Sunday, May 2, 2021

May 1, 2021 # 66

Quote for the day: "... those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate idea, by hearing it spoken of as a 'lake,' and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sounds ludicrous." Reverend George Grant, the diarist of an 1872 expedition on the lake. 


Lucy Greene by Richard VanDeWeghe

This is the author's second novel in a planned trilogy on the Traverse City State Hospital. VanDeWeghe clearly intends the series to both cover the history of the institution in addition to reviewing and portraying the care given to patients in mental asylums through the years. The novel is set in 1963 and the heart of the story revolves around the embrace of new wonder drugs and their unchecked overmedication by physicians caring for mentally ill patients.

Sister Lucy Greene and her dear friend Sister Anna belonged to the religious order the Society of Saint Joseph. The Sisters of St. Joseph were committed to fighting social injustice. The two friends took teaching jobs in Black schools in the South and joined the Freedom Riders who attempted to integrate inter-state buses. Their first Freedom Ride resulted in Sister Anna being raped and nearly beaten to death. 

Sister Anna never mentally recovered from her ordeal. She suffered horrible headaches, and by turns was near comatose then suffered fits of raving madness. Sister Lucy arranged for her friend to enter the Traverse City State Hospital and Lucy became a patient advocate there. Sister Lucy quickly becomes concerned with the use of drugs that left her friend in a vegetative state. She becomes more concerned when she learns the drug prescribed for Sister Anna was created to treat schizophrenia. The result is a growing argument and difference in philosophy of treatment between Sister Lucy and the hospital's head doctor. The hospital's head nurse encourages the Sister's inquiry into over medication. She tells Sister Lucy the hospital in the past relied on human interaction, art, music, and giving the patients meaningful work and handicrafts as a significant part of their therapeutic care. The head nurse laments that humanistic care has become chemical care.

The bulk of the book focuses on the argument between Sister Lucy and the head doctor over the use of drugs that leave Sister Anna free of symptoms as well as any connection to the conscious world. The author does a good job of fully exploring and explaining the growth in the 1960s of the use of new drugs in the treatment of psychiatric patients. The novel is full of footnotes that further highlight the  conflict over different treatments. They also contain surprising historical footnotes such as it wasn't until 1951 that a federal law gave only doctors the power to prescribe medicine. The only minor complaint found in this novel is that some of the characters serve as not much more than mouthpieces for one or the other side of the argument. The book reflects the current issues concerning over prescription of painkillers and Big Pharma's questionable promotion practices and encouragement of doctors to push painkillers.


Lucy Greene by Richard VanDeWeghe. Mission Point Press, 2020, $16.76

Cady and the Bear Necklace by Ann Dallman

As her name suggests, thirteen-year-old Cady Whirlwind Thunder is of Native American descent and she has experienced a tumultuous past twelve months. Her father at 55 married a 24-year-old woman. Cady has a new baby brother, the family moved back to the U.P. from Minnesota, and dad enrolled her, for the first time ever, in a reservation school. The move and the new school take Cady, and the reader lucky enough to open this book, into a fascinating deep dive into Native American culture and a perplexing mystery.

One day at school Cady finds an eagle feather dropped by someone in the hall. She takes the feather to the school principal who tells her she has just performed an act of honor by picking up the eagle feather and it signifies she may soon stumble across a mystery. Within days Cady discovers a beautiful necklace someone hid under her bedroom floor. She is very curious why and how the necklace was hidden in her bedroom but every time she asks a elder of the tribe about the necklace they are reluctant to talk about it. On a trip back to Minnesota she discovers her grandmother is part of the mystery when Cady is shown an old photograph in which her grandma is standing next to a young woman wearing the necklace. Her grandmother tells her she didn't find the necklace, the necklace found her and sends Cady back to the U.P. with even more desire to find the truth.

Cady is a beautifully drawn and very likeable character. Readers will feel lucky to have found Cady and accompanied her on a journey of self-discovery. Cady grows to appreciate how her people are much more in touch with the natural world, possess an ingrained sense of wonder, and a firm belief that nature in all its myriad forms communicates with them.  Best of all they live in harmony with the natural world. 

It is also a pleasure to watch Cady grow, mature, become more in tune with her family. The author taught for 15 years at the Hannahville Indian School in the U.P. and wrote this book for her students. The novel has won awards from the Midwest Independent Publishing Association and the Historical Society of  Michigan to name only two. And oh yes, this is a YA novel, but I defy anyone of any age to read a few pages and not become totally absorbed in Cady's life.


Cady and the Bear Necklace by Ann Dallman. Three Towers Press, 2019, $14.95.

Detroit's Lost Poletown: A Little Neighborhood that Touched a Nation by Brianne Turczynski

The destruction of a unique and very livable Detroit neighborhood in 1981 by GM, with the aid of Detroit's city council and mayor, is a familiar story to many in southeastern Michigan. But many the of details and issues raised by its destruction have become less than common knowledge after 40 years. The author's short, readable, and authoritative account of Poletown's demise is a sad and an enduring reminder of how powerless people can be when a city turns on its own residents.

The author begins with a short history of the neighborhood located in east Detroit that abuts Hamtramck. By post-WWII, Poletown's population had climbed to 4,000 and contained 1,400 homes, 140 businesses with stores on nearly every block, and a handful of churches and cemeteries. It had a strong Polish population but was known for its many ethnic minorities who all got along in this melting pot of a neighborhood that was called "beautifully diverse." The people of Poletown created a community identity, a place they called home. The first blow was the construction of I-94 that split the neighborhood in two. 

The end came in 1981when GM approached the city with the proposition of buying 463 acres of Poletown to build a GM plant. The company promised 6,000 jobs, in exchange for municipal tax breaks, and legal help in turning people out of their houses and destroying the neighbor. The bulk of the book covers the heartfelt opposition to removal and the impact of the loss of home and neighborhood on its residents. Detroit used the law of eminent domain to force people out of their homes. The inhabitants held protests, and one inhabitant even built a wall around their home and armed himself with a shotgun. 

The people of Poletown would answer a knock on the door and learn they no longer owned their home nor held the deed, and then were offered below market buyouts. City employees turned off water and gas on those who still legally occupied their homes. It was especially bitter to many that of the 463-acres, a 100 were devoted to parking lots. A Detroit reporter thought it amiss when, "we destroy homes people live in to create spaces for cars to sit in." GM said it would create 6,000 jobs but hired 3,000. Two decades too late the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the taking of Poletown via eminent domain was illegal. This is an illuminating, vitally interesting, and an important contribution to Michigan history. A great deal of this success is due to the author letting the people of Poletown tell their story of  losing a home or business and a neighborhood they thought of as home. The book abounds with photographs that enhance the narrative.

Detroit's Lost Poletown: The Little Neighborhood that Touched a Nation by Brianne Turczynski. History Press, 2021, $21.95.

Secret Societies in Detroit by Bill Loomis

This succinct and always interesting book presents a short history of two dozen secret societies that rose and fell in Detroit from pre Civil War to post WWII. The groups were often Detroit chapters of national organizations, but some were Detroit born and bred and stayed local. The secret societies were religious, social, political, criminal, mystical, gang related, and fraternal in nature. Sad to say, but a great many of them were dedicated to opposing the ideals and principals on which our country was founded.

The Know-Nothing Party professed that only white people born of parents who were born in this country were true Americans which sounds alarmingly current. The organization also openly hated Catholics and the Pope. A half century later The American Protective Association (APA) marked the rebirth of the Know-Nothing creed. The APA believed the purpose of the World's Columbian Exhibition was to promote Catholicism and the Pope. The group claimed Catholic churches collected and hid guns and ammo with which Catholics would take over the country. That may be almost laughable, but the Detroit chapter of the Klu Klux Klan was so powerful they ran a write-in candidate for mayor that polled more votes than anyone on the ballot.  The Klan candidate was disqualified because thousands of write-in votes misspelled his name.

On the positive side there was the African American Mysteries also called the Order of the Men of Oppression that was founded by a prominent Detroit African American in opposition to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. The secret society helped runaway slaves across the Detroit River to freedom and sent men with large wagons into the South. The wagons had false bottoms that could hold three adult slaves they smuggled North. The book is heavily illustrated and filled with surprising and sometimes disturbing historical facts. 


Secret Societies in Detroit by Bill Loomis. The History Press, 2021, $21.99.

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.



Thursday, April 1, 2021

April 1, 2021 Post # 65

 Quote for the day: "Invent a simple device like an automobile, to get you from here to there more quickly than you could go without it: before long you are in bondage to it, so that you build your cities and shape your countryside and reorder your entire life in the light of what will be good for the machine instead of what will be good for you." Bruce Catton. Waiting for the Morning Train. 1972.


Midnight in the Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Created the Middle Class by Edward McClelland.

