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A Dream of Steam

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As the autumn shipping season draws to a close, Captain Thomas McGrath steps ashore to help his ambitious brother William rebuild the family sawmill. Despite Thomas’s aversion to debt, William convinces him to borrow heavily so they might convert their ailing, water-powered mill to steam. While adapting to the new technology, Thomas finds himself navigating between ax-wiel As the autumn shipping season draws to a close, Captain Thomas McGrath steps ashore to help his ambitious brother William rebuild the family sawmill. Despite Thomas’s aversion to debt, William convinces him to borrow heavily so they might convert their ailing, water-powered mill to steam. While adapting to the new technology, Thomas finds himself navigating between ax-wielding log pirates, hostile longshoremen, and his brother’s obsession with finding his estranged wife. The newly retooled mill is ramping up lumber production when the winds of fortune turn. Thomas has set sail again when a financial crisis hits, running the brothers afoul of John Fitzpatrick, a crooked bank officer employed by their lender. Fitzpatrick’s crimes push the McGrath Brothers Lumber Company to the edge of ruin, forcing Thomas to consider a high risk proposal if he wants to save their livelihood and get out of debt. Set in 1890s Michigan, A Dream of Steam is a story of sailing ships and lumberjacks, hope and disappointment, love and heartbreak, peopled by men and women who take control of their destinies in an era of rapid change.


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As the autumn shipping season draws to a close, Captain Thomas McGrath steps ashore to help his ambitious brother William rebuild the family sawmill. Despite Thomas’s aversion to debt, William convinces him to borrow heavily so they might convert their ailing, water-powered mill to steam. While adapting to the new technology, Thomas finds himself navigating between ax-wiel As the autumn shipping season draws to a close, Captain Thomas McGrath steps ashore to help his ambitious brother William rebuild the family sawmill. Despite Thomas’s aversion to debt, William convinces him to borrow heavily so they might convert their ailing, water-powered mill to steam. While adapting to the new technology, Thomas finds himself navigating between ax-wielding log pirates, hostile longshoremen, and his brother’s obsession with finding his estranged wife. The newly retooled mill is ramping up lumber production when the winds of fortune turn. Thomas has set sail again when a financial crisis hits, running the brothers afoul of John Fitzpatrick, a crooked bank officer employed by their lender. Fitzpatrick’s crimes push the McGrath Brothers Lumber Company to the edge of ruin, forcing Thomas to consider a high risk proposal if he wants to save their livelihood and get out of debt. Set in 1890s Michigan, A Dream of Steam is a story of sailing ships and lumberjacks, hope and disappointment, love and heartbreak, peopled by men and women who take control of their destinies in an era of rapid change.

