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

Author Catherine O’Connell in Chicago to Discuss Her Latest Books

          Northbrook native, mystery writer Catherine O’Connell who divides her time between Chicago and Aspen will be home this week and back to her old haunts including a book signing for her newest mystery, First Tracks, at Pippin’s Tavern when she managed the bar there in the 1980s.

          First Tracks, described by Booklist as “a compelling, Scandinavian noir–style thriller” that should appeal to readers of both Ruth Ware and Arnaldur Indridason, introduces a new character, Aspen ski patroller Greta Westerlind.

Caught in an avalanche, Westerlind wakes in the hospital with no memory of what happened. She’s even more surprised to discover that her close friend, Warren McGovern was with her when the avalanche swept them up. But McGovern didn’t make it. Not only doesn’t she know what happened, but Westerlind, who knows mountain safety, can’t understand why either of them were even in such a dangerous area.

          While trying to regain her memory of events, Westerlind begins to realize she’s in danger as more and more frightening incidents start happening to her. With her life in danger, Westerlind knows if she is to live, she needs to figure out who wants her dead.

          “It’s the first in the series about Greta,” says O’Connell, who when she isn’t writing mysteries sits on the board of Aspen Words, a literary center whose aim is to support writers and reach out to readers. It’s also the literary arm of the prestigious the Aspen Institute.

          O’Connell, who is a skier, says that when her new published asked if she could come up with a series not being done yet, she immediately suggested a ski patrol woman who was an amateur sleuth.

          “I chose ski patroller because they have more autonomy than instructors plus they have dynamite and morphine type drugs for injured skiers which gives me a couple of ideas for other books,” she says. “Aspen is the perfect setting for all kinds of stories with billionaires and locals, celebrities and developers, mountain climbers and ski racers, visiting politicians and world class musicians. All set in one of the most beautiful settings on the planet. So, this series is a gift to me that I’ll be able to write plots set in this world so familiar to me.”

          First Tracks isn’t the only book O’Connell will be talking about.

          Her mystery, The Last Night Out, begins with a bachelorette party that goes very wrong. Not only does Maggie Trueheart, who is the bride to be, wake up in bed with a really bad hangover, there’s a strange man in her bed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she gets more bad news when she learns that her best friend was murdered. As her wedding day draws closer, so does the police investigation. Of the five friends left from the party, at least one of them is lying and many have secrets to hide.

          Besides her book signings, O’Connell also be discussing her books on After Hours with Rick Kogan on Sunday, September 15 from 9 to 11 a.m. on WGN Radio.

          “It’s always great to be back in the city,” says O’Connell, who is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and is already at work on her next mystery.

For more about Catherine O’Connell

Ifyougo:

What: Catherine O’Connell has three Chicago area book events.

When & Where:

Sunday, September 15 at 2 p.m.

The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka, IL

Page to Published: Piercing the Literary Firewall. Talk and signing of First Tracks 

FYI: 847-446-8880; thebookstall.com

Tuesday, September 12, 4:30 to 6:00

Pippin’s Tavern, 806 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL

Signing of The Last Night Out 

FYI: 312-787-5435; pippinstavern.com/

Friday, Sept 20, 7 p.m.

Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison St. Forest Park, IL

Discussion and signing of The Last Night Out

FYI: 708-771-7243; centuriesandsleuths.com/

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

            It’s a dark world at times and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg feels compelled to make it just a little nicer through her novels. In her latest, Night of Miracles (Random House 2018; $26) she takes us back toMason, Missouri, an imaginary town where kindness reigns and there are happy endings.

Author Elizabeth Berg

            “I just needed to create a perfect place in my books since I couldn’t find one on planet Earth or at least a place where,though people have issues, they are nice to each other and treat each other with kindness,” says Berg whose voice on the phone when I call sounds as cheery as her popular books.  Night of Miracles is both a stand-alone novel as well as a sequel to her previous novel The Story of Arthur Truluv.

            “When I finished that book, I liked being in Mason so much that I felt the need to go back there,” says Berg, who is driven by her imagination to write stories and whose plots often derive from just one brief vision or illusory thought. The character of Arthur developed because  of an image she had of an old man sitting on a lawn chair in a cemetery eating lunch by the grave of his wife.

            “I wanted to know who this man was and what his life was like,” says Berg. “I felt he had something to teach me and I was right.”

            Then it was Lucille’s turn to inspire. A cantankerous character who played a prominent role in The Story of Arthur Truluv, she returns again in Night of Miracles  following a glimpse Berg had showing Lucille washing dishes while looking out her kitchen window and seeing stars.Interestingly, Lucille is a stellar baker and while Berg says she doesn’t live up to that standard she does make a mean pie using a crust recipe she garnered a long time ago listening to “The Phil Donahue Show.” As for Mason, she’s returned to it once more, she’s just finishing her third book in the series,  The Confession Club.  Berg thinks of her writing as inspirational.

            “One of the things that I hope formy reader is that if your definition of what a miracle is can expand into ordinary life, you’ll see miracles everywhere,” she says. “When I see a cardinal, I gasp in wonder. It’s not that I want people to turn away from the problems of the world as we have a lot of work to do, but I want them to see a good side of life as well.”

            Pausing, she then continues with a slight laugh, saying “call me the schmaltz queen, but these times, for me, call for something like that.”

Ifyougo:

What: Elizabeth Berg will be doing several reading and signings in the Chicago area:

Thursday, November 29th at 12:00 noon, University Club luncheon, 76 E. Monroe,Chicago, IL . Cost is $25. Call The Book Stall to make a reservation. 847-446-8880.