Like many born and bred Flint kids I lived in a GM built house in a GM created neighborhood.  In retrospect, it was as if by osmosis I learned of the Flint Sit-Down Strike, its importance to this city, its impact on America's labor force, and how instrumental it was in the creation of our country's middle class. So it was with great interest I picked up this succinct, very readable and authoritative narrative that gives a near blow by blow account of the ground-breaking strike. I was interested in finding out what I did and didn't know about the strike.

The author makes clear that Flint was a company town in which the mayor, the city council, the police were all controlled by GM and the Flint Journal served as the company's mouth-piece. The author also does a fine job of describing workers complaints and GM's oppressive assembly line demands. A pre-strike crankshaft grinder had to lift by hand a 108 lb. crankshaft off the assembly line and carry it to the grinder then carry it back. By the end of shift the worker would have lifted tons of crankshafts. GM also sped up the assembly line to where it moved faster than the engineers designed it to run and at end of shift workers were often near collapse from exhaustion. GM had no safety standards, no disability pay even when the company was at fault and employees lost fingers, hands, and even legs. Then there was the tyranny of the supervisors and foremen who could fire employees on a whim, expect them to do work or perform general maintenance at his house to keep their job, and even expect sexual favors from workers' wives. Which goes a long way to explain why as the strike wore on and there was talk of the National Guard being ordered to remove the Sit-Downers the strikers were ready to die if attacked.

I was surprised to learn that President Roosevelt became involved in settling the strike and his Secretary of Labor worked hard to bring the company and union to the bargaining table. The Sec. of Labor didn't let the fact that she was a woman deter her from strong-arming Alfred Sloan and other GM bigwigs. Governor Murphy bent over backward to prevent violence and stopping any attempt to remove the strikers by force. The book also makes clear that the union leadership  were savvy negotiators and knew when to bluff both GM and the Governor.

In the epilogue the author makes a strong case that the union movement and especially the Sit-Down Strike had a major role in the creation of the blue-collar middle class and the decline of unions and recently passed laws creating open shops has meant the decline of unions and the middle class. When I grew up in the 1950s Flint and Genesee County boasted the nation's strongest middle class, it now suffers the country's highest poverty rate but that happened when GM employment in greater Flint dropped from 80,000 to 9,500. In Flint GM even tore down vacant building so they couldn't be taxed.

This book deserves rave reviews. It is driven by a narrative as powerful as a souped-up up V-8.

Midnight in Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Created the Middle Class by Edward McClelland. Beacon Press, 2011, $27.95.


Motown Man by Bob Campbell

Based on this fine first novel Campbell, a native of Flint, has a bright future in fiction. The novel takes place over the course of a week in the early 1990s in an unnamed city which is obviously Flint. Bradley Cunningham is single, a Control Engineer in an auto plant, and like the author an African-American. Bradly likes to say he's enrolled in UCLA, the University of Chevrolet Line Assembly. 

Bradley is engaged to a white reporter from Flint's major newspaper and she has been sent to cover a diversity workshop in Florida. During the week each of them reassess their relationship and take sharp looks at the demands made on the lives of  biracial couples. The result is a sensitive and honest portrayal of ethnic and racial diversity within Flint and the country. Bradley and his family are finely drawn characters and there's not a false step in this engrossing picture of  being Black in Flint. His prose in describing Flint, especially Black Flint cuts like a knife. He writes, "The other side of the river was simply the northside. For many readers of  [insert the Flint Journal], it was so distant a place it could have its own dateline." And, "The northside: what you get when there are too many blacks gathered in one place; the embodiment of an affirmative action gone awry." Yup, whether in the 50s when I was a kid, in the 90s when this book is set, or yesterday, the description rings true as a church bell.

Although Flint is never named it is captured perfectly as in this description of the Flint Cultural Center, " was so unlike the rest of the city, that it almost seemed as if they [the visitors]were in a different city altogether." or "a private sanctuary hidden in plain sight amid a creeping desert of desolation." The author is equally good at describing the de-industrialization of Flint and its near abandonment by GM. Then there are the sentences that once read linger in the mind. "Bradley likes to say that recorded music in a club is like macaroni-and-cheese from a box."

Wow, what a debut!

Motown Man by Bob Campbell. Urban Farmhouse Press, 2020, $20.95

Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man by Tyler R. Tichelaar

This book is much more than just a fascinating biography of a singular Ojibwa chief that had a significant impact on the history of the UP and helped preserve the culture of his people. Woven within the account of Kawbawgam's life is a history of his family, and the fate of the Ojibwa people as they first witnessed the encroachment of Europeans and then the usurpation of their land and subsequent vanishing of their way of life and culture.

Kawbawgam was the first resident of Marquette. He was living on the site of the future city when Peter White arrived with a small boatload of men and founded the city. Kawbawgam fed and sheltered the men and became a close friend of White, the city's most prominent citizen. Members of the Chief's family led Europeans to iron deposits and other Native American's led a state expedition to the famous Ontonagon Boulder, a 3,700 pound mass of pure copper. The Ojibwa revered the boulder and made offerings to it for "health and well being." The boulder was taken to Washington and housed in the Smithsonian.

The book abounds in interesting stories and forgotten sidelights of Michigan history. For instance, the tribe asked for the return of the Ontonagon Boulder in 1991. The request was denied. Famously, Ohio and Michigan went to war over whether Toledo was north or south of the border between the two states. The Federal government stepped in and awarded Toledo to Ohio and in compensation gave the UP to Michigan. I didn't know until reading this book that the western UP wasn't theirs to give away. It was Ojibwa land. Or that in digging the first lock at the Soo Ojibwas were removed from the land needed for the canal, their homes were torn down and Ojibwa graves were dug up  and the remains, "flung into muddy pits." Kawbawgam's relatives held part ownership in a mine but were denied company profits. The family brought a lawsuit that ended up in the Michigan Supreme Court and broke new ground in Native American rights.

Charlie Kawbawgam ended his days living in a house White built for him in a city park on Lake Superior.  He spent much of his time there helping to preserve Ojibwa culture by recording stories, tales, events and tribal history. He died a famous and celebrated citizen of Marquette. The book is a result of impressive research and is both scholarly and very readable. It is also a major contribution to the history of the Michigan's Upper Peninsula and I'm betting it is a shoe-in on next years Michigan Notable Book List.

Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man by Tyler R. Tichelaar. Marquette Fiction, 2020, $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 it at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.


Monday, March 1, 2021

March1, 2021 Post # 64

 Quote for the Day: "You want to go to Saginaw! ... do you realize what you are undertaking? Do you know that Saginaw is the last inhabited place til the Pacific Ocean; that from here to Saginaw hardly anything but wilderness and pathless solitude are to be found?"  A Pontiac innkeeper to Alexis de Tocqueville, on hearing that the French traveler was journeying to Saginaw. 1831.


Two Widows  by Laura Wolfe

Gloria has been widowed for two years. She lives in an old farmhouse on ten acres of land near Petoskey. She is lonely, still grieving, easily flustered, insecure, and faint-hearted. She feels even more ill-at-ease and defenseless when a young woman is found murdered on the beach near Petoskey. To make ends meet Gloria rents out an apartment over the garage and when Beth, a travel writer, shows up pulling a tiny house Gloria rents her a parking space for the summer near the farmhouse. The arrival of Beth is welcomed by Gloria. She is less anxious, welcomes the company, and hopes Beth will become a friend.

But Beth has secrets and Gloria begins to wonder how much her new renter is hiding and if she can be trusted. The plot starts off on simmer as the author introduces Gloria and Beth and deepens and broadens their characters. The novel progresses along two storylines. Gloria's narrative unfolds in the present with slowly mounting tension as a second young woman is reported missing and Gloria wonders who she can trust. The second storyline begins in Beth's past and slowly advances toward the present. When the two narratives converge the tension and menace reach the breaking point. 

This is billed as a suspenseful mystery. I found it much more powerful and meaningful as a novel focusing on Gloria's personal growth and the throwing off of fear, doubt, and worry. Instead, she  decides to live boldly, control her life, and accept what life brings. The novel is successful as both a mystery and the story of a lonely and frail character who turns her life around.
Two Widows by Laura Wolfe. Bookouture, 2020, $10.99.

Andy and the St. Joseph Home for Boys by Andy Skrzynski

The author was five-years-old when his parents divorced. His mother simply disappeared and his stern father of few words dropped-off the author's young sister with a grandmother and drove the author and his younger brother to an orphanage run by the Catholic Church. As both boys howled with grief and despair, their father ordered them out of the car, took them to the orphanage door where two nuns introduced themselves and their dad said, "Goodbye and behave yourselves." Then he turned his back on his sons and walked to the car while the author screamed, "Don't leave us here!"

