Monday, February 26, 2024

 Post # 93 February 26, 2024

Quote for the Day: "In this uncertain climate the hopes of the eager watcher for spring are doomed to many and many a disappointment." Bela Hubbard. Memorials of a Half-Century in Michigan and the Lakes Region. 1888.


His Sword A Scalpel: General Charles Stuart Tripler MD, USA. Jack Dempsey, ed.

The Civil War ended more than a 150 years ago and an estimated 60,000 books have been written about it. Even with that many books on the subject the Michigan Civil War Association shows it is still a fertile ground to plow by writers and researchers. This is the first biography of an army doctor who was instrumental in organizing and building the medical wing of the Army of the Potomac. 

Charles Stuart Tripler was born in 1806 in New York, graduated medical school in 1827, went to West Point and was commissioned an assistant surgeon in 1830. He served in various posts including Detroit where he met his wife and made Michigan his home. He was a distinguished battlefield surgeon in the Mexican-American War and just prior to the Civil War wrote A Manual of the Medical Officer of the Army of the United States and Hand-Book of the Military Surgeon. Both books proved to be indispensable to the influx of doctors with no experience as battlefield surgeons or the general campground duties of a regimental doctor. The Battle of Bull Run proved the medical service incapable of caring for the wounded. Days after McLellan was handed the reins to the Army of the Potomac Tripler was ordered to Washington and appointed Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac.

I found this well-written book endlessly interesting because it describes an aspect of the war I have read little about. I was especially fascinated by the description of Triplet's gargantuan task of reorganizing the Army of Potomac's medical forces. This ranged from redesigning ambulances, to accrediting regimental surgeons, determining all the equipment needed for frontline hospitals, how to requisition materials, sanitary campground duties, advice on how to treat certain wounds and dozens of other duties. I was also absorbed by the description of how the wounded were cared for on the peninsula campaign because the army was frequently on the move battle after battle. I have read almost nothing on that part of the campaign. The book paints General Triplet as a man of sterling character and devoted to providing the best care for the wounded. It is a shame he wasn't treated better for his service to his country and the thousands of wounded who received better medical care due to his leadership.

This book is a major contribution to the history of Michigan in the Civil War and a fine testament to an all but forgotten Michigan Civil War hero. And here's hoping the Michigan Civil War Association finds more overlooked subjects and events in the War Between the States worthy of publication.

His Sword A Scalpel: General Charles Stuart Tripler, MD, USA. Jack Dempsey ed. Mission Point Press, 2023, 289p., $24.95.

Church Lady Chronicles: Devilish Encounters by Terri Martin

No writer in the Upper Peninsula has a better formula for mixing satire with slapstick comedy and producing grins, chuckles and laughter than Terri Martin. Much of her success is due to inventing  a uniquely oddball Yooper characters strong enough to feature in and become the narrator of a book of short stories. In this specific case we are talking about Bea Righteous a loyal member of the Budworm United Methodist Church (BUMC) who has voluntarily appointed herself a keen-eyed watchdog dedicated to keeping a cunning Satan from slipping into her congregation. 

Bea Righteous sees Satan's influence everywhere and her attempts to rid him from the church and her fellow worshipers is often disastrous and always humorous. The good lady is the equivalent of a tack on a pew for all her fellow church goers and even the minister who she endlessly pesters. This includes telling him he must stop working on a eulogy and go find the person who took up two parking places. The Devil made him do it and it must be stopped. The author could have easily turned Bea into one an irritating and unlikeable holier than thou characters. Instead she's a wonderfully comic character totally unaware of her helplessly funny self righteousness.  

One of my favorites stories is the account of the consequences resulting from Miss Righteous bringing a tray of deviled eggs (what was she thinking) to a church buffet. Bea carried the Devil in the door and the result was two injured, all the food abruptly parting company with the tables, and an attempted theft squished (it seems the appropriate word) by Bea. Who by the way has an almost ironclad excuse that relieves her of even an iota of responsibility for the Deviled Egg Affair. This is a comic gem.
Church Lady Chronicles: Devilish Encounters by Terri Martin. Gnarly Woods Publications, 2020, 136p., 

Murder for Treasure: Booty is in the Eye of the Beholder by Dave Vizard

This is the seventh novel featuring Bay City journalist Nick Steele and it is both a compelling mystery
and a realistic portrayal of how journalists research and build a story. This story begins when a widow  askes Steele to look into the death of her husband. It was ruled an accidental death but the widow is sure her husband was murdered. Nick Steele is moved by the widow's certainty and his journalistic curiosity leads Steele into a tale of five friends who decades earlier recovered a treasure from a ship that went down just north of Saginaw Bay in 1871. Two of the five friends have recently died. Both deaths were ruled accidental but Steele and his journalist partner find the rulings very questionable. 

The author is a retired journalist and writes authoritatively on how a paper's newsroom operates and makes Steele's dogged pursuit of the story seem very realistic. The ship that went down with the treasure, the R. G. Coburn, was an actual 193-foot steamer that sank on October 15, 1871 just north of Saginaw Bay in a storm with a loss of 32 passengers and all but one of her crew. The wreckage has never been found. It is  unknown if the Coburn carried a fortune in gold but I like the fact that the author tied his story to a dramatic piece of local history. The reporter's dedication to their story gets them in trouble in the newsroom and local agencies when their investigation uncovers shoddy work by city and county employees. There are surprising revelations and plot twists every few pages and the closer Steele and his partner get to the truth the more danger they face.

The author has a knack for making even minor characters believable and interesting. It was also a  pleasure to read a well-written novel set against the beautifully painted backdrop of Saginaw Bay and the Thumb area. It will leave readers with an itch to explore the southeast coast of the Saginaw Bay area. And this reviewer is left impatiently waiting for the 9th novel in the Nick Steele series.

Murder for Treasure: Booty is in the Eye of the Beholder by Dave Vizard. Independently published, 2023, 259p., $15.95.

Classic Restaurants of Michiana by Jane Simon Ammeson

This odd but interesting book is filled with the unexpected and contains almost none of the expected. First off, for readers unfamiliar with or never heard of Michiana it is an area in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana most frequently used by radio and TV stations who broadcast within that area and businesses trying to draw customers over state lines. The heart of the area is comprised of seven counties of which only Berrien and Cass are in Michigan. Secondly, this is not a guide to great eating in Michiana but a history of restaurants within the area beginning with stage coach stops.

The book is filled with a stew of interesting historical and gastronomical tidbits from how codfish were shipped fresh from the east coast to a stage stop in Michigan and were still edible. The cod were made into codfish balls when the stage stop was established in 1836 and it's the oldest business in Michigan still doing business in its original building. Today you can't get a codfish ball at the Old Tavern Inn  cheeseburgers are recommended. The author does a good job of describing early stage coach stops and all manner of eateries up to roughly to the turn of the 21st century. I was impressed by the number of swank motels and resorts that sprung up along Lake Michigan and inland lakes during the 1930s and found it surprising they did so well in the Depression. The book even includes long gone soda fountains, food carts, and drive-ins. I find it somewhat amusing this is a guide, by and large, to restaurants you can't eat in because they no longer exist. 

