Briefly Noted: ‘Getting Around in Glacier National Park’ by Mike Butler

Mike Butler, who drove one of Glacier’s iconic red busses some years ago, has put together a compelling book about the park’s transportation history in the “America Through Time” series from Arcadia Publishing. Like most Arcadia authors, Butler has included a wealth of spectacular photographs: definitely a high point of the 128-page book that was released in Febuary.

From the Publisher

“Getting around in Glacier National Park was quite difficult for early travelers seeking to experience its towering mountains, deep glacial valleys, and extensive lakes. With Glacier’s location in the far northwestern corner of Montana, just getting to the park when it was formed in 1910 was a challenge for travelers. To meet this challenge, the Great Northern Railway brought early tourists to this remote location, transporting visitors to its East Glacier and West Glacier stations. From these entry stations, tour buses took passengers to majestic hotels which the Railway built at East Glacier, Many Glacier, and Waterton Lakes. Visitors seeking adventure within the park could then take horseback trips from the hotels to remote chalets, also built by the Railway. Boats plied the waters of Glacier’s lakes, taking tourists to chalets and hiking trails. Over 900 miles of trails were built across the park. Finally, as automobile travel gained in popularity, the magnificent Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed across the Continental Divide at Logan Pass in 1933.”

In his review in the Glacier Park Foundation’s newsletter, Mac Willemssen said, “The book’s chapters describe the development of the railroad, the roads, the boats, the buses, the trails, and the hotels. As such, it’s a great complement to anyone’s Glacier library. It’s very readable and easily puts the reader right in Glacier, whether in a bus, a boat, or on a trail.”

Butler is also the author of five other Arcadia titles: Around the Spanish Peaks; Great Sand Dunes National Park; Southern Colorado: O.T. Davis Collection; Littleton; and High Road to Taos. His brother David is the author of the 2014 Arcadia book Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park.

In the Daily Interlake’s February review, Carol Marino wrote, “Getting Around in Glacier National Park is packed with historical details and over 150 photos of the park’s early years. It offers such rare glimpses into the park’s pictorial history, such as explorer George Bird Grinnell standing on a glacier in 1926 with his wife Elizabeth Grinnell. Both he and James J. Hill played a pivotal role in the establishment of Glacier Park.”

If you love Glacier National Park, this volume is a treasure.

–Malcolm

Review: ‘Camino Winds’ by John Grisham

Camino Winds brings back many of the characters from Camino Island, a novel the New York Times aptly decribed as “a delightfully lighthearted caper.” Camino Winds begins with wind, the monster hurricane Leo that takes aim at the Florida Island with deadly intentions and mind-numbing accuracy.  In her blurb, author Delia Owens (Where the Crawdads Sing) calls this second book in the series a “wild but smart caper.”

The novel is easy to read but the most exciting part of the caper is provided by the hurricane, and this is where we find the book’s most effective writing. A man is killed during the story, purportedly by falling tree limbs, but bookstore owner Bruce Cable of Bay Books doesn’t think so. The local police don’t seem interested, so the caper aspect of the novel begins when Bruce and his friends start trying to find out what really happened.

They begin by disturbing the crime scene, borrowing the dead man’s car, and appropriating the food and liquor in his kitchen that will dertainly go bad if left for any forensic techs who might one day show up. The dead man, an author named Nelson Kerr–among those who hung out at Bay Books–won’t miss the food and probably wouldn’t begrudge the amateur sleuths a great meal and all the high-priced drink they can handle, which turns out not to be a lot.

Kerr as apparently writing a novel about something that somebody didn’t like so, probably–the amateur sleuths speculate–the killer was mixed up in the pièce de ré·sis·tance crime Kerr plans to thinly diguise as fiction in his new thriller. If so, they no doubt wanted to stop him before (a) he finished the book, or (b) the book get to a publisher if he did finish it.

Bruce, et. al. have some good ideas, the kind that just might get them killed. If they (the sleuths) were black ops types, they dould take the next step and go after the bad guys with enough gear that woud make Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler exited. But they aren’t, so they can’t, and they don’t. For the reader, this means a lot of time is spent listening to the characters’ pondering which, fortunately, is punctuated with a few laughs, scares, and dicoveries along the way.

They mean well. They’re likeable. And they keep pushing on whoever they can influence until heavy hitters become involved and the crime is solved. Until then, nothing much happens. When the pros show up, a considerable amount of time is spent describing how the bad guys scammed the government out of a lot of money while hurting everyday people. Yes, we suspect this kind of thing is true. But how they (the bad guys) do what they do takes the focus of the story simultaneously closer to its climax and farther away from the main characters.

This is an unsatisfying plot solution. The characters who begin the caper really need to end the caper. If you read every Grisham novel, you’ll nonetheless have fun reading this one. If you don’t, you won’t.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Briefly noted: ‘A Search for Safe Passage’

Available from the association’s online shop.

When I saw a story about this book and the related efforts near the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park in the summer 2021 issue of “National Parks Magazine,” I had to share it here. The author, Frances Figart, is the creative services director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Her book, as the article says, “is part of an effort to raise awareness about the real-life situation along Interstate 40, a four-lane road that runs through the Pigeon River Gorge” near the park.

I know the road well, but it’s not a friend of the wildlife that find it to be either a fence or a death trap to their natural migrations through the area. A coalition of groups is looking for solutions, including animal overpasses and tunnels.

From the Publisher

“A Search for Safe Passage” tells the story of best friends Bear and Deer who grew up together on the North side of a beautiful Appalachian gorge. In the time of their grandparents, animals could travel freely on either side of a fast-flowing river, but now the dangerous Human Highway divides their home range into the North and South sides. On the night of a full moon, two strangers arrive from the South with news that will lead to tough decisions, a life-changing adventure, and new friends joining in a search for safe passage. The book is closely connected to Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, a new public education and infrastructure development campaign in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It includes an additional nonfiction section with educational lessons about animal habitat requirements, behavior, migration patterns, and roadway ecology problems and solutions developed with input from both international and local experts. Aimed at readers ages 7 to 13. 122 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″.

Beautifully illustrated by Emma DuFort, the book presents a compelling story that should help make young people aware of oversights (being corrected in many areas) of the federal highway system when it comes to the animal populations who live where humans want to drive cars and trucks.

–Malcolm

‘scenic science of the national parks,’ by Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller

This beautifully illustrated, well-written guide presents a capsule of information about each U. S. National park in an easy-to-use format that will make this a take-into-the-field companion. There’s even a place for each park’s “passport” stamp.

For each park, you’ll find a superlative statement, crowd-pleaser hikes, primary mammals and plants, a so-called “iconic experience,” and a “worth noting” fact. This book uses illustrations rather than coffee-table-book photographs. These are immensely helpful in making quick identifications of what you’ll see in the park.

When I first picked up this book, I looked up the parks I know well and found the information to be accurate and spot-on in terms of each park’s ambiance and character.

From the Publisher

Explore the fascinating science behind the national parks in this charming illustrated guide.

The national parks are some of the most beloved, visited, and biodiverse places on Earth. They’re also scientific playgrounds where you can learn about plants, animals, and our planet’s coolest geological features firsthand. Scenic Science of the National Parks curates and breaks down the compelling and offbeat natural science highlights of each park, from volcanic activity, glaciers, and coral reefs to ancient redwood groves, herds of bison, giant bats, and beyond. Featuring full-color illustrations, information on the history and notable features of each park, and insider tips on how to get the most out of your visit, this delightful book is the perfect addition to any park lover’s collection.

From the Opening Pages

We know this looks like a book, but our collection of pages is actually more like a secret decoder ring or a pair of X-ray glasses because it will help you see some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States in a whole new way. Whether you’re traveling through the national parks by car, bicycle, boat, or foot, or even in your imagination, this is an opportunity to unlock the scientific stories behind the scenery.

This guidebook will teach you to spot the extraterrestrial-like organisms lurking in Yellowstone, the spiky teddy bear clones in Joshua Tree, the slick snails of Acadia—and more! Contained here are true stories about plants, rocks, animals, bodies of water, and the night sky that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else than in these parks. We’ve steered away from people-centric history and from big, obvious questions (like, How did the Grand Canyon form?) in favor of more fascinating, offbeat questions (like, How are strange ocean animals that look like plants connected to the rocks that make up the Grand Canyon?). This is an invitation to be inquisitive and pay attention to the small details that bring the big picture into view.

We had a blast writing this book and hope our work sets you off on a question-asking frenzy of your own. Go forth and get curious!

This is the best general national parks guidebook I’ve seen in a long time. Better yet, it was an early Father’s Day gift from my daughter.

–Malcolm

P.S. I had her permission to open the package early!

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Review: ‘The Rebel in Autumn’ by Michael Shaara

This gem of a novel is an accurate immersion into campus life in the 1960s, especially the protests and the discussions of university censorship of student materials. Inspired by an event at Florida State University (FSU) in which the president banned a short story from the college literary magazine due to the use of a few “dirty words,” the story begins with a grim sense of reality.

Shaara (1928-1988), who taught creative writing at FSU at the time would have known about the incident as well as the machinations within a university faculty. The true event was resolved more amicably than the fictional event in “The Rebel in Autumn” which, for readers, presents an opportunity to see how in a time of national stress over the Vietnam War, segregation, and other issues a relatively mundane matter can spiral out of control to be the point of a looming threat of violence.

The characters–both students and faculty–are well developed and display multiple points of view about the prior restraint (pre-publication censorship) that had generally vanished from the American scene (except within student publications and college administrations).

Just how to “fix” the situation is more difficult than it sounds when you have a university president following the letter of the law that says he is the publisher of all student publications and can restrict what is released. As one faculty member said, the president had the power to ban the short story, but not the right.

Every character in the book is at risk one way or the other. Faculty members can be fired or demoted; students can be expelled. Anyone can be harmed if outside agitators or the National Guard (as we saw at Kent State in 1970) appear on campus. Shaara paints the evolving sense of danger perfectly down to the dramatic conclusion.

Kudos to Shaara’s son Jeff and daughter Lila for overseeing the posthumous publication of “The Rebel in Autumn” as well as other Shaara novels that had gone out of print. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Killer Angels” (1974) has remained in print. The family chose to publish “Rebel” as is rather than second-guessing the changes Shaara might have made during the editing and revision process that occurs once a manuscript is accepted. I agree with their decision with one exception, that being the lack of a blank line or a printed separator between scene changes; this would have reduced the confusion that occurs when scenes run together.

Disclaimer: I was a friend and a student in Shaara’s creative writing class at the time he was working on this novel. I didn’t know about the novel then, but students and Shaara had many discussions about censorship and other issues both in and out of class. My potential bias is enhanced because I was fired from a college after a long-running debate about its censorship of student publications of which I was the academic advisor.

–Malcolm

Review: To Wake a Giant

To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara

 My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When General Billy Mitchell wrote a report in 1924 that not only predicted the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but how they would do it, it was rejected out of hand.

Those who've seen documentaries and feature films such as "Tora! Tora! Tora!" know before they pick up Jeff Shaara's accurate and well written "To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor" that military commanders and diplomats in the late 1930s and early 1940s continued to reject a Japanese attack out of hand.

Having read all of Jeff Shaara's historical novels, often about subjects I've studied, I'm accustomed to his impeccable research as well as the fact he makes history so human and readable that by the end of each novel, one feels like s/he was there. Unfortunately, some early Amazon reader reviews said Shaara's research on "To Wake the Giant" was sloppy. Subsequently, those reviews were shown to be inaccurate.

Unlike battles that last for days or weeks or months, the attack itself was short. So this book had to be a little different, focusing for many pages on the events leading up to 8 a.m. (25 minutes later than Mitchell's prediction) on the morning of December 7th, 1941. The events prior to the attack not only demonstrate the viewpoints of the major political and military players but show the attitudes of men serving onboard the Arizona and other ships in Pearl Harbor. Shaara shows the attitudes and emotions of those involved months in advance but while the attack is underway.

The human factor looms large in this novel and that's one of its major strengths. Once again, Shaara has put us into the action in a way we'll never forget. 

 


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Review: ‘The Guardians’ by John Grisham

Innocence Projects track down individuals who appear to have been wrongly convicted, analyze their cases, and seek to have them exonerated by proving that the original trials were flawed, witnesses lied, evidence was improperly handled, or possibly that everything beginning with the arrest was a total and expedient fabrication.

John Grisham turns in another winning and compelling novel with The Guardians, about a nonprofit innocence project that runs on a shoestring with dedicated personnel and a thorough and tenacious approach to the law that gets results.

Lawyer and priest Cullen Post believes Quincy Miller’s 22 years in prison for a murder he did not commit represent not only a miscarriage of justice but brought additional power and financial gain to a small-town Florida sheriff and the criminals he sheltered, aided, and abetted. Proving Quincy Miller’s innocence is a tall order, perhaps impossible, especially when those who framed him want him to quietly rot in prison dead or alive.

The book is an exciting mix of courtroom work and investigative work. The courtroom work can be slow. The investigative work is slower because after 22 years those two lied at the original trial have scattered on the winds and don’t want to be found, much less recant. The more successful The Guardians is in exposing flaws in the original arrest and trial, the more likely thugs hear about it can come out of the woodwork–and they don’t place nicely.

The book reads well, keeps the excitement and tension at a high level, and exposes readers to the concept of innocence work and how it is done. The reader becomes aware early on that neither Cullen Post nor Quincy Miller has any guarantees that they’ll make it out of this novel alive.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” the fourth in a series of novels set in a small Florida town in the 1950s when the KKK was active.

