrian County. It didn't take more than a few trips before they bought a house near New Buffalo. The book was inspired by the memorable meals shared with new friends the author and her husband made in their first 12 months in New Buffalo. The new friends included local farmers, chefs, restaurateurs, and neighbors.

The author introduces each chapter with a short essay about food, her life in New Buffalo, and the many opportunities to find a wide variety of locally raised ingredients. Many of the recipes include a highlighted "Tips for Success" or a note entitled "Freestyle" that are suggestions for starting with the recipe and then improvising. Most recipes are adaptable for those on a gluten-free and/or dairy-free diet.

The first recipe I tried was Brown Sugar Chili Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash, Pecans, and Dried Cherries. The brussels sprouts and cut up squash are tossed in the brown sugar and olive oil then roasted in a 400 degree oven.  It became an instant family favorite. Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies was the second recipe I tried. The recipe called for Southern Comfort soaked raisins which I didn’t have and instead used dried cherries. Best oatmeal cookies I’ve ever made. The on-deck recipe is Roasted Acorn Squash Bowls with Apple Bacon Pistachio Stuffing.

Most of the recipes are enticingly different, from Key Lime Cookies, and Cherry Cherry Chocolate Popsicles, to Chocolate Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Bourbon Syrup. Even old standards have an added twist. The Hot Chocolate is sweetened with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup and topped with cookie dough flavored marshmallows while the pumpkin pie recipe begins with roasting a pumpkin, and the recipe for S’mores has directions for making your own graham crackers. I am not a totally lazy cook but the recipe for Oven Baked Fried Chicken seems imposing with 23 ingredients and no matter how much I like Shepherd’s Pie the recipe’s 35-plus ingredients is daunting.

Those lucky enough to own this wonderful cookbook will find themselves returning to it time and again when they want to grace a breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a truly memorable dish.
Hungry for Harbor Country: Recipes and Stories from the Coast of Southwest Michigan by Lindsay Navama. Midway and Agate Imprint. 2020. $34.95

Bear Bones: Murder at Sleeping Bear Dunes
by Charles Cutter

This is the third fine mystery novel featuring attorney Burr Lafayette. He used to be a high priced lawyer in a powerful Detroit law firm where he never handled a criminal case. He quit the firm, got divorced, and bought a building in East Lansing for his new office. The building turned into a money pit making it difficult to make child support and alimony payments. Although his office is downstate most of his business takes him to northern Michigan. The first Burr Lafayette mystery was set on Mackinac Island, the second on the Au Sable River, and the third in and around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

This blog reviewed Cutter's second Lafayette mystery, "The Gray Drake," a few months ago, and gave it high marks. In fact, I liked it so much I got a hold of a new edition of the "Pink Pony," the first in the series, and read it just a few weeks ago. It takes place on Mackinac Island at the end of the Detroit to Mackinac Island sailboat race. That night the captain of one of the boats was murdered in the Pink Pony bar. The odds on favorite to be convicted for the crime asks Burr to defend him. Lafayette has never represented anyone charged with murder but reluctantly agrees because he needs the money, and so the fun begins.  Burr, who's aunt calls him "an idiot savant lawyer," is clever, sharp-tongued, smart, often funny, and relentless as a pit bull in the courtroom.

In"Bear Bones," Burr is representing Helen Lockwood, the owner of a large orchard that the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is determined to buy and add to the park. Lockwood is just as determined not to sell. The mystery opens with Burr trying to have his client pronounced dead. Helen went sailing a year ago and disappeared. Her boat was found abandoned and drifting off Sleeping Bear Dunes. Her husband has decided to sell the orchard but can't until Helen is officially declared dead. The plot ratchets up several notches when her body is discovered buried on South Manitou Island. With a bullet hole in her skull, it is clear she was murdered. Her husband Tom is charged with Helen's murder when it's learned he took the ferry to South Manitou the night she disappeared and forensics finds Helen was shot with Tom's gun. There is a body, a murder weapon, a motive, and a prime suspect. Lafayette is once again talked into defending a man charged with murder.

Cutter's mysteries always build to a tense, exciting, and unpredictable trial. There are numerous surprises and plot twists that keep readers on the edge of their chairs. The characters are always well-drawn, and the author seems to delight in portraying the idiosyncrasies of the judges and prosecutors Lafayette spars with. Cutter's mysteries are sure bets for their high entertainment value and fine depictions of northern Michigan's unique beauty. Am I a fan? Guilty as charged.

The Pink Pony: Murder on Mackinac Island by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2020 ed. $16.95
Bear Bones: Murder at Sleeping Bear Dunes by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2020, $16.95

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on a 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.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

August 1, 2020 Post # 57

Quote for the day: "If I ever tried to dip a worm in the (Rouge River) he'd've crawled back up the line and slapped my face." Loren D. Estleman. Motown. 1991.


When Old Midnight Comes Along
by Loren D. Estleman

It doesn't make any difference to me that the Mystery Writers of America have failed to acknowledge Estleman's widely acclaimed body of work and named him a Grand Master of mystery writing. I and the rest of his many fans already look upon the man as a Grand Master of his literary art form. I first read an Estleman mystery featuring private eye, Amos Walker, in the early 1980s and nearly 40 years later along comes this, his 28th Amos Walker novel. What I find truly remarkable is that after more than two dozen in the series spanning four decades each new book in the series remains as fresh, original, entertaining as the first. That also holds true of Estleman's keen, witty, and trenchant observations of the changing face of Detroit and its wealthy suburbs over the years.  

In his latest case, Walker is hired by Francis X Lawes, a politically connected Detroit mover and shaker, to prove his wife is dead. Paula Lawes disappeared six years ago. Her body was never found and police could not unearth the faintest lead as to what happened to her. After seven years she could legally be listed as deceased, but Frances X wants to remarry and says he can not wait another twelve months. Walker suspects murder and discovers a million-dollar insurance policy on Mrs. Lawes as a motive. But the case becomes convoluted as Walker runs up against one dead end after another. And as usual, the final twist in the novel is shocking yet logical.

Estleman is a student of the hard-boiled private-eye novel and at times it almost seems as if he is channeling Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The Walker novels would not be out of place if they were shelved alongside Chandler's and Hammett's classics. For me, Estleman is a sheer joy to read. He litters the Walker novels with pungent, arresting, and memorable sentences such as, "For years the place looked like a bouillon cube wrapped in foil." and "When they say Detroit's coming back, they don't mean you're coming with it." 
When Old Midnight Comes Along by Loren D. Estleman. Forge Books, 2019, $26.99

Northern Wolf
by Daniel Greene

I very much enjoyed this first book in a series based on the exploits of Company F of the 13th Michigan Cavalry in the Civil War. This first in the series covers the unit's recruitment, training, and it's important contribution, in blood and lives, to the victory at Gettysburg. It was the regiment's first battle and they performed bravely and heroically in the Custer Brigade. I have been a Civil War buff since high school and on finishing the book I looked up the regiment in the book "Michigan in the War" which contains a history of every Michigan unit that fought in the Civil War to better familiarize myself with the regiment's history. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered there never was a 13th Michigan Cavalry. I went to the author's afterword where he explained that the 13th Michigan Cavalry was fictional but closely based on the regimental history of the 5th Michigan Cavalry. 

The main character, Johannes Wolf, has a crippled leg and must wear a lengthy brace that enables him to stand and walk but not run. The leg has kept him from enlisting in the infantry and turned him into a drunken troublemaker. After a night in jail sleeping off another drinking spree, a desperate recruiter from the 13th Michigan Cavalry visits the jail looking to lure his captive and hungover audience into joining the regiment. Johannas figures if he can't fight or march in the infantry he could from the back of a horse and talks the recruiter, despite his gimpy leg, into signing him up.

Johannes Wolf is a fascinating character and the fast-moving, readable, and action-packed narrative follows Johannes and the other misfits from Company F in the first few months of their enlistments. The author presents an intimate and realistic portrayal of the life of a Union cavalryman in the Civil War. Johannes' regiment is assigned to the Custer Brigade just days before the Battle of Gettysburg. 

The novel accurately describes an often ignored massive cavalry engagement that took place to the east of Gettysburg and away from the main stage of the battle yet was of significant importance to the Union victory. The portrayal of General Custer and his flamboyant leadership is finely drawn and many of the minor characters are memorable.  Readers of Book One of Northern Wolf Series will be eager to follow Wolf, Company F, and General Custer through the final two years of the war.  

 Northern Wolf: Northern Wolf Series by Daniel Greene. Self-published. 2019, $12.99

The Final Act of Conrad North
by Peter Marabell

I spent nearly 20 years summering in the Petoskey area and was recently surprised and more than pleased to discover the city, rated as one of the finest small towns in Michigan, was also home to a fictional private detective. I kind of relished the idea that in one of the most beautiful and pleasant places to live in the state, author Peter Marabell had the boldness and imagination to keep private eye Michael Russo busy fighting fictional corruption, lowlifes, and criminal behavior occurring below the local law enforcement's radar. And like all great fictional private eyes from Amos Walker to Philip Marlowe, Michael Russo represent a victim's last chance to right a wrong or extract justice.

A case in point is Marabell's previous book in the series in which Camille North came to Russo when in the course of her divorce her name had been removed from the Mackinac Island cottage built by her family and replaced by her ex-husband's. Russo figured out how the names were switched on the deed and the book ended with a murder in Mackinaw City. The book cried out for a sequel and Marabell  delivers with "The Final Act of Conrad North." 

Russo and the police all believe Conrad North either murdered or hired someone to kill Camille. Russo is burdened with guilt over the killing and will not rest until Conrad North is brought to justice. The man has disappeared but Russo believes he is hiding out somewhere in northern Michigan. The stakes get higher when the detective learns that North has apparently paid a killer to take him out.

This is a very satisfying read made even more so by the author's great descriptions of northern Michigan and almost a visceral sense of the ambiance of Traverse City, Mackinac Island, and a virtual walking tour of Petoskey's Gaslight District.

The Final Act of Conrad North by Peter Marabell. Kendall Sheepman Company, 2019, $15.95

Defy the Immediate: A Journey of Failure, Perseverance, and Success
by T. R. Shaw Jr.

This well written, well-intended book is meant to be more than just an autobiography. In the preface, the author writes that his goal for the book is to inform, entertain, inspire, and mentor those seeking to become leaders. As a journalism major at Central Michigan University, he certainly became a very good writer.

Each chapter covers a specific period in his life from childhood and the joy of spending time with his grandparents on their large working orchard to growing up in an urban setting, his experiences at CMU, and the importance of joining a prestigious fraternity. After graduating from CMU he became a junior officer in the navy, and later resigned and attended mortuary school at Wayne State. After graduation, he returned to Battle Creek and, like his father, became a funeral director.  It is a well-documented and very readable narrative of middle-class life in the latter half of the past century.

But the author wrote the book to be much more than simply the story of his life. At the end of each chapter, there's a section highlighted by a grey background and entitled "Lesson Learned." In many cases, the "Lesson Learned" has been made pretty clear within the chapter's narrative.  The author uses the "Lesson Learned" section to expound, summarize, or be more emphatic about what he learned. I think the author is demonstratively a good enough writer to have seamlessly woven everything he wanted to say about the lesson learned into the narrative. But the above is only a minor distraction in this otherwise well-meaning and sincere effort to tell the author's life story and share the lessons learned on his journey. 
Defy the Immediate: A Journey of Failure, Perseverance, and Success by T. R. Shaw Jr. Mission Point Press, 2019, $12.95.

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, July 1, 2020

July 1, 2020 #56

Quote for the day: "I have seen the storms of the Channel, those of the Ocean, the squalls off the banks of Newfoundland, those on the coasts of America and the hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico. Nowhere have I witnessed the fury of the elements comparable to that found on this fresh water sea." French naturalist Francis Count de Castelnau, 1840.


Mastering the Inland Seas: How Lighthouses, Navigational aids, and Harbors Transformed the Great Lakes and America
by Theodore J. Karamanski

The author writes that for the first European sailors on the Great Lakes, "prayer and an act contrition was the closest thing they had to a navigational aid." In a sparkling and vigorous narrative, the author describes man's attempt to turn a wild and untamed watery wilderness into a safe, commercial avenue for the transportation of raw materials, manufactured goods, and people. 

The first Europeans to venture onto the freshwater seas learned that the native canoers had devised Lob Trees to mark hidden harbors, inlets, and portages. A man would climb a tall pine and a few feet from the top prune the branches all the way to the trunk. This left the top of the tree, which was not cut back, as an easily seen navigational marker. From the Lob Trees, the author traces the development of lighthouses, buoys, charts, harbor improvement, radio signals, radar, and satellite GPS that were all meant to tame the water wilderness.

The book is full of surprises and fascinating stories. The first lighthouse built in Michigan was erected at the south end of Lake Huron where it flows into the St. Clair River in 1825. It collapsed three years after its erection. The first lighthouse built near the mouth of the Chicago River fell over on the same day it was inspected and officially announced as finished. As is evident, the building of the first lighthouses had no oversight by the government, their design was compromised by a lack of engineering expertise and corruption. The hard work and dedication of lighthouse keepers is also fully explored.

What I didn't expect to find in this book is the politics of Great Lakes maritime aids. The work of building lighthouses, channel deepening, and the improvement of harbors in pre Civil War America became sectional issues. The South opposed nearly all money spent on Great Lakes navigational aids which the North favored. In addition to the opposition of slavery, the newly formed Republican Party supported the improvement of Great Lakes harbors and channels. After the Civil War, the government poured money into taming the freshwater seas.

