Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Harbor Springs Festival of the Book is this week!

The third annual Harbor Springs Festival of the Book extravaganza begins this Friday at 11 a.m. Over fifty brilliant and talented authors will be reading, speaking, appearing on panels, signing autographs, and even cooking Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! Once again we feature a debut novelist whose book is longlisted for the National Book Award. This year it's Brandon Hobson whose Where the Dead Sit Talking evokes an eerie quality that allows the reader to enter the world of Sequoyah, a 15-year-old Cherokee boy whose mother is in prison. Several children's and young adult authors including Newbury Award Honor recipient Gary Schmidt will speak.  Mystery writers, poets, novelists, cookbook authors, and award-winning nonfiction authors will be speaking and reading.

I have the privilege of introducing the sixteen authors who will read from their works at the Soup & Stories events on Friday and Saturday from 11 to 1. I've read all sixteen of their books and attendees are in for a treat. Hobson will be reading from Where the Dead Sit Talking on Friday as will Rene Denfeld, author of one of the most atmospheric and authentic novels I've read recently.  Her The Child Finder is a novel that everyone who reads it exclaims "Wow" after finishing. We'll also introduce the Good Hart Artist Residency's first writer in residence Bryna Cofrin-Shaw who'll read at 11:30 on Friday 

The Saturday Soup & Stories features young adult and children's authors, nonfiction authors and two fine novelists. Porter Fox, author of  Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border, will kick off the readings at 11. The events begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday with multiple programs and venues throughout the day.

Find the full schedule and synopses of each program here: https://www.hsfotb.org/2018-schedule/. If you're anywhere near northern Michigan, this is where you'll want to be this weekend.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hard Cider by Barbara Stark-Nemon

Hard Cider visits that time in many women’s lives when the empty nest prompts a reassessment of life. After fertility treatments, adoption, and intense involvement with rearing her children, Abbie Rose is ready to explore new options. Her emotional attachment to the land near her northern Michigan vacation home calls her to the possibility of pursuing a new venture. Many years previously on a teacher exchange program in London, Abbie fell in love with hard cider and visited cider makers in England. Now, she’s falling for the idea of creating her own cider from hard cider apples growing near her retreat on Michigan’s Leelanau peninsula.

Facing concerns and some opposition from her husband back in Ann Arbor and from her children including son Seth who says, “Okay, I get it,” Seth said. “You’re into apple cider. But last time I checked, you didn’t know how to work with a spreadsheet. Now you’re talking about starting a business.” As Abbie addresses family concerns and her own thoughts, she meets a mysterious new resident who makes everything she’s ever known a quandary.

It would do this novel a disservice to describe the secrets revealed as Stark-Nemon carefully discloses them allowing each character to absorb only what’s required. The secrets shown and the doubts encountered offer a universal portrait of marriage today. This is a novel for women searching for meaning after their children are grown.

It’s a novel of love with exquisite word pictures of the beauty of northern Michigan in all seasons. “Winter hit hard and fast in the second week of December – not unusual for northern Michigan, but still catching off guard those of us clinging to the pleasure of the mild weather that had lasted through Thanksgiving. The snow had begun four days earlier – a mass of roiling clouds that blew in off the lake, accompanied by plummeting temperatures. The first icy onslaught had whipped around in the wind, stinging unprotected cheeks and eyes like needles. Then the front had settled over the peninsula and dropped a foot of snow in twenty-four hours. After another day and several more inches of fluffy white stuff, the storm had passed, and this morning had dawned clear, sunny, and frigid.

The lake no longer pounded out rhythms to the falling snow, and the softened fields, laced tree branches, and muffled sounds combined to create a winter wonderland that never failed to thrill me. No snowbird behavior for me; I loved northern Michigan in the winter precisely for its harsh beauty and isolation. Short days and long nights brought me inward, forcing a welcome shift to indoor work with my hands, reading, planning, and dreaming.”

Creative women will appreciate how Abbie Rose knits as she spends contemplative time sorting out her problems. Knitting brings her into contact with other characters she might not ordinarily meet in the isolated area and it serves as a metaphor for the way lives can be knit together through careful attention and hard work.

Summing it Up: Reading this novel is like sitting down for a cup of tea and conversation with women who share their lives and support one another. Read Hard Cider to escape into the life of a woman who thinks and plans before acting on the challenges coming at her.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: GPR, BC
Publication date: September 18, 2018
What Others are Saying:

Story Circle Book Reviews - "This is a book about how families shift and change, always, and how we learn to accept those earthquakes."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Across the Great Lake by Lee Zaharias

Across the Great Lake introduces Fern, a five-year-old girl on a winter voyage across Lake Michigan on a railroad car ferry in 1936. While her mother lies at home in bed after the death of her second child during childbirth, Fern’s father, the ship’s captain, takes her on the ship despite the risks of such a journey. Fern’s voice is one this reader will long remember. There are only a handful of books that feature such an authentic child’s voice. Zacharias captures the fear, joy, wonder, honesty, and imagination that inhabit childhood. Fern is precocious yet she’s in no way precious, cloying, or cute. She’s quite simply herself and that alone makes this a delightful novel. Still, that isn’t half of what this gem offers. It’s packed with the fascinating history of northern Michigan ferries, shipwrecks, icebreakers, and all things nautical. It also offers the best of literary novels with foreshadowing and pacing that roar toward the anticipated, yet haunting conclusion.

Chapters narrated by Fern as a widow in her eighties bring the reader back to the present and keep Fern’s childhood voice fresh. The adult Fern demonstrates the universality of looking back upon our lives while pondering our deficiencies. Zacharias has a masterful way of making the reader feel that she is Fern looking backward in time.

Fern’s description of the car deck and her reason for wanting to visit it shows her use of word pictures. (Note: Manitou is the stuffed bear she named for the Manitou islands and the name of her father's ship.) “What I wanted to see was the caboose. Sometimes when you watched a freight train go by, the man in the caboose would come out on the little platform in back and wave, and I thought I would like to stand on that platform and wave too. I could wave good-bye to all of the people in Frankfort who were going about their business just like always on a cold winter day, trying to dig out their cars or shoveling their steps or walking to the butcher or grocer or maybe just visiting. Billy Johnson might be making a snowman in the yard that was just the other side of the big wooded lot between our houses. Or maybe he was coming through the woods with his sled so he could ride down our long, steep driveway, and he might wonder where I was and why I didn’t come out to play, and he wouldn’t know that I was on a boat, that I was on a boat and a train both at the same time, and that I was going to sail all the way across the lake just as soon as we got out of the frozen harbor, and even Manitou, whom I had left in the observation room, got to go, and Billy didn’t.”

Fern’s five-year-old fascination with the time zone change in the middle of Green Bay makes her believe that it was “five o’clock and four o’clock at the same time because if the line ran right down the middle of the ship, it would be suppertime only on one side of the table.” When the bosun spoiled her fun by telling her that time didn’t change on a ship, she realized that “made sense because my father would wear his pocket watch out if he had to reset it every time the Manitou crossed the lake.”

Alv, a fourteen-year-old boy on his first journey, is another beautifully imagined character. He’s “different” and thus bullied by the crew, yet he’s kind and caring with Fern. He lives across the bay in Elberta which isn’t quite as nice as Frankfort where Fern lives. Later Fern realizes that perhaps their worlds weren’t that dissimilar having “the many colors of sand and sky and that transcendent stretch of sweetwater sea that lay between us and the edge of our world, most of all the rhythm of the waves coming home day after day, night after night, all that would have been there for him just as it was for me. For all I know he too might have remembered his childhood as happy.”

When the crew encounters severe weather and other difficulties, Zacharias makes the journey as exciting as that shown in the best of sea-faring adventure novels. This book is the real deal. The author is also an acclaimed photographer and her eye for detail shows in the word pictures she conjures.

Summing it Up: Across the Great Lake introduces Fern, a genuine character that readers will long remember. Fern’s voice will capture those longing for a literate, historical novel packed with action that offers enchanting characters and a poignant ending.

Rating: 5 stars   

Category: GPR/PP/SN, BC

Publication date: September 18, 2018

Author Website: http://leezacharias.com/

What Others are Saying:

“One of the most intensely written and beautifully conceived novels to come my way in many a season. I will be thinking about these characters for a long, long time. Seldom have I read a story with so much life on every page. Zacharias is a master.”  Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World

”Lee Zacharias is one of those profoundly rare writers, a natural. Her voice is one you can trust, and her characters are real, moving, and come from the experience of someone who knows what trouble human beings get themselves into.” Craig Nova, author of The Good Son

An astonishing novel of high intelligence and moral rigor. Lee Zacharias is a master. . . Like Harper Lee and Marilynne Robinson, Zacharias reminds us of the lasting power of childhood.” Elaine Neil Orr, author of Swimming Between Worlds