Review: ‘Bob, The Right Hand of God’

Protagonist Chet Thomlin is more or less a regular guy. He runs a pet store where he treats the animals right and then goes home resigned to the fact that his mother is still living in his house. There’s a lot of depth to this character as portrayed via Pat Bertram’s trademark pragmatic, carefully crafted prose. Suffice it to say, Chet has enough on his plate, so–like most reasonably sane people, doesn’t believe a guy named Bob who appears on TV and says he’s working for God and will be supervising the conversion of Earth into a theme park.

A joke, right? Some new dystopian TV series? Or, perhaps an advertisement for God knows what. Chet hardly notices it until stuff (such as people and buildings) starts disappearing. This is urban renewal in spades, including new landforms and other projects that shake Earth to its foundations while making believers out of everyone. The thing is, believers in what?

Bob and Chet converse by phone until Bob gets tired of it, which might be just as well since he’s rather vague about the project. While vastly different from the classic novel “Earth Abides,” “Bob, The Right Hand of God” brings that old book to mind as people try to cope with the disappearance of everything they know.

The book is many things: highly readable, realistic and believable in portraying how the characters react and interact, dystopian in that everything we know is gone and the replacement plan isn’t providing anything better, and (yes) playful. Should the reader laugh or cry? Hard to say. While the ending was predictable, this well-written novel is highly recommended.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows.”

“The ending I did not see coming! You think you know somebody then BAM, right out of left field it knocks you for a loop! I found Fate’s Arrows well told with several threads woven together to make it an encompassing tale of the era. It’s raw and fraught with danger.” – Big Al’s Books and Pals

Briefly noted: ‘We’re Still Here Ya Bastards’

Katrina Myths

Myth: Katrina was a “natural disaster.”

Fact: Katrina has been recognized as the most catastrophic failure in the history of American engineering.

Myth: The levees were “overtopped” by the intensity of the high water.

Fact: The levees collapsed in fifty-three places due to engineering design errors and “were responsible for 87 percent of the flooding, by volume.”

– Roberta Brandes Gratz

About the Book

Using the traditional journalism techniques of shoes pointing the pavement, observation, interviews, and a long-time experience with the ways cities work, Gratz explores how New Orleans–in the years following the 2005 storm– has managed to rebuild faster and stronger after Katrina than even the most optimistic of experts could have predicted.

One primary conclusion is this: local people using local plans do a better job than government agencies and large developers that don’t understand who’s doing the real work (and can’t get them financial help) and/or who often want to bulldoze what’s broken and put up generic structures that don’t fit the history and the culture of the city.

From The Publisher

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is one of the darkest chapters in American history. The storm caused unprecedented destruction, and a toxic combination of government neglect and socioeconomic inequality turned a crisis into a tragedy. But among the rubble, there is hope.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards presents an extraordinary panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane. Award-winning journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz shares the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. She shows how the city — from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue — is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

By telling stories that are often ignored by the mainstream media, We’re Still Here Ya Bastards shows the strength and resilience of a community that continues to work to rebuild New Orleans and reveals what Katrina couldn’t destroy: the vibrant culture, epic history, and unwavering pride of one of the greatest cities in America.

Fix local. That should be apparent. Historic neighborhoods–and other segments of cities with unique styles–that aren’t understood or even apparent to outsiders. Yes, government funds are needed, but the government should ask what’s needed and where before it blunders into stricken areas like a bull in a China shop. And, as is obvious, don’t rebuild the levees the same foolish piecemeal and incorrectly designed way they were built the first time.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the former chairman of a local Historic Preservation Commission that oversaw repair and design projects in historic neighborhoods.

BigAl’s Books and Pals: Review

Malcolm R Campbell is an author who has lived in the Florida panhandle (where this novel is set) and is old enough to remember the final days of the KKK. His anger about that organisation continues to burn, and this is an angry book. Coincidentally, it has been released when we must, once again, reiterate that Black Lives Matter and that racism is a foul thing which must be resisted wherever it is encountered.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s set in Torreya, a fictional town in the Florida panhandle, in the mid-nineteen fifties. Domination by the KKK ran deep at that time in those southern places. All the same, although it put their lives in danger, there were those who resisted.

Source: BigAl’s Books and Pals: Review: Fate’s Arrows: 4 (Florida Folk Magic Stories) by Malcolm R Campbell

If you’ve ever seen any old movies about the cast of a play sitting around in a restaurant on opening night waiting for the reviews to come in, then you know how an author feels waiting for a reviewer to find a new book.

Whew, she liked it. And she’s from the UK where customs and language (including Southern dialect) are much different.  Click on the link above to read the complete review. Now I can get some sleep.

–Malcolm