Finger Lakes Reads

Finger Lakes Reads highlights a selection of recent books written by authors who call this region home and whose published works focus to some extent on life in the Finger Lakes area, past or present. Our selection includes both fiction and nonfiction titles that we consider to have broad appeal. How do we find out about these books? We are on the lookout all year. Some authors and publishers contact the magazine directly. Sometimes we learn of new books when authors participate in a local book signing. Occasionally we contact historical societies or publishers for new titles.
These books are available at area bookstores, independent retailers, online retailers or through the publisher’s or author’s website, unless otherwise indicated.

Out of Order
Charles Benoit
Poisoned Pen Press
$24.95 (Hardback)

Out of Order is the second mystery novel by Charles Benoit and hopefully not the last. It transports the rather unassuming 27-year-old Jason Talley, a loan processor in the Southern Tier city of Corning, into the exotic world of modern India. The young protagonist foregoes his usual vacation plans to seek answers to the shocking deaths of his good friends and neighbors, Sriram and Vidya Sundaram. Besides being unable to accept the official conclusion that their deaths were a murder/suicide, Jason feels compelled to deliver the red sari that his dead friend said he had planned to take to his mother. Before setting off, Jason e-mails his friend’s ex-colleagues, all members of a high-tech start-up business, thereby alerting them to his travel plans and unknowingly putting himself in danger.

Jason is soon joined by a fearless young Canadian woman, Rachel Moore, whom he meets on the package tour he has joined. At Rachel’s urging, they abandon the tour’s predictable routine in favor of riding Indian trains to see more of the “real” India. The author skillfully fills their ensuing adventure with bizarre and dangerous encounters at each stop along their journey. Jason finds he no longer knows who to trust and starts to question Sriram’s true motives and actions.

The author has woven a suspenseful tale in a fascinating Far Eastern setting. Benoit’s characterization of a variety of Indian personalities rings true, and readers will enjoy his descriptions of the country itself. While the hero appears to be an unlikely match for the dangers he encounters, when teamed with Rachel, his survival is assured.

What a Coincidence!
Susan M. Watkins
Moment Point Press, Inc.

Encountering someone after a long time without contact, but strangely after just thinking of this person, is coincidental but not altogether unusual. In What a Coincidence!, Susan M. Watkins delves into such chance meetings and links them with thoughts and dreams that have occurred sometimes years apart to reveal they have greater meaning as “coincidence clusters.” Watkins writes about finding connections between the myriad events of her daily life and innermost thoughts to uncover their deeper significance.

The book relates examples drawn from the author’s own life in the region, like the neighbor who keeps popping into her life over many years or the worrisome circumstances surrounding her son’s relocation to California. Watkins, a former newspaper reporter, feature writer, columnist and author of several books, is a copious note taker. She records her thoughts, insights and everyday events, and finds that often what seems initially trivial has greater meaning later. The author further probes what they reveal about human consciousness as a whole.

The subject as presented is thought provoking. The author challenges the reader to “set up your own coincidence radar and see what happens.” Some subjects that “keep popping up” have greater meaning, according to Watkins. “Your consciousness is broadcasting on your behalf and you’re supposed to make use of the information,” she writes in the informal “How To” section at the end of the book.

The Finger Lakes Region of New York: A Photographic Portrait
Kevin Stearns
Twin Lights Publishers, Inc.
$24.95 (hardcover)

Those who live in the Finger Lakes region, as well as those who regularly visit, never quite get enough of the beautiful surroundings. Happily, there are talented photographers who capture its vistas and landmarks, its flora and fauna. The photographs of the Finger Lakes region by Ithaca resident Kevin Stearns are satisfyingly diverse and a feast for the eyes. The book provides a large sampling of this region’s natural beauty along with noteworthy buildings and attractions.

Stearns proves that there are new ways to capture familiar sights. Some of the vineyards are photographed not just at their peak time, vines laden with grapes, but during the winter when covered with snow, so they form intricate patterns against the hillsides. The photographs let nature predominate, but against these views there may be bathers underneath waterfalls, hikers on the trail in a lush forest, boaters on serenely blue water, or fishermen on an icy lake. Each is identified with an informative and thoughtful caption.

The rich architectural heritage of the Finger Lakes is exemplified by views of such prominent buildings as the Esperanza Mansion at Bluff Point overlooking Keuka Lake, the Birkett Mills in Penn Yan where buckwheat products have been produced since the 18th century, and the First Presbyterian Church in Hector.

Around Watkins Glen
Charles Mitchell and Kirk House
Arcadia Publishing
Around Watkins Glen is part of the “Images of America” series produced by Arcadia Publishing, a company that specializes in local and regional photographic histories. Photographs that would otherwise be seen only in private collections or the archives at the local historical society are organized with identifying captions. Charles R. Mitchell, curator of the Yates County Historical Museums, and Kirk House, former director-curator of the Glenn Curtiss Museum, assembled 200 black-and-white vintage views for Around Watkins Glen.

Some family photo albums were loaned for this publication, but the vast majority of the pictures come from the Schuyler County Historical Society in Montour Falls. The International Motor Racing Research Center of Watkins Glen also provided photos of racing from the beginnings of the Grand Prix in the late 1940s when the race took off in front of the courthouse on Franklin Street.

Changing commerce agriculture, transportation and early resorts are featured. Building exteriors and the occasional interior views are included, such as Thompson’s City Pharmacy with its two variations of gasolier light fixtures. There are multiple images of the elegant Magee estate. A separate section, “A Hike in the Glen,” features the spectacular cliffs, gorges, waterfalls and streams of Watkins Glen, which opened as a privately owned attraction in 1863 and became a state park in 1911.

Other sections include views from around Schuyler County. There is a fascinating assortment of group portraits ranging from musicians to school children to tourists to golfers, as well as the Civilian Conservation Corps camp located in Watkins Glen in 1939.

Gone With the Breeze
Larry Dickens
Sulind Hill Press

Many residents of this region know the ups and downs of The Spirit of Ontario 1, the high-speed ferry that traveled Lake Ontario between Rochester and Toronto beginning in June 2004. Accounts of the vessel, nicknamed “The Breeze,” appeared in the media, even prior to its arrival in Rochester. People who never boarded The Breeze for a passage followed closely the events surrounding this operation. Now, nearly a year after the last run in December of 2005, when plans for the twin-hulled, aluminum craft’s future remain uncertain, a new book chronicles its short history from a fresh perspective.

Author Larry Dickens was a chief mate during the two summers that the vessel operated. His admiration for the huge Australian-built catamaran is evident. While he makes some attempts to evaluate why the service ended, his book focuses on the contributions made by the ship’s crew.

Dickens, an author of several books, says he managed to record daily happenings at night in his Rochester apartment, keeping track of the day’s highlights and low points, if any. He filled in the details through crew member interviews, newspaper articles and his own recollections.

Gone With the Breeze: A True Story About the Spirit of Ontario 1 is a satisfying behind-the-scenes detailed account of both the excitement and frustration surrounding this bold venture. In the author’s words, “One thing I observed about the fast ferry that was vastly different when compared to conventional ships was there was rarely a normal day.” The book is more of a memoir than a hard look at the management decisions. Even so, it may contribute to a better understanding of the issues surrounding the ship’s short-lived service.

A History of Waterloo, New York 1948-2002
LaVerne M. Sessler, Sr.; Jane Shaffer, co-publisher; Doris Wolf, editor
Geneva Printing Co. & Duprey Video Productions
$100 (Hardback plus DVD)

When we speak of history, we are often referring to a bygone era. Those who undertook the writing of A History of Waterloo, New York 1948-2002 know how events of our own time quickly pass into history. “Today is tomorrow’s history,” said the late
La Verne M. Sessler Sr., the “history enthusiast” who conceived this remarkable chronicle of the last 50 years in Waterloo. It was accomplished through efforts of Sessler’s daughter, Jane Shaffer, as co-publisher, and many other members of the community taking up where an earlier history of Waterloo left off. The volume is copiously illustrated and includes a one-hour DVD that chronicles Waterloo from earliest times.

The book makes for fascinating reading, regardless of whether you have roots in the Seneca County community. It is organized in a chronological manner with an attractive layout. One of the pivotal years is 1966 when Waterloo was recognized by the United States and New York state governments as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day.”

What would a penny buy in 1950? How about 12 minutes of parking on Waterloo’s Main Street. That was the year when parking meters were installed. The book even explains how coins were collected, as well as the annual revenue the meters generated before their removal in the 1960s.

There are maps, plus “then” and “now” photographs, and statistics relevant to schools, town and village populations, government officials and law enforcement. Numerous biographies profile outstanding residents, and there are separate sections on businesses, churches and organizations, plus special essays documenting the community’s recent history.

Frogleg George: The Legend No One Really Knew
John Robortella
Gates Historical Society
Ontario County Historical Society at

The story of “Frogleg George,” the nickname of John Preissecker, is an account of an interesting character who has been described as a living legend in Rochester, Gates and Chili. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries he became the premier supplier of frog legs, then a delicacy, to Rochester restaurants. From the local swamps he also captured turtles for making soup and toads that he supplied to printers for making ink.

Frogleg George was well-known not only for the unconventional way he made a living but for behavior that occasionally put him at odds with the law. The author used accounts of the man’s misdeeds that appeared in the newspaper and other recollections of those who knew him to form the basis of a short book. It can be read in one sitting and proves that history can be entertaining.

by Laurel C. Wemett
Laurel C. Wemett owns a gift shop named Cat’s in the Kitchen and lives in Canandaigua.

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