Northeast of Pittsburgh is a little community called Allegheny Acres. In “Home at Last,” a novel by Copley resident William A. Francis, the Warren family lives in the “scrubby, shale-lined landscape” where the coal mines have been played out.
In 1950, Ben Warren and his friends splash in the stinking sulfur pools and walk home on cinder paths. Ben’s father, Albert, goes into the city for his job as a photographer, but takes pleasure in his untidy hobby farm. His refined wife, Cecelia, longs to move her family back to Pittsburgh, where the children can attend schools with indoor bathrooms and she can worship at the cathedral.
The family is visited by Albert’s English parents, and by his brother Willie, who manages a paper company in colonial India through the 1947 partition. Willie needs to decide if he will join his parents in their Florida retirement or return to India and his complicated personal life there.
Cecelia finally prevails, and the family moves to a musty row house in the Shadyside district of Pittsburgh. Albert leaves gas heaters on constantly to keep the mold off the crumbling plaster walls.
The story then becomes an expansion of “Lucky Jack!”, the author’s 2014 novella framed as the recollection of a priest preparing to retire. Ben befriends Jack at altar boy practice. Jack is a likable opportunist, oldest of five children who soon will become six. Jack’s father buys gas a quarter at a time, not knowing that Jack drives his old Chrysler around the neighborhood while his dad sleeps.
Francis repeats the over-the-top funny story about Jack scamming a bartender for free Cokes, and the polio scare of 1953 that causes a loss in the boys’ circle of friends.
“Home at Last” (295 pages, softcover) costs $20.99 from online retailers.
William A. Francis earned a Ph.D. in English at Case Western Reserve University, taught English at the University of Akron and served as assistant dean of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences.
Ohio's past circuses
Growing awareness of animal treatment has been the catalyst for the decline of circuses. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed in 2017 after 146 years, unable to maintain audience interest without traditional animal acts. In his book “Lost Circuses of Ohio,” Conrade Hinds tells of three Ohio-based circuses that provided entertainment for 19th-century audiences.
The John Robinson Circus, founded in 1842, operated out of Cincinnati through 1911, with three generations of the Robinson family involved. Hinds notes that “circuses were reviewed in the press” like plays or concerts; one 1875 review compared the size of Robinson’s elephant with that of another circus, while noting that Robinson had no camels, no calliope and no Shetland ponies.
The Sells Brothers Circus, started in 1862, was a top-level outfit with a large menagerie and many performers. A major competitor of Barnum & Bailey, they were headquartered in Columbus until 1895.
A third circus, the Walter L. Main Hometown Circus, had some success in the 1880s and 1890s but is best remembered today for a horrifying train crash in May 1893 in Pennsylvania. Six people and many animals were killed. The Sells and Robinson outfits also suffered multiple fatal wrecks.
Although there undoubtedly was abuse, some animals suffered because handlers didn’t know the proper treatment for their exotic charges, many of whom were in an unsuitable climate.
A feature of the book is the outstanding color reproduction of lithographic circus posters, showing bands, big tops and pachyderms.
“Lost Circuses of Ohio” (158 pages, softcover) costs $21.99 from History Press. Conrade Hinds is an architect and retired from the city of Columbus. He also is the author of “Columbus and the Great Flood of 1913.”
• “The Library Book” by Cleveland native Susan Orlean has been nominated for Book of the Year in the Adult Fiction category of the Indies Choice Awards by the American Booksellers Association. The winners will be announced May 1.
• Seats may remain to see Stephanie Evanovich, whose new novel “Under the Table” is an update on “My Fair Lady,” on April 22 at Mustard Seed Market and Café in Solon, and April 23 at the North Royalton branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Register at 440-237-3800. In last week’s column, I mistakenly listed the author as Janet Evanovich, author of the Stephanie Plum mystery series.
Akron-Summit County Public Library (Goodyear branch, 60 Goodyear Blvd.): Scott Longert signs “Bad Boys, Bad Times: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball in the Prewar Years, 1937-1941, featured in the April 7 column, 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Monday. Register at 330-784-7522.
Stark County District Library (Plain Community branch, 1803 Schneider St. NE, Canton): Frank Lavin discusses “Home Front to Battlefront: An Ohio Teenager in World War II,” an edited collection of letters from his father, Carl Lavin, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights): John Carroll University professor Philip Metres reads from his poetry collection “Returning to Jaffa”; Case Western Reserve University professor emerita Nahida Halaby Gordon reads from “Palestine Is Our Home: Voices of Loss, Courage, and Steadfastness,” 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Fairview Park branch, 21255 Lorain Road): Scott Longert signs “Bad Boys, Bad Times,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Register at 440-333-4700.
Hudson Library & Historical Society (96 Library St.): Lydia Fenet, author of “The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You: Command an Audience and Sell Your Way to Success,” talks about business negotiation, 7 p.m. Wednesday; historian H.W. Brands discusses “Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants,” 7 p.m. Thursday. Register at 330-653-6658.
Northside Cellar Trust Books (106 N. Main St., Akron): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch, 1876 S. Green Road, South Euclid): Seats may remain to hear Stewart O’Nan (“Last Night at the Lobster”), whose new novel is “Henry, Himself,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Call 216-382-4880.
Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights): Elizabeth Catte, author of “What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia,” and Matthew Ferrence, author of “Appalachia North,” discuss their books at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
2 Girls Café & Bakery (3707 Darrow Road, Stow): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Stark County District Library (North branch, 189 25th St. NW, Canton): Sean McArdle, Canton author (with Dexter Wee and Jon Judy) of the graphic novel “The Fuhrer and the Tramp,” joins the TeensCREATE series to give a class on creating and publishing comic books, 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Barnes & Noble (4015 Medina Road, Bath Township): Scott Longert signs “Bad Boys, Bad Times,” 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Snowball Books (564 Tuscarawas Ave., Barberton): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Cleveland Public Library (Memorial-Nottingham branch, 17001 Lake Shore Blvd.): Lonnie-Sharon Williams discusses “Accused! Tahmari, the Woman Caught in Adultery,” a fictionalized account of the woman in John 8:1-11, 2 p.m. Saturday.
Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.