Monthly Archives: September 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hawley Book of the Dead’: Impressive Debut Novel Defies Genres

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: labeling a novel as a romance or a mystery or anything is wrong and does a disservice to prospective readers. That said, Chrysler Szarlan’s “The Hawley Book of the Dead” (Ballantine Books, 352 pages, $26.00) is an impressive debut novel that combines various genres seamlessly. It’s a horror story, a police procedural, a missing persons tale and more with the whole greater than its parts.

Hawley Book jacketIt’s about magic, with Revelation “Reve” Dyer Maskelyne the assistant and much more of her husband, British-born Las Vegas illusionist Jeremy Maskelyne. Their show is one of the big attractions of the Las Vegas Strip — until an accident ends Jeremy’s life and turns that of Reve and their three daughters upside down.

Revelation “Reve” Dyer grew up with her grandmother’s family stories, stretching back centuries to Reve’s ancestors, who founded the town of Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts.

Their history is steeped in secrets, for few outsiders know that an ancient magic runs in the Dyer women’s blood, and that Reve is a magician whose powers are all too real. No one more than the Dyers know that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing in a colony — later a state — infamous for burning its witches at the stake.

Reve and her husband are world-famous Las Vegas illusionists. They have three lovely young daughters, a beautiful home, and what seems like a charmed life. But Reve’s world is shattered when an intruder alters her trick pistol and she accidentally shoots and kills her beloved husband onstage.

Fearing for her daughters’ lives, Reve flees with them to the place she has always felt safest—an antiquated farmhouse in the forest of Hawley Five Corners in western Massachusetts, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, and her oldest friend — and first love — Jolon Adair is the town’s chief of police. Hawley Forest is a real place, a state preserve with horseback riding trails, hiking trails and the ghosts of an abandoned settlement in its cellar holes.

Reve and her twin daughters Grace and Faith — always called “Fai — are avid horse people. Daughter Caleigh not so much; she would rather play with her magical string.

As the novel unfolds, we learn that in the late 1980s, when Reve was a student at the private college where her father was a professor, she befriended a fellow student, Maggie Hamilton. Maggie, from an inner city African-American background, is unhappy at the college and transfers to the University of Massachusetts — Amherst. There she learns about a secret and sinister government experiment underway in the tunnels of the university. She also comes to the attention of FBI agent Rigel Voss, who began to search for Maggie — and Reve — after they learned of the secret program.

On her anscestral turf, Reve is drawn deeper into her family’s legends. What she discovers is The Hawley Book of the Dead, an ancient leather-bound journal holding mysterious mythic power. As she pieces together the truth behind the book, Reve will have to shield herself and her daughters against an uncertain, increasingly dangerous fate. For soon it becomes clear that the stranger (could it be the now disgraced Rigel Voss?) who upended Reve’s life in Las Vegas has followed her to Hawley—and that she has something he desperately wants.

Chrysler Szarlan

Chrysler Szarlan

About Chrysler Szarlan (from her website)

“I worked with racehorses and as a magician’s assistant before graduating from law school, then became a managing attorney with the Connecticut Legal Rights Project. Now I live in western Massachusetts with my family. I work part-time as a bookseller at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and full-time as a writer, at home in my pajamas. I ride my horse in the Hawley Forest whenever possible. And I do believe in magic.” Her website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win’

In his conclusion to “Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win” (Crown Publishers, 304 pages, notes, index, $26.00) Paul M. Barrett writes that “this is a tale with no shortage of knaves and villains.”

Law of the Jungle jacket
That might be the understatement of the decade in a book detailing the legal maneuvers that American lawyer Steven Donziger and other lawyers in Ecuador used to get monetary justice for the mostly indigenous people of the oil fields of eastern Ecuador. For his efforts, Donziger faced RICO charges in a New York City federal court. The court ruled against Donziger and is currently being appealed.

I said in my review of Barrett’s previous book “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun” that the characters in the book could have been created by the late, great novelist Elmore “Dutch” Leonard. (My review: The characters in “Law of the Jungle” are worthy of a Quentin Tarantino film — and include celebrities like rock musician Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, documentary filmmaker Joseph Berlinger and a rogue’s gallery of corporate types from Chevron and their lawyers.

Almost lost in the legal battle were the indigenous peoples and poor farmers of the South American country’s Amazon rainforest, where Texaco — later acquired by by oil megagiant Chevron –drilled for oil. Texaco had been invited by the country to drill for oil in the Amazon region and — along with Ecuador’s national oil company — committed ecological damage that resulted in polluted drinking water and allegedly contributed to cancers and other medical problems to the natives.

