Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Pays Homage to 'Ladies of Lights'

Michigan history fans can enjoy a pair of highly entertaining new books that focus on fascinating aspects of our Great Lakes state.

These aren’t your usual run-of-the mill volumes of generalized or glorified history; instead they offer new and intriguing insights into uncommon past livelihoods.

“Ladies of the Lights” by Patricia Majher (University of Michigan Press, $22.95 pb, $65 hb) is a well-organized, illuminating look at Michigan women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.

It’s broken down into a dozen short chapters plus an epilog, providing an amazing view of a long-overlooked subject. There were 52 women who served in this unusual capacity, beginning with Catherine Shook, who maintained the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse on Lake Huron from 1849.

The carefully researched volume is not likely to put you asleep; it’s filled with great photographs, lively insights and remarkable information about the strong-willed women who were vital in safely guiding ships through treacherous waters.

Majher, the editor of Michigan History Magazine, also includes a wonderful recent interview with Frances (Wuori Johnson) Marshall, the last of the female lighthouse keepers. Marshall appeared as a guest on the popular 1953 “What’s My Line?” television show and successfully stumped the panel.

Majher’s great book is ideal for average readers, historians and libraries; it provides geographical and alphabetical lists, suggested readings, an excellent bibliography and detailed footnotes.

“Sawdust and Woodchips” by Ben Mukkala (Still Waters, $15.95) is another relaxing, insightful volume by one Michigan’s best storytellers.

It deals mostly with the lumberjacks and the logging industry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, told in Mukkala’s folksy, laid-back style.

Mukkala deftly tells tales of famous and infamous Michigan lumberjacks from a bygone era, exploring their attitudes, foibles and follies.

The are many wonderful short vignettes that explore the history, growth and disappearance of a variety of logging communities in the U.P.

Mukkala also provides a 50-page chronology of the logging industry in Michigan, beginning in 1797, peppering it with numerous insights into regional history.

The author, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Major in 1970, has also written other entertaining, self-published, popular paperbacks, including “Copper, Timber, Iron and Heart (Stories from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula” and “Come On Along (Tales and Trails of the North Woods”).

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published in the Lansing State Journal on December 26, 2010.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


If you’re trying to escape from the holiday celebrations, here’s a quick look at a pair of fast-paced crime novels with memorable characters and many surprising plot twists.

“Cross Fire” by James Patterson (Little, Brown, $25.95) is the 17th in his exceptionally popular series starring Washington D.C. police detective Alex Cross.

It marks the return of Cross’s deadly foe, Kyle Craig, a clever killer and former FBI agent who’s escaped jail. Craig has struck again, this time murdering undercover FBI agent Max Siegel and stealing his identity.
Cross is investigating a series of murders in the nation’s capitol; a corrupt congressman and a shady lobbyist are assassinated by sniper shots.

Craig assists on the case, meticulously planning his violent revenge. Cross is unaware of the villain’s goals; another odd series of murders occurs and he must investigate. Meanwhile, Cross is planning on getting married to Bree Stone and faces a variety of other challenges.

Patterson frequently and smoothly shifts viewpoints in this highly entertaining tale, raising the tension level while offering insights into an assortment of devious minds.

The award-winning author, who’s sold over 200 million books, has created another compelling page-turner that can easily be made into an exciting movie.

“Kind of Blue” by Miles Corwin (Oceanview, $25.95) is an excellent debut crime novel by a former LA journalist who’s written three non-fiction books.

It introduces Ash Levine, who was one of the LA police department’s best detectives until he resigned a year earlier. Latisha Patton, his murder witness in a homicide investigation, was killed; Levine feels her death was his fault.

Lieutenant Frank Duffy is getting pressure to solve the murder of Pete Relovich, a legendary ex-cop; he convinces Levine to return to the force.

With his badge back, Levine digs deep into the case,
uncovering hidden clues that other cops have missed. Soon the investigation expands in unexpected directions; he wants to solve it so he can work on the Patton case again.

This book is filled with flawed, quirky characters, especially its hero, an obsessive, surfboarding, Jewish
detective who has flashbacks about his time served with the Israeli Defense Forces.

Corwin, a remarkable new talent, goes deep into Michael Connelly territory; he’s created an exceptional, atmospheric police procedural that’s easily one of the year’s best crime novels.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.This review was originally published in the Lansing State Journal on December 19, 2010.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Murder, mayhem take over Detroit

Two recent novels by award-winning Whitmore Lake author Loren D. Estleman offer a variety of reading pleasure.

While his latest crime novel takes place primarily on the crime-ridden streets of Detroit, his other highly entertaining tale is set mostly in the 1800’s, exploring an unusual 20-year relationship.

“The Left-Handed Dollar” (Forge, $24.99) is the twentieth novel in the last 30 years starring Amos Walker, a tough Detroit private investigator.

Short on funds, Walker takes a job from “Lefty Lucy” Lettermore to investigate an old case that severely injured Walker’s best friend, investigative reporter Barry Stackpole.

Mob figure Joseph Michael Ballista was sent to jail years earlier for the car bombing. Lettermore wants Walker to track down an informant and look into other aspects of the crime.

Walker faces a number of challenges, his friendship with Stackpole is at risk; he uses a variety of sources to gather information. When the body count rises, Walker knows he’s got real problems – he may be the next target of a crafty killer.

Estleman, one of America’s best crime novelists, has produced a nifty, well-plotted, hard-boiled tale that’s rife with mayhem and murder.

Die-hard gumshoe fans may also enjoy “Amos Walker, The Complete Story Collection” (Tyrus,$32.95) which includes a brand new short story in the hefty, 600 page book.

“Roy & Lillie” (Forge, $24.99) is a step in a different direction, focusing on the unusual romance between notorious Texan Judge Roy Bean and beautiful British stage actress Lillie Langtry.

Estleman has carefully crafted a fascinating dual biographical novel of the distinctive pair, who corresponded for 20 years but never met while both were alive.

It showcases their wildly differing lifestyles, with Langtry rising to be adorned by high British society while Bean was gaining notoriety as “The Hanging Judge”.

Deftly exploring their lives, Estleman alternates chapters as he focuses on their unusual behavior, personal relationships and amazing careers.

The well-researched novel includes appearances by assorted royalty, playwright Oscar Wilde and artist James McNeil Whistler, as well as cameos by Bram Stoker, John Barrymore and many others.

Many western scenes are vividly described, relating Bean’s unique lifestyle and uneven type of frontier justice.

This smooth, intriguing combination of fact and fiction works well on a number of levels; Estleman is a superb storyteller with remarkable insight.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, December 12, 2010.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


Blaine Pardoe will be signing books on
Tuesday at 7 p.m. at University of Michigan’s
Hatcher Graduate Library, Room 100,
913 S. University, Ann Arbor.

Tom Weschler and Gary Graff will be signing books
on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Schuler Books and Music,
Eastwood Towne Center, Lansing.

Two recent books will make ideal gifts for the holiday season for historians, although there’s likely to be a wide variance in the readership. One is great for military historians interested in World War I and II while the other is aimed at die-hard rock and roll fans.

“Lost Eagles” by Blaine Pardoe (University of Michigan Press, $32.50) is subtitled “One Man’s Mission to Find Missing Airmen in Two World Wars.”

It focuses on Frederick Zinn, a virtually unknown native of Galesburg MI. He has played a vital role in tracking down information used in determining the final fate of airmen missing in action.

Pardoe covers Zinn’s lengthy career during World War I, when he was initially a member of the French Foreign Legion. He became the first American aviation combat photographer, but devoted most of his efforts to locating missing airmen.

Zinn’s unusual spying duties during World War II are also carefully examined, when he worked for the top secret Office of Special Services (OSS).

Sections offering insights into the lives and disappearance of the missing flyers follow chapters of Zinn’s mesmerizing biography.

The well-researched volume includes photos, footnotes, a bibliography and a brief section on the fate of the missing airmen. Many methods Zinn originated are still in use today, This excellent, fitting memorial provides a moving tribute and well-deserved recognition. to an overlooked heroic figure.

“Travelin’ Man – On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger”
by Tom Weschler and Gary Graff (Wayne State University Press, $18.95) is not a biography of Bob Seger and his assorted bands.

Instead it showcases over 150 Weschler photographs of Seger’s early career, beginning in 1969 through the late 1970’s and beyond.

There are many sharp images of a smiling, young Seger in assorted recording studios and on the road, including visits to MSU, U of M and the 1970 Goose Lake International Music Festival.

Numerous photos have long detailed captions, providing insights into Seger, his creativity and many different band members.

John Mellencamp offers a brief foreword, with Kid Rock supplying an afterword; this distinctive oversized paperback is a real treat for former hippies and good old-time rock and roll fans.

(Originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, December 5, 2010.)

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.