Fictitious Wineries and Real Bootleggers Come Alive in These Reads

The books reviewed here are filled with the promise of new and well-established writers alike. Fiction selections are increasing in numbers, while at the same time, offerings that focus on our area’s history and unique character are plentiful. Many enticing choices are at your local bookstore.

The Lake of Dreams
Kim Edwards
Publisher: Viking /Penguin Group (USA)

“Lake of Dreams” is the fictional name of a Finger Lakes village and the hometown of the main character, Lucy Jarrett. Lucy returns there from her life in Japan, prompted by news that her mother was involved in a car accident. She leaves behind her boyfriend, Yoshi, and her career that is at an impasse.

The compelling narrative in The Lake of Dreams takes the reader on Lucy’s journey as she tries to resolve questions of her family’s past and her own future.

Even before she returns to her hometown Lucy is haunted by her father’s drowning 10 years earlier. At the family home she discovers papers that reveal a great-aunt she never knew, a woman who became involved in the women’s suffrage movement and was forced to give up her illegitimate daughter. Encounters with an old boyfriend and her uncle’s plans to sell family land for development add to Lucy’s dilemmas.

Having grown up in Skaneateles, Edwards brings her familiarity with the Finger Lakes area to this novel. Its natural beauty is a fitting setting for issues that will resonate with readers familiar with the area’s history. Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter that also deals with family secrets was enormously popular and spent many weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

Bernie, You’re a Bootlegger
A Family’s Escapades During the Prohibition Era

Joan Winghart Wilcox Sullivan
Publisher: Trafford Publishing, Inc.
$ 9.99

Thanks to Ken Burns’ recently aired documentary “Prohibition” and this book, we can all gain insight into how ordinary people became part of a secret underworld.

Bernie Winghart (1900-1997) was a bootlegger near Braddock’s Bay on Lake Ontario during Prohibition. One of 11 children, Bernie was in his late teens when the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages – except for medicinal and sacramental uses – became illegal. He was “filled with adventure” and, equipped with a good knowledge of boats and cars, joined an older brother Joe and his sister-in-law Mayme Schaller to become the “Bootlegging Trio.”

Author Joan Winghart Wilcox Sullivan, Bernie’s daughter, says family and friends always knew a little of his activities, but writes, “It is time to know all the details and the truth.” This concise illustrated account shows how a young man who worked as a mechanic hid his role in the dangerous but profitable smuggling and selling of alcohol from Canada. Late in his life Bernie revealed to his daughter how he and his brother drove cars and boats specially outfitted to transport liquor, used underground tunnels to hide the contraband, and dodged law enforcement’s efforts to stem illegal whiskey traffic across Lake Ontario from Canada.


Twisted Vines
Art Maurer

Jacqueline (Jackie) Beaveau, a young French woman, visits her American grandmother Emma at her lakeside home in the Finger Lakes wine country, reconnecting with her for the first time since she was 9. Following her parents’ tragic deaths, Jackie had been raised in a château in the Médoc winemaking region by her grand-mère Chloé, who clearly disapproves of the young woman’s travel plans. Jackie’s desire for independence may jeopardize plans for Jackie to wed a neighbor, a union that could lead to a merger of their Bordeaux vineyards.

Life in America becomes complicated. Joey, an ambitious young winemaker with aspirations for land that once belonged to his grandfather, is attracted to the sophisticated young Jackie. Eventually, Chloé decides she must come to the U.S. to bring Jackie home. Then a storm on the lake puts Joey’s enterprise at risk and heightens the drama.

The first-time novelist deftly tells a romantic tale filled with comparisons. Twisted Vines interweaves characters at different stages of life and love. Jackie is torn between her love and knowledge of grapes and winemaking, and her longing for something different. The young Finger Lakes wine industry and the renowned French Bordeaux wine production become a study in contrasts.

The Devil’s Alibi
Len Dawson
Publisher: Gypsy Shadow Publishing

This inaugural mystery novel finds middle-aged attorney Andrew Lee, the owner of a small firm in Ithaca, involved in two high-profile cases in the autumn of 1985. The tale is told in the first person by Lee, who has been appointed public defender for someone accused of kidnapping 16-year old Sara Jennings as she walked home. He also agrees to defend the husband of a woman murdered in her boyfriend’s home on the same evening. Solving the crimes and revealing if they may somehow be connected makes for a good read.

Author Len Dawson creates a likeable, mild-mannered lawyer who frequently seeks input on cases from his wife Melanie. He also relies on a street-wise friend Rick; and Mike, a helpful police detective, to solve these heinous crimes. They must navigate a dark side of Ithaca and its surrounds, an area perhaps better known for its scenic beauty and academic prowess. Lee laments the city’s “declining fortunes” as he focuses on an assortment of unsavory criminals with ties to the Tender Loin Club, a tawdry strip club. Another murder adds to an already risky situation before the story builds to a suspenseful Agatha Christie-style finale where the truth is ultimately revealed.


Monumental New York!
A Guide to 30 Iconic Memorials in Upstate New York

Chuck D’Imperio
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
2011, Paperback

In Ithaca there is a memorial to Carl Sagan, the host and writer of “Cosmos,” the most-watched PBS television show of all time. Sagan taught astronomy, among other classes, for many years at Cornell. A fitting tribute is The Carl Sagan Memorial Planetary Walk, an exact replica of our solar system, which is spread out over three-quarters of a mile, with its center at the shopping and entertainment area called Ithaca Commons.
Chuck D’Imperio, author of several books on upstate New York topics, calls the Sagan memorial “exciting, because it is just so darn out of the ordinary!” The book features 30 statues and memorials found throughout Upstate New York, with many in the Finger Lakes region. Others are found as far north as Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, and as far west as Westfield, Chautauqua County.

Some monuments are easily visible and highlight local themes. Others may be off the beaten path, like the Deir Yasin Remembered marker in Geneva that commemorates a tragic event in the Middle East that took place over 60 years ago. The detailed back-stories of each of these monuments makes for absorbing reading.

Directions to find each monument, statue, or memorial are accompanied by lengthy information on the city and surrounding areas so that travelers can learn about other notable sites in the vicinity.

Canandaigua and Canandaigua Lake
Preston Pierce
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing

Old postcards preserve portions of the world as it once was. Residential, religious and commercial buildings may not survive as bricks and mortar, but live on in a format that once was a very common means of communication. Images of trolleys, railroads and steamboats transport us back in time. Lakeside leisure pastimes come to life in photographs of old hotels, camps and cottages.

The author is the historian of Ontario County in which Canandaigua is located. Dr. Pierce, a teacher and author of several books on local history, has authoritatively organized a vast number of early 20th century images of Canandaigua’s vibrant community and one of the scenic Finger Lakes.

The postcard collection is made easy to reference by their organization into nine chapters by category, such as “Historic Homes and Buildings” or “Around the Lake.” Dates of the cards are often noted, and the sender’s message included at times. Each card is accompanied by an historical explanation. The author’s interpretations illustrate the many changes during the 20th century.

A short introductory history provides a good overview of Canandaigua. A final chapter on Naples and Middlesex adds insight into life at the headwater of Canandaigua Lake.

Fruit of the Vine
Cynthia Kolko
Publisher: Charles River Press

Hassler Vineyard, a fictional grape farm and winery in the Finger Lakes during the early 1990s, are brought to life in this first novel by the imaginative writing of Cynthia Kolko.

Vineyard workers Jemison “Jem” Loud and his buddy Zack routinely ponder their lives over beer at a tavern in the rural town of Sawhorn. When illness is followed by the sudden death of Jem’s father Ed, the only parent he has ever known, Jem’s world is forever altered. Ed’s passing brings to light family secrets, as well as questions about what will become of the Loud family farm Jem has inherited.

Joe Silla, an eager and unscrupulous developer, his “bombshell-type” wife Sandra, and Laura Fillmore, her more sympathetic younger sister, are among the diverse personalities that populate Jem’s world. Laura is a busy pie baker at Hassler Vineyard, which is owned by her parents, when Jem is promoted to vineyard manager.

Kolko possesses a descriptive writing style: “Ice pellets pinged Jem’s windshield and ricocheted into the sky. The street that penetrated the Sawhorn Meadows subdivision curved gently, the houses lined up like toys on an assembly line.” The plot authentically reflects the struggle facing future generations over whether the land will be developed or preserved.

by Laurel C. Wemett

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *