Book Look: Reading Reviews

The books reviewed in this issue offer something for all seasons and all ages. The topics covered are favorites of Finger Lakes writers – from wine to honey, glacial rocks to short-lived mayflies, the Civil War to the 20th century, and the natural world and the history of the region.

Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine
Richard Figiel (2014)

Richard Figiel offers a concise and informative history of the wine industry in New York State. The author, a former winery owner on Seneca Lake, journalist and writer, examines the “geological curiosities” of New York, beginning with the impact of glaciers. The survey encompasses the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, the Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario), Long Island, and the North Country showing how the climate and terrain of these regions influences grape growing. Many grape species, varieties, and wines are discussed to illustrate the story.

“Wine was still flowing, but there was no doubt the industry as a whole was crippled,” writes Figiel, revealing the profound impact of Prohibition on winemakers. He also writes about how the industry rebounded.

Other highlights include the parts played by immigrants, families and large corporations. A chapter titled Revolutionaries focuses on those who had an impact on winemaking in the 1950s and 1960s such as Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes. The growth of the state’s wine industry is traced to the present day with New York wines garnering international recognition.

Indexed and illustrated with black-and-white photographs, the book also has appendices with a time line and a list of surviving 19th-century winery structures.

Publisher: excelsioreditions
Edition(s): soft cover


Raymond W. Copson (2013)

Caleb Lawson is robbed in Baltimore after arriving there from rural Seneca Castle to sell his brother’s cabbages. The year is 1859 and the trusting youth, outsmarted by a pair of cunning slavery supporters, finds himself bound for Africa aboard a clipper ship engaged in the illegal slave trade. The author, who has lived and taught in Africa, delves into one the most tumultuous periods of American history. A plot replete with historic detail reveals the impact of slavery on individuals across two continents. A torturous voyage, the enslavement of Africans, the advancing Civil War, and the subsequent conflagration, all come to life in this well-paced first novel.

On his return voyage Caleb unsuccessfully attempts to free Albeni, a beautiful young African girl with whom he has fallen in love. His welcome home to Penn Yan is tempered by the impending war, and following John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Caleb joins the Keuka Rifles. Battlefield experiences and Caleb’s capture by the enemy ensue before he arrives in Savannah where Albeni is now owned by the young man’s former adversary.

This fictional love story set during a highly charged period in American history is sure to hold the reader’s interest.

Publisher: Infinity Publishing
Edition(s): soft cover


Ephemeral Summer
Sheila Meyers (2014)

Romance combined with a good measure of the natural world is on tap in this coming-of-age novel set in the Finger Lakes. Emalee Rawlings, a young woman dealing with the misfortune of losing her parents by murder and suicide, is raised by an aunt who spends summers on Canandaigua Lake. The reader is introduced to 20-year-old Emalee at the lake spending time with longtime friends and a new love. The short life of a mayfly, the insect depicted on the book’s cover, is used as a metaphor in the book for the fleeting or ephemeral summer.

Emalee displays a passion for the natural world. As a student at William Smith College in Geneva, she enrolls in a class in limnology, the study of freshwater lakes, and goes aboard a research vessel on Seneca Lake. She wades into streams in search of insects and later, as a graduate student at Buffalo State, tracks moose in the Canadian wilderness. The pressures of commercial development around Canandaigua Lake and the role of the Finger Lakes Land Trust are included.

The author, a college professor who lives in Skaneateles, has crafted an engaging first novel with appealing multigenerational characters and provocative plot twists.

Publisher: Createspace
Edition(s): soft cover


Mr. Bee Man: The Story of Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth Father of American Beekeeping
Rosalie M. Gabbert; illustrations by Sheila Jarkins (2013)

This colorful picture book provides a true account of the life of Lorenzo L. Langstroth (1810-1895), the “Father of American Beekeeping.” It features a curious little boy who grew up to revolutionize the beekeeping industry.

Author Rosalie Gabbert, a former teacher and librarian, was married to a master beekeeper in Wayne County. Seeing the exact measurements of her husband’s beehives introduced her to Langstroth, the man who discovered that bees need precisely 5/16ths of an inch of “bee space” to move in orderly paths. Lorenzo’s moveable-frame beehive has a space of 5/16ths of an inch between each frame, and on both the top and bottom of the frames. He patented his invention in 1852 and wrote an influential manual on bees and their hive. Youngsters enjoyed learning about beekeeping from Lorenzo in his later years.

Gabbert resolved to write the true story for children that shows how Lorenzo’s youthful fascination with insects and his exploration of nature led to this important revelation. “Langstroth’s discovery and invention has affected beekeeping all over the world,” explains Gabbert. Harvesting honey became far more efficient as a result.

For young children, the watercolor paintings by illustrator Sheila Jarkins are a perfect complement to the narrative.

Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
Edition(s): hard or soft cover


Under Foot Poems & Essays
Stephen Lewandowski (2014)

Canandaigua native Stephen Lewandowski is an environmental educator and consultant in the western Finger Lakes who has written 12 small books of poetry. His professional career in soil conservation fuels his understanding and appreciation for the environment, and permeates his writings. While serious and sometimes soulful, they often have amusing asides.

This new collection of both prose and poetry frequently deals with rocks – fossil hunting, glacial till and bedrock – to mention a few titles. The ground is not merely a support for our buildings, roads and activities. The reader will reflect anew on the natural world and man’s interaction with it, observing what remains and what has disappeared.

Subjects of the new collection also include change, aging and death. Here is the poem “Ghost Orchard.”

What once was
in living memory
eight acres of Black Cherry
or Prunus avium orchard
bearing heavily while tended
by Old Man Woodward
over the years has been
parceled out and built up
with modest houses in
styles of the time, but
at this time of year
every year, the surviving
black straggles of
cherry limbs and bark
though uncared for
maimed and broken
suddenly burst forth
in sprays and fountains
of white blossoms.

Publisher: Mayapple Press
Edition(s): soft cover


Yates County Chronicles
Richard S. MacAlpine (2014)

Sometimes readers enjoy history in bite-size pieces. This collection of short essays is drawn from the storied history of Yates County which is bordered by three of the Finger Lakes – Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua. Retired history teacher and author Rich MacAlpine has selected columns reprinted from the Yates County History Center’s Yates Post, a bimonthly publication which he has edited since 2008. The collection draws heavily on archival newspaper accounts, and ranges from amazing tales like seven-year-old Harry Morse’s fish catch in 1873 to the uncertain outcome for those Yates County residents who boarded the ill-fated “Titanic” in 1912.

Civil War cannons and cannonballs once in the Yates County Courthouse Park are the focus of one essay. The author details why they disappeared and what replaced them. Another chapter explores why Franklin Roosevelt never came close to carrying Yates County in six elections. Readers may be surprised to learn of a school mascot designed by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy, a guitarist who once lived in Yates County.

From the Women’s Rights Convention (1855) to the destruction of the Benham Hotel (1959), the themed chapters are arranged chronologically. Numerous black and white illustrations bring these fascinating stories back to life.

Publisher: History Press
Edition(s): soft cover


Dawn the Deer Book Series
Dawn the Deer; Dawn the Deer Enjoys the Spring; Dawn the Deer Enjoys the Fall; Dawn the Deer Enjoys the Snow

by Troy M. Cusson; illustrations by Crystal Cochell (2013)

The daily experiences of a doe during the four seasons in the Finger Lakes region are the theme of this series for young readers. The “Dawn the Deer” books are based on the doe observed by Troy Cusson and his wife from their porch. Cusson is the instructional design manager at Keuka College’s Center for Professional Studies.

The books highlight the changes in the natural world. Dawn the Deer is surrounded by different colors, creatures, sights, sounds and smells. The deer sees a rainbow form, sniffs a daffodil, walks by a lake, and licks an icicle. The author puts to rhyme Dawn’s seasonal surroundings: “Flocks of geese begin to sprawl. Dawn the deer enjoys the fall.” The simple message for children is to do as Dawn does: stop and enjoy your day.

Each book is divided between pages of bright watercolor illustrations by Crystal Cochell and identical pages illustrated only in black and white. Children are invited to color them. “Your colors. Your story. Your ideas. Your creativity,” writes Cusson.

The series of sturdy paperback books is also available in Spanish, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Chinese, making it potentially useful in literacy programs or instruction geared to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

Publisher: A Winterlover Production
Edition(s): soft cover


The Farmington Railroad Tragedy of 1900
Reginald W. Neale and John M. Robrtella; George M. Tomczyk, editor (2014)

A train crash more than 100 years ago in Farmington is chronicled in this new title. Personal interviews, newspaper coverage and archival material form the basis of this account.

Late on a snowy night in February 1900, Porter Smith, his wife Amy Mason Smith, and five of their six children were riding home in a horse-drawn carriage from a friend’s house. They stopped at a railroad crossing and proceeded onto the track without hearing a train approaching at a high speed. Only two family members survived the impact. The Smith and Mason families were two of the founding families of Farmington.

At issue was whether the driver of the vehicle, the Smiths’ 21-year-old son Gardner, caused the accident. Or was it the negligence of the railroad and the train’s engineer for not sounding the whistle and ringing the bell? Six trials in two county courts plus subsequent appeals lasted seven years.

An introduction is written by Ontario County Historian Preston E. Pierce, a Smith family descendant. The book’s attractive layout is enhanced by numerous color and black-and-white illustrations, including a diagram of the accident scene. Two appendices offer biographical sketches of lawyers and justices involved with litigation and the trials, plus documents and transcripts related to the proceedings.

Publisher: Finger Lakes Historical press
Edition(s): soft cover

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