Finger Lakes Reads

Here is a selection of newly published books, either penned by local authors or with subjects relating to the Finger Lakes region. There are diverse subjects ranging from growing up along Keuka Lake to memories of military life on a local Air Force base on Seneca Lake. There are books offering advice on raising man’s best friend and on observing the natural world. For those who love exploring the region, books on both the gastronomic and scenic delights await them.

Finger Lakes Almanac: A Guide to the Natural Year
Margaret Miller
North Country Books, 2005
Paperback, $16.95

January in the Finger Lakes region brings snow and ice and an exodus of some residents and selected species seeking warmer climes. For those who stay behind, if your passion isn’t downhill or cross-country skiing, take heart. The area boasts many natural attractions as presented by this volume.

Ever wonder how a beaver spends the first month of the year or when is the best time to observe one? Finger Lakes Almanac, in a handy calendar format, makes it easy to learn more about the life cycle and habitat of many varieties of animals, birds, insects, plants and even the celestial bodies. It encourages the reader to look forward to the seasonal changes and to learn more about such common insects as grasshoppers or birds as rare as the bald eagle. Yes, our national bird is not often seen in the Finger Lakes, but there are a few around the northern end of Cayuga Lake in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge according to the author, a life-long Finger Lakes resident and a self-taught naturalist. Her column, Nature Notes, appeared weekly in several Finger Lakes area papers.

The numerous black-and-white illustrations by Adirondack-area artist Sheri Amsel are the perfect complement to the text and provide helpful identifying information.

The book would be a welcome addition to any nature lover’s collection. Because it is not overly technical, it offers a good introduction to the subject for younger readers, or for anyone wanting to take greater interest in their natural surroundings.

Portal to Air Power: The Sampson Air Force Base Story
Jerrold D. Hopfengardner
Williamsville, NY: Sampson Air Force Base Veterans Assoc. Inc., 2005
Paperback, $25
To order, mail a check for $25 plus $5 for shipping and handling to SAFBVA, P.O. Box 331, Williamsville, New York 14231-0331.

This book tells the history of the Sampson Air Force Base, which existed from 1950 to 1956 during the Korean War, often referred to as “the Forgotten War.” During its operation, Sampson, on the east shore of Seneca Lake, trained approximately 330,000 basic airmen.

The author, who spent 45 months at Sampson, is now the historian for the Sampson Air Force Base Veterans Association. He has combined archival material with firsthand accounts of airmen and women in a well-organized, easy-to-read volume. Year by year the reader learns how the base was adapted from a World War II U.S. Navy training center into the second largest air force base in the country. A fold-out 1953 map of the base is included in Portal to Air Power, along with numerous illustrations.

Personal accounts are informative, touching and even amusing. Since his enlistment coincided with his 1955 marriage, the author includes a copy of his “request for permission to marry” submitted to his commanding officer. Those interested in the earliest history of the site will find background on the prehistoric era, the Seneca Indians, and after the base closed, its use as a state psychiatric hospital and today, a New York State Park. Now a former stockade provides space for separate museums for both the base’s air force and naval histories.

As a Tactical Instructor, the author was responsible for leading 11 training flights of young recruits through basic training at Sampson. He went on to earn advanced degrees, teaching and working in administrative positions at universities in Ohio.

Danny and Life on Bluff Point: The Man on the Train
Mary Ellen Lee
iUniverse, Inc., 2004
Paperback, $12.95

This title is the fourth in a series of well-crafted novels about a 10-year old boy’s life in 19th century rural Yates County. Starting with Danny and Life on Bluff Point, set in December of 1894, the series is based on the life of the author’s grandparents, father, and his sisters. When entering her grandfather’s journal into her word processor, the author decided to write a historical novel based on it. That is how the “Danny” series began.

Danny is the only boy in the family and therefore expected to help on the family’s fruit and livestock farm, but is hampered by his small frame and lack of strength. The stories show how he overcomes his physical limitations by his determination to contribute to the well-being of his family. The events of this book are set in March of 1895 and focus on such activities as iceboating and a first train ride.

While these novels are written for 8- to 12-year-olds, reading them aloud will create a dialogue between grandparents and children about the things the older generation did while growing up. The books are well-researched and would lend themselves to a school curriculum that includes local or American history. While set largely on Bluff Point, that peninsula between the two branches of Keuka Lake, the situations described are similar to rural family life anywhere. Adventures pitting young Danny against a danger, whether a strong wind on the frozen lake or an evil man who terrorizes his younger sister on the train, add excitement and will appeal to young readers.

