WIN! By Harlan Coben

          He’s incredibly handsome, impeccably dressed, totally urbane, interested only in no-strings relationships, and so amazingly rich that it’s hard to remember when anyone in his family has ever worked besides, that is, practicing their golf swings. Of course, Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III is totally obnoxious or would be if he didn’t recognize and make fun of all those traits. He knows he was born into money not for any reason but the wining of the genetic lottery. Ditto for the looks. He doesn’t have to wear—gasp—hoodies but can instead with all that dough attire himself in sartorial splendor. As for the relationships or lack of them, well, Win has issues that started in childhood so you can’t really blame him for that.

CANNES, FRANCE – APRIL 7: Writer Harlan Coben is photographed for Self Assignment, on April, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Olivier Vigerie/Contour by Getty Images). (EDITOR’S NOTE: Photo has been digitally retouched).

          What he’s never had before is a mystery novel all about him. But now he does in “Win.” written by Harlan Coben, the bestselling author who has 75 million books in print in 45 languages as well as multiple number of Netflix series including “The Stranger” and “The Woods” with two more The Innocent” and “Gone for Good” out soon.

          Up until now, Win has been a sidekick to Coben’s main character, Myron Bolitar, a sports agent who moonlights—often unintentionally—as a private detective.  Coben never intended to make Win the main character in a novel but that changed.

          “I came up with a story idea involving stolen paintings, a kidnapped heiress, and a wealthy family with buried secrets – and then I thought, ‘Wow, this should be Win’s family and his story to tell’,” says Coben.  “Win is, I hope you agree when you read the book, always a surprise.  He thrives on the unexpected.”

          The kidnapped heiress is Win’s cousin Patricia, who was  abducted by her father’s murderers and held prisoner until she managed to escape. She now is devoted to helping women who are being victimized by men. The stolen paintings include a Vermeer that was taken when Patricia was kidnapped. That painting along with another appear to have been stolen by a former 1960s radical turned recluse who was murdered in his apartment after successfully hiding from authorities for more than a half century.

          But keep in mind, that this is a Coben novel, so nothing is ever as it seems. The plots are devious, and the twists and turns are many. As Win goes on the hunt for the painting he has to deal with other difficulties that arise as well. His proclivity for vigilante justice (he knows, he tell us in one of the many asides he makes to readers, that we may not approve) has led to retaliation by the man’s murderous brothers who almost manage to kill him. The hunt for the Vermeer gets him involved with a treacherous mobster who is determined to find the last remaining radical of the group of six who he believes was responsible for his niece’s death.

          “Win has been Myron’s dangerous, perhaps even sociopathic, sidekick and undoubtedly the most popular character I’ve ever written,” says Coben.  “That said, you don’t have to read a single Myron book to read “Win.”  This is the start of a new series with a whole new hero.”  

          Coben decided to write a novel when he was working in Spain as a tour guide. Did he get the job because he’s fluent in Spanish?. Not exactly. 

          “My grandfather owned the travel agency,” says Coben. “While I was there, I decided to try to write a novel about the experience.  So I did.  And the novel was pretty terrible as most first novels tend to be – pompous, self-absorbed – but then I got the writing bug and started to write what I love – the novel of immersion, the one that you get so caught up in you can’t sleep or put the book down.”

The above review also appeared in the The Times of Northwest Indiana.

John Grisham Returns to Mississippi in “A Time for Mercy”

            “A Time for Mercy” takes us back to Clanton, Mississippi where Jake Brigance, the hero of John Grisham’s first novel, “A Time to Kill,” practices law. Though more than three decades have passed since Grisham introduced us to Brigance it’s been only five years Clanton-time and the attorney is facing hard times. And so, among the last thing he wants to do is take on a deeply unpopular case involving the death of a local deputy by a 16-year-old boy.

John Grisham

            But Brigance doesn’t have a choice, he’s been appointed by the judge to represent Drew Gamble who killed his mother’s abusive boyfriend after watching him almost kill her. Despite the circumstances, this is Clanton, Mississippi and the killing of a lawman, no matter how heinous his actions, brings about a cry for revenge. The town wants Drew Gamble to die in the gas chamber no matter that the murder victim deserved it or that the defendant is a sweet and timid kid who was trying to protect his mother and sister. It also was a time when kids could be sentenced to death.

            When Grisham wrote his first novel, he was somewhat like Jake—living in a small town, struggling as a lawyer, and hoping for a breakout case that would make his reputation.

            So what’s it like being back in Clanton, I asked.

