Martini relates the history of a now-defunct California attraction in this lavishly illustrated volume.
At the western edge of San Francisco, visitors will find a curious set of ruins at Ocean Beach which, from above, look something like a flooded ice-cube tray carved into the hillside. From 1896 to 1966, the Sutro Baths were an important city landmark: a lavish complex of pools, bleachers, changing rooms, restaurants, exhibits and displays. It was built of glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete, and its water was supplied directly by the ocean. Older city residents, like the author, will remember ice skating “in the cavernous former bathhouse” and peering through “gaps in the painted-over windows into the closed section of the building, where I could see a labyrinth of half-drained swimming tanks and endless bleacher seats marching toward the ceiling.” This fine book tells the story of how Adolph Sutro, a German-born businessman and politician, conceived and built the Baths, their eventual decline (mostly due to the high cost of maintenance) and plans for their future. Sutro, who served as mayor of San Francisco for a short time, did nothing by halves; he told a reporterin 1894 that a “small place would not satisfy me. I must have it large, pretentious, in keeping with the Heights and the great ocean itself.” In addition to swimming, the complex offered contests, “band concerts, trick diving exhibitions, acrobatic acts, May Day celebrations, and animal acts.” Martini tells this story clearly and well, providing not just period photographs, but also new architectural illustrations which greatly illuminate the Baths’ complicated structure. He also provides contemporary photos of the now-skeletal ruins alongside artist’s renderings of the complex when it was first built, which may help readers relate the past to the present day. Martini also offers many lively anecdotes from newspaper accounts, court documents and other sources to bring this past wonder to life.
A beautiful resource about a mysterious San Francisco landmark.
Fifteen-year-old Jake McGreevy stumbles into an art-world mystery in Vogel’s (Celtic Run, 2012) middle-grade novel, the second featuring teen gadget buff Jake McGreevy.
Jake and his two best friends, Julie and Ben, take a holiday trip to a performing arts camp in Chicago. Because his art historian mother died 13 years earlier in Chicago, Jake also plans to use the trip as an opportunity to learn more about her. As he wistfully reads through his mother’s old notebook, Jake uncovers clues as to what really happened to her. She was inspecting a recently discovered mural—believed to have been painted by Mary Cassatt—and shortly after she began expressing doubts about the work, she was hit by a drunken driver. Her notes, however, indicate that there may have been something more sinister at work in her death. Jake, Julie, Ben and their new friend, Natalie, set out to learn the truth about Jake’s mother and about the Cassatt mural. During their search, tidbits about the 1893 World’s Fair, Chicago’s architecture and the science behind Jake’s gadgets are woven smoothly into the story. Meanwhile, the kids explore the historic city, get to know residents of a local retirement home, hoodwink the strict dean of their camp, and navigate the ups and downs of teenage life. Jake is a likable and sympathetic hero—intelligent but impulsive, easygoing and funny with his pals but a little nervous with girls. His friends are well-developed, creating a fun cast of secondary characters as well as a strong support system for Jake. Many scenes are set in famous Chicago landmarks, including a thrilling chase sequence in the Museum of Science and Industry and a suspenseful moment in Macy’s Walnut Room that kicks off the story’s action-packed climax. It’s not necessary to read the first Jake McGreevy book in order to follow this one, but readers who enjoy Jake’s Chicago adventures will likely want to pick up the earlier novel as well.
A rollicking, fun mystery with a young, charismatic hero.
In his thrilling debut memoir, Ryan remembers his time spent serving as a California smokejumper.
Smokejumpers have earned a reputation for being more than a little crazy. Jumping out of a plane and parachuting toward an unpredictable, potentially lethal forest fire with the objective of extinguishing the blaze—that might deter most rational men and women. Ryan was a member of the courageous minority who willingly accepted this terrifying task. A gripping scene opens the memoir: With the inferno surrounding them, the firefighters are ordered to deploy their “shake and bake” shelters, aluminum survival tents intended for extreme situations. The ambient heat is palpable as the tent is showered by firebrands, and the author, sensing his own death, begins to pray. This high level of intensity sets the tone for the entire memoir. Smokejumpers are a close-knit band, united as brothers and sisters in their perilous endeavor. The author describes the difficulties of entering this profession, the rigors of training and his acceptance into this elite brotherhood. Learning his skills in California, he goes on to parachute into wildfires all over the United States, including Alaska. The presence of mortal danger is always close: planes crash, parachutes fail, wildfires turn. The author vividly describes colliding in midair with another jumper, an incident that resulted in his falling 60 feet and fracturing his spine. Capturing the “can do” persistence of America’s heroes, the author’s recovery and return to work are inspirational, spurred on by his philosophical and spiritual perspective. The memoir is also a brutally honest account of failed relationships that break down, in part, due to the author’s dedication to an unpredictable, dangerous profession. Further detail regarding the strategy of wildfire fighting would make for a more well-rounded study. Nonetheless, with an appropriate no-nonsense laconicism, there are true moments of laughter and heartache among the remarkable everyday lives of America’s lesser-known heroes.
Well-paced, informative and seldom repetitive, Ryan’s story nearly ignites.