March1, 2021 Post # 64

Monday, March 1, 2021

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


Two Widows  by Laura Wolfe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Blood by Daniel Greene

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

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

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

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

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

No comments

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.