Saturday, January 1, 2022

 

January 1, 2022    Post # 74

Quote for the Day: "...in the U.P. ...families often spend weekends exploring the seemingly endless networks of old two-tracks. The usual practice is to load up the family car with gas, food, and beverages, pile in with the kids, take off for the woods, and get promptly lost. They drive around all day at five or ten miles per hour, drive on until the two-track intersects a county road and then try to guess where the hell they are. If there's enough daylight left, they turn back and into woods and get lost again." Jerry Dennis "A Place on the Water. 1993.

New Books Always Make for a Good New Year

Reviews 


Up North in Michigan: Portrait of a Place in Four Seasons by Jerry Dennis

When it comes to exploring, interpreting, describing, and appreciating the beauty and bounty of natural Michigan Jerry Dennis stands out as one of the state's most important and finest writers.  All the essays are relatively short and recount the author's lifetime of experiencing and taking great joy in northern Michigan's natural wonders. For Jerry, the opportunities to commune with nature come while hiking, canoeing, fishing, birdwatching, hunting for morels, taking a scenic drive, or simply soaking in the natural world whether it's within arm's reach or hundreds of light years away. I especially liked the essays in which the author searches out or simply stumbles across an aspect of the natural world most of us would overlook. Such as the chapter on his exploration of the understory of a mature forest. The essay ends with; "A day in the woods can be a bargain you make with the world. Take a little of the woods home, leave a little of yourself behind."

In fact, one could wear out a highlighter on the memorable sentences and phrases found in this book. There is the amusing; "Fly fishing for pike is like playing hot-potato with fragmentation grenades." Then there is the profound; "The night sky is an excellent corrective to our self-importance. Everything superficial falls away. Vanity disappears. Politics, culture, and fashion fade to insignificance. It's just us, alone beneath the infinite, as we've been since the beginning."

I read this collection of essays as a love letter to the great and small natural wonders of northern Michigan. This splendid book is graced with beautiful illustrations by Glenn Wolff. Pick up this book and you may well be holding a classic. It's a shoo-in to make Michigan's Notable Books List.

Up North in Michigan: A Portrait of Place in Four Seasons by Jerry Dennis. University of Michigan Press. 2021. $24.95.


Delta County by J.L. Hyde

This book is so readable I never stopped to take notes, so I'm winging it on this review. Heather Matthews returns to Escanaba for her emotionally charged 10th high school reunion. On her graduation day her parents were killed in an automobile accident. A drunk driver drove them off the road and into a tree. If anything could make the situation worse was the fact that it was the mother of her best friend who caused the accident. She has not spoken to her friend since the accident.

Heather returns to Escanaba with her husband who graduated with her and is in his last year of residency as a doctor in Chicago. On the downside of the marriage is Heather's mother-in-law. She's Escanaba's Queen of Snobs with a heart as black as coal who never misses an opportunity to belittle Heather, including treating one of her husband's past girlfriends as a friend and confidant. The mother-in-law conflict makes a good second storyline. What keeps readers hurriedly turning pages is the growing doubt as to who was at fault for her parents' deaths. She meets and reestablishes a bond with her best friend who tells Heather of overlooked facts concerning the accident and rumors that the local coroner was forced to make a false report. 

The author grew up in Escanaba and writes intimately of her hometown in great detail and leaves the reader with a real sense of the feel and flavor for the blue-collar town on the north shore of Lake Michigan. Heather wants to remain in Escanaba and discover what really happened the night her parents died and the mysterious disappearance of a person she was close to. The author unspools the narrative with great care and readers may think they have figured out who did what to whom. Then the author drops one of her shocking and totally unexpected plot twists leaving readers stunned and wondering what-the-hell just happened! Mystery fans will enjoy this brief and engrossing trip to Escanaba and will be left wondering how karma will treat Heather.

Delta County by J.L. Hyde. Independently Published. 2021, $15.99.

The SideRoad Kids: Tales from Chippewa County by Sharon M. Kennedy

This fine collection of short stories focuses on a group of 6th grade friends in the 1950s living near Brimley, in the U.P. I was a kid in Flint in the 1950s, and if I had read stories like these when a 5th- or 6th-grader I would have been taken aback by the differences in these U.P. kids' lives and mine. Most of the stories are evocative slice-of-life pieces, some are humorous, and quite a few serious and thought provoking. The stories are honest, believable, sometimes painful, and all capture time, place, and culture with near perfection.  A clutch of well-defined, likeable and interesting 6th-grade characters reappear throughout the stories and bind the book together as a whole.

In one of the stories that moved me the most a 6th grade boy faces life with crossed eyes, an alcoholic mother, and a father who deserted his family. Yet the kid is optimistic and considers himself good looking. In another story I may never forget a girl who wrote a story for English class in which she imagines God as Jackie Gleason who with his fist closed and fury in his face threatens to send Alice to the moon. When Daisey asks if she can read it in class the teacher, without looking at it, throws the story in the waste basket.  It was a stunning realization that one of the most popular comedy shows on TV in the Fifties repeatedly made a joke out of the threat of physical spousal abuse. I can't stop wondering how women who were being physically abused thought of those scenes and the audience laughter that followed.

If I don't know how upper elementary children will react to the book, I do know adults will find it find it enjoyable and a fascinating depiction of children facing life in the Fifties.

The SideRoad Kids: Tales from Chippewa County by Sharon M. Kennedy. Modern History Press, 2021, $18.95.


Up Colony: The Story of Resource Exploitation in Upper Michigan - Focus on Sault Sainte Marie Industries by Phil Bellfy

In the 1980s the author headed north and attended Lake Superior State University at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  As a student he was struck by the differences between the sister cities on either side of the St. Mary's River. The American Soo was clearly in decline while the Canadian Soo prospered. The question why turned into a master's thesis that grew to include an examination of the economic woes of Michigan's U.P. This short book includes the original thesis and a 20-year update of the manuscript. For a book of only 70 pages, it is filled with eye-opening facts that clearly show that the U.P. was treated as if it was no better than a colony in which the colonizing country systematically exploited its enormous wealth then left it one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the country. 

By 1940 the U.P. yielded $1.5 billion in copper and paid out $350 million in dividends. Another $1 billion was produced by deforesting the peninsula, and $4 billion in iron was dug from the U.P.  But as the author shows, none of that vast wealth stayed in the peninsula. All of the profit went East or South to enrich owners and shareholders of the mines and lumber companies. The result was that in 1960 there was 16% unemployment in Appalachia and 30% in the U.P. In 1920 the U.P. had the worst roads and the state's highest illiteracy rate. Magnifying the lack of public services, including poor schools, were state laws that exempt certified commercial forests, and iron ore deposits from taxation which meant that local governments didn't get enough tax dollars to provide basic services. 

The state built the first locks at the American Soo and charged boats for its use. Then the U. S. built bigger locks and allowed boats free passage. The locks didn't serve the Soo, just moved raw materials through the area and left no profit. The first railroad was built not to serve the city but to move materials to and from Canada. Throughout the last century manufacturing jobs vanished in the American Soo and the population dipped to 14,000 by 1970. Sixty percent of the population's income came from Social Security. Yet the Canadian Soo had grown and prospered because the area's natural resources were the sources of local manufacturing jobs including steel plants, paper mills and a variety of secondary businesses that took advantage of regional resources. And all the while the UP's $4 billion in iron ore and the profits from it went out of state. 

Being a master's thesis, the book does contain some scholarly jargon and terms, but they do not distract from the importance of this report on the economic history of the U.P. and how our beloved Upper Peninsula became a victim of the dark side of Capitalism.

UP Colony: The Story of Resource Exploitation in Upper Michigan - Focus of Sault Sainte Marie Industries by Phil Bellfy. Ziibi Press, 2021, $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.






 

December 1, 2021 Post #73

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

 

Quote for the Day:  "Professional seamen treated (the upper Great Lakes) with the respect a lion tamer pays an excitable cat." William Ratigan. Straits of Mackinac. 1957.


Check out the News and Views page for my favorites of the past year. Hopefully they will be both surprising and entertaining.


Reviews

Isabel Puddles Investigates by M. V. Byrne

Finding a review copy of the second in what I hope is a long running mystery series featuring Isabel Puddles in the mailbox made my day. The first book garnered universally rave reviews and the same is expected of this second offering from a very talented author. In the first of the series the widowed and well-like resident of the small Lake Michigan resort town of Gull Harbor became the village's most celebrated inhabitant when she uncovered a murder and risked her life solving it. Isabel found the experience was so invigorating and satisfying she has become a licensed private investigator. 

The first person to hire the new P.I. is Gulf Harbor's wealthiest recluse, Abigail Bachmeier. She may well be the last remaining heir to a Milwaukee beer dynasty when her great-nephew boarded the historic ferry the S.S. Badger in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and was not aboard when it docked in Michigan. He had either fallen, jumped. or been tossed overboard in the middle of Lake Michigan. Abigail hires P. I. Puddles to locate a possible remaining heir to the Bachmeier fortune. The case leads to an unexpected friendship with Abigail, finds Puddles exploring the deep and twisted family history of the beer dynasty, and the possibility of an earlier disappearance that may have been murder. Puddles becomes so emotionally involved in the case she considers quitting the P. I. business.

An entirely amusing and charming 300 plus pages of grand entertainment featuring a private detective who brilliantly breaks the mold of classic private eyes created by Chandler and Hammett. Isabel and her deep attraction to her village and friends shares center stage with her first case as a licensed private detective.

Isabel Puddles Investigates by M.V. Byrne. Kensington Publishing Corp., 2021, $15.95.


Mark of the White Rabbit by Lincoln Cooper

The following rave review comes with a warning. If you pick up this immersive thriller you're not going to be able to put it down. Within the first few pages the narrative will shred your daily routine which won't return to normal until the book is finished and sets you free. 

I don't want to give much of the plot away and spoil the adrenalin rush and the totally unexpected twists and turns in this deviously plotted thriller featuring white rabbits, no less. I will reveal the plot revolves around the murder of a court stenographer and the sketchy, even strange evidence that points to one of the state's top trial lawyers, known for his wandering eye, as the killer. The murder and case being built against the lawyer is sensationalized because the accused was planning on running for governor. The investigation is headed by the sheriff of a west Michigan county who was a cracker jack criminal investigator in the army. The plot is full of shocking revelations, a fascinating backstory, and is propelled by a relentless narrative. I'd bet money most readers will read the last hundred pages in one huge gulp.

The author's name is a pseudonym and the writer describes himself as a "recovering trial lawyer" and a law professor. But the real culprit responsible for holding you hostage for 350 pages is the writer's wife who encouraged her husband to give in to his years of temptation and write a book. A final warning. This is the first in a series of thrillers revolving around white rabbits, or more bluntly the first step in your addiction to a writer known as Lincoln Cooper.

Mark of the White Rabbit by Lincoln Cooper. Mission Point Press, 2021, $16.95


The Accidental Reef and Other Ecological Odysseys in the Great Lakes by Lynne Heasley

Almost to a person Michiganders appreciate the Great Lakes and fully realize this grand inland sea makes our state special. We marvel at its beauty, uniqueness, and recognize both its commercial and recreational importance. This amazing book folds history, science, art, commerce, literature, research and human impact on the lakes into a new portrait of the freshwater seas and life below the surface that most of us seldom see or fully appreciate.

The book's brilliant inter-connected essays begin with the importance of a little-known reef in the St. Clair River that was created by coal burning boats who dumped their clinkers overboard near Algonac. The accidental manmade reef proved to be an excellent spawning grounds for Great Lake sturgeons. Much of the book focuses on the waterway connecting Lake Erie and Lake Huron in fascinating detail while other essays present new perspectives on a variety of Great Lake issues. To name only a few they range from a new look at fish consumption advisories, the dangers of Enbright oil pipelines, encouraging news about invasive species, the near extinction of Great Lake sturgeon, to a hairbrained scheme devised to refill the depleted Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains by diverting Lake Superior water.

All of this is delivered in almost magical prose filled with humor, spellbinding descriptions, great observations, and stunning facts. Like 2.5 million walleye spawn in Lake Erie then swim north to Lake Huron for the summer. Or, a female sturgeon carries a half million eggs and deposits them every four years, the word walleye is eight centuries old, and Dow Canada has released 33 hundred tons of mercury into the St. Clair River. And finally, the Great Lakes are so little known in the rest of America author Dennis discovered an online hoax about whale watching in Lake Michigan that was reported as fact in a children's science magazine. Adding to the charm of the book are Glenn Wolff's exquisite illustrations. At heart, Heasley's book will reinforce a reader's sense of wonder to be found in the Great Lakes.

The Accidental Reef and Other Ecological Odysseys in the Great Lakes by Lynne Heasley. Michigan State University Press, 2021, $27.95.


