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Readin’ around the Christmas tree

Looking at this year’s most gift-able books

“Heaven Was Detroit,” edited by poet and Wayne State Professor M.L. Liebler, is a great gift for the music lover in your life.
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The weather is finally turning colder, which means it’s a great time to break out the eggnog and rum and curl up with a good book. And books make great holiday gifts, too, so lets check out some of this year’s best page-turners.

You can’t go wrong with any of the new books by blockbuster crime and thriller writers Harlan Coben (“Home”), Lee Child (“Night School”), Patricia Cornwell (“Chaos”), Michael Connolly (“The Wrong Side of Goodbye”) or John Sandford (“Escape Clause”). For something off the beaten path, check out Joe Ide’s unusual debut thriller, “IQ,” or “The Last Good Girl” by MSU grad and former federal prosecutor Allison Leotta.

And don’t overlook this year’s crop of Michigan-themed coffee table books. “Applewood: The Charles Stewart Mott Estate” takes readers on a visual and historical visit to the home of Flint’s auto pioneer. The house and grounds have been lovingly restored. “Mid-Michigan Modern: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Googie,” by East Lansing resident and MSU Professor Susan Bandes, is a visual tour of more than 130 businesses, houses of worship and private residences in the Greater Lansing area that were built in the period of American prosperity following World War II. Readers will be surprised to learn the history behind unique buildings they have probably driven by hundreds of times.

Trains and Christmas have always been a perfect match. “Twelve Twenty-Five: The Life and Times of a Steam Locomotive,” by MSU alum Kevin P. Keefe, tells the story of the Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive, which stood on MSU’s campus for decades. The train, which was given to the university, seemed headed to the scrap heap until a motivated group of MSU students and train buffs worked together to restore and save the historic engine. The train, which now lives at Owosso’s Steam Railroading Institute, offers special Christmas tours. The 1225 was used as a prototype for children’s book “The Polar Express” and the 2004 movie of the same name.

Also intriguing — but less uplifting — is “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” University of Michigan Professor Heather Ann Thompson’s re-examination of the famous prisoner uprising. In the book, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, Thompson digs deep to uncover the facts and debunk the state and federal cover-up that officials maintain to this day.

This year also saw a number of great music books, including Adam White’s “Motown: The Sound of Young America.” The lavishly illustrated book takes readers through nearly six decades of Berry Gordy’s musical empire. There are also new books on the Rolling Stones (“The Rolling Stones All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track”), Bob Dylan (“The Lyrics: 1961-2012”), the Beatles (“Beatles ‘66: The Revolutionary Year”), Bruce Springsteen (“Born to Run”) and the wonderfully curated “Heaven Was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip Hop and Beyond.” The 504-page book, edited by poet and Wayne State Professor M.L. Liebler, features essays from an eclectic group of writers, including Lester Bangs, John Sinclair and Susan Whitall.

For history buffs, two new Michigancentric history books give readers a window into our state’s early years. “Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America,” by Australian author Michael A. McDonnell, explores the military, economic and diplomatic power wielded by our state’s first residents. This is a side of the story that is seldom told. Anne Boyd Rioux’s “Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist” provides insight into the life of the popular 19th century novelist. Woolson, a grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper, traveled extensively in the Midwest and summered on Mackinac Island, giving her a firsthand look at a frontier that was vanishing before her eyes. A marker on Mackinac Island recognizes her literary work, and thousands of fans make their way to this off-the-beaten-track site each year.

Two Michigan authors, Tom Stanton and John Smolens, recently released books on long forgotten or little known aspects of Michigan’s history. Stanton’s book, “Terror in the City of Champions,” tells the story of the Detroit Tigers’ 1930s championship years — but set against a backdrop of the reign of the Black Legion, a Ku Klux Klanstyle nativist group. He deftly navigates alternating chapters, weaving a tale of hope peppered with stories of iconic athletes and brutal bigots.

Smolen’s “Wolf’s Mouth” is a fictionalized account of an escapee from an Upper Peninsula German prisoner of war camp. The prisoner escaped to Detroit to make a new life, but a decade later, a Nazi fanatic seeks retribution from the deserter. Smolen’s book is based on true accounts of life in the camps; in a life is stranger than fiction scenario, two Owosso area women helped two German prisoners of war escape. They were caught, and the two women were sent to federal prison.


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