Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Karen Stilson Armour's Traveling Solo, Faith not Fear

Karen Stilson Armour will be discussing her writings and signing books on Sat. March 31 from 9:30 AM to 2 PM at First Church of Christ, 585 E. North St., Owosso.

Karen Stilson Armour loves traveling around the world.

But she’s not your average tourist, going to museums and fancy urban shopping areas – she likes more obscure places, in Africa, Central America and the South Pacific.

You’re not likely to find her with groups of other tourists either; the Haslett resident likes to travel alone, which provides a wide variety of interesting experiences.

“Traveling Solo: Faith not Fear” (Xulon Press, $14.99 Kindle $7.49) is a well-produced, slim, self-published paperback that’s full of many travel anecdotes and numerous intriguing photographs.

Subtitled “Fearless Faith by Trusting God”, Armour intertwines her religious viewpoints in a unique book that also explores conquering fear utilizing spiritual insights.

It’s an unusual mixture: Armour noted that there were many current books on traveling solo and lots of books on building relationships with God, but none that combined the best aspects of both areas.

Armour’s deftly relates her vivid travel recollections of her solo adventures, offering a memorable mixture of humorous and amazing personal experiences.

She methodically lists 10 reasons why traveling solo is advantageous, including unexpected discoveries, more free time, greater casual conversational and personal encounters and additional time for people watching.
Additional expense is the major disadvantage; costs can be significantly higher without accompaniment.

Armour covers an assortment of other travel aspects, including destination choice, health concerns, attire, safety, traveling light and the challenges of pre-packaged tours.

The author includes a wide variety of relevant travel quotes from famous people such as Mark Twain, Margaret Mead and Khalil Gibran; related biblical verse quotes are interspersed through parts of the text.

The remarkable photographs are quite striking, with great images that the average tourist is not going to be able to capture. Photos include snake charmers in Morocco, the camel market in Egypt and interesting Tanzanians, as well as lions, giraffes, zebras and a rhino.

Armour stresses the importance of her beliefs that trusting God is the way to conquering fear; she provides a brief section of questions and topics for discussion.

More information can be found at her website, www.karenstilsonarmour.com

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


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Elmore Leonard's Raylan

Diehard Elmore Leonard fans won’t be disappointed with “Raylan” (William Morrow, $26.99), featuring U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.

The quick thinking, fast-shooting Givens has appeared in earlier books, “Riding the Rap” and “Pronto,” as well as the short story “Fire in the Hold.”

Viewers who follow the hit FX TV show “Justified”, starring Timothy Olyphant as Givens, might be a bit puzzled, as a few of the characters and some of the scenes are notably different in this book.

The latest effort by the masterful crime writer isn’t really a novel, it’s an intertwined collection of short vignettes showcasing Givens.

Two local marijuana dealers are causing problems – they’ve gotten into the more lucrative business of selling human body parts, specifically kidneys.

Givens’ investigation gets unusual results leading to a memorable scene with a pretty transplant nurse. She’s about to make Givens her next victim.

Carol Conlan, a determined executive for a coal mining company that’s trying to buy more land, is the centerpiece of the next vignette. She has her own quirky ideas of how to accomplish her goals and isn’t about to let anyone get in her way.

There are also a few chapters involving a devious criminal and three strippers, high on drugs, who are holding up banks. Givens is soon tracking down Jackie Nevada, a smart young college student who’s a superb poker player.

Eventually, all the loose ends are tied up; Leonard’s prodigious talent really shines as he deftly handles expected and unexpected scenes of violence.

Leonard, who’s written over 40 books, is in fine form with his terse, dialogue driven plot. He doesn’t spend a whole lot of time describing the beauty or ugliness of Harlan County KY, where most of the action takes place, but gets right into the action.

The author, who lives in Bloomfield Village MI, is the recipient of the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America.

Many of his books have been made into movies, including “Get Shorty”, “Be Cool” and “Out of Sight.” Leonard has also written a number of excellent crime novels with Michigan settings, including “Split Images”, “Unknown Man No. 89” and “City Primeval.”

If you haven’t discovered Elmore Leonard, you’re in for a real treat!

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


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review: The Making of a Heretic by Henry J. Flandysz

“The Making of a Heretic” by Portage author Henry J. Flandysz (Haven on Earth Books, $17.95) offers intriguing insights into the life and beliefs of a veteran educator who also served in the Air Force.

Subtitled “How the World Out There Ruined a Good Catholic Boy”, the well-designed self-published paperback is over 440 pages, including an assortment of family and other photos.

It explores Flandysz’s introduction to schooling and religion in Bay City, where his parents ran a local flower shop.

The entertaining memoir examines his religious upbringing and assorted other youthful adventures, including unusual hitchhiking trips.
Flandysz enlisted in the Air Force in 1961 and ended up serving in Turkey; he also traveled a bit in Europe. He came back to the states and graduated from Central Michigan University. In 1968, in Chicago, he was arrested for “mob action” during protests at the Democratic National Convention.

The author, who taught high school in Dexter for decades, uses his memoirs to discuss a variety of subjects,
maintaining thought provoking, controversial views that may not necessarily be politically correct.

Flandysz was influenced by a trip to Germany in the early 1970’s where he visited the death camps at Dacau and Auschwitz; a 1983 newspaper article spurred further interest.

Sometimes providing more detail than necessary, Flandysz explores his relationships in his three marriages. He also writes about making the discovery that his grandfather had been institutionalized for 38 years.

Flandysz is at his best when describing his youthful experiences, although a trip with his students to visit inmates at Jackson Prison certainly provides memorable moments.

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

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, March 7, 2012.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Two New Kids' Books Set In Michigan Entertain, Educate

Two recent children’s books set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula provide intriguing entertainment as well as interesting insights into our state’s history.

“Stolen Treasures at Pictured Rocks” by Lansing author Mary Morgan is the first in her National Park Mystery Series.  Published by Haslett’s Buttonwood Press at $7.95,
the slim oversized paperback features illustrations by Dawn McVay Baumer.

It focuses on the adventures of a pair of twins, Ben and Bekka Cooper and their parents. They are on vacation, sharing a camper at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Park.

They meet Eli Hartley and his father, from  Diamondale, who are on a kayaking trip, tenting nearby. They get guidance from a park ranger, who answers questions about the area’s wildlife and offers tourist suggestions about the very scenic location.

Onboard a tour boat, the youngsters experience some unusual activities and encounter men who are planning to steal maritime artifacts.

Morgan deftly includes lots of historic information as she relates an exciting adventure that both children and adults will enjoy. Also provided are an area map, related poetry and photos of artifacts that have washed ashore from Lake Superior.

“Haylee’s Treasure” by Kalamazoo author Mara MacKay (Old Wood Press, $15.95) is also set in the Munising area, but showcases nine-year-old Haylee, who’s visiting her grandparents with her father.

She’s worried that she’ll have a boring summer, but instead learns a lot about the area’s rich heritage. She goes on a glass-bottomed boat tour of the area’s shipwrecks and has encounters with the area’s wildlife.

Her grandmother tells Haylee about her old job at the Munising Woodenware Factory, which was in existence from 1911- 1955. They made a variety of decorative wooden bowls in many sizes, which were hand-painted by the workers.

Haylee meets another former worker and finds out more about the craftsmanship involved. Family relationships are explored and Haylee ends up having considerably more fun than she expected.

Although not as exciting as Morgan’s book, MacKay’s novel offers black and white and color drawings by Stephanie Bajema. Photographs of the woodenware factory are also included.

This book is ideal for schools and libraries and is the first in a projected series by History CPR books. It provides bibliographies, internet sources and suggestions for discussions.

This review was originally published by the 
Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February 19, 2012.

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