The Copper Divide by Beth Kirschner

As the title suggests the subject of this novel is the long, violent, and bitter miners' strike against all Copper mines in the Keweenaw peninsula that lasted from July 1913 to April 1914. The miners demanded better pay and safer working conditions and the strike literally turned friends and neighbors into enemies in Calumet and other Keweenaw communities. Striking miners' parades were attacked by deputized goons, and companies brought in scab labor who met with violence from strikers and whose inexperience caused accidents in the mines. 

The main thread of this novel follows two women who are very close friends and whether or not the strike will destroy their friendship. One is the daughter of a store owner whose business is failing as the strike stretches into months. The other woman is the wife of a striking miner and the mother of two small children. She faces the daily uncertainty of feeding her family, dealing with an abusive husband, and what the future holds for her and her family. A third view of the strike is seen through the eyes of a scab brought north to cross the picket lines. He experiences the back-breaking labor and dangers of working nearly a mile underground and finds the Keweenaw holds no future for him. The novel ends with the 1913 Italian Hall Disaster in which a second-floor hall was packed with the children of strikers attending a Christmas party. When someone shouted fire 73 men, women and children were trampled to death or suffocated as the crowd stampeded down one staircase.

The novel rings with authenticity in every detail from the living conditions of striking miners' families, the danger and hardship of working 10 hours in a mine, and the cruelty and power of the mine owners.  The characters are well drawn and believable. Beth Kirschner proves to be a very accomplished writer in her first novel.

The Copper Divide by Beth Kirschner. TouchPoint Press, 2021, $16.99.

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.

November 1, 2021 Post # 72

Monday, November 1, 2021

 Quote for the day: " 'If you seek a beautiful peninsula, here's a couple of them; take your pick.' This might be rendered into resounding Latin if thought best." E. Larkin Brown suggesting an amendment to the state motto in 1877.


Reviews


Deadline for Lenny Stern: A Michael Russo Mystery by Peter Marabell

I'm always eager to get my hands on a new Michael Russo mystery for several reasons. I've always thought it improbable that a private eye mystery series set in Petoskey, one of the state's major summer tourist attractions and most livable small towns, would work. But it does. Having spent several summers in the Petoskey area, I enjoy the author's intimate and detailed portrait of the Harbor Springs/Petoskey area. With each new addition to the series, I look forward to seeing which real but often obscure restaurants become destinations within the story and inevitably recall either eating there or wishing I had. A gold star goes to readers who've been to Moose Jaw Junction in beautiful Lark's Lake or the Brutus Deli. And lastly, Marabell's mysteries are always entertaining, and readers become invested in the lives of Russo, his secretary Sandy, and his girlfriend A.J.

In the latest Russo mystery, a Petoskey reporter has spent years researching and writing a book about a sordid Chicago Mafia affair that included murder, bribery, and payoffs to elected officials. The book names names and because it is so damning and  the author has the evidence to back up his reportage he has received several death threats. The author will kick off the book's publication with signings in Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and Mackinac Island. The publisher takes the threats seriously and hires Russo and a retired Army Ranger to guard the author and determine who's behind the death threats.

The threats quickly become real and at first Russo believes the Mafia has hired a hitman to take out the author. When Russo begins to doubt the Mafia is involved the Petoskey PI finds himself in a race to discover who wants the reporter dead before the murderer strikes. As usual, readers can count on a thoroughly satisfying mystery set within an accurate and intimately drawn portrait of the Petoskey area.

Deadline for Lenny Stern: A Michael Russo Mystery by Peter Marabell. Kendall Sheepman Company, 2021, $15.95.


World War II Front Line Nurse by Mildred A. MacGregor

I requested a review copy of this book by somehow mistaking it as a new book when in fact it was published in 2006. The publisher pointed this out and still sent me a review copy. When the publisher is kind enough to send a review copy of a 15-year-old book I feel obligated to read and review it.  I wish all my mistakes were as fortuitous. This is a remarkable diary of a University of Michigan Hospital nurse who in 1942 volunteered to become a surgical nurse in WWII.

MacGregor was assigned to the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group. The surgical group was formed as an experimental unit that would be placed closer to the front than any hospital in any previous war. Their placement so close to the frontlines was an effort to save the lives of the severely wounded who would probably die before they could be shuttled to a surgical unit in the rear. The author faithfully kept a detailed diary of her wartime experiences from a terrifying crossing of the stormy Atlantic, visiting London during the Blitz, stationed in North Africa, Sicily, and her tireless work following close behind American fighting forces from Normandy to Germany.

The book is primarily based on her diary, but she also corresponded with doctors and nurses in her outfit to get the full story the unit's history. When time permitted, she and other nurses went sightseeing from ancient Roman ruins in Africa to Paris after its liberation, and even to Hitler's Eagles Nest in the Bavarian Alps. She also recounts the 18 and even 36-hour shifts tending the wounded at Normandy and the 1004 surgeries performed by her unit in Belgium in a period of 86 hours. When she wasn't assisting in surgery, she was a triage nurse who had to decide who might be saved and those so badly wounded they didn't stand a chance of surviving. The latter were set aside and made as comfortable as possible until they passed away. When Germany surrendered and she is sent home she tells how she smuggled her pet French Poodle aboard a homeward bound ship.

The book is a testament to the men and women who served in WWII and worked tirelessly to care for and save the wounded. It is an important addition to the history of World War II. It is also very readable, instantly engaging, and a memorable first-person narrative of a woman's wartime experience.

World War II Front Line Nurse by Mildred A. MacGregor. University of Michigan Press, 2008, $26.95


Superior Tapestry: Weaving the Threads of Upper Michigan History by Deborah K. Frontiera.

The author has taken a unique approach to the history of the Upper Peninsula by telling its story from the point-of-view of historical artifacts, buildings, and more. The book also covers the UP's natural history, geology, outdoor attractions, and environmental riches by letting the trees, rivers, rocks, and minerals speak for themselves. Like a quilter, the author has patched together these diverse and often unusual stories into a fun, attractive, and fascinating portrait and history of Michigan's northern peninsula.

The Fox River tells of its natural setting and the wildlife it supports, the devastation resulting from logging of the white pine along its shores, and the river's slow and gradual healing. A player piano observes the growth and decline of the logging village of Seney which at the time was known as one of the wildest towns in the entire country. There is the WWII B-24 bomber that wandered of course in a storm and crashed in the Sahara with the loss of all its crew. The wreckage was discovered years later and within that story is the story of how a propeller from "The Lady Be Good" ended up in Lake Linden in the Keweenaw Peninsula. And not to be missed is the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald as told by the boat's bell that now rests in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point. 

