If She Wakes by Michael Koryta

              There was a real sense of relief for Michael Koryta fans when the bestselling author finally killed off the evil Blackwell brothers several novels ago and so it’s with dread to see the son of one of the brothers appears in his latest mystery thriller, If She Wakes. Still a teen but already a perfect sociopath, Dax Blackwell is hunting down a missing cell phone and trying to eliminate anyone who stands in his way. That includes Tara Beckley, who was almost murdered by another competitor for the phone and now is a prisoner of locked-in syndrome, confined to a hospital bed, totally alert but unable to communicate in anyway. If Tara wakes, she can reveal the secrets of the phone. Those trying to protect her without fully understanding what is going on are former race and stunt car driver Abby Kaplan who is now working as an insurance investigator and Tara’s sister Shannon, an attorney who is sure her sister can understand what’s going on while others are urging that life support be turned off.

              Michael Koryta took time to chat with Jane Ammeson about his latest book.

              JA: How would you summarize If She Wakes for readers?

              MK: A hit man, a disgraced stunt driver, and an alert woman who is believed to be in a coma — and there’s a dog! What more do you want?

              JA: Do the Blackwells scare you as much as they do me?

MK: I know what it says about me that I’d begun to miss the Blackwells after writing about them first in Those Who Wish Me Dead and then again when I was working on the script for that film. It was while working on the script that I began to think about just how oddly family-oriented they are for sociopaths. They care about nothing but one another. The family bond is very deep. This came back to mind a few times, and I wondered what it would be like to be the son of the LeBron James of contract killers. What would that kid turn out like? What if he took on the family business? I decided to try Dax for a chapter and see if I found him interesting. Once he arrived on scene, he wasn’t leaving.

              JA: How did you get up to speed (sorry about the pun) about the type of driving Abby is capable of?

              MK:  A combination of reading, research, and having a lot of experience being a very bad driver. I totaled my mother’s car on a double-S curve within a few weeks of getting my license, while testing my Abby-style reflexes. While I advocated that it was really the car’s fault, and never would have happened in a vehicle with more horsepower and better handling, no one seemed interested in supporting me in that.

              JA: How did you come up the idea of If She Wakes? And do you plot out everything meticulously or does the story just flow once you start writing it?

              MK:  I can’t plot to save my life. It’s all rewriting for me, getting a draft down and then seeing the book and going back and revising, revising, revising until it begins to take coherent shape. As for the idea, I really don’t understand enough at the start of a book to claim that I ever had the full concept. But the starting point came from reading a book about locked-in syndrome called Into the Gray Zone by Dr. Adrian Owen, and in particular reading about testing that was done using a Hitchcock film and an MRI.

              JA: I read that you spend your time between Bloomington, Indiana and Maine—is each place a different kind of incentive for writing? Where to set your stories?

              MK: I seem drawn to writing about places farther away from my hometown in Bloomington, for whatever reasons. The closest I’ve come was West Baden, in So Cold the River. And, of course, the caves in Lost Words. Maine has definitely become a place that I enjoy writing about, much as Montana did. I suspect a difference is that no matter how much time I spend in Maine, I’ll always have the perspective of being an outsider, or “from away” as they say up there. I like stories where characters are outsiders, and I love stories where the natural world can push back on a character’s goals, so Maine is a very comfortable fit.

Ifyougo:

What: Michael Koryta talk and book signing

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 West Jefferson Avenue, Naperville, IL

When: May 29 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Anderson’s Bookstore, 123 West Jefferson Avenue,  

Naperville, IL

FYI: 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

The Mykonos Mob

              In The Mykonos Mob, the tenth book of the Greece-based mystery-thriller series written by New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Siger, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis finds himself face-to-face with the nation’s top crime bosses, all of whom are as perplexed as he is about who’s responsible for the murder of a corrupt former police colonel who ran the island’s protection rackets. In the meantime, Kaldis’ s wife, Lila, is trying to find an identity for herself beyond wife and mother and teams up with an ex-pat with a shady side. The two decide to mentor exploited young island girls, a charitable act that unknowingly negatively intersects with her husband’s investigation.