This fascinating book does not have an altogether happy ending. The author writes that the Welland Canal, which allows ocean-going ships access to the Great Lakes, causes $200 million worth of damage to the lakes annually. In 2015 an independent study revealed more than half of all harbor and navigational improvements were in failing condition. Breakwaters are generally considered to have a 50-year life span and half of all such improvements predate WWI. Anyone with even a passing interest in Great Lakes maritime history will find this book must reading. 
Mastering the Inland Seas: How Lighthouses, Navigational Aids, and Harbors Transformed the Great Lakes and America by Theodore J. Karamanski. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2020, $36.95.

Dead of November: A Novel of Lake Superior
by Craig A. Brockman

Lake Superior has spawned many stories and legends. To look at the world's largest freshwater lake, in surface area, one can't deny it casts a spell and leaves one in awe. Of the many Lake Superior legends at least one is based on fact. The vast inland sea, due to its 39-degree temperature at its lower depths, does not give up its dead.

In his first novel written for adults, the author has taken the above Lake Superior legend as a starting point, worked in some real or totally imagined Native American legends, added some folklore, and created a highly original novel that's part suspense, part history, and entirely captivating. Many will label this as a novel of the paranormal. Yet even skeptics, like this reviewer, who does not care for the genre will find themselves drawn into the story and suspend belief as the narrative propels readers to the conclusion. The novel works because Brockman writes with confidence and authority, creates believable characters, and writes so well of Lake Superior and its hold over those who live along its shore. I had marked a sentence in the above "Mastering The Inland Seas" for use in its review but found the quote is even more appropriate for this review.  The author of  "Mastering the Inland Seas," wrote, "... indigenous people...saw the vast inland sea as a living entity with which humans had a relationship."

Psychologist Adam Knowles, the novel's main character, worked in a clinic in the American Soo. When his Native American wife drowned in Lake Superior her loss became so painful he moved out of Michigan. As the book opens he has begun having dreams of his wife's death. He also receives a call from a fellow psychologist who works in the Soo clinic who askes Adam to return to the Soo and help his friend handle the growing list of patients experiencing dreams of people who drowned. It almost appears as if Superior is giving up its dead. Marine scientists are also reporting the lake is undergoing strange changes. 

No matter how unlikely all this seems readers, in a matter of a few pages, will find they have waded too far into the book and are caught in an undertow that drags them into deeper and deeper water. You won't be able to come up for air until the last page of this inventive and haunting novel of Lake Superior.  

Dead of November: A Novel of Lake Superior by Craig A. Brockman. Curve of the Earth Publishing, 2020, $19.95.

U. P. Reader, 4th Volume
Mikel B.Classen, editor

This fourth annual showcase of the best short works by U. P. writers once again entertains, enlightens, and most importantly raises the awareness of the literary talent to be found north of Big Mac. The 45 pieces included here include U.P. history, poetry, short stories, reportage, humor, biographical essays, a U.P. notable booklist, and section of award-winning essays by young people.

I was delighted to see Larry Buege has once again climbed aboard his literary hobby horse and describes a homeowner's confrontation with an infestation of the Amorous Spotted Slug (A.S.S.). Larry has been writing about A.S.S. in earlier U. P. Readers in a noble but fruitless effort to make these gastropod mollusks Michigan's state slug. I would also like to encourage Buege to write about the whale sightings in Lake Superior and take up the equally important cause of naming a Michigan state whale.

There is a transcript of a talk by Karen Dionne, author of the "Marsh King's Daughter," in which she recounts her journey from being a moderately successful author of two environmental thrillers to the wildly popular author of the above book. Her talk also gives tips to would-be novelists and what she learned about writing that led to being a bestselling author. The Whiteout by Rich Hill tells the dramatic story of his friend Allen who went ice fishing on the great lake and couldn't find his way to shore when a whiteout struck and died.

A most unexpected and fascinating piece by Deborah K. Frontiera tells the story of the formation of  U. P. sandstone, most of which is told from the stone's point of view. Over the course of a million years and tons of pressure, the deposited sand became sandstone. In the 1800s it was mined and shipped to Calumet where the stone was used to build St. Anne's church. The sandstone has seen the church sold and turned into an antique shop. A few years later the building was bought with donations and with a state grant was beautifully restored and became the Keweenaw Heritage Center. Other works describe shipwrecks and heroic rescues, a tribute to a father, the descent of a mother into dementia, and the story of a U.P. deer camp.  

There is a lot to enjoy in this fine collection of short works by a surprising abundance of very good writers found north of the Straits of Mackinac.

U.P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World, 4th Volume, Mikel B Classen editor. Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association, 2020, $16.95 pb.

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.

January 1, 2021 #62

Quote for the day: "This must be the North Pole." November 4, 1885, diary entry by Isle Royal lighthouse keeper John Malone. Book ...