Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Post # 26

Quote for the day: "The statistics from this era [19th Century], which some historians portray as the romantic age of sail, are chilling: once a man went sailing, his life expectancy dropped to between ten and fifteen years. Men fell from masts, were swept off by the jibes of unskilled helmsmen, slipped on icy decks, were  crushed by cargo, and drowned or froze when ships sank or were driven ashore." White Squall: Sailing the Great Lakes by Victoria Brehm.


White Squall: Sailing the Great Lakes
by Victoria Brehm

Invariably, whenever I opened this book I recalled my first, intimate experience with the Great Lakes. While still in elementary school I crossed the Straits of Mackinac on a car ferry. In a voyage that was over far too quickly, I soaked in the grandeur of the Great Lakes, spied the log ramparts of Fort Michilimackinac, and spotted an incredibly long, lake freighter crossing the ferry's wake. On that short voyage, I became incurably addicted to the romance and history of the Great Lakes and this fine book has fed that addiction. 

Victoria Brehm's wonderful book is an anthology of rare firsthand accounts gleaned from reports, letters, memoirs, stories, poems, and diaries of those who sailed paddled or steamed the Great Lakes from the early 1600s through the 1900s. It even includes an excerpt from a David Mamet play. It is an outstanding example of dogged research accompanied by brilliant commentary. The book had me wallowing for days in my fascination and passion for Great Lakes maritime history and heritage.

The White Squall is divided into several thematic sections each of which is introduced by Brehm. Her introductory essays are filled with fascinating details such as how the birchbark canoe was a perfect marriage of function and beauty. Incredibly lightweight but able to carry large loads, it also took great skill to maneuver the craft. She quotes Hemingway after his first try at piloting an Indian canoe proclaiming, "Just as sturdy as a church, like hell. You have to part your hair in the middle to balance it." In the 1600s voyagers paddled from sunup to sundown and when they came to portages each had to carry 90 lb. packs or more which explains why more voyagers died of strangulated hernias than drowning. In another introduction, she succinctly explains how Great Lake schooners differed from their saltwater counterparts and why. 

The author explains the conditions that made the Great Lakes the most dangerous waters in the world to sail and reports that experts estimate 6,000 to 10,000 boats have been claimed by the freshwater seas, including the first sailing ship and first steamboat launched on the Lakes. Ships went down with such regularity in the 19th Century a Congressional investigation was held to determine the causes and remedies. 

But the meat of the book and the reason for its endless fascination are the eye-witness accounts and first-person narratives. There is the account of a gun captain who describes the Battle of Lake Erie from the blood-soaked deck of Commodore Perry's flagship in the War of 812. Brehm estimates that up to 30 percent of Perry's squadron's crew were African-Americans. James Fenimore Cooper helped a friend in an Old Sailors Home write his autobiography in which he describes the sinking of his warship in a sudden squall on Lake Ontario. There is a vivid description of a perilous voyage by canoe from the Soo to Detroit that is juxtaposed to a recent first-person account of a woman kayaker's life and death struggle to survive a storm on the north shore of Lake Superior. 

Women officers aboard 1,000-foot bulk carriers detail their experiences as sailors and officers,  their life at sea, and the book concludes with one of the women's poems describing being outbound from Duluth in a Lake Superior storm. One line reads; "In a gale there is no horizon to hope toward, only the greedy, relentless wind of exactly this spot." There is an account of how a schooner is built almost by hand in a small boatyard in the 1800s. Not to be missed is the 62-year-old Bay City woman who was the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Her brief and precipitous voyage is excerpted from her autobiography which she hoped would make her wealthy. She died poor. The book is filled with diverse and always interesting primary source material from great voices that tell great stories. The book is complemented with illustrations, and a helpful glossary which includes the term, "Barney's Bull." The term has an English /Canadian heritage and is slang for worthless. There is also a bibliography that can yield a lifetime of further reading. 

This book deserves the "Great Lakes Literary Heritage Award for 2018," if there was such an award. On second thought there is, I just created it. Ms. Brehm, your certificate will be in the mail shortly, along with a monetary prize up to, but not to exceed Barney's Bull. Seriously, this book should find shelf space on every medium-sized and larger library in the Great Lakes region and anyone with an interest in Great Lakes maritime history will find it totally engrossing.

White Squall: Sailing the Great Lakes by Victoria Brehm. Ladyslipper Press, 2018, $29.95.

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

Loren Estleman, Steve Hamilton, and the great Elmore Leonard are three of my favorite mystery authors not only because they are masters of the genre but because they set many of their mysteries in Michigan. The above trio is to blame for my longstanding, slavish devotion to constantly being on the lookout for new mysteries set in the state. So it's hard to explain how I missed the 2016 publication of A Dangerous Remedy. I just feel very lucky I somehow recently discovered it. 

The book is set on Beaver Island, the most remotely inhabited island in the Great Lakes. The author has used his literary license to make it Michigan's smallest and least populated county. Just the place for former Chicago policeman Matt Callahan, who is not sure he is ready to come out of his self-imposed withdrawal from society and attempt to restart his career as a police officer.

Matt Callahan is one of the most compelling characters in any novel or mystery I've read in some time. He is still healing, both physically and mentally, from a horrifically disfiguring wound. It is so bad he wears a mask over half his face from which scars peak out and hint at the devastation thrown acid has done to his face. For Callahan, the job of Sheriff of Nicolet County on Beaver Island seems like a quiet, undemanding, corner of northern Michigan to resume his life as a cop. Of course, it proves just the opposite and tests Callahan's strength of character, physical and emotional health, and whether he can still function as a cop and deal with imminent physical danger.

Callahan is a fully developed, fascinating character and his struggle to overcome his injuries are as involving as the deadly, and well-plotted mystery the island hides. Even the minor characters are believable and well drawn. The author has done a great job of capturing the essence of life in up north Michigan. Not the tourists on vacation, but the people who have lived there for generations or pulled up stakes and headed north to escape the rat race of urban life in southern Michigan.  Fee writes, "People in the Northwoods didn't so much as want to make it as to make do. Ambitions were less abstract and more concrete...they by and large aimed for community and connection with place. Their pace was steady and synchronized to the passing of the seasons." Or was until Callahan begins looking into three seemingly unrelated files mysteriously left on his desk by the last sheriff, with a note to the new lawman to make them a priority.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying mystery with a great sense of place. Anyone who reads it will impatiently await the next novel in the series.