This is an inventive and enjoyable retelling of U.P. history and culture. Each story concludes with information on where to see the artifact or natural attraction and a website where you can learn more on the subject.

Superior Tapestry: Weaving the Threads of Upper Michigan History by Deborah K. Frontiera. Modern History Press, 2021, $24.95


Sand, Stars, Wind, & Water: Field Notes from Up North by Tim Mulherin

This fine book of very personal essays recounts, in intimate detail, the author's nearly40-year-long love affair with the Leelanau/ Traverse City area. The author and family took annual vacations there from their home in Indianapolis and ten years ago the author and his wife bought a cottage in Cedar, Michigan. They open the cabin in the spring and spend as many weeks as possible in what will be their retirement home and reluctantly close it in the fall.

The essays recall fishing trips on the Jordan and Boardman rivers and biking and hiking the many trails in the Leelanau Peninsula. He describes his favorite spots he returns to year after year one of which is Pyramid Point overlooking Good Harbor Bay and the Manitou Islands in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I can vouch for both his artistry in describing this monumentally beautiful place and how a visit to the perched dune is forever imprinted on one's memory. The essays cover all aspects of being surrounded by and enjoying the natural beauty and bounty of the area. And the author is no slouch when it comes to a keen observation or turn of phrase. He calls hiking "an ambulatory meditation," observes that as one grows older "time seems to accelerate," and in this age of Covid 19 he is likely dismissed as "acceptable collateral damage" by those who neither get vaccinated nor wear a mask.

The book may also be self-defeating for an author who doesn't like crowded trails, bumper-to-bumper highways, and occasional encounter with careless, rude, self-centered 'Fudgies' who pack the area like sardines in a can at the peak of the tourist season. This loving, well-written tribute to the many charms of his summer home will only attract more visitors.

Sand, Stars, Wind, & Water: Field Notes from Up North by Tim Mulherin. Mission Point Press, 2021, $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.





 


  



mysteries 

October 1, 2021 Post # 71

Friday, October 1, 2021

 Quote for the Day: "Saginaw River." The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Great Lakes. 1989. On a map of northern Michigan, the Au Sable is mislabeled as the Saginaw River.


Reviews


Trout Water: A Year on the Au Sable by Josh Greenberg.

Years ago, the young Josh Greenburg began tying flies at the famous Gates Au Sable Lodge. Today he owns the lodge, writes extensively about fly fishing, and produces a popular online fishing report that receives 40,000 page-views a month. Admittedly, a wee bit more than this blog receives.

This collection of essays recounts a year of fishing the Au Sable and other nearby Michigan streams. It is a passionate and beautifully written tribute to a river the author calls the "perpetual beguiler." For this retired fly-fisherman, who blew a knee in the Maple River, the author perfectly captures the endlessly intoxicating rituals, attractions, beauty, and near spiritual experience found in the middle of a river in chest-high waders, and adorned with arcane accoutrements while being outsmarted by a fish.

Greenberg's essays aren't instructional or even faintly how-to but one can't read this book without learning a good fly fisherman needs good instincts, an encyclopedic knowledge of trout flies, insect hatches, trout habits, and how to read a river and out think a trout. Reading the book made me realize I would never have been even a proficient fly fisherman. But the thought neither distracted from the enjoyment of Greenberg's fine essays nor left me regretting I hadn't been a better fly fisherman. Most importantly he captures the joy of being out on a river with a fly rod in hand and easily conveys the adrenalin rush even life-long fly fishermen feel when a trout hits their fly. 

Fly-fishermen will love this book and those who have never waded a stream in search of trout may well be drawn to giving it a try. Fair warning -- it can prove to be addictive.

Trout Water: A Year on the Au Sable by Josh  Greenburg. Melville Books, 2021, $24.


Le Griffon and the Huron Islands 1679 by Steve and Kathie Libert.

The first European ship to sail the Great Lakes, the Griffon, was built above Niagara Falls by LaSalle and set off on it's maiden voyage in 1679. It reached the islands strung between Wisconsin's Door Peninsula and Michigan's Garden Peninsula where it loaded a cargo of furs and buffalo skins. La Salle ordered the Griffon to return to Lake Erie while he and his expeditionary party left the ship in search of the Mississippi River. The Griffon departed what is now known as Washington Island on September 18, 1679, and was never seen again. The fate of the Griffon has long been one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Great Lakes. Until now.

Steve became interested, if not obsessed with the mystery of the Griffon in school and found in Kathie a wife who shared his passion for solving the 340-year-old mystery. This book is not a straight forward narrative history of the Liberts' years of searching for La Salle's lost ship but is a thorough coverage of their detailed research. They mined contemporary accounts of the Griffon's maiden voyage and quote significant eyewitness accounts of the ship's movements in the islands south of Garden Peninsula. Reports by French archeologists, and French experts on the history of shipbuilding are included in the book. The authors' recount their years of research and how they finally narrowed the area of the ship's final resting spot. 

All the above resulted in the discovery, in 2013, of a very old bow strip stuck in the lake bottom. Michigan experts claimed it was nothing but a large stake for holding fishing nets while the French experts said it was the bow strip of a ship from the late 1600s. The bow strip was located in shallow water which meant if it did come from the Griffon the wreckage could have been widely spread over three centuries of shifting winter ice. Then, in 2018 Steve discovered a  large section of a broken hull from a very old ship. Archeologists and experts in French shipbuilding history dove the wreck and concluded the techniques used in building the hull and its design were all consistent with a French ship built in the same period as the Griffon. 

Readers are left to their own conclusions after reading this fascinating and important contribution to Michigan and Great Lakes history. The Liberts' believe they have solved the mystery of the Griffon and so will most readers. Complimenting the reports and narrative are a multitude of maps, photographs, and drawings.


Le Griffon and the Huron Islands 1679 by Steve and Kathie Libert. Mission Point Press, 2021, $24.99.


Lost Flint by Gary Flinn.

Being a born and bred Flintite who grew up in Civic Park and worked three decades in Flint, this book sparked many conflicting feelings and memories, but more of that later. The book begins with a thumbnail sketch of Flint's history, development, and descriptions of its earliest significant buildings. The main body of the book is divided into three major divisions: Flint's Growth, Flint's Decline, and Hope For the Future.