The central figure of the novel is Steven R. Donziger, born in 1961 and along with Barack Obama, his contemporary, a member of the Harvard Law School class of 1991. The 6-foot-four Donziger played basketball with the future community organizer, Illinois senator and two-term president.

Florida native Donziger, a self-style social activist, signed on to a class action lawsuit against Texaco-Chevron, the third largest corporation in the U.S.

The suit sought reparations for the Ecuadorian peasants and tribes people whose lives were affected by decades of oil production near their villages and fields. During twenty years of legal hostilities in federal courts in Manhattan and remote provincial tribunals in the Ecuadorian jungle, Donziger and Chevron’s lawyers followed fierce no-holds-barred rules. Donziger, a larger-than-life, loud-mouthed showman, proved himself a master orchestrator of the media, Hollywood, and public opinion.

Donziger cajoled and coerced Ecuadorian judges on the theory that his noble ends justified any means of persuasion. And in the end, he won an unlikely victory, a $19 billion judgment against Chevon–the biggest environmental damages award in history. But the company refused to surrender or compromise, instead targeting Donziger personally, and its counter-attack revealed damning evidence of his politicking and manipulation of evidence. Suddenly the verdict, and decades of Donziger’s single-minded pursuit of the case, began to unravel.

Like Barrett’s previous nonfiction books, “Law of the Jungle” reads like a novel, but it’s written by a master journalist who is also a law school graduate. I recommend it without reservation.
Barrett_190About the Author

Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun”, “American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion”, and “The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America”. Barrett is a graduate of Harvard Law School and holds an A.B. from Harvard College. He teaches as an adjunct professor at New York University Law School. He lives and works in New York City. His website:

Donziger’s website:

BOOK REVIEW: New in Paperback: ‘Under the Wide and Starry Sky’: Intriguing Novel/Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson

Reviewer’s Note: “Under the Wide and Starry Sky” is now in paperback, available Sept. 23, 2014 (Ballantine Books Trade Paperback, 496 pages, $16.00). The text below is of my January 20, 2014 review of the Ballantine Books hardback edition.

* * *

Stevenson had always wanted his ‘Requiem’ inscribed on his tomb:

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:

Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill. –“Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson

First off, I have to ask the question: Can you accept the premise of a novelized biography, a literary genre popularized by Irving Stone (1903-1989) with his novel/biographies of Vincent van Gogh — “Lust for Life” — and Michelangelo –“The Agony and the Ecstasy” — among others?

under the wide..paperbackIf you accept this premise, Nancy Horan’s “Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel” (Ballantine Books, 496 pages, $26.00) is a magnificent tour de force, following the literary path carved out in her 2007 bestselling novel “Loving Frank”, the story of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his illicit affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of his client Edward Cheney.

“Under the Wide and Starry Sky” deals with many of the same issues as the previous novel, including the role of women in the arts and the role of a wife as an influence on her husband, as Horan tells the story of the unlikely affair and later marriage of Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne and the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Horan’s novel may or may not change our view of the author of such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. To a large extent it depends on many things. I think from the evidence that Horan presents that Fanny’s mood swings contributed to his creation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in what I believe is his masterpiece.

An aside from an English major — the reviewer — who attended college in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Stevenson was pretty much off our radar. I don’t recall any mention of him in our classes. He was considered a popular writer — but so was Dickens — unworthy of study because of his subject matter. He was considered a horror writer and a children’s writer, too.

Stevenson was born in 1850, the son of a wealthy builder of lighthouses. He was sickly from an early age, with lung problems that led him to seek treatment in many places, including Davos, Switzerland, today more famous as the site of economic summits.

Stevenson meets and falls in love with Fanny when she’s in Paris studying art. She has left her unfaithful husband Sam Osbourne in San Francisco and has traveled with her three young children to study art. She’s still married to Sam at the time of their meeting. She was considered an exotic woman, with a dark complexion that contributed to her aura. She was born in 1840 in Indianapolis and lived until 1914, two decades after Stevenson’s death on Samoa in 1894. After Stevenson’s death and burial on a Samoan mountaintop, Fanny was the keeper of the author’s flame.