Thursday, November 29th at 6:30 p.m.,  Book Stall, 811 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL. 847-446-8880.

Monday, December 3rd at 7 p.m.,  Frankfort Public Library, 21119 S. Pfeiffer Rd., Frankfort, IL. 815-534-6173.

Wednesday, December 5 at 7 p.m., Women And Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL. 773-769-9299

Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place

When David McAninch first moved to Plaisance du Gers, a small village in Gascony, with his wife Michele and their young daughter, Charlotte, he was going full-force Francophile by indulging a dream he’d nourished for years—to become part of French village life, a move he chronicles in Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place (Harper 2017; $28.99). McAninch had lived in Paris and the South of France at various times in his life, but Gascony with its traditions centered around what was grown on the land or made locally, was in some ways like place time had overlooked. The nearest McDonald’s was in Toulouse, a two-hour drive away, very little processed food was available and tourists seldom seemed to find their way to this part of Southwestern France.

McAninch, an editor at Chicago magazine, had first discovered Gascony when researching a story on duck and was determined to return for a much longer stay. Getting an assignment, he started researching and was surprised to find how little was written about Gascony. Unlike other regions of France, there were few cookbooks and even fewer less restaurants focusing on Gascony cuisines. His bible became Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine.

 He became captivated with the old fashioned farmhouse practices of making the foods that define Gascony such as Armagnac (and please don’t call it Cognac in front of a Gascon)–a rich brandy made from a blend of white wine grapes. Among other regional specialties are Madiran, a blackish, tannic red wine and Pacherenc, the local white, dry cured ham and confit—where duck is first salted and then cooked in its own fat which then acts as a preservation method.

Of course, when living in Gascony, it helps to love duck which is always on the menu. At first Michele McAninch isn’t sure about this 24/7 duck thing but her husband says within two months she was eating skewers of grilled duck hearts and he realized Gascony had won her heart—and her stomach as well. Obviously they know how to cook duck in Gascony.

But then, when reading McAninch’s sweet and humorous memoir of the eight months the family spent there, it becomes apparent that the Gascons take their cooking very seriously indeed.

“Every meal is special,” says McAninch. “The cuisine of this corner of Southwestern France is very focused on having three wonderful meals a day—usually with wine at lunch and dinner, but not too much so.”

The family brought a little Gascony back with them as well.

“On the weekends I make garbure, the classic peasant soup,” says McAninch. “It’s a beautifully simple dish and it really embodies the food of this region.”

They also relish a small slice of quiet time each evening, where for just 15 minutes or so, David and Michele sip a glass of wine (though it’s hard to find Madiran says McAninch) and Charlotte enjoys her sparkling water in a fancy glass. For those moments it’s almost like being in Gers again.

Ifyougo:

What: David McAninch is doing several book events.

Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30pm he’ll be at Froggy’s French Café, 306 Greenbay Road, Highwood, IL. Tickets are $45 for dinner. To register, call 847-234-4420.

Thursday, March 16th at 7pm at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. Free.

(773) 293-2665.

Tuesday, March 21 at 12:00pm, University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL. For reservations, call The Book Stall at 847-446-8880.

My Journey from Shame to Strength: A Memoir by Liz Pryor

Bundled into a car during a winter storm, 17-year-old Liz Pryor left her home in Winnetka with her mother to what she thought was a Catholic home for pregnant teenagers. Instead, Pryor found herself in a locked government-run facility filled with impoverished delinquent girls whose experiences and backgrounds were totally different than hers.PRYOR AUTHOR PHOTO_(c) Susan Sheridan Photography_Fotor

Over the years, Pryor, who went on to become an author, speaker, parenting columnist and life advice expert, appearing on Good Morning America, never talked about her time in confinement. She had promised her mother to keep it a secret.

“Before she passed, I asked her how she would feel if I wrote my story and she said I should do what I want, adding ‘look at you now,’” recalls Pryor who chose to write about her experiences in latest book, (Random House 2016; $28).

“Emotionally it was cathartic for me to write this book, it was incredibly cool to see myself then and now,” says Pryor who didn’t talk about what happened for 36 years. “None of my friends or family knew my story and I thought it was important to share it with my children particularly as I was pretty much the same age as they are now.”

Pryor sees her book as a coming of age story as well as a way of learning to understand the limitations of those we love.

“My mom really thought she was doing the best thing for me by sending me there, she thought otherwise my life would be ruined,” says Pryor. “Those months really changed my outlook. Many of the girls I met started so far behind the starting line.”

Look at you now coverIndeed, the comparison between her lifestyle and those in the detention facility were totally different. Pryor was from wealthy suburb, a background unfathomable to the girls she found herself living with—many of whom came from foster homes or were homeless and had lived on the streets. Pryor had become pregnant during a long term relationship with her boyfriend. Others had been raped and sexually abused. Feeling abandoned by her parents (her mom visited twice, her father once—family and friends were told she was ill and at the Mayo Clinic), Pryor learned to forge friendships with the other women who were locked up with her.

“I think that facing real adversity, if you can make it through, makes you stronger,” she says. “I think what I went through gave me the scrappiness and confidence to do what I’ve done.”

Ifyougo:

What: Liz Pryor talk and book signing

When & Where: Wednesday, July 13 at 7pm, The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago; July 14 at 6:30 pm on July 14, The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka.

%d bloggers like this: