Books for Kids for the Holidays

Who Is Stevie Wonder? by Jim Gigliotti (Grosset & Dunlap 2016; $5.99). Gigliotti, a former editor at the “National Football League,” has written numerous “who are biographies for about famous people such as Olympian Jesse Owens and baseball star Roberto Clemente. In this book, he explores the life of Steveland Judkins, who at age 11 auditioned for Motown Record Corporation, wowing most of the listeners with his ability to play multiple instruments and sing. What many didn’t know that day, the boy who would become Stevie Wonder and win 25 Grammy Awards as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was blind.

Megan Stine does the same thing in Who Was Michael Jackson? showing young readers how the gifted singer from Gary, Indiana went on to become an international star.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2017; $17.99) tells the story of two teens—Henry and Rachel who meet again after years apart. When she was younger, Rachel had a huge crush on Henry and the day before she moved, she tucked a

love letter to him into a book.

Now the two are working in a bookstore together. But life has changed so much in that intervening time. Rachel’s brother has died and she feels numb. Will working with Henry in the bookstore and discovering books together change all that.

You betcha.

 

Advertisements

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Still going through withdrawal now that Downton Abbey has signed off the air. Then get your fix with Belgravia (Grand Central Publishing 2016; $27) written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

Set in London during the 1840s, the novel takes place in another grand house and just like the television series, it’s full of secrets, numerous intersecting story lines and that touch of British posh and stoicism that makes us want to find a time machine and travel back to jolly old England.

Sweetbitter

 

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (Vintage 2017; $16) is the most modern coming of age story about 22-year-old Tess who moves to New York and lands a job at an expensive, glamorous restaurant. It’s an education into the glitz, glitter and grime of the restaurant word and those who labor there–Champagne, cocaine, rich patrons and evenings partying too hard at dive bars.

For those who read Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City on another beach at another time, it’s New York 30 years is later—still insane and just as wonderful. A definite page turner.

Valerie’s Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family

I had the chance to chat with Valerie Bertinelli when she was in Chicago a few weeks ago to sign copies of her new cookbook, Valerie’s Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family (Oxmoor House 2017; $30). It’s always interesting to meet someone in real time that you’ve, in a way, grown up with. Not saying Bertinelli and I were from the same neighborhood or belonged to the same Girl Scout troop, but I was about her age when I watched her play the role of Barbara on “One Day at a Time,” which ran from 1975-1984. The sitcom was rather revolutionary for its time because it was about a divorced single mom raising two kids at a time where most family shows were about households with a mom, dad and a couple of kids.

“Barbara” was adorably cute, bubbly and, in my memory, almost always smiling. Flash forward 30 some years, numerous movies and a starring role on the TV series, “Hot in Cleveland” for which she won her second Golden Globe award (the first was for “One Day at a Time”) and Bertinelli could still be channeling Barbara. She’s warm and friendly and totally enthusiastic about cooking. Currently she has two Food Network shows, “Valerie’s Home Cooking” and “Kids Baking Championship,” the latter which she co-hosts with pastry chef Duff Goldman.

Her cooking style, she says, is all about simplicity and ease.

“Who wants to complicate their life any more than they have to?” she says.  “We all have enough complications going on in our life, so let’s make it easy in the kitchen. The last thing I want is for people to feel intimidated by my recipes so I work at making them easy to follow and delicious as well.”

Each of the 100-plus recipes in her book not only tell how long they take to make from start to finish but also the “hands-on” time. For example, hands-on time for her Spicy Arrabiata Penne is five minutes, total cooking time is 20 minutes. She also prefaces the recipes with a personalized anecdote about its importance to her and offers variations of the dish.

Describing herself as a Food Network addict, Bertinelli says it’s “crazy” to find herself starring in two shows on the channel and writing a cookbook, the title of the first being a take on her original TV series and called “One Dish at a Time.”

When asked how cooking at home differs from preparing dishes on her show, Bertinelli says she finds it challenging because when she’s cooking in her own kitchen she’s cooking alone.

“I don’t have to look up and talk and explain how and why I’m doing something,” she says. “It’s a little bit different of a muscle. It’s like cooking two Thanksgiving dinners every day as we shoot each show. You’re on your feet a lot and I’m exhausted everyday shooting the show. But it’s also invigorating as well because it’s so much fun to share something I love.”

 

Gretchen Carlson’s “Be Fierce: Stop Sexual Harassment and Take Your Power Back”

Gretchen Carlson started a tsunami when she sued Roger Ailes, the all- powerful mogul CEO and Chairman of Fox News and Fox Television for sexual harassment after she lost her long-term job as a Fox anchor for refusing his advances.  Now, with the release of her latest book, Be Fierce: Stop Sexual Harassment and Take Your Power Back (Center Street 2017; $27) she is garnering the stories of women—and men—who have been sexually harassed and showing them how to fight back.

“When one person says no to sexual harassment, they inspire others to step forward as well,” Carlson tells me when we meet at Books by the Banks, Cincinnati’s annual and very popular regional book festival. Like me, she is there to sign copies of her books. Unlike me, she has a large table right by the entrance and a huge sign overhead with her name on it. I am in the center of the barn-sized room, crowded together with other writers who are at my level in the food chain. We have no oversized banners with our names on them just little placards on our shared tables. Nor will we have, as the morning goes on, lines of up to an hour waiting to have us autograph our books.

Those long lines show how much Carlson’s message has resonated. She’s been inundated with the stories of those who’ve also experienced sexual harassment and, to a much lesser degree, hateful comments about being a gold digger and just out for the money, advice on how women should dress to avoid being harassed and those who believe there is no such thing as sexual harassment, just lying women. Carlson blithely posts these pearls of wisdom on her Facebook page. We’re looking at you “baychevy” who posted “…most of the time women claim they were sexually harassed and make a big deal out of it simply to broadcast to other women that they are irresistible.”

“Thank you,” I say to Carlson. Hey, I’ve been through it, who hasn’t? And, of course, I thought that’s one more thing you have to deal with.

Not so, says Carlson, who had to withstand a barrage of negative publicity loosened on her by Ailes and his allies.

“That’s also to be expected,” says Carlson.

It’s one reason why she says we need to be fierce. And smart. The lawsuit would have been just another she-said, he-said situation but Carlson had the recordings. Ailes settled for $20 million. And in the following cascade of women coming forward to tell their horror stories about his penchant for sexual harassment, he eventually was fired from his job—albeit it with a $40 million payout.

“You were so smart to record all those conversations,” I say. Carlson replies with a smile.

She is indeed, very intelligent. An honors graduate of Stanford University who also studied at Oxford University, she was the first classical violinist to win the title of Miss America. Carlson is also fierce. She didn’t just take her money and go home. Angered not only by what happened to her but what happens to so many others, she determined to empower them to become fierce. It is her mission and the purpose of her book.

“I had worked 25 years in the business–working my way up from local to national news and discovering I was going to lose all that made me determined to speak out,” she says.

Her book doesn’t dwell on her own travails but instead is a guide for those who experience sexual harassment and what they should expect and how they can navigate confronting a system that has until recently taken a “boys will be boys attitude.”

“Coming forward isn’t fun,” she tells me. “Women aren’t looking for fame or money when they take the step of reporting harassment because there’s nothing rewarding about being demeaned.”

One her Facebook page, she writes, “It’s easy to be disgusted. It’s easy to be outraged. But we need more – we need a movement. It’s time to be fierce.”Be Fierce:

I’ll repeat what I said to her that day in Cincinnati, “Go, Gretchen, go.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story behind ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’

LINCOLN IN THE BARDOSeveral decades ago, George Saunders and his wife were visiting Washington D.C. when their cousin mentioned that anecdotal evidence indicated President Abraham Lincoln had surreptitiously visited the tomb of his 11-year-old son, Willie.

For years, the story of Lincoln, so overcome by grief, that he stole into the monument where his son was interred, nagged at the edges of Saunders’s mind. But Saunders, who teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University, had never written a novel and besides his writing was mostly satirical in nature.

“But this material has been calling me all these years,” says Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House 2017; $28). “It’s like their story was a stalker, it kept showing up at my window and it needed to get out.”

Justifying his foray into a new literary form by telling himself he’d had a nice run regarding his career—Saunders is an acclaimed short story writer who is included in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people the world, he decided why not try “this Lincoln thing.”

Saunders still had doubts about his ability to tell the story in the way the way it needed to be told. But having grown up in Chicago as part of a devout Catholic family and now having adapted some of the tenets of Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition, he has written a book that though just recently released is already garnering great reviews.

Bardo is a Tibetan concept–a kind of transitional zone says Saunders.

“We’re all in the bardo right now that goes from birth to death,” he says, noting that Buddhists would call these transition stages reincarnation and noting that the book takes place just after that, in the bardo that goes from death to whatever comes next. “Now is the time to live–knowing that death is coming—if we can accept ourselves as a mess.”

With all his research, Saunders has come to see how Lincoln persevered despite the immense weight of the Civil War, the deaths of so many Americans and that of his son as well.

“We had a president back then who bent,” he says, “when others would have broken.”

