May 1, 2022 Post # 78

Sunday, May 1, 2022

 Quote for the Day: "...beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; [Lake Superior] always there, always the same -- there for the grateful and ungrateful, there for the bastards and angels." Anatomy of a Murder, John Voelker.

Dear Readers;

It is with no small degree of regret that I tell you that Michigan in Books will cease operations this coming June or July. A year ago, the blog attracted over 800 readers a month but over the last few months readership has steadily fallen. Last month page views were in the 300s. In good conscience I cannot ask publishers or self-published authors to send me review copies for a publication or blog that only reaches some 300 readers. Additionally, it has grown increasingly difficult to identify new books about our state, and harder yet to acquire a review copy. More time is often spent tracking down new Michigan books and self-published authors than it takes to read and write a review of a book. At present only 5 review copies are on hand. I will try to review them all in June. If not, the blog will conclude in July.

I am not sure why readership has declined so rapidly. It could be age has caught up with my writing skills or having to stay at home because of the pandemic more people browsed the Internet. In the end why doesn’t really matter. What I do know after nearly three years of writing this blog is that Michigan has a wealth of very good writers who do not get the recognition they deserve.

To all the faithful readers of this blog goes out a heart felt thank you for your long-standing support. And a special thank you to all the authors I have gotten to know, appreciate, and tried to promote.

I wish you all good reading,

Tom Powers


Huron Breeze by Landon Beach

Rachael Roberts has written three hugely successful thrillers under the pen name Riley Cannon. No one in her very upscale northern Lake Huron community or in America knows Rachael is really Riley except her literary agent Topaz Kennedy. Rachael's third NYTs bestseller appeared 10 years ago and Topaz daily harangues her client for the fourth in the series which Rachel hasn't even started. The bestselling author has a writer's block the size of Hoover Dam. Then fortune smiles on Rachel when a man crawls out of Lake Huron near the home of a neighbor with a knife in his back and dies on the beach. 

A murder investigation is way out of the village cop's league and by default the murder case lands in the lap of the town's successful and eccentric P. I. Obadiah Ben-David. In a moment of desperate brilliance Rachael pays Obadiah a hefty fee to allow her to become his assistant. The murder will be the inspiration for her fourth book and Ben-David's unusual investigation will serve as the plot's outline. Beach has taken a murder mystery, a wickedly satiric look at the publishing industry, the writing of bestsellers, along with a sideways glance at the wealthy in up north Michigan all of which he tosses into a blender and presses puree. The result is a novel smoothie.

Rachael with pen and notebook in hand copies down anything she thinks could be used in her new novel as Ben-David questions possible suspects. Even characters from her three earlier books make appearances to see if they would fit in the new novel. All the while Rachael is continually at crossed swords with her obnoxious and demanding literary agent. As defined in the book, "a literary agent was one of the traditional publishing industry's cornerstone Threshold Guardians--a gatekeeper, who kept unpublished, barbarian writers away from the cherished castle of book-deal majesty." I have a feeling Landon Beach enjoyed writing this book as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Huron Breeze by Landon Beach. Landon Beach Books, ISBN 9781732257870, 2021, $16.99

Above the Birch Line by Pia Taavila-Borsheim

This small, impressive book of poetry is a life revealed in seventy-five pages by a native of Presque Isle, Michigan who retired as a professor of creative writing and literature at Gallaudet University. The poems describe and capture the author's childhood, marriage, travel, motherhood, aging, and contemplation of death. A great many are set against a beautiful, meticulously drawn word-picture postcard of Michigan.

The author's poems are written with a remarkable smoothness, flow with the ease of the Au Sable, and possess a profound feeling for time, place, and people. The reader's eyes seems to glide down the page as the lines strike one emotional cord after another. The poem, "November, 1963" is twenty-one short lines on the assassination of JFK that doesn't take up a full page yet hits the reader with the force of an unabridged dictionary dropped from the top floor of the Dallas Book Depository. The twelve-word poem "Marriage" is a wise and near perfect observation on matrimony. 

"A floorboard creaks, cries,                                                                                                                                      despite our best intentions                                                                                                             to avoid the plank."

I'd lay money on the husband stepping on the to be avoided board much more often than the wife.

I shy away from reviewing poetry because I just don't feel qualified. And with that said, here is an unqualified, whole-hearted recommendation for this heartfelt book of poetry. I will return again and again to savor these memorable and moving poems. Many of which reflect on life in Michigan. 

 Above the Birch Line: Poems by Pia Taavilla-Borshein. Gallaudet University Press, ISBN 978-1-944838-89-8, 2021, $19.95.   

Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing, New Ed. by Arnie Bernstein.

Before May 18, 1927, Bath, Michigan was a small, peaceful Michigan town where everybody knew everybody, doors were not locked at night, and newcomers were welcomed. In 1919 one of those newcomers was Andrew P. Kehoe who married a local woman and bought a small farm near Bath. He was polite and friendly but a man of strange mannerisms and behavior. The farm was extraordinarily neat, he and his wife were socially active in the community, and Mr. Kehoe was widely acknowledged as an expert on dynamiting stumps. He ran and was elected treasurer of the board of education even though or because he hated the new taxes levied to pay for a  two-story consolidated school. After the election he spent weeks packing the school's basement with explosives in ordered to blow the new building and its 230+ students to smithereens. On May 18, 1927 Kehoe killed his wife and livestock, blew up his farm, packed his truck with dynamite and headed to town. It was sheer luck that only the explosives under the school's north wing went off killing. The explosion killed 38 children and six adults. 

This riveting and haunting book presents a detailed description of Bath, draws a harrowing portrait of a psychopathic killer living amidst an unsuspecting community, and a minute-by-minute account of the cataclysmic explosion and the horrific results.  The author stitches together dozens of eye-witness accounts from inside the school and around Bath. The author taps both historical sources as well as his interviews with six survivors. One can't read this book without being deeply moved by the pain and horror suffered by the children and their parents, or the almost superhuman effort by the community to rescue entombed children.

The author has done a remarkable job of letting the people of Bath tell of their tragedy. It gives the book an immediacy and a direct emotional connection with Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech and all the recent and horrible school shootings. The book also touchingly relates the lengths the town went to memorialize those lost in the senseless mass murder. Originally published in 2009 this new addition contains interviews with two survivors not included in the first edition. The only question left dangling in the book as well as the current plague of recent school shooting is WHY, WHY, WHY? 

Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing, New Ed. by Arnie Bernstein. University of Michigan Press, 2022, ISBN978-0-472-03903-6, $22.99 pb.   

Vlad The Impaler: And More Epic Tales From Detroit's "97 Stanley Cup Conquest by Keith Gave.

The author, a retired Detroit Free Press sports reporter wrote the bestselling book The Russian Five that recounted the defection of three Russian hockey players to the Detroit Redwings. And, at coach Scotty Bowman's insistence the Wings later acquired two more Russians by trade. The Russian Five, as they came to be known played a major role in Detroit's winning the 1997 Stanley Cup and revolutionized how the game was played in the National Hockey League. Gave then went on to write and produce a laudable documentary film based on the book.  Gave found he still had reams of material on the 1997 season, winning the Stanley Cup, and Russian Five's experiences playing in the NHL. The result is this book which contains a host of great stories he couldn't squeeze into the book or the film. 

Readers shouldn't think of this book as Gave picking up the scraps he couldn't work into the film or the first book. What makes this book special is that Gave has let the players, coaches, and Red Wing administrators tell the story of the season and winning the cup from their point of view. I especially liked the unique view of the team and the Russian players as seen by the Chief Flight Attendant on Redbird One. She was aboard the plane when Sergei Federov defected and again when Konstantinov defected. My favorite story is told by NHL referee Paul Devorski  who handed out penalties after Darren McCarty pummeled Denver's Claude Lemeieux. McCarty singled out Lemeieux for retribution after driving Kris Draper into the boards the previous season breaking his jaw and multiple facial bones.  Devorski watched tapes of Lemeiux's savage blindside hit on Draper the night before the game. When order was restored the linesmen asked if McCarty was getting a game miss conduct. Devorski called McCarty for double roughing believing Claude deserved the beating. Following the fight the Wings came from behind to tie the game. Then karma struck when McCarty scored the winning goal in overtime.   

The title of the book would imply that it was all about Vladimir Konstantinov. His story is familiar to all Wings fans. If you haven't heard it, the Wings held a party a week after winning the Cup and on the way home Konstantinov's unlicensed limo driver crashed into a tree. Vlad suffered horrific brain and spinal injuries. He remained in a coma for two months and when he awoke doctors said his brain damage left him with the cognitive skills of a small child and he would need around the clock care from nurses and caregivers. The care has been ongoing for 25-years until a recent Michigan law put a cap on the amount of money car crash victims can receive. Or as Keith Gave sees it, Konstantinov "...faces another catastrophe, his survival hanging in the balance, thanks to unconscionable legislation passed by lawmakers on both sides of aisle bought and paid for by the breathtakingly greedy Michigan insurance industry." Doctors are afraid Konstantinov may not survive normal nursing home care. And, one should keep in mind this is not only happening to Konstantinov but thousands of Michigan victims of catastrophic injuries due to car accidents. A portion of the sale of this book is earmarked for the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust.

This is a must read for hockey fans, especially Red Wings fans. Keith Gave has scored a literary hat trick with this fine book.

Vlad the Impaler: And More Epic Tales from Detroit's '97 Stanley Cup Conquest by Keith Gave. Teufelsberg Productions, ISBN 978-1-952421-25-9, 2021, $16.99.


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