Tag Archives: Cleveland books

CLE Reads: The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner

A bit of blogkeeping: Monday’s the last day to enter my Silver Spoon Giveaway.
Remember you can get extra entries for each day you tweet!

This month's CLE Read The Man from Primrose LaneIt’s been a while since I’ve read a book that elicited an emotional reaction from me as strong as this month’s CLE Read.

Given it’s a mystery novel, this surprised me even more.  When I’m reading a mystery, I care about the characters only on a superficial level. I typically have just one thing on my mind – solving the mystery.

And I’m pretty good at it. When you’ve been fed a steady diet of murder mysteries since you were 5, it’s hard not to guess whodunit anymore.

But as I dug further and further into James Renner’s The Man from Primrose Lane, I became so entranced by the drama and puzzles unfolding in the main character’s life that the murder almost became secondary.

The book opens with the story of an old man from Akron. His name is a mystery, known only as The Man from Primrose Lane.

No one really knows anything about him except that on the few occasions they see him out of the house, he’s wearing mittens – even in the sweltering heat of summer.

Then one day he’s found dead in his living room with a gunshot to the chest and all his fingers gone.

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CLE Reads: The Lake Erie Monster

The Lake Erie Monster by Jake Kelly and John Grenier
The Lake Erie Monster issue 3 by J. Kelly and John G.

Growing up, one of my favorite trips each month would be to the baseball card store. My mom would usually take me there after my orthodontist checkup so I could pick out a new pack of Topps. And without fail, each time I’d convince her to also let me get a copy of Tales from the Crypt.

I loved these horror comics and their pun-ey GhouLunatics hosts – especially the CryptKeeper. Nothing could take my mind off another month of braces like the one-two punch of a good scare and laugh.

In the same vein comes this month’s CLE Read: The Lake Erie Monster, a Cleveland-based horror anthology comic.

The book is written and illustrated by John Greiner and Jake Kelly.

Separately, the two have created murals and posters for Cleveland indie institutions like the Beachland, Grog Shop and Melt (check out this time-lapse of Kelly’s mural for the Cleveland Heights Melt).

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CLE Reads: Women Behaving Badly by John Stark Bellamy II

Giveaway Blogkeeping: Congratulations, entry #11 – Ali Lukacsy, for winning my SPANK! Fifty Shades giveaway. Email me at clueintocleveland (at) gmail (dot) com to redeem your 2 tickets for Sunday.

CLE Reads: Women Behaving Badly by John Stark Bellamy III’ve been looking forward to diving into this month’s CLE Read ever since it was recommended by @bonnjill after my first book review:

John Stark Bellamy II’sWomen Behaving Badly

As I’ve mentioned before, I thrill in piecing together the puzzle of almost anything crime-related. So Jill’s recommendation was right in my wheelhouse.

However, in contrast to the other mystery books that fill my bedside table, Bellamy’s Women Behaving Badly published in 2005 are all real-life crimes – an anthology of ferocious female killers in Cleveland.

Now, I’ve been known to behave badly more than once in my life.  However, I’m happy to know it’s not as badly as some of these ladies.

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CLE Reads: Damn Right I’m From Cleveland

Dec. CLE Read: Damn Right I’m From Cleveland by Mike Polk Jr.

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winners!

Between the usual stress of the holidays and what happened last week, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking we could all use a little laughter right now.

So I figured I’d pick a book for my December CLE Read that lightens the mood. And there was Mike Polk Jr.’s Damn Right I’m From Cleveland to the rescue.

If you’re a Clevelander who spends any amount of time online (which I assume you do since you’re on a blog right now), you’re likely familiar with Polk’s Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video.

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CLE Reads: Rust Belt Chic, Cleveland Anthology

Over the last few years, Cleveland has gotten its fair share of the national spotlight with publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Salon trying to define what makes Cleveland “cool” again.

Some articles have credited a perceived Cleveland aesthetic, calling it “rust belt chic” – hijacking a phrase Joyce Brabner coined in the 90s to mock the condescension of New Yorkers and MTV at the time.