“A big part of me never leaves Clanton,” he said. “That’s where I’m from, my little corner of the world. I know it well because I grew up there and practiced law there.  I know its history, people, culture, religion, food, routines, conflicts, past.  It is always exciting to find a story that will work in Clanton.”

            While we might be surprised at what Jake has been up to in those five years, surprises aren’t the way Grisham puts pen to paper. Characters don’t take on a life of their own as he writes, he alone is in charge of their destiny.

            “I plot the stories mentally for a long time, then outline them extensively before I write a word, so the surprises are rare,” said Grisham who has had 28 consecutive number one fiction best sellers several of which have been made into movies and adding to that sweet pot, he’s sold over 300 million books.  “Clanton has changed very little from 1985–the trial of Carl Lee Hailey in ‘A Time to Kill’ and ‘Sycamore Row’” set in 1987, and now “A Time For Mercy” in 1990.   Big changes are just around the corner with the digital age but looking back 1990 seems rather nostalgic.”

Now that we’ve come to expect all of Grisham’s books to be best sellers, it’s interesting to learn that “A Time to Kill” didn’t do well at all when it was released. Of the 5000 hardcover copies published, Grisham is quoted as saying they couldn’t give them away. That is until his next book, “The Firm” was published and then made into a film with rising star Tom Cruise.

            As with many of his intricately plotted, Grisham often is inspired by real life cases and so it is with this book which already is the number one novel on the Amazon Charts Most Sold Fiction list.

“About ten years ago I heard a noted lawyer talk about one of his most difficult criminal cases,” Grisham said. “His client was a 16 year old boy who’d pulled the trigger. The kid had been severely traumatized with a chaotic life.  His prosecution of his case was complicated and created many vexing issues.””

Complicated story themes are like a type of catnip for Grisham, who somehow juggles thorny, thought-provoking issues and successfully weaves them into the narrative without slowing down the action.

“It’s often difficult but also intriguing,” he said about achieving that fine line. “A heavy issue can weigh down a thriller when the pages are supposed to turn.  Too heavy on the politics and some readers are alienated.  Success is determined by careful preparation, a chapter by chapter outline that often takes longer than writing the book.”

When I asked, as my final question, is there’s anything else he’d like readers to know, Grisham replied, “I never miss an opportunity to thank the many people who have enjoyed my books over the years and kept me in business. I’m still having fun. I hope you are too. I’ll keep writing if you keep reading.

 I think he can count on that.

Note: It was just announced that It was just announced that Matthew McConaughey who attorney Jake Brigance in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill, a film based on John Grisham’s novel of the same will be reprising his role in HBO’s A Time for Mercy.\

Note this article appeared previously in the Northwest Indiana Times.

THE 17TH ANNUAL BEST BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCE 2020 AWARD RECIPIENTS

American Book Fest has announced the winners and finalists of The 2020 Best Book Awards.
Awards were presented for titles published in 2018-2020.

Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of American Book Fest said this year’s contest yielded over 2,000 entries from mainstream and independent publishers. These were then narrowed down to over 400 winners and finalists in 90 categories.

“The 2020 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the United States,” says Keen about the awards, now in their 18th year.
Winners and finalists traversed the publishing landscape: HarperCollins, Penguin/Random House, John Wiley and Sons, Routledge/Taylor and Francis, Forge, Hay House, Sounds True, Llewellyn Worldwide, NYU Press, Oxford University Press, John Hopkins University Press, The White House Historical Association and hundreds of Independent Houses contribute to this year’s outstanding competition.

“Our success begins with the enthusiastic participation of authors and publishers and continues with our distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise,” says Keen.

American Book Fest is an online publication providing coverage for books from mainstream and independent publishers to the world online community.

American Book Fest has an active social media presence with over 135,000 current Facebook fans.


Highlights Include the Following Winning Titles:
(Full Results are Available Here.)

Click on category headings to be taken directly to full book descriptions! Winners and Finalists are featured at the top of each page.

Animals/Pets: General

The Balanced Pet Sitter: What You Wish you Knew Before Starting Your Pet Care Business by Renée Stilson
Equilibre Press, LLC

Animals/Pets: Narrative Non-Fiction
The Chimpanzee Chronicles: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope from Behind the Bars by Debra Rosenman
Wild Soul Press

Anthologies: Non-Fiction
This Moment Bold Voices from WriteGirl by Keren Taylor
WriteGirl PublicationsArt

C. Curry Bohm: Brown County and Beyond edited by Daniel Kraft & Jim Ross
Indiana University Press

Autobiography/Memoir
Through My Eyes: CSI Memoirs That Haunt the Soul by Tamara Mickelson
Self-Published