Dangerous Remedy by Russell Fee. Boreas Press, 2016, $12.99

Of Things Ignored and Unloved: A Naturalist Walks Northern Michigan
by Richard Fidler

Written by a retired high school biology teacher, this book vividly reminds me of the many walks I took with my dear-departed friend Dick Derenzy, also a high school biology teacher. When you went for a walk with Dick he was constantly calling your attention to this or that plant, an insect, or small creature.  He'd then tell me a curious or interesting aspect of its life history, or how early homesteaders used that plant for scouring pots and pans, the curative effects of this plant, or the benefits or depredations of that little creature. Every walk with Dick Derenzy was both an education and a heightened appreciation of the natural world.

When I say that this book is as enjoyable and informative as a walk with Dick Derenzy I am paying it the highest of compliments. The reader gets the sense that the author is not sitting at a desk deciding which seemingly innocuous plant, or yuck inducing creature to write about, rather he's strolling through the backcountry of northern Michigan and writing about what he stumbles across.

Richard Fidler introduces the reader to the tiny parasites found in some of the most beautiful lakes in northern Michigan. During the creature's life cycle they pass through snails, lodge in the digestive tract of ducks who (to put it as delicately as possible) evacuate the creature into the lake where they cause swimmer's itch among bathers. He explains why and how leaves change color. He describes how leeches inject their victim - including humans - with both an anticoagulant and an anesthetic so the creatures will not be felt sucking your blood. Surprisingly, they are still used for medicinal purposes to increase flow to blood deprived parts of the body such as a reattached finger or toe.

Then there are the microscopic tardigrades, often called "water bears," that deserve to be included among comic book superheroes. They can be removed from the water, completely dried out and left in that state for years. Add a drop of water and they come back to life. You can't kill  Water Bears by freezing them to absolute zero, that's -273.15 degrees Celsius, or by boiling them. Scientists can't figure out where to fit them in the evolutionary tree. And if we didn't know enough about the sea lampreys Fidler tells us that Europeans ate them with great relish, or used to, and includes a Medieval recipe that sounds utterly disgusting. But evidently not to England's King Henry the 1st who ate himself to death gorging on sea lampreys.

Richard Fidler's inquisitive nature and fascination with the natural world shines through on every page. The book is almost as pleasant and enjoyable as a stroll through the woods and fields of northern Michigan, and Fidler will be sure you don't miss the easily overlooked or previously unknown natural phenomena that are always there but seldom seen or understood. 
Of Things Ignored and Unloved: A Naturalist Walks Northern Michigan by Richard Fidler. Mission Point Press, 2017, $15.95

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Post # 25

Quote for the day. "Those who sail the Lakes are men of iron -- men of iron nerve, iron will, and iron faith." William Ratigan, Great Shipwrecks and Survivors. 1977.


Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America
by Michael McCarthy

On the morning of July 24, 1915, 2,500 men, women, and children dressed in their finery hurried aboard the SS Eastland, berthed on the Chicago River at South Water Street, for a short voyage to Michigan City, Indiana where the Western Electric Company of Chicago would hold its annual employee picnic. The last passengers had just boarded the huge passenger liner, which was still tied to the pier when the great ship first tipped one way, recovered and rolled in the opposite direction. Then it tipped yet again, its shorelines snapped and in the blink of an eye, the Eastland capsized. It would prove to be the worst maritime disaster in Great Lakes history with 844 fatalities including the deaths of 22 entire families. Ashes Under Water is the masterfully told story of the disaster, the ship's troubled history, and the epic court battle in which the ship's owners tried to pin the blame for the tragedy on the Eastland's engineer, who was represented by Clarence Darrow, and several federal inspectors.

The Eastland was built in 1903 by a Port Huron shipbuilder for a South Haven, Michigan shipping company. The newly formed company hoped to entice fares from the town's growing number of tourists from Chicago and to ship fruit from the area's bountiful orchards to the huge market lying just across the lake. But South Haven presented a navigation problem the ship had to overcome. Just offshore of South Haven's port was a sandbar that wouldn't allow the passage of large ships with deep drafts. As the author deftly explains the solution was water as ballast which could be pumped in or out of huge holding tanks. Pump out the ballast and the ship passes over the sandbar and then the tanks are filled. With the ballast restored the ship rides properly through the seas. The water could also be pumped to side tanks to counter passengers or cargo causing the ship to list.

But pumping ballast in or out could get tricky and on two occasions the ship unexpectedly listed 25-degrees with screaming passengers and chairs sliding across the ship's deck. When the South Haven company went broke the Eastland was purchased by a Cleveland company to transport pleasure seekers from that city to Cedar Point sixty miles to the west. The ship got such a poor reputation for safety the company ran ads and posted rewards for anyone who could prove it unsafe. Once again the ship failed to make money and was sold to a St. Joseph, Michigan company hoping to attract more Chicagoans to their resort town known as, "The Coney Island of the West." Less than a year after purchasing the Eastland it turned turtle in Chicago.

The author has written an enthralling, authoritative, and a heart-breaking account of the Eastland's Great Lakes career and paired it with the story of the ship's chief engineer's career. Joseph Erickson was an immigrant who worked tirelessly to become accredited as a chief engineer. On the day of the tragedy he showed himself a hero and as payment, the owners of the company tried to hang the responsibility for the ship's demise around his neck. Great Lake sailors contributed enough money to hire Clarence Darrow as his lawyer.

