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.



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Post # 20

Quote for the day: "Torch Lake has driven writers to exhaustion when trying to describe its beauty." Glen Ruggles. Michigan History Magazine, January/February 1979.


Voices from the Rust Belt
Edited by Anne Trubek

This is not the usual book on the Rust Belt which is commonly defined as the post-industrial Midwest centered on Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Rather than an economic overview of how and why manufacturing jobs and industries supplying the jobs fled the Midwest like crooks fleeing the scene of a crime, it is a deeply felt, eye-opening testament on what it means to live and survive in the worst pockets of rust.

The book is comprised of 25 personal essays by residents who live amid the corrosion and toxic remains of once great manufacturing cities. Of the 25 essays six are written by residents of Flint or Detroit. But all the pieces capture the emotional impact of living within the Rust Belt and the hard facts, and often the absurdities of residing in Flint, Cleveland, Buffalo, Youngstown, and other once-thriving Midwest industrial cities. The experiences recorded here share many commonalities, including feelings of abandonment, betrayal, anger, white flight, disgust with government inaction, and racism. In many cases, the people who remain do so because they don’t have the money to move, or stayed because they refused to give up on the town they grew up in.  In either case, they are among the forgotten or purposely overlooked by those in power. Or, are until gross mismanagement poisons an entire city and then attempts to cover it up.

That said, each of the individual contributors has different and personal stories to tell. Like the African American Detroiter who was a kid in the late 60s and 70s who thought his white friends were being kidnapped because they disappeared from the neighborhood so fast. Only later did he learn how realtors as early as the 1950s inflamed racism and encouraged white flight by papering neighborhoods warning whites to leave before the price of their homes dropped. A 40-year-old welfare intern tells of the frustration and powerlessness to help those in need. An award-winning Flint sports reporter tells of the murder of his friend because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and how easy it is for trouble to find you after dark. A young Flint woman explains why “I blame this city for my fear of feeling vulnerable.”

A Cleveland resident describes the last assault on urban poor. He notes artists are moving to his town because rent is cheap. But following the artists come coffee shops, diners, laundry-mats, and God forbid – art galleries.  “The first sign of the coming apocalypse is the art walk: the Typhoid Marys of Gentrification.” The last piece in the book is by a Flint resident who recounts what should be one of those special times of day between parent and child – the daily bath. Yeah, well not in Flint.

This important book gives a voice to the voiceless, to the political and corporate abused, used, and abandoned. 
Voices from the Rust Belt, edited by Anne Trubek. Picador, 2018, $16 paperback.

Power Play: My Life Inside the Red Wings Locker Room
by Cynthia Lambert
Cynthia Lambert scores a hat-trick with this autobiographical account of her 14-year career as a beat reporter covering the Red Wings for the Detroit News.  It is a fascinating and often humorous story of her experiences in and out of the locker room in the 1980s as one of the first female sports reporters covering a male professional sports team. The book also serves as an informal tutorial on what it takes to be a good reporter and portrays the daily grind of covering a sports team throughout the course of a season. Lastly, the book is filled with both touching and laugh-out-loud humorous stories about individual Wings players that any Hockey Town fan will treasure.

In 1984 she was studying journalism at Wayne State and was determined to become an accredited sports journalist. To do so, one had to be officially working for a professional news outlet. She finally landed a job as an unpaid contributor to a free, weekly newspaper called the Northeast Detroiter. It got her a Media Game Pass from the Wings and the 22-years-old college student headed to Port Huron to cover a Wings preseason game. Lambert’s account of her first time in a Wings locker room and the first time the players found a woman reporter in their locker room is priceless. Even thirty years later reporters who witnessed the event were still laughing about it.

With a degree in journalism she got a job in the Detroit News sports department and within a short time was named the beat reporter for the Wings.  Except for one glaring incident Lambert was treated with utmost respect and great kindness by the team’s players and management. The author presents a host of memorable vignettes of Red Wing players from the 80s and 90s and there is a wonderful retelling of her brief encounters with her hockey god – Gordie Howe – over the course of a season. The story perfectly captures the essence of both Mr. Hockey and the author.

The author was once asked how different or challenging (I’m paraphrasing) it was to be a woman sports reporter rather than a man. Cynthia replied she really couldn’t say because she had never been a man. Power Play is a great read any time, but in May and June, the book seems to possess the healing qualities of a salve that Wings fans can use to ease the pain of missing the playoffs.  
Power Play: My Life Inside the Red Wings Locker Room by Cynthia Lambert. Balboa Press, 2017, $15.99.

Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara
by Deborah K. Frontiera

Frontiera’s book offers a rare window into the people, work, history, and culture of the Keweenaw Copper country from the 1890s to the 1930s through the photographs of the region’s first professional photographer.  J. W. Nara was a Finnish immigrant who came to Calumet early in the 1890s and opened a photographic studio.  In a career spanning almost half a century, Nara’s striking photographs recorded the life, work, culture, towns, and people of the Calumet/Houghton area. The formal studio portraits range from a trio of Chinese gentlemen clad in three-piece suits who ran the local oriental laundry to a young lady in traditional Finnish dress, a wrestler in a pair of trunks, and what is inarguably a very proud dog nobly posing atop of a small round side table.

But it’s outside the studio that Nara went about capturing and preserving Keweenaw’s copper boom era. Nara’s photos include typical company homes in Calumet, farmhouses, a barber shop, churches, offices, school houses, street scenes in summer and winter, a train depot, labor strife, the areas people at work and play, and even a circus coming to town. The last chapter in the book covers the tragic 1913 strike which led to the Italian Hall tragedy in which 74 people, mostly children, died at a Christmas Eve party. The hall was on the second floor and reached by a narrow staircase. When someone yelled fire the crowd panicked and ran for the staircase where children and adults tumbled down the stairs as more came behind them adding to the mass of humanity crammed like sardines in a can. Those caught beneath the growing pile of Christmas celebrants trying to flee a nonexistent fire slowly died of suffocation or being trampled to death. Nara’s photos of the rows of holiday attired children’s bodies laid out for parents to identify, even one hundred years after the fact, is heartbreaking. Each chapter is preceded by a short essay by the author who introduces the subject of the photographs.

J. W. Nara took hundreds of photographs during his career and only a few of them had his name imprinted on the photograph. This book is an effort by Nara’ grandson and the author to gather what they consider to be the best of his work and credit Nara as the photographer of many of the early photos that were not imprinted with his name. It is estimated that 90% of the unaccredited photos from that era were taken by Nara. This very attractive book is a fascinating glimpse into Michigan’s early copper mining era and an invaluable record of Keweenaw area history.
Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara. by Deborah Frontiers. Shining Brightly Press, 2009, $27.95

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Post #19

Quote for the day: "And so we saw Traverse City, Michigan. The less said about it the better." From Governor Milliken's grandfather's diary. The 1873 entry records his first day in the city.


Black and White Ball
by Loren D. Estleman

Since 1980, when the first Amos Walker mystery appeared in print, I have been an unabashed fan of Loren D. Estleman. Therefore, I’m not sure what I’ve started here will turn out to be a review of the latest Amos Walker mystery or a piece that pays homage to the author’s forty years of remaining at the top of his art form. He’s an acknowledged master of the hard-boiled, private-eye genre and has four Shamus Awards to prove it. He has also been nominated for the National Book Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery, and he’s won a saddle bag full of Spur Awards for the year’s best western.

From his first appearance in Motor City Blue, private-eye Amos Walker has been and remains an anachronism. He’s an old-fashioned gumshoe that feels more akin to Sam Spade, or Chandler’s Philip Marlowe than any contemporary fictional private detective. Walker has never had a cell phone, used or owned a computer. He leases a seedy office in a building sporting gargoyles and rarely has more than a few bucks in his checking account. He’s put more hard miles on his body than a 10-year-old Detroit taxi that’s never missed a Michigan pothole. And I challenge you to name any current fictional PI who says, “Malarkey!” Lastly, Walker has a sardonic, world-weary view that perfectly matches the town he inhabits and the work he does. Walker solves cases by hard work, a closely observant eye for details, a keen mind, dumb luck, by taking his lumps, and a near ruthless devotion to doing the right thing.

Readers who’ve followed Estleman and Amos Walker from the early 1980s until today have also been treated to ironic, biting, and often funny observations of the evolution or de-evolution of Detroit and its rich suburbs. For this reviewer, much of the enjoyment of reading Estleman’s crime fiction is the barrage of quips, unique observations, similes, and memorable metaphors that often litter every page. Such as: “The luminous dial on my watch said the sun was up, but the sky lay on the ground like a fat lady with a broken ankle.” Or this telling description of Grand River Avenue, “a fairly dirty stretch of urban landscape with all the architectural innovation of an aircraft hanger…”

Finally getting to the current tale, it features two of Estleman’s series characters who cross paths and appear in the same book for the first time. Peter Maklin is a for-hire professional killer. The hitman hires Walker as a bodyguard to protect his second wife, who is in the process of divorcing Maklin. It appears she’s been threatened with death unless Maklin coughs up $100,000. The monkey wrench in what becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse played against a snowbound Detroit, is that the person bent on wiping out the second wife is Maklin’s son from his first marriage.  The dialogue crackles with electricity, the action seldom allows the reader to catch a breath, and the plot is in the hands of a master. Which means the book is grandly entertaining and Estleman delivers a twist in the final pages that will leave the reader gobsmacked.
Black and White Ball by Loren D. Estleman. Forge Books, 2018, $25.99

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Pocket Guide – 2018
by Sandy Richardson

If you’re planning a trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park this compact handbook is an excellent resource for planning your trip and a handy guide for once you’re there. And if you are not planning a trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State – Why Not? It’s the jewel of Michigan’s State Park system and has been voted the second best state park in the nation. It encompasses 59,820 acres or 94 square miles, contains the largest stand of old growth forest on Lake Superior, 100 waterfalls, scenery you’ll remember and treasure for a lifetime, vistas to take your breath away, and a you-pick-your-level of comfort and adventure in both exploring the park and its overnight accommodations. You might not be lucky enough to spot one but you will be sharing this remarkable hunk of glorious territory with bears, the occasional moose, deer, bobcat, cougar, timber wolves, bald eagles, coyote, pine martins, and river otters.

It’s the park’s size, plus the variety and level of immersion in a wilderness experience a visitor can choose from that makes Richardson’s guide so helpful when planning a trip. Overnight choices range from a lodge that includes every comfort of home plus a view of Lake Superior, to both rustic and full-service RV campgrounds, twenty-two Spartan frontier cabins and yurts set in the wilderness, and for the hardiest visitor, 63 backcountry camping sites that come with a fire ring and either a bear pole or box. Dispersed camping anywhere in the park is no longer permitted. This guide covers the fees, regulations, and amenities for all overnight accommodations, in addition to the distance from a trailhead to backcountry cabins and yurts.

The author lists the absolute necessities that should be stowed in even a day hikers pack and warns that a day hike can unexpectedly turn into an overnight stay. She also cautions it’s easy for park visitors on the 90 miles of wilderness trails to underestimate both their endurance and the amount of water they need to carry. The book introduces and briefly describes all major trails noting the difficulty, length, and special features. Many of the trails in the park have unbridged stream crossings and rises of elevation of 600 - 800 feet in less than a mile. All of which accounts for the 1-mile-per-hour rate of backpackers and day-hikers blistering pace of 2-miles-per-hour.

For the less athletic, there are full descriptions of the park’s scenic jewels that can be driven to or require just a short walk. And to give a real feel for the beauty to be found here, the author has splashed the book with scores of color photographs. I especially liked the author’s description of the park in each season of the year and the attractions of visiting the park in fall, winter, and spring. This little book is chock-full of vital information for fully enjoying, on any level, one of the top two or three attractions in the state. Excellent maps are found in the back of the book and surprising tips and facts crowd every page from the days in winter when you can ride bikes with fat tires down the ski sloops, to where you can buy an ice cream cone. And all that comes in a book small enough to stick in a pair of cargo shorts.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Pocket Guide -2018, 2nd edition by Sandy Richardson. Cuyahoga Press, 2018, $24.95, pb.

Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River
Valley Cats: Earth, Wind and Sky
Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends
by Gretchen Preston, Illustrated by Karen Neumann

These three children’s books are set in and around the author’s home in a pleasant valley near the U.P. town of Marquette and not far from Lake Superior. As the titles suggest, the three books follow the growing friendship of two cats, Boonie and River, and the adventures they have with their many animal friends. The beauty and adventure to be found in the U.P. is brought to life by the author and is also captured in Neumann’s detailed illustrations. These hardback books are physically beautiful and very professionally produced, printed, and bound. They set a high benchmark for self-published books.

Since the three books are written at a fifth-grade reading level, I asked fifth-grader Molly O -- a voracious reader who consumes books faster than I could eat a handful of M & Ms -- to read just the first book in the series and tell me how or if she liked it. She finished the first book in a day and flew through the other two almost as quickly, and then wrote a critique. The following is a review of the trilogy by Molly O, our twelve-year-old guest reviewer.

“The Valley Cats series, written by Gretchen Preston, is a great choice for children of all ages. It shows the point of view of all the animals and is full of adventure. The books take place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at a real spot. The animals in the story are even based off of real animals. The books are very action packed and have many twists and turns that you never see coming. Go along with the Valley Cats on their next adventure and I am sure that you will love it.”

Molly loved them – enough said.

Valley Cats: The Adventures of Boonie and River, by Gretchen Preston, Illustrated by Karin Neumann.  Preston Hill Press 2014, $19.95. The above book can be purchased from Amazon by clicking the mouse on the cover.
Valley Cats: Earth, Wind and Sky and More Valley Cats: Fun, Games and New Friends both can be purchased from All books are $19.95.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Post # 18

Quote of the Day; "Legend has it that when Monroe's favorite son, General Custer, left town on his way to the disaster at the Little Big Horn, he had admonished the citizens not to do anything until he got back. Some more dour residents today claim that these instructions have been followed to the letter." John G. Fuller. We Almost Lost Detroit. 1975.


by Cindy Hunter Morgan

Like the countless motor vessels and sailing ships that have floundered in Great Lakes storms over the past two centuries, I was blown away by this book of poetry. Except for a half-dozen poems that share the title "Deckhand," the departure points for rest of the poems in the book are historic Great Lakes shipwrecks or disasters. The name of the ship, the date of its demise, and the body of water in which the ship met its end make up the poem's title. From that point onward each of Morgan's poems amalgamates legend, history, the supposed, the unknown, and her boundless inventiveness to create a reimagining of the tragedy from stunningly unique perspectives.    

One poem recounts the floundering of a ship by listing its cargo as it descended to the lake bed.  Another tells how the flotsam that came ashore from a wreck was used by a woman who collected it and how: "Sometimes, she wondered why bales floated and men didn't, and what buoyancy meant for her own life, dry as it was." And then there's probably my favorite sentence in the entire book. It is the last sentence of a poem describing the 1871 destruction of the J. Barber by fire. The sloop carried a hold full of peaches. "Peaches sizzled and split as the ship burned, as fire consumed what was made of sugar and what was made of wood, as masts toppled like limbs pruned from fruit trees, as men rolled across the deck like windfalls, bruised and scraped, and everything was reduced to carbon and loss." It seems almost every page of this slim book contains striking visual images captured in words. An appendix at the back of the book gives the facts surrounding the demise of the ships that inspired the poems. Each account is a single paragraph in length. 

Don't check this book out from a library, buy it. Once read, you are going to be drawn back again and again to these poems because you will want to re-experience the magic of an alchemist of words who can meld fact, imagination, history, and language into pure gold.
Harborless by Cindy Hunter Morgan. Wayne State University Press, 2017, $16.99, pb.

Brotherhood of Iron
by Frank P. Slaughter

This is the second installment of a projected trilogy that when completed will be one family’s generational story set against an authentic and richly detailed history of Michigan from the Civil War to the present. The first novel followed Will Castor from the Battle of Chickamauga, where he was wounded in body and mind, to the white pine rich wilds of northern Michigan. In the north woods, he worked his way up from a lumber camp roustabout to a timber cruiser. In his wanderings, Will made a small fortune by investing in remote tracks of white pine then selling the timber when narrow gauge railroads came to northern Michigan. There he also met and married a widowed school teacher with a young son named Robert.

The second book in the trilogy finds Robert as the patriarch of a large, important family in the UP mining town of Ishpeming during World War I.  Robert is superintendent of several iron mines in the area. Bill, his oldest son, has had a mysterious falling out with someone in the family and is working as a deckhand on a Great Lake freighter and knows intimately every sleazy, port-of-call saloon on the Lakes. Sons, Matt and Jake joined the Marines and face uncertain futures as the Fifth Marines rise from their trenches and attack Belleau Woods. Neither will emerge from the battle whole in body and mind. Jacob, the second oldest of the boys, is an accountant for the mines. Rosemarie is a young woman who was taken in by the family as a child when her father was killed in a mine accident and she was abandoned by her alcoholic mother.  Ruling the family abode with a near-iron fist is Robert's wife Elizabeth who’s constantly at war with herself trying to balance an inbred snobbishness and her loving, giving and forgiving side. She is outraged when she learns Rosemarie and Jacob are in love and plan to marry. And then there’s the young woman one of the sons meets in France.

The author has great command of his subject whether creating a dynamic family drama or writing of the Michigan experience. The characters are both complex, finely drawn, convincingly real, and the reader grows to care for them very much. When it comes to describing the life of a deckhand on a Great Lakes ore carrier, the horror, madness, and death Marines met and conquered in Belleau Woods, descending into an Ishpeming iron mine, or life in the UP iron range just past the turn of the century, it is conveyed with a you-are-there accuracy and immediacy.

Frank P. Slaughter does not rank with Hemingway, Faulkner, or Steinbeck, but he is an undiscovered Michigan treasure. His deeply involving, vividly written novels that follow the Castor clan as they live Michigan history are sterling examples of  Michigan historical fiction at its best.
Brotherhood of Iron by Frank P. Slaughter. Mission Point Press, 2016, $18.95

The Great Water: A Documentary History of Michigan
by Matthew R. Thick, the editor

Unlike most historical document compilations, this book’s editor didn’t limit or confine inclusions to government documents, court decisions, and official papers.  You will not find Michigan’s constitution, in any of its forms, nor a copy of the Northwest Ordinance here. For that matter, you will not even find an index.

Rather, this is a documentary history of the state collected from a wide and diverse cross-section of its inhabitants, from the pre-colonial period to the Flint Water Crisis. And if there is no index, the documents are arranged by subject matter into chapters. The extensive table of contents reveals chapters on Unions & Unionization, The Depression, Lumbering, Mining, the Civil Rights Movement, the Pioneer era, and many other subjects.

What makes this book special is the everyday experiences the editor has collected on these pages by those who’ve lived Michigan’s history. Of equal interest are the writings and recollections of famous luminaries of the state, I for one, can’t ever remember having read before. The book contains transcripts of the notes made by Father Marquette on his preparation to search for the great river said to lie west of the Great Lakes. Then there’s the eloquence of Sojourner Truth on women’s rights when she spoke on the subject in 1851. She said: “I have heard the bible and learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if women upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.”

The range of people and subjects recorded in this book is remarkable. A grocer from Flint tells of delivering food to the UAW Sit-Down Strikers, a woman remembers life in a lumber camp as a cook, Henry Ford explains why he instituted the $5-a-day wage, and a there’s a description of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Camp near Petoskey. Other documents recount the moment on September 18, 1844, when iron was discovered in the U.P., a mine inspector reports in 1906 on the causes of five mine fatalities, and there’s Clarence Darrow’s memorable closing argument in defense of a Black Detroiter who bought a home in a white neighborhood, and killed a white man when a mob attacked the Black family's new home.

This book is like a giant, artistic, installation of colorful mosaic tiles. Up close, the individual tiles tell brief stories of lawyers, miners, suffragettes, lumberjacks, autoworkers, and the farmers who had to kill their dairy herds in 1975 when fire retardant was accidentally added to their cows’ feed. But take a few steps back. From a distance, the tiles coalesce into a striking and illuminating diorama, in words, of Michigan’s history.
Great water: A Documentary History of Michigan edited by Matthew R. Thick. MSU Press, 2018, $26.95, pb.

The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook
by Amelia Levin

I began writing this review while the 1st batch of Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, from a recipe the author adapted from the Town Hall Bakery in Jacksonport, Wisconsin, was in the oven. Oddly enough, the recipe omitted when to add the oatmeal to the batter. I think I figured it out and will tell you how the cookies turned out at the end of this review.

The recipes compiled in this attractive book, filled with mouth-watering photographs, are taken or adapted from wineries, eateries, orchards, dairies, and bakeries from around Lake Michigan. The recipes lean heavily on regional food traditions and locally sourced ingredients. It’s no surprise the book contains an abundance of cherry recipes because both Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula and the Traverse City area are major cherry producers. There’s Cherry Streusel Muffins, Creamy Cherry Chicken Salad, Door County Cherry Pie, Cherry Barbecue Sauce, Old Mission Peninsula Waldorf Salad, and Smoked Whitefish Pate with Tart Cherry Jam just to name a few.

And speaking of whitefish, one of the best meals I’ve ever had was a boiled whitefish dinner. Chunks of whitefish, onion, potatoes and sometimes corn are all dumped into huge pots of boiling water at precise intervals. This takes place outside, before spectators who are about to become diners, with the pots set on a wood fire. Just before serving, kerosene is thrown on the fire and the pot boils over, taking any fish oil and fat with it. The boiled dinners are popular attractions in both the Door and Leelanau peninsulas, and obviously not something you can replicate in your own kitchen, until now. The author has reworked the fish boil into a recipe you can do at home. 

There are also two versions of UP pasties, and instead of the ubiquitous Mackinac Island Fudge, there’s a near fool-proof recipe for Mackinac Island Peanut Brittle. The author also includes thumbnail sketches, with photos, of the various eateries, farms, wineries, etc. from which the recipes have been drawn.  

This book is for everyone who wants to take home a part of their Lake Michigan vacation or travel experience, whether it’s Up North in Wisconsin or Michigan, or one of the charming little towns lining the great lake’s southern shore. It’s even for those who want to experience Lake Michigan’s regional food traditions and unique eateries from their own kitchens without leaving home. And by the way, the two Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies I consumed during the writing of this review were delicious.
The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook by Amelia Levin. Storey Publications, 2018, $19.95

As always, if you would like to purchase one of the reviewed books or any book, clicking on the cover of an above book will take you to Amazon where you can purchase the book below list price.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Post # 17

Quote of the day: "Lake Huron...where 40% of all lake ships come to die." Jack Parker. Shipwrecks of Lake Huron. 1986.


A Good Killing
by Allison Leotta

Like the author, the character Anna Curtis is a federal prosecutor in Washington D.C., and as the book opens Anna’s life is going to undergo a 180-degree change. She returns the engagement ring to her fiancĂ© because Anna stumbles across evidence he’s cheating on her, and she gets a disturbing call from an old friend in Michigan. The longtime friend of her younger sister tells Anna the town’s legendary high school football coach was found dead, murder is suspected, and Anna’s sister Jody is being questioned by police.

Anna drops everything and flies home to act as her sister’s defense attorney. It seems federal prosecutors can do this if the trial occurs in a state in which the federal prosecutor is not posted and the boss gives his consent. Anna is hardly back home before near-constant friction between the sisters heats up old grievances, and Jody draws a line in which she demands her sister cannot cross in defending her. The stress heightens when the police arrive at Jody’s house with a search warrant allowing them to cut sections out the carpet, knock holes in walls, and even remove bathroom fixtures as possible evidence. For the first time, Anna sees the gathering of evidence, the role of the prosecutor, and the horrible disruption in the life of an accused, who is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty, as both unfair and intimidating.

The only bright spot amid all the legal work and the growing evidence against Jody is the old high school friend the caller sent to Metro Airport to pick up Anna. Cooper Bolden is an Afghan vet who lost a leg in Afghanistan. Being blown up in a Humvee has left him with PTSD and a dread of riding in enclosed vehicles. He picks up Anna at the airport on a motorcycle. He also invites the sisters to stay at his house when the police and their search warrant make Jody’s house unlivable. A born farmer, Cooper has homesteaded an urban farm within sight of Detroit’s RenCen. The ever-resourceful Cooper is quite attracted to Anna and volunteers to act as her assistant investigator.

It’s not long before Anna realizes that Jody has lied to her and is never going to tell the truth about what happened the night of Coach Fowler’s death. It leaves Anna with no clear-cut defense strategy unless she can unseal old court records which could reveal some of the town’s dirty secrets.

This is an expertly paced mystery, which captures the atmosphere of small-town Michigan sitting just over the horizon from Detroit’s decaying neighborhoods and its affluent suburbs. The author also does a fine job of portraying the every changing dynamics between sisters and how the steadily increasing stress affects their relationship. And as one should expect from a federal prosecutor, the trial scenes are well drawn and riveting. 

A Good Killing is guilty of possessing an addictive narrative filled with surprises that keep the reader’s nose pinned to the book until the final page. The only way to get through withdrawal after THE END is to score another Leotta title.

A Good Killing by Allison Leotta. Touchstone, 2016 pb., $15.99

Winter Heart
B. G. Bradley

I don’t know why, but often before beginning a book I thumb through it, read the blurb, the back cover, see if chapters have titles, and glance at a few pages. I guess it’s like kicking the tires of a car before you buy it. Admittedly, it’s as pointless as judging a book by its cover, but this time after a quick look through Winter Heart my first thought was this will never work.  I was wrong, utterly wrong. The poetry intermingled throughout the novel is essential to its success, the paragraphs and whole pages in italics with words here and there in bold type work, and the strange way in which chapters are sometimes separated into small, often only a paragraph in length, Parts 1, 2, 3, etc. does not interrupt the flow of the book. So I am publicly eating crow and praising the author for his creative approach to writing and formatting this very satisfying novel.

The book revolves around 60-year-old Ben O’Brian a retired university professor, poet, widow, curmudgeon, dog lover, member of an entertainingly odd family, and resident of the Upper Peninsula.  As the book opens Ben is at his camp (Yooperese for backwoods cottage) with his two Labrador Retrievers, Tom, and Huck. And as he often does, Ben is ruminating about life including; growing old, religion, his family, nature, dogs, and memories of his wife gone some fifteen years from cancer and still grievously missed.

Scattered throughout the book are poems by Ben and instead of interrupting the story they serve as windows into the character and even soul of Ben. And I love Bradley’s audacity as an author. He writes Ben’s poems and then creates a new character who reads the poems and praises the poetry and its author. At the point at which this happens in the book, readers will be so wrapped up in the story it will take a minute to recognize the author’s literary sleight of hand. 

The story is told in the first person by several characters and this reader wishes so many of them didn’t slip into inner dialogues with themselves. That's because Ben carries the book. By far, he is the most interesting character in the novel, and Bradley’s dialogue enlivens the book. It snaps, grackles, and pops while often being humorous and always sharp as filleting knife. The author’s sentences can be arresting. Thinking of his wife, Ben describes her in this glowing sentence: “My moonlight my rain.” Of Christians, Ben says, “Just shut up and sing. I’d like to tell so many supposed Christians that. They sound so much smarter when they sing.” Lastly, it would be remiss to neglect the author’s skills in describing both the human and natural landscape of the UP.

Oh, and the plot. Ben’s sister badgers Ben into accompanying her by rail to the West Coast where their older brother is to be married. Somewhere in Iowa Ben encounters 20 minutes or so of what seems like a miracle. It is a chance meeting and the brief encounter will change his life.

This is the first in the author’s Hunter Lake series. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next.
Winter Heart by B.G. Bradley. Benegamah Press, 2017 pb., $9.95

Torn in Two: The Sinking of the Daniel J. Morrel and One Man's Survival on the Open Sea
by Michael Schumacher

The 600-foot ore carrier Daniel J. Morrell went down in Lake Huron, off the tip of the Thumb, on November 29, 1966, in one of the all too common ship-killing storms unleashed on the Great Lakes in November. The November storms have become forever entwined with Great Lakes history and legend and so have the ships and men who met their end in those storms. It's been over 50 years since the Daniel J. Morrell was literally torn asunder by a horrific storm. Yet, to state the obvious, here is yet another account of the ship's demise and the miraculous survival of a single crewmember which will have to share shelf space with earlier accounts of the tragedy and the inevitable books still to come. Writers will never tire of describing and recounting the Great Lakes yin and yang -- their soul-stirring beauty and their horrific storms of which Melville wrote: "...they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew."

The Daniel J. Morrell was built in 1906, and the hard-working, 42-year-old ore carrier, like other massive Great Lake carriers of her era, left every port of call with a stowaway aboard -- a fatal flaw in her very DNA. Schumacker's absorbing account of the Morrell's destruction and crewman Dennis Hale's incredible tale of survival may be the shortest book yet published on the tragedy. But he doesn't waste a word in this engrossing and full account of the sinking, which also includes transcripts of the Coast Guard's hearings into the Morrell's loss.

The Daniel J. Morrell had supposedly completed her last voyage of the season when engine problems in another ore carrier necessitated the old workhorse make another round trip to Taconite Harbor, Minnesota. Dennis Hale, a 26-year-old watchman on the Morrell, arrived at the Buffalo, NY harbor only to watch his boat leaving without him. He caught up with the Morrell in Windsor where it stopped to take on coal. Meanwhile, a huge storm was bearing down on the Great Lakes. The Morrell's sister ship, the Edward Y. Townsend was also northbound and the two ore carriers entered Lake Huron on November 28, just hours apart.

By nightfall, both boats were taking a terrible pounding as the full force of the storm swept into lower Lake Huron. Twenty-five to thirty-foot high waves at intervals of 250- to 300-feet assaulted the Morrell and two of the huge waves would often pass under the freighter at the same time which put enormous stress on the hull. Rivets popped, anchors slammed against housings, wires screamed in the wind and at times wind and waves came at the ore boat from two directions at once. It was becoming ever more difficult for the Morrell to maintain her course. What the Morrell's crew didn't know was that the steel used in the construction of ore carriers prior to 1948 was susceptible to becoming weakened and brittle after long exposure to cold temperatures.

Schumacher does a masterful job of recounting from what would have been the crew's point of view in experiencing the ore carrier literally being torn in half by the violence of the storm. The bow section, where Hale's quarters were located, sank first. The watchman went into the icy waters of Lake Huron wearing underpants, a life jacket, and a pea coat. Hale and three other crew members crawled aboard a life raft and watched in probable disbelief as the aft section of the Morrell, still under power, motored away. It plunged to the bottom of Lake Huron about an hour later.

The Morrell wasn't reported missing until the next day. Schumacher describes in riveting detail the thirty-six hours Hale spent on the raft. He and his companions were at the mercy of icy waves that threatened to hurl them into the lake, and high winds that left them feeling as if they were being burned. Hale watched his three companions die, and his survival was nothing short of miraculous.  Hale was left with both long-lasting medical problems and deep psychological wounds from his ordeal.

The author fully recounts the search and rescue operations following the sinking. The remains of the Morrell wasn't discovered until a decade after she went down. The book also reveals how the fatal flaw in the old steel almost sent Morrell's sister ship to the bottom in the same storm. It was also the probable cause of the Carl D. Bradley's destruction a decade earlier when that boat went down in another November storm with the loss of all but two crewmen.

Whether you've read about the fate of the Daniel J. Morrell before, or come to this legendary story for the first time, Schumacher's book is all but impossible to put down from page one.

Torn in Two by Michael Schumacher. University of Minnesota Press, 2016, $25.95

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.

Post # 22

Quote for the day: "Those gulls that strolled the beach at Tawas Bay would eat anything. Anything. Anytime. Apples, hot dogs, smoked he...