The first two parts list buildings, neighborhoods, churches, industries, media, schools, shops, commercial strips that no longer exist, stand empty, have been replaced, or vanished. The author gives a short but informationally rich description of the buildings, parks, industries, etc. and the cause for their demise and/or reincarnation. I was surprised that earlier Farmers' Markets were not mentioned, and neither was the Women's Hospital. I only know of the latter because I was born there. Uncle Bob's Diner is included in the long list of closed eateries but personally I thought it deserved at least a few short words in the narrative. The book bought back fond memories of Hubbard's Hardware, Smith Bs., Angelo's (where community leaders and hourly workers ate side-by-side with the poor and homeless), and the Flint Amusement Park. Bad memories include the terribly ill-conceived Auto World, and the shoddily built Genesee Towers that began crumbling to the street after 40 years. The building was bought by an opportunist for half a million and sold to Flint for demolition for 8 million. Then there was the reminder why I never saw a Black family or child in Civic Park in the 50s. A deed restriction barred anyone from the neighborhood who was "not wholly of the white or Caucasian race." Disgraceful, and what odd wording: Did it leave some residents thinking you could be either white or Caucasian? The third part, "Hope For the Future" is brief but encouraging.

As a Flintite I object to calling the city's closed and demolished GM buildings "lost." This was an abandonment of the city were GM was born. and thousands "lost" middle-class jobs. The author lists 8 GM plants that were closed. Buick City alone employed over 29,000 workers. And to add insult to injury GM tore down many of the plants so they couldn't be taxed and as a parting gift left the people of Flint acres of toxic-laced land. An appendix lists FIFTY lost schools thirty of  which closed since the year 2000. My guess is that the 8 closed factories had a lot to do with the 30 closed schools.

Obviously, I was emotionally impacted by this book, and I suspect many other Flint natives will have the same reaction. The book is also a unique look at the Rust Belt and Flint mirrors the fate  of many other one-industry communities. The book is complimented by numerous historical photographs and an appendix of lost schools, bars, and restaurants.


Lost Flint by Gary Flinn. History Press, 2021, $21.99.


Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel by Mike Fornes

Every season 150,000 heads hit beds in this extraordinary hotel famous for its magnificent setting overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. The unique and unforgettable setting on a magical island is equaled by the hotel's extraordinary level of hospitality, ambience, dining experience, and amenities in a building named a national historic landmark. If you haven't had the pleasure of spending a night in the Grand Hotel this slim book with loads of photographs and expert commentary is a fine introduction. Even those who have stayed at the hotel will find a new appreciation for the Grand from the author who has covered the hotel for years as a print and media reporter and an the operator of a Straits guide service.

Chapters include landscape, decor, food service, special rooms and suites, landscape, special amenities, off-season work, the two movies filmed at the hotel, and a recounting of the famous who have stayed at the Grand. Each chapter is preceded by a short introduction followed by scores of photos illustrating the high points of the chapter. Of special interest to this reader is the photos of the First Ladies Suites which far outnumber Presidential Suites. I was fascinated by the annual amount of ongoing work of repairing, renovating, and remodeling the building each winter. Given the chance, the one activity I would like to experience is to be given free access to the kitchen and watch a staff of about a hundred prepare as many as 4,000 meals a day. Oh, and some of the kitchen's recipes rewritten for a dinner for two.

This is a grand introduction to a one-of-a-kind hotel that will be enjoyed by those who never spent a night in one of its rooms as well as those who have.


Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel by Mike Fornes. Arcadia Publishing, 2021, $23.99. 


On the Trails of Northern Michigan: A Guide For All Seasons by Michael Terrell.

A regular columnist for the Traverse City Record-Eagle, the author has gathered a collection of his columns on the best hiking, biking, and waterway trails in Northern Michigan. The book is organized by seasons and includes 70 trails from the familiar to the new and unexpected. Whether it is the only waterfall in the lower peninsula or a preserve containing a nature megaphone in which one sits and listens to the sounds of nature that seem magically amplified by a beautiful, hand-made wooden megaphone. 

Each location includes a photograph and a page or two of description followed by a page of  Terrell's Trail Notes. The notes provide driving directions, a guide to the length and difficulty of the trails, hours and rules (if any), and highlights not to be missed. Symbols at the top of the page indicate activities allowed from hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, canoeing, and camping, to wildflowers and birdwatching. The last two are guesses because there is no reference guide to the symbols. 

I suspect that even the area's local outdoor lovers will find very appealing places they have not yet visited or know about. Occasional northern Michigan tourists who want to spend a day experiencing and sampling the area's natural attractions will have a difficult time deciding which to choose from. I would suggest that people unfamiliar with the area take along a book of county maps because directions are often very brief. 

 

On the Trails of Northern Michigan: A Guide For All Seasons by Michael Terrell. Mission Point Press, 2021, $24.95.

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.









 

September 1, 2021 Post # 70

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

 Quote for the Day: "When they were stumped in ancient Greece, they went to the oracle of Delphi. At Lourdes they take the waters, and I suppose in Akron they go down and watch tires being made. In Detroit, where we put the world on wheels or did anyway until the Japanese and Yugoslavs and the Brits rolled in, when our brains slip into neutral we lay rubber on the road and hit the gas." Loren Estleman. Sweet Women Lie. 1990.


Reviews

Warn Me When It's Time by Cheryl A. Head.

After reading two of Head's mysteries I have come to believe she is Detroit's most underappreciated mystery writer. A Detroit native now living in Washington D.C. the author knows her native city intimately. The Charlie Mack mysteries are gritty and tightly plotted procedural detective novels. They are realistic, timely, and boasts a private eye who stands apart from the usual stereotypes.

The novel is set during the Obama administration and deals with the rise of White supremacy groups and hate crimes due to the election of a Black man as president. In Detroit, White supremacists have repeatedly gotten away with vandalizing mosques, and Black churches. When an attack on a Moslem Mosque results in the death of a highly respected imam and police fail to make progress in their investigation the imam's family hire the Mack Agency to find the killer.  The Mack group, led by a black lesbian, cooperate with the police and ID the killer. They also uncover evidence that suggests several supremacist groups are planning a massive attack against a major Detroit religious landmark. Impressed with the agency's work the FBI enlists Charlie Mack and her crew to help stop the attack.

The result is a mystery that relentlessly builds in suspense to the last gripping pages. Charlie Mack and her crew are fully rounded, very likable, and interesting characters who work as a team, while Detroit is deftly portrayed in all its grand, bi-polar disorder. Critical to this book's success is the realistic plot that will have readers recalling the inexorable growth, over the past dozen years, of hate groups and their increasing threat to our democracy. You don't just read this book, you gulp it down.