Michael McCarthy spent years researching this book and it shows on every page. It is an important contribution to Great Lakes and Michigan history, in addition to being an immensely readable and moving story.
Ashes Under Water by Michael McCarthy. Lyons Press, 2018, $25.95

She Stopped for Death
by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

Beaver Falls is a fictional Michigan village located somewhere between Kalkaska and Mancelona and yet a stone's throw from Lake Michigan. The quiet little village has more than its share of eccentrics and topping the list is Emily Sutton, a once-famous poet, who seems nuttier than a bag of pistachios. The poet lives in near total seclusion in an old family home down the street from Dora Weston whose yard sports one of those little libraries on a post where readers can leave a book and take a book.

Living with Dora is her daughter Jenny who has come home to lick her wounds after a painful divorce. Their constant visitor, friend, and next door neighbor is the irascible Zoe Zola, a Little Person, who writes big books on famous literary figures. The threesome often enjoy an evening sitting on Dora's front porch shooting the breeze and catching up on Beaver Falls gossip. One evening as they're discussing village affairs a shadowy figure totters down the street in an ankle length old dress, walks up to the little library, and instead of leaving and taking a book just leaves a sheaf of papers.

When Dora checks the little box she discovers hand-written poems. Dora, Jenny, and Zoe are agog over the apparent re-emergence of a celebrated poet. As an act of friendship, Jenny and Zoe visit Horizon Books in Traverse City and select a sampling of current poets and leave the books on Emily's porch. Emily returns the next night to Dora's porch and tells the trio she appreciated the books and needs help.  Emily's sister who lived with her for years has run off with a man, and a cousin from Traverse City who dropped off her groceries has unexplainably quit. Would someone do her grocery shopping? Zoe reluctantly volunteers and soon begins to suspect Emily and her self-imposed isolation are even stranger than they appear.

The news of Sutton's appearance back in the world takes Beaver Falls by storm and a poetry reading is set up by the village's lone grand dame and a soldout reading is booked for the Traverse City Opera House. Ah, but the train is about to leave the tracks. A gruesome murder leads back to Beaver Falls, the Beaver Falls reading is just plain weird, and Emily Sutton is moving the needle from eccentric to completely unhinged. 

Buzzelli writes with a keen eye for character, sharp wit, clever literary asides, and knows smalltown life in northern Michigan. The pace is leisurely and the plot builds from the quaintly odd to a full-blown novel of terror with a great twist at the end. This is billed as a cozy mystery and I just don't understand the term. What's cozy about a mystery, unless it's where did that darling cat find that ball of soft and fuzzy Alpaca yarn?  A third mystery in the series is due out this fall.

She Stopped for Death by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli. Crooked Lane Books, 2017, $25.99

Secret Detroit: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure
by Karen Dybis

In the introduction to this consistently engaging and wonderfully eccentric book the author defines secret, "as something unusual, surprising, or extraordinary." At first glance, the book includes many famous and well-known sites, places, and attractions like  Comerica Park or the Detroit Public Library, either of which hardly qualifies as secret by any definition. But no matter how well known the site, place, or thing the author more often than not, manages to surprise the reader with something they were previously unaware of. Or in other words, surprise readers with the unusual or extraordinary. 

Then there are the places one never heard about before cracking this book. Like the 2.2 acre Beth Olem Jewish Cemetery, founded in 1860, that is completely surrounded by GM's Poletown Plant. It is open to the public twice a year and visitors must pass through plant security gates. Or, the revelation that one of the last remaining Negro League ballparks in the country can be found in Hamtramck. Attempts are underway to preserve the crumbling structure and turn it into a  community park and a monument to the Negro Leagues.

The author doesn't turn a blind eye to Detroit's history of racism and segregation. I'd heard about the 8-mile Wall that a developer built to separate a black neighborhood from a new, lily-white subdivision. But I didn't know that the Federal Housing Administration and the Home Owners Loan Corp. refused to approve loans to the white-only project unless the developer built the wall. It still stands as a memorial to institutional racism and today is decorated with murals.

Also found in the book is Baker's Keyboard Lounge, the world's oldest continuously operated jazz club. Detroit's famous Elmwood Cemetery where the famous and near famous lie in perpetual rest in a cemetery that received accreditation as an arboretum and offers regular tours of its plantings. Also found in the book is a Mortuary Science Museum, the state's largest used and rare bookstore, a parking garage built in a former theater, Detroit's oldest house, Detroit's Jewish bathhouse dating to the 1930s, and St. Anne Catholic Church, the second oldest Catholic parish in the USA. 

There are 90 sites in this fascinating book. Each write-up is succinct, informative, and quickly gets to the essence of why the site has been included in the book. Open the book to any page and it's like opening a bag of Better Made Potato Chips (also in the book), you just can't stop diving back into the book or bag.

Secret Detroit: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Karen Dybis. Reedy Press, 2018, $20.95


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Post # 24

Quote for the Day: "Flint may be the most egregious modern-day example of environmental injustice." Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See. 2018.


What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City
by Mona Hanna-Attisha

It is assumed that one of the primary responsibilities of local, state, and national government, through their numerous health and regulatory agencies, is to protect and ensure the health and safety of its citizens. This is the story of the total failure at all levels of government to protect the men, women, and children of Flint from lead poisoning via their community drinking water. The story is told by the Flint pediatrician, and her team of friends and colleagues who fought to alert Flint to this catastrophic health issue and make Flint, Genesee County, the State of Michigan, and the national government stop the poisoning of Flint by its own water department and deal with the serious health consequences that will affect thousands of Flint children for years to come.    

I was born and raised in Flint and spent nearly half my adult life living and working there. I followed the news closely of the poisoning, the cause, and its far-reaching implications as they were reported. I thought I knew most of the story.  But Dr. Hanna-Attisha's inside account of the crisis rocked me. At times I had to put the book down because I couldn't read through my tears and more than once I became too outraged and upset to read another word. At its heart, this is a book about how the lives of Flint's adults and especially its children were devalued by the very people empowered and entrusted with their well being. It wasn't just a failure of government it was criminal malfeasance. It was also a case of overt institutional racism. The previous sentence was the conclusion reached by a five-member state panel tasked with "reviewing actions regarding water use and testing in Flint."