The book is not written as an adult remembering the life-changing experience of living in an orphanage for five years.  But as a child experiencing the unexplainable, painful, and soul-crushing sundering of his family and the emotional and mental anguish of being abandoned. It is a heart-breaking description that left this reader wondering how parents can decide to dump their children off at a orphanage and where was the state or federal support for children in jeopardy. Can anyone just decide to drop their kids off at an orphanage? These questions can't be answered because the narrative is told from the point of view of a five-year-old. After several weeks have passed his father begins to pick up the two boys for weekend visits.  Each Sunday's parting is a tear drenched, painful abandonment all over again. 

The author does a fine job of recounting the little everyday events that bound together make up the life of a boy in a Catholic-run home for boys. Even a well-run orphanage by nuns who are strict but fair and caring do not make up for the loss of family although the author acknowledges many of the Sisters made significant and positive contributions to his growth and character. The book even has moments of  unexpected humor like Andy's first nervous confession when he tells the priest "what you are about to hear is bad, but I have an explanation for each sin that I'm sure you'll agree with."  In the epilogue, the author tells of his life after the orphanage and his adult life. 

Yes, at times this book can be painful reading, but more importantly, it is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the will to overcome whatever obstacles one faces. This book is notably readable and inspiring. 
Andy and the St. Joseph Home for Boys by Andy Skrzynski. Privately Printed, 2020, $16.99.

Northern Blood by Daniel Greene

This is the third volume in a series of four books, to date, chronicling the adventures and exploits of Johannes Wolf who enlisted in a Michigan cavalry unit and served out the Civil War in General Custer's Brigade. The author knows his Civil War history and has comfortably and convincingly created a nonstop, at full gallop plot that puts Wolf in the thick of almost every major cavalry engagement from Gettysburg to, I assume, Appomattox in a succeeding volume.

The second book in the series ended with Wolf in the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond. This book opens with Wolf and his close friend escaping the prison and returning to their regiment. Wolf expected to be court-martialed for impersonating an officer while a prisoner but instead Custer and General Phil Sheridan promote him to lieutenant and send Lt. Wolf with a small, hand-picked squad on a secret mission. As concocted by Custer and Sheridan or rather the author, the mission is to kidnap the wife of J.EB. Stuart in order to make him attack Sheridan. The author admits in an afterword this never happened and this truly fictional episode takes up more than half the book. The idea for the mission and the order to carry it out seems out of character for either Custer or Sheridan. But admittedly other authors have taken greater liberties with Civil War history. 

That said, readers looking for a good historical adventure story will find this and all the books in the series immersive. Wolf is a fascinating character and his growth as a leader is well done and rings true. I found the inclusion of two Native American sharpshooters from Company K, of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, welcome and interesting. Many if not all of Company K was recruited from northern Michigan Native Americans and at the beginning of the war, they weren't even considered American citizens. And after my little tirade on the kidnapping of Mrs. Stuart I have to hand it to Greene for making her a very real and believable character. The fourth book in the series "Northern Dawn" sticks closer to the historical record. It finds the newly minted Lt. Wolf and his company caught in the bloody whirlwind of the Battle of Trevilian Station, the largest all cavalry battle of the war. The author captures the chaos, violence, confusion, and magnitude of thousands of armed men bent on destroying their enemy with immediacy and fervor.

Northern Blood by Daniel Greene, Independently Published, 2020, $13.99
Northern Dawn by Daniel Greene, Independently Published, 2020, $13.99

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.



Monday, February 1, 2021

February 1, 2021 Post # 63

Quote for the Day: "...the Great Lakes have a voracious appetite for ships and sailors."  Jack Parker. Shipwrecks of Lake Huron. 1986.

Book Reviews

 Meet Isabel Puddles  by M.V. Byrne

Isabel Puddles is a middle-aged widow living in the little resort village of Gull Harbor, Michigan on the east coast of Lake Michigan somewhere north of Holland. She makes financial ends meet by being a superhuman multi-tasker. Izy, as her many friends call her, cans and sells gourmet pickles, bakes pies for local restaurants, sells antiques at an antique mall, has a waiting list for scarfs she knits, and occasionally does make-up, and hairdressing for the local undertaker. 

