Stories crafted of Las Vegas lore make great holiday gifts

It’s Christmas on the boulevard, and the crowds are harder to cut through than an NFL defensive line.

Fortunately, last-minute shoppers have some excellent options in the form of local and regional books.

Here’s a sample of some of the good stuff that will help you avoid the crowds and please the readers in your life:

Annie Duke is not only one of professional poker’s best players, but she’s also a talented writer. Her latest book from Huntington Press is “Decide to Play Great Poker,” and publisher Anthony Curtis tells me it’s his house’s “big winner of the year. It’s done everything that I thought Annie might be able to do.”

Although Duke offers no guarantees, her voice is authoritative, and her advice is solid.

If you prefer gourmet steaks to high stakes, then “Eat Las Vegas” is for you. It’s written by three of the better foodies in Las Vegas (Sorry, fellas, but the R-J’s Heidi Knapp Rinella gets my vote) John Curtis, Max Jacobsen and Al Mancini and is a veritable buffet of good advice and better writing on the amazing Las Vegas restaurant scene.

If you’re not too stuffed after that, the combined edition of Branch Whitney’s “Hiking Las Vegas” will help you walk off those excess calories in the most beautiful places in Southern Nevada. He’s one prolific hiker.

At Stephens Press, an affiliate of the Review-Journal, “Fade Sag Crumble” gathers insightful essays from local writers on the subject of decay in Las Vegas. They have much to say, and I found reporter Lynnette Curtis’ “Corridor of Hope” particularly moving.

“Las Vegas Rag Doll” by Joe Schoenmann and Wendy Mazaros stacks up to be the most controversial local book of the year. Subtitled “A True Story of Terror and Survival as the Wife of a Mob Hitman,” it details the life of the former Wendy Hanley, a local party girl and ex-wife of notorious local thug Tom Hanley.

Parts of the story are hard to believe. The rest of it is hard to put down.

My personal local favorite title of the year is “No Work and All Play” by former casino boss Roger Wagner. Its 431 pages are packed with stories of the old Las Vegas and characters as varied as Donald Trump, Jack Binion and even Mickey Mantle. Wagner also has some candid insight into the personalities of some of the mobbed-up casino men who once made the Strip such a Runyonesque place to play.

Ann Ronald’s “Friendly Fallout 1953” is a compelling and creative look at the dawn of the nuclear age in Nevada. Ronald’s story deserves a wide readership.

Like Ronald, Las Vegas author H. Lee Barnes is a member of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. His latest offering is a memoir of Vietnam titled, “When We Walked Above the Clouds.” The former Special Forces member speaks with authority and sensitivity about a subject he knows well.

Las Vegas pioneer Helen J. Stewart was one tough woman. A book on her life is long overdue, and Sally Zanjani and Carrie Townley Porter do her justice in their “Helen J. Stewart: First Lady of Las Vegas.”

SCHOOL PRESENTS: Local businessman Bobby Ellis and his family and friends have come through once again for local schoolchildren. Ellis has long been a supporter of Whitney Elementary, where many of the students are homeless and most live below the poverty line, but Whitney is not the only school in need.

So Ellis and associates Ileana Drobkin, Greg Musolf of Walgreens, the Shriners and members of UNLV’s Athletic Department have added to the list. They have made $10,000 in donations to Sewell and Taylor Elementary schools in Henderson and $10,000 to Martinez Elementary in North Las Vegas.

ON THE BOULEVARD: Starting in January, look for daily Boulevard updates on my blog at Follow me on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

Have an item for Bard of the Boulevard? Email comments and contributions to or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at

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