Dr. Mona, as she is known by her patients, is as good a writer as she is an activist for the public good. The book reads like an edge-of-your-seat thriller as she chronicles her dawning awareness of  Flint's lead poisoning. She was fully aware of the terrible long-term effects lead poisoning would have on the young but the more she tried to make public health officials aware of the crisis the more they discredited her and lied to the public. The book is absolutely gripping reading and the author does a great job of weaving her family history and home life into the story.

The book is a shoo-in for inclusion in Michigan's Notable Book List and deserves consideration for a Pulitzer Prize. It is the best book I've read this year and the most important. And I fully admit I am biased. Long before I read the book I considered Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha a personal hero and, however doubtful in the current political climate, this proud immigrant from Iraq and U.S. citizen deserves a Presidental Medal of Freedom.  And if you don't believe it can happen in your city you could be dead wrong. Flint was the canary in the coal mine. If it wasn't for Dr. Mona and her team of public health activists no one would have noticed or acted upon the dead canary.

What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha. One World, 2018, $28.00

The Wreck
by Landon Beach

At the heart of this entertaining and suspenseful thriller is one of Michigan’s great historical mysteries that has gone unanswered for more than three hundred years. The author has done his research and cleverly woven that mystery and the solving of it as the engine that drives this novel of adventure.

School teacher Nate Martin and his wife Brooke spend their summers in an old beach house on the northern coast of Lake Huron that once belonged to his parents.  Michigan’s Sunrise Coast has traditionally been ignored by the wealthy but as available lakeshore property on the Lake Michigan side of the lower peninsula has become harder to find, the well-to-do discovered Lake Huron and its beautiful beaches. The coast the wealthy once looked down their noses at is presently becoming gentrified. This is the first novel or piece of non-fiction that I’ve read that describes the ever increasing shift from small, aging cottages to million dollar summer homes along northern US-23. The author is very good at capturing the feel, character, and charm of Up North small towns and cottage life on the big water.

On one of Nate’s morning strolls, he finds a peculiar and very out-of-place object on the beach. In trying to discover what the object is, where it could have come from, and if it is of any value he is told to look up Hutch, a Coast Guard retiree and widower, who lives up the coast from Nate and Brooke. The man is a bit of a curmudgeon, a jack of all trades has an interest in maritime history, and is estranged from his only daughter.

Nate’s discovery is of great interest to Hutch. The two men slowly become friends as they work to identify and research the object’s history and the adventure it soon leads them on.  The author does a great job of meticulously establishing a fictional resolution of Michigan’s 300-year-old mystery and describing the adventure that ensues. As news of what Nate might have found spreads it attacks the attention of violent men in search of some quick money. The main characters are fully drawn and several minor plot threads give them added dimension. The well thought out lead up to the climax burns like a slow fuse.

In fact, the build-up to the climax is so well drawn out the slam-bang abrupt ending comes as somewhat of a disappointment. I would have liked to have read a much more detailed account of how the villains arrived at the climactic scene. Instead, they were just there. I would have also liked more character development for the villains. Especially the singularly cold-blooded killer of which there was not even a hint as to his murderous side.

Landon Beach admits to wanting to entertain the reader which he does admirably in this his first novel. As an added bonus the reader is introduced to a very good description of the circumstances and the few basic facts surrounding one of the state’s great mysteries.
The Wreck by Landon Beach. Landon Beach Books, 2018, $11.99

Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War
by J.H. Kidd

Since its publication in 1908, this memoir of a cavalryman who served in the 6th Michigan has been considered a Civil War classic. J. H. Kidd dropped out of the University of Michigan as a freshman and with the help of his influential father was conditionally appointed an officer in the 6th Regiment of Michigan Cavalry. The condition? In 15 days he had to recruit and enlist 78 men into his company.  He did it in under 15 days and served throughout the war as a cavalry officer under George Armstrong Custer. As Custer rose from the command of the 6th  Cavalry to command of the only cavalry brigade in any of the Union armies made up of regiments from a single state, Kidd followed him up the chain of command from Lieutenant to Brigadier General.

The memoir was written years after the war and was based on Kidd’s many letters to friends and family during the war. The result is one the most thorough and vivid personal accounts of a cavalryman’s daily life in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield to come out of the war.  Skyhorse Publishing’s welcome reissue of the classic with an introduction by Paul Andrew Hutton will hopefully introduce new readers to the important contributions and the many sacrifices Michigan’s cavalry made in saving the Union. It will also cause readers to re-evaluate General Custer’s prowess as a leader and a soldier.

Kidd, who became a journalist after the war, is a fine writer. The book overflows with memorable passages from thumbnail sketches of the outstanding and memorable men he served with to descriptions of battles and their aftermath. Kidd wrote of his first sighting of Lincoln, “In appearance, he was as unique as his place in history…. .” Of his first glance at Custer, the author recalled his “appearance amazed if it did not for the moment amuse me.”
The regimental surgeon looked like a preacher and swore like a pirate and when he got on a roll the man “could congeal blood in one’s veins.”

When Kidd suffered his first wound in battle an ambulance carried him through the debris of the battlefield and he observed, “everything was suggestive of desolation, nothing of the glory of war.” He follows that with a devastating description of the field hospital and watching the slow, painful, and uncomplaining death of a trooper shot in the bowels who knew his wound was fatal. And like every other man who served under Custer, he thought the world of him.

This book belongs on the shelf of any Michigan Civil War buff. No, I take that back, this enduring classic belongs on the shelf of any Civil War buff.
The Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War by J. H. Kidd. Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, $14.99.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Post # 23

Quote for the day. "People in the U.P. really believe they have perfected life."
Roger McCoy, Channel 50 (Detroit) newscaster during a radio interview on WJR January 1, 1993.


Bad Optics
by Joseph Heywood

A new novel in the Upper Peninsula series featuring Conservation Officer Grady Service is always cause for celebration. If you are a lover of the U.P. and its culture, great storytelling, one-of-a-kind characters, and have even a slight interest in the work of Conservation Officers and you are not a fan of the Service Grady books it's because you have yet to read one.

