If These Walls Could Talk by Reggie Brooks

        “I wouldn’t have been so open if I had written my book five years ago,” says Reggie Brooks, author of the just released If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2021, $17.95). “But Covid showed me how important it is to share. There were many people in my life who helped get me to where I am. I also learned that we’re here to serve others and not just ourselves.”

        In many ways his book is a behind the scenes look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish but for those who groan at the thought of another football book, Brooks wants you to know it’s more than that. He discusses both the highs and lows of his life and career, offering a human look at being a gridiron star as he takes us on his personal journey, often peppering his book with humorous anecdotes. That includes the time he scored a 20-yard touchdown against the University of Michigan in 1993 while unconscious.

        “I didn’t even know I was knocked down,” says Brooks about the incident where, after catching a pass, he was able to break through six Wolverine tackles—the last knocking him out—and still managing to make it across the finish line before falling face first in the end zone.

“I didn’t really know about the play until I saw it on Sunday during our film session and team meeting,” he says.

        Brooks, a Notre Dame tailback, ended his senior year with  1,372 rushing yards, averaging about 8 yards a carry and scoring 13 touchdowns. He was named an All-American, finished fifth in the voting that year for the Heisman Trophy and was selected in the second round of the 1993 NFL by the Washington Redskins. But after a stellar first year in the league, his career started stalling, in part, he believes by a disagreement he had with the management over the team’s use of his image.

        Welcome to the NFL. For Brooks, it seemed that he had upset the wrong people and paid the price for doing so. But he’s self-aware of how he responded. Feeling as if he were drowning he retreated into himself and didn’t avail himself of the help he was offered.  Brooks’ experiences in the NFL reinforced his realization of how important Notre Dame had been in his life.

        “It allowed me to see more clearly how special my teammates at Notre Dame were and what it meant to be a college football player,” he writes. “It’s the maturity you have to develop and the care for the others—even if you do not consciously think about it.”

        He also saw the power of the Notre Dame network and how it opened doors for him when he was struggling—how the kindness of those he knew there helped him find his way.

        When I ask what impact he hopes his book will have on readers, Brooks responds that he wants to show how his life and Notre Dame intertwined.

        “I also want to get people to realize the value of ‘you’ and what ‘you’ bring to the community,” he says.

        His father was his first coach and taught him the importance of treating others well. The emphasis was not on football as a way make a lot of money (though no one is arguing that isn’t nice) but the impact you can have on others.

        “I still struggle with fandom,” he says. And we laugh about the old saw about never believing in your own press clippings—in other words not letting the hype change who you are.

“Those who are just starting are as important as the most famous,” he says.

Married to his college sweetheart, Christina Brooks, the couple have five children. Until recently Reggie Brooks worked for Notre Dame as the university’s Director of Student-Athlete Alumni Relations/Engagement and participated in after game shows. Recently he accepted the position of executive director of Holtz’s Heroes Foundation which precipitated a move from South Bend, Indiana to Prairie View, Texas. But that move was in part participated with his wife getting a job in Fort Worth and it was time, he said, to support her as she had always supported his career and many moves.

Still there was a sense of loss about leaving. Brooks had followed his brother Tony, who also played football, to the university after high school, played there throughout college and then returned. He loves the school’s values. When I tell him my brother taught accountancy there for 30 years and never ever was pressured to give a break to an athlete, he laughs, saying “You go to class, you do the work, that’s what makes it Notre Dame.”

He makes sure to complement the university’s accounting program as if wanting to assure me that it’s just as glamorous and important as their fabled football program. It’s just what makes him Reggie Brooks.

What:  Reggie Brooks book signing

When: Saturday, October 23 at 12:30pm CT

Where: Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, 1 Eck Center on the Notre Dame Campus in South Bend, Indiana

FYI: 800-647-4641; http://www.bkstr.com/notredamestore

Capote’s Women: The Story of the Writers’ Swans

“There are certain women who, though perhaps not born rich, are born to be rich,” author Truman Capote wrote about the beautiful, well-dressed, and style-setting women he called his “swans.”

The ultimate arm candy for the wealthiest and most powerful of men, these women of the mid-20th century were trophy wives before the term existed. And they counted Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and creator of the true crime genre with In Cold Blood, his chilling recounting of the brutal murders of a Kansas family, as their best friend.

In Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, New York Times best-selling author Laurence Leamer takes us back to a time and a world where jet-setting, making the best-dressed list, attending and giving A-plus list parties, and dining at the most wonderful places whether in New York, Paris, London, or wherever your yacht happened to be moored were what these exalted women excelled at.

Obtaining their lifestyles depended upon a confluence of beauty, wit, moxie, and marrying and knowing when to discard husbands as they worked their way up and up. At times, divorce papers were barely signed before the next wedding was held.

“You have to enter into their lives,” says Leamer, explaining how he so succinctly captured the personalities of the swans: Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C.Z. Guest and Lee Radziwill who constantly seethed because of the attention her older sister, Jackie Kennedy, always received.

“Even though,” Leamer points out, “unlike Jackie she didn’t want to do the hard work that it takes to achieve something.”

These women knew how to climb to higher heights. Gloria Guinness had transitioned from a childhood of constant motion in Mexico and marriage at age 20 to a man 27 years older to marrying a German aristocrat and a romantic involvement with a top Nazi during World War II. Her third marriage was to the grandson of an Egyptian King and her last, the biggest prize, was to a scion of the Guinness beer family who was also a member of Parliament. Other wins were modeling for big time designers and the best of the fashion magazines as well as being on the International Best Dressed List for several years.

But ultimately, she wasn’t happy says Leamer who believes she committed suicide.

There was also Barbara “Babe” Paley whose mother raised her   three daughters to marry money. Paley, who had been badly injured in an automobile accident when young, spent her life in considerable pain. Her husband expected perfection in all things and so she never slept in the same bedroom, so she could the loss of her front teeth.

But being the best wasn’t always the answer to happy life. The swans may have had uber-wealthy husbands, but they didn’t have good husbands. Frequently husbands and wives were flagrantly promiscuous, and the swans often led separate lives not only from their spouses but also their children.

“For them, to be a mom was to be hands-off,” says Leamer. “And the children often paid a price. They didn’t necessary learn to do anything because they were going to inherit a lot of money.”

Ornamental to the max, these were women who did nothing but did it extremely well. And Capote, despite his great literary successes, spent a lot of time doing nothing with them. He listened to their secrets and ultimately decided to write a book revealing what he had heard. When an article he penned revealed some of those stories, the swans all turned against him, and he was exiled from the society he craved.

“I went to a family wedding recently,” says Leamer noting the warmth and connectiveness that everyone had. “These women and Capote never had this.”

It’s such a cliché to say money doesn’t buy happiness. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And it certainly is delicious to read about the lives of women who many thought had it all even though they didn’t.

Online Book Event


Join Laurence Leamer in an online event hosted by the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago when he reads from and discusses his new book.”

When: October 13 at 6:30 p.m.

How to Join In: This program will be hosted online via Zoom. To register, visit americanwritersmuseum.org/program-calendar/laurence-leamer-capotes-women/

George Diamond’s: A Northwest Indiana Classic

            In 1924, Peter Levant’s opened what was one of Whiting’s famous “perch palaces,” a place that served freshly caught perch right from Lake Michigan. They also advertised such menu items as steak, chicken, and, of course, this being The Region, frog legs—mostly likely from nearby Lake George.

            Indeed, frog legs were so in demand that Vogel’s—which was just down the street and totally classy—raised their own frogs for legs in the lake. But that’s a different story.

            Located at 1247 Calumet Avenue, Levent’s became the home of Juster’s Charcoal Broiled Steaks and then later George Diamond’s. Though my mom liked to cook, my parents were totally into eating out as well and though its been years and years, I remember going with them to George Diamond’s. It was the kind of place where everything was overlarge—the steaks, the salads, the charcoal flames, and even the menus.

            That Diamond (yes, there was a George Diamond) even opened a place in Whiting shows the town’s status as a food destination. Indeed, around that time, there were a lot of great restaurants–and I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of places out–Vogel’s, Phil Smidt’s, Margaret’s Geneva House, Al Knapp’s Restaurant and Lounge, and the Roby Café. But Diamond was international. Besides his flagship restaurant at 630 S. Wabash Avenue in Chicago that was said to have cost over $1 million to renovate in a style I call 1950s swank, all red velvet and red upholstery, he had places in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Antioch, Illinois on a golf course, and Acapulco, Mexico.

            What I remember most was the house salad dressing which they bottled and sold on the premises. It was so unique that even now it has a cult-like online following with people  searching for the recipe.  It wasn’t Russian and it certainly wasn’t French or at least not the orangish French dressing we buy in bottles now. Diamond’s dressing was an almost translucent reddish pink. And if the recipe I found online is close to the original, it’s main ingredient was tomato soup.

  There’s nothing left of Diamond’s empire today. Diamond died in 1982 at age 80 and the building housing the Wabash Avenue restaurant went up in flames in 2006.  But people still remember that dressing.

George Diamond’s salad dressing

  • 1 (10-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup each: white vinegar, sugar
  • 1 small onion, peeled and grated
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, ground black pepper

Place undiluted soup, oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, onion and garlic in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover and blend or process on high speed until pureed, about 2 minutes. Serve chilled. Store covered leftovers in refrigerator.

            I’ll be signing copies of my book Classic Restaurants of The Region at Miles Books. 2819 Jewett Avenue in Highland on Saturday, August 21st from 11:30-3pm. For more information, 219-838-8700.

               Hope to see you there.

Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family

          Melissa Shapiro could have said no when asked to foster a deaf, blind, and traumatized puppy. After all, Shapiro, a veterinarian with a busy practice already had six rescue dogs, a husband and three college-aged children in her home. She certainly didn’t have the time, energy, or room to take on a highly anxious  puppy who weighed less than two pound and whose pink color has earned him the name of Piglet.

         But Shapiro said yes to the dog. And though it initially wasn’t easy she and her family didn’t give up. She recounts Piglet’s transformation from a fearful and reclusive animal into a happy, confident pooch with his own Facebook page and Instagram account in her just released book, Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family.

         “I am a very routine oriented person,” says Shapiro who lives in Connecticut. “My other dogs happily integrate into my daily schedule which makes having so many relatively easy. When Piglet arrived, he literally turned things upside down. He had no idea where he was or what to expect, so he screamed and carried on for hours a day.”

         And so to help Piglet adapt, Shapiro adapted as well, changing her schedule to accommodate Piglet’s needs. It was tough at first and the family, though dedicated to doing what was best for Piglet, worried just how much attention and accommodation he would continue to need as he got older. But like the Beatle song, “All You Need is Love,” the Shapiros  found that Piglet quickly responded  to lots of hugs, a predictable daily schedule, and their friendly pack of rescued canines.

         “The other dogs were very accommodating to Piglet,” says Shapiro. “They learned to play with him  gently, and they brought him into their playtime, being careful to include him when he lost track of where they were.”

         In three months, his screams had subsided as he became more and more comfortable with his new life. Videos on Piglet’s You Tube Channel happily playing with dogs at least twice his size. And his endearing, sweet personality has made Piglet a rock star with a large social media reach including 256,000 Instagram and 181,000 Facebook followers.

         “My initial idea when adopting Piglet was to raise awareness for rescued dogs and specifically disabled dogs and other animals,” says Shapiro. “Piglet’s Facebook page and then Instagram account were effective platforms for increasing exposure and fundraising for rescue organizations. Our Piglet Mindset™ educational program began early on so we had a dual purpose for our social media accounts. As the educational outreach grew and expanded, followers were eager to support our work with donations. Creating our nonprofit organization, Piglet International Inc., was the next step in growing Piglet Mindset and continuing to educate and advocate for dogs with disabilities.”

         Like many stars, Piglet loves having an audience and laps up being the center of attention. Because he needs all that plus almost constant physical affection, the family takes him almost everywhere they go.

Though that can be somewhat limiting, Shapiro says she doesn’t mind.

“He is a happy little dog,” she says. “He brings joy to everything he does, and he has a way of making sure we all join him and pause for a smile. Piglet has turned out to be a sweet, happy, and inspiring little dog for people all around the world. I have absolutely no regrets. It’s a lot of fun to be his mom.”

To learn more about Piglet, Piglet Mindset™ educational outreach, visit PigletMindset.org. Follow Piglet on Facebook at Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy, and Instagram- @pinkpigletpuppy

Piglet Virtual Events

What: Join Piglet and Melissa Shapiro at upcoming Zoom events. The events are free. To register, visit www.pigletthedog.com and go to the events page.

Kill All Your Darlings: A New Mystery by David Bell

In David Bell’s newest mystery, “Kill All Your Darlings,” Connor Nye’s life is rapidly deteriorating. Indeed, the college professor, who is still mourning the death of his wife and son five years earlier, knows he might not make tenure unless he publishes something quick. Lost in grief, it’s an impossible task.

But fate seems to toss him a life line. Madeline, one of his best students, disappeared suddenly two years ago after spending the night drinking and chatting with Connor and other students at a local bar. Connor doesn’t remember much about how the night ended; he was too inebriated. But he does remember Madeline’s manuscript, an amazingly written thriller about a murder.

When Madeline doesn’t reappear and it seems more likely that Connor may lose his job, he submits her work as his own. It seems safe enough. No one has heard from her in two years, she didn’t use a computer to write her manuscript, and he is the only one with a copy.

After celebrating the book’s publication at a get-together where he’s showered with praise, and believing that his life is finally back on track, Connor arrives home to find he has an uninvited guest.

Madeline has returned and she wants Connor to pay for stealing her manuscript. He doesn’t have the money she wants; it’s already gone to pay bills.

To make matters worse, Madeline isn’t the only unexpected visitor at the Nye home.

A police detective arrives the next morning as Connor is on his way to class. She questions Connor about his book and how the descriptions of the murder match exactly with the facts police have been withholding. Now, Connor not only risks losing his job and his reputation, he also appears to be a suspect in an unsolved murder. He grapples with whether to tell the truth or not, and decides not to.

“The cover-up is always worse than crime,” says David Bell, a professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he directs the MFA program. “Politicians never learn that — a lot of people don’t.”

The phrase “kill all your darlings” most likely originated with Nobel Prize Laureate William Faulkner, who said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Or in other words, kill any characters, even the ones you love, that don’t move the story forward. The characters that do remain in Bell’s book include a licentious department head who preys on young, vulnerable female students. It’s a subject that Bell also explores in his book.

“Since the Me Too movement, though we’ve become aware of all these situations, it still happens,” he said, noting that what the existing power structures will do to keep these situations quiet is for the school’s sake not the students’.

David Bell virtual event

What: Parnassus Books will host author David Bell for a discussion of his book “Kill All Your Darlings,” with May Cobb, author of “The Hunting Wives.”

How to join in: Visit Parnassus Books Facebook page: www.facebook.com/parnassusbooks1/ and click on the Events page.

Cost: The event is free.

FYI: After the live talk has ended, a video will be archived on the Parnassus Books Facebook page under Videos and available for watching.

Mark Bittman: Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal

          Mark Bittman never does anything in a small way. His cookbooks typically run some 600 pages and have titles like “The Best Recipes in the World,” and his ten-book “How to Cook” series such as “How to Cook Everything Fast,” “How to Bake Everything” and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” They’re so pack full of recipes that just five of Bittman’s books take up a whole shelf in my bookcase.

          But Bittman’s latest book, “Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2021; $16,80 Amazon price) isn’t a doorstopper tome. It doesn’t even have recipes. But what it lacks in size—though it is over 300 pages–it more than makes up for as a call to arms about what’s wrong with our food system and how dangerous it is to both our health and also our planet.

          “Big Ag has a huge role in greenhouse gas emissions, even rivaling those of the oil and gas companies,” says Bittman talking about the impact of emissions on global warming. “The top five meat and dairy companies combine to produce more emissions than ExxonMobil, and the top twenty have a combined carbon footprint the size of Germany. Tyson Foods, the second-largest meat company in the world, produces twice as much greenhouse gas as all of Ireland.”

          Bittman, who recently founded The Bittman Project with the ultimate goal of creating a road map that leads us to a healthier food system, says he can envision a positive way for us to go forward. But first he explains how we got to where we are and how deadly it is.

          Junk food, born in America, has spread throughout the world and though Bittman, who has written 30 cookbooks, says he doesn’t typically like to use statistics, he offers some whoppers. Two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries where more people die of diseases linked to being overweight than ones linked to being underweight.

          “The global number of people living with diabetes had quadrupled since 1980, and since 1990 deaths from diabetes-caused chronic kidney disease have doubled,” he writes, adding that both global sugar consumption and obesity have nearly tripled in the past half-century.

          American fast food chains increased their international sales by 30% from 2011 to 2016 and the international fast-food market is expected to approach $700 billion dollars by 2022.     

          In all, it sounds depressing, particularly when you realize that as far back as the early 1900s,  Upton Sinclair, author of “The Jungle,” was also warning about our unhealthy food system.

          It’s essential,  says Bittman, that we have a just food system, one ensuring everyone has access to nourishing, wholesome, sustainable, and affordable food.

          He points to the President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the benefits it still provides us today including Social Security. We can do the same with food, he says.

          “Food needs to be grown in a way that’s sustainable and protects the land,” says Bittman. “And that the industries that involve food provide more dignified and well-paying jobs in food and farming.”

Watch Mark Bittman’s Book Event: “Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, From Sustainable To Suicidal” at https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/academics/departments/health-policy-and-management/news-and-events

Chicago Writer Takes Us Back to the Gilded Age in New Novel

Renee Rosen. Photo by Charles Osgood.

         Chicago author Renee Rosen is again taking us on a trip to the past. In her previous novels, she’s explored the city’s jazz roots (Windy City Blues), the Chicago Fire and the founding of the city’s iconic department stores (What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age), and Prohibition-era Chicago (Dollface). Now, in The Social Graces we meet two mega-wealthy women—Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor who starting in the 1870s vied to become the leader of high society.

         If that meant spending $10 million in today’s money to stage a ball at the Waldorf Hotel, so be it.

         “Think the original ‘Real Housewives of New York City’ but in Worth gowns,” says Rosen about the competition which in many ways also sounds like middle school. “They had plenty of balls such as the circus ball with a live elephant. Entertaining was the only arena where women could exert some influence. After all they had few rights, they couldn’t even vote, so they literally created this high society where they made the rules and determined who belonged and who didn’t.”

         At first Caroline Astor ruled New York and Newport, Rhode Island society. She was old money while Vanderbilt was one of the nouveau riche and after all, no matter how much new money you had it wasn’t as good as the old.

         “Mrs. Astor was the gate keeper, the reigning queen, she decided who was invited to her annual ball,” says Rosen, noting that only 400, the number her ball room could hold, were invited to this ball and thus they were deemed to be the elitist of the elite. “If you weren’t invited, you either left town or turned off all your lights and pretended you were out of town.”

         Determined to replace Caroline, Alva hosted her famous Masquerade Ball at her Fifth Avenue mansion, inviting  1200  though not Caroline who finally was able to get an invitation. It was so excessive, it helped catapult her to the top.

          Rosen didn’t want to just write about these women, she wanted to know them.

         “I admired both Caroline and Alva for several reasons and I disliked them for several reasons,” she says. “Alva certainly wouldn’t have been mother of the year.”

  And yes, it is true. Alva locked her daughter Consuelo in her room so she couldn’t marry the man she loved and instead forced her to wed the impoverished Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough. He in turned just wanted her vast fortune to restore his very outdated palace which didn’t even have central heating or hot water. The marriage, by the way, made Consuelo a relative of Winston Churchill and the yet-to-be-born Princess Diana.

         “Alva was such a trail blazer,” says Rosen. “This was a time when so many men had mistresses and women had to put up with it. But when Alva’s husband Willie K. started canoodling with other women, she put her foot down and divorced him. She became a suffragette. She wasn’t a licensed architect, but she knew all about building. There was something really vulnerable about Caroline. I  think she was very lonely. She was at the top of society but at some level she knew that none of it really mattered. There was a whole lot of wealth but very little substance.”

Renee Rosen Virtual Events

April 27 6PM CST / 7PM EST

A virtual evening at the Newport Mansions & the Newport Preservation Society

Hosted by An Unlikely Story. Register Here

April 29 12PM CST / 1PM EST Hosted by Bookends and Beginnings

Literary Lunch Break with Karen White. Register Here

May 5 4PM CST / 6PM EST A Special Virtual Gilded Age Event

Featuring Chanel Cleeton, Marie Benedict & Renee Rosen Hosted by InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel & Berkley Publishing. Signature cocktail recipe & special VIP raffle gift, courtesy of Pomp & Whimsy! General & VIP tickets Register Here

May 10 7PM CST / 8PM EST Hosted by Blue Willow Bookshop

In Conversation with Chanel Cleeton. Register Here

June 22 7PM CST Literature Lovers’ Night Out

Please check back for details & registration.

This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette

               “It’s amazing how women get lost in history,” says Stephanie Dray, the New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette.     “I want to tell their stories.”

At first, the story she was going to tell was that of  Beatrice Chanler, a success London actress with a troubled marriage  who received the Legion of Honor for her philanthropic service during World War.  But then Dray discovered a packet of love letters that were not between Chanler and her husband and she knew she would have to start all over.

               Ultimately, Dray would write the stories of two more women whose connection through the centuries was the French country chateau of the Marquis de La Fayette, one of the heroes of the American Revolution.  And each time, she would set that book aside as more details emerged.

               “Chateau is set in three time periods–during the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two,” says Dray whose previous books include “My Dear Hamilton,”

               In each period, there was an extraordinary woman who rose to the occasion. The first was Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. More than a spouse, she was her husband’s political partner and, like him, faced the danger of the guillotine during the  French Revolution. The third woman is Marthe Simone, a teacher and writer, who at first wanted to avoid any activities that could put her at risk from the Nazis during World War II but then becomes an active participant in helping hide Jewish children at the chateau.

            “She, like the other two women, deserved to have her own book,” says Dray. “But then I saw the importance of telling all their stories in one novel. I was a government major in college and then I went to law school, but I was really only a lawyer for ten minutes.  But I’ve always been interested in government as people, this story is about the rise of the republic and the continued survival of the public.”

            Writing about the Chateau Lafayette became so much a part of Dray’s every day living that when she saw the castle for the first time she was so nervous she had to have her husband hold the camera.

            “All the video I took is very shaky,” she says.

            Indeed, she becomes so immersed in her stories that when she was writing “America’s First Daughter,” she found herself speaking with a southern accent. That passion is evident in one of the take-aways she hopes readers get from reading The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

            “The Franco-American alliance saved this country three times over,” says Dray. “This book is relevant to those in powdered wigs and those today.”

Virtual event with Stephanie Dray.

When: April 3 at noon

What: Barbara’s Bookstore with Stephanie Dray in virtual conversation with Lauren Margolin “The Good Book Fairy” blogger.

To Register: https://barbarasbookstores.com/event/stephanie-dray/

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’

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

TMI: My Life in Scandal by Perez Hilton

The phone call from Perez Hilton came two days earlier than planned.

“He can do it now instead,” his assistant emailed me on Wednesday.

I was totally unprepared. Hilton’s autobiography, “TMI: My Life in Scandal” (Chicago Review Press) — the one we’re supposed to talk about — sat unread on my desk.

Thinking “right now” might mean I had a few minutes to speed read, I reached for it. The phone rang.

Perez.

“I love your book,” I said, just to start it off. That’s all it took.

“Thank you,” Hilton responded. “I was so afraid that people wouldn’t like it. There’s so much of me in it, I’m one of the most transparent and honest people there are. People like that, and they like nostalgia and that’s me, I’m a dinosaur.”

Jurassic throwbacks seem a little bit overdone. Hilton hit the scene 20 years ago, garnering almost instant attention with his blend of gossipy take on celebrity distilled through his blog, podcasts, personal appearances and general lifestyle. He didn’t just report of celebrities, he hung with them. If he didn’t like them or had a juicy story, he reported it. His blog quickly was dubbed the “most hated blog in the world,” though he garnered millions of followers.

But the more he talks about being a dinosaur, it starts to make sense. He was one of the first bloggers.

“I started in 2004,” he said. “There are 13-year-old kids who don’t know about blogging, they’re doing TikTok. There were names that were big that no one thinks about anymore. You may luck your way into celebrity, but you have to have perseverance to be a success. You have to learn to reinvent yourself. I reinvented by going into podcasts; I have two YouTube channels. I started Instagram way back in 2011 when it first came out. It’s about knowing when the next trend is coming, and I’ve always been good at that. I’ve outlasted a lot of the stars I wrote about.”

But Hilton is still worried. Sure, he’s constantly metamorphosing, but he’s learned some lessons and he wants to share a few with me, starting with how important it is to live below your means.

“I have three children, I have to save for their education, I have to take care of them,” he said. Does he know about that new purse I bought? I wonder, vowing to return it.

He also worries about the Kardashians. I should note that by this point, I realized Hilton doesn’t have a filter, which is one of the many characteristics that make him so delightful.

“People reach a tipping point,” he said, explaining why he’s concerned about these glamorous, fully-endowed women who seem to have the most beautiful jewelry, homes, children, clothes, husbands, ex-husbands and boyfriends and a fascinating jet-set lifestyle.

I know about the jet-setting because last year, when I was on Providenciales, one of the islands in the Turks and Caicos, we’d made reservations to have dinner at the Conch House, a beach joint where fisherman dive for conch right off the shore and the cooks turn the meat info fritters, stew and all sorts of conch delights. But then the restaurant called and canceled our reservations. Why? Well, the Kardashians had just flown in and wanted to eat there, and they didn’t want non-cool people around. Their evening was filmed for their show. I didn’t watch it. We went the following Kardashian-less night.

But Hilton knows about tipping points. He reached his own a while back and it taught him lessons even if the Kardaashians aren’t listening to his advice right now.

“Now I’m the cheapest person I know,” he said.

Born Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. and raised in Florida, he graduated from New York University, dabbled in acting and public relations but found career success in his ability to feed our celebrity fascination.

“I’m sharing stories in my new book,” he said, “because I want to make money.”

All the juicy escapades with and about stars that I read when I finally read his book are delightful, but they come at a price.

“I work 17 hours a day,” Hilton said. “I never rest. But that’s part of perseverance. The more you work, the more you notice the patterns and you can see how they’re coming together, and which ones will become trends. That’s how you know what the next thing is going to be.”

For your information

What: Perez Hilton Virtual Event

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 30

Cost: This is a ticketed event, and a purchase is required to attend. Anderson’s offers a variety of ticket options. Every book ticket will include a signed copy of “TMI: My Life in Scandal.” 

FYI: To obtain tickets for the Perez Hilton virtual event, visit http://www.andersonsbookshop.com/event/perez-hilton.&nbsp;

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