Hope Never Dies: A Obama-Biden Mystery

Watching news clips of Barack Obama windsurfing off of Richard Branson’s private island, kayaking with Justin Trudeau and BASE jumping in Hong Kong with Bradley Cooper while he’s grouting tile in his master bathroom and playing darts on a board his daughter gave him years ago, Joe Biden, feeling left-out (he doesn’t even have Secret Service protection anymore), grumpily wonders why the 44th president hasn’t called him in the months since Donald Trump took office.  Biden’s grousing changes quickly when Obama appears in the woods behind his house late one night, coolly smoking a cigarette and delivering the terrible news that Finn Donnelly, the Amtrak conductor that Biden befriended as he traveled back and forth between Delaware to Washington D.C. has been murdered. On his body, Barack says, was a printout map of Biden’s home. Is someone targeting the vice-president?Shaffer, Andrew_Courtesy Andrew Shaffer

And so the bromance rekindles as the ex-president and ex-vice are back working as a team as they race to solve the crime in Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies (Quirk Books 2018; $14.99). The title is a parody of the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies”  and the dime store detective novel-like-cover  depicts Obama, the wind whipping his red tie behind him, standing in the passenger seat of a Thunderbird convertible pointing the way as a determined Biden drives but the story itself isn’t farce. Shaffer, who is a New York Times best seller author, says that though the action is over-the-top at times—Obama roughing up a biker; Biden head-butting a villain and getting thrown off a fast moving to name a few—he resisted getting too campy.

“The book is more than a one-note joke,” says Shaffer.

Growing up in Iowa, Shaffer enrolled in the University of Iowa’s noted creative writing program.

“They teach serious fiction there and you’re reading a lot of serious authors like Phillip Roth,” he says.  “So I’m writing like I’m in my 60s, divorced and living in the suburbs. I was only 21 and I thought what am I doing? I wanted to write the type of fiction I like to read such as authors like Elmer Leonard, Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block.”

Shaffer had been thinking about writing a mystery with Joe Biden as the main character for years.

“I thought about maybe making it a cozy type of mystery,” he says. “But I got the idea for this when they’d been out of office for a week or so. I wrote a note to my agent asking how about a Biden-Obama mystery and she said really? I said yes.”

Inspired by the 1980s buddy cop movies he liked such as “Tango & Cash,” Shaffer says that the mystery isn’t just about Biden’s love of ice cream but instead covers serious topics such as the opioid epidemic. Since the book’s recent release on July 18, it’s been selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month: Thrillers July 2018 and an Official Summer Read of Publishers Weekly.  He is already working on the next book in the series, Hope Rides Again.

“It’s a legacy in ways,” Shaffer says about the series. “”It’s for people, no matter what part of the political spectrum they’re on, need some kind of hope.”

Ifyougo:

What: Book signing with Andrew Shaffer.

When: Sunday, August 19 at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL.

FYI: (630) 355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

 

 

 

Sales of Red’s Nature Adventure to Benefit the Shirley Heinze Land Trust

Jim Dworkin

James Dworkin

Always adventuresome, Red, an energetic Irish setter, gets lost as he and his friends explore the northwestern Indiana nature preserves of the Shirley Heinze Land Trust. But losing his way becomes an educational experience for Red in James Dworkin’s third book about the lovable canine’s escapades, Red’s Nature Adventure, illustrated by artist Michael Chelich.

“As Red tries to find his way he wanders through all these different land formations and sees all the diverse types of plant and animal life that live there,” says Dworkin, chancellor emeritus at Purdue University North Central and a professor of management at Purdue University. “Red gets to meet so many animals and they help him as they show him around the nature preserves.”

Working in partnership with the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, Dworkin, who will be signing copies of his on Saturday, August 18th from 12 noon until 2pm at the Indiana Welcome Center, located at 7770 Corinne Drive, in Hammond, Indiana, is donating all the proceeds from sales of Red’s Nature Adventure to the non-profit.

The Trust, an organization founded in 1981 with a mission to preserve, protect and restore significant natural areas in northwest Indiana encompasses 2400 acres of prairie, tallgrass, high dune, oak savanna, boreal flatwoods, dune-and-swale, woodlands, marshes, swamps, ponds, fens, bogs, and riparian habitat.

“I really believe in what they’re doing,” says Dworkin. “And I felt this was a way I could help them in perpetuity and also introduce kids of all ages to the importance of land stewardship.”

Though the book is aimed for readers from third grade and up, Dworkin says that it can be also be read to younger children.

“Little kids will enjoy the story while older kids can learn about the environment,” he says, noting that Chelich’s wonderful illustrations portray Heinze Trust nature preserve locations in Gary, Hammond, Hobart, Portage, Chesterton, Valparaiso, Michigan City, and South Bend. “This book has multiple possibilities. Teachers can make interesting assignments based on the book and there’s an appendix in the back that has information about the importance of protecting these natural places and how to visit them.”

Dworkin has written two other books about Red, including The Dog and the Dolphin.

“I got the idea for that one when I was sitting on the beach on Sanibel Island and I kept seeing this dog walking back and forth,” he says. “I wondered what he was doing and then I saw a dolphin out in the water and the dog swam out and they started playing.”

Since he started writing children’s books, Dworkin and his wife, Nancy, have made over 250 appearances at schools, hospitals, stores, book signings and readings. He doesn’t charge for any of it and if anyone is interested, he says to contact him at 219-363-2970 or jdworkin@purdue.edu

Ifyougo:

What: Book signing to benefit the Shirley Heinze Land Trust. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event.

When: Saturday, August 18th from noon until 2 pm

Where: Indiana Welcome Center, 7770 Corinne Drive, Hammond, Indiana

FYI: 219-989-7979 or 800-ALL-LAKE; southshorecva.com

 

 

The Joe Maddon Story: “Try Not to Suck”

In a Zen-like move that baffled many in the sports world, Joe Maddon, then the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, enacted a “less is more” philosophy by almost completely eliminating  batting practice. What went against a long time baseball tradition as well as causing intense angst among the Cub fans and head scratching from pundits, now is credited with being one of factors helping the wonderful losers win their first World Series in 108 years.

“For over a century of baseball, the belief was if you’re struggling then the answer was to work harder,” says Jesse Rogers, who with Bill Chastain, authored Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon (Triumph Books, March 2018) with a foreword by Ben Zobrist.

Maddon’s beginnings in baseball weren’t promising. A Minor League catcher for Los Angeles, after four seasons, with only 180 times at bat and three home runs, he hadn’t advanced further than Class A. Obviously it was time for a change and so he segued into management, working in a variety of positions for the Angels including minor league manager, scout and roving minor league hitting instructor, bench coach and interim manager.

“His 31 years in Anaheim were an apprenticeship,” says Rogers, a television, internet and radio reporter for ESPN since 2009 who was  an insider covering the Cubs in 2016 (Chastain, who covers the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB.com and knew Maddon from his days there). “He saw a lot of things there that he thought should be done differently, but he couldn’t challenge it. But he was able to take what he learned to Tampa Bay where he could put some of that in place. He very much believes in less. If you’re struggling, don’t work more instead cut back. ”

One of the positives from that strategy is players retain more energy as the long season progresses—an advantage over other teams who hew to conventional wisdom.

“Joe’s surprised that more people aren’t doing this after seeing how successful he’s been,” says Rogers.

But though he upended some traditions, Maddon has his superstitions just like most of those in the business.

When rain called a temporary halt during Game 7 of the Series  with Chicago and Cleveland tied at 7-7, Maddon headed to his office and, spotting his bag, recalled thinking “it was time for my dad.” Grabbing his dad’s hat which he kept in the bag, he stuffed it down the back of his pants.

“I said to myself ‘Let’s go’,” he is quoted saying in the book. “I took him back there with me and during the course of the next inning I kept touching it back there.”

The title of Chastain and Rogers’s book s from one of Maddon’s oft-quoted maxims. Others include “don’t let the pressure exceed the pressure” or “do simple better.”

“Probably my favorite one in general is ‘Embrace the target,’” says Rogers. “Joe says he’s really a big believer of running towards the fire as opposed to running away. I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.”

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking with the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry and Literary Fare

Chef Myra Kornfeld and poet Stephen Massimilla have put together a luscious cookbook illustrating how poetry, prose and food have been inspirational throughout history.

The 500-page book, “Cooking With the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry and Literary Fare,” is divided by seasons. It pairs 150 recipes with culinary poems, essays and historic anecdotes.W28choctart 2

Massimilla provides a few stanzas from Book IX of Homer’s “The Odyssey” to accompany a recipe for Mediterranean Cauliflower-Kale Roast with Feta. He recounts how the cheese, which dates back to 8th century B.C., was originally aged and brined to keep it from spoiling in Greek’s hot, arid climate. The way it was made, he says, has changed very little since Odysseus entered Polyphemus’ cave.

In the recipe for Corn Pudding “Soufflé,” the authors include John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Barbara Frietchie” as a preface to the simple recipe.

They end the recipe with a recommendation for cooking fresh corn by Mark Twain, who very much enjoyed his meals.W8medcaulibake

“Corn doesn’t hang on to its sugar long after it has been picked,” Massimilla writes. “The saying goes that you should put up a pot of hot water before you stroll out to the cornfield prepared to run back on the double. Mark Twain upped the challenge when he recommended carrying the boiling water to the garden to catch the corn with all its sweetness the moment it leaves the vine.”

The following recipes are from “Cooking with the Muse.”