“Under the Wide and Starry Sky” addresses:

> Why this unlikely pair were drawn to each other

> How Louis and Fanny shaped each others’ artistic lives and accomplishments

> The Stevensons’ literary and artistic circle, which included such luminaries as John Singer Sargent and Henry James

> The obstacles Fanny and Louis faced, and how they helped each other navigate them

> Their adventures as world travelers

> Gender expectations, and their impact on both Fanny and Louis’s lives and work

> Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary legacy and how it has changed over time

Horan is an outstanding writer and I didn’t find the book to have any boring sections. It’s worth reading, along with biographies of Stevenson that Horan recommends at the end of the book.

Nancy Horan is best known for her 2007 novel Loving Frank, which chronicles a little-known chapter in the life of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and his client, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Loving Frank remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for over a year. It has been translated into sixteen languages, and won the 2009 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction, awarded by the Society of American Historians.

Nancy Horan

Nancy Horan

About the author

A native Midwesterner, Nancy Horan was a teacher and journalist before turning to fiction writing. She lived for 25 years in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where she raised her two sons. Oak Park is famous as the site of Wright’s studio and many of his most famous houses and other buildings. She now lives with her husband on an island in Washington state’s Puget Sound. Her website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose, Understand, and Treat Your Ailing Back: Comprehensive, Readable Guide to a Problem That Afflicts Just About Everybody

Next to headaches, back pain is the most common ailment reported by patients to doctors, writes Jack Stern, M.D., Ph.D. in his extremely readable “Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose, Understand, and Treat Your Ailing Back” (Avery Trade, published by the Penguin Group (U.S.A), 320 pages, $18.00, bibliography, index, illustrations).

Ending Back Pain coverShe’s not mentioned on the title page, but Dr. Stern recognizes the writing talent of Kristin Loberg, his writing partner, in the acknowledgments at the end of the book. Together, Stern and Loberg have produced just about the best book on all facets of back pain I’ve read.

“Ending Back Pain” is written by a surgeon, but surgery is not always indicated once a diagnosis is complete, Dr. Stern writes. He presents a totally new paradigm for treating back pain in a book that also discusses ways of treating back pain other than surgery or prescription drugs.

Dr. Stern writes that virtually every American will suffer from back pain at some point. A neurosurgeon and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, he brings relief to these millions of sufferers (including himself) who literally ache for help.

Based on the latest scientific data, Dr. Stern developed a five-step solution with a multidisciplinary, holistic perspective that’s been missing from conventional back pain wisdom:

▪Step One: Unlock your back’s unique pain code

▪Step Two: Prepare to work with health care professionals

▪Step Three: Ensure proper diagnosis

▪Step Four: Embrace various pathways to healing

▪Step Five: Live a life that supports a strong, healthy back

If you have experienced back pain — or have a relative or friend who has — get this book, study it and use it to help conquer the pain. Somewhere in the dozens of case studies Dr. Stern presents, you’ll find one that fits your circumstances. jack_stern_vitals_profile_largeOr at least educate you so you and your physician can chart the proper course of treatment.
Dr. Jack Stern




About the Author

Jack Stern, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in spinal surgery, and cofounder of Spine Options, one of America’s first facilities committed to nonsurgical care of back and neck pain. Dr. Stern is on the clinical faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College and has published numerous peer- and non peer– reviewed medical articles. He lives and practices in White Plains, Westchester County, New York.

2010 video of Stern discussing back pain:

BOOK REVIEW: Now in Paperback: ‘Elizabeth of York’: Engrossing Portrayal of Henry VIII’s Mother: A Key Figure in the Creation of the Tudor Dynasty

Reviewer’s Note: Alison Weir’s “Elizabeth of York,” published last year, will be available Sept. 23, 2014 in a paperback edition (Ballantine Trade Paperback, 624 pages, $18.00, color and black and white illustrations, reader’s guide). The text below is from my Dec. 25, 2013 review of the hardback edition.

If I have one criticism of Tudor histories and biographies, it’s that they’re too Henry VIII and Elizabeth I centric. There must be other Tudors to write about.

Elizabeth of York paperbackOf course there are and renowned English historical biographer Alison Weir ably accomplishes this goal with “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” (Ballantine Books, 608 pages, notes, genealogical table, color and black and white illustrations, appendixes, index, $30.00) a detailed — at times almost too detailed — biography of Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), wife and queen consort of the first Tudor king, Henry VII (1457-1509), mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I. (The copyright page has her being born in 1465, but she was born Feb. 11, 1466, the first child of King Edward IV, and died on her 37th birthday, Feb. 11, 1503).

