Monday, September 15, 2014

Annie Jr.

This past weekend "Annie Jr." opened at the Chanticleer Community Theater. 
The first scene is set in a New York City orphanage during The Great Depression with many girls and few beds.  When one young girl is having a nightmare, she is comforted by an older girl, Annie whose parents left her there years ago.   Annie realizes that she is not likely to be adopted.   She realizes that life is difficult on the streets, but knows that she will never find her parents unless she looks for them.  She decides to run away.
Annie is portrayed by eleven-year-old Natalie Simons who possesses a strong stage presence as a leading actress with a confident voice singing her way into the hearts of the audience throughout the musical.   This opening act sets the tone for the entire show with the other eleven young actresses acting, singing, and masterfully dancing while delighting the audience.   These talented roommates are Gracie Clark, Zoey Dittmer, Ryan Doner, Kyrstin Holmes, Olivia Kisicki, Maddy Koch, Alicia Leinen. Violet Lotenschtein, Carson Santee, Mackenzie Storey and Ella Walker.
Considering that the entire cast is between the ages of eight and eighteen, the Chanticleer Theater has excelled with training these young stars of the future and uniting their talents in this show.
Other outstanding performers were Zach Schnitker as Daddy Warbucks, Audrey Schnitker as the Star to Be, and unquestionably Hannah Goodrich as Miss Hannigan whose singing voice is amazing.   All three proved to be excellent singers, dancers, and actors.
As Sandy, the dog, Ginger Insolera quickly won the hearts of the audience.
Overall the support crew for this production was outstanding.  With almost fifty performers and a dog on stage, it definitely had to be challenging with all the costumes, hair, make-up besides the set design and constructions, the transitions between scenes, the lighting and the sound were all outstanding. The only criticism would be the floor microphones which sometimes picked up the dance steps rather than the voices.
When Chanticleer began the Jr. musical programs a few years ago, I was skeptical about these shortened versions losing their story line and of course, my favorite musical selections.  Like condensed books, shortened versions sometimes lose the value of the original.  That is not true of this year's Annie Jr. 
For the Chanticleer each year, these productions have improved significantly while promoting the talented youth of our community.   Denise Putnam, Jerry Gray, Rachael Schnitker and all the production crew are phenomenal with development of evolving these children into performers with their annual Chanticleer Children's Theater Summer Workshop.  
This is a family-friendly show for everyone.   The actual production lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes for the twelve scenes.
Annie Jr. continues through this weekend with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night and at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.  Ticket costs are $ 20 for adullts, $ 16 for seniors, $ 10 for students, and season membership packages for upcoming shows are still available.  To purchase the tickets contact the box office at 712-323-9955 or
Last Friday night's performance proved the success of this program with a full house and a standing ovation and not just from family members.   Get there early to find the best parking and theater seats.
Annie Jr. is a delightful performance for everyone in the family besides having a wonderful time listening to wonderful singers, actors, and dancers with an optimistic outlook on life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Lewis Man

The Lewis Man
Peter May
New York, Ner York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-829-9
$ 21.94
368 pages

"When you are young a year is a big part of your life and seems to last for ever.  When you are old, there have been too many of them gone before and they pass all too fast.  We move so slowly away from birth, and rush so quickly to death."

The Isle of Lewis is the largest and northermost island of the Outer Hebrides off the northwestern coast of Scotland.   During the harvest season when the peat fom the bogs is actually cut to be used for heating during the long harsh winters, a body is discovered.  

Being mummified, the first reaction is to bring in archaeologists to date the body.  Peat is an unusual substance in that it stops the body from decaying while preserving it.   The facial features of the dead man are clear enough for others to notice a resemblance to local families. The medical examiner notices multiple stab wounds concluding that death was caused by the victim's throat being cut. Could this have been a human sacrifice from ages ago?

On closer examination, a tattoo is discovered on the victim's arm.   Looking carefully, the tattoo is of Elvis.  Immediately law enforcement realizes that this murder happened in the last fifty years.  How do you identify the owner of the body from fifty years ago?   How do you bring the killer to justice?

Fin McLeod has left behind his life as a detective inspector and is returning to the island to restore his parents' derelict croft and hoping to reconnect with a former love who he believes was the love of his life.   He didn't plan to be involved with this investigation.

DNA reveals that the mummified body is a close relative of his former love's father who is living his final years in the throes of dementia at a retiremens home.  Quickly Fin learns that her father is not the man whose name he has used for fifty years.  Why?  What is the old man hiding?  Who is he?  Could this old man be a killer?  What does he know about the dead man?  How do you discover his secrets?

The Lewis Man is an enthralling novel with a different approach for a mystery.  The movement is slow at first while introducing the characters and their relationships.   Incorporating a background of the isolated and desolate everyday life on Lewis fifty-some years ago brings to light the problems of the time period.  With the Catholic/Protestant conflicts, orphaned children, as well as the problems of the simplistic and constant working of the fields and the bogs these island inhabitants led a hard life.

This book is a reprint of the original published in 2011 and is part of a three book set  The Lewis Trilogy all by Peter May.  The Lewis Man is actually the second novel in this series following The Black House and concluding with The Chessman.   Attached to the trilogy is another photo book also by Peter May entitled Hebrides.

Author Peter May is an award-winning journalist currently residing in France.   He has been the screenwriter for three prime-time British drama series as well as numerous television programs.   He has over fifteen published novels including additional series The Enzo Files and The China Thrillers.   He is the only western author who is an honorary member of the Chinese Crime Writers' Association and has won the Barry and the Crime Thriller Hound Award.

Dark, depressing are both perfect descriptors of The Lewis Man. However, this is unquestionably a superbly written novel which slowly draws the reader into the story in a masterfully creative manner while viewing just a glimpse of a past life in the Outer Hebrides.  

I definitely plan to read the other novels in this trilogy as well as Peter May's other masterpieces.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dead Line

Dead Ball
A Lainie Lovett Still Kicking Mystery
Judith Arnold
Bell Bridge Books
Memphis, TN
$ 14.95 Paperback
ISBN: 978-161194412
$ 4.99 Kindle
248 pages

Curiosity is what causes Lainie's problems.  Widowed elementary-school teachers who have a college graduated daughter living back at home and who play soccer with the local women's under-fifty soccer league are not the most likely murder suspects. 
When rain cancels soccer practice, Lainie and a few friends relax at a local pub, the Olde Towne.  What they didn't plan on was seeing a teammate's husband with a young well-endowed blond.  What do you do now?  Do you tell Patty, his wife?  The husband was so engaged with the blond that he did not notice the other women.  What do you do now?
In the past, Patty has stated that if her husband messed around, she would kill him.  Is this premeditated murder?
Arthur Cavanaugh had a dream to develop a new housing development for the wealthy.  The locals have mixed feelings about this new area.  Most realize that the new area should greatly increase the value of their property while also attracting environmentalists due to the destruction of the forested areas and wildlife.
Lainie seems to attract trouble.  When she hears rumors of the possible death, she decides to drive over to the construction site where Arthur was killed.  Unfortunately, the police have not even left the crime scene yet and see her observing from the distance.  Added to that, she meets the foreman of the construction project, Bill Slavik who seems interested in her.  Lainie is interested and agrees to go out with him.  This is her first date since her husband died of cancer.
Arthur was killed at the construction site.  Who would be the likely suspect?  Bill Slavik, the foreman who frequently yelled at the developer or the wife?  Considering the he was killed with a nail gun, who would be your most likely suspect?
When she finds Arthur's phone in her purse, she wisely calls her attorney.  He escorts Lainie to the police to turn in the phone.  How did it get in her purse?
Lainie quickly discovers that this first date and the phone have made her a suspect.  She is arrested as a possible accomplice.  
This creates another problem for Lainie.  Because she is a murder suspect, she is placed on temporary leave from her fourth-grade classroom and because Patty is on the soccer team, she is also temporarily suspended from the team.
What does she do with her extra time?
Why not investigate who really killed Arthur?
Dead Ball is a fast-paced romantic mystery.  Lainie is a delightful protagonist with real-world problems and issues, even if she is a little dense and blind to the obvious.  The supporting characters are varied with their roles in Lainie's life even when adding humor and realism with her Jewish mother-in-law.  The story concludes completely as most romances, almost so nicely that it seems a bit contrived.  Real life usually does not conclude quite so completely.
Judith Arnold has written more than ninety novels and has won numerous awards for her romance novels.  One of her books earned the distinction of being a finalist for the RITA, the Romance Writer's of America while also being the winner of the Reviewer's Choice Awards for R.T. Reviews.  Her novels have won the best Harlequin American Romance Award, as well as the Harlequin Super romance, Harlequin Series Romance, Harlequin Contemporary, and Single Title Romance.  Love in Bloom was considered to be one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.
Dead Ball is a wonderful, fast-paced, cozy, page turner that will keep your interest to the last page.