Best Cover Design: Fiction
The Last Lumenian by S.G. Blaise
The Last Lumenian

Best Cover Design: Non-Fiction
When God Says NO – Revealing the YES When Adversity and Pain Are Present by Judith Briles
Mile High Press

Best Interior Design
Beautiful Living: Cooking the Cal-a-Vie Health Spa Way by Terri Havens
Cal-a-Vie Health Spa

Best New Fiction
In An Instant by Suzanne Redfearn
Lake Union

Best New Non-Fiction
The Book of Help: A Memoir of Remedies by Megan Griswold
Rodale Books/Penguin Random House

Biography
T.R.M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito
Independent Institute

Business: Careers
TIP: A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success by Dave Gordon
John Wiley and Sons

Business: Communications/Public Relations
The Apology Impulse: How the Business World Ruined Sorry and Why We Can’t Stop Saying It by Cary Cooper & Sean O’Meara
Kogan Page

Business: Entrepreneurship & Small Business
Burdens of a Dream: 33 Actionable Nuggets of Wisdom for the Creative Entrepreneur by Craig M. Chavis Jr.
Author Academy Elite

Business: General
The Simplicity Principle: Six Steps Towards Clarity in a Complex World by Julia Hobsbawm
Kogan Page

Business: Management & Leadership
The Future Leader: 9 Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade by Jacob Morgan
Wiley

Business: Marketing & Advertising
The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI by Carlos Gil
Kogan Page

Business: Motivational
Unlock!: 7 Steps to Transform Your Career and Realize Your Leadership Potential by Abhijeet Khadikar
Vicara Books

Business: Personal Finance/Investing
Enhancing Retirement Success Rates in the United States: Leveraging Reverse Mortgages, Delaying Social Security, and Exploring Continuous Work by Chia-Li Chien, PhD, CFP®, PMP®
Palgrave Pivot

Business: Real Estate
Market Forces: Strategic Trends Impacting Senior Living Providers by Jill J. Johnson
Johnson Consulting Services

Business: Reference
The Non-Obvious Guide to Virtual Meetings and Remote Work (Non-Obvious Guides) by Rohit Bhargava
IdeaPress Publishing

Business: Sales
The Visual Sale: How to Use Video to Explode Sales, Drive Marketing, and Grow Your Business in a Virtual World by Marcus Sheridan
IdeaPress Publishing

Business: Technology
Amazon Management System: The Ultimate Digital Business Engine That Creates Extraordinary Value for Both Customers and Shareholders by Ram Charan and Julia Yang
IdeaPress Publishing

Business: Writing/Publishing
Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves: Criteria-Driven Strategies for More Effective Fiction by Larry Brooks
Writer’s Digest Books (a division of Penguin Random House)

Children’s Educational
Galileo! Galileo! by Holly Trechter and Jane Donovan
Sky Candle Press

Children’s Fiction
Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets by Sherrill Joseph
Acorn Publishing

Children’s Mind/Body/Spirit
The Tooth Fairy’s Tummy Ache by Lori Orlinsky
Mascot Books

Children’s Non-Fiction
President’s Play! illustrated by John Hutton, text by Jonathan Pliska
The White House Historical Association

Children’s Novelty & Gift Book
Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams, illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker
Sterling Publishing

Children’s Picture Book: Hardcover Fiction
Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams, illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker
Sterling Publishing

Children’s Picture Book: Hardcover Non-Fiction
A-B-Skis: An Alphabet Book About the Magical World of Skiing by Libby Ludlow, illustrated by Nathan Y. Jarvis
Libby Ludlow

LLCChildren’s Picture Book: Softcover Fiction
Frankie the Ferret by Kimberley Paterson
FriesenPress

Children’s Picture Book: Softcover Non-Fiction
Fridays With Ms. Mélange: Haiti by Jenny Delacruz
Cobbs Creek Publishing

Children’s Religious
That Grand Christmas Day! by Jill Roman Lord, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio
Worthy Kids

College Guides
Diversity At College: Real Stories of Students Conquering Bias and Making Higher Education More Inclusive by James Stellar, Chrisel Martinez, Branden Eggan, Chloe Skye Weiser, Benny Poy, Rachel Eagar, Marc Cohen, and Agata Buras
IdeaPress Publishing

Cookbooks: General
Recipes from the President’s Ranch: Food People Like to Eat by Matthew Wendel
The White House Historical Association

Cookbooks: International
Cooking with Marika: Clean Cuisine from an Estonian Farm by Marika Blossfeldt
Delicious Nutrition

Cookbooks: Regional
The Perfect Persimmon: History, Recipes, and More by Michelle Medlock Adams
Red Lightning

