Wednesday, July 20, 2011

South of Superior

I started this blog to share new books by Wisconsin authors or books set in Wisconsin. I will use this post to say, I'm a BIG BIG fan of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It started over ten years ago, my mom and I drove to see my aunt Jenny and uncle Bill. They live on 40 acres in the UP, I like to say in the middle of nowhere but its actually about 40 minutes southwest of Marquette, MI. A short drive into Marquette or Munising and you get a wonderful view of Lake Superior. I've been in love with the UP ever since and I usually take a week off of work to spend up there; I call it my annual reset button. Its so beautiful in the UP, especially compared to what I'm used to in Madison. The air is cleaner, the trees are bigger, the nights are quieter, the days are also a bit cooler. I might be one of a few people who'd like to retire in the UP. Every year I have to stop at my favorite bookstore, Snowbound Books, which is also the best name for a bookstore. Who WOULDN'T love to be snowbound with great books? I usually have at least one pasty while I'm there. Mostly I spend alot of time with my aunt and uncle, do alot of reading and relaxing and get that feeling that I'm resetting myself and my life.  
Ok I've gushed enough; I knew when I saw early reviews of South of Superior by Ellen Airgood that I had to read it. Its set in the UP, a fictional town called McAllaster which is modeled after Grand Marais, MI
From the author's website:
When Madeline Stone walks away from her Chicago life and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she isn’t prepared for how much her life will change. Charged with caring for an aging family friend, Madeline finds herself in the middle of beautiful nowhere with Gladys and Arbutus, two octogenarian sisters – one sharp and stubborn, the other sweeter than sunshine. As she is drawn into the dramas of the small, tight-knit town, Madeline learns that it’s a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but where friendship, community, and compassion run deeper.

A debut novel full of heart, South of Superior shows that there is a deep reward in caring for others, that one who is poor in pocket can be rich in many other ways, and that happiness often comes from the smallest gestures.

I felt right at home in the UP while reading this book. Take it from me, its an authentic experience. Just like the town in the book, there are so many little towns all over the UP that are rustic, worn, a bit forgotten, but most of them still have the same people that have lived there all their lives. The story goes on comfortably like a warm blanket and I empathized with Madeline as she tried to adapt to the town's way of life coming from the big city of Chicago. Its an adjustment just driving into the UP but its so worth it. The end of the book was wonderful and satisfying. I admired Madeline for sticking by Arbutus and Gladys. I've never stayed in the UP longer than a week myself. I think Madeline learned about herself and just humanity in general by staying there as long as she did and making the decision to put down roots as well. I've often wondered how I would change if I had ever moved to the UP when I was younger, when I thought about doing it after my mom passed away.

The author lives and works in Grand Marais, MI and she owns the West Bay Diner, which I fully intend to visit on my next UP vacation. I've never been to Grand Marais - its farther east than I've usually traveled while up in the UP.  I hope she writes again, especially if its set in the UP.
My other favorite UP books are by John Smolens, a professor at NMU: Fire Point  and Cold are two great suspense/thriller novels set in the UP. I'm looking into more local UP authors as well so stay tuned!

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