Summer Reads

Our summer reading selections share several thematic connections. First, there is both a fictional and nonfiction account of the Civil War. Second, we offer reviews of two valuable local history books from dedicated historians and historical societies in Monroe and Yates counties. Third, we review two how-to books focused on healthy foods.

These topics are timely. Writings on the American Civil War are always of great interest to history buffs and historians alike. Local history will be lost unless shared with future generations. “Local” applies not just to history but often to our food sources, so two books concentrate on how to make maple syrup from your backyard’s maple trees, and discuss what to cook and serve for family and friends using whole foods.

Tragedy & Triumph, Elmira, NY, 1835-65
Kathrin Rudland

This title weaves a tale of the turbulent years leading up to and including the Civil War. The fictional account focuses on how events affected individuals belonging to different levels in society and in dissimilar geographical regions. The author presents a tale of slavery and abolition, two provocative issues of the day.

The community of Elmira is a backdrop for portions of the narrative. Central to the story is the conflicted love story of Truman Haden, a southern slave owner who lost his immediate family to yellow fever when he was young; and Elizabeth Baldwin, a self-assured northerner from Elmira who is actively opposed to slavery. The devastating war and its aftermath prompt all to make decisions based on their strongly held beliefs. Initially this leads to their separation and later to reunion.

Other characters, including slaves and abolitionists, are well-drawn and give the story an authentic depth. The existence of an actual prisoner of war camp and Underground Railroad sites in Elmira becomes integral to the well-paced story.

Proceeds of the book sales will be donated in part to completion of a museum in Elmira commemorating John W. Jones. The real-life former slave is a character in the novel and was active in the Underground Railroad.


Fight All Day, March All Night: A Medal of Honor Recipient’s Story 
Wayne Mahood
State University of New York Press

The Medal of Honor originated in the Civil War as the only medal to honor the bravery of Union soldiers. This book is a scholarly compilation of the letters of a soldier’s life written by one of the medal recipients, Captain Morris Brown, Jr., from Penn Yan. A member of the 126th New York Volunteers, Brown dropped out of Hamilton College and enlisted in the summer of 1862.

Author Mahood writes, “Morris Brown Jr.’s story is not unique, but is a poignant reminder of a dark period in American history and the sacrifices many families made.” The writer, a SUNY professor who has penned several books on related Civil War topics, supplements Brown’s letters with helpful interpretive material. Brown was captured early on at Harpers Ferry during Stonewall Jackson’s Maryland Campaign, spending time in an internment camp in New York. He went on to survive Gettysburg, but the young Union soldier died in the Petersburg campaign in 1864.

The book is indexed, and illustrated with maps, photographs and notes. It is especially valuable as a first-person documentation of the Civil War and will be of special interest to those who want to learn more about participation by Finger Lakes soldiers in the Civil War.


The Great Life Cookbook
by Priscilla Timberlake & Lewis Freedman
Softcover with lay-flat binding, or Hardcover
Coddington Valley Publishing

There are countless cookbooks published each year, and the typical culinary enthusiast often has room for one more on the kitchen shelf. This title is particularly promising in its timely approach to preparing whole food, vegan and gluten-free meals. The bonus is that these meals are for large gatherings of 20 to 24, with instructions included for reducing quantities.

Many people want alternatives to packaged convenient foods. They seek fresh produce, grown locally. Authors Timberlake and Freedman, a married couple who live in Ithaca, invite readers to learn from their thoughtful attitude toward diet and healthy living. Every Friday night for many years, they have invited friends and family to share their whole food plant-based meals.

The book’s attractive layout features pages filled with colorful and appealing meals organized by calendar month. There are easy-to-read tempting recipes accompanied by a collage of engaging photographs of satisfied diners. The message is clear that the sharing of meals made from local food strengthens not just the body but also the soul.

Depending on the reader’s culinary background there may be ingredients that are unfamiliar, but the Apprentice’s Guide will demystify those. The authors offer a host of helpful explanations and detailed procedures on topics from sweeteners to how to work with vegetables.


Maple on Tap: Making Your Own Maple Sugar
Rich Finzer
Acres U.S.A.

The Finger Lakes region is a prime location for “sugaring off,” an expression describing the process of making maple sugar. Writer Rich Finzer, a Blue Ribbon-winning syrup producer who resides on an 80-acre farm near Hannibal, has penned an easy-to-use book on the subject based on his over 20 years’ of experience making his own maple syrup. Everyone from the novice to the seasoned sugar maple farmer will enjoy this how-to book on sugaring.

It presents helpful information beginning with an emphasis on planning. The fact that it takes 40 gallons of raw maple sap to equal one gallon of maple syrup is proof that the process is time-consuming. Finzer candidly shares his mistakes and what he’s learned from them, and invites readers to do the same. One chapter is aptly titled, “Rookie Year Mistakes & How to Avoid Them.”

The compact volume is attractively presented with color photos and numerous illustrations of tools and techniques. Finzer’s approach is engaging and not overly technical. He includes a helpful glossary, resources and a listing of many March and April maple festivals. The book recently won the Gold Medal award in the Crafts/ How-To category at the Benjamin Franklin Award competition sponsored by the Independent Book Publisher’s Association.


Penn Yan & How It Got That Way 
Frances Dumas
Softcover (Two volumes)
Yates Heritage Tours Project

Local historians, appointed by municipalities and counties, are on the frontline of historical research, uncovering and interpreting events and personalities of the past. They assist researchers and impart their knowledge through speaking and writing. Frances Dumas, the Yates County Historian and historian for both the Village of Penn Yan and the Town of Milo, is now sharing Penn Yan’s past through her comprehensive history of the small town.

The two volume set, Penn Yan & How It Got That Way, begins long before pioneers arrived. Dumas summarizes geologic time and explains how the pre-glacial landscape had an impact on the area long before human habitation.

Copiously illustrated with photographs, paintings, maps, charts and advertisements from local sources, the set is an ideal resource. In this age of speedy search engines, a solid compendium like this two-part history remains an indispensable addition to your bookshelf. Part I takes the reader up to 1882. Part II continues through 1989 and includes appendices and notes on sources. Chapter timelines provide national, international and local reference points. There is ample background information placing Penn Yan’s narrative in the context of American history.

To keep the books manageable, an index is available only online as a pdf file on the author’s website:


Gates Revisited: Timeless Images From Family Albums
George M. Tomczyk, editor
Gates Historical Society

In anticipation of the Town of Gates’ bicentennial in 2013, the Gates Historical Society published this collection which includes 280 photographs of the people and places in Gates, many dating back to the late 19th century.

Naturally, residents of Gates, a suburb just west of the City of Rochester in Monroe County, will enjoy the images of families and familiar surroundings. The historical society solicited the photographs several years ago and described the response as “overwhelming.”

Americans in general, and perhaps those living near Rochester, the birthplace of Eastman Kodak, will enjoy looking at these old photographs. In this volume, there is a happy blend of candid and formal images. Divided into several categories such as weddings and occupations, the photographs aptly capture incidents in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some already seem remote and quaint to our 21st-century eyes. There are women donning aprons and gathering in the kitchen to prepare a meal, or fresh-faced youngsters in an accordion class at a music school circa 1930. These are among the examples that present the viewer with past practices, tastes and technology. An index of names provides the family genealogist with a valuable reference. A “Then and Now” chapter is an intriguing comparison of views of the same location.

by Laurel C. Wemett

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