BooksCurrent Events
In All Fairness: Equality, Liberty, and the Quest for Human Dignity, edited by Robert M. Whaples, Michael C. Munger and Christopher J. Coyne
Independent Institute

Education/Academic
The EQ Intervention: Shaping a Self-Aware Generation Through Social and Emotional Learning by Adam L. Saenz, PhD
Greenleaf Book Group

Fiction: African-American
Once in a Blood Moon by Dorothea Hubble Bonneau
Acorn Publishing

Fiction: Anthologies
Terror at 5280′ edited by Josh Schlossberg
Denver Horror Collective

Fiction: Cross-Genre
Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton
Firefly Southern Fiction

Fiction: Fantasy
The Hollow Gods (The Chaos Cycle Series, #1) by A.J. Vrana
The Parliament House Press

Fiction: General
Bread Bags & Bullies: Surviving the ’80’s by Steven Manchester
Luna Bella Press

Fiction: Historical
The Takeaway Men by Meryl Ain
SparkPress

Fiction: Horror
The Vanishing by Arjay Lewis
Mindbender Press

Fiction: Inspirational
The Menu by Steven Manchester
Luna Bella Press

Fiction: LGBTQ
Even Weirder Than Before by Susie Taylor
Breakwater Books

Fiction: Literary
How Fires End by Marco Rafalà
Little A

Fiction: Multicultural
Subduction by Kristen Millares Young
Red Hen Press

Fiction: Mystery/Suspense
Strong From The Heart by Jon Land
Forge

Fiction: New Age
Catalyst by Tracy Richardson
Brown Books Publishing

Fiction: Novelette
When Angels Paint: A Milford-Haven Holiday Novelette by Mara Purl
Bellekeep Books

Fiction: Novella
When the Heart Listens: A Milford-Haven Novella by Mara Purl
Bellekeep Books

Fiction: Religious
The Longest Day by Terry Toler
BeHoldings Publishing

Fiction: Romance
What the Heart Wants by Audrey Carlan
HQN

Fiction: Science Fiction
Killing Adam by Earik Beann
Profoundly One Publishing

Fiction: Short Story
Oranges by Gary Eldon Peter
New Rivers Press

Fiction: Thriller/Adventure
The President’s Dossier by James A. Scott
Oceanview Publishing

Fiction: Visionary
Journey of a JuBu by Blaine Langberg
Critical Eye

Fiction: Western
Moccasin Track by Reid Lance Rosenthal
Rockin’ SR Publishing

Fiction: Women’s Fiction
Appearances by Sondra Helene
She Writes Press

Fiction: Young Adult
The Return of the Dragon Queen by Farah Oomerbhoy
Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Health: Addiction & Recovery
Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation by Marilea C. Rabasa
She Writes Press

Health: Aging/50+
EIGHTSOMETHINGS: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness by Katharine Esty, PhD
Skyhorse Publishing

Health: Alternative Medicine
Have a Peak at This: Synergize Your Body’s Clock Towards a Highly Productive You by Said Hasyim
Self-Published

Health: Cancer
All Of Us Warriors: Cancer Stories of Survival and Loss by Rebecca Whitehead Munn
She Writes
Press

Health: Death & Dying
Aftermath: Picking Up the Pieces After a Suicide by Gary Roe
Healing Resources Publishing

Health: Diet & Exercise
Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight and Obesity by Deborah Kesten, MPH and Larry Scherwitz, PhD
White River Press

Health: General
True Wellness for Your Gut: Combine the best of Western and Eastern medicine for optimal digestive and metabolic health by Catherine Kurosu, MD, L.Ac. and Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT
YMAA Publication Center

Health: Medical Reference
The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness by Jill Grimes, MD
Skyhorse Publishing

Health: Psychology/Mental Health
The Big Bliss Blueprint: 100 Little Thoughts to Build Positive Life Changes by Shell Phelps
Positive Streak Publishing,

LLCHealth: Women’s Health
The Book of Help: A Memoir of Remedies by Megan Griswold
Rodale Books/Penguin Random House

History: General
Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France: Tyranny and Resistance by Stephen P. Halbrook
Independent Institute

History: Military
40 Thieves on Saipan The Elite Marine Scout-Snipers in One of WWII’s Bloodiest Battles by Joseph Tachovsky with Cynthia Kraack
Regnery History

History: United States
Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History by Randall G. Holcombe
Independent Institute

Home & Garden
My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation by Donald M. Rattner
Skyhorse Publishing

Humor
Struggle Bus: The Van. The Myth. The Legend. by Josh Wood
Lucid Books

Law
Banned: Immigration Enforcement in the Time of Trump by Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia
NYU Press