The fabled ancient Chinese curse about living in interesting times applies in spades to Elizabeth, a woman Weir clearly likes and admires.

As the first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth of York was celebrated almost as much as a male heir (England in the 15th Century wasn’t ready for a ruling queen — a queen regnant — like her granddaughter Elizabeth became almost a century later, in 1558). Elizabeth of York was raised with all the expensive trappings of royalty and enjoyed them to the end of her life — even when she couldn’t afford them.

About my comment above about being too detailed: Weir lists just about every purchase for goods and services Elizabeth of York made, as well as purchases by her family — in money amounts of the time and present-day equivalents in English pounds.

We even learn of her bedsteads, what they cost and the origin of the phrase “sleep tight”: Bedsteads had ropes supporting the mattress instead of a platform or box spring like we have today. The ropes would loosen, causing the mattress to sag in the middle. It was the job of a bedchamber servant to tighten the supporting ropes, hence the phrase “sleep tight.” I like details like that!

When Elizabeth’s father, King Edward IV, died in 1483, England entered into the final phase of an ongoing civil war known as the Wars of the Roses, between the forces of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, the red rose, and the House of York, the white rose. The “wars” had been going on for almost 30 years before the death of Edward IV, as the rival houses jousted for control of the throne.

Elizabeth’s ordeal began in earnest with the death of her father, the seizure of the throne by her uncle, who became Richard III and the imprisonment in the Tower of London and probable murder of her young brothers, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York — the famed “Princes in the Tower.”

More calamities follow, with Elizabeth and her siblings being declared bastards, even though there were no irregularities in the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville (also spelled Woodville).

It gets even crazier: As his wife, Anne Neville, lay dying, Richard III sought to marry his niece, presumably to cement his claim to the throne. Weir explores this aspect of a country in turmoil, as well as Elizabeth’s support of exiled pretender to the throne Henry Tudor, who later became her husband, King Henry VII.

The forces of Henry Tudor defeated Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth, Aug. 22, 1485. Richard was killed in battle (Henry Tudor, not a warrior, delegated the fighting to experts). The phrase “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” was created for Richard to say by Shakespeare in his play “Richard III.”

Everybody expected the newly crowned Henry VII to immediately marry Elizabeth of York, a move that would increase the popularity of the king and strengthen his relatively weak claim to the throne, but he delayed the marriage to show that he didn’t need her to strengthen his claim to the throne.

The marriage officially ended the Wars of the Roses, but it didn’t end a succession of claimants to the throne, including most famously that of Perkin Warbeck. Henry and his mother Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, also distrusted the Wydevilles, Elizabeth’s maternal relatives, a powerful and ambitious family. But Weir argues that Elizabeth and her mother-in-law were friends, contrary to the claims of other historians. Elizabeth’s death after giving birth to her last child, Katherine, resulted in widespread and genuine grief in the kingdom. Katherine died shortly after.

In “Elizabeth of York” Weir once again demonstrates that she is an outstanding portrayer of the Tudor era, giving us a fully realized biography of a remarkable woman.


Alison Weir

Alison Weir

About the Author

Alison Weir, born in London in 1951, is the New York Times bestselling author of several historical biographies, including Mary Boleyn, The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the novels A Dangerous Inheritance, Captive Queen, The Lady Elizabeth, and Innocent Traitor. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband. She is not to be confused with the American journalist with the same name.

Her websites: and

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Saving Lucas Biggs’: Can Time Traveling Change the Outcome for a Doomed Man?


Margaret O’Malley, the feisty protagonist in “Saving Lucas Biggs” (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 288 pages, $16.99, suitable for ages 8-12 — and adults) will do anything to save her father from a death sentence….even if it means breaking a family taboo and traveling back 76 years to change history.

saving lucas biggs jacketAuthors Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, a married couple, are outstanding in their portrayal of 13-year-old Margaret and her pal Charlie and everybody else in a book aimed at young readers that teens and adults will enjoy, too.

Margaret knows her father, whistleblower John Thomas O’Malley, is innocent, but that doesn’t stop the cruel Judge Lucas Biggs from sentencing him to death. John O’Malley, a geologist for Victory Fuels Corp., in the company town of Victory, Ariz., has been convicted of arson and the murder of a man inside the lab he’s accused of torching.

Margaret is determined to save her dad, even if it means using her family’s secret—and forbidden—ability to time travel. With the help of her best friend, Charlie, and his grandpa Josh, Margaret goes back to a time when Judge Biggs was a young boy and tries to prevent the chain of events that transformed him into a corrupt, jaded man. But with the forces of history working against her, will Margaret be able to change the past? Or will she be pushed back to a present in which her father is still doomed?

Back in 1938, the town is in the midst of a bitter strike by coal miners. It’s reminiscent of the mine wars of West Virginia and also an event that resonates in the history of Colorado and American labor relations: the Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914.

On that date, some two dozen people in a tent colony of striking workers forced out of their company housing in Ludlow, Colo. were killed by members of the Colorado National guard and “camp guards” of the Colorado Fuel & Iron  Co., controlled by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Told in alternating voices between Margaret and Josh, “Saving Lucas Biggs” shows that sometimes the forces of good need a little extra help to triumph over the forces of evil. This is a good lesson for young readers — and older ones and adult alike.

About the authors

Marisa de los Santos: “I became a writer because I love the sound and texture of words (current favorite consonant sounds: Ls and hard Cs) and love to hear what happens when they bump up against each other. I was a poet for a long time (my first book is a collection of poetry called FROM THE BONES OUT), and then, one day, unexpectedly, I found that I had a voice inside my head. As you might imagine, this was a bit alarming. However, in time, I discovered that the voice belonged to a character named Cornelia Brown, so I wrote a novel called LOVE WALKED IN about her and an eleven-year old girl named Clare. After that, I became addicted to writing novels. I wrote a second one called BELONG TO ME, and my third, FALLING TOGETHER, came out on October 4th, 2011. I’m now working on a fourth, tentatively titled THE PRECIOUS ONE. I live with my husband, children’s book author David Teague, and our two kids, Charles and Annabel, in lovely Wilmington, Delaware.” This is their first collaborative book.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Make Comics Like the Pros: The Inside Scoop on How to Write, Draw, and Sell Your Comic Books and Graphic Novels’: Outstanding Book for Creators, Fans


It’s not often that a step-by-step guide to all aspects of a subject works for both creators and fans, but that’s what happens with “Make Comics Like the Pros: The Inside Scoop on How to Write, Draw, and Sell Your Comic Books and Graphic Novels” (Watson-Guptill Publications, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, 160 pages, index, large format paperback, 100 B&W images, 100 color ones, $22.99).

Make Comis Like the ProsThe book by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente is focused on giving step-by-step advice to comic book writers and artists but it also educates readers and fans of this form of literature. I’m not even close to being an expert on comic books, despite reading many in my youth when they cost about 10 cents a copy (they’re typically $3.99 today!), but I learned a lot about the creative process and especially the distribution process of comic books.

I was surprised that there’s only one major distribution company for comic books, Diamond Comic Book Distributors of Baltimore. Retailers have to deal with Diamond or do without. For more about the distribution of comic books, see pages 109 to 114. Van Lente draws heavily on his own “The Comic Book History of Comic Books” in the present volume. It probably would be a good idea to acquire that book if you’re serious about breaking into the comics biz.

What Pak and Van Lente offer in their books is a step-by-step guide to all aspects of comic book creation–from conceptualization to early drafts to marketing and promotion. It’s not written by outsiders, but by two of the industry’s most seasoned and successful professionals.

Creating comic books is a highly collaborative effort. If you think one man or woman — yes, there are many women in what was almost exclusively a boys’ club — does everything, think again!

There are many creative roles available — writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, editor, and more. Each creator serves a vital function in the production of sequential art at companies such as DC, Marvel, Image, and Valiant.

Pak and Van Lente team up with a who’s who of the modern comic book scene to lead you step-by-step through the development of a comic. With these two fan-favorite writers as your guides, you’ll learn everything from script formatting to the importance of artistic collaboration to the best strategies for promoting and selling your own sequential art masterpiece.

Pak and Van Lente even put their lessons into practice inside the pages of the book—pairing with Eisner Award–winning cartoonist Colleen Coover (Bandette) to produce the swashbuckling, adventure comic Swordmaids, and giving you front row seats to their creative process. “Make Comics Like the Pros” provides all the answers you’ve been seeking to take your comic book–making dreams all the way to professional-level reality.

About the Authors

GREG PAK is an award-winning comic book writer and filmmaker currently writing Batman/Superman and Action Comics for DC Comics, Turok Dinosaur Hunter for Dynamite Entertainment, and Eternal Warrior for Valiant Comics. He directed the award-winning feature film Robot Stories, wrote the epic “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” comic storylines, and co-wrote (with Fred Van Lente) fan-favorite Incredible Hercules for Marvel Comics.

FRED VAN LENTE is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Marvel Zombies, Incredible Hercules (with Pak), Odd Is on Our Side (with Dean R. Koontz), and the American Library Association award-winning Action Philosophers. His original graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens (co-written with Andrew Foley) was the basis for the major motion picture. Van Lente’s other comics include The Comic Book History of Comics, Archer & Armstrong, and The Amazing Spider-Man. Pak and Van Lente are both residents of New York City.

For my Aug. 3, 2014 review of “Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels” by Brian Michael Bendis, from the same publisher, click:

BOOK NOTES: Library of America Publishes 4 Elmore Leonard Crime Novels of the 1970s in One Volume: ‘Fifty-Two Pickup’, ‘Swag’, ‘Unknown Man No. 89’, ‘The Switch’


Elmore Leonard jacketThe Library of America, a nonprofit organization that publishes authoritative editions of America’s best writing from all periods, has just published in one volume four Elmore Leonard crime novels of the 1970s (Library of America No. 255, $35.00, 809 pages, edited by Gregg Sutter).

The novels in the first of three volumes collecting the work of Leonard, who died last year at the age of 87, are “Fifty-Two Pickup”, “Swag,” “Unknown Man No. 89” and “The Switch.”

I’ve read hundreds of books by crime and mystery novelists and Elmore “Dutch” Leonard is in my imaginary Top 5 of the all time greatest novelists. He might even rank at the top of a list that I’ll never divulge — because it’s a fluid one. One thing is certain: Leonard will never be moved out of that list.

Here’s a description of the book, from The Library of America:

“The Library of America inaugurates its Elmore Leonard edition with four funny, street-smart early masterpieces, gathered in one volume for the first time: Blending gritty toughness and unpredictable violence with wild humor and an uncanny ear for the rhythms of ordinary speech, Elmore Leonard (1925–2013) was the most widely and enthusiastically admired crime novelist of his time. His genius for scene and dialogue led Time magazine to describe him as “a Dickens of Detroit,” and Newsweek called him “the best American writer of crime alive, possibly the best we’ve ever had.” Now The Library of America inaugurates a three-volume edition of Leonard’s greatest work, prepared in consultation with the author shortly before his death and edited by his long-time researcher Gregg Sutter.

“The four novels collected in this first volume re-invented the American crime novel and cemented Leonard’s reputation. All are set in his hometown Detroit, a hard-working “shot and a beer” kind of place whose lawless underside becomes a stage for an unforgettable cast of rogues, con artists, and psychopaths. Fifty-Two Pickup (1974), fast and sharply written, is an insidiously brutal book about an adulterous businessman who runs afoul of a crew of murderous blackmailers. Swag (1976) finds Leonard moving for the first time into the more comic mode that would become his signature, as he charts the small-time criminal careers of an amiable ex-con and an ambitious car salesman who share a bachelor pad and pursue their hedonistic dream of the good life through a string of armed robberies. Unknown Man No. 23 (1977) spins a complex web of crisscrossing rip-offs and con games, with process server Jack Ryan, a typically laid-back Leonard protagonist, caught in the middle. In The Switch (1978), one of Leonard’s funniest books, Mickey Dawson, a discontented housewife held for ransom, manages to turn the tables on her kidnappers while exacting overdue revenge on her scheming husband.

“This volume also contains a newly researched chronology of Elmore Leonard’s life, drawing on materials in his personal archive, and detailed annotations, which include as a special bonus a scene from the typescript for Swag that did not appear in the published book.”

Sutter is an ideal choice for editor because he was Leonard’s long-time research assistant, or “leg man.” Leonard started out writing Westerns and later concentrated on contemporary crime novels.

Many of Leonard’s novels have been filmed, including “Mr. Majestyk,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Hombre,” “Fifty-Two Pickup”, “Jackie Brown”, ‘Get Shorty” and “The Big Bounce.” The latest movie based on an Elmore Leonard novel or short story is “Life of Crime,” the movie version of “The Switch”, starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins, directed by Daniel Schecter. “Roadside/Lionsgate opened Life Of Crime on 33 screens in 20 markets and will likely bow in another 20 markets on September 12”, according to the Internet Movie Data Base.