And while the recent attention is a win from a tourism and public relations point-of-view, two Clevelanders debated it was time we took the narrative back into our own hands.

So Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek – one a Cleveland-born Westsider, the other a transplant Eastsider – put out a call for Clevelanders to tell the story of Cleveland.

The result is this month’s CLE Read: Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, a compilation of 38 essays that tell our city’s story from “the inside-out.”

Grouped into themes that frequently come up when talking Cleveland (music, culture, history, conflict, returning home), the essays reveal a city undergoing a renewal – albeit a precarious one, as some writers remind us it’s gone through this cycle times before.

In one essay, Connie Schultz recounts how a discussion on the service industry reaffirmed her love for a city that always reaches bigger despite its bruises. While in Cleveland’s Little Iraq, Huda Al-Marashi tells her journey to find a sense of cultural belonging after moving from Queens.

On the other hand, Jimi Izrael’s Not a Love Letter shares his perspective that Cleveland is a cruel and unforgiving place, “reluctant family that I’d deny if I could, but I can’t.” And Eric Anderson’s Pretty Things to Hang on the Wall tells of a native artist’s struggles and a disdain for when out-of-town artists say they’ve moved here because it’s easier to practice their art.

Michael Ruhlman delves a bit into Cleveland history in Unstoppable Houses on Changeless Terrain; as Douglas Trattner’s How We Arrived at Braised Beef Cheek Pierogis waxes on the explosion of Cleveland’s culinary scene.

Elizabeth Weinstein memorializes Cleveland’s legendary rock journalist Jane Scott, “a perfect blend of Rust Belt values…soft-spoken and humble, passionate about rock and roll, and unflinchingly determined to be the best in her field.”

And “boomerang” Joe Baur shares why you shouldn’t call him that since he never really connected with Cleveland until he moved away. Joe, who eventually did move back after time in LA and Chicago, is an excellent example of how you can strike a balance between being both an enthusiast of the city and a critic, championing civic causes such as the OurCLE campaign against the Tower City-Casino walkway.

Photographs from Bob Perkoski and an installment from the Cleveland-based Apama comic complement the essays.

What is “Rust Belt Chic”?

Each piece in Rust Belt Chic shares a unique perspective on Cleveland – some may be similar to your own experiences, others strange and new.  But when taken altogether, they tell the balanced story of our city.

It’s an authentic account that for me demonstrated there is a place for criticism, just as there is a place for optimism and cheerleading.

Regardless of whether you agree with all of the opinions in Rust Belt Chic, if it truly comes from someone’s experience it deserves to be heard. Because it is through this balanced approach that we can work towards a revitalization based on an honest understanding of who we are and what sets us apart.

You can buy Rust Belt Chic online for $20 and no shipping. It’s also available in a number of local bookstores, retailers like Evie Lou, and the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Museum Store. Find the full list of shops here.

Readers with a Kindle, Nook or iPad can enjoy the expanded Rust Belt Chic e-book featuring a bonus 12 essays.

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This is the latest in my CLE Reads series. Check out my previous installments:

If you’ve read Rust Belt Chic or have a suggestion for a Cleveland book I should clue into, leave a comment or send me an email at clueintocleveland (at) gmail (dot) com.

I’ll be back next month with Damn Right I’m From Cleveland.

Disclosure: I was invited to review a copy of Rust Belt Chic and share my thoughts on it. The opinions expressed here about the book are 100% my own. Due to my weird preference for having a physical book in my hands (and my lack of an ereader), I opted to review the print edition. The expanded e-book features additional essays not reviewed.

CLE Reads: Les Roberts’ Whiskey Island

October’s CLE Read

A bit of a blog fail: We’re still in catch-up mode from Hurricane Sandy and one of the things that got pushed back was my October CLE Read originally scheduled for mid-week. Better late than never, though.

For my second CLE Read, I picked Les Roberts’ Whiskey Island, a book that brought together two passions of mine – mysteries and (of course!) Cleveland.