              Siger, who left a lucrative career as a partner in a Wall Street law firm to write mysteries, says that Greece provides an inexhaustible source of material for the two central elements of his series–the serious, modern-day issues his characters need to confront and overcome, and a perspective on those issues found in the ancient past.

“There is no place on earth more closely linked to the ancient world than Greece,” he says. “It is the birthplace of the gods, the cradle of European civilization, the bridge between East and West. Spartan courage, Athenian democracy, Olympic achievement, Trojan intrigue—all sprung from this wondrous land.”

It’s also a place he knows very well.

“Each year I live on Mykonos longer than any other place on earth, and have for about a dozen years,” says Siger, noting that he first visited the island 35 years ago at a friend’s suggestion who thought he’d love Greece. “She was right. From the moment I stepped onto the tarmac at the Mykonos airport, I felt as if I were home. That very first day I happened to pass by a jewelry shop on my way into town from my hotel, though I forget how the proprietor lured me inside. Unbeknownst to me, I’d stumbled upon the most loved man on Mykonos.  A consummate gentleman and fervent booster of the island, he had an extraordinary circle of local, national and international friends, all of whom made a point of regularly stopping by to say hello to him.”

Becoming an insider almost immediately has helped him craft stories about the workings of the islands both from a political and social viewpoint.

“My ideas come from the strangest sources, often unexpected,” says Siger. “More bizarre than where they come from is how often my fictional plots have an unnerving tendency to come true. For example, my second novel in the series, Assassins of Athens featured a character in the mold of Greece’s current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras years before his rise to power; my third book, Prey on Patmos, anticipated by seven years the current turmoil involving Mt. Athos, the Russian government, and the Patriarch in Constantinople, and many of the details surrounding the fictional assassination serving as the backstory latest book, were just reported by the Greek press as key details of an actual assassination that occurred long after The Mykonos Mob was written.”

For more about Jeff Siger and his books, visit jeffreysiger.com/

Wine Country Table

Taking us on a road trip that meanders from northern to southern California, James Beard award winner Janet Fletcher shows us how diverse the state’s growers and growing regions are in her latest book, The Wine Country Table: With Recipes that Celebrate California’s Sustainable Harvest. Accompanied by lush photographs by Robert Holmes and Sara Remington, the book was commissioned by the Wine Institute — a California wine advocacy group that received a grant to promote California’s specialty crops.

              “What really came home to me was that there are so many different climates here in California,” says Fletcher who not only visited a plethora of wineries but also cherry orchards and avocado farms. She also learned about the sustainable practices that growers are incorporating in a state previously hit with a long-running drought.

              Her recipes include suggested pairings with different wines and shows you how to recreate this type of casual but delicious dining at home.

Golden Beet, Pomegranate, and Feta Salad

SERVES 4

WINE SUGGESTION: California Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris/Grigio

4 golden beets, about 1 1⁄2 pounds (750 g) total, greens removed

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 6 fresh thyme sprigs

3 allspice berries

1 whole clove

1 clove garlic, halved

DRESSING:

11⁄2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Kosher or sea salt

1⁄4 head radicchio, 3 ounces, thinly sliced 1⁄2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

12 fresh mint leaves, torn into smaller pieces

2 to 3 ounces Greek or French feta

1⁄3 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Put the beets in a small baking dish and add water to a depth of 1∕4 inch. Add the vinegar, thyme, allspice, clove, and garlic. Cover and bake until the beets are tender when pierced, about 1 hour, depending on size. Remove from the oven and peel when cool enough to handle. Let cool completely, then slice thinly   with a sharp knife.

Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the wine vinegar and shallot. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and let stand for 15 minutes to allow the shallot flavor to mellow.

In a bowl, toss the beets and radicchio gently with enough of the dressing to coat lightly; you may not need it all. Taste for salt and vinegar and adjust as needed. Add the walnuts and half the mint leaves and toss gently. Transfer to a wide serving platter. Crumble the feta on top, then scatter the pomegranate arils and remaining mint leaves overall. Serve immediately.

Little Gem Lettuces with Olive Oil–Poached Tuna

This dish requires a lot of olive oil for poaching, but you won’t waste a drop. Use some of the flavorful poaching oil in the salad dressing; strain and refrigerate the remainder for cooking greens or for dressing future salads. The strained oil will keep for a month.

WINE SUGGESTION: California rose or Sauvignon Blanc

1 albacore tuna steak, about 10 ounces) and 3⁄4 to 1 inch thick

3⁄4 teaspoon ground fennel seed

3⁄4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 large fresh thyme sprig

1 bay leaf

1 clove garlic, halved

6 black peppercorns

1 3⁄4 to 2 cups extra virgin olive oil

DRESSING:

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (from the tuna baking dish)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed and finely minced 1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

11⁄2 cups cooked chickpeas (drain and rinse if canned)

1⁄2 pound Little Gem lettuce or romaine hearts 1⁄4 pound radicchio

1⁄2 red onion, shaved or very thinly sliced

3⁄4 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Remove the tuna from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.

Season the tuna on both sides with the fennel seed and salt. Put the tuna in a deep ovenproof baking dish just large enough to hold it. Add the thyme, bay leaf, garlic, and peppercorns. Pour in enough olive oil just to cover the tuna.

Bake until a few white dots (coagulated protein) appear on the surface of the fish and the flesh just begins to flake when probed with a fork, 30 to 40 minutes. The tuna should still be slightly rosy inside. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature in the oil.

Make the dressing: In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, capers, oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chickpeas and let them marinate for 30 minutes.

With a slotted spatula, lift the tuna out of the olive oil and onto a plate.

Put the lettuce in a large salad bowl. Tear the larger outer leaves in half, if desired, but leave the pretty inner leaves whole. Tear the radicchio into bite-size pieces and add to the bowl along with the onion, tomatoes, and parsley.

Using a slotted spoon, add the chickpeas, then add enough of the dressing from the chickpea bowl to coat the salad lightly. By hand, flake the tuna into the bowl. Toss, taste for salt and vinegar, and serve.

Seared Duck Breasts with Port and Cherry Sauce

SERVES 4

Cooking duck breasts slowly, skin side down, helps eliminate almost every speck of fat. After about 20 minutes, the skin will be crisp and the flesh as rosy and tender as a fine steak. Serve with wild rice.

Duck breasts vary tremendously in size; scale up the spice rub if the breasts you buy are considerably larger.

WINE SUGGESTION: California Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot

SEASONING RUB:

8 juniper berries

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

4 boneless duck breasts, about 1⁄2 pound each

SAUCE:

1 cup Zinfandel Port or ruby port

1 shallot, minced

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 strip orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

24 cherries, pitted and halved

1⁄2 cup strong chicken broth, reduced from 1 cup 

1⁄2 teaspoon sugar

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Make the seasoning rub: Put the juniper berries, thyme, salt, and peppercorns in a mortar or spice grinder and grind to a powder.

Slash the skin of each breast in a crosshatch pattern, stopping short of the flesh. (The slashes help render the fat.) Sprinkle the seasoning rub evenly onto both sides of each breast. Put the breasts on a flat rack and set the rack inside a tray. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 to 36 hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Choose a heavy frying pan large enough to accommodate all the duck breasts comfortably. (If necessary, to avoid crowding, use two frying pans.) Put the breasts, skin side down, in the unheated frying pan and set over medium- low heat. Cook until the skin is well browned and crisp, about 15 minutes, frequently pouring off the fat until the skin no longer renders much. (Reserve the fat for frying potatoes, if you like.)

Turn the duck breasts and continue cooking flesh side down, turning the breasts with tongs to sear all the exposed flesh, until the internal temperature registers 125°F on an instant-read thermometer, about

3 minutes longer. Transfer the breasts to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

While the duck cooks, make the sauce: In a small sauce- pan, combine the port, shallot, thyme, orange zest, vinegar, and half of the cherries. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer until reduced to 3∕4 cup. Add the broth and sugar and simmer until the liquid has again reduced to 3∕4 cup Remove from the heat and, with tongs, lift out the thyme sprigs and orange zest and discard.

Puree the sauce in a blender. Set a very fine-mesh sieve over the saucepan and pass the sauce through the sieve, pressing on the solids with a rubber spatula. Return to medium heat, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until reduced to 1∕2 cup. Stir in the remaining cherries and remove from the heat. Add the butter and swirl the saucepan until the butter melts.

Slice the duck on the diagonal. Spoon some of the sauce on each of four dinner plates, dividing it evenly. Top with the sliced duck. Serve immediately.

The above recipes are Wine Country Table: With Recipes that Celebrate California’s Sustainable Harvest by Janet Fletcher in cooperation with the Wine Institute, Rizzoli, 2019.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at janeammeson@gmail.com or by writing to Focus, The Herald Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

            “Domestic violence is not a large part of our conversation,” says Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the recently released

            “Domestic violence is not a large part of our conversation,” says Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the recently released No Visible Bruises, her exploration of this country’s domestic violence epidemic and what it means regarding other types of violence as well as what to do about it.  “I want to bring these conversations to the forefront.”

            Snyder, a journalist who won the J. Anthony Lukas Word-in-Progress Award for this project, uses the individual stories of women to show how complicated and overwhelming the subject is—and how pervasive. And while we might think of domestic violence as being an issue, if not of the past, as one more under control than when O.J. Simpson was tried for murdering his wife and women’s safety more assured by the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act. But that isn’t true.

            “Domestic homicides are rising about 25%–it used to be about three women a day three women were killed now it’s four, “says Snyder, who went to college in Naperville and lived all over Chicago including Oak Park, has traveled to more than 50 countries and lived in London for three year and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for six.  She also put herself through her first year of college by booking Dimensions, a Highland, Indiana band, for their gigs.

            “People don’t always want to read a book like this,” says Snyder. “I wanted to write a book that people couldn’t pull away from.”

            And, indeed, she did. As awful as the situations she describes—women trying to leave abusers but unable or not able to get out in time, the toll it takes on their families.  Wanting her book to read like a novel, Snyder includes true facts that would be hard to believe in a novel—one husband keeps a pet rattlesnake and drops it in the shower when his wife is in there or slips it under the covers when she’s sleeping.

            “It is an exploration of what it means to live under stress under every moment or every day,” says Snyder, an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington D.C.

            It’s also an exploration of agencies and police as they try to step in and stop the progression—sometimes with success and sometimes with heartbreak. Snyder lived all this, visiting shelters, talking to police and talking to women.

 “I think domestic terrorism is a closer reality to what is going on than domestic abuse,” she says.

            In her two decades of reporting, both in the U.S. and oversees, Snyder has seen many instances of domestic terrorism, sometimes central to her stories sometimes on the edges. When she started researching and writing No Visible Bruises, which took her nine years to finish–she even wrote her novel What We’ve Lost Is Nothing which is set in Oak Park, Illinois during the process–she never lost interest in telling the story.

            “I wanted to have the conversation about this that we have around poverty, economics, other issues and to really understand it,” she says.

            She also wanted to show how violence can lead to more violence, noting that choking a partner is a predictor of an homicide attempt amd there’s a link to mass murders as we saw in the First Baptist  Church in Sutherland Spring where Devin Patrick Kelley, a convicted domestic terrorism while serving in the Air Force killed his wife and 25 other worshippers. Domestic terrorism also is the direct cause of over 50% of women who find themselves in homeless shelters.

            Is there reason to hope? I ask her.

            She believes there is, but that it’s important to know that domestic abuse is still happening, and we need to be empathetic and that it’s good women are getting angry.

Ifyougo:

What: Rachel Snyder has two events in Chicago.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL; 773.769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

When & Where: Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL; 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

, her exploration of this country’s domestic violence epidemic and what it means regarding other types of violence as well as what to do about it.  “I want to bring these conversations to the forefront.”

            Snyder, a journalist who won the J. Anthony Lukas Word-in-Progress Award for this project, uses the individual stories of women to show how complicated and overwhelming the subject is—and how pervasive. And while we might think of domestic violence as being an issue, if not of the past, as one more under control than when O.J. Simpson was tried for murdering his wife and women’s safety more assured by the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act. But that isn’t true.

