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Shelf Life: Local author brings to life the deep history of Chicago's neigborhoods

Shelf Life: Local author brings to life the deep history of Chicago's neigborhoods

As a fifth generation Chicagoan with roots in the city’s political world as well as long-time newspaperman who grew up or spent time in such neighborhoods as Ravenswood, Lake View, Uptown and Edgewater, Patrick Butler always knew that at some time in his life he would explore the what he terms "a kind of curio shop of people and places that time forgot."

“Many of the stories I heard growing up in the neighborhoods,” said Butler, a natural born storyteller and author of both "Hidden History of Uptown and Edgewater" and "Hidden History of Ravenswood and Lakeview" both published by History Press. “Some I reported on and some I discovered as I was researching other stories.”

Illustrated with vivid black and white vintage photos, Butler takes us deep into the neighborhoods, telling us stories of the denizens of these streets and the buildings out of which they operated.

A favorite he says is Sunnyside, which began first as a stage coach stop and then a resort where the likes of Abraham Lincoln could relax and discuss politics. But by the 1860s, under the ownership of Cap Hyman, a Chicago gangster who liked to wave his gun around and wasn’t averse to shooting it either, and his wife Annie Stafford, known as the fattest brothel keeper in Chicago.

“They called her Gentle Annie,” said Butler noting the term was sarcastic because Annie carried a bullwhip which she used to keep the girls and their customers in line.

“If there's any place in Chicago that's been all things to all men, it has to be the corner of the city that is occupied by Edgewater and Uptown,” writes Butler in the Introduction to the Hidden History of Uptown and Edgewater. “Babe Ruth and Mahatma Gandhi found a place of refuge at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, but the locale has also been a sanctuary for Appalachian coal miners and Japanese Americans released from internment camps.”

Al Capone makes an appearance here as well, reportedly moving booze via underground tunnels (there really are tunnels and it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine Al using them) including one connecting the Aragon Ballroom and the Green Mill which now is an upscale cocktail lounge with live jazz and blues. The tunnels are now used for storage, but the booth at the Green Mill where Al and his gang used to hang out still remains.

Butler’s raconteur style makes it even more of a pleasure to read about this slice of Chicago history.

March 17, 2014 9:00 am

Shelf Life: Joanne Fluke cooks up another sweet murder mystery in latest series

Shelf Life: Joanne Fluke cooks up another sweet murder mystery in latest series

With a father who was an undertaker and an early hankering to bake, it’s no wonder that Joanne Fluke fits in nicely with my latest reading craze—culinary sleuths.

Fluke writes the Hannah Swensen Mystery with Recipe series and in her latest, "Blackberry Pie Murder" (Kensington Press 2014; $25), Hannah finds herself suspected of running over a man during a thunderstorm.

But it soon turns out he was murdered by someone else and the biggest clue are the blackberry stains on his clothing. So now Hannah, who caters and owns a bakery and café in the tiny town of Lake Eden, Minn. needs to find not only someone who bakes blackberry pies but also has a penchant for murder.

“Stressed is desserts spelled backwards, so eat dessert first!,” Fluke told me when we chatted on the phone about her latest book which features 22 recipes including Treasure Chest Cookies, Elsa’s Buttermilk Pie, Caramallow Bar Cookies and, naturally, Fresh Blackberry Pie.

She’s a mystery writer so into baking that Fluke, author of "The Red Velvet Cake Murders" and "Carrot Cake Murders", creates many of her own recipes (which she tests at least three times) and has, so far, made more than 500,000 chocolate chip cookies for her readers.

“Some of my recipes are old family recipes as well,” said Fluke whose “gammy” (grandmother) came to this country around the age of 14 or so and worked as a pie girl and worked with the pastry chef in the kitchen of a very wealthy family in Northern Minnesota. “But she didn’t write down any of the recipes, she just remembered them. We’d say gammy how do you know how much to use and she’s say you just know. My mother and I would watch her bake, I’d be there with a notebook and pen and my mother with measuring spoons and cups and when gammy reached into the flour barrel and pulled out a handful, my mom is the one would hold the measuring cup underneath and then call out to me, it’s one quarter cup so I could write down all of our favorites. One recipe that we didn’t get is for her jelly roll.”

Fluke was one of the first of what now seems like many in the genre of culinary mystery writers. It came about she says because she always wanted to write a cookbook and so when her editor at Kensington asked if she’d like to write a cozy mystery series, she asked if she could include recipes and he said yes. Now, her books are so popular that readers host baking parties based upon her books.

“People who want to do a party just need to contact my publisher,” said Fluke. “And they’ll send a basket with napkins, excerpts from my book, a hard copy of the latest mystery and a release of the newest paperback as well as other goodies including a gift certificate for groceries. I get so many fun photos of people at these parties.”

Fluke has outlined her next book, "Double Fudge Murder" and when she’s done with her book tour will get to work writing it. She’s looking for recipes so if you have one, contact her on her website joannefluke.com

The following recipes are from the Hannah Swensen mystery series:

Ooey Gooey Chewy Cookie Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, rack in the middle position

For the Crust:

1⁄2 cup white (granulated) sugar

3⁄4 cup flour (not sifted)

1⁄3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 stick melted butter (1⁄4 cup–1⁄8 pound)

For the Filling:

2 cups milk chocolate chips like Ghirardelli’s

3 cups miniature marshmallows (pack them down in the cup)

11⁄2 cups flaked coconut (pack it down when you measure it)

1 cup chopped nuts

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Mix the sugar, flour, cocoa and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Drizzle the melted butter over the top of the bowl and mix it in with a fork. When the butter is incorporated, the mixture should resemble small beads.

Spray a 9 inch by 13 inch cake pan with a nonstick cooking spray and dump the crust mixture in the bottom. Gently shake the pan to distribute evenly and then press it down a bit with a metal spatula. Sprinkle the chips evenly over the crust layer. Sprinkle the marshmallows over that. Sprinkle the flaked coconut on next and then sprinkle on the chopped nuts. Press it down again with the metal spatula. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top.

Bake the bars at 350 degrees. F. for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bars are nicely browned.

Red Velvet Cookies

2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

1/2 cup butter, brought to room temperature

2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1 tablespoon red food coloring

3/4 cup sour cream

2 cups flour, packed down into the cup when measured

1 (6 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the frosting

1/4 cup softened butter

4 ounces softened cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375˚ F rack in the middle position.

Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray.

Unwrap the squares of chocolate and break them apart. Put them in a small microwave-safe bowl. Melt them for 90 seconds on HIGH. Stir them until they're smooth and set them aside to cool while you mix up the cookie dough.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat them on medium speed until they're smooth. This should take less than a minute.

Shut off the mixer and scrape down the bowl again. At low speed, mix in half of the flour. When the flour is incorporated, add the sour cream and mix it inches.

Scrape down the bowl again and add the rest of the flour. Beat until the flour is fully incorporated.

Mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Use a teaspoon to spoon the dough onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets. If the dough is too sticky to work with, chill it for a half-hour or so and try again.

Bake the cookies at 375 degrees F for 9 to 11 minutes, or until they rise and become firm.

Slide the parchment from the cookie sheets and onto a wire rack. Let the cookies cool on the rack while the next batch is baking. When the next sheet of cookies is ready, pull the cooled cookies onto the counter or table and slide the parchment paper with the hot cookies onto the rack. Keep alternating until all the dough has been baked.

When all the cookies are cool, peel them off the parchment paper and put them on waxed paper for frosting.

For the frosting:

Mix the softened butter with the softened cream cheese and the vanilla until the mixture is smooth. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature.

Add the powdered sugar in half-cup increments until the frosting is of proper spreading consistency.

March 09, 2014 9:00 am Photos

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Shelf Life: Actress Jennie Garth releases memoir about lessons learned and looking ahead

Shelf Life: Actress Jennie Garth releases memoir about lessons learned and looking ahead

“I’m putting it all on the table,” Jennie Garth tells me as she’s heading for the airport about to catch a flight to Chicago.

Garth, the knockout blond on the hit TV series "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "What I Like About You", is talking about her just released memoir "Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde" (NAL 2014).

“It’s an introspective look at my life so far, starting with my childhood and how I stumbled into TV stardom,” says Garth who is on a mega book tour before starting a new TV series. “It was a way for me to go back and look at things, look at the choices I made and what I found out about myself. It helped me see how the decisions I made impacted my life and what my part was in some of what has happened to me and how it’s molded me into the person I am today.”

In sorting through her life up until now (Garth is 41), she takes us through painful moments. She experienced severe anxiety as her fame grew to the point where she often waited until dark to go out and simple tasks like grocery shopping, going to the mall and getting gas were almost too much for her to bear.

"I wouldn't say that I ever stepped over the line into full-blown agoraphobia,” says Garth, “but I would say I definitely came close."

She also recounts her rivalry with “90210” co-star Shannen Doherty.

“One of the great ‘90210’ legends is that Shannen and I actually came to blows one time,” Garth recounts in her book describing the two of them like gasoline and a match. “I will tell you that this never happened—although we did come very, very close."

And, of course for any People magazine followers, there was the painful split—instigated by him—from hubby Peter Facinelli after two decades of marriage, rebuilding her life and learning how to balance her career and being a single mom with three daughters.

Garth would like readers to take a look at themselves. For her, writing was cathartic and has helped her on move forward. She finds happiness in many places—work, friends, philanthropy and even simple family chores like getting her girls to all their activities.

"We just have fun anywhere we go as long as we're together,” says Garth. “We rock when we’re driving and talking. It's a lot of energy going on, a lot of feminine energy."

When asked if she has any plans to write another book, Garth says she’s too busy right now.

“After the book tour, I’m beginning the new sitcom,” she says, talking about the half-hour comedy for ABC Family. "Mystery Girls" with another “90210” alum and close friend—Tori Spelling—which begins shooting later this month. “And I’m starting a production company as well so I’ll be doing other creative things.”

March 06, 2014 9:00 am

Shelf Life: Bosnian author recounts his experience with genocide and his return to Bosnia in new memoir

Shelf Life: Bosnian author recounts his experience with genocide and his return to Bosnia in new memoir

Kenan Trebinčević thought wars were only fought between foreign countries; the way he saw Americans battle the Germans in such World War II movies like “Battle of the Bulge” and “Bridge Over River Kwai” with his dad.

But when he turned 12, the political unrest that had roiled Yugoslavia since the country became divided into factions in the early 1990s, descended upon the quiet Bosnian town of Brćko where he and his family lived.

“My family wasn’t very religious, and I’d barely noticed ethnic differences between my classmates,” said Trebinčević who is Muslim. “Balkanites all looked alike to me. I never imagined that our Serb neighbors and family friends would point guns at us and suddenly want us dead.”

That reality was brought home in a harsh and traumatic way when Trebinčević’s karate coach came to the door of their home holding an AK-47 and shouting they had one hour to leave or be killed. It was just one of many threats the family received from their Christian Serb neighbors and classmates.

“My father was too naïve to believe that his own countrymen would throw him in a concentration camp,” said Trebinčević who recounts not only his experiences during what is considered one of the worst genocidal conflicts in recent history but the surviving family members’ visit to Bosnia after years of living and prospering in the U.S. in his book "The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return" with Susan Shapiro (Penguin $16). “It still seems surreal when I think about it, like a nightmare I expect to wake up from."

Trebinčević and his brother, Eldin, took their widowed father back to Brćko because he wanted to reconnect with family, friends as well as visit the cemeteries where loved ones lay to pay his respects. But Trebinčević, a physical therapist in Greenwich Village and writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and the online magazine Salon, had a more bitter reason to return—revenge. He had his list and number one on that was Petra, their next door neighbor who outrageously came to their home, taking their possessions from them. One time Petra even said to his mother, “You might as well give me that skirt, you won’t be needing it much longer.”

“When I saw her again, I realized she was an older, frail 65 year old lady, and I was stronger and more powerful than she was,” said Trebinčević. “She was scared when I looked her in the eye and said, ‘Nobody has forgotten.’”

February 23, 2014 10:00 am Photos

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Artists and Suffragettes: Inside Sharon Biggs Waller's 'A Mad, Wicked Folly'

Artists and Suffragettes: Inside Sharon Biggs Waller's 'A Mad, Wicked Folly'

Sharon Biggs Waller lives in the modern world, but she can relate to the past.

In her debut novel, historical fiction work A Mad, Wicked Folly, she tells the story of a budding suffragette in the tumultuous era of Edwardian London.

“I’ve always loved stories about girls that embrace their uniqueness and have the courage to step out on their own, regardless of societal constraints,” she says. “I’ve been fascinated by suffragettes ever since I saw the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon Sufferin’ ‘Till Suffrage in the 70s.”