45 review for A Dream of Steam

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    William McGrath ran the family sawmill with enthusiasm and ease, while his brother Thomas was captain of the barkantine, Genevieve, which carried the lumber across the lake for its sale. But when William decided to rebuild the sawmill, converting to steam, their only option was to take out a considerable loan to cover the costs. Thomas was against the idea but agreed for William’s sake – their trouble was only beginning. It was the 1890s in Michigan, and when the financial crisis hit the banks, J William McGrath ran the family sawmill with enthusiasm and ease, while his brother Thomas was captain of the barkantine, Genevieve, which carried the lumber across the lake for its sale. But when William decided to rebuild the sawmill, converting to steam, their only option was to take out a considerable loan to cover the costs. Thomas was against the idea but agreed for William’s sake – their trouble was only beginning. It was the 1890s in Michigan, and when the financial crisis hit the banks, John Fitzpatrick – bank officer, lover of alcohol and gambling – saw a way to free himself of his debts. But it was to be to the detriment of the McGrath brothers and all they had worked for. The lumberjacks on the docks were an unruly mob and at least one in particular was to be feared. Fitzpatrick had no idea what he had let himself in for – but it was too late to stop now. What would be the outcome for the two hardworking brothers in a time of financial hardship and struggle? A Dream of Steam is the debut novel by James W. Barry and although slow to start with lengthy and overly descriptive sections throughout (mostly nautical and sawmill terms), nevertheless the nature of the story was fascinating – more so knowing it’s based on fact. The Author’s Notes at the end and the glossary are interesting and help with clarification of certain parts of the novel. Overall I enjoyed the story and have no hesitation in recommending A Dream of Steam to fans of historical fiction. With thanks to the author for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    3.5 stars Thank you to the author for a copy of this book. I was pleasantly surprised while reading this book. I found it to be an interesting historical novel, one inspired by a true story, and written by a new author. I believe that this published just a week ago. The setting is the Michigan Ontario area surrounding the Great Lakes. Two brothers, William and Thomas McGrath, join forces to be one of the first to have a steam powered sawmill in the 1890's. William, manager of the mill and Thomas, 3.5 stars Thank you to the author for a copy of this book. I was pleasantly surprised while reading this book. I found it to be an interesting historical novel, one inspired by a true story, and written by a new author. I believe that this published just a week ago. The setting is the Michigan Ontario area surrounding the Great Lakes. Two brothers, William and Thomas McGrath, join forces to be one of the first to have a steam powered sawmill in the 1890's. William, manager of the mill and Thomas, the Captain of the Genevieve, a square rigger barkentine schooner. Together they worked to move logs from the logging camps, down the river to the sawmill, the onto the ship for transport. Many problems face the brothers. Loans are called in, fire erupts, pirates raid the Genevieve, and longshoremen are on strike, to say nothing of one of their sneaky evil competitors. Things are definitely working against the McGraths. I really enjoyed most of this novel. The additional people brought in made this a well rounded story with a good plot. The historical aspect was good and pertinent to that era. With that said, I was not a fan of the portions of the story that detailed the schooner. I am not a sailor, not even a boater and have never been. So, let me start by saying that boats of any kind are not very interesting to me. This book delved deeply into the running and maintenance of the barkentine. The author, having spent years as a master rigger on various ships, did put a multi-page glossary in the back of the book to explain the varying words used in the text. However, it was still above my head. So those particular passages were very heavy and not of much interest to me. Luckily, the rest of the story was interesting enough to keep me reading. I believe that this new author has a future ahead of him and look forward to another new book coming out - sans all the nautical jargon, please!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jana Tenbrook (Reviews from the Stacks)

    This is a story of sailing and sawmills: two things I initially thought would not fit together well, but which the author skillfully weaves into a single tale. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I have not neglected reading about the late 1800s by any means, but this is a story I was not prepared for (which made it even more exciting). I know very little about sailing or boats in any time period, and equally little about how sawmills work. It was very interesting, then, to learn This is a story of sailing and sawmills: two things I initially thought would not fit together well, but which the author skillfully weaves into a single tale. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I have not neglected reading about the late 1800s by any means, but this is a story I was not prepared for (which made it even more exciting). I know very little about sailing or boats in any time period, and equally little about how sawmills work. It was very interesting, then, to learn about the process of upgrading a mill from water power to steam power. I was able to grasp most of this aspect without much trouble; however, the nautical aspect was another thing entirely. Luckily, there is a glossary in the back of the book explaining the jargon. A Dream of Steam spends approximately equal amounts of time on land and on water, which I believe will widen its appeal. Those who enjoy boating stories will have plenty to enjoy, and those who prefer more home-based historical fiction will also find their fill. There are additionally several side plots explored alongside that of modernizing the mill. We learn about the life of the banker in charge of the mill owner’s loan (taken out hesitantly in order to expand and upgrade the mill), his chief clerk’s secrets, and about a mail order bride passing through. Initially, this can be a bit confusing. There are so many characters introduced in quick succession through alternating chapters, that by the time it came back to the first characters’ POV, it was a challenge to remember each one’s role. I think I had everyone sorted out by the end of the first section, and as the story progressed it became easier. Additionally, the story lines eventually overlap into a single thread, making it easier still to keep things straight. I enjoyed some chapters of A Dream of Steam more than others. While not exceedingly graphic, there is violence in multiple chapters, and it was enough to make me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t consider myself particularly squeamish, but I also know that I have a lower tolerance for violence than some, so take that as you will. There is also some foul language; again, it is not overwhelming, but definitely there. On the other hand, the writing is easy to read, and the story moves along well once everything has been set up and everyone introduced. The romance aspect is very minor, and there are both positive and negative examples of family life. I enjoyed following along as William and Thomas McGrath pursued their dreams of the new mill and sailing, and watching the way they worked together. Still, perhaps because my life is so different from theirs, it was difficult to really connect with the characters, which meant it was not as engaging as some books. Sailing ships and lumber mills are interesting to visit through fiction, but not settings I found myself fully immersed in. This is not at any fault of the author, however; the settings are thoroughly outfitted with appropriate (but not overbearing) details, the characters given a background and reasons for doing what they do, and the plot is coherent and unique. It all became even more interesting once I finished the book and read the authors note, and realized that some of the things I thought most unrealistic were actually true events which inspired the story in the first place! If you enjoy plot-driven historical fiction from the 1890s with a dash of mystery and a heaping side of action, I definitely recommend A Dream of Steam. It may not stick around as one of my personal favorites, but I can see it being enjoyed very much by people with a reading preference that is similar-but-not-identical to mine. Original review posted on Reviews From the Stacks.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrex

    Starting in August 1891 this fictional but historically based story invites us into the lives of several characters over the period of 2 years. William McGrath, 34, is a sawmill owner on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Thomas, William's older brother, is captain of his ship Genevieve which transports the wood and other cargo. He is due back to port soon to pick up another shipment of wood. Alas, due to a breakdown, the cargo will not be ready. William sees the importance of changing the mill over to Starting in August 1891 this fictional but historically based story invites us into the lives of several characters over the period of 2 years. William McGrath, 34, is a sawmill owner on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Thomas, William's older brother, is captain of his ship Genevieve which transports the wood and other cargo. He is due back to port soon to pick up another shipment of wood. Alas, due to a breakdown, the cargo will not be ready. William sees the importance of changing the mill over to becoming steam powered even if it means going into debt but can he persuade Thomas of this? Thomas dreads any form of debt. Whilst Thomas is very happily married to Anne, William has not had the same success in his marriage. His wife, Carmina, left him three years ago after only a year of marriage. Will he ever find her again? If he does, is there any hope for their relationship or is it time to move on? Edgar Standish is not only the owner of a stove manufacturing business but also president and owner of the Industrial Bank of Detroit. Will he be willing to help William and Thomas in their endeavors? John Fitzpatrick, the bank's chief clerk is also a gambler and Thomas feels that he is untrustworthy. Edgar, his father-in-law, is of the same opinion! What depths will John sink to when he gambles money he does not have and loses? With winter fast approaching, Thomas is eager to get home before the ice forms. Is that a schooner in trouble not far away? Thomas heads to help. It is too late for the crew but Thomas and his men are able to rescue some of the passengers on board. Why were they traveling that way? One of the characters will end up being featured quite a bit in the story. This book has a VERY slow start due to the number of characters introduced. I'll be honest and say I nearly gave up on it but I will also be quick to add that I persevered and am SO glad I did. This is one very well written book and, once past the mundane, I was drawn into the story, wanting to keep reading. GREAT ending! Fairly long read but once again, well worth it. If you are not familiar with some of the terms in both the sailing and sawmill worlds then the glossary at the end of the book will be really helpful to you. Also, at the end, the author explains which parts of the story are fact and which are fiction. A true story inspired him to write this historical fictional novel. I was provided a copy of this book by the author. That has not influenced the above review, the thoughts and opinions of which are my own. Thanks, Liz

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mari LivTollefsonCarlson

    Based on a true story about a sawmill’s fate from 1889, this reimagined historical fiction version includes romance, ships and desperados. Comprised of four books, the novel builds steadily to a fever pitch at the end. The first book introduces a wide cast of characters.  Brothers William and Thomas McGrath own and operate a lumber business. Ambitious, headstrong William is in charge of the mill and happy-go-lucky, sea-faring Thomas moves the products on the ship Genevieve.  In 1891, they request Based on a true story about a sawmill’s fate from 1889, this reimagined historical fiction version includes romance, ships and desperados. Comprised of four books, the novel builds steadily to a fever pitch at the end. The first book introduces a wide cast of characters.  Brothers William and Thomas McGrath own and operate a lumber business. Ambitious, headstrong William is in charge of the mill and happy-go-lucky, sea-faring Thomas moves the products on the ship Genevieve.  In 1891, they request a loan to modernize their business from a bank in Detroit run by Edgar Standish and son-in-law, John Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick plays poker with thug union organizers and other violent types. Klara is a mail-order bride on her way to meet her future husband in Michigan when her ship capsizes and Thomas’ crew saves her.  Cedric Inch is an underhanded fellow lumberman. In the second book, the loan acquired, work begins on a new mill, although not without hiccups due to weather, recession, William’s romantic woes and a run-in with union thugs.  Fitzpatrick finds himself in debt to his card partners. Klara’s plans her escape from the husband who turns out not to be who he says he is. The threads begin to come together in book three as Fitzpatrick desperately uses the McGrath loan, among others, to try to get out of debt.  Klara, escaped, is again saved by the Genevieve crew, whom she meets in Sault Ste Marie.  In the final book, Fitzpatrick and Inch team up against the McGraths.  Klara endears herself to William with an innovative, if not conniving, retaliation plan.  The careful character development pays off when the rock-solid hero team, forward-looking William tempered by traditionalist Thomas, as well as can-do Klara and the humorous Genevieve crew, take on villainous corporate interests in the form of Fitzpatrick and gang.  With lyrical phrasing, fitting of the time period, plus mechanical details and lots of physical exertion, the pacing balances description and action.  A helpful glossary of logging and nautical terms supplements the text. History comes alive in the hands of this debut author, a sailor who restores ships for use in movies and museums.     