            “Domestic homicides are rising about 25%–it used to be about three women a day three women were killed now it’s four, “says Snyder, who went to college in Naperville and lived all over Chicago including Oak Park, has traveled to more than 50 countries and lived in London for three year and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for six.  She also put herself through her first year of college by booking Dimensions, a Highland, Indiana band, for their gigs.

            “People don’t always want to read a book like this,” says Snyder. “I wanted to write a book that people couldn’t pull away from.”

            And, indeed, she did. As awful as the situations she describes—women trying to leave abusers but unable or not able to get out in time, the toll it takes on their families.  Wanting her book to read like a novel, Snyder includes true facts that would be hard to believe in a novel—one husband keeps a pet rattlesnake and drops it in the shower when his wife is in there or slips it under the covers when she’s sleeping.

            “It is an exploration of what it means to live under stress under every moment or every day,” says Snyder, an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington D.C.

            It’s also an exploration of agencies and police as they try to step in and stop the progression—sometimes with success and sometimes with heartbreak. Snyder lived all this, visiting shelters, talking to police and talking to women.

 “I think domestic terrorism is a closer reality to what is going on than domestic abuse,” she says.

            In her two decades of reporting, both in the U.S. and oversees, Snyder has seen many instances of domestic terrorism, sometimes central to her stories sometimes on the edges. When she started researching and writing No Visible Bruises, which took her nine years to finish–she even wrote her novel What We’ve Lost Is Nothing which is set in Oak Park, Illinois during the process–she never lost interest in telling the story.

            “I wanted to have the conversation about this that we have around poverty, economics, other issues and to really understand it,” she says.

            She also wanted to show how violence can lead to more violence, noting that choking a partner is a predictor of an homicide attempt amd there’s a link to mass murders as we saw in the First Baptist  Church in Sutherland Spring where Devin Patrick Kelley, a convicted domestic terrorism while serving in the Air Force killed his wife and 25 other worshippers. Domestic terrorism also is the direct cause of over 50% of women who find themselves in homeless shelters.

            Is there reason to hope? I ask her.

            She believes there is, but that it’s important to know that domestic abuse is still happening, and we need to be empathetic and that it’s good women are getting angry.

Ifyougo:

What: Rachel Snyder has two events in Chicago.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL; 773.769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

When & Where: Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL; 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

Night Moves

              “I didn’t decide to write this book, it was already written,” says Jessica Hopper, a Chicago based music critic with a career encompassing over the last two decades, a time when she not only wrote for New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Buzz Feed and Bookforum, was an editor at Pitchfork and Rookie and editorial director at MTV News and still managed to keep extensive notes about those times.

              “I was a very prodigious chronicler of my life,” says Hopper, who started writing when she was 15 and is the author of the recently released Night Moves, a book that curates scenes from her career as a writer in the music business.

              Though she didn’t have formal training at that time, her parents were both journalists and Hopper says her impetus was that you learn by doing.

              “If you wanted to be something, you just did it,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about music but what I liked and didn’t like. I wanted to be real. If it didn’t go to the heart, that wasn’t what I wanted for my writing. I work really hard and I’ve always worked really hard, that’s how I work, I keep my head down and just keep writing.”

              Describing Night Moves as being shots of memories and feeling, Hopper drew from diaries and remembrances of those times as well as her published works.

              “Some of the pieces in my book are ephemeral,” she says, adding that when she started reviewing her past journaling and published pieces there were parts that she didn’t remember at all. “There are definitely things that I was surprised to re-encounter in my young life.”

              For as long as she’s been in the business, Hopper says she doesn’t think of the big picture when she’s doing something.

              “I just do my best and put it out there.”

              Ifyougo:

              What: Jessica Hopper has several Chicago book events.

              When & Where:

              Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m., Wilmette Public Library, 1242 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette, IL. Sponsored by The Book Stall, 847-446-8880; thebookstall.com

             Friday, May 10 at 7 p.m. Author Conversation with singer-songwriter and social activist Ani DiFranco & Jessica Hopper. Wilson Abbey, 935 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL. Sponsored by Women & Children First, 773-769-9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors

         In the 300-room Sagar Mahal, or the Ocean Palace built by her great times four grandfather on the Arabian Sea, 13-year-old Trisha Raje is coached by her father not to be overwhelmed by the sorrow she saw at a school of the blind that day but instead find a solution so she doesn’t feel badly. And so, she does. Before long Trisha had created a global charity that performed eye surgeries on the needy and then became San Francisco’s premiere neurosurgeon, a woman with immense skill but so lacking in social graces that many in her family are not talking to her as she once inadvertently jeopardized her older brother’s fast track political career.

         But that isn’t Trisha’s only difficulty in Sonali Dev’s newest book, Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors (William Morrow 2019; $15.99), a Bollywood take on Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. Dev switches up roles between Trisha and DJ Caine, a rising star chef whose cancer-stricken sister is a patient of Trisha’s. She a descendant of Indian Royalty is Mr. Darcy and Caine, a Rwandan/Anglo-Indian—meaning he belongs to a much lower social class, is Emma.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, Dev writes “It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep” and the book is classic Austen with its subtle ironic humor and the structured setting required in any well-to-do aristocratic English or Indian milieu. Trisha has broken the three ironclad rules of their family: Never trust an outsider, never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations and never, ever, defy your family. Desperate to redeem herself in ways that her brilliancy and scoring a $10 million dollar grant for her medical department—their largest ever—is unable to do, Trisha must cope with falling in love with Caine, saving his sister and ensuring that she will not somehow disgrace her family again.

         Dev, who is married with two teenagers and lives in Naperville, says is Mr. Darcy/Trisha and that’s she’s been entranced with Jane Austen’s book since watching the Indian TV adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” called “Trishna” in the 1980s when she was a middle schooler,

 “I went straight to the library and checked out Pride and Prejudice and read it over and over,” she says.

As for writing, Dev says she wrote before she could even read, making up stories and characters,” she says, noting she wrote and acted in her first play when she was eight. “Writing has always been with me.”

She grew up in Mumbai though the family traveled a lot as her father was in the military.

“I was always the new kid on the block with a book,” she says.

She continues to read and write at an amazing speed.

“I am in fact waiting to get the edits back for my new book,” she says, noting that writing is an escape, a way of putting yourself in the shoes of someone not like you.

What: Sonali Dev Book Launch Party

When: Monday, May 6 at 7 p.m.

Where: Andersons Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL

FYI: The event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase contact Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville, 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

Courting Mr. Lincoln

Bestselling novelist Louis Bayard, author of the literary historical novel Courting Mr. Lincoln, has written about a fascinating story about the relationships between the future President and the two people who knew him best: his handsome and charming confidant (and roommate) Joshua Speed , the rich scion of the a wealthy hemp growing family in Louisville and sassy Lexington belle Mary Todd.

Bayard, who will be appearing at the Book Stall, book is reviewed by staffer Kara Gagliardi’s in the bookstore’s May newsletter:

“Louis Bayard’s new novel transports us by wagon to the soul of our country and lays bare the man who would become our 16th president. It is, in fact, the personal history behind our country’s history. The story starts small. In 1839, Mary Todd arrives in Springfield looking for a husband. Her mother is deceased, her father is remarried. She relies on the kindness (and lodging) of her older sister to launch her into society. She is an intellectual with a sharp wit, pleasing-albeit a little too round-an excellent dancer and dinner companion, a lover of politics. She is running out of time.

“Abe Lincoln, on the other hand, is the definition of rough. Tall and gangly, he doesn’t know how to open doors for women, approach a carriage, make small talk, or accept invitations. In other words, society overwhelms him. He knows heartache from the loss of his mother and stepmother, and compares the work his father inflicted upon him to slavery. He’s also a damn good lawyer with a gift for oratory.

“Central to the book is the character of Joshua Speed, who enables the courtship between Lincoln and Mary Todd and feels betrayed by it. Speed owns the dry goods store in town and rents a room to Lincoln above it. Good-looking and a bit of a womanizer, he takes it upon himself to teach Lincoln how to dress, behave, and move in polite circles. The two become inseparable. When he learns that Lincoln has met with Mary Todd in secret, he feels an emptiness that he cannot identify. Who is he without his best friend? Where does he belong if not by Lincoln’s side? This book portrays a match of dependency and tenderness, intellect and laughter.  It will also make you remember when you left your peers for a person you set your future upon. The stakes are high. Love wins.”

Bayard, the author of Roosevelt’s Beast, Lucky Strikes, The Pale Blue Eye and The Black Tower, was described by the New York Times, as an author who “reinvigorates historical fiction,” rendering the past “as if he’d witnessed it firsthand.”

Follow him at louisbayard.com

ifyougo:

What: Louis Bayard book signings

When & Where:

The Book Stall
811 Elm St, Winnetka, IL at 1 p.m
847-446-8880; thebookstall.com

Unabridged Books

3251 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL at 7 p.m.

773-883-9119; unabridgedbookstore.com

The Italian Table: Creating Festive Meals for Family & Friends

Elizabeth Minchilli, who has lived in Italy for a quarter of a century, has created a way for all of us to experience certain special food events that comprise the country’s heritage in much the same way as their monuments (think The Colosseum, St. Peter’s and the Leaning Tower of Pisa) are must-sees for visitors. She shows us how, in her latest cookbook, The Italian Table: Creating Festive Meals for Family and Friends, to completely replicate such Italian food culture in such chapters as a Sunday Lunch in Email-Romagna, Farm to Sicilian Table, Panini Party in Umbria and A Table by the Sea in Positano. Because Minchilli’s background and interests are not only culinary but also envelope style and architecture, she tells us not only what to drink and eat but also how to create the tablescape as well.  

As an example, her Pizza by the Slice in Rome meal calls for “for the authentic pizzeria al taglia vibe, use plastic or—more sustainable—paper.”

              Minchilli, who is from St. Louis, Missouri but moved to Rome with her parents when she was 12, developed such a passion for the all things Italy (she even married an Italian man) and in her words, had an Italian baby, an Italian house and an Italian dog.

              “That was after I returned as a graduate student to study Renaissance garden architecture in Florence,” says Minchilli when I talk to her using Skype as she was at her home in Rome.

             I discover, as we talk, that I already have one of her books, a luscious tome titled Villas on the Lakes that someone had given me years ago and which I still leaf through to marvel at all the wonderful photos. Minchilli is one of those people who seems to do it all, she’s written nine books including Restoring a Home in Italy, takes all her own photos, writes an award winning website, elizabethminchilli.com, developed her Eat Italy app and offers food tours to behind the scenes culinary destinations as well as posting on You Tube and other social media.

              She tells me that her love for food began when she was given one of those easy-bake ovens when she was a kid.

              “I became the cook of the family,” she says, though she obviously she’s moved way beyond a toy where the oven is heated by a light bulb.

              The Italian Table is her ninth book.

              “I’m really happy about it,” says Minchilli. “This is really the book where I can bring everything together—the food, the people who make the plates, what is surrounding us, the whole experience.”

              She was motivated to write the book after being questioned countless about how Italian food and dining. To showcase that, she decided on highlight 12 different dinners and photograph and write about them in real time—as they were being planned, cooked and served.

              “I wanted people to know how Italians really eat and I decided to do that by meals in different areas and then narrowed it down by going deeper into how it all comes together,” she says. “I set it up so you can go through the cookbook and decide what you like.”

              She’s also included a time table, what to do, depending upon the dinner, two days before, one day before, two hours before, one hour before and when your guests arrive. And there are ways to lessen the cooking load for the more intensive and elaborate dinners.

              “Food is about being social and sharing,” Minchilli tells me. “A lot of people are scared to have people over and so I wanted to take fear out of the equation. That’s why I give people a game plan by telling people when to shop, when they should set the table and also how far ahead to do things so that there’s less to do at the last minute. It reduces the stress and fear and makes it more approachable.”

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