Greetings from the Finger Lakes: A Food and Wine Lover’s Companion
Michael Turback
Ten Speed Press, 2005
Paperback, $16.95

With the Finger Lakes region attracting an increasing number of visitors interested in its world-class wineries, a new book which highlights a selection of the region’s best, along with fine restaurants and specialty markets, should find a ready audience.

The book is not an encyclopedic listing of food- and wine-related businesses in the Finger Lakes, but the selection reflects the diversity that exists. The author, who for many years operated an Ithaca restaurant, includes dairies, organic farms, orchards, cafes, inns, ice cream makers, brewing companies, blueberry farms, honey producers, u-pick farms, taverns, maple syrup companies, tea rooms, cider producers and more. In his words, he “crafted a ‘blend’ of the highest achievements in winemaking, artisan farming, and culinary invention.”

Focusing on examples around Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles Lakes, the author keys each entry to a map. His interviews with proprietors reveal interesting background facts about the businesses and how they came to be started. Readers will enjoy descriptions of many specialty menus and the addition of unique recipes such as Buckwheat Pretzels and Apple Reubens.

The author, trained at Cornell’s hotel school, owned Turback’s in Ithaca where he served only regional wines. He is now a wine judge, marketing consultant and food historian with two food-related books, Month of Sundaes and The Banana Split Book.

Happy Tails: Hilarious Helpful Hints for Dog Owners
Gary L. Ailes, DVM and Joy Underhill
Paw Publishing Inc., 2004
Paperback, $11.95

If you have become frustrated with your dog’s behavior, or are a new dog owner, this book offers many practical solutions in a light-hearted manner.

Happy Tails features Hank, a loveable but at times difficult-to-train canine, his human family and Sissy the cat, whom Hank describes as “the She-Devil Cat-From-Hell.” Whether it is learning how to discipline your dog or finding ways to reduce the chances of his becoming a flea magnet, this is a friendly how-to book based on sound veterinary advice.

Doggy (mis)behavior is told from Hank’s point of view: “Remember that cold frosty morning when that rabbit popped out from behind the hedge? Kinda forgot that I was tethered to you. Sorry about those ice splinters in your chin. I just couldn’t help myself.” Co-author Dr. Gary then offers advice on “Teaching Your Puppy to Walk Cooperatively.” Cartoon-style illustrations make each doggy dilemma amusing and less daunting.

The book is the result of an on-line collaboration between Dr. Gary L. Ailes from northern Nevada and Joy Underhill of Farmington, NY who, before bringing Hank to life, has written for trade journals and consumer magazines including Life in the Finger Lakes. They were joined by illustrator, Tony Loughran from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The trio met for the first time when the book was named a finalist in the Humor category at this year’s Benjamin Franklin awards which recognizes excellence in independent publishing.

Western New York An Explorer’s guide: From Niagara Falls and Southern Ontario to the Western Edge of the Finger Lakes
Christine A. Smucaynski
The Countryman Press, 2005
Paperback, $19.95

This new guide has an excellent section on the western Finger Lakes. Realizing many visitors to the region include a trip to Niagara Falls, the book includes southern Ontario, Canada. The cities of Rochester and Buffalo are featured as well as Corning.

Organized by counties, the 600 plus page guide includes a broad range of information on each area beginning with an overview of striking characteristics and facts. Yates County, for example, is “the largest grape-growing county in the U.S. outside of California and is home to more wineries than any other county in New York State.” Capturing the rural area, the author continues, “If you are looking for an old-fashioned kind of vacation that takes you back to nature, Yates County is the perfect place.”

The accompanying information has been painstakingly gathered to detail hundreds of attractions, lodging, entertainment, special events, shopping, wineries, recreation areas, eateries, and helpful tourism contacts. Indexing by topic provides a wide audience quick reference to locating malls, hiking, biking and walking trails, historic houses and sites, among other points of interest.

This is an ideal resource for a traveler on a short visit or extended stay, for those with businesses that cater to tourists, and locals who want to vacation in their own backyard. History buffs will enjoy the attention to historical background. It would be a terrific addition to any library in the 13 counties it covers.

The author is a native Western New Yorker and freelance writer on attractions for a number of national and regional publications in the Buffalo area.

Postscript: Finger Lakes Reads is not complete without mentioning a new title by local writers Sue and Rich Freeman who continue to find topics featuring the out-of-doors. An excerpt of their latest book, Cobblestone Quest is highlighted elsewhere in the magazine and is well worth the read.

If you didn’t find quite the right title among these offered, peruse the local history section in your favorite bookstore. In Ontario County the Historical Society has even put its book shoppe selection on line. Just go to and click on bookstore.

by Laurel C. Wemett

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