6 New Titles for Your Must-Read List

by Laurel C. Wemett

Laurel Wemett reviews a dozen or more books in “Book Look” each year. The criterion for considering a book has typically been its Finger Lakes content, although the author may or may not live in the region.

We are pleased when we learn that readers look forward to hearing about new books. Recently, Linda Pembroke Kaiser of Syracuse, author of Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark, a book we reviewed in 2011, wrote, “When I receive my issues of Life in the Finger Lakes, I always turn to the Book Review column first. The concise reviews are always honest and informative for readers.” We hope that is true for these new selections.


The Soul of Central New York Syracuse Stories
by Sean Kirst
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Website: syracuseuniversitypress.syr.edu

The stories included in this collection originally appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper, written by columnist Sean Kirst over 25 years. Divided into 10 thematic categories including “Diligence,” “Love,” and “Courage,” these tales were published from 1991 to 2015.

After working for several regional papers, Kirst’s first assignment at the Post-Standard was as sports columnist, writing on both Syracuse University athletics and high school team sports. Later on, he was able to pursue what he enjoys most, “narratives about people going through everyday triumph or loss or struggle” that involved “fundamental elements of humanity. In these elements, somehow, are the soul of a hometown,” writes Kirst.

There are famous people, such as acclaimed children’s author Eric Carle, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the football legend Jim Brown, all of whom have links to Syracuse. Others, like the barbers Phil Malara and Luis Casares, are little known beyond Central New York, but their lives are no less compelling.

These well-crafted stories will grab readers with their poignancy and relevance. They are inspiring accounts that reflect this award-winning author’s ability to respond to people’s lives and situations with insight and sensitivity. While each column is dated as to when it appeared, the author has added thoughtful postscripts that reveal the outcome of these individuals’ lives.


Heaven’s Ditch
God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal
by Jack Kelly
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Website: stmartins.com

Here is an engrossing read to accompany the 200th anniversary of the beginning of construction on the Erie Canal in Rome in 1817. This nonfiction title by journalist and historian Jack Kelly links the waterway with the influential religious movements and political activities of the early 19th century.

The author introduces us to Jesse Hawley, a flour merchant in Geneva, who envisioned a canal traversing 360 miles – from Buffalo on Lake Erie to New York City – to improve the transport of goods. The completion of the canal and its opening in 1825 is contemporaneous with a period of religious fervor called the Second Great Awakening. “During the first decades of the nineteenth century, the finger of God touched down with remarkable frequency in the region of western New York through which men had slashed the great ditch,” writes Kelly.

Significant religious leaders of the period include William Miller, a Baptist preacher who prophesied the Second Coming in the 1840s; and Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the influential historic figures covered in Kelly’s narrative is William Morgan, who disappeared in 1826 and was presumed murdered because he planned to reveal secret rituals of the Freemasons. This eventually led to the rise of the Anti-Masonic Party.

This ambitious work manages to weave together these complex themes.


Wines of the Finger Lakes
by Peter Burford
Publisher: Burford Books
Website: burfordbooks.com

Author Peter Buford, the publisher of Burford Books in Ithaca, is no stranger to this column, but this is the first book to bear his name as author, and it is smart and timely. While he candidly admits he is not a “wine writer,” he is clearly familiar with the world of Finger Lakes wines through his extensive travels through the region. The book provides a comprehensive well-organized introduction to wineries of the Finger Lakes.

An overview of the lakes and their suitability to grape-growing is presented along with descriptions of the grapes and local wines. The early “Big Four” wineries (Pleasant Valley, Taylor Wine, Urbana Wine, and Widmer Wine Cellars) are introduced, along with pioneers like Charles Fournier and Dr. Konstantin Frank, among others. The illustrated explanations of American and French hybrids are a helpful addition along with “Reading a Finger Lakes Wine Label.” A “(very) short course on wine making” and a month-by-month winery activity checklist may challenge or terrify anyone with the dream of planting a vineyard.

A section of this compact book concentrates on more than 50 wineries located near Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka Lakes where the majority of regional vineyards are found. This illustrated, indexed volume will be a valuable aid for novices and seasoned oenophiles alike.


Blood Soaked Earth
by Mary Joslyn
Publisher: CreateSpace
Website: createspace.com

This novella explores the lives of Helen Kline, her two older sisters, and her daughter, Goldenrod. The three sisters were orphaned, and Helen gave birth to a child under unusual circumstances when she was only a teenager. She raised the child as a single mother with the help of her siblings. Later Helen becomes a labor doula and midwife. The family farm in Upstate New York becomes a boarding home for pregnant teenagers run by Helen. She also operates an artisanal bread bakery with the young residents.

The author, a freelance writer for this magazine and other regional publications, is a trained labor doula, natural childbirth educator, and mother of four. Joslyn brings an authenticity to the narrative which focuses largely on the physical and psychological manifestations of motherhood. One chapter contains Helen’s entries in the birth journal she kept during her early days as a doula.

At the heart of the fictional story are the complicated emotions that both Helen and Goldenrod feel toward the man who abandoned them. When one sister dies, people long separated are reunited and opportunities to face old unresolved issues present themselves. The reader ultimately learns a disturbing family secret which has haunted Helen since her youth. The characters are well-developed and their lives easily engage the reader.


365 Things to DO in Ithaca, New York
by Laurel Guy
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Website: schifferbooks.com

Want a year’s worth of adventures in the Finger Lakes? Laurel Guy relocated to Ithaca from Kentucky in 1981 and hasn’t looked back. Compiled from her simple routine of writing down one thing she loved about Ithaca each day, the entries are presented seasonally.

No one will be bored reading this broad selection of sights, sounds, tastes, and even “celebs.” Not all are a short walk from pedestrian-friendly Ithaca Commons, but who can blame the author for expanding the boundaries to include regional attractions?

A few of Ithaca’s highlights include rescued landmarks (the Clinton House), a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Alison Lurie), nearly daily concerts (Ithaca College School of Music), waterfalls (more than 100 including Ithaca Falls), and peace lovers (Quakers on East State Street during Thursday rush hours). This lively full-color and indexed compendium will inspire life-long residents, newcomers, and visitors alike. The author’s detailed back stories offer background and location details.

“The best part of living in Ithaca is the people,” summarizes Guy, a realtor who happens to be a plein air artist. “They are authentic. No pretense. No dress code. Everyone has a passion – you can’t take for granted your first impression. Your real estate agent could be an artist.”

A founder of the Ithaca Artists Market, among other achievements, Guy’s deep pleasure and involvement in Ithaca shows throughout.


When Camp Onanda Gives Her Call
by Carol Truesdale
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing & The History Press
Website: arcadiapublishing.com

For over 70 years, generations of young women and girls arrived to spend summertime at Camp Onanda on the shores of Canandaigua Lake. The author, a former Camp Onanda counselor for three years in the late 1960s, presents the camp’s history with an introduction of the area’s Native American past. Truesdale’s overview spans the camp’s ownership and operation by the Young Women’s Christian Association of Rochester, beginning in 1919 to its transformation into a public park in the late 1980s.

The author researched the activities, attendees, structures and how the property itself changed with the times. Early campers arrived in Canandaigua by trolley from Rochester and then boarded the Eastern Star steamer boat for an 8-mile trip down the lake. Numerous period photographs, camp brochures, and other illustrations, along with actual campers’ memories and postcard messages, bring the camp to life.

“All you need to do is grab a paddle and life jacket from the boathouse and scoot down the shore to the canoes,” the retired teacher writes, describing the campers’ wholesome activities during the 1960s. In the 1980s, Camp Onanda shared its facility with the Camp Good Days and Special Times before that nonprofit group moved to Branchport.

Lakeside residents, local history buffs, and campers of all ages are among those who will find Truesdale’s book of special interest.