April 1, 2022 Post #77

Friday, April 1, 2022

 Quote for the Day: "I have seen the storm of the Channel, those of the Ocean, the squalls off the banks of Newfoundland, those on the coasts of America, and the hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico. No where have I witnessed the fury of the elements comparable to that found on this fresh water sea." Francis Count De Castelau. 1842.


2022 Michigan Notable Books

Click on News and Views to see the twenty books published in the last year that were named as Michigan Notable Books. 

Don't Click on Book Covers

Over a month ago Amazon informed me that at the end of February I and other bloggers could no longer copy and paste products, including book covers, as we had done in the past. Amazon then announced how one might copy and paste using a new set of indecipherable directions. After tearing at what little hair I have left over the course of two weeks I decided to no longer use Amazon for my covers and found I could copy and paste from Google. I don't think it will affect readers of the blog because I get a monthly report on the number of clicks on book covers. They usually amount to less than a half dozen. What I didn't expect was that on all 76 earlier blog postings Amazon blocked clicking on the book covers. 

Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury by Kinley Bryan.

One of the great joys of producing this blog is picking up a self-published book by an unknown author, reading a few pages, and discovering you have fallen under the spell of a great story told by a talented storyteller. And yes, "Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury" by Kinley Bryan is one of those books and she is one of those authors.  

The novel follows the lives of three sisters over the course of three days, November 7-9, 1913. In those three days the most destructive storm in the history of the Great Lakes swept 250 sailors to their deaths, sank 19 ships, and wrecked another 19. One of the three sisters is a cook on a 500-foot ore carrier. The oldest sister, a widow of a husband who died while working at a Life Saving Station, lives in Port Austin, Michigan. She will soon find herself manning the Port Austin Life Saving Station's badly damaged surf boat as it tries to rescue the crew of a grounded freighter a mile offshore. It's a question of which breaks up first, the ship or the surf boat.  The youngest sister has just married the captain of Great Lakes freighter and on a whim decides to board his boat for the last trip of the season. The storm puts the lives of the three sisters in dire peril.

The sisters are convincing and well-drawn characters. The magic of a powerful historical novel is the way words on a page can make readers feel they are experiencing an event along with the characters. In the author's hands the storm becomes an awesome, deadly, maelstrom almost beyond imagination in its violence. Reading this book is the closest one will ever come to experiencing what it feels like as a ship longer than a football field breaks apart under you. 

The research is impeccable, and the novel is full of fascinating details on Great Lakes shipping and the life of freshwater sailors. The masterful narrative is compelling, suspenseful, and very powerful. This novel goes on a small shelf containing my all-time favorite books.

Sisters of the Freshwater Fury by Kinley Bryan. Blue Mug Press, ISBN 978-1-7379152-0-1, 2021, $14.96.

The Big Island: A Story of Isle Royale by Julian May, Illustrations by John Schoenherr

First published in 1968, this wonderful picture book works so well because the striking artwork and the narrative's simple, well-chosen words perfectly complement each other. The result is a classic children's introduction to Isle Royale National Park. This welcome reprint by the University of Minnesota Press includes a short report at the back of the book by noted wolf expert L. David Mech who describes the changes on the island over the last fifty years.

The slim volume recounts the history of Isle Royale. It briefly tells of the island's creation in Lake Superior and how both plants and animals came to inhabit it. Much of the book explains how the island's moose population and wolves depend on each other for survival. The simply told story shows how the moose are dependent on wolves to keep the herd healthy and from growing in numbers until it outstrips their food supply. On the other hand, without moose wolves could not survive on the island. The book is a simple and understandable lesson on ecological balance.  

This may be a children's book, but adults will find great pleasure in the finely drawn illustrations and in reading the book to the young. I visited Isle Royale over 20 years ago and I treasure the book because it is a vivid reminder of four extraordinary days spent on the island. I expect the book will have the same effect on others lucky enough to have visited America's least visited national park.

The Big Island: A Story of Isle Royale by Julian May and Illustrated by John Schoenherr. University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 978-1-5179-1069-3, 2021, $17.95.

Grievers by Adrienne Maree Brown

Dune, the main character of this impressive debut novel, is sitting at a table watching her mother work in the kitchen. Dune is stunned as her mother stops talking in mid-sentence, freezes in position as if playing a kid's game of statue, and dies. Dune's mother proves to be patient zero of a plague, pandemic, or undetermined killer that only strikes African Americans living in Detroit. Within days of her mother's death hundreds have died from the mysterious killer. The wealthy have fled and left the poor to suffer. 

As her world crumbles around her and grieving over the death of her mother Dune wanders the city talking to survivors, those leaving the city, and documents the dead she finds left in their homes or lying in the streets. Municipal services disappear, including hospitals, grocery stores, police, businesses of all kinds are gone. She learns from a doctor who stayed that Black Detroit is not dying from a virus but has no clue as to what is killing them. Dune continues exploring the dying city searching for food while taking notes and recording the unthinkable tragedy in hopes of discovering what is happening to her city and people. 

Do not mistake this book as a story of the Covid 9 pandemic from a Black point of view. The novel is a powerful portrayal of grieving, the struggle to find joy in life, and the love for a city. The book is set in the near future in a country still rent by racism, voter suppression, corruption, and failing schools. Detroit serves as symbol for all that's eating away at America's promise but as the author notes, "Detroiters are persistent when it comes to surviving the impossible." This book will stay with you long after the last page is turned. And by the way, there is no "The End" on the last page. 
Grievers by Adrienne Maree Brown. AK Press, 2021, ISBN 978-1-84935-452-3, $15.



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