  6. 4 out of 5

    Trey Stone

    This surprised me. It's not my usual kind of read at all, but I was intrigued and wanted to read something new. The writing is superb, Barry is really good. Detailed, beautiful, engaging, without becoming boring or purple. The story fascinated me more than I would have thought, starting simple with the two brothers Thomas and William, who own a transport ship and a sawmill respectively. They try to live their lives, earn their wages, but life gets in the way. This book is about family, companion This surprised me. It's not my usual kind of read at all, but I was intrigued and wanted to read something new. The writing is superb, Barry is really good. Detailed, beautiful, engaging, without becoming boring or purple. The story fascinated me more than I would have thought, starting simple with the two brothers Thomas and William, who own a transport ship and a sawmill respectively. They try to live their lives, earn their wages, but life gets in the way. This book is about family, companionship, love, lies, deceit, murder, and money. All at the same time. It was really good - best thing of all, it's true.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Terris

    I very much enjoyed this story, set in the late 1800's, about two brothers who own a ship and a lumber yard. Surprisingly, there was a lot of drama and excitement, but the characters also seemed very realistic. The book was well-written, nicely paced, and historically accurate. I appreciated the author's attention to the details of the era. I learned a lot about shipping and also the use of steam in a timber mill. But the story does not get dragged down by this information, as there is also a li I very much enjoyed this story, set in the late 1800's, about two brothers who own a ship and a lumber yard. Surprisingly, there was a lot of drama and excitement, but the characters also seemed very realistic. The book was well-written, nicely paced, and historically accurate. I appreciated the author's attention to the details of the era. I learned a lot about shipping and also the use of steam in a timber mill. But the story does not get dragged down by this information, as there is also a little romance and lightness included. Overall, I was very pleased, since this is not my usual genre, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good book!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gale

    “Murder and Mayhem along Michigan Shores” An extensive cast of characters pits their will and vaulting ambition (pun intended) against each other, as well as the harsh winters and capricious waters between the Great Lakes. There are so many characters, in fact, that a cast listing would be helpful. As multiple thread lines vie for the reader’s attention, cliff-hangers abound…leaving us in limbo for paragraphs--or even chapters before learning of their fate. Women play only minor roles, while tw “Murder and Mayhem along Michigan Shores” An extensive cast of characters pits their will and vaulting ambition (pun intended) against each other, as well as the harsh winters and capricious waters between the Great Lakes. There are so many characters, in fact, that a cast listing would be helpful. As multiple thread lines vie for the reader’s attention, cliff-hangers abound…leaving us in limbo for paragraphs--or even chapters before learning of their fate. Women play only minor roles, while two brothers often clash because of their divergent passions: Captain Thomas lives for his ship, which usually hauls timber, while younger William cherishes the dream of converting their water-powered mill to steam. Life could be brutal before the turn of the 20th century: longshoremen strove for unions; Irish saloon bosses ran ruthless card games and hired vicious enforcers; the malevolent owner of a rival lumber company brazenly maintained shady practices in the face of the timid sheriff. Meanwhile in the more civilized city of Detroit bank officers scheme against each other, manipulate stock and loans, and consider murder. Serious topics include: mail-order brides, snow-shoeing across thin ice, forest fire and arson, a to-the-death sea battle, and the curse of compulsive gambling. Definitely not for the faint-hearted this macho novel holds the reader’s interest, but I admit that I soon began to dread reading it. To spare being emotionally jerked around I finally resigned myself that just about everyone I cared for would either die or be ruined financially. Not all the crimes are punished; sometimes fate takes a hand. An experienced sailor himself the author indulges in minute details re the ship’s complex rigging and handling maneuvers; this will surely delight other tars, but proves somewhat over the topsail for landlubbers. Nevertheless, an impressive first novel by a well-researched author! December 16, 2018

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Scott

    https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpres... (copy from the author and voluntarily reviewed) This is the author’s debut. The book is very slow to start and has sections scattered throughout that I felt were too long overwhelmed by description. The novel is saved by the fact the story is fascinating and based on fact. I liked the fact he book contains author’s notes and a glossary. This added an unexpected depth. I’ve never read books about sailing or sawmills before so enjoyed reading about something https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpres... (copy from the author and voluntarily reviewed) This is the author’s debut. The book is very slow to start and has sections scattered throughout that I felt were too long overwhelmed by description. The novel is saved by the fact the story is fascinating and based on fact. I liked the fact he book contains author’s notes and a glossary. This added an unexpected depth. I’ve never read books about sailing or sawmills before so enjoyed reading about something completely new. I struggled with the nautical sections of the book. The glossary helped with this which explained the jargon. However, I felt the author should have been able to make me understand these sections without the need to refer to a glossary. This was historical fiction after all, inspired by real events but not a non-fiction book about sailing. The book has a lot of characters. The characters are well written. However, the POV changes a lot and I struggled to keep a track of who was who. A Dream of Steam is an okay book with a few things that didn’t quite gel.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brett Wallach

    Ironically, the last book I read before this was a collection of Jack London sea stories; not my usual genre of choice, but the rugged individualism of the late nineteenth century/early twentieth is a great source of entertainment and inspiration. As is A Dream of Steam, a tough, but sometimes romantic tale of economic survival at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in Michigan. The writing is sharp and intelligent; perhaps a tad stilted and slow at times, but overall, a riveting read which I Ironically, the last book I read before this was a collection of Jack London sea stories; not my usual genre of choice, but the rugged individualism of the late nineteenth century/early twentieth is a great source of entertainment and inspiration. As is A Dream of Steam, a tough, but sometimes romantic tale of economic survival at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in Michigan. The writing is sharp and intelligent; perhaps a tad stilted and slow at times, but overall, a riveting read which I would recommend highly to anyone, especially those interested in this period of American history, as this book is especially well-told and researched.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Westmoreland Kurtz

    I'm going to be completely real with you. I had a bit of a struggle with this book. Not that it was bad, it just wasn't my kind of story. I'm not a sailor, I know nothing about boats or ships or anything like that. So, all the talk about such had me confused and, honestly, a little bored. However, the plot of the story was pretty good. I can definitely say that the author does very well. This book can be extremely enjoyable to those that would be more interested in this type of story. *Note: I rece I'm going to be completely real with you. I had a bit of a struggle with this book. Not that it was bad, it just wasn't my kind of story. I'm not a sailor, I know nothing about boats or ships or anything like that. So, all the talk about such had me confused and, honestly, a little bored. However, the plot of the story was pretty good. I can definitely say that the author does very well. This book can be extremely enjoyable to those that would be more interested in this type of story. *Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Just to be very clear, this isn’t my go-to genre. With that said, I actually enjoyed this story. Don’t expect a lot of action, this isn’t that kind of story. It’s a slow burner but a really pleasant story none the less. It was also great to learn the history and details about how things were done back then. Always great when you learn history while reading a story. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the Author. Does not affect my review)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Melina Druga

    Overall I found the story to be enjoyable, but it was too lengthy. The plot is at its most interesting when it focuses on the brothers. The other miscellaneous characters do play a role in the main plot, but a minor one, and their chapters make the novel much longer than it needed to be.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim Barry

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eileen Rmt

  17. 5 out of 5

    Wendy McIlroy

  18. 4 out of 5

    J.L. Gates

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael McFie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ashleigh

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mari

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paula Davidson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tope

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adolfo Berlanga

  28. 4 out of 5

    Traci

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ikraman Wahyudi

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan Genereau

  31. 5 out of 5

    Ilene Harris

  32. 5 out of 5

    Grayson

  33. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  34. 5 out of 5

    Ada Dempsey

  35. 4 out of 5

    Lsmckinlay

  36. 5 out of 5

    StoryBookMaze Maze

  37. 5 out of 5

    Anonymous

  38. 4 out of 5

    Glory

  39. 5 out of 5

    Maarten Vuursteen

  40. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  41. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Church

  42. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

  43. 5 out of 5

    Vita

  44. 4 out of 5

    Rylan Perkins

  45. 4 out of 5

    Edward

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