Warn Me When It's Time: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery by Cheryl A. Head. Bywater Books, 2021, $16.95.  


The Cut by John Wemlinger.

If I'm counting correctly this is the author's fifth novel and his first historical novel. Wemlinger lives in Onekama on the north shore of Portage Lake. In 1870 Portage Lake's lone outlet to Lake Michigan was a small creek on which a lumber king had built a water-powered sawmill. The owner dammed the creek to raise the water level insuring the mill could operate. But the dam also raised the water level on Portage Lake and farmers bordering the lake watched their acreage disappear as the water  rose. The farmers tried every legal means to have the dam removed. When the lumber baron remained unmoved the farmers picked up shovels and dug an outlet between the two lakes permanently lowering the water level. The outlet still exists and has made Portage Lake a harbor of refuge. Wemlinger was approached by locals to write a historical novel based on the David and Goliath struggle leading to the channel's creation. 

The result is both a dramatic account of the how and why the cut was created and a masterful novel of the life, times, and changes wrought by the Civil War. As in all of  Wemlinger's books the narrative is character driven. Alvin who lost an arm in the Civil War runs a farm on Portage Lake with his father and a Black Civil War vet who Alvin treats as a brother. They are among the leaders of the effort to remove the dam. On a trip into town Alvin meets, or collides with Lydia on a sidewalk. There is an immediate attraction and a budding romance turns into an unbreakable bond. Lydia's father refuses to approve of his daughter seeing a farmer or even considering Lydia's desire to attend college. The reader can't help but become involved with these well-drawn characters and care what happens to them.

The story of the cut is well done. But what kept me glued to the book was the accurate and fascinating story of the life of a Michigan farm family in 1870. Equally interesting was the description of women and their power within the household and near powerlessness in the business and commercial world even as women were on the threshold of changing their status. As in all his books, Wemlinger sensitively portrays war veterans as honorable men who have returned from war to face new challenges in both private and public life. Every book I've read by this author I thought deserved consideration for inclusion on Michigan's Notable Books List and none made it. If this book fails to warrant inclusion on the list it's more than just a regrettable omission. 

The Cut by John Wemlinger. Mission Point Press, 2021, $17.95.


Sea Stacks: The Collected Stories of J. L. Hagen by J. L. Hagen.

The author grew up in St. Ignace and nearly all of the stories found between  the covers of Hagen's first book take place in and around the Straits of Mackinac area, with the fictional town of Loyale standing in for the author's real hometown. Place matters in these stories and one way or another influences and reflects the way of life in the area and bends characters' development the same way an unrelenting wind can shape the direction in which trees grow.

Where else would a young man woe a beautiful, downstate young woman with a dinner of planked whitefish and a climb to the top of a sea stack. For the uninitiated, the latter are natural limestone pillars that are common in the area and one of the tallest has long been a tourist attract a few miles north of the Straits on I-75. Admittedly the longer short stories are my favorites because they permit more character development and allow most characters to dig a deeper pit from which to extract themselves.

Hagen's short stories are a lot like life, they go off in unexpected directions. The young man counting on whitefish encircled by mashed potatoes broiled on a board and the climbing of a sea stack to win the heart of beautiful woman runs into some unexpected romance killers. My favorite story follows a husband who's a bit of a dim bulb, dislikes dogs, and doesn't quite understand it is his wife who wears the pants in the family. His Achilles heel is that he believes he is a great deal maker whether it's for a Beagle puppy or a new refrigerator. Instead he is the kind of fellow P. T. Barnun said was born every minute. It's always nice to welcome a new and talented Michigan author to the public.  

Sea Stacks: The Collected of Stories of J. L. Hagen by J. L. Hagen. Keypounder Books, 2020, $8.95.


Incentives: The Holy Water of Free Enterprise by George Franklin.

I grinned on page one and laughed out loud on page three, twice. The laughs continue throughout this wildly hilarious satire aimed at every group, person, and company gorging themselves at the government trough on projects that simply line their own pockets. The schemes Franklin's characters think up to bilk money from the government are outrageous, hilarious, and at times so uncomfortably close to reality you wince while you're laughing. For me, that is the mark of satire of the highest order. 

There's the character who after reading the Cliff Notes of a former president's book on the art of deal making learned "factual hyperbole' ---- used to be called lying, now [it's] just part of good negotiations." The CEO of an energy company preaches, "Those who see pollution as a problem don't understand the creation of wealth." Then there's the Smith & Wesson ad campaign, "Shoot First, Then Ask." The author, a former Vice President of Worldwide Government Relations for the Kellogg Company, worked at securing economic incentives both abroad and in the U.S. He has evidently seen more than his share of hypocrisy. 

Two of my favorite satirical schemes for obtaining government incentives include a church that wants government money in order to pump water from Lake Michigan, bless it, and then spray it from crop dusters for the purpose of stopping "godless foreign terrorists." The other is the creation of "Let Them Eat Cake," a personal shopping service that helps wives of Texas oil barons search out enormously expensive clothes and jewelry the less fortunate (read Middle Class) can't and never will be able to afford. 

This is an outrageous, biting, and seriously funny novel in which laughter harpoons the great white whale of hypocrisy that is too often inherent in American politics, business, education, and society.

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Incentives: The Holy Water of Free Enterprise by George Franklin. FPA Books, 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.





August 1, 2021 Post # 69

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Quote for the Day: "As a place of resort during the summer months, there can be none more desirable -- none possessing more attractive features and health-restoring influences, than this Island of Mackinaw." New York Weekly Tribune. July 9, 1853.


Reviews


The Dockporter: A Mackinac Novel: by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone.

One of the iconic images of  Mackinac Island is of the young men who wait the arrival of tourist laden ferries and stack an unbelievable number of tourists' suitcases on their single-speed bikes. They then pedal their precarious loads through streets clogged with fudgies (tourists) and horse-drawn wagons to hotels and inns. Or as the authors write, "In India, they call them coolies. On Everest, Sherpas. On Mackinac Island they're called dockporters." The authors of this entertaining and engaging novel were both dockporters in the late 1980s and this unique novel describes life on the island as lived and seen through the eyes of these young men who turned hauling luggage into a circus act.

As a kid, Jack McQuinn spent every summer on Mackinac Island, at his grandfather's cottage. His greatest goal was to become a dockporter which he achieved in the 1980s. He revels in the job and loves the comradery and sense of humor of his fellow dockporters. He also loves the island and the Straits of Mackinac with all its charm, beauty, and singular way of life. The authors describe the place uniquely but accurately as "an area electrified with strange magic." Best of all, the book captures the "strange magic" and brings Mackinac Island, as seen by those who work there, wonderfully alive. 

Yet there is a black cloud on the horizon that threatens the island's future. It is up to Jack and his fellow porters to save the one of a kind island. In the process, Jack falls in love, losses his job, attempts to beat the dockporter record of stacking more than 21 pieces of luggage on his bike, and getting them to a hotel. He also stumbles across a passion that he just might make into a career.

The book is a delight to read. It is filled with humor, strangely wonderful characters  including a man with a shovel who cleans up horse leavings on the streets. It turns out he knows a lot more about Mackinac Island than just horse apples. Almost every page delivers a grin and many produce laugh-out-loud guffaws. The best news is this is the first in the series on the island. On behalf of this reader, more please, much, much more.


The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone. Privately Published, 2021, $12.95.


Prohibition's Proving Ground: Cops, Cars, & Rumrunners in the Toledo-Detroit-Windsor Corridor by Joseph Boggs. 

Michigan went dry on May 1, 1918, more than a full year before Prohibition became the law in the rest of the nation. Our state therefore became a testing ground for the enforcement of making, selling, and smuggling booze. The nearly complete failure by Michigan to stop all the above, as seen through this study of enforcement in the Windsor, Detroit, and Toledo triangle, did not bode well for the Volstead Act. Worst still (pun intended) it seems little was learned from Michigan's failure. This scholarly but very readable and always interesting study sheds new light on the prohibition era in southeast Michigan. 

In the first few days after Michigan went dry Detroiters swarmed Toledo and nearby Ohio towns and drank until oblivion. Incidents of drunk driving exploded in Monroe and being a pedestrian was life threatening. Within a few weeks amateur rumrunners were creating traffic jams in Monroe and on Dixie Highway which ran between Detroit and Monroe. When the state supreme court briefly ruled that police could neither search nor seize alcohol from cars it ignited a "Booze Rush."  In Monroe 390 cars an hour, sagging under their loads of alcohol, were counted passing through town.

The author credits a major contribution to the failure of Prohibition in southeast Michigan and across the country to Americas' new love affair with the automobile and the growing demand for better roads. Dixie Highway between Toledo and Detroit would often turn into a muddy morass but when it was paved it became a high-speed hooch pipeline to Detroit. While the rumrunners were driving souped-up cars the police called "Whiskey Sixes" some cops were trying to halt smugglers from horseback. A fascinating chapter chronicles Henry Ford taking the enforcement of Prohibition into his own hands. He made employees pass a sniff check on entering his factories and hired private detectives to identify stills and blind pigs near his plants.

The book is marked by solid research and very good writing, except for the over-used term automobilized including "fully automobilized holdup men, automobility enabled thugs," and even "automobilized trucks." This automobilized blogger raises a glass to this fine book.


Prohibition's Proving Grounds: Cops, Cars, & Rumrunners in the Toledo-Detroit-Windsor Corridor by Joseph Boggs. University of Toledo Press, 2020, $24.95.


Manistee County: Postcard History Series by Emma Wolf and the Musculus Family.

I haven't browsed a bookstore in Michigan without finding a title or two of the Postcard History Series on the store's local history shelves. The series all follow the same format with the pages filled with interesting and often arresting historical photos of a city or county. Accompanying each postcard photo is an explanation of the postcard's subject including the date or era of the card, and the importance and history of the subject to the community. Some of the descriptive explanations are only a few sentences others are lengthy paragraphs.

This volume of the series is no different. It includes more than 150 postcards with photos dating from 1842 to the early 20th Century of people, streets, buildings, geographical features, towns, industries, and churches of the county. All of which are followed by succinct and interesting explanations that place the subject of the postcard within the history of the county. The book is a painless and always interesting introduction to the history of Manistee County. I've often wondered about the economic viability of the series with each book in the series aimed at such a narrow market. But what do I know, new additions to the series continue to roll off the press.


Manistee County: Postcard History Series by Emma Wolf and the Musculus Family. Arcadia Publishing, 2021, $21.95.

Tales From the Jan Van: Lessons on Life & Camping by Jan Stafford Kellis.

The author's well-ordered and happy life collapsed like a house of cards when she was 45-years old. Out of the blue her beloved second husband asked for a divorce, her mother died suddenly, and her youngest daughter left home to join her sister in Alaska. 

Stunned, bewildered and hurting the author was struck by a sign in a her friend's house that read: "Enjoy yourself! It's later than you think." One of her dreams was to travel around the country with her husband after retirement. She made up her mind she wasn't going to let tragedy and loss dictate the course of her life and inspired by the sign she bought a used, self-contained camping van. Combining long, three-day weekends by working four 10-hour a days a week and her vacation time she set out to explore the Midwest from her U.P. home and travel across America as a solo female RVer.   

A by product of her RV adventures is this winning trifecta of a book. It is a detailed  travelogue of her adventures, a memoir, and a sensible how-to guide to camping and motorhoming. Most importantly it is a story of self-empowerment as she overcomes her worries about traveling alone, grows more assertive, and learns the habits, foibles, and personality of  her finicky small motorhome that has a mixed pedigree involving Mercedes, Freightliner, and Dodge. Technicians from all three companies couldn't figure out some her van's mechanical oddities. The narrative even touches on the history of camping in Michigan when the author reveals that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison used to go camping together, in a Ford of course.

As an ex-motorhome owner, I can attest to the author's fine job of sharing the joys and occasional miseries of camping, and how at times a motorhome can seem more complicated and intricately complex than the vehicle Neil Armstrong rode to the moon. But you don't have to be a camper or an RVer to enjoy this open, honest, and compelling travelogue and memoir.


Tales from the Jan Van: Lessons on Life and Camping by Jan Stafford Kellis. Myrno Moss Perspectives, 2021, $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.











 





July 2021 Post #68

Thursday, July 1, 2021

 Quote for the day: "Growing up in northern Michigan, I got to know insects intimately. I prided myself on my ability to tolerate gnats and black flies... But I have never seen mosquitoes like those that rose that day from the weeds and grasses along the Fox River. ...even when I sprayed the aerosol directly at them they scarcely altered their flight. They absorbed the poison and developed genetic immunity right before my eyes." Jerry Dennis. A Place on the Water. 1993.


Turn to News and Views for the 2nd Annual U. P. Notable Books List as chosen by the U.P. Publishers & Authors Association.


Reviews

Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter.