If you’ve never read a Dutch Leonard novel, you’re in for a treat with this Library of America entry: Four treats, to be exact.

About the Author

About the Editor

Detroit native Gregg Sutter first met Elmore Leonard in 1979 and began working for him in 1981. He is currently at work on a biography of Leonard, from his unique perspective as his full-time researcher for more than thirty years.

Publisher’s website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook’: Long-Awaited Cookbook Companion to ‘Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease’ Now Available


Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr.’s “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” was a New York Times bestseller when it appeared seven years ago. The plant-based nutrition plan Dr. Esselstyn, 80, who practices at the world-reknowned Cleveland Clinic, advocates based on his twenty-year nutritional study—the most comprehensive of its kind—is proven to stop and reverse even advanced coronary disease. More than 336,000 readers have benefited from the revolutionary regimen so far, including actor Samuel L. Jackson (see below).

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbookNow, finally, we have “The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook: Over 125 Delicious, Life-Changing, Plant-Based Recipes” (Avery, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), 320 pages, large-format paperback, profusely illustrated, $25.00). The authors are Ann Crile Esselstyn, Dr. Esselstyn’s wife and their daughter, Jane Esselstyn, a team with decades of experience developing delicious, healthful dishes for both their family and Dr. Esselstyn’s patients.

“In my lifetime, I’ve understood diet played a big role in the quality of my life, so I ate what I considered to be good for me. From childhood, the litany of ‘eat your vegetables’ was drummed into me, sometimes literally. Naturally, me being Southern, there was always meat served with those veggies, and most times it was used to flavor them. 64 years later, I meet the Esselstyns, and they say ‘eat your vegetables, but eat them raw or cooked with no oil!’ WHAT?! But, I tried it. It’s truly amazing what the things I already liked really tasted like. Even more amazing: the number of plant-based creations that are possible. I won’t go into the gigantic health benefits that came my way as a result of my decision to go plant-based, but I will say that 30 lost pounds and an infinite number of compliments later, I’m more than happy. I hope you’ll treat yourself to one of these recipes and just open that door. I guarantee you won’t close it!”—Samuel L. Jackson

Like Jackson, I’ve lost 30 pounds since May 2013 and the latest stent procedure to open up my clogged arteries. I feel much better following what is basically a plant–based diet that eliminates dairy and most other animal-based foods. My cardiologist told me to lose the weight and I did it with a modified version of the Esselstyn diet.

Advance Praise for The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook

“This is a great cookbook for treating and reversing heart disease as well as a wide variety of other ailments and diseases. So hear the whisper of your heart and do it a favor. Try these recipes and see for yourself what a fantastic difference they can make for your health. Dr. Esselstyn’s amazing accomplishments are backed up by Ann and Jane’s health enriching recipes.”

—T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and Karen Campbell, Director of the Center for Nutrition Studies

Praise for Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

“Proves that changes in diet (and that alone) cause radical changes in the age and disease of your arteries.”

—Michael Roizen, M.D., coauthor of You: On a Diet

“Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has directed pioneering research demonstrating that the progression of even severe coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making comprehensive changes in diet and lifestyle.”

—Dean Ornish, M.D., founder, President, and Director, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, and author of Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease

“A hard-nosed scientist shows us his secrets for successfully cleaning the rusting arteries of so many patients—and it doesn’t even hurt.”

—Mehmet Oz, M.D., coauthor of You: The Owner’s Manual

“Dr. Esselstyn has always been ahead of his time. His focus on the healing powers of proper nutrition on diseased coronary arteries has now proven right, raising another unthinkable notion—that heart patients can cure themselves.”

—Bernadine Healy, M.D., former Director, National Institutes of Health

“This powerful program will make you virtually heart-attack-proof. On the basis of decades of research, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has shown not only how to prevent heart disease but also how to reverse it—even for people who have been affected for many years. I strongly recommend this important book.”

—Neal D. Barnard, M.D., founder and President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and author of Breaking the Food Seduction

“Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease provides a practical approach for people to regain their lost health. Considering the worldwide prevalence of coronary artery disease, this book should become the bestseller of all time.”

—John A. McDougall, M.D., author of The McDougall Program

“Dr. Esselstyn’s eminently successful arrest-and-reversal therapy for heart disease through patient education and empowerment as the treatment of choice will send shock waves through a mercenary medical system that focuses largely on pills and procedures.”

—Hans Diehl, founder and Director, Coronary Health Improvement Project

“Dr. Esselstyn’s solution in “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” is as profound as Newton’s discovery of gravity. Half of all Americans dying today could have changed their date with the undertaker by following Dr. Esselstyn’s plan.”

—Howard F. Lyman, coauthor of No More Bull! and Mad Cowboy

“If you have heart disease, this book should be essential reading. It could save your life.”

—Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

I’ve read and tried to follow many diets, but from now on, this is the one I’ll go to and — with a little bit of luck and a lot of determination — stick with. You don’t need dairy and you don’t need meat — and this is from a guy who loves his cheese and a nice steak!

Heart disease remains one of today’s deadliest killers, and The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook empowers readers to make their hearts healthier, one delectable meal at a time. My cardiologist is one of the most respected in the Coastal Bend region of Texas, and when he says jump, I respond “how high?”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Dancer in the Dust’: A Marvelous African Love Story

A little over a year ago, I reviewed Thomas H. Cook’s genre-breaking crime novel “Sandrine’s Case”:

A Dancer in the DustThe publisher must have liked my review because they used a quote from it on the dust jacket of Cook’s new novel, “A Dancer in the Dust” (The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc., 320 pages, $26.00; also available as an eBook).

Using flashbacks, Cook tells the story of young foreign aid worker Ray Campbell, working in the newly independent sub-Saharan fictional African nation of Lubanda. The idealistic 25-year-old, on a trip to a remote part of the country, meets Martine Aubert, a white woman farmer about his age, a native of Lubanda, but set apart because of her race.

This part of the story reminded me of “White Material”, a 2011 film by French director Claire Denis. I haven’t seen the film but I found this on Imdb:

“In White Material, the great contemporary French filmmaker Claire Denis (Chocolat, Beau travail), known for her restless, intimate dramas, introduces an unforgettably crazed character. Played ferociously by Isabelle Huppert (Story of Women, The Piano Teacher), Maria is an entitled white woman living in Africa, desperately unwilling to give up her family’s crumbling coffee plantation despite the civil war closing in on her. Created with Denis’ signature full-throttle visual style, which places the viewer in the center of the maelstrom, White Material is a gripping evocation of the death throes of European colonialism and a fascinating look at a woman lost in her own mind.”

Martine, the daughter of a Belgian couple who bought land in Lubada because it was cheap, is anything but “entitled” with her hardscrabble subsistence farm, but her race sets her apart in a country that’s trying to throw off its colonial past.

Ray meets Martine in a market and is invited to have dinner with her. Ray is attracted to this tall, red-haired woman. Martine is more cautious, but I sensed that she was drawn to the idealistic American. She’s leery of his connection to the country’s dictator, who seems to be modeled on Zimbabwe’s president for life, Robert Mugabe. Or maybe the Idi Amin of Uganda and “The Last King of Scotland.” Or any other tyrant in Africa or elsewhere. The leader of Lubanda has plans for Martine’s land that conflict with her views.

Flash forward two decades: Ray Campbell is now a cautious, New York City based risk management consultant. He has never forgotten Martine and the murder in New York of a friend of his from his time in Lubanda makes him reconsider his time in the country:

“In Lubanda, twenty years before, I’d rolled the dice for a woman who was not even present at the table, and on the outcome of that toss, a braver and more knowing heart than mine had been forfeited.”

In “A Dancer in the Dust” Cook has created another very readable genre-twisting thriller/love story/crime novel that will captivate readers from the start to the finish. I’m putting this novel on my imaginary list of the 10 best books of 2014.
About the author

Thomas H. Cook

Thomas H. Cook

Thomas H. Cook (b. 1947) is the author of nearly two dozen critically lauded crime novels. Born in Fort Payne, Alabama, Cook published his first novel, “Blood Innocents”, in 1980 while serving as the book review editor of Atlanta magazine. Two years later, on the release of his second novel, “The Orchids”, he turned to writing full-time. Cook published steadily through the 1980s, penning such works as the Frank Clemons trilogy, a series of mysteries starring a jaded cop.

He found breakout success with “The Chatham School Affair” (1996), which won an Edgar Award for best novel. His work has been praised by critics for his attention to psychology and the lyrical nature of his prose. Besides mysteries, Cook has written two true-crime books, “Early Graves” (1992) and the Edgar-nominated “Blood Echoes” (1993), as well as several literary novels, including “Elena” (1986). He lives and works in New York City.

Cook’s website: