March 1, 2020 Post # 52

Sunday, March 1, 2020
Quote for the day: "If you live to shop, you'll have a life expectancy of less than three hours (on Beaver Island)." Tom Powers. More Natural Michigan. 1992.


Shoulder Season: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story
by Kathy Fawcett

The shoulder season for up north resorts and lodges is the slower spring and fall seasons on either side of the big money-making summer season. For single, 34-year-old Kay Kerby even the summer season isn't likely to save the Kerby Lodge which she inherited when both her parents died a dozen years ago and she took over running the resort. 

The lodge lies on the shore of Lake Michigan and under her parents' ownership it thrived. Kay never made up her mind if running a resort was what she really wanted to do, so for a dozen years, she has coasted along doing practically nothing to improve the place, keep the old customers, or work to build a new clientele. The resort has become worn, outdated, lost bookings, and is close to bankruptcy. Kay doesn't know it but when David Mayne a rude, standoffish, loner rents one of the resort's a-frame cottages from September through November her life and the resort is about to undergo drastic changes.

The author does a fine job of describing the nuts and bolts of running a lakeside resort and the pitfalls that can spell ruin for an inattentive owner. When Mayne breaks an ankle trying to change a light bulb in his cottage Kay moves him into the main lodge and takes care of the tight-lipped grouch. They end up making a strange team under Mayne's surprising leadership in remodeling the resort and building a new clientele.

This is the first in a series of novels about the happenings at the lodge and the author has done a nice job of capturing the feel of a Michigan resort community from the perspective of those who live off tourists. David Mayne and Kay Kerby are finely drawn characters and many of the minor characters come alive under Fawcett's pen. The book makes a pleasant and enjoyable read as Kay learns how to become a real owner and the last half of the novel reads like a how-to guide in rejuvenating and marketing an outdated resort. The author writes with humor and authority on the tourist trade and for a little added spice Kay finds herself becoming unexpectedly involved in a budding romance.
Shoulder Season: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story by Kathy Fawcett. Self-published, 2019. $12.95.

Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams
by Jack Dempsey

The author has rescued a Michigan Civil War hero from the dust bin of history with this biography. The future Michigan general was born and raised in Connecticut, attended Yale and graduated in 1831, then returned to Yale in 1833 for a law degree. After becoming a lawyer Williams headed for Michigan where he hoped to earn his fortune speculating on real estate.  

When the Mexican War broke out the newly minted Michigander joined the army and was appointed 2nd in command of a Michigan regiment. Although he never saw combat he became very adept at organizing, training, managing supplies, and handling all the reams of paperwork necessary to keep a regiment in the field.  All of which the author shows made Williams a valuable state asset when the Civil War erupted and Lincoln called on the states to send troops to defend the Capitol. Williams helped organize and train the 1st Michigan Infantry Regiment. The Governor then appointed Williams to raise and train a brigade of which he was named the commander.

The author does a fine job of outlining Williams distinguished wartime career. In many of the major battles in which the Army of the Potomac was engaged, Brigadier General Williams played an important and prominent role. He led his men into the thick of the fighting around the bloody cornfield at Antietam and his leadership helped stabilize the armies' right-wing.  He played a significant role in saving the Army of the Potomac from a complete rout at Chancellorsville by stemming Stonewall Jackson's crushing surprise attack. He also fought Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley and fortified the Union's strong position on Culp's Hill on the right side of the Union front at Gettysburg. In many of these battles, Williams often found himself temporarily in command of Divisions and the entire Corps.  

In spite of Williams' record and his effectiveness in handling large concentrations of troops in the heat of battle, he was never promoted beyond commanding a brigade. Williams felt the lack of promotion was grossly unfair and even considered resigning from the army because of the slight, but his patriotism kept him from turning his back on saving the Union.

This readable and informative book is a welcome addition to Michigan's participation in the Civil War and shines a spotlight on a Michigan officer who has too long remained hidden in the shadows of history. 

Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams by Jack Dempsey. History Press, 2019, $21.99 pb.

Unsalted: A Hilarious Michigan Guidebook Written by a Texan
by Wes O'Donnell

I am not sure who the author's intended audience is for this often funny and wonderfully odd guide to Michigan. O' Donnell moved from Texas to the Muskegon area some years ago and the book sometimes reads like he is trying to convince residents of the Lone Star State that
Michigan is as great a place to live as Texas. He even broaches what some living between the Rio Grande and the Red rivers may consider heretical -- that Michigan may, on the whole, be a more attractive place to live than (I'm whispering) Texas.   

The book makes a fine introduction to Michigan culture, history, tourist attractions, weather, and it's people. I believe life-long Michiganders will enjoy and benefit from reading the book because it is a look at our state from an entirely different perspective. And the author clearly meant the book to be a guide to his newly adopted state for everyone because he said he purposely included a lot of photographs so those living in Oklahoma and Ohio could also enjoy the book.

The author mixes state history with his experiences in exploring the state and enjoying  its many tourist attractions. The author's personal observations range from an explanation of the Toledo War with Ohio, Detroit's recent turnaround, the beauty of the Great Lakes, the glory of the Upper Peninsula, the Flint Water Crisis, to Lake Effect snow and winter driving. He even boasts of Michigan's culinary contributions to the nation which include Vernors, Coney Islands, Mackinac Island Fudge, Detroit Square Pizza, and the Olive Burger which the author testifies can only be found in Michigan.

The author is flummoxed that in 2012 Marquette was listed among the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. by CBS MoneyWatch in spite of the fact the city is buried under 150 inches of snow every winter. He comments on the state's horrible roads and observes the state is among the 10 lowest in the country for spending on roads. Included is an illustrated list of five things to do with potholes including plant flowers in them, go spelunking, or fill it with ice and make it a beer cooler.  

Under Deadly Wildlife the author includes a Michigan Black Bear Encounter Checklist. Among the bullets in the checklist are: "Does it appear to be trying to fight forest fires?" and "Does he answer to 'Fuzzy Wuzzy' but ironically have no hair?" A glaring error in this checklist is the absence of decerning whether or not the bear is red and pitching a particular brand of toilet paper.  

The book is filled with an amazing amount of useful information and a fair helping delightful nonsense. It is fun, informative and salted with a tasty glaze of sarcasm. Welcome to Michigan Wes O'Donnell, Texas' loss is our gain. 

Unsalted: A Hilarious Michigan Guidebook Written by a Texan by Wes O'Donnell. Warrior Lodge Books, 2018, $9.95.  

Secret Remains
by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

It seems only a couple of weeks have passed since Dr. Emily Hartford left her surgical residency at a Chicago hospital to return to Michigan, in the first of this mystery series, to care for her estranged father who had suffered a heart attack. Her father is a county coroner and as Emily tries to nurse him back to health she also temporarily serves as the county coroner. Although it almost results in Emily's death she proves instrumental in helping solve a murder.

This second book in the series takes off like an F-15 catapulted from an aircraft carrier. Within the first half dozen pages, her father dies from a second heart attack and the bones of a high school girl who disappeared a decade earlier comes to light when a basement is excavated for a new house. The last person to see the girl was Emily's high school sweetheart who is now sheriff. Making matters worse is that Emily and a consulting forensic anthropologist announce the girl was murdered and the sheriff's high school varsity jacket was found with the remains. Emily is determined to clear the sheriff's name and find the murderer.

But that's not all that Emily has to keep juggling while she hunts for the killer. Does she return to her surgical residency in Chicago, run for county coroner, or accept an offer from a forensic anthropologist to come to U of M and study with him and later teach. Then there's her ex-fiance, the sheriff, and a forensic anthropologist vying for her affections. Emily also stumbles across information her father had withheld from her concerning her mother's death, and the reading of her father's will reveals a shocking family secret.

The author is very adept at keeping all these plot elements in the air at once while even adding more surprise twists to the story. The setting of the small town on the west side of the state is believably drawn as are the characters populating the town and the story. If you've got things to do and places to go pick this book at your own risk because it is going to play havoc with your to-do list and schedule for a day or two.

Secret Remains: A Coroner's Daughter Mystery by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush. Crooked Lane Books, 2020, $26.99.

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