Starting with Murder She Wrote and Encyclopedia Brown, I was raised on a steady diet of mysteries since I was 5. My mom is an avid murder mystery fan and everyday after school I would watch crime procedurals with her. Years later, we still swap the latest mystery novels we’re reading.

So last year when I read my first Milan Jacovich mystery The Cleveland Creep, I couldn’t wait to share a Cleveland-written and -based murder mystery with her.

Whiskey Island, recently published through Gray and Co., is the next installment in Roberts’ Milan Jacovich series.

Jacovich is a blue-collar guy in a blue-collar city. After growing up in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, he attended Kent, served in Vietnam and became a Cleveland cop.

Now he’s a tough P.I. with a love of Strohl’s solving some of the more ghastly crimes committed in Roberts’ (semi-)fictional Cleveland.

While he often sees the grittiest sides of Cleveland, make no mistake – Jacovich loves his city. In Whiskey Island, Jacovich describes the best part about Cleveland:

My town is full of nice people. They are open, warm, sometimes funny – huge sports fans, great music lovers of both classical and rock, and dedicated supporters of art, theater and dance. They’re generous; even when times are tough, charities do well here. And Clevelanders love to eat; great new restaurants open here all the time.”

And in part that’s a reflection of the author’s own passion for Cleveland. Roberts came here after a 24-year career in Hollywood where he wrote for the Hollywood Squares, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

He was asked to create a lottery game show for Ohio, which ultimately became Cash Explosion Double Play and moved back in 1990 where he’s lived since – spreading his love for Cleveland in his mystery novels and other writings.

Les Roberts on the cover of his memoir

In Whiskey Island, Jacovich is tasked with finding out who is trying to kill Cleveland councilman Bert Loftus.

Loftus’ proclivity for food, call girls and bribes has put him at the center of an FBI investigation that’s set to bring down many city officials and invested individuals.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Although Roberts got his inspiration from recent scandals, the turns of Whiskey Island should keep you guessing on who’s going to ‘get it’ and who’s guilty.

I enjoy Roberts’ mystery novels because there is a classic PI sensibility to them – reminiscent of the crime novels that first hooked me.

And as usual, it was a treat to read the spot-on Cleveland cameos from downtown to the suburbs. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the city I don’t think the worldbuilding bogs the story down.

In Whiskey Island specifically, Roberts’ descriptions show why Jacovich would fight for Cleveland in the face of so much ugliness.

The addition of a partner for Jacovich also sets this apart from previous installments. With his age catching up with him, Milan brings on young vet Kevin “K.O.” O’Bannion.

Splitting the narrative between the two gives a more well-rounded perspective and made it more enjoyable to piece the puzzle together.

You can purchase Whiskey Island and other Les Roberts books online from Cleveland publisher Gray & Company. It can also be found at many of Northeast Ohio’s local bookstores: www.grayco.com/stores/index.shtml.

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This is the latest in my CLE Read series. Check out the first installment:

If you’ve read Whiskey Island or have a suggestion for a Cleveland book I should clue into, leave a comment or send me an email at clueintocleveland (at) gmail (dot) com.

I’ll be back later this month with Rust Belt Chic The Cleveland Anthology.

CLE Reads: Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Even Chloe likes to curl up with a good book

Growing up, I always looked forward to September because it meant one thing: back to school (I was am a nerd). And besides seeing my friends and picking out supplies, I loved going back to school because with the new year I got a new reading list for English class (even bigger nerd).

As soon as I’d get home with those books in my hands, I’d read through them as quickly as possible even though most of the assigned reading wouldn’t be covered for months. Nothing could relax me after a day of school as well as it could.

Somewhere along the line, though, I stopped making as much time to read and without this escape my stress levels went up. Because I could use some relaxation in my life right now, I’ve decided to start a new project on my blog.

Cleveland has many interesting authors that call this city home and in an attempt to not just destress but also learn more about their work, I’m going to be reading and then blogging about a different Cleveland book each month.

When Scott first gifted me a few weeks ago with this month’s book, I immediately knew it had to be the “CLE Read” I started things off with. Written by one of my favorite Clevelanders and one of comics’ finest writers, it had been on my to-read lists for months.

Harvey Pekar (Image source: Wikimedia Commons, author: Davidkphoto)

A couple years back on July 12, 2010, the world of comics and Cleveland lost one of its greatest. Since 1976 when he published the first issue of American Splendor, Harvey Pekar became a pioneer of autobiographical comics.

He wrote about everyday life in the Midwest as a working-class man. It may have often been disgruntled and curmudgeonly, but it was always honest.

And in 1994, he co-authored Our Cancer Year with his wife Joyce Brabner, which chronicled his struggle to overcome cancer and won the Harvey Award for best original graphic novel.

Pekar was also a lifelong resident of Cleveland – a city that seemed to have been perfectly made for him (or was it the other way around?). Go watch Bourdain’s Cleveland episode and you’ll see “Our Man” (I also recommend reading Bourdain’s The Original tribute).

This April, two years after his death, Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland was published. One of the works he was busy with before his death, this uncompromising graphic novel is a look at the city’s history – starting with its settlement in the late 18th century through the 1960s.

Not one to shy away from the city’s ugly side, Pekar covers things like the city’s race riots, economic downfall and even the reluctance at its founding for people to settle here (an interesting echo of residents’ flight from the city proper over a century later).

However, mixed within this are retellings of some of the city’s accomplishments and bright moments. As he writes at one point in response to people who avoid Cleveland: “This is a shame, as Cleveland has more things to recommend it than most cities its size: an outstanding art museum, a world-class orchestra, top notch hospitals, attractive parks, major league sports.”

Page from Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland (Image source: topshelfcomix.com, illustrated by Joseph Remnant)

In the vein of his other autobiographical works for which he’s so critically acclaimed, Cleveland intertwines stories of Harvey Pekar’s life within his history of the city.  And just like Cleveland, Pekar’s life was marked by ups, downs and the mundane. From memories of living in Coventry to his two divorces before marrying Brabner, I love the eloquent matter-of-factness found in both the good and the bad.

My favorite part about the book though is that it offers a glimpse into Pekar’s life at the end.  His sudden death came as a surprise and reading about each day’s routine of gardening, listening to the Diane Rehm show and working on a few of the writing projects he had going on helps say goodbye. He also dedicates a beautifully-drawn full page to the Cleveland Public Library where he spends his day and which he pointedly observes was “built in an era when Cleveland businessmen had plenty of money and were willing to spend it on the public.”

Cleveland ends with Pekar ruminating on what’s going to happen next with the city. He references the Medical Mart which at the time of his death had still not broken ground.  And even though it’s tinged with skepticism, his last words hold an air of optimism and hope.

At 120 pages, Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is a short read but one you can go back to everytime you find yourself missing Pekar or wanting a straightforward perspective about our city. It’s also bookended by an introduction from Alan Moore, the legendary writer of Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and a tribute by Jimi Izrael, a legend in his own right as the Harvey Pekar scholar.

While Pekar’s most well-known for collaborating with artists like Robert Crumb, Gerry Shamray, and Joe Zabel, he selected Joseph Remnant to illustrate Cleveland. Remnant had illustrated stories for SMITH Magazine’s PEKAR PROJECT and although he’s from LA, was clearly thorough in his research for his illustrations.  He captures Pekar and historic figures pretty dead-on and the final 3-panel page of Tower City in a snowstorm sums up how I’d like to remember Cleveland if I had to move away.

“Yeah, had plenty of good days…” – opening words of Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland was co-published by Zip Comics and Top Shelf. Scott picked up my copy at Comics Are Go, though you could probably find or order it from many of the area’s local comic shops and bookstores like Visible Voice or Mac’s Backs-Books (which even has its own cameo in the book). You can also order it online from Top Shelf.

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ll be back each month with another CLE Read. October’s read will be the recently released mystery novel Whiskey Island by Les Roberts. 

If you’ve read or are interested in reading one of these books, leave a comment or send me an email at clueintocleveland (at) gmail (dot) com.  Same goes if you have a suggestion for a Cleveland book I should clue into.