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Wednesday, June 29,2011

What should you take to the lake? Something old, something new

Here’s a few suggestions for summertime reading

by Bill Castanier

It’s hard to limit the "the books of summer" to 10 — so instead I’m giving you 11.


"The Maltese Falcon," by Dashiell Hammett: The
classic tough-guy/noir-detective novel that never loses its appeal.
Since it was first published in 1930, it’s the book mystery and thriller
writers dream of writing.


"Once Upon A River," by Bonnie Jo Campbell: A
strikingly original novel by one of Michigan’s most talented writers.
Campbell just keeps getting better, and that’s a lot to say for an
author whose last book was a finalist for the National Book Award.


In "River," she turns a journey by a teenage girl into an
exploration of life in all its nuances. The book’s protagonist,
16-year-old Margo Crane, would make Huck Finn blush and Becky Thatcher
cheer. “Once Upon a River” is one of those unusual books that will not
only be read by women but many men and young adults. After all, Margo is
a dead-eye, drop-dead Annie Oakley crossed with Lolita.


"Misery Bay," by Steve Hamilton: The cranky Upper
Peninsula detective Alex McNight is back, and Hamilton is as good as
anyone out there when it comes to fast-paced dark mysteries. Hamilton
was one of the first authors to find a home for the Upper Peninsula in
his books. He is often copied, never duplicated.


"In the Garden of Beasts," by Erik Larson: Larson
isn’t prolific, just darn good. This time, he takes his patented
parallel story structure, which he perfected in "Devil in the White
City,” to pre-war Nazi Germany, following an American ambassador and his
daughter for one year. This book will scare you to death as the Nazis
begin their path of hate and world domination. Remember that this is
Larson’s special brand of non-fiction as seen through the eyes of two
protagonists. And isn’t the movie version of "Devil" out soon?


"The Paris Wife," by Paula McLain: The author gives
Ernest Hemingway’ s first wife, Hadley, her due and she makes Hemingway
come alive in this outstanding addition to Hemingway faux-oeuvre
literature (which is an industry unto itself). This is Hadley and Ernest
in Paris as you’ve never seen them before. A few years from now you
will be standing in line to see the movie. If you think otherwise, check
out the popularity of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” 


"Last Call," by Daniel Okrent: It’s out in
paperback — and what better book to take to the beach with a gin and
tonic? This book may be the best book ever written about Prohibition,
and it foreshadows much of the world we live in, especially the war on
drugs. Okrent is from Detroit and was the inventor of Rotisserie
Baseball.


"South of Superior," by Ellen Airgood: A debut
novel by a Yooper waitress (by the way of University of Michigan and
Chicago). This book paints a layered picture of life in the U.P. and of
the landscape and inhabitants who make it so special, but often less
than pastoral. You can almost feel Jim Harrison’s Brown Dog in here
somewhere. It will have city dwellers packing up and moving north — or
at least wanting to make a short visit. 


"Very Bad Men," by Harry Dolan: Dolan once again
explores a strange literary life in Ann Arbor. Hey, it’s fiction, and
did I mention that the bodies start piling up pretty fast as Dolan
throws his amateur detective into an investigation? The trail takes him
to the Upper Peninsula in search of the truth lurking behind a decades
old bank robbery which somehow someway involves a U.S Senator.


"A State of Wonder," by Ann Patchett: Patchett
takes you on the ride of your life to the Amazon in search of truth, or
at least something close to it. Patchett sends a young research
scientist into the jungle — sort of a heart of darkness — to ferret out
what happened to another scientist who has gone missing.


Let’s see: man (or, in this case, woman) against the
jungle and some nefarious characters. Who will win? Let me guess. Just a
hint: James Rollins ("Amazonia") is better at this type of novel.


"Northwest Angle," by William Kent Krueger: Krueger
reunites private eye Cork O’Conner and his daughter, who not only find
themselves stuck on a island in Minnesota wilderness, but also find
themselves a body. Krueger may be one of the most underappreciated
mystery writers out there. Once again he works Native American culture
deeply into his murder mystery. Far more successful mystery writers look
up to this guy.


"I Gave My Heart to Know This," by Ellen Baker: An
expansive story moves across generations, starting on the homefront
during World War II. At a Wisconsin shipyard, Rosie-the-Riveter-style
women work the jobs left behind by the men who have either gone overseas
or on their way there. The book skips to modern times when a
granddaughter of one of the female shipbuilders uses old letters and
photographs to recreate a time when relationships were close to the
edge.


Baker, who graduated from the University of Michigan, is
really at the top of her game writing about the ships, the women and the
coldness of Lake Superior. 

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