This eleventh in the series literally takes off where the 10th in the series ended but the book can be read as a standalone. After a record-setting number of arrests by Grady Service during the last deer season, with the ride-along help of life-long poacher Limpy Allerdyce, Service is called to Lansing and is placed on administrative suspension that grows in length from month to month. At first, Grady believes it is political revenge. But as increased visitors and suspicious activities by untraceable businesses begin to regularly occur in the Mosquito Wilderness Area it looks like the suspension might have been a way to remove Service from interfering with someone claiming mineral rights to part of the area. 

Grady has spent his career guarding the wilderness area and keeping developers at bay. He also knows the Mosquito area holds a secret that could contribute to its own ruin. Suspension or no suspension Grady will not stand by and watch it happen. So along with a few friends, tips from a former female governor, and a collection of wonderfully weird and amusing minor characters Service wades into the political swamp in Lansing and chases around the U.P. in pursuit of who or what is trying to pry the mineral rights from the state.

Heywoods' plots are like bottle rockets that go off in all kinds of unexpected and exciting directions. His dialogue is sharp enough to cut and often very funny.  But it's his wonderful sense of place and rich character development, paired with the author's innate storytelling ability that makes his books such runaway successes. In Heywood's last two books the life-long poacher and backwoods idiot savant Limpy Allerdyce has grown from little more than a walk-on part in Heywood's earlier books to a major character and a  hilarious, cockeyed Dr. Watson to Gardy Service's Sherlock Holmes.  Limpy, the UPs famed deer poacher, had an epiphany (he would neither know what the word meant nor how to pronunciation it) in the previous book and became Grady's unofficial partner in catching other poachers.  He may have stopped killing deer but he regularly murders the English language with both outrageously original Yooperisms and his knack for mispronouncing words.  In Allerdyce's world misdemeanor becomes missingdemanners, felonies become falconies, and when physically challenged while sitting and made fun of for his age and small size he replied, "I play bigger than I sit..."

Joseph Heywood is a storyteller at the top of his craft. For the uninitiated, the eleven books in what the publisher calls "The Woods Cop Mysteries" is a sheer mountain of reading pleasure. If one were to ask Limpy if the latest book in the series is any good, he'd probably say, "Youse betcha, cross my harp."

Bad Optics by Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2018, $27.95

Michigan's C. Harold Wills
by Alan Naldrett & Lynn Lyon Naldrett

C. Harold Wills was a brilliant designer, engineer, and metallurgist who made significant contributions to the nascent Detroit automobile industry yet is probably almost unknown outside of knowledgeable automobile historians and aficionados. There appears to be no definitive biography of the man including this brief book which serves as a useful introduction to the influential car designer and manufacturer.

Wills attended post-high school night classes in metallurgy, mechanical engineering, and chemistry in Detroit in the late 1880s but it appears he was pretty much self-taught, and from childhood on had a talent for drafting. He was the first person Henry Ford hired when the Ford Motor Company was founded. Wills became Ford's right-hand man during the pre- WWI years. He designed and served as the chief engineer of Ford's Model T. Wills developed vanadium a light-weight alloy stronger than steel which was used extensively in the car, invented the transmission, and helped develop the Model T's four-cylinder engine. Wills also helped perfect Ford's assembly line by having a man drag a chassis, by rope, down the line while Wills attached doors and other parts to the car.

Although this is a biography of Wills the authors can't pass up interesting and intriguing automotive historical oddities.  The Dodge Brothers allowed kegs of beer in their plant and workers could partake of the suds while working. This was done so the plant didn't lose workers to bars during their shift. After instituting $5 a day pay Ford created a Sociology Department and posted rules of conduct that set limits for alcohol consumption, cleanliness, and what workers could spend their wages on. Agents called on homes of Ford workers to be sure rules were followed, monitored bank accounts, checked children's school attendance, and decreed any male over 22 who worked for Ford must be married.

After WWI Ford and Wills began drifting apart. Wills wanted to update and improve the Model T while Ford felt it was perfect as is. When Henry and his wife went to Paris, Wills built a new prototype to succeed the Model T. When Ford returned and saw the new model he tore the doors off and took a sledgehammer to the car. Ford also didn't like it that Wills shared his dividend check with fellow employees and didn't live a quiet and sedate lifestyle like the Fords. In 1919 the two parted ways and Wills started his own car company.

When the first Wills Sainte Claire rolled off the assembly line in 1921 the authors easily support their claim that it was a car ahead of its time. They point out it was precision engineered and made wide use of a new alloy that was lighter and stronger than steel which made for a very durable car. It also had a number of innovations including backup lights, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and a twin overhead cam. To house his workers Wills built the model city of Marysville that had paved streets, street lights, public parks, schools, churches and new homes with running water, indoor plumbing, and electric stoves. For unmarried workers, he built dorms with cafeterias that rivaled the finest colleges dormitories.

This short, quick read features an abundance of photographs and illustrations. It is a welcome introduction to and a fascinating portrait of an important automotive engineer, innovator, and visionary who for too long has been either ignored or forgotten. 

Michigan's C. Harold Wills by Alan Naldrett & Lynn Lyon Naldrett. History Press, 2018 $21.99

100 Things To Do On Mackinac Island Before You Die
By Kath Usitalo

I like everything about this book except the title. There are simply too many bucket list books or alternatively titled "100 Things to Do In (insert place name) Before You Die." I'm betting there is someone out there writing "100 Things To Do When Waiting in the Checkout Lane at Meijers Before You Die." These books imply your life or accomplishments are in part measurable by these books. 

That said, Usitalo’s second "100 Things to Do...." book is both a unique and often surprising guide to a one-of-a-kind place. Mackinac Island is unique in that it seamlessly, artfully, and maybe simply by happenstance combines history, soul-touching natural beauty, a time-machine trip to the past, fudge, crass commercialism, outstanding examples of the 17th and 18th Century architecture, and more fudge.
Usitalo’s descriptions of her select group of 100  Mackinac Island tourist spots, restaurants, historic sites, fun activities, shops, guided tours, adventures, and special events are concise (never more than a page long), enthusiastic, and capture the ambiance of the island and the attraction. Her recommended eateries include dinner-jacket-required dining to relaxed bar and grills where you can eat high off the hog at the island’s only BBQ joint, or partake of the delectable whitefish in any number of ways including the Seabiscuit CafĂ©’s Whitefish Reuben with coleslaw and Swiss on marbled rye. You can also drink yourself into a caffeine high at a coffee house or tip back a Michigan craft beer, mixed drink, or even a fudge cocktail at a number of quaint establishments.