Though Sharon’s life is far removed from the suffragettes in London in the early 20th century—she lives on an organic farm in LaPorte County with her husband—she has done a lot of thinking about the era, especially while living in London.

“When I lived in England I used to walk by the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the mother of suffrage in England, and I’d think about what life was like for women and teenage girls during the suffrage movement,” she says.

“What you if you wanted to be something other than a wife and then be told you couldn’t because you were a girl? What if you went ahead and did it anyway? What would the challenges be?

“And then Victoria Darling’s story started to take shape.”

Protagonist Victoria Darling’s greatest dream is to become an artist. Despite disapproval of her parents and her peers, she will stop at nothing to practice and improve on her talents for drawing. After being expelled from finishing school for posing nude for an illicit art class, she returns to London where her parents have arranged a marriage for her. Needless to say, Vicky isn’t too impressed with the idea.

“Vicky’s parents really cling to old values, as many upper middle class people did,” Sharon says. “They worked hard to climb the social ladder and they weren’t about to let things change. The middle and lower classes were actually more progressive in their thinking, and when Vicky starts moving in a different world, she sees new opportunities and a new way of life.”

So she joins up with a group of militant suffragettes, campaigning for women’s right to vote. She becomes a famous propaganda artist promoting the issue of women’s rights, and eventually is arrested, when she meets a handsome and enigmatic police officer whom she can’t wait to draw.

Although the Edwardian era is very popular for entertainment in 2014 – television shows such as Downton Abbey and the revival of Upstairs Downstairs come to mind – Sharon’s book was written before the surge of attention was given to the time period.

“It’s such a buttoned-up world, but yet so many things were changing,” she says. “There was so much drama in the Edwardian era, because people aren’t meant to stay rigid and unchanging. People will always push against restraints and dare to dream, that’s just human nature. And it’s fun to watch it all unfold in those gorgeous costumes!”

Sharon sees a part of herself in Vicky’s exploits, she says.

“I wanted a horse so badly, but my parents could only afford to send me to horse camp once a year and pay for a few lessons. So one summer when I was 14, I started calling people who had horses for sale. I figured if they were selling their horses then they probably didn’t have enough time to work with them. I ended up finding a farm in Chesterton and I helped the owner with her horses for a few years.

“So like Vicky, I didn’t let obstacles get in my way. It also took me 17 years to find an agent for my novels. I promised myself I wouldn’t give up when I first started writing, and I think Vicky is similar in that regard. I can’t see her ever giving up.”

And what about the romance aspect? Vicky’s suitors are twofold—handsome police officer Will, and arranged prospective husband Edmund.

“Vicky and Will’s relationship was the easiest part to write, actually. I like writing characters that seem to have nothing in common in the beginning but are really well-matched because of what’s in their heart,” she says.

But Edmund isn’t your typical romance novel “bad boyfriend.”

“I think we all get into relationships that are convenient and comfortable but that aren’t good for us…I wanted to show that kind of relationship without making Edmund seem like a cad. He’s more this frat boy out to have some fun, and Vicky is so earnest.”

Although many historical fiction stories leave much to be desired in the historical accuracy department, A Mad, Wicked Folly gives the reader an authentic glimpse into life at the turn of the century.

“I think just about every paragraph in the book had some research behind it,” Sharon says. “There’s so much to know, from how people talked, traveled, dressed, ate. And then there was the suffrage movement and the art. I worked with the curator of Women’s suffrage at the Museum of London and I interviewed several experts on suffrage and on art. I purchased over 30 books pertaining to women’s suffrage, art, drawing, food, fashion, and daily life of the Edwardian era.”

February 18, 2014 3:00 pm Photos

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Shelf Life: Chicago author goes into gory detail of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in historical novel

Shelf Life: Chicago author goes into gory detail of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in historical novel

To scenes of speakeasies, girls in cloche hats wearing pearls and bootlegging and the staccato sounds of rat-a-tat-tat, Renee Rosen takes us into Jazz Age Chicago and the 85th anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in her latest book "Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties" (New American Library $15).

But unlike most stories of this era, Rosen doesn’t dwell on the men who ran the warring factions but on their gun molls—the gangland sweeties who up until now usually stayed in the shadows, as she tells the story of Vera Abramowitz, an 18-year-old who recently left home to work in Chicago. Determined not to lead the desperately gritty life of her mother, Vera is first hired as a “typewriter,” the name given to women who spend their days typing. But an evening modeling job where she gets dolled up, dressing in elegant gowns to showcase jewelry, is the first step to the glamorous wealthy life she so desires.

She snags two wealthy suitors but both are mobsters and what’s worse for her, they belong to rival mobs—Bugs Moran’s North Side Irish and the South Side Italian gang run by Al Capone.

“It was the time of the Chicago Beer Wars,” said Rosen, a Chicago resident who spent 10 years immersing herself in both the big and small events of the era including such minutiae as how much a gallon of gas cost and price of a loaf of bread.

Named one of the “best historical novels of 2013” by the Historical Novel Society, Rosen’s descriptive fast paced novel hurls us towards the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre where the rivalry between the two mob factions ends in a blood bath in an unheated brick garage at 2122 N. Clark Street. Though Moran wasn’t among the seven murdered in a barrage of more than 90 bullets (Capone wasn’t at the scene either, he was conveniently vacationing in Florida), with the loss of his gang, he no longer could vie with Capone for control of Chicago.

“Only Capone kills like that,” said one gangland observer at the time.

Despite the ultra-violence of the time, Rosen also emphasizes what made Chicago and the Roaring ‘20s who met with Capone’s grandniece as part of her research.

“The 20s were such a magical time,” she said. “It was very violent too, but it was also a great time for women. I think of it as the first sexual revolution in that women could finally vote, they could smoke, drink, go out on their own, have jobs and weren’t confined by long skirts as they were in previous generations.”

As for gun molls, we only see them peripherally in the literature and movies of that time. Who knows the name of the actress James Cagney smashed in the face with a grapefruit in The Public Enemy (May Clarke) or the seductive mobster’s sister in the original Scarface (Ann Dvorak)? The one we most likely are to remember is Myrna Loy in Manhattan Melodrama as she goes from gun moll of Blackie, a gangster played by Clark Gable to the wife of the upright William Powell who went on to become governor in the film.