It is the last job that literally lands Isabel well over her head in deep and dangerous waters. It is her uncomfortable job to prepare the body of an old friend for viewing, who supposedly died of a stroke. When she discovers a nail buried in the head of the deceased death by natural causes turns to murder. She notifies the sheriff but Izy comes to believe the lawman arrested an innocent man for the murder.  Through keen observation, gathering odds and ends of pertinent information by asking questions of her many friends in the village, and uncovering new evidence Izy comes to a different conclusion as to why and who killed her friend.  Of course, her friend the sheriff discounts her suspicions. In trying to prove her friend innocent Izy puts herself on a collision course with the murderer.

Izabell Puddles is a marvelous character and so is Gull  Harbor and its residents. The book is elevated well above the ordinary by its often charming and almost always amusing depiction of life in a small lakeside tourist village that hums with activity in the summer when it is overrun with self-important and wealthy tourists and sleepy winters when the tourists and their money have retreated to Farmington Hills, Chicago, Grosse Point and various other enclaves of the well to do. The novel is rich with sharp-eyed asides including nearly every aspect of life in Gull Harbor including the subdued and prayerful competition between the Methodist and Congregationalist churches.

The book is a joy to read and the cover states it is the first in a new series. I can't wait to be in the company of Izy and her friends once more.

Meet Isabel Puddles by M.V, Byrne. Kensington Books, 2020, $15.95.

Northern Nightmare by Tom Mohrbach

This is the first true Northwoods Noir book I've run across. Even before opening it, I had doubts as to whether I wanted to read a book that depicted my beloved northern Michigan as a dark, violent region where psychopaths turned the woods red long before the fall color season. Then I read one of the great opening lines of any dark thriller or hard-boiled mystery I've ever encountered. You can't read it without being drawn into this haunting and violent hunting trip near Mio that goes terribly and deadly wrong.

The four Mitchell brothers have made it a family tradition to return to Michigan from around the country every year for a trip up north where they spend a week together in a deer camp hunting with bow and arrows. The brothers come from different walks of life and have personalities that often cause conflict when the four are sequestered in a remote hunting camp. But they are ill-prepared to deal with another family of brothers living near their deer camp.

The four local brothers are all sociopaths with their fingers in a number of illegal enterprises. They all have anger issues that act as wicks that once lit explode into murderous violence. They are pure unadulterated evil. The two sets of brothers cross paths several times and each encounter heightens the tension between the two families and there is no doubt that at some point an encounter is going to turn deadly. If that is not enough dread and foreboding the brothers may have had a run-in with a mythical local creature called the Michigan dog-man. You can Google the name.

The last forty pages are expertly choreographed by the author and are driven by deadly mayhem in a relentless narrative that moves like a runaway semi hauling nitroglycerin. Gripping is not a forceful enough description of this reading experience. 

Northern Nightmare by Tom Mohrbach. Self-published, 2020, $9.99.

Beyond Beyond by Joseph Heywood

The author has built a large readership by creating two popular series of books featuring the adventures of a present-day Conservation Officer in the U.P. and another chronicling the exploits of Lute Bapcat a Conservation Officer set during the copper boom in the Keweenaw Peninsula. This present offering from Heywood is the third in the series featuring Lute Bapcat and sets him on an extraordinary adventure.

Lute is recruited by his former commander of the Rough Riders, yes Teddy Roosevelt, to go to Russia in 1917 and locate Lute's friend and former Conservation Officer Pinkus Zakov. It seems Pinkus went to Russia nearly a year earlier to find the tsar and his family. Zakov has disappeared and, of course, so have the Romanovs. Lute and his newly adopted son, who can speak Russian, are recruited because he, "knows how to find people," and living in the Keweenaw knows, "how to live in impossible conditions." If this sounds rather improbable the plot edges even closer to beyond belief when a mysterious U. S. Marine Corp officer with near-magical powers to influence Russian officials is put in charge of Lute and his son and Lute is ordered to pretend to be mute and act as the officer's attack dog.   

But the improbable plot elements are soon forgotten and buried under Heywood's compelling, colorful, and convincing portrait of a country in tatters. The trio finds themselves in the midst of the Russian Revolution which puts them in constant danger. Adding to the chaos is the arrival of American troops, many from Michigan, sent to guard the vast amount of foreign supplies sent to a now non-existent Russian army and with the hopeless mission of stabilizing an out-of-control situation. And then you have the unstoppable spread of the deadly Spanish flu pandemic sweeping across the country. The result is a great adventure.

Beyond Beyond: A Lute Bapcat Mystery by Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2020, $27.95.

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.

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.

May 1, 2021 # 66

Quote for the day: "... those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate idea, by hearing it spoken of as a 'lake,' and to ...