When a Spider Came to Stay

When a Spider Came to Stay
Author: Rebecca Crosdale
Illustrator: Charles Berton
Create Space Independent Publishing
Amazon Digital
ISBN: 978-14006109010
e-book $ 2.99
Paperback $ 12.99
32 pages

"Along came a spider, who sat down beside her and frightened..."

Those words from the old nursery rhyme have created generations suffering from arachnophobia.  Are spiders really that frightening?   Are they a threat to humans?

Those words have terrified many a child and yes, even adults throughout the year.  Spiders with their wiggly legs, often hairy, and fanged mouths appear frightening.  In reality, most spiders really do not choose to be near humans.   Yes, spiders can appear scary, but most are harmless to humans.   However to insects, they are lethal.

When a Spider Came to Stay separates children's fears from reality.  A girl is sitting quietly in her den with a spider weaving an intricate web in the corner of the room along the ceiling.  After awhile, it quietly descends on a single silken thread to the ground where it approaches the girl and seems to sit beside the chair.  She leans to the opposite arm of the chair actually cowering in the corner of the chair.  In time, she feels a little more comfortable with the creature even attempting to talk and feed the spider.

When a Spider Came to Stay has clear and vividly colorful pictures perfectly matching the text as the girl's curiosity replaces her fear recognizing the beauty and artistry of one-small arachnid's magnificent creation even beginning to slightly alter the perspective from the spider.

With short sentences on each illustrated page, the story moves quickly in the first twenty-six pages.  Additionally there are four pages of questions for teachers and parents leading into the underlying themes not immediately revealed in the story creating a deeper understanding and realization regarding differences and acceptances of others who are different.

The approach of the author regarding fear of the unknown is clever with this parallel story of the spider.  Utilizing people's common misconceptions of ignorance through this delightful tale is a brilliant idea by the author Rebecca Crosdale while also teaching about friendship and courage.

Also unusual and wonderful is that this tale is also published in a simplified version for younger children or for those with special needs entitled The Spider in My Den with Sherry Rose Anderson as the illustrator. 

The Spider Came to Stay is a delightful small book for children of all ages teaching some life lessons for everyone.

The Son

The Son
Jo Nesbo
Translator - Charlotte Barslund
Alfred A. Knopf
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-385-35138-6
$ 25.95
402 pages

Can a confession without evidence convict someone of murder?
Sonny Lofthus is in prison in Norway for committing two murders.  Naturally many felons continually profess their own innocence but how often do other convicts believe in another inmate's innocence?
For Sonny, this unique situation of respect also appears to have given him healing hands capable of mending the broken souls of these imprisoned souls.  The cost of this service is to keep him supplied with enough heroin so that he stays high.  Yes within prison walls, all the inmates and the staff manage to keep Sonny content.
However, Sonny really is innocent of these two murders.  Was his confession years ago worth the way he lives now?
Sonny's father as a policeman, appeared to be deeply involved in corruption.  He killed himself, or did he?  With new information, he questions the truth about his father.  Was he set up?
He realizes that within the prison walls, he cannot discover the truth.  With help, Sonny manages to successfully escape.   On a personal quest to exonerate his father and to discover the truth, Sonny needs to stay ahead of law enforcement and those you do not want their secrets revealed.
The Son is an unusual mystery separating the law from justice.   What is right when the law is mistaken or corrupt?     
From the law enforcement perspective, Chief Inspector Simon Kefas with a new inexperienced partner are investigating a murder and the likely suspect is Sonny.  What isn't clear is how Sonny is somehow connected to the death.   Could he be innocent and because he is escaped, he is just the most likely suspect?  Simon, coincidentally was the partner of Sonny's father, Ab.  A part of Simon wants to save Sonny while also he realizes his commitment to enforce the law.
Added to Simon's conflict, is the personal problem of his wife going blind.   As an addicted gambler, there is no money that  creating is needed for her to travel to the States for surgery to save her sight.   When money is offered, can he accept it to save his wife and what is expected of him in return?
The Son is a standalone novel and is not in the Harry Hole series.  As with Nesbo's other books, this book was originally written in Norwegian and then translated into English and whether it is the writing or the translating, The Son is an enticing and enthralling tale that is graphically violent, although not as dark as Nesbo's other novels. What is unique about The Son is the internal conflicts of each character and each other creating fluctuating between being protagonists and antagonists.
Viewing the escaped murderer who seeks justice and truth creates hope in this conflicted tale.
The author, Jo Nesbo resides in Norway working as a songwriter, musician, economist as well as the award winning author for the Glass Key which is given for the best Nordic crime novel.
For a different type of mystery with realistically human characters, read The Son.