Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Girl from Home

The Girl from Home
Adam Mitzner
Gallery Books
Simon & Schuster
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6428-3
2016
$26.00
336 pages

"...I loved my penthouse and the East Hampton oceanfront house I was going to buy.  But it was all in the same kind of way, I loved what I thought they said about me.  That I was successful, I guess.  That I mattered."

Jonathan Caine is living the life he dreamed of living.  He is a well-respected and successful currency trader earning huge bonuses annually and in command of a team of advisors and underlings.  Outside of work he has the beautiful trophy wife, wears designer suits, drives a Bentley and can't imagine a life that he is not currently experiencing.

That is until his success begins to implode.  What happens when everything you believed in is stripped away?  What then really matters in your life?

As his world begins to shatter, Jonathan's father is dying.  Because he needs a distraction and to temporarily escape from reality, he returns home.  Surprisingly even to him, he decides to attend his
twenty-fifth high school reunion.  He is proud of his accomplishments, especially compared to his classmates.  No one appears as successful as him.  Unfortunately he is aware that soon his slowly descending world could come crashing down.

He is delighted to finally have the attention of the former prom queen, Jacqueline Williams.  During high school, she had not been aware of his existence.  Life for Jacqueline is not as she dreamed.  Yes, she married the football star but this dream man from her teen-aged years has turned into a drunken, abusive husband.

As Jonathan's father is dying, he gives his son some advice.   These few words change his life forever.

The Girl from Home is an addictive novel that is difficult to put down. The story progression is realistic, problematic for the main characters, and unpredictable.  The characterization excels with the reader having a strong visual image of every person with difficult choices in their lives.  With a tightly written and well-organized plot progressing logically but with what feels authentic, as if the story was based from reality.

Adam Mitzner resides as a lawyer in New York City.  His previous novels are Losing Faith, A Case of Redemption, and A Conflict of Interest.

The Girl from Home is a true psychological thriller keeping every adult reader racing to the conclusion on the last page.




The British Lion

The British Lion
Tony Schumacher
William Morrow
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-239459-0
$ 25.99
2015
450 pages

"Chess wouldn't work without pawns."

Are we just pawns in the game of life?  Like the game of chess are we just moved about or sacrificed in a scheme where we do not completely understand the rules or even the purpose?

In a world where Germany won the war during WWII and is currently occupying England, The British Lion offers readers the rare opportunity to judge the characters not by their national allegiances but by their actions. 

Ernst Koehler is a German SS officer working in Great Britain. Recently he lost his index finger and thumb.  Over the years he has spent much of his time away from his wife and daughter who reside in Germany.   He is thrilled that both of them are now visiting him. 

John Henry Rossett is in a hospital recovering from being shot while attempting to save a Jewish boy and getting him to safety in America.  Rossetti is known as the British Lion, the Fuhrer's favorite Brit.  However, Rossett does not enjoy this honor.  Germany is thrilled with the positive collaborative publicity of their former enemy.  Koehler chooses to not disclose how Rossett was really hurt so that he will be allowed to return to his life as a police officer.

These two form a team when Koehler's wife and daughter are kidnapped.  Their unusual partnership hinges on a  level of respect but not friendship.   Koehler values Rossett's expertise while John is sympathetic to Koehler's situation.. 

Koehler's family is being held by the Americans.  He is now being blackmailed.   The ransom for his family is a female Jewish scientist.   Sounds simple but this one scientist holds the key to the atomic bomb.  Whoever has the bomb, rules the world.

As with most plans, things don't work as smoothly as planned.  These complications greatly affect every aspect of this trade.  

What is amazing is this novel was my prejudice towards nationalities as to who were the protagonists/antagonists.  The role was constantly changing in my mind and fortunately each character had to be judged by their actions.  

The alternative view of a Europe possibly unified by the Nazis was fascinating to see a perspective which possibly was a dream and goal of many Germans at the time.

The British Lion is the sequel to Schumacher's previous novel, The Darkest Hour.  Reading this previous novel is not a requirement to understand this plot.  The story was almost hypnotic even though a little difficult at first due to the alternative history aspect.

The author, Tony Schumacher has written for both the Huffington Post, The Guardian and both the Liverpool and Manchester Confidential magazines.  He has also spent time as a performer and stand-up comedian. 

This book is for adults with violence, strong language, and requiring a sense of the history of World War II being essential to truly appreciating  what a unique and phenomenal novel has been created by the artistry of author, Tony Schumacher.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mail-Order Kid

Mail-Order Kid
Marilyn June Coffey
"out West" Press
Omaha, Nebraska
ISBN: 978-0-9626317-2-6
2010
$ 15.95
264 pages

From the years of 1854 to 1929 many children left their homes in New York City to become a son or a daughter to a new family somewhere in our country.  Naturally the hope was to be adopted by a loving family.  The name for this movement was usually through  by train.  This became known as the orphan train.
Like all children, some were fortunate and loved by their new families.  However some of these children had horrific experiences, being beaten and even slaves to their adopted family.  Probably most of these orphaned and unwanted children lived with families that were somewhere between these two extremes.
Teresa Martin was three-years-old when she became a passenger of the Orphan Train.  Having lived in the orphanage for awhile, she never really knew the identity of her parents but relied on the nurturing nuns who had so far mothered her. They sent her away with the hopes of a better life.  Although very young, she remembered many impressionable events from her life in the convent.  These were her earliest memories, never knowing her parents but fond thoughts of loving nuns who favored, mothered and truly loved her.
Unfortunately for Teresa, she was assigned to a German family in Kansas.   This petite, dark-haired, olive-skinned beauty did not easily fit into the life of two older adults who had grown children.  She did not speak German and they did not speak English.  Living with a different language and customs was difficult for Teresa who truly felt that she did not belong.  Fortunately she befriended a German priest who nurtured her while also teaching her the language of her new life.  Even though she lived in the U.S.A., English was not the preferred language of this town. 
Teresa lived with this family who fed, sheltered and clothed her.  However her new parents were not affectionate or loving.  Their relationship was always strained which resulted in her being sexually abused and even whipped.
Later as an adult, Teresa frequently still felt isolated and unconnected resulting in her search for who were her parents.  Who was she?  What happened to her parents?   Why?
Author Marilyn Coffey was relocating to Nebraska after spending thirty years in New York, She decided to become a speaker for the state humanities council but she needed a specialty, a unique topic.  Someone mentioned the orphan trains and she immediately discounted the thought.  Who would put orphans on trains and send them to unknown destinations? 
Surprisingly as she began to research this topic, she was surprised to discover that more than half of these children actually were not orphans but had at least one parent with one quarter of them having both parents.  So why?
Marilyn Coffey was hooked.  The topic was fascinating.  She searched for an actual orphan train survivor but most were elderly or deceased.  While lecturing about the orphan train, she received a letter from an actual orphan train rider who asked about why she had no first hand experiences. 
This led to an unusual friendship that became this biography.  
Mail-Order Kid is the product of this phenomenal friendship allowing the readers to become a part of this historical and memorable experience combining Teresa's life story with Marilyn's writing gifts.
This collaboration is an enthralling biography capturing the past into a loving and reflective novel between Marilyn Coffey and Teresa Martin. 
This book is for everyone to read, reflect, learn, and enjoy.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Caroline, or Change




Once in a while I see a show that literally "blows-me-away".  That is the case of "Caroline, or Change" which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Combining great music, phenomenal performances by extremely talented singers and actors with inspired direction and support staff makes this a memorable show discussing the social changes of the 1960s. 
"Caroline, or Change" is about a black-maid, Caroline portrayed by Echelle Childers.. She works for a Jewish family in Lake Charles, Louisiana during 1963.  This household has a father, a step-mother and an eight-year-old boy.  The father, Stuart Gellman works as a professional musician playing the clarinet. He is still grieving over the death of his wife who died of cancer even though he has remarried. 
The step-mother, Rose was a close friend of his wife.   She is frustrated by her new life.  Rose who previously lived in New York.  The Southern life is new to her. Added to that, she realizes that her husband is still grieving and withdrawn.   To further complicate life is Noah, the eight-year-old son.  Rose feels as if she is hated by him.  This eight-year-old is also grieving.  Life has changed since his mother's death and the only consistency in his young life is the family maid.
Caroline works in the newly in the basement in this house below sea level.  Her daily life consists of  a special relationship with the washing machine, dryer and sharing a cigarette with the 8-year-old Noah. 
Caroline has enough problems of her own being a divorced mother with four children of which the oldest is serving in Viet Nam.  Her daily challenges causes her to be harsh.  Even though, Noah is completely devoted to her, spending much of his time with her in the basement enjoying their friendship.  At one point in the play, Caroline is compared to being "the salt of the earth where nothing grows".   However, the salt can also make life a little tastier.
Life begins to change with change-pennies, nickels, dimes, and nickels.  Rose is frustrated with the change being found in the washing machine from pockets not being emptied. It appears that Noah does not empty money from his pockets. Caroline keeps a jar for the change but Rose decides that all the change can now go to Caroline.  After all, she only earns $30 a week and this way she can get a little raise, even if the family cannot afford it. 
The change causes change.
This show is unique, maybe ahead of its time.  The washing machine, moon, dryer, and bus are all great performers.  Yes, these inanimate objects are played by great multi-talented performers who are phenomenal singers.  
This type of musical opera combining elements of rock, soul, gospel and blues is an enthralling show that drew a full audience at the Howard Drew Theater at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
This cast and crew are outstanding.   The costumes, hair, acting, singing, props, scenery, music, accompaniment and stage management are top notch and could compete with any professionally performing company.   The show is fast-paced but time seems to stand still as each person tells their story. 
Personally I loved the Radio which was the voices with choreography of Rachel Busse, Dani Cleveland and Erin Florea.  These three Supreme-like performers were delightful with costumes resembling a classy radio.   Also, I loved the washing machine by Zhomontee Watson, bus and dryer by Nik Whitcomb and the moon, Kathy Banta.  All were phenomenal performers showing that they thoroughly enjoyed their roles.
Danny Denenberg was great as Noah Gellman as well Kundai Jacha and Wayne Hudson as Caroline's sons.   These children showed a stage maturity way beyond their years.  All the members of the Gellman family were outstanding.
Aguel Lual was phenomenal in the role of Caroline's daughter, Emmie.   Her singing "blew me away".  Wow!   The grandparents were all wonderful singers and actors.  Jerry Van Horn, Sara Planck, and Council Bluffs' resident, Joseph Dignoti.   
The lead role of Caroline portrayed by Echelle Childers also was a great voice by a very talented actress.
Local pianist, Ben Tweedt commanded the keyboards.
Caroline, or Change continues through Sunday, March 20th at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street     On Wednesdays through Saturday, the curtain raises at 7:30p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sunday with the cost of a ticket being $30 for adults and $20 for students on Wednesday and $40 for adults and $25 for students from Thursday through Sunday.   For tickets contact the bozx office at 402-553-4890, ext.147 or ticketomaha.com.
How can a washer, dryer, bus, and unquestionably the moon be outstanding characters?  Go see the unique but phenomenal production of "Caroline, or Change".




Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd is the tale of a barber in 19th century London combining dark humor with opera.  Yes, it is in English, funny, adult-oriented and currently being performed at our local Chanticleer Community Theater.
Lust, that is how it all begins.
A barber loved his beautiful wife and daughter.   Unfortunately a judge saw the wife and decided to pursue her.   To get the husband out of the way, he had him arrested and sent to another continent.
Fifteen years later, the barber has returned home and discovers that his wife is dead and the judge adopted his daughter.  Naturally he feels that it is time for justice to prevail.  This is his story of Sweeney Todd, the barber.
Sweeney Todd is unquestionably an adult show.   There is violence and suggestive sexual implications.
The show at Chanticleer is a wonderful show telling the tale of Sweeney Todd.   The production is filled with extremely talented performers explaining the story.  The strength of this show is the story line being beautifully narrated by a variety of voices allowing the audience to view the varying perspectives of each person.
In actuality Sweeney Todd is an urban legend written in stories of various origins which have appeared since the thirteenth century.  No one knows whether or not he really existed.
Our local Chanticleer Community Theater has excelled with this phenomenal production.  Every person on stage, every motion, song, action is well-planned and perfectly enhances this story. 
This is one of those rare production where every person on stage and off is so talented that they could easily be in a major role in any production.  
As with all live performances, each show will be slightly different depending on numerous variables, including the audience.  
On the night I was in the audience, these were my favorite performers.
Unquestionable, the husband and wife team of Chris and Sarah Ebke as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett was outstanding.  Both masterfully commanded the stage with their acting and singing while maintaining the strained and strange relationship between these two main characters.
Personally, I loved David Ebke as Toby.  As he sang "Nothing's Going to Harm You Not While I'm Around" to Mrs. Lovett, I could feel the devoted love of this unloved young man finally finding a caring adult as an adopted parent.   However, Mrs. Lovett didn't feel quite the same.
As the young couple in love, Johanna portrayed by Megan Kelly and Anthony played by Brandon Fisher were wonderful.  These two invigorated the audience with their love and dreams of hope in their being together.
A small role that stood out was the beggar woman who quickly became one of my favorite characters.   Samantha Shatley was phenomenal with her begging and her suggested sexual invitations. 
D. Laureen Pickle obviously shared her experiences and expertise in directing this massive production.  The sets, costumes, hair, make-up, props, back stage crew, program editor, lighting, and sound were phenomenal allowing the audience to view a production with seamless problems so that the audience directed all their attention to the stage.
Supporting the cast was a wonderful orchestra with many keyboards being played by Laurel Andersen Mack, Victory Sedlacek, Kay Johnson, D. Laureen Pickle along with Janet Ratekin Williams and Kristine Wolfe playing woodwinds and Therese Laux on percussion. 
Also as assistant director, Mark Reid, stage manager Jamie Jarecki and technical director Michael Taylor Stewart were wonderful in their support of the cast.   Everything moved as if one person was narrating the story into a spellbinding thriller surrounded by music.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will continue at Chanticleer Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs through March 20th at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.   The price of the tickets for adults is $20, $16 for seniors over 60 years of age and $10 for students.  For more information and to purchase tickets contact the box office at 712-323-9955 or through their website at www.chanticleertheater.com
For a wonderful and creative show exhibiting the great talented musicians or for a mysterious tale of urban legend or just an enjoyable, fun performance go see Sweeney Todd.  This show of dark humor with phenomenal music is a must-see for everyone.