"It’s good to be able to tell their story,” said Rosen.

For more about Dollface, visit reneerosen.com

February 16, 2014 10:00 am Photos

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Shelf Life: Authors seek to inform and protect readers from cyber crime

Shelf Life: Authors seek to inform and protect readers from cyber crime

A decade ago, says Allan Friedman, co-author of "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know" (Oxford University 2014; $16.95) with P.W. Singer, cyberspace was, for most of us, a science fiction like term used by scientists as way to describe the emerging network of computers linking a few university labs. Today, our entire modern way of life, from communication to commerce to conflict, fundamentally depends on the Internet.

Almost every day there seems to be a news story whether it’s about NSA sorting through trillions of our data looking for potential terrorist threats while at the same time diving into our privacy, our personal information being hacked from the computers of stores like Target and Nordstrom or attacks on the U.S. data banks by foreign entities that imperils us at some level or another. That’s why, says Friedman, he and Singer wrote this book.

“It’s not technical,” says Friedman, a visiting Scholar at the Cyber Security Policy Research Institute at George Washington University’s Computer Science Department whose research focuses on information security, cybersecurity policy and privacy issues. “It’s really designed for the lay person. There are very few policy areas that have become so important so quickly. There is perhaps no issue that has grown so important, so quickly, and that touches so many, that remains so poorly understood.”

The book, divided into three parts—how it works, why it matters and what we can do about it, won kudos from Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google who described it “as an essential read” and Admiral James Stavridis, US Navy (Ret), former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, as “the most approachable and readable book ever written on the cyber world.”

If it all sounds overwhelming, Friedman says take a deep breath and offers ways we can protect ourselves.

A definite must is to make sure that the password you use for your email account is different than any other password you use.

“You can write down passwords,” he says, negating the somewhat spurious advice we all get not to do so—an almost impossible task since we all have so many. “It’s better to have a good password and write it down than a simple one that you can remember without writing it.”

February 03, 2014 2:00 pm Photos

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Shelf Life: Sibling rivalry between sisters takes form in local author's new book

Shelf Life: Sibling rivalry between sisters takes form in local author's new book

Broke and about to be evicted from a crummy apartment, Jen Lancaster, a former executive in Chicago who thought she’d had it all, took to writing. Her first novel "Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office", showcased her “snarky” humor and ability to laugh at just about anything including how a haughty former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to zilch. It was a chronicle based upon what she was going through and readers loved it.

In her latest novel, "Twisted Sisters" (NAL 2014; $25.95), Lancaster, who doesn’t have a sister tells the story of Reagan Bishop, a licensed psychologist and star of the Wendy Winsberg (think Oprah) cable show "I Need a Push" is able to help others overcome obstacles and change their behaviors for the better. Reagan, despite her overwhelming professional success, never seems to earn her family’s respect, and she vies with her younger sister Geri (“a cosmetologist,” Reagan sniffs while noting her long list of achievements) who she considers her parents’ favorite.

But when the show is bought by a national network and the format is redone, Reagan is desperate to make it work and goes to a New Age healer for advice.

“For 'Here I Go Again', it was about high school mean girls, time travel and Whitesnake,” said Lancaster in summing up her latest book by comparing it to another novel she wrote. “This one is about sister rivalry, body swapping and reality TV.”

In keeping with body swapping, Lancaster’s book tour launches with a Champagne toast and a movie screening of Freaky Friday. She will be signing copies of her book before and after the movie.

“The good one with Jody Foster and not the one with Lindsay Lohan,” she said.

Asked about her ability to make others laugh, Lancaster said she always had the ability to make herself laugh.

“In my 20s, I was really cute and you didn’t have to be funny when you’re in cute in college,” said Lancaster, who lives in Lake Forest. “When I got to my 30s, I realized I had to be interesting as the 'cuteship' had sailed.”

February 02, 2014 8:00 am Photos

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Murder, mayhem and mystery in Lake County: Kentucky author investigates Indiana crime in new book

Murder, mayhem and mystery in Lake County: Kentucky author investigates Indiana crime in new book

As a history buff raised in Northwest Indiana, I simply couldn’t resist the title of Kevin McQueen’s latest book "Murder and Mayhem in Indiana" (The History Press 2014; $16.95).

McQueen, an instructor in the Department of English and Theater at Eastern Kentucky University, has written other books for The History Press including "Strange Tales of Crime and Murder in Southern Indiana" and "Forgotten Tales of Indiana," but this time he focuses on the entire state telling the tales of 17 homicides that took place from the late 1800s to the 1930s. Three of these occurred in Lake County.

“All three strike me as particularly interesting,” McQueen told me when I asked him why he chose these particular cases, “but for very different reasons. One is the case of a Hammond woman who was accused by her husband of murdering their twin babies in 1921. The unexpected ending to her trial can only be described as real-life humor at its most twisted. By contrast, another case, the murder of Arlene Draves by her ex-high school football player boyfriend in Gary in 1930, is nothing but sheer tragedy from start to finish. The third, the shooting of Rev. Kayser in Gary in 1915, is a baffling unsolved mystery made even stranger by the fact that he may well have been a spy for Germany in World War One.”

Though the Draves case continues to garner interest, even a “crimie” like me hadn’t heard of the other two. So how does McQueen, born in Richmond, Ky. with a B.A. in English from Berea College and an M.A. in English from Eastern Kentucky University, know so much about Hoosier crimes?

“For about a decade, I have spent time going through the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper on microfilm, one issue at a time, taking notes on stories that sound interesting enough to research further and write about,” he said. “The most intriguing ones seem to be unsolved ones with multiple possible solutions, or ones that say something about human nature. Sometimes you’ll even find one that lends itself to a dark sort of humor. One good result of combing through old newspapers is that you find forgotten stories that have rarely been written about before.”

Interestingly, McQueen, on his Website mcqueenstories.com, describes how a psychologist diagnosed him as having Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of high functioning autism.

“I have a hard time reading other people’s emotions based on non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions,” he wrote. “I tend to be socially inept (though not always). I am not an unsociable misanthrope, but have a large number of acquaintances and few very close friends. It goes without saying that I tend to avoid the dating scene. I usually have great difficulty making small talk with strangers—or even friends, especially if I haven‘t seen them in a while. One of the dead giveaways that I am slightly autistic is my problem maintaining eye contact with people when conversing. No doubt it has led many people to think I’m a shifty-eyed liar.”

When I asked to interview him, he suggested that we email as he tended to be more be more articulate on paper than in person. And so that’s how we communicated.

When I asked McQueen why he became interested in Indiana crimes—his other books, all of which cover history, biography, historical true crime, natural disasters, folklore and ghost lore, take place in Kentucky or further south.

“Indiana has a very rich history,” he wrote. “And that includes darker subjects as well as more socially positive ones. I have written about many topics, but murder is especially interesting because it shows people at their very worst, and often their stupidest, behavior. I choose historical crimes rather than contemporary ones because there is less chance of upsetting the families of killers and victims.”

Murder and Mayhem in Indiana is available in bookstores and online through amazon.com; barnesandnoble.com and thehistorypress.com. It’s also available in ebook.

January 29, 2014 7:30 am Photos

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History of Hobart told through pictures

History of Hobart told through pictures

When Sergio Mendoza became Hobart’s city planner in 2003, he wanted to find out as much about the city as he could.

He found a series of books by Arcadia Publishing featuring different communities, but nothing about Hobart.

Tiffany Tolbert, director of Indiana Landmarks’ Northwest Field Office, suggested he be the one to write that book.

So he did, and this month, “Hobart,” which covers the city’s history from 1847-2007 and includes more than 200 historic images, was published by Arcadia as part of its “Images of America” series.

It will be available online through amazon.com and will be available in a variety of bookstores and other independent retailers. 

A book-launching event will be Feb. 18 from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the Marian Reiner Center, 705 E. Fourth Street, Hobart. 

Proceeds from the book will go to the Hobart Historical Society and the City of Hobart Preservation Commission. 

“I think it’s important for humanity to learn about our past because it helps us shape our future, and if I can support these two organizations, I will,” he said. “The book royalties may not be much since it’s a niche product which will probably saturate the target market, but hopefully it will help these two organizations to do something they feel will help their cause.”

Although he had thought about the book off and on for several years, Mendoza didn’t contact the publishing company about the book until 2012. He spent the first half of last year working on the book.

Although the Hobart Historical Society had much research and printed material on Hobart history, none of the manuscripts covered the city’s history in chronological format over a 160-year period.

He wanted to include photos that told a story about the city’s history.

“I looked for photos that could tell a story just by looking at them, or photos which had plenty of information and would fit within a chronological format,” he said. 

Over the course of his research, Mendoza said he learned how innovative the city had always been, from the way they recorded early plants to the passion people had for advancing the community.

“Just by reading the old newspapers, you get a sense of the fortitude early settlers had to have and the celebrations they held over the years to form a community,” he said. “Some of the stories are inspiring and others are sad. You read about early residents and the families for years in the paper, and then you come across how they died, (and) it makes me sad.”

Mendoza said he hopes the book inspires people with some of the city’s amazing stories.

“It’s not just one person or event that made the community what it is today,” he said. “I hope people understand that it’s the innovative thoughts, risk and passion from previous generations that make Hobart today a desired community to be a part of. I hope it inspires people to give back to their community. I hope it gives people the humility to recognize that in the overall life of this city, we are a small moment that sets the stage for the next.”

January 26, 2014 8:00 am Photos

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Shelf Life: Author explores the relationship between two artists as they grew in love

Shelf Life: Author explores the relationship between two artists as they grew in love

Nancy Horan, who wrote "Loving Frank", the New York Times bestselling novel that explored the relationship of Frank Lloyd Wright and his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, now takes us into the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a woman ten years his senior who left her philandering husband in order to pursue an artist’s life in France in "Under The Wide and Starry Sky" (Ballantine Books 2014; $26).

“I stumbled upon Robert Louis Stevenson while visiting the Monterey area, where he lived in 1879,” says Horan. “Curiosity spurred me on. Why was he there? The more I learned, the more I saw how rich a character he was, how timely his life might be for contemporary readers. But equally engaging was Osbourne, the California woman he fell in love with and pursued.”

Stevenson first saw Osbourne through the window of a French inn where she was dining with some of his artist friends who had arrived before he did.

“He was smitten by her earthy good looks, her olive skin, her lack of stiffness,” says Horan. “She was entirely unlike the young women his parents had in mind for him, and that was part of her attraction. She rolled her own cigarettes and carried a pistol. Since he was a boy, Louis had fantasized about a life of travel. As he grew to know Fanny, he discovered a fellow free spirit who’d had her own high adventures already. She had lived in Nevada mining camps, and in other ways exhibited the grit associated with pioneer women. Yet she was a lover of books and art who had artistic ambitions of her own.”

As for Osbourne, she wasn’t so sure.

“She thought he was charming and entertaining, but immature, eccentric, and a bit melodramatic,” notes Horan. “As she came to know him, though, she discovered his great talent as a writer, as well as his genuine decency.”

When they met, Stevenson, who would later write the popular best sellers, "Treasure Island" and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", still beloved more than a century later, was an unknown travel writer and essayist unable to support himself with his writing.

“He began writing novels after he was married to her. He trusted her critical opinions of his work, calling her his ‘critic on the hearth,’ says Horan who having decided that Stevenson and Osbourne were good company knew she wanted to spend the next four or five years telling their story.

January 24, 2014 2:30 pm Photos

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Shelf Life: Author uses Chicago as setting for 'pandemic' thriller

Shelf Life: Author uses Chicago as setting for 'pandemic' thriller

For those of us who found Debra Harry singing “Rapture” with the lines “…and he’ll eat your head” unsettling, then New York Times Best Selling author Scott Sigler’s Pandemic (Crown 2014; the last book in his three-part trilogy, is a must to avoid. But for science fiction fans who can’t get enough of fast paced, well-researched page turners, Pandemic continues a narrative started in Infected, where an ex-linebacker for the University of Michigan struggles against an alien infection that has turned his own mind and body against him.

“The idea came when I read a book by a science writer called Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures and it started me thinking about what would happen if a parasite could control what we do,” says Sigler.

Sigler had kick started his writing career by recording his books and giving them away, building a fan base which led to more and more book sales. In the process he also started receiving letters from readers who wanted to talk about his books and the subjects they covered and thus when he decided to write about alien infections, he had readers with background in research medicine, genetic consulting and biology to turn to.

“It all seems so real to me,” says Sigler. “By drawing on what’s happening, tend to be afraid because there are natural mutations happening all the time and you also have people doing genetic mutations even at a high school level. I wanted to show what would happen when parasites tell the host you don’t have to go to the hospital’ or ‘yes, you want to kill your best friend, that’s a great idea.’”

Pandemic takes place in Chicago and Sigler uses many of its landmarks and locations as settings in his book.

“That’s why the tour kick-off is in Chicago on the day the book is being released,” he says.

As for Pandemic, Sigler says, “This is a disease that doesn’t just kill you, it turns you into a killer.”

January 20, 2014 2:30 pm Photos

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Shelf Life: Former English teachers writes about self-confidence and a 'big' love affair

Shelf Life: Former English teachers writes about self-confidence and a 'big' love affair

A former high school English teacher, got married, lost her job because of declining enrollment, then ultimately was hired as the Director of Education and Community Programs. Stacey Ballis is now author of a series of popular and humorous "chick lit" books that in her words, “don’t compromise the intelligence of the reader.”

The career transition began when Ballis, a double major in English Literature and American Studies with a minor in Creative Writing from Brandeis University, decided to start writing short stories again.

“I knew I wanted to write a story about a big girl who was comfortable in her skin, having a good life, having great sex and not dieting or being morose about her body,” said Ballis, author of the recently released "Out to Lunch" (Berkley 2013; $16). “So a story about a big girl having a passionate affair seemed a good place to start. Lucky for me, the ‘short’ story wouldn’t stop coming for over 400 pages. Who knew?”

Her first novel, "Inappropriate Men", was a success and since then besides more novels, Ballis contributed chapters to two non-fiction anthologies, "Everything I Needed To Know About Being A Girl I Learned From Judy Blume" and "Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys: True Tales of Love, Lust and Friendship Between Straight Women and Gay Men". She was also regular contributor to the Rachael Ray Show on CBS. "Good Enough to Eat" was her first book of what she calls foodie fiction—novels that include recipes. It was the perfect combination for a Chicago gal who loves to write and eat.

January 12, 2014 9:00 am Photos

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Shelf Life: Detective D.D. Warren 'fears nothing' in new Lisa Gardner crime novel

Shelf Life: Detective D.D. Warren 'fears nothing' in new Lisa Gardner crime novel

In "Fear Nothing" (Dutton Books 2014; $27.95), Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author, brings back Boston Detective D.D. Warren. This time around, injured at a crime scene by an attacker she can't remember, D.D. must team up with her pain therapist, Dr. Adeline Glen, to catch a murderer imitating the crime spree from Adeline's own long dead father.

“Or maybe the killings have something to do with Adeline's sister, already serving a life sentence for a brutal slaying,” Gardner says, describing the plot of her 17th mystery. “One detective. Two sisters. Fear nothing. “

Gardner, who lives in New Hampshire, says she like to challenge her characters.

“In D.D.'s case, I think there's nothing on the job she can't handle,” she says. “Hence I open the novel with a serious injury that immediately sidelines her as a detective. Leave it to D.D., however, to not be on the job, but still be on the hunt for the killer who maimed her.”

Like most of her novels, "Fear Nothing" was inspired by an article Gardner read about a girl who suffers from a rare genetic condition that renders her immune from pain.

“Sounds great, right?“ Gardner asks rhetorically. “But in fact, the condition is incredibly dangerous and the article was about all the exhaustive steps taken by her family every day to keep her safe. I knew immediately I had to use this for a book, hence Dr. Adeline Glen, a pain therapist who can't feel pain.”

It seems a natural for Gardner, who has over 22 million books in print, to write mystery novels. After all one of the books her mother gave her was about blood spatter analysis which she used in "Fear Nothing".

“I think 'Fear Nothing' offers a fascinating dialogue on pain,” says Garner already at work on her next mystery. “Why we hate it, but also why we need it, as well as how it can make us stronger. As someone who has struggled with back pain for the past 10 years, this was definitely a more personal novel for me to write, and I hope some readers might even find it useful.”

January 08, 2014 3:30 pm Photos

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Shelf Life: Cameron Diaz promotes healthy lifestyle and healthy body image

Shelf Life: Cameron Diaz promotes healthy lifestyle and healthy body image

For good reasons, a book by actress Cameron Diaz showing her long blonde hair pouring down her tawny long limbed and athletically thin body on the cover, is enough to make most women head for bed, pulling the covers over our head and refusing to come out for a lengthy period of time—maybe the next millennium even.

But Diaz didn’t write "The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body" (HarperCollins 2013; $25.99), as a way to torture we poor mortals.

Because Diaz sees herself as role model to millions, she wanted her book to emphasize that achieving a size zero isn’t what it’s all about and being healthy is much more important. Her premise is that a holistic, long-term approach to making consistently good choices helps us achieve the ultimate goal of a long, strong, happy, healthy life. Diaz writes she thinks it’s important that all women understand that starting from the teenage years on up.

In other words stick thin, weird diets and not eating is out, being healthy is in.

For Diaz, a former burrito with all the fixings kind of gal (she found that kind of diet was bad for her skin and health), the keys are understanding hunger is a nature’s way of telling us we need nutrient-dense, whole unprocessed foods to satisfy our cravings. She also showcases the role exercise plays in a healthy lifestyle and in the mind-body connection by focusing on the essential role of movement, the importance of muscle and bone strength and why we all need to work up a sweat every day.

The book shows what she has learned over the years, she says, and is a way to share it all.

January 06, 2014 12:00 pm Photos

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Shelf Life: 'Dreams of Duneland' takes a look back in time and a look at the lakeshore's beauty

Shelf Life: 'Dreams of Duneland' takes a look back in time and a look at the lakeshore's beauty

In "Dreams of Duneland: A Pictorial History of the Indiana Dunes Region," author Kenneth Schoon takes us not only into the beauty of the lakeshore landscape and the woods, marshes, bogs and prairies during each season but also this magnificent area’s past.

Luscious photos show us maple sugaring at Chillberg Farm, the Swedish settlement n the National Dunes Lakeshore and now a historic site, where each spring trees are tapped, sap is gathered and boiled to produce a food staple of both early settlers and the Native Americans who lived here as well.

We even go beneath the waters to see the iron structures from the Muskegon, an 1872 steamer originally named the Peerless, destroyed by fire and then settled in deeper waters off the coast of Michigan City.