Ah, but there are fascinating chapters on the religious group the House of David and their various restaurants, including a vegetarian one, their fine gardens and theme parks, and a famous barnstorming baseball team. Not sure how his got into classic restaurants but there's a chapter on Al Capone getaways here and I must admit it makes good reading. But back to food. There is a nice chapter on the influence of immigrants on area eateries from Chinese and German restaurants to Greek diners.

Obviously this was not the book I expected when cracking the cover. But it proved to be interesting, informative, and full of photographs, historical menus, and surprising pleasures. In an imperfect tally there seems to be more Michigan sites than those from Indiana.

Classic Restaurants of Michiana by Jane Simon Ammeson. American Palate, 2023,157p., $24.99.

Monday, January 22, 2024

 Post # 92  January 22, 2024

Quote for the Day: The Keweenaw Peninsula is, "... a mere thumb of land poked like a testing finger into the cold, blue waters of Lake Superior. is as scenically -- and historically -- exciting as any spot in the United States. Angus Murdock. Boom Copper. 1943.


Mysterious Michigan: The Lonely Ghost of Minnie Quay, The Marvelous Manifestations of Farmer Riley, The Devil in Detroit and more by Amberrose Hammond

The word mysterious in the title of this consistently fascinating book covers a lot of ground. Peculiar, haunting, paranormal, unexplainable, incomprehensible, and just plain weird all fit nicely. Many of the stories deal with ghosts and the fascination of communicating with the dead, which the author explains grew in popularity with the birth of the Spiritual movement in the 1840s. Grand Rapids was an early hot bed of spiritualism and crackpot mediums. One of which talked a widow into giving  much of her wealth to her medium because she would soon be meeting her husband. The medium failed to explain it would be by way of poisoning. Not to be outdone a Detroit medium talked a sucker out of most his money then murdered him. My favorite is the story of Michigan's richest man. He died in 1875 leaving behind a divorced wife and a current one. Of course they went to trial contesting the will and one of the parties called a witness who took the stand and promptly went into a trance.

The author presents some memorable hauntings and ghost stories. One of the best concerns the ghost of Minnie Quay. Minnie was 15 and lived in a small village in the Thumb bordering the west coast of Lake Huron. One day she caught the eye of a sailor and whenever he was in town they could be seen walking together. Vicious rumors started circulating including that she was pregnant. When the rumors reached her parents they didn't believed their daughter's denials. Embarrassed, heartbroken, and ridiculed by the town she drowned herself. They say her lonely ghost can be seen walking the shoreline looking for her sailor. An autopsy proved she was a virgin. It was a local legend until a lumberjack composed a song about Minnie that spread her sad story across the state. And because of the song her story became part of Michigan's folklore. It is surprising how many of the ghostly accounts in this book have become Michigan folklore including the Devil in Detroit.

Hammond also presents several mind boggling, unexplainable paranormal stories. A home in Jackson had a poltergeist. Anything not nailed down could coming flying across the room. University professors came to witness and stayed to study it. Then there is the female dentist from Bay City who let spirits use her hands to paint stunning surrealistic paintings. She usually never even looked at the canvas while hand and brush moved across it. Critics raved about the paintings and they were hung in some of New York's finest galleries. Spirits answered questions through her and accurately predicted the future.  She defied explanation.

From haunted roads, mysterious lights, monsters, a witch killer, to 1920 when Ouija Boards out sold bibles in Ann Arbor this is a great ghostly read. 

Mysterious Michigan: The Lonely Ghost of Minnie Quay, The Marvelous Manifestations of Farmer Riley, The Devil in Detroit and more by Amberrose Hammond. History Press, 2022, 158p., $21.99. 

Brockway Mountain Stories: The History of Brockway Mountain Drive and Keweenaw Mountain Lodge by Paul LaVanway

Originally this book was two separate publications and their titles make up this book's subtitle. They first appeared as a series of stories in the Keweenaw County Historical Society's publication "The Superior Signal" before being published as booklets. Long out of print, the booklets have been reprinted and updated. They tell the stories of two Keweenaw County's most striking and memorable tourist attractions. Both have become state treasures, were work relief projects of  the Great Depression, and  significant in proving that the tourist industry could replace the playout and closed copper mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula and county.

The Brockway Mountain Drive is the highest above-sea-level road between the Alleghenies and the Rockies. To call it scenic is a gross under statement. The road climbs the spine of Keweenaw's West Bluff for one of the most beautiful and spectacular views in the Midwest. In one direction the bluff slopes down in a green carpet of trees to Lake Superior that spreads to the horizon. The immensity, and the shifting hues of the Great Lake is jaw dropping. On the other side of the road the West Bluff drops way in a near vertical wall of rock. Wherever you look the view is stunning and unforgettable. The scenic road was first suggested in the 1920s. But planning and construction didn't begin until the Great Depression work relief programs made them possible. The book is a detailed history of the planning and creation of the road. It was built by hand except for two work horses, "Nick & Dickie." 

The Great Depression proved disastrous for Keweenaw County with 75.2 percent of the population on relief. It was the highest in the country. In 1933 the Civil Workers Administration (CWA) asked states for submissions for public projects of lasting value. The Keweenaw County Road Commission was awarded funding for a Keweenaw Park and Golf Course. Thirty years later it was renamed the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. The site selected was 1 mile southeast of Copper Harbor on a heavily wooded plateau overlooking Lake Superior. The site set the tone for the lodge. The lodge reflected the Arts and Craft Movement and camp architecture. Over 18,000 trees were cut for the fairways with pine and spruce logs debarked and set aside for the clubhouse. The hardwoods were given to the workers as firewood. The book covers the history of the Mountain Lodge in detail from public ownership to private and back to public, its expansion, discovery by the middle class after WWII, and its effect on area tourism.

This is an important addition to Michigan history and should garner readership from the thousands who have visited these two remarkable sites.

Brockway Mountain Stories: The History of Brockway Mountain and Keweenaw Mountain Lodge by Pail LaVanway. Mudminnow Press, 2023, 90p., $25.95.

A Father's Arms: A Diary by Captain Robert A. Maynard

The author spend nearly a year in constant combat either on or near the front lines during WWII. He survived Anzio, the invasion of the southern France, and the hard fought battles when the Allies finally set foot on German soil. When he returned home and for many years thereafter he avoided talking about his war times experiences. In 1980 when he retired from Cadillac and moved to Suttons Bay, partly from memory and partly from a diary he kept for a year in combat, Capt. Maynard wrote his wartime diary. He says he wrote it for his family and hopped it would be handed down to future generations. It will be and not just because his daughter had it published. This book is a living testament to the men who served our country and sharply illustrates that those who survived WWII carried it with them for the rest of their lives. It is also a testament to the remarkable character and devotion to duty of the author.