LGBTQ: Non-Fiction
Our Gay History in 50 States by Zaylore Stout
Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Multicultural Non-Fiction
Overcoming Ordinary Obstacles: Boldly Claiming the Facets of an Extraordinary Life by Nesha Pai
SPARK

PublicationsNarrative: Non-Fiction
Sola: One Woman’s Journey Alone Across South America by Amy Field
WanderWomyn Publishing

New Age: Non-Fiction
Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness by Keri Mangis
Curiosa Publishing, LLC

Novelty & Gift Book
The Official White House Christmas Ornament: Collected Stories of a Holiday Tradition by Marcia Anderson and Kristen Hunter Mason
The White House Historical Association

Parenting & Family
Why Will No One Play with Me? The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive by Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.Ed. with Teresa Barker
Grand Central

PublishingPerforming Arts: Film, Theater, Dance, Music
THAT GUY: a stage play by Peter Anthony Fields
Amazon

Photography
Beautiful Living: Cooking the Cal-a-Vie Health Spa Way by Terri Havens
Cal-a-Vie Health Spa

Poetry
Five Oceans in a Teaspoon, poems by Dennis J. Bernstein, visuals by Warren Lehrer
Paper Crown Press

Religion: Christian Inspirational
Extraordinary Hospitality for Ordinary Christians: A Radical Approach to Preparing Your Heart & Home for Gospel-Centered Community by Victoria Duerstock
Good Books

Religion: Christianity
Come Fill This Place: A Journey of Prayer by Stacy Dietz
KP Publishing Company

Religion: Eastern
Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam by A. Helwa
Naulit Publishing House

Religion: General
Esoterism as Principle and as Way: A New Translation with Selected Letters by Frithjof Schuon
World Wisdom

Science
Bliss Brain: The Neuroscience of Rewiring Your Brain for Resilience, Creativity and Joy by Dawson Church
Hay House

Self-Help: General
Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done by Charlie Gilkey
Sounds True

Self-Help: Motivational
Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage by Laura Huang
Portfolio

Self-Help: Relationships
The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around by Terry Gaspard
Sounds True

Social Change
I Am Not Your Enemy: Stories to Transform a Divided World by Michael T. McRay
Herald Press

Spirituality: General
The Universe Is Talking to You: Tap Into Signs and Synchronicity to Reveal Magical Moments Every Day by Tammy Mastroberte
Llewellyn Worldwide

Spirituality: Inspirational
Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution by Jennie Lee
Sounds

TrueSports
The Martial Arts of Vietnam: An Overview of History and Styles by Augustus John Roe
YMAA Publication Center

Travel: Guides & Essays
Exploring Wine Regions — Bordeaux France: Discover Wine, Food, Castles, and The French Way of Life by Michael C. Higgins, PhD
International Exploration Society

True Crime: Non-Fiction
Beast of New Castle by Larry Sells & Margie Porter
WildBlue Press

Women’s Issues
Muslim Women Are Everything: Stereotype-Shattering Stories of Courage, Inspiration, and Adventure by Seema Yasmin, illustrated by Fahmida Azim
Harper Design, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Young Adult: Non-Fiction
My Life, My Way: How To Make Exceptional Decisions About College, Career, and Life by Elyse Hudacsko
Self-Published

WIN! By Harlan Coben

He’s incredibly handsome, impeccably dressed, totally urbane, interested only in no-strings relationships, and so amazingly rich that it’s hard to remember when anyone in his family has ever worked besides, that is, practicing their golf swings. Of course, Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III is totally obnoxious or would be if he didn’t recognize and make fun of all those traits. He knows he was born into money not for any reason but the wining of the genetic lottery. Ditto for the looks. He doesn’t have to wear—gasp—hoodies but can instead with all that dough attire himself in sartorial splendor. As for the relationships or lack of them, well, Win has issues that started in childhood so you can’t really blame him for that.

CANNES, FRANCE – APRIL 7: Writer Harlan Coben is photographed for Self Assignment, on April, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Olivier Vigerie/Contour by Getty Images). (EDITOR’S NOTE: Photo has been digitally retouched).

          What he’s never had before is a mystery novel all about him. But now he does in “Win” (Grand Central 2021; $18.98 Amazon price) written by Harlan Coben, the bestselling author who has 75 million books in print in 45 languages as well as multiple number of Netflix series including “The Stranger” and “The Woods” with two more “The Innocent” and “Gone for Good” out soon.

          Up until now, Win has been a sidekick to Coben’s main character, Myron Bolitar, a sports agent who moonlights—often unintentionally—as a private detective.  Coben never intended to make Win the main character in a novel but that changed.

          “I came up with a story idea involving stolen paintings, a kidnapped heiress, and a wealthy family with buried secrets – and then I thought, ‘Wow, this should be Win’s family and his story to tell’,” says Coben.  “Win is, I hope you agree when you read the book, always a surprise.  He thrives on the unexpected.”

          The kidnapped heiress is Win’s cousin Patricia, who was  abducted by her father’s murderers and held prisoner until she managed to escape. She now is devoted to helping women who are being victimized by men. The stolen paintings include a Vermeer that was taken when Patricia was kidnapped. That painting along with another appear to have been stolen by a former 1960s radical turned recluse who was murdered in his apartment after successfully hiding from authorities for more than a half century.

          But keep in mind, that this is a Coben novel, so nothing is ever as it seems. The plots are devious, and the twists and turns are many. As Win goes on the hunt for the painting he has to deal with other difficulties that arise as well. His proclivity for vigilante justice (he knows, he tell us in one of the many asides he makes to readers, that we may not approve) has led to retaliation by the man’s murderous brothers who almost manage to kill him. The hunt for the Vermeer gets him involved with a treacherous mobster who is determined to find the last remaining radical of the group of six who he believes was responsible for his niece’s death.

          “Win has been Myron’s dangerous, perhaps even sociopathic, sidekick and undoubtedly the most popular character I’ve ever written,” says Coben.  “That said, you don’t have to read a single Myron book to read “Win.”  This is the start of a new series with a whole new hero.”  

          Coben decided to write a novel when he was working in Spain as a tour guide. Did he get the job because he’s fluent in Spanish? Not exactly.  

          “My grandfather owned the travel agency,” says Coben. “While I was there, I decided to try to write a novel about the experience.  So I did.  And the novel was pretty terrible as most first novels tend to be – pompous, self-absorbed – but then I got the writing bug and started to write what I love – the novel of immersion, the one that you get so caught up in you can’t sleep or put the book down.”

          With “Win” he has certainly done just that.  

What: Harlan Coben, #1 New York Times bestselling author, discusses his new book “Win” with moderator and author Shari Lapena.

When: Thursday, March 25 at 7 p.m.

FYI: Hosted by the Book Stall in Chicago, the event is free and open to the public. To register, visit the events page on the store’s website, www.thebookstall.com

Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair

            When Rebecca Graff, a PhD student at the University of Chicago in need of a dissertation, was told by a professor that the view before them from the school’s Ida Noyes Hall was “a hundred years ago the center of the world,” she didn’t see the bucolic splendor of Jackson Park hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline. Instead her sights went to what lay beneath and that was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, an unexcavated but huge part of Chicago’s history. Held in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arrival in the New World, the exposition attracted 27 million people who paid 21.5 million for admission in a six-month period. Designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, the 630-acre park had more than 65,000 exhibits from 46 countries and introduced to the public such new inventions as a 250-foot Ferris Wheel, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake syrup and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum. Electricity, still rare back then, was used to light up the expo at night.

Rebecca Graff

            Graff managed to turn that casual remark into her dissertation, “The Vanishing City: Time, Tourism, and the Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition” and then into a book,  “Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair” (University Press of Florida co-published with The Society for Historical Archaeology).  Both were about the archaeological dig she undertook of a site in Jackson Park near the Museum of Science and Industry that seemed most promising for archaeological fair finds.

Surprisingly what seemed an almost guaranteed bureaucratic nightmare in terms of permits and permissions all fell into place but then Graff was told she couldn’t start without a million dollars in liability insurance. Not likely for a graduate student.

            “I needed to turn the excavation into a job,” she says. And so she did, teaching a field class at the University of Chicago where she and her students excavated the site.


View from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition’s South Canal looking northeast. The Machinery Building, the Columbian Fountain, and the Electricity Building are on the left, with the Agriculture and the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Buildings on the right. The Illinois State Building’s dome is in the center, and the flatter dome of the California State Building is to its left. Image is by an anonymous photographer, 1893. From the Smithsonian Institution Archives

            Expecting to find those things that archaeologists love—pottery shards, a coin here and a twisted spoon there—Graff and her team were stunned to unearth a section of the Ohio Building, a stately Beaux Arts-style edifice with an elaborate portico entranceway that served as a meeting place for Ohioans. It was among the best of all the other findings they uncovered such as a collar stud, religious medal, cruet tops indicating that food was made on site, and lots of pipes. Though to hear Graff describe them, they’re all treasures and keys to the past.

            As for the building, contemporary sources said it no longer existed.

            “Even the New York Times wrote it had been thrown into the lake,” says Graff, who instead found segments in a ditch where it might have been used as landfill.

            Coincidentally, Graff later discovered she wasn’t the only family member to dig at the site, so had her great grandfather, Morris Graff, a Russia immigrant who dug ditches at the fair.

            Graff would like to return to Jackson Park for further exploration but was denied a permit the second time around. She says it’s surprising that Chicago doesn’t have a city archaeologist as other big cities do. But she’s certainly doing her fair share of uncovering urban remains. She is currently excavating the Charnley-Persky House Museum, a National Historic Landmark located on Astor Street in the Gold Coast  designed Chicago  architect, Louis Sullivan and his young draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright.

Cover image from Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair by Rebecca S. Graff. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2020.

A Blissful Feast: Celebrations of Family, Food, and History

“In our culture we have lost our connection to cooking,” says Teresa Lust, author of  A Blissful Feast, Culinary Adventures in Italy’s Piedmont, Maremma, and Le Marche ( Pegasus Books 2020; $19.19 Amazon hardcover price), The Readable Feast’s 2020 winner for Best Food Memoir.

Teresa Lust

Lust, who teaches Italian at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire and also cooking classes, grew up in an Italian-American family, learning to cook from her mother and grandmother whose recipes were written by hand on little notecards. Wanting to discover and delve into Italian cuisine because of its meaning to her, she learned to speak Italian and traveled through the country of her ancestors.

“I wanted to see and feel the connections to the traditions and geography of the regions,” says Lust, whose previous book,  Pass the Polenta: and Other Writings from the Kitchen, was praised by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and Julia Child.

Going deep, she visits relatives and meets the people of the regions’ small towns, going into their kitchens to watch as they prepare food. It’s a constant learning process about the intricacies not only of the broad regional cookery of Italy that many of us are familiar with—that of Florence, Naples, or Sicily but of such places as Maremma, an area in western central Italy bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea and Le Marche, a region sandwiched between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine Mountains.

“Italian food is very regional, and even in the regions its broken down by cities, and then gets smaller and smaller until each dish is an expression of oneself and it can be an affront and violation if others add ingredients or make changes,” she says. “There’s an integrity to the dish.”

It’s not the way we think of food here. Indeed, to me a recipe is to be altered by ingredients I have on hand so the idea of not changing is a thoughtful concept, one that I will think about. But then again, I’m not making family recipes dating back centuries and besides, old habits die hard. 

In Camerano, a town in Le Marche, an 80-year-old woman shows Lust how to hand-roll pasta with a three-foot rolling pin. In Manciano, she masters making Schiacciata  All’Uva, a grape flatbread with honey and rosemary that back home in New Hampshire takes her two days to complete.

But, Lust says, you only spend a few minutes in active work as if it were as easy as popping a frozen dinner into a microwave.

Intrigued by the food philosophy of the people she cooks with, she goes beyond recipe and its ingredients to their history and what they represent.

Acquacotta—such a beautiful word and beautiful dish–but then you find  out what it really means–cooked water and that it was born out of poverty made by people who had nothing,” Lust tells me when we chat on the phone.

In her description, acquacotta is a rustic soup that nourished generations of the area’s shepherds and cowhands. It’s her way of adding poetry to food and to people who take such pride in what they cook.

Lust includes recipes in her book, but this is not a glossy cookbook, but rather a lovely and thoughtful journey of rediscovering roots and meaning.

The two of us discuss growing up with ethnic relatives and how important the culture of the table was for us when young.  It does seem to be something that is missing from our daily lives and Lust is hoping to reconnect people to food and help them see the importance of  taking the time to bring friends and family to the table to enjoy a meal.

In the cooking classes she teaches she demonstrates how to make Italian food  and encourages participants to talk to her in Italian. She feels that she is helping forge an important connection that way.

“I have people contact me through the website who said they tried the gnocchi and though they never thought they could make it, they found it was easy for them,” she says with a touch of pride.

For more, visit www.teresalust.com

The Children’s Blizzard: A Historic Novel of the Nebraska Prairie

Melanie Benjamin

The week before, they’d been isolated when a snowstorm and cold temperatures forced everyone to stay inside. But that morning Gerta, the young teacher who boarded at the Pedersen’s house, and her student Annette, a waif who had been dropped off at the home by her mother who hadn’t even hugged her goodbye, ran across the Nebraska prairie to the schoolhouse enjoying the sunny warm weather.

It was like being free again, but it was only January, and the school children let out for recess because of the wonderful weather were suddenly confronted by a black wall of clouds that blocked the sun. Running back to the schoolhouse, they discovered there was little wood left to keep the big stove burning, and they all shivered as the temperature plummeted — oh, why had they only worn their shawls and not their heavy coats and boots? The sounds of the howling wind rushed through the schoolhouse, and through the windows they saw almost nothing but the occasional bright sparks of lightning, because the snow formed a curtain so thick it blocked everything else out.

In history books, this sudden and deadly snowstorm would be known as “The Children’s Blizzard” because, of the 250 to 500 known fatalities, many were children trying to find their way home.

Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of “The Aviator’s Wife,” “The Girls in the Picture” and “The Swans of Fifth Avenue,” has taken the incident and turned it into the page-turning novel “The Children’s Blizzard: A Novel” (Delacorte, $28).

It’s an obscure but fascinating aspect of America’s frontier history, but Benjamin, a voracious reader of history already, was somewhat familiar with the disaster when she and her editor decided that might be her next book. Benjamin, who grew up in Indianapolis with aspirations to become a New York actress, lived in Chicago until moving to Williamsburg, Virginia a few months ago. She began writing historical novels in 2010, and, amazingly, this is her seventh. She must, it seems after spending an hour chatting with her on the phone, write as fast as she talks.

The gist of our conversation: she’s a history junkie; she investigates a subject relentlessly, but if she can’t conjure up characters that really come to life, she’ll move on to the next project, as she doesn’t want to write a book that doesn’t seem real. That means she’s written entire novels and then just abandoned them. Even when she loves the personalities she creates, once she’s done with her novel, there are no second glances as she moves on to the next book. Oh, and though she’s a history buff and dwells in different pasts when writing, she doesn’t live in a stately old mansion, just a historic town.

Luckily, she discovered many captivating characters for “The Children’s Blizzard” and, though I know we’re talking Nebraska here, an equally compelling landscape and period of time.

Hard working immigrants, mainly Norwegians, Swedes and Germans were lured to Nebraska by dreams of lush crop producing farmland. It was easy as just packing up your belongings, the advertisements read, as coming by wagon or boarding a train to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities.

Only Nebraska really wasn’t all that. Don’t think “Little House in the Prairie” because it was so much more harsh, unyielding, and frustrating. There were blizzards, droughts where the soil cracked and the crops withered, prairie fires and vast hordes of insects devouring everything in their paths. We’re not talking fun here, not at all.

“Nebraska wasn’t a state at the time, it was a territory,” says Benjamin. “They were trying to get enough people to settle there because that’s one of the ways you became a state.”

Benjamin found that the story ignited her entire imagination, forming a connection to generations of her family.

“There was a personal epic quality to it, my mother’s family immigrated from Germany to an Illinois farm,” said Benjamin. “So the story was kind of in my DNA.”

Benjamin describes her imagination as her biggest strength, which is why she can put herself into the lives of people she’s created and who live in a time long before she was born.

“I was a serious child,” she said. “I was always imagining people’s lives and what they were like. Most authors are observers, we’re on the outside looking at the party, not at the party.”

This review was previously published in the Northwest Indiana Times.

Honoring the Best in African American Poetry

When working on “The 100 Best African–American Poems”, award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni decided to cheat.

“Including just one hundred would only get me to the 1970s,” says Giovanni, a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. “I definitely wanted to get some younger voices in too so there are actually 220 poems but they’re only numbered from one to a hundred.”

And so Giovanni’s diverse collection of poetic voices includes poems not only by Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks and Mari Evans but also Tupac Shakur.

“Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I love Tupac and I’m not the only one,” says Giovanni. “This is an incredibly important young man. Tupac’s been dead 10 years and people still treat him as if they know him. Because of the power of that young man, we had to include him. My admiration is based on his talent. How could we not honor him?”

Accompanying the book of poems is a CD where such luminaries as actresses Ruby Dee and Novella Nelson as well as Giovanni and the president of Virginia Tech read some of the poems.

“It’s so you can read the book and also stick the CD in your car and hear them,” says Giovanni. “That’s great for people who like to read poems and for those who like to hear them.”

The book is dedicated to “The Aunt” by Mari Evans, a poem that Giovanni describes as one of her favorites.

“That’s what I used for the dedication –– my only living aunt. Instead of writing something, I used that poem,” says Giovanni. “I just love it. First of all, my mom has passed. I’m not a little girl anymore, but after losing your mom, your aunt is the one who comes in and let’s you know you are loved and helps you bury your mother. Mari wrote that about her mother. It’s a lovely sentiment. I could have stuck it anywhere in the book, but I wanted it where it is, because you open up the book and you get this poem as a dedication. It’s just beautiful.”

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