The book is full of surprises for even those who visit regularly. There are three places to overnight with your dog and Fido rides free on any ferry. The island is home to one of the oldest (founded in 1884) family-owned grocery stores in the nation. You can square dance weekly at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, or visit a bar that does business in a building that dates back to 1780. The public library welcomes visitors who can peruse newspapers and magazines from an Adirondack chair on a deck overlooking the Straits. There are also kayak tours that last a half hour or include an overnight campout on Round Island. I especially liked the very thorough index and an appendix of suggested itineraries that range from Fun for the Family to Winter on the Island.

This is a handy, compact, and a valuable guide for fully experiencing and enjoying Mackinac Island.
100 Things To Do On Mackinac Island Before You Die by Kath Usitalo. Reedy Press, 2018, $16.

If you decide to purchase one of the above books, clicking the mouse on the book's cover will take you to Amazon where you can often buy the book for less than the list price. Purchasing a book by clicking on the cover also helps support this blog.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Post # 22

Quote for the day: "Those gulls that strolled the beach at Tawas Bay would eat anything. Anything. Anytime. Apples, hot dogs, smoked herring, Michigan dill pickles, Jewish dill pickles, garlic dill pickles, Name it, they'd eat it. They'd eat it even if it didn't have a name." Hazel Girard, Blow for Battens Corner, 1979.


American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Michigan
By Allen T. Chartier

Casual and intermediate Michigan birdwatcher’s will find this American Birding Association Field Guide a must-have book. It will not only help make Michigan bird identification easier but is filled with a treasure trove of information that will make the reader more knowledgeable and a better-informed birdwatcher.

The three hundred species detailed in the book include all the birds that visit or nest in the state annually plus a few rarities that are seen with some regularity over the years. The fewer birds to sort through than the hundreds listed in a field guide to the eastern United States makes it measurably easier to pick a bird out of a smaller lineup. And because the book is aimed at the beginning and intermediate birdwatcher the birds are not always arranged under the usual taxonomy which sorts them via evolution and relationship, but rather by similar looking

The book’s introduction will be of special interest to inexperienced birders. Sections discuss bird habitat in the state, tips on how to identify species, several pages of illustrations detailing bird anatomy, and an introduction to field marks and how to look for them. I especially liked an essay on birding throughout the year that highlights what to look for each month. A list of the state’s best birdwatching sites and a map on the front endpapers showing the general locations of state game areas, state parks, state wildlife areas, and National Wildlife Refuges will tempt the beginning birder to go in search of birds other than those seen in the backyard.

Each individual bird listing gives its size in inches and both common and Latin name. The listing usually features more than one photograph of the bird, discusses its general shape and size as compared to similar birds, habitat, behavior, and field marks. The narrative often highlights an unusual or interesting idiosyncrasy of the species' life history or character. At the back of the book, the reader will find an index and a complete checklist of every bird ever seen in Michigan, including the extinct Passenger Pigeon.

The best field guide to date on Michigan birds with a wealth of valuable information on how to improve your birding skills.
American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Michigan by Allen T. Chartier. Scott & Nix, 2018, $24.95

The Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: An Illustrated History
by Phil Porter

One's second or even the third visit to Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island can be as interesting and fascinating as the first because of the island fort's outstanding scenic beauty, historical significance, and the overwhelming palpable sense that you are walking in the footsteps of history. I don't remember how many times I've walked up the steep incline to the fort's entrance and stepped back in time but if I ever go there again I want to take this book with me because it puts faces on the fort's history. 

From 1780 to 1895 over 4,500 British and American soldiers were stationed at the fort. It was built by the British to control the fur trade and the Native American tribes that were both military allies and important contributors to the area's economy. Early in its history Fort Mackinac was the most important post in the upper Great Lakes. 

The book devotes a page each to approximately 150 enlisted men and officers who served at or commanded the fort during its military existence. There is a portrait, sketch, or photograph of each soldier followed by a paragraph that covers his military career and the years when he was stationed on Mackinac Island. In a few instances, a photograph or painting of the soldier's family or home is also included in this abundantly illustrated book. A twenty-plus page introductory essay gives a concise but thorough history of the fort.

In addition to England and America, soldiers came to the fort from Prussia, Chile, Ireland, and Scotland. They were a diverse and interesting lot. Lt. Governor Patrick Sinclair was appointed Superintendent of Fort Michilimackinac in 1775 but didn't reach the fort until 1779. He immediately realized the old French-built fort on the mainland was vulnerable to attack by colonial rebels and began construction of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. He spent so lavishly on its construction he was recalled to Quebec to explain his expenditures. Sinclair is the only subject in the book without a likeness other than a silhouette. Major Henry Burbeck was the first U.S. commander of the fort. When he arrived in 1796 he wrote, "I find this place abounds with health, rocks, and fish, that's the most I can say for it."

Among other officers that caught my attention was the uncle of the famous painter James Whistler, Lt. Smith whose brutal punishment of enlisted men, that went well beyond the military code and was inflicted without trials, sparked the famous "Christmas Day Mutiny" of 1829.  Several officers who served tours on the island resigned their commisions to join the Confederate army during the Civil War, including Lt. Pemberton who rose to the rank of General in the Confederacy and punctuated the end of his military career by surrendering Vicksburg to General Grant in 1863.  Then there's Ordinance Sgt. David Marshall the oldest and longest serving soldier at Fort Mackinac. He spent 61 years in the army of which nearly thirty were at Fort Mackinac where he died in 1884 at the age of 84.

The author is the Director of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. His agency working with the Michigan State University Press have together produced a beautiful and historically important book. 

The Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: An Illustrated History by Phil Porter. Mackinac State Historic Parks and Michigan State University Press, 2018, $39.95

Tuebor:  I Will Defend: Anatomy of a Michigan State Police Trooper
by Robert Muladore

The author, a twenty-five-year veteran of the Michigan State Police explains why he wrote the book in the preface’s first paragraph. He wanted to give those considering becoming an officer a feel for what the job is about. Secondly, to pass along what he learned about law enforcement to new officers, and extend a “helping hand to experienced officers who may need a gentle reminder to help move them along on the path of a truly professional, caring, and effective police officer.”  Finally, to provide the public some insight into the daily rigors faced by police, to entertain, and pass along hard-earned life lessons. The author set high goals for himself and he clears the bar on every single objective.

Muladore divided his book into 40-plus short chapters. Each chapter recounts a traffic stop, an emergency call, an arrest, telling a family of a loved one's death, and routine duties that suddenly became potentially dangerous and deadly. The stories span the author’s career and he picked them because he considers they were learning experiences that made him a better trooper. They are also great examples of the narrow margin between life and death within which police do their daily job.

The stories in the book are riveting and cover the entire spectrum of emotional involvement. When Muladore had to inform parents their child died in a car accident the father performs an extraordinary act of kindness for Muladore. Realizing how hard it is to be a bearer of such news he relieves Muladore of his burden and in a way comforts him. Then there is the routine traffic stop in which the rich Grosse Pointe couple are both obviously drunk. When Mulaodore relaxes and lowers his guard the husband throws him to the ground and tries to take his gun.

Muladore is a very good storyteller and it is clear that he is the consummate police officer. What shines through almost every story is the author’s admonition to would-be police or rookie cops to never let your guard down, always be alert, and let your sixth sense guide you when something doesn’t ring true or seem right. It is a job of constant stress but the author repeatedly asserts a good cop never lets that get in the way of being respectful, compassionate, or apathetic toward the public.

It is also obvious that any officer who servers even a few years will develop PTSD. Muladore admits the faces of the dead are always with him and he has regular nightmares related to the job. He has been threatened with death by numerous men he arrested and even after retirement he is constantly on the lookout for familiar faces who might try to harm him or his family. Of note, in an afterward Muladore laments and condemns both the use of force that results in police shooting unarmed citizens and the cold-blooded murder of policemen.

This is an honest and revealing portrait of the professional life of one of Michigan’s finest.
Tuebor: I Will Defend: An Anatomy of a Michigan State Police Trooper by Robert Muladore. Principia Media, 2016, $16.99


Friday, June 1, 2018

Post #21

Quote of the day: "[In Calumet] the company owned everything: the mines, the school, the library, the stores, the hospital, the coal supply, the water pumps, the garbage wagons, the church and the hymnbooks in the church. It owned the houses. It owned the red paint that added the identical finishing touch to every identical house. It owned the toilets." Robert Conot, describing Calumet during the 1870s in his book The American Odyssey.


The Recipe Box
by Viola Shipman

This is a love story. Love of food, baking, family, generational traditions, orchards, the Grand Traverse and Leelanau Peninsula area, recipes, and even old fashion romance.

Sam Nelson’s family owns one of those destination orchards that rim Grand Traverse Bay and entice locals and tourists to stop for pastries, cider and donuts, jams and jellies, and the choice of u-pick the fruit or buy it off the shelf. The orchard has been passed down through several generations of Nelsons and traditionally it’s been the mother of each generation who became the innovator and driving force behind change and renewal of the family business. The wife of the orchard’s founding couple kept a box of her favorite recipes and began the tradition of giving her daughter a copy of the recipe box when she turned thirteen.  

Although she loved the area, the family business, and was a natural at baking, Sam couldn't resist a desire to broaden her experience and see if her talents were good enough to make it on her own. Sam attended a culinary school in New York before being hired by a non-cooking TV celebrity chef who takes all the credit while berating his staff. Sam finally reaches the point where she can’t take anymore, quits, and heads for home to re-evaluate her goals and career path. Her mother and grandmother, co-managers the orchard's pastry shop and store, hope she's home for good. This all occurs in the book’s first forty pages. It takes another 280 very entertaining pages for Sam to decide whether to return to New York or stay and leave her imprint on the orchard as her mother and grandmother have.

Sam finds new joy in baking with her mother and grandma from the recipes handed down through the ages. As her grandmother explains, “The recipe box is the story of our lives, of where we come from, how we got here, and where we are now.” When the women bake a family recipe the narrative flashes back to earlier generations and how they managed to keep the business afloat in the Depression or when all the apple trees died off.  The characters are well-drawn, likable, and the reader can’t help but be pulled into their lives and the connectedness to their land and orchard. When a possible love interest from New York arrives at the orchard for a visit Sam's conundrum becomes more difficult.

The “Pure Michigan” campaign couldn’t have written a more glowing and alluring description of the Leelanau and Traverse Bay region. The beauty of the bay and the land around it literally leap off the page.  The book also contains mouth-watering recipes from the fictional Nelson family. The author lifted many of the recipes from his grandmother who was a great baker, the rest came from friends. The author took his grandmother's name as his pen name as a way of honoring her.

Frankly, this is not the kind of book I’m drawn to but it hooked me within a few pages. And I continued wolfing it down like a piece of coconut cream pie from Jesperson’s in Petoskey, even though I was pretty sure of Sam’s choice by the book’s mid-point.

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman. St. Martin's Press, 2018, $26.99

Notes from a Public Typewriter
edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti

In 2013 the newly married Michael and Hilary Gustafson, against the advice of nearly everyone, opened the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. From day one an old manual typewriter was placed in a quiet corner of the store with an empty piece of typing paper in the roller. There were no posted instructions, or rules. The silent, non-judgmental, no password necessary, archaic instrument of social and business intercourse welcomed anyone’s thoughts, feelings, or concerns who sat down and began striking its keys.