The second section of the book, Stories of the Duneland, begins with vignettes of Indian Life in the Dunes Before 1833. Schoon has gathered recollections such as Timothy Ball, born in 1826, accounting of visiting the Indiana wigwams on the shore of Lake Michigan in the summer and fall of 1837. Schoon traces how the Native American pathways, like the Potawatomi Trail, gradually morphed into bridle paths, then public highways, stage and mail routes which were the basis of many of our towns and cities main streets.

Then it was the French fur traders and explorers. And, surprisingly on December 5, 1780, the Duneland area became the site of a Revolutionary War skirmish when Jean Baptiste Hammerin, a French Canadian on the side of the U.S. raided, along with 16 mean, the British Fort St. Joseph (now Niles, Michigan) while most of the soldiers were out hunting. Stealing furs they traveled west along the lakeshore, pursued by the Indians. A small battle ensued, with the Bits winning the Battle of the Dunes.

Schoon, a professor of science education at Indiana University Northwest, has authored several other books including Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines an Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan and City Trees. His family roots in Northwest Indiana go back to the early 1870s. Indeed, so entwined is he to this area that he realized after moving into his house in Munster that he was three blocks from the family cemetery and the house he and his wife live in was built on land his great aunt farmed.

“Some of the stories I knew but didn’t know that much about,” he says. “Others I didn’t.”

Asked for one of his favorites is the Great Duneland Scam of 1890 when lots were created on Lake Michigan in what today is Porter Beach, north of U.S. 12 and just west of the Dunes State Park.

“They were given Chicago names and sold at the 1893 World’s Fair,” says Schoon. “There were no roads, no infrastructure and people couldn’t find their lots which were only 25-feet wide. The lots had names like Lake Shore Drive, Dearborn and Wabash avenue. People thought they were buying land on the south side of Chicago. There were 1500 lots and it was perfectly legal. In the 1920s, when the roads were in, people who held on to their property suddenly found it was more valuable.”

December 29, 2013 12:00 pm

Harry, Lo and Jo: A love story

Harry, Lo and Jo: A love story

I was so excited. Finally, I would be face to face with the only man I’ll ever love.

Harry Hole, an alcoholic Norwegian detective (trying to be sober.) Tall, athletic, lean, Blond, blue eyes, with a scar extending from the corner of his mouth to his ear; the kind of man every woman dreams about. A man, who specializes in solving serial killer murders, has trouble with authority and his love life. Yes, I would indeed be his lover or even his best friend, especially now that he has come to the U.S. (Courtesy of TribNation events who set up this special meeting).

So I walked into the room and there he was. Well, not exactly, I shook hands with Jo Nesbo, the brilliant author of the nine Harry Hole crime novels. OK, Jo was slight, crew cut blondish hair, no scar, but charming and with a sense of humor. I told him that I was one of a gaggle of girls who were in love with Harry. We thought we had discovered "The Snowman," by Jo Nesbo after giving up on Henning Mankell’s Wallender series and Stieg Larsson’s "Girl With the Dragon Tatoo." Little did we know that book was the 7th best-seller by Nesbo in Norway, but finally translated in the U.S. in 2008. Now, in order, "The Bat," "Cockroaches," "The Redbreast," "Nemesis," "The Devil’s Star," "The Redeemer," "The Leopard," "The Phanthom" and now "Police" are all available in the U.S. My friends and I have read them all, and I recommend anyone who loves crime fiction, read them as well.

But now, I want to know everything about the guy who made me fall in love with Harry.

Start from the beginning, Jo. “I never dreamed I would be a writer, “Nesbo began. “I was 17 and a star footballer on a Premier League in Norway. I was sure I was going to be a pro athlete. Then I blew out the cruciate ligaments in my knees, and my world came crashing down.” In fact, when I asked him what his biggest regret was, he told me, “When my team made the finals,(like the Super Bowl in the U.S.), I was devastated not to be there.” I asked, “Did they win?” He shrugged, “No, but just the same…”

He went on, “Then, the most amazing thing happened! I was working in finance, got bored and began writing songs. I played the guitar so I wrote and sang to myself until a young bass player I knew listened to some of my songs. We started a band, Di Derre. A year later we were touring. Two years later we had a recording contract. Our second album became the bestselling album in Norway in years. Our concerts sold out in hours. And suddenly we were pop stars”.

“However, I had seen what happened to other musicians who turned their hobby into a job, and I knew it would demand too many compromises as far as my music, and my life, were concerned. So I hung onto my day job as a stockbroker while we continued playing gigs. In other words, I had more than enough to do. I performed at night and worked during the day”.

“After one year I was so burned out that I told my band and my boss that I needed six months off. I headed for Australia.”Jo took a breath and continued, “It takes about 30 hours to fly from Oslo to Sydney. And in those 30 hours I came up with the plot for a story I started writing as soon as I got to the hotel. It was the middle of the night, I had jetlag, and I wrote about a guy named Harry who landed at the same Sydney airport, was staying in the same hotel and had jetlag.

“When I returned from Australia, I had almost finished the book. As soon as I set my suitcase down in my living room, I picked up writing again. I just wrote and wrote and was irritated by disturbances like hunger and the need for sleep.

“I sent the manuscript to a publisher, but under a pseudonym to make sure they wouldn’t be tempted to publish a crap book by a pop-star-turned-writer. The manuscript was delivered and my leave of absence was over. My first morning back at work I switched on my computer and realized I had almost everything: an apartment, no debt, an overpaid job and a great band. The only thing I didn’t have was time. So, before my computer screen was up and running, I was standing in my boss’s office explaining that I didn’t have time to work for him anymore.

“I spent the next three weeks wondering what to do. Until one morning I received a phone call asking if I were Kim Erik Lokker. ‘Yes and no’, I replied. I was then told that my manuscript was going to be published. They asked me why I had used a pseudonym, and I explained that my name was already well known in Norway. But when I told them my real name they didn’t seem to recognize it. So I cleared my throat and explained that I was the vocalist for a well-known band. Still no response. I said the name of the band. Two of them nodded and one started humming a song by another band.

“This was the beginning of Harry Hole,” Jo said. “'The Bat' was published in the fall of 1997 under my own name, and with a mix of elation and terror I waited for the reviews to deal with that pop music guy who dared to write crime fiction! But the reviews were focused on the book, not on me as a person. And, best of all, they were positive.”

Nesbo then wrote "The Cockroaches," which was accepted as the main book in the National Book Club’s New Books section—the golden ticket into commercial and literary elite in Norway. "I knew that it was actually thanks to its predecessor, "The Bat,'" Nesbo said.