This slim book is filled with great stories, plenty of photographs, and concludes with a profound question. After Pearl Harbor he tried to enlist in both the Navy and Marines but failed to pass their physicals. So he tried the Army. He was told to strip naked and sit in a small room and await the doctor. The doctor opened the door, didn't enter the room, and told to Maynard to stand up then bend and touch his toes. That was the physical and he passed it. He quickly learned Army rules. One of which was, "Do as the Army does, not what you think is best." Then there is the memorable experience of taking communion at Anzio while being the target of German artillery. He was trained as a field artillery officer but when he reached Europe he was transferred to tank destroyers. Why, because they found tank destroyers were often used as supplementary artillery and it was easier to train field artillery officers to be tank destroyer officers than the other way around. 

In the final piece of the book he graphically describes seven times during combat his life hung by a  single thread of a spider's web. Like the time he and two others heard an incoming artillery round and all three dove for the same small depression. The round exploded and knocked Maynard senseless. He somehow was the first into the slim dip in the earth. The other two who landed on top of him were dead. How had he survived seven separate occasions during the war when death seemed certain? It is a profound question that seems unanswerable. He must have lived with it for the rest of his life. 

Robert Maynard's children have stipulated that all proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to to the Veterans of Foreign Wars of Michigan. 

A Father's Arms: A Diary by Captain Robert A. Maynard. Mission Point Press, 2023, 125p., $29.95.

Detroit Style Pizza: A Doughtown History by Karen Dybis

A Detroit style pizza, who knew? I sure didn't, even when I'd eaten one. But I knew what I'd just ate was different and awfully good. This book is nothing less than a culinary history of the Detroit style pizza from its originator to chefs who have taken the humble pizza to the level of high cuisine.

Gus Guerra the owner of Buddy's Pizzeria is given credit for serving the first Detroit style pizza in 1946. His mother-in-law is said to have brought the recipe from Sicily where it was a traditional Sicilian street pizza. They tinkered with the recipe endlessly before putting it on the menu where it quickly became a hit. The steps in making a Detroit style pizza differ significantly from making the traditional pie. First comes the dough which has a higher water-to-flour content than the average pizza dough. Next Pepperoni is pressed into the dough. Cheese is the next layer. It is a blend of shredded or cubed brick cheese spread to the very edges of the pan. Finally a light tomato sauce is  carefully ladled over the cheese or applied by flicking it off the end of a spoon. Some pizzerias apply the sauce before baking the pie while others add it after the pie is baked. Either before or after the pie is baked in a square pan, with high sides that are slightly angled outward.

The book does a nice job of covering the chefs who have refined and added their own touches to the Detroit style pizza since it was introduced in the 1940s. It also clearly explains why it is a recognizable  style the equal of either the Chicago or New York styles. The book presents a short history of Russo's chain of take out Detroit style pizzas. That's where I got my first taste of one and probably I'm just one of thousands. The Detroit style became known world wide when it won first prize in the 2012 World Pizza Expo. In a fitting conclusion an appendix contains recipes for a Detroit style pizza sauce and The "Loui Loui" Detroit Style Pizza with "Assembly, Baking and Finishing Procedures."

Detroit Style Pizza: A Doughtown History by Karen Dybis. American Palate, 2023, 145p., $23.99.


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

 Post #91  December 26, 2023

Quote for the Day: "...there's a fine line between Michigan and misery-- winter." Sonny Eliot. Michigan Living. September 1988.


Deus X by Stephen Mack Jones

A new novel featuring August Snow is always welcome because previous readers know from page one they will simply be swallowed up by Jones' narrative drive, great characters, intimate portrait of Detroit, and a plot that usually falls outside the norm for a private eye mystery. For the  uninitiated August Snow is an ex Detroit cop who was wrongly fired and and won a multimillion dollar law suit from the city. He is dedicated to restoring his old Mexicantown neighborhood, one house at a time, with the money won from his suit and only gets involved in a case at a friend's request.  

It's sadly a given that in any of the world's major religions violence is always committed both historically and currently in the name of God. And that appears to be the case when an aging, retired priest who Snow served as an altar boy and has been a life-long friend since appears to be on a Catholic fanatic's hit list. Snow becomes the priest's bodyguard while he figures out why a papal detective pries into the priest's life and tells Snow a group of Catholic fanatics are determined to eliminate priests whose moral corruption has hurt the image of Catholicism. The sinister papal rep tells Snow his friend may be on their list. The Bishop of the Detroit Archdiocese is not interested in helping the retired priest because all his attention is focused on an expected promotion to the Vatican. So Snow has to count on his wonderfully eccentric friends to keep Father Grabowski safe and help him discover why his friend's life is endangered. Snow's efforts to save his friend brings his own faith into question and his relationship with a church that may have lost touch with its people.

As per usual Snow has written a strikingly original and totally immersive novel. His effortlessly readable prose is as smooth as 30-year-old scotch and marked by memorable humor, razor sharp dialogue, great characters, an equally great portrait of Detroit, and slick attention-grabbing turn of phrases. This is so good on so many levels you simply don't want to miss it.

Deus X by Stephen Mack Jones. Soho Crime, 2023, 352p., $27.95.

Off the Hook: Off-Beat Reporter's Tales from Michigan's U.P. by Nancy Besonen

It takes a special person to write a weekly humor column year after year and decade after decade. There has to be times when life is not funny, you're just not in the mood to be humorous, or you simply can't think of a damn thing to satirize, or poke fun at. So hats off to Nancy Besonen because judging by this collection of her weekly columns in the L'Anse Sentinel she has a genuine talent for finding humor in everyday life. But then she does live in the U.P. where a well honed sense of humor is a necessity. 

The author is a keen observer, has a fine sense of the absurd, a talent for satire, and is just plain funny. In the "Mrs. U. P. Pageant" she is dismayed that there is no talent or swimsuit components. Meaning she can't impress the judges by field dressing a deer on stage, and was sure her three-year-old swimsuit purchased at Fleet Farm, "would have wowed the judges." She believes if Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived in the U.P. his famous poem's first line would have read, "It's spring, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of getting stuck in mud." My favorite is a column about area school districts inviting parents to take a MEAP test. She explains MEAP stands for Michigan Educational Assessment Program and writes: "The MEAP tests covers variations of the three Rs, and is administered to unsuspecting children whose parents callously decided to settle in Michigan."

Besonen's collection of weekly columns is a perceptive, wise, and an unfailingly funny reality check on the Yooper world. Her columns alone make it worth subscribing to the L'Anse Sentinel.

Off the Hook: Off-Beat Reporter's Tales  from Michigan's U.P. by Nancy Besonen. Modern History Press, 2023, 165p., $21.95.

Murder, So Sweet by Dave Vizard

Other than set in the Thumb area of Michigan I expected a mystery that followed the standards of the genre. The author delivers anything but in this thoughtful, questioning, and controversial novel that simply refuses to let you put it down after turning just a few pages. 

When a farmer near Bad Axe begins to till his fields the first furrow turned attracts hundreds of seagulls. They have come to feed on human tissue uncovered by the tilling. A Huron County deputy sheriff calls Bay City Blade reporter Nick Steele with a tip on the discovery. Within minutes of the call a box is dropped off at the newspaper for Steele. The box contains two severed tips of men's anatomy. Blade drops his feature report on efforts to bring Madonna back to her hometown to investigate the breaking story in Bad Axe. Meanwhile at a locale Bay City Catholic church a woman has come to the Monday evening confession to tell a priest she has killed two men who repeatedly raped and beat her one night. She does not want to repent or forgive the two. She just wants the priest to understand and condone her actions. He won't and she becomes angry and raises her voice. An old lady waiting to confess overhears it all. She reports what she heard to the newspaper and the police but her story is initially dismisedd.

As the case develops Steele, the police, the raped woman, and the old lady who heard the confession are drawn into an ever tightening circle. Steele's research reveals there are 5,000 cases of rape reported in Michigan annually with many more that go unreported. The main character who was raped and beaten didn't report it because it would destroy her career. As a real-estate agent she was showing a house and was raped in a young girl's bedroom. How would you like to tell that to the family of the house you were showing? 

The last half of the book is breathlessly gripping. New revelations, totally unexpected character reactions, and a tension filled conclusion will keep the reader compulsively turning the pages. And then when the reader thinks they have seen and heard it all the last short two paragraphs are absolutely stunning. Page for page one of the most original and entirely involving books I read this year. 
Murder So Sweet by Dave Vizard. Privately Printed, 2023, $14.95.

Relative Sanity by Ellen Lord

I'm the last person who should be allowed to review poems. Many poems simply go over my head at the altitude of a jet liner. I don't even understand some of the glowing remarks by the authors on the back of this book. But if a Supreme Court Justice can fail to recuse him- or herself from a case who am I to recuse myself from poetry.

Then I discovered the first three words of the first poem hiding behind the front cover describe both succinctly and accurately my desperation whenever I sit down to write this blog. They are, "Searching for words." Yup, she got me with the first three words in the book. "Relative Sanity" the next poem is, I think, a stream of conscious narrative about the poet's mother's temporarily successful escape from the Newberry State Hospital. It is an entire book reduced to one marvelous page. The Therapist's Dilemma maybe my favorite simply because it is so unexpectedly funny. As a reader and an envious writer I love to run across sentences and phrases that are perfect, or clever, or profound, or simply tickle me like, "I worry about mental decline, like that helps...   ." That one is going to be stuck on wall above my desk.  And here is one out of many perfect sentences found throughout a mere 44 pages. "He tells me the cancer is back, creeping through him like Kudzu."

Lord's poems are all quite personal, and her work abounds with the wonder she experiences in the Upper Peninsula. She  can write of a simple trout stream or in her last poem entitled "North Country Elegy" she tells of how much she loves U.P's. "raw winter nights' and in the face of all the evidence wonders how "she learned to be alone." Unquestionably this is the launching pad for a very promising talent.
Relative Sanity by Ellen Ford. Modern History Press, 2023, 43p., $14.95.

Monday, November 27, 2023

 Post # 90   November 27, 2023

Quote for the Day: "To the south is the Detroit River and the beautiful green isle of Belle Isle where on any summer evening it is said you can find three thousand empty soft-drink bottles, and almost as many less attractive objects." Harold Livingstone. The Detroiters. 1958.


Detroit Unrequited by J. A Cancelmo

This deeply insightful novel has two tightly intertwined stories. Tony came to Detroit in the late 1970s to attend college. It was a memorable four years of exploring Detroit, making great friends,  and a tragedy that scared him for life. Roman, his best friend was murdered on Belle Isle as Tony watched. His feelings of remorse, anger, and guilt  became baggage he's carried for decades. Tony left Detroit, earned a Harvard MBA, and over the years amassed a small fortune. He never considered returning to Detroit but a prospective business deal in the Big D opens the old wounds and he returns in 2013 with hopes of finding some closure and peace. How? He wants the police to reopen Roman's unsolved murder and he intends to poke around himself in hopes of finding a new lead.

The second story is the Detroit Tony experienced in the 1970s and what it had become by 2013, the year the city declared bankruptcy. This story is woven in, around, and through Tony's search for a resolution of Roman's murder. The city has undergone physical, political, and psychological change yet old problems including race, abandonment of the poor, and crime persists. Tony finds the city's residents suffering from "PTSD-etroit." It's a city left a wreck by corporate greed that fled Detroit then a half century later returned to gobble up dirt-cheap properties in downtown. Even his old friends brag about the new downtown core but say little about the deurbanization of a once great city now marked by abandoned and rotting neighborhoods. Chapters often switch back and forth from 2013 to the 70s and sharply contrast the differences nearly four decades have made. The author lived in Detroit in the 70s and has the music, the slang, and attitude down pat.

Tony finds enjoyment and some peace in meeting his old friends and tries to work out long held  personal demons but police inquires unnerve him, and he can't bring himself to go to Belle Isle. When the truth concerning Roman's death is finally revealed and the killer identified it comes as a shock and a new layer of tragedy on top of the old. This fine novel is original, wise, features a well-drawn cast of characters with humor often bandaging the sadness in this memorable portrait of life in the Motor City and a character coming to grips with his past. 

Detroit Unrequited by J. A. Cancelmo. Heliotrope Books, 2023, 271p., $18.50.

That's My Moon Over Court Street: Dispatches from a life in Flint by Jan Worth-Nelson

The essays in this book are simply a joy to read. And please don't let the subtitle lead you astray. Yes, many of the essays are pointedly about living in Flint, but at heart they are deeply personal observations on the joys, conundrums, and the everyday happenings of life. They will evoke a response whether you live in Flint, Muskegon, Reykjavik, or Singapore. Who doesn't smile and connect with the author's taking a bite of cake and experiencing: "pure indulgence, hugging the taste buds and sliding down the throat directly to all parts of you that are worried and afraid."

I was struck by the author's bravery in the way she often bares her soul and writes so openly about her life and how even the seemingly insignificant can profoundly move her. The essays leave readers contemplating their own lives and everyday things that are significant to them. Worth-Nelson writes of comfort food, attics, birds, backyards, taxes, a love for basements, families, faith, junk drawers, nature, unique people she's crossed paths with, and holey socks to name only a few. The author finds humor in unexpected places, and consistently surprises the reader by looking at the familiar or common place in a unique or different light. Many of her essays about Flint are surprisingly optimistic and at times she seems to even surprise herself. However, when the author writes about the Flint Water Crisis, GM's abandonment of the city, or the torching of abandoned houses smoke rises from the page.

The hundred or so essays, usually around 800 words each, were written from 2007 to 2022 and first appeared in the East Village Magazine. Those unfamiliar with the magazine should know it's become an institution in Flint. It covers local news locales need to know from school board meetings, Monty Pythonesque city council meetings and important issues concerning Flint. Jan Worth-Nelsen arrived in Flint in the 1981 as a social worker. She has taught creative writing at U of M-Flint, is a novelist, poet, and served as editor of the East Village Magazine from 2015 to 2022.

If there is a theme to this wide ranging and memorable collection of essays it's in a quote from Goethe the author slipped into one of her essays. He wrote: "Nothing is worth more than this day." Do yourself a favor and read this book.

That's My Moon Over Court Street: Dispatches from a life in Flint by Jan Worth-Nelson. Semicolon Press, 2023, 441p., $18.

Sly Fox Hollow by Brett Allen

This is a novel with a multi-personality disorder, or as one character observes, "This keeps getting weirder and weirder." On the other hand the one constant is humor.  The novel starts off as a warm, humorous description of life in small town Michigan. It then turns into a biting, hilarious satirical portrayal of American politics on the local level, which has recently and intentionally waded into an open cesspool. And finally the novel is taken over by Michigan's favorite bogeyman, The Dogman. The latter third of the novel is part Stephen King and part a Marx Brothers movie.  This novel found your reviewer  hopelessly and irresponsibly out of date when it came to cryptozoology. I read this book proudly believing that The Dogman was Michigan's own Sasquatchian monster. But when Googling Dogman a map recording world sightings of the creature literally blotted out the globe. Well, the D-man may be common place but Allen's very entertaining novel is anything but. 

The hero of this clever, satirical, and ultimate send up of horror stories is Bomber. He was the town's favorite son with a great future as a star high school quarterback until he blew his fame and future with one horrible misplaced pass. Known ever since as the Bomber he works as a cashier in the town's grocery store. His off hours are spent trying to prove the supposed sightings of a Dogman in Fox Hollow goes back more than a hundred years. But his life is about to change when the mayor of Fox Hollow mysteriously dies.

The mayor was Bomber's great Uncle and his sole living relative. The town charter states the closest living relative of a deceased mayor will serve as temporary mayor for two weeks when a new mayor shall be elected. The political fighting between the two announced candidates gets more vicious than a Dogman attack. Which begins to occur as frequently as the old bromide about an apple a day. Soon the town is awash in battling political followers, pseudo Dogman experts and enthusiasts, a super secret EPA agency, and strange goings on at the mansion owned by the town's single biggest business, apple orchards. In addition to a unique plot that had me grinning 'til my cheeks hurt the novel is populated by a laughable collection of wonderfully eccentric characters. The book is more fun than a barrel full of Dogmen.

Sly Fox Hollow by Brett Allen. Hogwash Publishing, 2023, 364p., $17.95.

Marketing the Michigan Way: A Comprehensive Guide to Leveraging Local Points of Interest to Cultivate Lifelong Customers for Michigan Small Businesses 2nd ed. by Andy LaPointe
If you're the owner of a small business in Michigan this book was specifically written for you. It details a marketing strategy that connects your business to local points of interest. The author writes" the key to success in Michigan is becoming part of the experience in your local area." 

The book presents readers step-by-step instructions on how to achieve this marketing plan which includes identifying the most unique and interesting local attractions and how to incorporate them into your marketing. The author shows how this and other strategies were used to market Traverse Bay Farms which I admit is impressive. The author's three pronged strategy is to tie a business to the emotions of your area's treasures, utilize the local calendar of events, and make it the first choice of locals and tourists.  

I had doubts as to how this could work for certain types of businesses such as a jewelry store, credit union, and a pet groomer. But he won me over with what I thought was the least likely business to benefit from this book - pet groomers. He suggests organizing pet-related events from pet Halloween costume contests to presenting a dog obedience seminar. The author suggests teaming with pet-friendly businesses. Groomers can list or send pet owners to pet-friendly eateries and hotels and they in return send pet owners to the groomer. The author suggest hosting a pet adoption day or weekend supporting local animal shelters. And that is only a small sampling of the ideas for promoting a pet grooming business. The book includes 30 specific types of businesses and presents concrete and common sense suggestions on how they can be marketed the "Michigan Way."

This textbook/workbook is filled with a wealth of information on marketing and is worth a close look by anyone wanting to improve the visibility and marketing of their business to both locales and tourists. 

Marketing the Michigan Way: A Comprehensive Guide to Leveraging Local Points of Interest to Cultivate Lifelong Loyal Customers for Michigan Small Businesses 2nd ed. by Andy LaPointe. Privately Published, 2023, 99p., $14.95.


Monday, October 30, 2023

 Post #89 October 30, 2023

Quote for the Day: "If all the lumber in Michigan during the white pine lumbering era (1860-1900) would have provided; enough boards for a solid row of out-houses around the world, as some writers stated, then the amount of whiskey consumed by lumberjacks, tough guys, drummers, and plain drunks during the same period would have made another set of Great Lakes bubbling over with pure whiskey." Roy L. Dodge. Ticket to Hell" A Sage of Michigan's Bad Men. 1975.


A Cold, Hard Prayer by John Smolens

Mercy and Rope are older teenagers on an orphan train sent west in 1924 from Boston. Both are willing to do nearly anything to escape a hopeless existence, but the odds are against them because Mercy is half Black and Rope has a crippled right hand. As the train crosses the Midwest it stops at every station where the orphans line up along the tracks and married couples stroll past the orphans like they're deciding which jar of pickles to select from the shelf. Mercy, is hoping she doesn't get picked until Michigan because she believes she has an aunt in St. Ignace and is determined to reach her. At Otter Creek, Michigan both Mercy and Rope are picked by the husband of a childless family because he's offered both for the price of one. 

They are not treated like adoptees at the farm but as free farm workers. That is until the wife is hospitalized and the husband starts drinking which leads to an assault on Mercy. Rope intercedes clubbing the man on the head with an ax. The pair flee and are quickly parted. Mercy heads for St. Ignace and not knowing quite why Rope takes off after her. When the murdered man is found Otter Creek's stoic Sheriff sets off in pursuit. Also in pursuit is the Klu Klux Klan that has a chapter in Otter Creek. The Klan is set on hosting a huge gathering of Klansmen at which they want to administer their form of justice to the mixed race girl who they believe murdered a white man. 

That is the set up for a captivating novel of quilt and innocence, good and evil, and a breathless chase across 1924 Michigan to St. Ignace and back to Otter Creek. Smolens creates wonderfully brought to life characters and a plot with more twists and turns than a braided rug.  All of which he delivers in effortlessly readable and striking prose. Chalk up another outstanding novel by a  Michigan author who, in my opinion, is nationally under appreciated. 

A Cold, Hard Pray by John Smolens. Michigan State University Press. 2023, 268p., $29.95.

The Road to Empire by John Wemlinger

I believe this was a novel the author was meant to write. Wemlinger retired as a army colonel after  27 years of service. He served in Vietnam as a helicopter maintenance officer and pilot. Several of his previous novels have dealt with wounded veterans returning home and trying to adjust to civilian life. The heart of this deeply felt and ultimately moving novel is the cost to families and loved ones of those who serve in our armed forces. The book is reviewed in Michigan in Books because the 1st person narrator hails from Michigan as does his wife and most of his family. That said the theme of this novel is common to all families across American who's loved ones serve in our armed forces.

Jack Rigley graduated from Empire High School and attended Western Michigan University where he studied aviation science and joined the ROTC. After graduation he married his high school sweetheart and joined the army as a 2nd Lieutenant. His first posting is to a base in Alabama where he will become a helicopter pilot. As seen and told through Jack's narrative the mechanics of flying a helicopter is told in fascinating detail. His wife Annie lives off base and the army doesn't seem to intrude on the first years of their marriage. But that will change.

Jack becomes a "walk-on-water" officer, meaning he always stands out because of his exemplary achievements. That results in early promotions and special assignments that take him away from Annie and his growing family. As described by Jack his work is often so involved and demanding that thoughts of family are not always foremost in his mind. On the other hand his wife has to learn to live with loneliness, raising a family, and running a household. Jake's year long deployments are hard on Jack but much harder on his family. Annie in one instance intrudes on the narrative to describe how she tries to cope as the wife of a soldier.  Their marriage is repeatedly strained because the army is always a third party in their marriage. Jack is one step away from his first star when a life changing crisis strikes his family. 

This novel is both a revealing portrait of an officer and helicopter pilot in the Airborne Cavalry and the constant demands and sacrifices it imposes on his spouse. It is common to tell those in uniform; "Thank you for your service." After reading this book the same should be said  to their spouses.

The Road to Empire by John Wemlinger. Mission Point Press, 2023, 262p., $17.95.

Stumped: The Legacy of the Great Pine Harvest in Mid-Michigan by Thomas A. Schupbach

This unique study of lumbering in northern Michigan focuses on Nester Township in Roscommon County. The book begins with the 1837 government survey of the area by one John Brink who commented as a surveyor he often went "three months at a time without having all my clothes dry." Those studying the local history of the area will find the author names nearly every person or company and the date on which they bought land in what became Nester Township. That is a little more than the general reader would probably like to know but the book will have those reader's attention when Thomas Nester, along with a rotating group of investors, enters the picture the 1870s. 

The entire area surrounding the township was blanketed in White Pine and Nester brought mechanized methods to clear-cutting the land. Fifteen miles of narrow gauge railroad was laid and four camps were established that employed a total of 230 men, 4 wives, and two daughters. The RR ran 24 hours a day and provided access to 20,000 acres of virgin forest containing 600,000,000 board feet of lumber. The Gladwin newspaper called it the "greatest project in northern Michigan." Consideration for the loggers safety appears to be an issue of no concern. 

When there was nothing but stumps left the Central Michigan Land Company thought there was profits to be made from stumps, planting thousands of fruit trees, and raising crops. Those efforts failed to turn any significant profits. The author charts the success of  each company that was next in line to try and make a dime off the clear-cut land. The book also draws brief portraits of the interesting businessmen who looked at land and saw green gold.

This is a scholarly and unique look at the state's lumbering era. It will be of special interest to students of the area's local history and anyone interest in Michigan's lumbering era will find it interesting reading.
Stumped: The Legacy of the Great Pine Harvest in Mid-Michigan by Thomas A. Schupbach. Mission Point Press, 2023, 218p., $15.95. 

Up North Dream:The Guide for Moving to Northern Michigan by Andrew LaPointe

If your heart is in northern Michigan while the rest of you spends most of the year in southern Michigan this may be the book for you. It is a common sense guide and workbook filled with sound advice, creative ideas, and questions that should be answered if you want to take the big plunge and move to northern Michigan. And the author knows of what he writes. Just out of college he and his wife moved to northern Michigan in the winter of 1992 with $500 in the bank, ten times that in credit card debt, and neither had a job. 

The author is a big believer in choosing a lifestyle instead of simply earning a living. It took me a couple of pages to understand the concept and that you don't have to move north to choose a lifestyle. Part of which may mean you have to live simpler to live better. There is a lot about finance, cash flow, how to find a job, or start your own Internet business. His suggestions include visiting the area in all seasons, subscribe to a local paper, talk to the school district, evaluate senior activities,  learn the job market, contact the Newcomers Club, and many more.

The above is only a small percentage of the information and the necessary decisions that need to be made before moving north. The author even identifies reasons why it would be unwise to move. A lot of information is packed into 110 pages and anyone seriously considering moving to northern Michigan will find the book very helpful.
Up North Dream: The Guide to Moving to Northern Michigan by Andrew LaPointe. Lapte Enterprises, Inc., 2023, 216p., $9.95.


Monday, October 9, 2023

 Post #88  October 9, 2023

Quote for the Day: "...sober honesty compels the admission that authors -- upper case authors -- are as about as rare in Michigan as the 'skunk bear' ever was and that the flowering of literary Michigan is still in the future.

 Michigan has put the world on automobile wheels, (but) Michigan novelists are still jogging along in one-hoss shays." Arnold Miller. Saturday Review of Literature. March 4, 1939. 


Dearborn: Stories by Ghassan Zeineddine.

I knew Dearborn was the home to the largest Arab American community in the country and the home of Ford Motor Company. Sadly, I knew more about the latter than the former and it was one of the reasons I was drawn to this book of short stories. I wanted to vicariously immerse myself in our state's largest Arab American community and even if fictionally meet some Arab Americans. I'm not sure those were the author's goals for writing the 10 short stories contained in this book. I quickly learned something else while reading the book. The author is an accomplished and remarkably fine writer.

All the characters in the stories are either Arab American immigrants or the children of immigrants. They are Moslems and retain much of their culture yet each and every character is unique unto themselves. The author is a master at creating believable characters who share similarities with characters found in the book's other stories yet each are markedly different. Yes they have their faith, whether practicing Moslems or not, and after 9/11 whether a citizen or an immigrant carrying a green card they are hounded by ICE. Those born in Lebanon think of America as a temporary home no matter how many decades they have lived here. While the children of immigrants think of America as home and have little or no desire returning to the Middle East. As with many or all immigrants food sets them culturally apart from others. Yet I found that even including the above clearly cultural differences, individually there are more similarities than differences between this reader and most of the memorable characters brought to life in this book. 

The stories are as varied as the characters. They are sad, funny, hopeful, scheming and on occasion leave the reader wondering what the hell's going to happen because the author stops one sentence short of the denouncement. That kind of ending can be irritating then you realize that maybe the author doesn't know how the character will meet the crises or the problem either. It should be sure thing for making Michigan Notable Books and a truly rewarding immersion in the Arab American culture for any reader.


Dearborn: Stories by Ghassan Zeineddine. Tin Books, 2023, 229p., $17.95 pb.

Invaded on All Sides: the War of 1812 and Michigan's Greatest Battlefield Engagements at Frenchtown and the River Raisin by Ralph James Naveaux.

I'm betting it would be a surprise to many in our state that there is a National Historic Battlefield Park in Michigan and equally surprised that it lies within the city of Monroe. And as the title states the Battle of the Raisin River which was waged over three bitterly cold January days in 1813 turned out to be the largest battlefield engagement in Michigan's history. If your interest is whetted by the title, the following review, or you're a fan of good military history you will not be disappointed in this book. It is a thoroughly researched and very readable almost day-by-day narrative of the campaign that ended in a stunning defeat for American forces followed by a massacre of the wounded by Britain's Indian allies.

America's ground strategy in the War of 1812 was to launch attacks at Detroit, Niagara, and Montreal.  The Detroit campaign is described in fascinating detail and in hindsight seems almost doomed to failure from the beginning. The militia and regular army forces started from several different locations and never joined forces to meet the enemy. A fall campaign continued into January with forces never receiving enough supplies, winter clothing, or knowledge of where other units were located. The troops who eventually faced the British and their Indian allies, "looked like impoverished vagabonds as they plodded along in dirty, threadbare clothes and blankets." Many of the troops had no shoes, were hungry, came down with Typhus, suffered frostbite, and soldiers joked that the cattle meant for rations were so weak they had to be held up to be shot.

The book makes it clear the Americans were poorly led, suffered from poor battlefield tactics, and lacked ammunition. After three freezing days of battle the British left wounded Americans crammed into cabins and failed to guard them from their Indian allies who tomahawked, scalped, beheaded, and burned alive as many as 60 helpless soldiers. The book is exhaustively researched, and is history told on a personal level because the author recounts the stories and experiences of many of the Americans who fought at the River Raisin. The only minor criticism I have is the official battlefield site maps included in the book are just too small to read. 

This well-written, engrossing narrative history of the campaign is a tribute to those who fought and died on the River Raisin, and I hope it will move readers to visit the National Battlefield site. A number of interesting appendices and a short history of the battlefield park follow the narrative.

The Invaded on All Sides: The War of 1812 and Michigan's greatest battlefield engagements at Frenchtown and the River Raisin, Updated, Annotated, &Revised by Ralph James Naveaux. Mission Point Press, 2002, 436p., $19.95.

North of Nelson Vol. II by Hilton Everett Moore.

On the basis of two books of short stories, totaling twelve stories, I have become a big fan of this gifted writer who finds his muse in an isolated cabin in the semi-wilderness of Baraga County. Moore's Yoknapatawpha is Nelson, "A small cluster of homes around the dilapidated village, mostly in ill-repair, sprouted abandoned cars and trucks like so many milkweed plants in a shallow ditch." The villagers and the few hardy or singularly peculiar who live north of Nelson along or near the undefinable line between semi and true wilderness are where Moore finds his characters.

The author writes with a distinctive voice honed by a U.P. that's so far off the beaten trail it's hardly a faint two track. I find that voice gripping, powerful, original, and compelling.  The stories deal with the most basic human feelings from love, lust, guilt, forgiveness, to ones relationship to and acceptance of their place in the environment. Two of the stories clearly dramatize the struggle to accept your environment. Two brothers who own adjoining 640 acres of mostly wilderness land struggle to come to terms with living on the cusp of the wilderness. One brother has purchased two donkeys because, who knew, they can kick the crap out of wolves! Still the donkey owner  occasionally loses a calf to a wolf and it eats at him incessantly. The other brother accepts that no matter how much it hurts, wolves have a right to be there as much as he does. Moore's portrayal of how each brother comes to terms with sharing their land with these predators is surely an accurate depiction of both sides of the wolf argument among Yoopers.

The remaining three stories starting from page one prove unpredictable as to where they will go and how they will end. Each is a revelation to both the story's memorable characters as well as the reader. Therefor this spoiler alert. Do not read the the back cover of this book. It tells you more than you want to know about some stories and will ruin surprising facts or events that build each story to a memorable climax. 

No one writes about living on the ragged edge of society, sanity, survival, and social morays like Hilton Everett Moore. I don't care if it's two years, a year, or six months until I read another short story about the folks in Nelson. It's too long to wait.
North of Nelson Vol. II by Hilton Everett Moore. Silver Mountain Press, 2023, 186p., $21.95.

Somewhere in Crime: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone

The authors of the very funny and popular "The Dockporter," which made the Michigan Notable Book List, are back with a prequel that finds future dockporter Jack McQuinn working as Mackinac Island's 11-year-old summer newspaper delivery boy. The year is 1979 and the novel is unfailingly humorous as it captures all of Mackinac Island's ambiance and charm. It also conveys the extraordinary furor that gripped the island that summer when Hollywood invaded the island to shoot the movie Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. 

Jack and his family are caught in the middle of the movie frenzy. Jack and his friends become movie extras and his mother who has always been an artist with a sewing machine applies for the  movie's wardrobe assistant and gets the job. Like a pebble hitting a windshield the job creates a small crack in his parents' marriage and, as they will, the small crack soon spider webs throughout their relationship. Even Jack sees divorce may lay in the future.

When Jack stumbles across the story of the unsolved murder of a young woman on the island 25 years ago and a $25,000 reward is still posted he turns detective. He'll take the reward and send his parent's on a journey to Egypt which he is sure will end any thoughts of divorce. That is if he can figure out how to become a detective. Unfortunately he goes to the wrong source to learn. 

The authors have done a great job of creating fully rounded major and minor characters that fit in nicely with the fast moving, attention grabbing plot. And lastly, amid all the fun, laughs, mystery, and Mackinac Island atmosphere is a fine coming of age story. This novel is more satisfying Mackinac Island Fudge.

Somewhere in Crime: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone. Independently Published, 2023, 334p., $15.99.


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

 Post #87  September 6, 2023

Quote for the Day: "The story of how the Upper Peninsula finally became a part of Michigan must have made the angels weep. And doubtless also giggle." John Voelker in the Forward to They Left Their Mark by John S. But. 1985.


Limpy's Adult Lexicon: Raw, Politically Incorrect, Improper & Unexpurgated, As Overheard & Noodled By Joseph Heywood

Fans of Heywood's Woods Cop Mysteries might be initially disappointment when they learn this is not another installment in the author's very popular series. For readers who are not familiar with the author his eleven books in the afore mentioned series follows the adventures and work of Grady Service an Upper Peninsula Conservation Officer. While writing the first book in the series Heywood reports that Limpy Allerdyce, a wayward spirit, habitual poacher and a  Yooper to his ghostly marrow, took up residence in Heywood's literary subconscious. Second only to Grady, Limpy not only became the most popular character in the series but inserted himself  in nearly every one of Heywood's Woods Cop mysteries. And now, other than a fine introductory essay by Heywood entitled "Words from the Word Fiddler" and the last two brief chapters this is, as the title suggests, Limpy's book.

The first chapter is a very good essay on language and words. Heywood explains and demonstrates on how languages are constantly evolving through the invention and use of words, the comingling of languages, and the rise and fall of dialects. Heywood admits he has long been fascinated by Yooper lingo and has been collecting and recording Yooperisms since 1958 and has found that there are several distinct Yooper dialects. He heard and recorded lots of Yooper lingo by living in the U.P. and riding shotgun over the years with numerous Michigan Conservation Officers when researching his books. Heywood is so taken with the lingo he even admits to inventing a few new Yooper words. 

Part II is a compiled list of "Limpy's Thirty Rules for Wannabe Violators." "Rule 17: If womyn gots gun in hand an' wants talk, youse best stop an' listen." The majority of the book, close to 200 pages, is devoted to "Limpyspeak/YouperSpeak (Spokenabulary)." It is the most extensive Youper dictionary I've ever run across and Heywood prefaces it with a guide to some of the peculiarities of the lingo such as "older Yooper speakers don't distinguish singular from plural." I find Youperspeak clever, inventive, imaginative, uniquely descriptive and very much a part of life and living in the U.P. Oh, and I forgot funny.  Such as "go Twinkie" which translate as "go postal, wig out, run amok." I can't resist, two more: "gourmaggot = gourmet" and "hugamanganamus = humongous." 

Memorable quotes from poachers who were caught violating game laws and conservation officer jargon make up the last to sections. The entire book is a delight. Funny, playful, an example of inspired use of language, a window into Yooper culture, and an entertaining book to dip into over and over again on nights you are getting tired of waiting for the next Woods Cop mystery to be published. I'm left with one question. Does Limpy Allerdice get a share of the royalties?

Limpy's Adult Lexicon: Raw, Politically Incorrect, Improper & Unexpurgated, As Overheard & Noodled By Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2023, 246p., $27.95.

The Great Seney Fire: A History of the Walsh Ditch Fire of 1976 by Gregory M. Lusk

The 1976 Seney Fire was the largest, longest, and most costly Michigan fire since 1908 and was in many respects unique. The author was the Assistant Fire Boss of the Seney Fire and after his retirement he brought out all his carefully saved notes, reports, clippings, maps, and data to write this history of the fire. The author is exceeding thorough and at times the book reads more like a report than a narrative history. Due to the author's style the book may sometimes lack narrative drama and this reader got a little bogged down in trying to understand Fire Behavior Indexes, Fuel Moisture Codes, Duff Moisture Code (DMC), Buildup Index (BUI), and others. And yet I found the book fascinating.

The author reviews the geology that made Seney unique and led to a host of factors that made the fire so hard to fight. Seney is an area of bogs, swamps, and marshes, marked by numerous sandy knolls or ridges covered by pines. The U.P. suffered a severe drought the summer of 1976 and the various wetlands pretty much dried up. A lightening strike set marsh grass burning and before long the ground was literary on fire. A fire crew from California could hardly believe it when a local fire fighter took a mass of organic dirt from 8-feet deep. He squeezed a few drops of water from it and then broke up the clod and blew on it. To the astonishment of the California firefighters it started to smoke and then produced a flame. It was an example of how the fire traveled underground, passed below control lines and then resurfaced and spread above ground.

The fire burned for two months, covered 72,000 acres or 112 square miles, and was fought by fire fighting crews from 20 states. The book is chocked full of maps, photographs, charts and filled with fascinating details. The final chapter describes the new methods and equipment for fighting fires from computer modeling to drones, and better communications. 

Sadly, there is more than a little irony in the last sentence of the above paragraph. This summer millions of acres of Canada are burning and I can smell and even taste the smoke here in southern Michigan. The Canadian fires forced the evacuation of tens of thousands while the horrific Maui fire has claimed victims that will reach unimaginable numbers. Those tragic events and the disastrous fires in Europe gave this book a profound immediacy. 

The Great Seney Fire: A History of the Walsh Ditch Fire of 1976 by Gregory M. Lusk. Snowsnake Press, 2023, 230p., $23.99.

The Blue Fame by Nathan Shore.

In this fast paced thriller attorney Ben Hirsh has been disbarred, his wife has divorced him, he has a week left on the lease of his Lansing apartment, and no hopes of getting a job. All are self inflicted wounds. His assets total a few bucks, a Toyota pickup, his father's Smith and Wesson handgun, and a rundown uninhabited family house in Manistique.

Then out of the blue Kyle, an old friend and the Assistant Prosecutor in Escanaba, calls and offers Ben a job. Sort of. Kyle is obsessed with taking down two brothers who are habitual criminals and more dangerous than a cornered cobra. The youngest brother even pistol whipped a cop and because their sister married money and a political heavy weight the charges were dropped. Kyle wants Ben to return to his home in the U.P. and work off the books as his confidential informant and dig up irrefutable evidence of the brothers' crimes. Kyle will find him a job in the private sector which turns out to be walking natural gas lines looking for leaks.

After Ben has a run-in with one of the brothers he realizes he is in way over his head. Ben wants out but Kyle lays it on thick about helping clean up his childhood community and working for the public good. Ben reluctantly agrees and quickly regrets it. This is a tightly written thriller that builds to a riveting climax. The compelling plot is played out against a great portrait of the Escanaba Manistique area and the beautiful Garden Peninsula and its off-shore islands. This is a very good book by a first time author who lives in southern Arizona and writes of the Upper Peninsula like he has lived there all his life. If I was just another seedy patron of Lily's Tavern  (fictional I hope) I'd tell Shore; "Pour me another and make sure it's set in the U.P.

The Blue Fame by Nathan Shore. Barque Point Press, 2022, 319p., $14.99 pb, $26.99.

High on the Vine: Featuring Yooper Entrepreneurs, Tami & Evi Maki (Cousins, Thrice Removed) by Terri Martin

Tami and Evi, as their last names might suggest, married brothers they met at a wedding.  Whether the romantic glow cast by the nuptials blinded the cousins' to character flaws in the their husbands to be is an open question. The answers seems to depend on what some Yooper's (men) rate as sterling character attributes and others (namely women) find less than desirable in a mate. The cousins meet regularly for tea and one of the main topics of discussion is criticizing their husbands' many faults. Tami holds the opinion that God has a sense of humor and when he made man and saw how flawed Adam was he, "sought to salvage the human race through the creation of woman."

It should be noted the tea always takes place in Tami's house in her parlor, which at any other time is called the living room, and instead of sipping tea they a tap a box of wine with an easy pour spout. The other topic of conversation is thinking up a good business idea that will make them wealthy. Rustic camping for women failed and nudity foiled the next idea. But at every tea the subject of (BEEP) the Business Enhancement Entrepreneurial Plan is discussed. The author achieves inspired lunacy when the ladies become partners with a group of monks. The Benevolent Brotherhood of Sylvan Monks created a God awful wine. Tami and Evi agree to promote and sell what is commonly called "Monk Juice" and tastes like "pond scum." There are high hopes for two new varieties soon to be on the market Pinot Grisly and White Infidel. 

This book is an accumulation of stories featuring Tami and Evi that previously appeared in the UP Magazine. Readers should rejoice that all the stories now appear in one book and follow the sisters-in-law from considering raising fish in a swimming pool to vacationing on a beach with a Pina Colada in hand and the Atlantic Ocean spread before them. The book is filled with grins, giggles, and out-loud laughter. And as a special bonus the book's last page contains Tami's Peanut Butter Pinot Creamy Delight Fudge that includes 6 - 9 ounces of Pinot Noir. As Evi might say, "Bone a the peat!"

High on the Vine: Featuring Yooper Entrepreneurs Tami & Evi Maki (Cousins, Thrice Removed) by Terri Martin, Gnarly Woods Publication, 2022, 151p., $17.95.

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