In the days prior to May 18, 1927 Andrew Philip Kehoe, an elected member of the Bath School Board and the board's treasurer packed over 500 pounds of dynamite into the newly opened Bath consolidated school's basement and subflooring. The school housed all Bath students from kindergarten through 12th grade and on the 18th Kehoe's improvised detonator triggered the dynamite to explode under one wing of the school. The wing collapsed killing 38 children in addition to several adults. Schechter presents a fast moving, highly detailed reconstruction of the crime and even explains how and why the horrendous bombing in Bath, Michigan so quickly disappeared as headline news.  

The dynamiting of the Bath School still ranks as the most deadly school attack in US history. But Kehoe wasn't finished. The gentleman farmer who plowed his fields in a suit and shined shoes killed all his livestock and set the barn on fire, then killed his wife and torched their house with her body inside. He then packed his truck with more explosives and drove to the bombed school where distraught parents, firemen, and police were working to free children from the the school's wreckage. Kehoe parked near the collapsed wing and waved the school superintendent over to his truck. When the superintendent walked up to the truck Kehoe blew both of them and the truck to kingdom come. The explosion wounded people a block away. When police inspected the basements under the school's other wings, they found them packed with explosives. By some miracle, the detonator failed to set off those explosives.  

The obvious question is what drove Kehoe to be a mass murderer of children? The author tries his best to answer that question. His neighbors thought him a solid citizen. The author writes that Kehoe avoided intimacy, had a mean streak, and suffered occasional bouts of paranoia. He was also a penny-pinching skinflint who was distressed at the increased taxes needed to finance the new school. This book may well stand as the definitive work on the Bath School bombing. Yet even after reading it I find it impossible to comprehend the level of evil, insanity, or cruelty it took to commit this heinous act.  The book is both very compelling and painfully sad.

Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter. Little A. 2021. $24.95.


The Crooked Angel: A Burr Lafayette Mystery by Charles Cutter


Cutter's mysteries featuring attorney Burr Lafayette should come with the clearly stated warning that they are hopelessly addictive. The author has the knack of drawing readers into his mysteries with such ease they don't realize until its far too late that even a writ of habeas corpus will not release them from the book until the final page is turned. Burr is not a criminal lawyer and only occasionally and reluctantly represents accused murderers. In the present case, his girlfriend talks Burr into defending Brian, her sister's husband, who is accused of murdering his first wife. The trial takes place in Petoskey before a cantankerous judge and a prosecutor who hopes a conviction will launch his political career.

Lafayette is sure there is something odd going on because Brian is being charged with murdering his first wife six years after her death was ruled accidental. His girlfriend, her sister, and the accused all have trouble with the truth and adding to Lafayette's complications in representing Brian is a prosecutor who puts winning before the rule of law. The novel features a captivating courtroom drama full of striking twists and turns, great repartee, wonderfully odd characters, and a stunning denouement all played out against the beautifully drawn backdrop of the Little Traverse Bay area. 

Burr's law partner claims Burr is, "half a step short of brilliant." The same could be said of this fourth in the series featuring Burr Lafayette who is not a half step short of being an utterly fascinating character. As always, a Charles Cutter mystery is grand entertainment.

The Crooked Angel: A Burr Lafayette Mystery by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2021, $16.95. 


U. P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World, Volume 5 Deborah K. Frontiera and Mikel B. Classen, editors. 


It's always a good day when I find a copy of the U. P. Reader in my mailbox. The annual collection of short stories, poems, memoirs, and essays, penned by Michiganders living north of Big Mac can be counted on to entertain, enlighten, and often surprise readers.

I especially enjoyed a how-to guide to squirrel hunting that is wonderfully bizarre and wacky yet told in convincing detail. The author, among other things, attempts to thoroughly explain why you should hunt barefoot, the correct place to relieve oneself in the woods, and recommends throwing back a cheap shot of whiskey instead of coffee before a hunt. The author advances the revolutionary theory that at the heart of squirrel hunting is killing time. I always look forward to Larry Buege's reporting on the efforts to officially recognize the Amorous Spotted Slug (A.S.S.) as the state slug and as a special bonus he brings in Professor Toivo Rantamkis to explain how the sex life of the A.S.S. is unique in the animal world. And don't skip "Your Obit" in which a woman  explains what she will and will not include in her best friend's obituary. 

The book is a tribute to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and its people. From the funny and wise to the profound it is a wonderful example of the degree to which the U.P., with its rugged beauty and often hard-scrabble living, inspires authors or makes authors out of those who live there. I was tempted to say the above three pieces that I mentioned were not to be missed, but in all fairness that goes for every offering found between the covers of this unique publication. To paraphrase an old potato chip commercial, open the book at random and I bet you can't stop reading at just one. 

U.P. Reader: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World, edited by Deborah K. Fontiera and Mikel B. Classen. Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. 2021, $17.95.


Tales of the Police: The Wild and the Sad by Brit Weber


The author became a Michigan State Trooper in 1970 and retired in 1998. This is a lively and always interesting collection of stories from the author's 28-year career. What comes shining through on nearly every story is Weber's justifiable pride in wearing the uniform, the engrained philosophy of service, and the high expectations of professionalism officers are held to.

The stories range from wild car chases, pursuing armed robbers, handling domestic disputes that threaten to turn deadly, to a memorable account of a call to a campground in which a crazed camper was raising hell. The latter turned out to be a one-legged drunk who managed on only one foot to make his escape from two state cops. The job is obviously dangerous and stressful and it seems that the state troopers way of handling some of the stress is to pull pranks on fellow officers. They range from a baby skunk slipped into a trooper's car while he is eating to calling a radio station and nominating the post commander as secretary of the day. The man was more than chagrined when the radio station sent him flowers and several times during the day announced he was the secretary of the day. It wasn't until the commander's retirement that the author admitted he was the prankster.

  The author spent five years investigating child abuse cases. In addition to being tragic and sad the author describes how careful, thorough, and sensitively each case had to be handled. The author was relentless in uncovering enough evidence to make an arrest and protect a child from more abuse. After five years Weber had had enough and asked for a transfer to another assignment.  At the end of most chapters the author names officers who earned awards for going above and beyond the call of duty to make arrests or save a life. Included are the official citations that describe the action for which the officer received the award.

This book is both a tribute to the Michigan State Police and a moving account of what I gather  are typical experiences of a career in the MSP. The cover below will only take you to the ebook edition. Hard copy buyers need to go to Amazon or a local bookstore.

Tales of Police Work: The Wild and the Sad by Brit Weber. Privately published, 2020, $9.99

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 kelps support Michigan in Books.






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