How the French Saved America

Give credit to France for the forming of our nation because without their help we might still be, as stereotypes go, eating crumpets, drinking tea and speaking with British accents.

That’s the focus of a new book by noted author Tom Shachtman in his latest book How the French Saved America: Soldiers, Sailors, Diplomats, Louis Xvi, and The Success of a Revolution (St. Martin’s Press 2017; $27.99).

While many of us know about the Marquis de Lafayette whose help during the Revolutionary War was so vital that we’ve named cities after him–Lafayette, Indiana and Louisiana come quickly to mind. But the Marquis wasn’t the only Frenchman who risked his life to help America achieve its independence. Indeed, according to Shachtman in his extensively researched and wonderfully written book, almost ten percent of those who perished fighting for our cause were from France.

Those surviving include not only Lafayette but also Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse, commander of the French fleet during the Battle of the Chesapeake.  He and his men created a naval blockade of Yorktown thus allowing General George Washington and yet another Frenchman, Comte de Rochambeau, to defeat British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in what was a decisive battle. Another, Louis Duportail founded the Army Corps of Engineers.

Even Shachtman, who has written or co-authored more than thirty books as well as documentaries for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and BBC, taught at New York University and lectured at Harvard, Stanford and the Library of Congress, at first didn’t realize how much the French impacted America’s victory. He first became aware of France’s significance when writing another book Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment and decided to pursue the subject. The assistance the French provided included, among a long list, money to pay our troops, weapons, safe harbor for privateers, troops, battlefield leadership and engineering expertise.

So why is France’s contribution not better known?

“We are too invested in our own myths to acknowledge how much we owe our freedom to France,” says Shachtman, noting our belief in our rugged individualism and self-sufficiency could also play a big part. “The war might not have been won at all, or not been won by 1783 if not for the French.”

Ifyougo:

What: Tom Shachtman has three talks and book signings in the Chicago area.

When: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 6 pm

Where: The Newberry, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 312-255-3610; publicprograms@newberry.org

What: Learn & Lunch with Tom Shachtman

When: Wednesday, October 18 at noon

Where: University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 847-446-8880 to make a reservation

What: Tom Shachtman Reading & Signing

When: Thu. October 19 at 7pm

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

FYI: (773) 293-2665

 

If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears: Stories from the Chicago Bears Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box

How hard was it to transition from football super-stardom to everyday life? I ask Otis Wilson, #55 of the Super Bowl XX
winning Chicago Bears and front row performer in the famed Super Bowl Shuffle which even now trends high on You Tube with 21,238 views in the last three months alone.

“You have to have a goal, a plan,” says Wilson who seems to have accomplished many goals since the Bears won in 1985 including a film career and his founding of the Otis Wilson Charitable Foundation which focuses on health, education, fitness and after school programs for children in disadvantaged neighborhoods, similar to the one where he was raised. Now Wilson can add author to his list of post-football career achievements with the recent release of If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears: Stories from the Chicago Bears Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2017; $16.95).

Co-authored with Chet Coppock, an Emmy Award winning sportscaster who was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame, Wilson, a natural born storyteller, is both philosophical and humorous in telling stories about his former teammates including those they called the Marquee Players such as Walter Payton and Jim McMahon.

Wilson, an outside linebacker was known as one of the most feared pass-rusher on the grid-iron but his demeanor off the field is genial and full of the homilies that helped shape him.

“My grandmother and mother told me to treat people as you’d want to be treated,” says Wilson. “If you give people respect, they’ll respect you.”

Another driving force for Wilson is to set a good example for his own children. But none of this means that Wilson can’t tell a good story including insight into the stars of the 1980s team, his upbringing and his insight into the changes of professional football since he played. He also likes to share his interactions with Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, Mike Singletary and William “Refrigerator” Perry.

The book, written as a conversation between Coppock and Wilson, has an authentic voice. Crediting his mother who worked and raised six kids and a grandmother who was an entrepreneur and owned her own record store, with helping him achieve his success by teaching common sense and an appreciation for hard work and discipline.

Though initially Wilson says he blew a lot of money on expensive cars, big homes and $800 pairs of shoes, he now has learned simplicity (though there’s still that addiction to $3000 suits). He doesn’t need a two-million-dollar house, he’s happy living on the South Side of Chicago where he’s near his foundation where he spends five days a week or more.

“We’ve reached over 10,000 kids,” he says. “That’s success.”

Ifyougo:

What: Meet former Bears player Otis Wilson. Otis will sign autographs and pose for pictures.

When: October 12, 6-8PM

Where: Binny’s Beverage Depot, 3437 W. 95th, Evergreen Park, Il

Cost: Free

FYI: 708-237-7660; evergreenpark@binnys.com

Al Capone’s Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition

Prohibition in Chicago was the ultimate business opportunity for the violent men who made up the many gangs who fought to control alcohol as well as narcotics, gambling, labor and business racketeering and prostitution in the city. And while there were turf wars during Prohibition in many American cities, Chicago was the bloodiest of all.

“The apex of the violence in Chicago was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre where seven men were killed,” says John J. Binder, author of  (Prometheus Books 2017; $25). “That was a record. In any other city, there were never more than two or three gang murders at one time.”

Chicago at that time was almost completely lawless and these mobsters thought they were untouchable says Binder, adding that gangsters like Al Capone even gave interviews which added to Chicago’s reputation as did the way they did business including machine guns, drive-by shootings.

Binder, who has been writing about organized crime for more than 25 years, is an Associate Professor Emeritus of Finance in the College of Business at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His background in business and finance is perfect for writing what is the first complete history of organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition because after all it is a business.

“The sole goal of organized crime is to enrich their members,” says Binder. “Sure, they’re violent and sure they kill each other, it’s useful in running the business. But the goal was to make money.”

While legendary figures like Al Capone have taken on almost mythical status, Binder says that many books don’t even cover some of the other 12 gangs who were major bootleggers in Chicago at the start of Prohibition.

“A lot of books about Prohibition in Chicago just cover the same thing,” he says, noting that five years of research went into his book.

The Chicago mobs’ reach also extended into Northwest Indiana says Binder who will be conducting a tour of Prohibition sites.

“The Canadian Whiskey Superhighway ran from Detroit through Gary to Chicago,” he says.

Ifyougo:

What: Talk and book signing

When: Tuesday, Oct. 10; 6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. program

Where: Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois

Cost: $25, $20 members; cash bar available

FYI: 312-642-4600

What: Author and historian John J. Binder leads an in-depth tour of Chicago’s Prohibition and related crime history.

When: Saturday, October 14 at 1 p.m.

Where: Tour begins at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois

Cost: $55, $45 members; tour runs 3.5 to 4 hours

FYI: 312-642-4600

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home

More than just a lovely French Renaissance chateau set in amazing landscape of forests, formal gardens and mountains, Biltmore, the home of George and Edith Vanderbilt as told by Denise Kiernan in her latest book, The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, is also a main character in this account of one of this country’s most amazing homes.

Comprised of four acres of floor space, Biltmore dwarfs even the most opulent McMansion of today. The numbers tell all. The home, the largest privately owned house in the U.S., has 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, three kitchens, 65 fireplaces and a library.

But beyond the immense magnificence of the house, Kiernan, whose previous book, The Girls of Atomic City, was a New York Times best seller, brings the house alive with stories of its owners. Meticulously detailed, Kiernan is someone who loves to immerse herself in research. But the Vanderbilt mansion in Ashville, North Carolina is also very personal. A resident of this mountain town for the last 11 years, Kiernan’s connection to the mansion goes back even further when she first visited when in high school.

“This place is unique in that it is still standing and all the original things are still in it,” says Kiernan who describes her book as asking people to go for a walk back in time.  “Many of the great mansions are gone. That’s one more reason why Biltmore is one of the main characters. Those that lived there were just passing through.”

Besides its sumptuousness as well as being a perfect example of how the very rich lived in the Gilded Age (before all those nasty income taxes made the rich just a little less rich), George Vanderbilt also was ahead of his time in that he bought up large tracks of the failing farms surrounding the estate. Then, he hired landscaping genius Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York and the University of Chicago campus, to create America’s first managed forest.

When asked what she would like readers to take away from The Last Castle, Kiernan says she’d like to instill a curiosity of our own history and that people read the book and take away a new appreciation for historic preservation.

“Everyone brings a little bit of themselves to stories they read and I hope the story of The Last Castle is relatable enough that readers will be able to engage with it in their own unique way,” says Kiernan who marvels how interconnected many of the events from the sinking of the Titanic to the invention of the Teddy Bear touch upon the home.  “I also find that no matter how much money you have, there is no protection from harrowing tragedy and personal loss. What is impressive to me is how people handle those kinds of situations.”

Ifyougo:

What: Denise Kiernan Chicago book events.

Where & When:

Anderson’s Bookshop,

123 W Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

Wednesday, September 27 at 7pm

(630) 355-2665

The University Club of Chicago

76 E. Monroe St. Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 28 at noon

Tickets available at 847-446-8880

Woman’s Athletic Club

626 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 28 at 6-8 pm

312-944-6123