Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Doc Severinsen

There is nothing like a night with masterful jazz musicians harmonizing while making music. That was exactly what happened at the Holland Center last Saturday with Doc Severinsen’s Big Band concert.
Doc entered on stage wearing red leather pants, a purple shirt, and a sequenced white jacket which were definitely reminiscent of his Tonight Show days with the band playing the theme song from the show. (I almost expected to find Ed McMahon in the audience.) Although a youthful 84-years of age, Doc quickly informed this audience in “the land of Carson” that he is “not ready to go yet.” By the way he played that trumpet, interacted with the band, dressed, and strutted, his advice to the audience was “do not go quietly into the night”. He definitely took his own advice on this particular night.
The concert began with “September Song” being played by this multi-generational and accomplished band. This upbeat arrangement featured the expertise of the tenor saxophone played by Ernie Watts who actually was part of the band on the Tonight Show and still is a well-sought after musician who has recorded numerous albums.
With “The St. Louis Blues” , Severinsen beautifully soared his high-notes while also featuring the jazz pianist, Mary Louise Knutson, who is also an accomplished and recorded jazz musician.
Belting out the songs was Vanessa Thomas who Doc discovered in Clay Center, Kansas. This talented singer showed her versatility in style and range with “Singin’ in the Rain”, “Smile", and “When You’re Smiling”, as well as Duke Wellington’s “Mood Indigo”.
Two ballads showed the true musicianship of all the members of the band. With “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” you could feel the expression and the warmth of this song. Unquestionably, the highlight of the show was when Doc led the band with the tune “Georgia on My Mind” with his trumpet soaring in this melodic and soulful rendition.
Naturally as a tribute, Johnny Carson’s favorite, “Here’s that Rainy Day” was part of this program featuring Doc’s mellow tones. Other songs included were “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”, “Caravan”, “Sax Alley” with Ernie Watts and Chip McNeill being featured, “Sing,Sing,Sing” with drummer Stockton Helbing, “Stardust”, and “One O’Clock Jump”.
Doc Severinsen ended with asking the audience to come back next year for our reunion as he youthfully strutted from the stage.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Explorers' Gate

The Explorers’ Gate
Chris Grabenstein
An E-book Exclusive
January 21, 2012
Kindle Price $3.99
Young Adult Novel

Nikki Van Wyck is not your typical twelve-year-old. For one thing, she lives with her dad in a building
adjacent to New York City’s Central Park. Nikki’s mom died two years ago and her father is having
difficulty learning to live again. He doesn’t care about much of anything anymore except drinking beer.

For a twelve-year-old girl, with her dad working as the resident superintendent of this building, she
doesn’t have much money for things that her peers find are important such as clothes and treats at the
Shake Shack. Fitting into the group just isn’t working for her.

One thing that Nikki knows is Central Park. She realizes that she is an expert in this one particular area
and knows the history as well as the stories around every aspect of the park. When she was little, her
mom gave her a necklace which resembled a puzzle piece from the map of Central Park and the advice
to learn all the she could about the park.

A billionaire, David Drake, is hosting a “Parks Smarts” competition regarding the trivia Central Park and
the winner will receive $10,000. Nikki is certain that she can win it.

She is surprised when she meets another contestant who has a necklace similar to hers. When they
compare their necklaces, the two pieces fit together. Garrett Vanderdonk informs Nikki that his
brother, Willem, has the third piece which completes the puzzle. Apparently, Garrett’s grandfather
knows about the necklaces and Nikki. He has mentioned that they might need to find Nikki for the
Crown Quest. Nikki has no clue about any of this.

Now Nikki is going to begin the real contest of her life and for the love of her park, Central Park.

New Yorker, Chris Grabenstein writes phenomenal young adult books. I thoroughly adored his series
featuring Zach Jennings with The Crossroads, The Hanging Hill, The Smoky Corridor, and The Black Heart
Crypt. His adult book series featuring John Ceepak are Mad Mouse, Whack-a-Mole, Hell Hole, Mind
Scrambler, and Rolling Thunder all involve a mystery with a classy bit of humor.

The Explorer’s Gate is fast-paced and intense. It is also kid and adult friendly. The story flies as Nikki
discovers more about the park and about herself. Although predictable, this book is a fun-journey into
the well-known Central Park.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Confession

The Confession (Ian Rutledge Mysteries)
Charles Todd
William Morrow
Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-201566-2
344 pages
$ 25.95

What would any police inspector do when a man seeks him out at Scotland Yard to confess that he has actually murdered a man? Added to this, this man states that he will not be punished for his crime since he is near to death. The man is dying of stomach cancer. Essentially, this is a deathbed confession.

Inspector Rutledge investigates but is sidetracked when he discovered this man’s body was discovered in the Thames River. He was not drowned, but was shot in the back of the head. Why kill a dying man? Quickly, he also discovers that the dying man identified himself with a false name. Why? Added to this is a locket around the dead man’s neck. The locket belonged to a woman who long ago disappeared.

Ian Rutledge is dealing with his own guilt from fighting in France during World War I. Being given orders and being responsible for these orders being carried out, Rutledge was placed in the situation of leading his men on a suicidal mission. When his best friend refused the order, Rutledge was forced to shoot him. Now, the guilt daily stays with him in the form of the assassinated man speaking with him in his mind. There is evidence of shell-shock in every war.

This investigation takes Rutledge to the marshes near Essex, specifically to the small village of Furnham. Unfortunately, this close-knit community has many secrets of their past and of their frequent crimes which they will not risk anyone discovering. No one will talk to him or assist him in any way in this community. What are they hiding?

The Confession is an excellent mystery that both gives the reader a sense of the setting and has an intriguing and interwoven mystery. The sense of life during and immediately after World War I is realized through all of the incidents with Rutledge while still allowing the reader to truly sympathize with his personal demons in this tightly woven tale.

Charles Todd, with his mother Caroline Todd, has been the author of numerous novels featuring Ian Rutledge and also the Bess Crawford mysteries, as well as one standalone novel. With The Confession being the fourteenth installment in this series, it successfully reads as both a single novel and as the continuation of a series. This novel successfully has the correct balance of character development for both.

The Confession is definitely one of the intricate mysteries that I have ever read. The pacing is fast while also very involved with numerous intertwining threads leading to the final resolution. Definitely read, The Confession.

The WaterCoolers

The Water Coolers are a different type of entertainment. The members are from a New-York comedy group that incorporates Broadway performers into their acts with a comic approach to everyday life.
This traveling company with five actors, one pianist, and one technician travel throughout the country entertaining audiences with their own versions of songs presented last Saturday at The Arts Center located at Iowa Western Community College.
Many of us have had a variety of computer problems throughout the years and have had to deal with the customer service technicians or the help with the local technicians in your company. When anyone actually talks to you, it always seems like it is a completely different language. This leads perfectly to their song entitled, “The IT Cowboy”. Another issue for most parents is dealing with all the wonderful fund raising campaigns. This leads to “Who Will Buy This _____ for My Kid’s School?”
Personally, my favorite was the person at works who really just manipulates and does not work. “The Great Pretender” is a song featuring this person. The singing talent incorporated close harmonies and really allowed Mick Bonde to belt out this song. Also easy to understand was “Delay Come and I Want to Go Home” relating the problems of airplane travel and comparing this experience to the DMV in the sky.
Each presentation was filled with energy and were delightfully comical, and unfortunately, very truthful and realistic. The songs were commonly well-known tunes with updated words that every adult could easily understand in this daily life situations.
The performances of these five were well-trained voices filled with energy, harmony, and choreography. The balance of the group abounded with enthusiasm and showmanship interwoven in comedy. This company included the talents of Peter Brown, Xander Chauncey, Ariel Page, Brooke Wilson, and Mick Bonde along with a wonderful accompanist and technician.
The group interacted with the audience and even had a brief Iowa quiz between two contestants, one from Omaha and one from Council Bluffs. (The Omaha resident won.)
Some of the tunes used in this particular performance were “Intermission” based on the tune of “Oklahoma”, “Scrolling on the Touch Screen” to the tune of “Rolling on the River” and “Paranoia” to the tune of “The Hallelujah Chorus”.
This was great entertainment on a Saturday night. I would gladly see this group again, anytime.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Faith of the Heart

Faith of the Heart (Back to Omaha Adventure)
Jewell Tweedt
January 17, 2012
E-published through Amazon
Will be available in print form with about 250 pages
Printed copy will be around $10.00
Fiction / Romance/ Christian

Claire Secord is the type of person that each of us wishes we could be, hardworking reliable, with values and beliefs reflected in her daily life. Since the death of her parents, she has worked as a nanny to two rambunctious boys in Gettysburg while still heartbroken over the loss of her fiancé who was fighting with the Union Army nearby. During a battle, he disappeared. Now, she presumes he is dead.

Claire receives a telegram from her aunt explaining that her husband recently died of a heart attack.Her aunt asked her to come to Omaha to help with the running of their small store in this frontier town.

Since this is her only family and she feels indebted to them, she immediately quits her position while  anxiously wondering if this is the best choice for her.

Life seldom works out as we expect and Claire is shocked when arriving in Omaha only to discover that her aunt now has also died.

Greeting Claire is the handsome sheriff of Omaha who escorts her to her new home and store. What does Claire know about operating a general store? She begins her new life by cleaning.

Entering this transition in life is her fiancé who now has a new life and identity. Claire has never taken off the necklace that was a sign of their promise and love for each other. Why not, unless she still loves him? One thing though is the same. He still wants Claire as his wife and to begin their life together back East.

Claire has proven her own sense of commitment and love to her fiancé but has he proven his love or just his desires? Can she love this man who now has a new name and life? Is he really the man that she loves or does she have a stronger feeling for someone else? She knew that she loved him once, can this love be rekindled?

Jewell Tweedt is a native of Omaha, Nebraska. Having previously written several magazine articles, she teaches school while also writing the next book in this series.

Read Faith of the Heart to discover the love of Claire’s heart.


Cat eyes were glaring at you in the dark. Cats snarling, hissing, purring at the audience began this latest production of “Cats” at the Orpheum Theater this past weekend.
The costuming, make-up, and the idea of being a part of the cat world were outstanding. Each of the performers showed excellence in their singing, dancing, and acting. When the full company sang together, the sounds were well-blended and rich.
Being that this play is based on a T. S. Eliot poem, there is not an involved storyline. Simply stated, the cats annually choose one of the elderly cats who ascend to a space ship to be reborn.
Unfortunately for the audience, the sound system was not balanced at the performance I saw and caused confusion for those who did not have some background with the unusual musical. For me this was evident when the stranger sitting next to me kept asking if there was a purpose. As stated earlier in the promotional piece in this paper, ‘“Cats” is just one of those things, you either love it or you just don’t get it.”’ With the accompaniment overwhelming much of the first act and although better, it still was a problem for the rest of the show. It was difficult to hear the words this talented company of actors were attempting to communicate.
From my perspective, the musical was written around the song, “Memory”. This was the reoccurring theme throughout and this one melody was the unifying element of the multiple threads.
When there was an obvious problem with one of the microphones, one entire song was sung with only hearing the male part of a duet. The show was stopped to fix the problem and resumed with that particular scene being replayed. The two actors repeated their scene, amplified, and the audience showed their heartfelt appreciation.
Certain actors though always stand out. Mr. Mistoffeless, Chaz Wolcott was outstanding with his dancing and who could not like Rum Tum Tugger who seemed to portray a cat with the personality of Bobby Wheeler portrayed by Jeff Conaway from the old series, “Taxi”.
Did I like it? I think it depends on your perspective. I viewed it through the eyes of the many faces of all of us aging, then the “Memories” that are so important to each of us. No matter whether you understand it or not, this talented company of performers was outstanding.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting Lucky

Getting Lucky
D.C. Brod
Tyrus Books
December 18, 2011
ISBN: 978-1440531989
336 pages
$ 24.95

In Getting Lucky, a reporter is discovered dead in an apparent hit and run accident on a deserted road with her loyal dog at her side. Why would anyone walk their dog on a road with no sidewalks? This doesn’t make sense.

Robyn Guthrie, a freelance reporter for the paper, agrees to look into what Clair had been investigating at the time of her death. What she didn’t plan on was that way too many people were interested in this story.

Getting Lucky has a freshness of realism. Robyn is constantly distracted by real life. Keeping her life in balance is a challenge as this investigation unveils. She also questions old-friendships, her current love, her future wants, and who she can actually trust.

Having a wealthy mother is a comfort to her, but her mother is not happy at her nursing home. Even though she suffers from Alzheimer’s, her mother would like for Robyn and her to purchase a house together. The timing could not be worst. Robyn has just turned down moving in with her boyfriend after the two discovered they had different viewpoints on having children. With Robyn in her early forties, she is not planning on having children which does destroy her boyfriend’s dreams.

Clair had been investigating a new housing development which was both environmentally friendly and reasonably priced. When Robyn takes over this assignment, she unfortunately is reacquainted with a high school classmate. This was a person who ridiculed her when she was a teenager. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful person to interview now that she is in her early forties and not married or successful?

Getting Lucky is an intense tale with a real life constantly complicating matters. What do you do when you are being followed while you are still investigating the death and all the routine haunts of your everyday life?

Getting Lucky is the second installment in this series by D. C. Broad, following Getting Shorty. She has previously written the Quint McCauley private detective series and the Arthurian contemporary thriller, Heartstone. She resides in Illinois.

Getting Lucky is well-written and well-paced. This novel also introduced to me the wonderful, storytelling abilities of D.C. Brod.

Death of a Kingfisher

Death of a Kingfisher: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
M. C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group
February 22, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-446-54736-9
256 pages
$ 24.99

When you are a police constable in the Highland in Scotland, the community expects you to be at their beckoned call and expect you to be knowledgeable of all crimes, no matter how minor. This does include investigations including fairies, whether real or not, and all superstitions. This is the problem of Hamish Macbeth in Death of a Kingfisher.

In Braikie, Scotland, this small village has discovered that they can draw people to their community by turning the local forested area, Buchan’s Woods, into a tourist attraction. This area is a habitat for a family of kingfishers and the fairies. Noticing the success of this attraction, the area is renamed “The Fairy Glen” and the tourism greatly benefits the town.

Everything changes when a kingfisher is found murdered and strung up in a tree. With further investigation, this family of birds has also been poisoned. Why would anyone kill a bird and its family?

While investigating this death of a bird family, Hamish becomes entwined with the married director of the woods who seems to be able to bewitch him with her physical beauty and her blue eyes. Is this affecting his investigation and not allowing him to suspect her as a possible suspect?

When a wealthy widow is murdered, literally rocketed through a window, Hamish is overwhelmed with possible suspects and lies. Who is the murderer? Why are more people dying whenever they seem to make an appointment to speak with Hamish?

Death of a Kingfisher has a slow beginning. The characters were not likeable and appeared detached and arrogant. The pacing changed after the first third of the novel and the story was more intense, intriguing, and logical.

When any author writes numerous books in a series, some are going to be better than others. Supposedly, this is the twenty-seventh book in the Hamish series. This particular novel lacked the affection and humor found in many of the previous books. (No, I have not read all twenty-seven.)

M.C. Beaton has won numerous awards for her Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin mystery series. She has also written over one hundred romance novels and a series of romantic suspense, The Edwardian Mystery Series.

Death of a Kingfisher is wonderful if you are patient through the first third of this novel. The second part is well worth the price of the novel and is an intricate and well-woven tale.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Lost Saints of Tennessee

The Lost Saints of Tennessee: A Novel
Amy Franklin-Willis
Atlantic Monthly Press
February 2012
ISBN: 978-0802120052
320 pages

“Moses Washington always says people love the beginning parts of life, it’s the middle and end parts
that end up being more work than we bargain for.”

What is the old saying about falling off a horse? If you fall off a horse, you get right back on.

In The Lost Saints of Tennessee, Ezekiel Cooper has fallen off of his horse in life. His ex-wife has just
remarried. He was fired for deserting his job. He’s back living in the converted shed in his mother’s
backyard. His mother wants to have a memorial service for his twin brother who committed suicide ten
years ago. Nothing seems to be going right for Zeke. Of course, Zeke is not making much of an effort
to change his life for the better either. It’s like he’s fallen on a horse but refuses to get back on.

This is the story of a working-class Southern family who dream of possibilities for their prized son
while the siblings continue the pattern of previous generations of poverty. However, broken dreams also bring about way too much guilt.

While at a class reunion Zeke manages to avoid the event and leaves town. He finally decides how to end things with his two favorite possessions, his dead brother’s dog and a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Things don’t quite work out though like he planned, but then again, they seldom do.

This is a novel about life and how some of us don’t know how to pick up the pieces once we find
ourselves shattered. It involves the reluctant changes that happen such as having daughters who are
becoming teenagers, divorces, and death.

The Lost Saints of Tennessee is a gripping tale of characters that are richly developed and actually seem
too realistic. The story line, even though somewhat depressing, is a personal journey, mistakes made
and exposed to everyone. Life is frequently more than we bargained for. Read The Lost Saints of

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

El Gavilan

El Gavilan
Craig McDonald
Tyrus Books
ISBN: 978-1-4405-3194-1
426 pages
$ 24.95

What do you do when your job causes the death of your wife and child? How do you go on?

Tell Lyon left the Border Patrol to start over as head of the police in New Austin, Ohio. Hoping that the problems of the past never reappear, heading a small law enforcement force might just be what he needs.

One of his first duties is to meet with the sheriffs of the two neighboring areas, Sheriff Able Hawk from Horton County and Walt Pierce from Vale County. He quickly realizes that there will be territorial and overlapping boundaries between these close-in proximity areas. Also, he quickly concludes that both have a completely opposite approach to law enforcement.

The problem of immigration, both legal and illegal, is the focus point for each of these three law enforcement leaders. How the three of them approach this realistic problem is visibly apparent in El Gavilan.

El Gavilan, which means hawk in Spanish in the nickname given to the highly opinionated Sheriff Hawk. This man assists the legal immigrants in numerous ways within the community but has no patience for the illegals. With introducing Tell into the community, he discovers a kindred spirit which assists in developing their respect and mutual friendship.

Tell quickly reestablishes his life and begins to develop a personal relationship with Patricia as she is ending her interest in Shawn O’Hara, the editor of the local newspaper. When Shawn is beaten, his resentment is focused on Tell.

The story centers on the brutal rape and murder of Thalia. Her surviving family includes her mother and daughter. Shawn O’Hara, the editor, had been with Thalia the night before her death. He slunk off from her early the next morning without a word to her. He was the last one, except the murderer, to see her alive.

The story revolves around the Thalia’s case now and Tell’s past, giving insight into the motivations of the characters. The action is non-stop. This investigation is fast-paced and somewhat predictable. You just don’t know how it will be proven and how the personal problems can be resolved.

Craig McDonald is a writer, journalist, and editor who has been nominated for numerous awards for both his short stories and books.

El Gavilan is graphic both sexually and violently. The story is fast-paced, enthralling, and one novel that you will not quickly, if ever forget.

Chasing Her Destiny

Chasing Her Destiny
Terri Friedlander
Black Rose Writing
ISBN: 978-1-61296-076-0
235 pages
$ 16.95

“I forgot to do something in my life. I forgot to have kids.”

Life has changed tremendously in the last hundred years. Where women use to dream only of marrying and having a family, now women can develop a career and decide themselves when is the best time to marry or to have children. However, life doesn’t always work out the way you plan.

Sherri Richmond loves her life of working in Manhattan for a group of attorneys. She is not concerned about money or the time that she spends earning that money. Life for her now is successful and she thrives on the stress, competitiveness, and ambition the keeps her near the top of the corporate ladder. Being briefly married earlier in her life, has just strengthened her sense of independence and made her proud of her personal accomplishments in the business world.

Then she meets Kent Weber. Skeptically, she finds him to be perfect for her. She is uncertain of anyone being just too good to be true, but he really seems to be genuine. The two quickly marry and begin their life together. Both though find themselves longing for children after being married for five years and this is their story of fulfilling that need.

The strength of Chasing Her Destiny is the realism when nature does not always cooperate with our personal desires. The struggle emotionally with infertility is a subject that is not often mentioned.
This is a story for anyone who wants a child and for some undiagnosed or logical reason, just cannot become pregnant and the effect this can have on both a husband and a wife.

Chasing Her Destiny is a well-written romance novel. The characterizations are realistic and visual. The pacing is superb with the reader feeling the empathy and triumphs along with the characters. The novel actual flows from one page to the next with a loving fluency for smoothness as each word becomes alive on each page.

Chasing Her Destiny is Terri Friedlander’s third contemporary novel. This one is somewhat based on her own life and is also dedicated to the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Although Chasing Her Destiny is basically a woman’s romance novel, there is a depth of the characters that men could also appreciate. More than a romance novel, this is a novel about life.