Initially, Michael posted the more interesting or funny pieces on what became known as the Wall of Fame.  Then a few of the best were painted on the store’s outside wall in an exact replica of an old Smith-Corona’s font. And finally, for the benefit of those, like myself, who seldom if ever make it to Ann Arbor, Michael Gustafson teamed up with Oliver Uberti to collect, organize, and send the most memorable heartfelt notes, jokes, or observations out into the world between the covers of a book. The collection is divided thematically and each chapter is preceded by a short and thoughtful essay on subjects ranging from old typewriters to the true story of Ann Arbor’s Violin Monster and his act of kindness toward a boy who left him a message on the typewriter.

The notes are funny, sad, joyful, sarcastic, and thoughtful. The old typewriters (the store's patrons have worn out several) seem to bring out the best in people. The click-clack of striking the keys and the letters hitting the paper is the sound of the anonymous revealing their inner thoughts or playing with their sense of humor. Some of my favorites include:

“I walked in expecting to fall in love with books, not the person I walked in with.”
“I wrote a letter to Santa today so he doesn’t think we only talk to him when we want something.”
“My mom used to be a mime. I just found out. She never mentioned it.”
“In loving memory of my older daughter Rachel, who died of cancer at age 26, a year before this store opened. I would get her lots of cookbooks, but….       I can’t.”
“If I had to write a five-paragraph essay on this thing, I would withdraw from middle school.”

This copy will be thumbed through daily as I look for a connection (however tenuous) with anonymous writers who touch my heart, make laugh, or renew my faith in humanity by banging away at an old typewriter.
Notes from a Public Typewriter, edited by Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti. Grand Central Publishing, 2018, $18

Inside Upnorth: The Complete Tour, Sport, and Country Living Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area and Leelanau County
by Heather Shaw, Jodee Taylor, Tom Carr

I like the way the amount of information on enjoying, appreciating, and seeking out the unusual in the Traverse Bay area and the Leelanau Peninsula has been crammed into this fun and informative book with a shoehorn. The authors even boast that this is a "complete guide" and challenge the reader "to find one as thorough."

Within, the reader will find walking tours of Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, guides to area golf courses, restaurants, the best coffee houses, craft breweries, hiking and skiing areas, farm markets, orchards, natural areas, and historic sites of interest.  I especially liked the list of 63 summer festivals and concerts in the wider area. Then there are the many how-tos or instructional entrees such as: How to Pee in the Woods, (the following pun was avoidable but I couldn't) How to Harvest Leeks, How to Parallel Park, How to Cast a Fly-Line (which it fails to do), How to Plow Your Driveway, and, in a mere two pages, How to Build a Canoe.

The book warns that global warming may be the end of the area's cherry orchards and affect the production of Maple syrup. It seems warmer weather makes Maple syrup less sweet. Fifty years ago it took 25 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup, today it takes 50 gallons. The danger of the Enbridge Pipeline also gets a few lines. 

Almost every page in the book has the potential to surprise. A lot of the surprises come from the authors' intimate knowledge of the area but some are the result of the book's strange organization and lack of an index. Thumbing through the book I came upon a nude beach but neither chapter headings or an index led me there or helped me find the page again. On one page the book warns that Lake Michigan can be very dangerous for swimming because of rip tides. Dozens of pages later there is a warning about the danger of the big lake's many sandbars. Their distance offshore can be misleading and often swimmers will find themselves in water over their heads long before reaching the shallower sandbar.  Poor swimmers can find themselves in dire straits. These two warnings should be on the same page. I was disappointed in not finding a guide to private campgrounds, Traverse City's food trucks, or a comprehensive listing of the best swimming beaches in the area. 

The greater Traverse City area and Leelanau County hold a world of adventure, an indelible scenic beauty, great food and drink, enough shopping to max out a Platinum credit card, and hordes of people who come for all of the above. If you don't believe it, just thumb through this attractive, entertaining, and one-of-a-kind guidebook.
Inside Upnorth: The Complete Tour, Sport, and Country Living Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area and Leelanau County, by Heather Shaw, Jodee Taylor, Tom Carr. Mission Point Press, 2018, $16.95

Leelanau by Kayak: Day Trips, Pics, Tips and Stories of a Beautiful Michigan Peninsula
by Jon R. Constant with Larry Burns

The author is a retired high school teacher and coach from the Traverse City area who became a devoted kayaker who with his friend, a more experienced kayaker, decided in their mid-sixties to kayak the Leelanau Peninsula in its entirety. Meaning the pair kayaked around the peninsula on Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay and then apparently launched their kayaks on any body of water or stream big enough to float their boats.

The book is both the story of their grand adventure and a guide for kayaking either around the peninsula or any of its inland lakes and streams. For the novice kayaker, he lists the necessary equipment from the size of a kayak best suited for the big lake to all the esoteric paraphernalia needed for the paddler, including the paddle. The author fills nearly two pages on just preparing for a kayak outing and offers valuable safety tips which include being very cautious and conservative on the big lake, don't kayak alone, check and recheck the weather before leaving home, and stay close to shore. 

The kayakers grand adventure was accomplished solely by day trips over the course of three years. Each day trip is treated as a chapter in which the author gives a short introduction to the area being paddled. Then covers specifics such as the date of the trip, the location, access points for launching the kayaks, the planning, time and distance of the voyage.  Under the heading "Features," the author recounts the history of the villages, ghost towns, shipwrecks and other places of interest their kayaks take them. This section also includes vivid descriptions of the landscape and natural beauty that unfolds before them with every stroke. Accompanying the text is an abundance of photographs recording each day's journey.

Anyone considering kayaking this corner of Michigan should consider the book a must, and if the reader is not a kayaker they may well be tempted to give it a try after dipping into the book.

Leelanau by Kayak by Jon R.Constant with Larry Burns. Mission Point Press, 2018, $21.95

If you decide to purchase one of the above books clicking the mouse on the cover of the book will take you to Amazon where you can often buy it for less than the listed price. Purchasing a book by clicking on an above cover also helps support this blog.



Post # 26

Quote for the day: "The statistics from this era [19th Century], which some historians portray as the romantic age of sail, are chillin...