“So I sat down and started writing The Redbreast. It was the story my father had wanted to tell, about Norwegians on both sides of Nazism during the Second World War. When the book came out, it was more with a sense of relief than pleasure that I gradually realized I had done quite well. The publishers were enthusiastic, the reviewers were enthusiastic and the public enthusiastic.”

I then asked about his popular children’s books. He replied, “It started with my daughter who, as usual, had asked me to make up a story while we were eating dinner. So I made up Nilly—a tiny, red-headed ten-year-old boy with an Elvis quaff and the banter of a used car salesman; his neighbor and best friend Lisa; two fat, nasty twins with a Hummer-driving father; and a fairly eccentric professor who had accidentally invented the world’s most powerful fart powder.”

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder was greeted with unanimous enthusiasm and sales took off.

Nesbo also wrote a stand-alone book, Headhunters, which was made into a movie.

The Phanthom and Police are the latest books starring my adored Harry Hole. I’m a little upset that they might be the last. Jo’s not telling.

What I do know is that the future is looking very different for Jo Nesbo. Warner Bros. is near a deal for Blood On Snow, the first of a two novel series. It will be developed as a potential star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio. The book has been written under the pseudonym Tom Johansen, and it is about a hit man who is asked by his boss to kill the man’s wife. Trouble is, he falls in love with her and things get messy from there. The Norwegian novelist will publish the novel next spring through Knopf, with the sequel, Blood on Snow 2: More Blood, to be published the following year.

Jo has also teamed up with former "House" executive producer, Katie Jacobs for "I Am Victor", a drama at NBC. The project is described as “House as a divorce attorney.”

By the way, did I mention that Jo is a rock climber and world traveler, writing in Hawaii, Tokyo, Bangok as well as having a bungalow in Thailand. Although he doesn’t look exactly like I picture my adored Harry Hole, I wondered if Jo has put a lot of himself into Harry’s character. And he said, “Over the years I realized I did. Henning Mankell (Wallender) pointed this out to me, ‘Of course. Every writer writes about themselves whether they are aware or not.’ I based Harry partly on an eccentric Norwegian football coach, Nils Arne Eggen and (of all characters) Batman!”

So, my Harry is part football coach, Batman and Jo Nesbo. I guess I can live with that.

December 29, 2013 10:00 am Photos

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Shelf Life: New Civil War book shows the impact Lincoln had on international relations

Shelf Life: New Civil War book shows the impact Lincoln had on international relations

The Civil War was a more than a conflict between North and South and President Abraham Lincoln recognized this larger dimension in the battle to preserve the United States.

“We think of the Civil War as a domestic war but it was also international,” says Kevin Peraino, author of Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power (Random House 2013; $26). “Lincoln dealt with a series of crises during his presidency from countries like France, Britain and Spain. Even Russian ships showed up off the Atlantic Coast in the middle of the war. If he hadn’t handled those well, the course of the war and our country might have been changed.”

Using what was then modern technology—newspapers, telegraphs and steamships—our 16th president connected to the world, using these mediums to ally himself with Europe.

“Lincoln realized that he could communicate directly to ordinary Europeans,” says Peraino. “With the Emancipation Proclamation, he hoped to speak to European mill workers to appeal them to keep them from entering the war.”

Lincoln, a poor farm boy who spent his formulative years, from seven to 21, in an isolated and very rural part of Southern Indiana and didn’t speak any other languages except a smattering of German in order to win votes from German immigrants, had only sporadic schooling. But he was so much savvier than his upbringing would indicate. And his wife was no slouch when it came to understanding the world around them either.

“Mary Lincoln was much more cosmopolitan,” says Peraino. “She grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, which at the time was known as the Athens of the Midwest. Mary went to school where the students spoke French. Her home in Lexington was filled with French mahogany furniture and Belgian rugs. Henry Clay, the great American diplomat, was a neighbor.”

William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was also extremely knowledgeable about foreign policy and Lincoln had both the wisdom and humility to listen to his advice. According to Peraino, Mary Lincoln wasn’t above letting her husband know about her pedigree and sometimes tried to interfere.

“Cassius Marcellus Clay, America’s minister to Russia, remembers Mary saying to him nobody listens to Seward, you don’t have to either,” says Peraino.

Of the 15,000 books or more books written about Lincoln, this is the first in 40 years to examine Lincoln's foreign policy. Peraino, a veteran foreign correspondent who has spent years covering conflicts overseas, did extensive research finding out about this overlooked part of Lincoln history.

“It was like a treasure hunt,” he says describing his search through archives, news clippings and even the edited parts of books recounting Lincoln’s international exploits that ended up on the cutting room floor. “Lincoln had these natural diplomatic skills which is something many people don’t know.”

December 08, 2013 12:45 pm

Shelf Life: A page-turning account of JFK's assasnation stands out against others

Shelf Life: A page-turning account of JFK's assasnation stands out against others

Even today, a half century after his assassination, those who were alive on November 22, 1963 can still vividly remember where we were when we first heard the news that President John F. Kennedy was dead. And during the decades since, we’ve followed accounts of the Warren Commission tasked with finding out whether one assassin or more had fired the shots which disrupted the motorcade that day in Dallas, Texas.

Now, author James Swanson gives us a fascinating chronicle of what happened, taking us minute-by-minute through the tumultuous period of Kennedy’s assassination in his latest book, "End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy" (William Morrow 2013).

Extensively researched, Swanson, the author of the New York Times best seller "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer", has written a riveting account of the assassination and its aftermath. We learn about Lee Harvey Oswald's bizarre history of violence and travel to the sixth-floor Texas Book Depository and stand at the window as Swanson looks into the sight of Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle.

We also see how Jacquelyn Kennedy was determined to show the world what had been done to her husband, helping to shape the enduring legend of Camelot.

“Her pink suit, white gloves and stockings were caked with dried blood,” he writes, “the bright red, wet blood spilled two hours ago had, after exposure to oxygen, solidified and taken on a darker color. Each time someone asked her, the more adamant she became. ‘Everybody kept saying to me to put a cold towel around my head and wipe the blood off.’ No, she insisted, she would not change. ‘I want them to see what they’ve done,’ she repeated more than once.”

With vivid photographs and personal accounts as well as new facts, Swanson’s book is a page turner, like reading one of the best political thrillers only this one is sadly true.

November 24, 2013 9:00 am Photos

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