Mediterranean Cauliflower-Kale Roast with Feta

Serves 4 to 6.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt

3/4 pound curly kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped and pitted

1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons oregano

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Black pepper

2 ounces feta cheese (preferably from sheep’s milk), crumbled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a parchment paper-covered baking sheet.

In one bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the cauliflower on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

In another bowl, toss the kale with 1 tablespoon oil. Massage the oil into the leaves so each leaf is lightly coated. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Roast the cauliflower for 30 minutes, then add the kale to the baking sheet. Return it to the oven and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and the kale is crispy. Remove from the oven.

Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large skillet until the butter melts. Add the garlic, olives and capers and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Stir in the cauliflower and kale, the water and the oregano. Combine thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice and a sprinkling of pepper.

Serve hot, with feta scattered on top.

Chocolate Tart with Salt and Caramelized Pecans

Makes one 9-inch tart.

For the pecans:

1 cup pecans

1/3 cup maple sugar, Sucanat sugar, Rapadura sugar or coconut sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

1 large egg white

For the crust:

Oil and coconut flour, for preparing the pan

2 cups unsweetened coconut, dried and shredded

3 tablespoons granulated natural sugar (such as maple or Sucanat)

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 large egg whites

For the filling:

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons maple sugar

Pinch of salt

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the garnish:

Fleur de sel (French sea salt) or other large-flake sea salt

Position one rack in the middle of the oven and another in the lower third. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have ready two parchment paper-covered baking sheets.

To make the pecans, toss the pecans, sugar, salt and cayenne, if using, in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg white to combine. Spread on one of the baking sheets. Bake on the middle rack until the sugar has clumped on the nuts and the mixture looks sandy and dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir every 8 minutes or so during the baking so that pecans caramelize evenly.

Let cool for a few minutes, transfer to a bowl and break up the clumps into small pieces. (The pecans can be stored at room temperature for up to a month.)

While the pecans are baking, make the crust. Oil and flour a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut, sugar and orange zest. Work in the coconut oil with your fingers until everything is moistened evenly.

In a small bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Stir into the coconut mixture. Press the dough into the prepared tart pan. (Use a piece of plastic wrap between your hand and the dough to make pressing in the crust easier.) Give an extra press at the juncture where the sides meet the bottom, so you don’t have a triangular-shaped thick wedge of crust in the corners.

Place the tart pan on the other baking sheet. Bake the crust on the lower rack until it is a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, checking after 10.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk, sugar and salt to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir with a whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Cover to keep warm.

Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the chocolate. Pour the filling into the hot crust. Return the tart (still on the baking sheet) to the oven. Bake until the filling is set around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes. The filling should still jiggle a little in the center when you nudge the pan. Set on a rack to cool.

Unmold the tart and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Before serving, sprinkle a light dusting of flaky salt and the pecan clusters over the tart. Alternatively, serve each piece with a light dusting of coarse salt, then sprinkle the top with the caramelized pecans.

Cook’s note: The tart may be refrigerated for up to three days.

Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists

DonnaSeamanbyDavidSiegfried (1)Call it the case of the disappearing sculpture for that’s what started Donna Seaman on her quest to chronicle the lives and works of the seven female artists featured in her just released book, Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists (Bloomsbury 2017; $30.

“I remember going to the Chicago Art Institute and seeing this large sculpture they had at the end of the corridor,” says Seaman who grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York but not lives in Chicago. “But then she disappeared.”

The sculpture was by Louise Nevelson, who at one time had quite a following in the U.S., but like the six other 20th century females artists featured in Seaman’s book are almost forgotten despite their talent.

Intriguingly, though I had heard of Nevelson, I didn’t recognize any of the other names when I first started reading Seaman’s fascinating book. But reading about Gertrude Abercrombie and seeing her strikingly haunted paintings, I realized my mother had one in her study. But though I loved that painting, I only remembered the male artists whose works hung in our home such as Chagall’s “The Rabbi of Vitebsk” and Winslow Homer’s “The Gulf Steam” (all prints I assure you) and not this one? Was it a male thing?

Could be says Seaman, one of Chicago’s best known book critics and editor of adult books at Booklist, a book-review (and now online) magazine that’s been published by the American Library Association for more than 100 years.

“It’s about who’s writing history,” she says. “Women weren’t written about in a critically relevant way. Newspapers were interested but not the critics. And so these women disappeared.”

While doing her extensive research (Seaman acknowledges her obsessiveness) she asked museum curators to bring out the works of Lois Mailou Jones that had been tucked away in storage for who knows how long.

“They hadn’t seen them before,” she recalls. “And they kept saying these are wonderful.”

Though Seaman chose most of the artists she highlighted—Joan Brown, Leonore Tawney and Ree Morton–because she liked their work, her essay on Christina Ramberg was much more personal.

“I knew Christina,” Seaman says. “She died very young. The moment she became ill, we knew she wasn’t going to be around very long and I knew someday I would write about her.”

With a Master’s degree in English from DePaul University, one might expect Seaman to be more focused on lost women writers, but her mother was a visual artist (in fact Seaman is traveling to Vassar College last this spring where her mother has a showing of her work) and at one time, she considered becoming an artist as well.

Earning her BSA at Kansas City Art Institute where she was a sculptor major, Seaman says she was only one in her class who loved her liberal arts classes.

“I loved libraries and I have a passion for reading,” she says. “Despite getting into shows and selling my works, I realized that my stronger skills were in editing and writing.”

This skill subset—art and writing—is perfect for giving these artists their identities back.

Max’s Story: A Dog’s Purpose Puppy Tale

Tucker and Bruce 2011 black - c. Ute Ville (1)

Author W. Bruce Cameron wasn’t planning on writing a series of books about dogs. Instead, he was wooing his future wife into letting another dog into her life.

Wondering if that was going to be a deal breaker, Cameron, whose had dogs since he was young, decided to tell her a story while they were driving.

“I just made up a story about how her dog would want her to have another puppy and that I really believe we’ll see our true friends again,” says Cameron, author of the recently released Max’s Story: A Dog’s Purpose Puppy Tale (Tor Books 2018; $16.99), acknowledging that when we adopt a canine, we’re setting ourselves up for a very bad day sometime in the future. “She liked the story so  much she not only married me but told me I needed to make turn the story into a book.”

The result was A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans which spent 52 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, became the first in the Dog’s Purpose series and was made into a movie. Currently, Cameron’s A Dog’s Way Home, another best seller, is being filmed.

Though Cameron writes other novels including a mystery series about a repo man who lives in Michigan (the novelist is from Petoskey, Michigan) which have been well-received, it’s the way he portrays animals that seems to win the most readers from young to old. Max’s Story  features a New York canine cutie, who “adopts” a naïve young woman and shows her how to handle big city life. The puppy purpose series are for young readers and though they’re written to be easily readable, writing them is the challenge says Cameron.

“When I’m writing these puppy tales, I start off with a real challenge for myself—I need to think like a dog would think,” he says. “Dogs don’t think in words but they know the difference between a ball, chair or tree. I made a mistake in an earlier book when I mentioned a red light. A dog doesn’t see colors. But dogs are very in-tune with feelings—I’ve witnesses that—and for a story to advance you have to show it through what the dog knows and doesn’t know and how they see the world.”

CAPSIZED! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster

The SS Eastland was still tied to the pier about to take 2500 passengers and 70 crew members on an excursion across the southern edge of Lake Michigan to Michigan City and the dancing in the ballroom had already begun. It was all part of the fun on that July 24, 1915 when the ship started swaying side to side and dancers slid back and forth along the floor.  But the last pitch didn’t stop at 35 degrees as it had earlier and instead, continued on past 40, then 45.  The Eastland’s captain shouted for the gangways to be reconnected but it was too late, the boat capsized in the Chicago River, trapping many of its passengers below the deck. Though 15 feet from shore and in 20 feet of water, by the end of the rescue mission 844 bodies were recovered and 70% of those who perished were under 25.

“More people died on the Eastland than did on the Titantic,” says Patricia Sutton, author of CAPSIZED! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster (Chicago Review Press 2018; $17.99). “90% of those who died were women and children while on the Titanic, only 10% of the dead were women and children.”

Sutton, a former Chicago public school teacher, vaguely knew about the sinking of the Eastland but mentioned the disaster to her mentor at a writer’s workshop in Pennsylvania when they were talking about possible topics for a book.

“She said you need to write that and if you don’t, I will,” recalls Sutton, who interviewed relatives of those who were aboard and read news accounts from the time to take readers into the lives of those who survived and those who didn’t. The passengers, mostly first- and second-generation Polish and Czech immigrants were the employees of Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works and the excursion was supposed to be a wonderful outing for them. Instead, says Sutton, almost every block in the Hawthorn area lost at least one person; in one block, it was every house.

Written for children ages 10-14, it’s a compelling book for even adults. Because she’s a teacher, Sutton wants Capsized not only to be an educational lesson about the times (women wore long dresses, corsets and laced up boots which made escaping from the water so much more difficult and most people didn’t swim back then) but also to stir critical thinking and questioning.

“Children ask why do we remember the Titanic and not the Eastland,” she says. “So we discuss what the reasons could be—there were famous and wealthy people onboard the Titanic while those on the Eastland were poor working class mothers and children. Also, the Eastland happened when World War I was going on and though we hadn’t entered it yet, everyone’s attention was focused on that. I also tell them that it’s important know about the Eastland and those who were on the ship.”