Friday, December 27, 2013

The Paris Architect

The Paris Architect
Charles Belfoure
Sourcebooks Landmark
Naperville, Illinois
ISBN: 978-1402284311           
$ 25.99
364 pages      
During World War II, life in France had to be immensely difficult especially while being occupied by the German troops. Whether waiting in long lines for basic food supplies or the fear of being questioned by the Gestapo. had to make life intense, stressful, and challenging. For many people it was a “no-win” situation. If you assisted the Germans, you were often entitled to more of the everyday goods that were scarce but your neighbors would think of you as a traitor. If you did not help the Germans, you were frequently harassed, sometimes arrested and questioned and had difficulty obtaining the basic necessities that were needed for daily survival.
Given the situation for those unfortunate Jews living in Paris at this time, they were either killed or shipped off to a camp.
What if you knew a Jewish family or helped this family? If the Germans discovered this charity, it usually meant death for both.
For Lucien Bernard, life is hard but not overly stressful. As an unemployed architect, he has lived somewhat comfortably from his money inherited by his wife. Life is not the way he planned or wanted but all that is about to change.
Lucien is asked to examine a residence and to create the perfect place to hide people. He doesn't want to be involved with the hiding of any Jews, but the money is definitely enticing. If anyone is caught who knows that he designed the undetectable hiding space, he knows that even without direct involvement, he would be killed. The less he knows about the who and the why of his brilliant hide aways, the better.
By excelling in this challenge, he also finds himself being recommended to the German hierarchy to build factories to supply the needs of the war. At the same time, he continues to map out the perfect hiding place for Jews who are being pursued by the Gestapo. Can anyone handle being on both sides of the War? Both sides consider his designs to be brilliant.
The Paris Architect perfectly mixes history and architecture into a novel of historical romance. This addictive page-turner flows from one dangerous situation to the next with sometimes overlapping the events. The strength of the novel is the ethical situations for Lucien and how he chooses to approach these questionable activities. The writing is so descriptive that the reader can actual see the building, the hiding places, as well as the people and their clothes. This gives the reader the feeling of actually being beside Lucien in the story.
Author Charles Belfoure is an architect. He has written many architectural histories as well as working with the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times as a freelance writer. His specialty is historic preservation.
The Paris Architect is for anyone who enjoys a historical fiction novel with some architectural challenges. I will never even consider now to build a hidden room in the back of a closet , behind a bookcase, or around a fireplace after reading this novel. So where can I find a secret room?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

When Christmas Bells are Ringing

When Christmas Bells are Ringing
Back to Omaha Adventure
Jewell Tweedt
Amazon Digital Services
ISBN: 978-1492348009
138 pages

Being a widow during 1878 was not easy for anyone, especially for those who were living in the frontier town of Omaha, Nebraska. Connie Simonson is attempting to successfully operate two cafes and is discovering that sometimes you can't be in two places at once while being a single parent raising a son.
Dr. James Connor is the only doctor in the town of Omaha. He can't keep up with the needs of the city as it is quickly growing. When an outbreak of influenza descends on the residents of the town afflicting the youngest citizens, how will he keep up without the town developing an epidemic?

It is almost as if the town needs a miracle. Where are those guardian angels when you need them?
This short novel is a refreshing voice in today's literature. The underlying themes of doing the right thing and treating people with dignity and fairness are invigorating in a romantic story with a Christian basis. The story is short but well-organized with likeable characters who have to make difficult choices decisions in what seems like no-win situations.

"When Christmas Bells are Ringing" is the fourth and final book in Jewell Tweedt's "Back to Omaha Adventures" following Faith of the Heart, Still Faithful, and Faith and Hope – Grace's Story. Because this story depends on the characters and events of the previous novels, I highly recommend that at least you read the first two books in this series before reading this one.
Jewell Tweedt hails from Omaha, Nebraska even though she currently teaches American History to middle school students while she resides in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

All of Jewell Tweedt's books are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Also all of this series of books are available from the author who can be contacted at .

Jewell has recently signed with Prism Book Group who will work with her on her future novels.
"When Christmas Bells are Ringing" is for those people who enjoy a well-written Christian historical romance story with characters who have in-depth characters from these "Back to Omaha Adventures" about our own metropolitan area.



Hilary Fields
Hachette Book Group
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0316277389
November 2013
$ 16.00
352 pages

When your lover is your boss, life can be challenging. For young newcomer to the world of gourmet competition and master chefs Serafina Wilde is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a famous chef. However, when the best is your boss and partner, life can be crowded when the ego and temperament are included in the package.
Yes, he values her desserts especially when customers are thrilled. No one can create a wedding cake like Sera but it is her boss who receives the recognition, not her.

Unfortunately, his ego needs to be constantly uplifted and he seems to delight in humiliating Serafina. She turns to alcohol. Naturally she is fired and looses her lover, forcing her to find her own place to live. Now that she is blacklisted, who will hire her as a chef?

A phone call from Sera's aunt, Pauline in Sante Fe changes everything. Her aunt has lost her partner and needs help. Could this be a blessing in disguise?The business owned by her aunt turns out to be “Pauline's House of Passion”, Pauline would like for Sera to take over the front of the store featuring her delicious desserts with the backroom still remaining as the sensuality lessons. Life will be interesting with Sera selling desserts out of the front and her aunt selling sexual toys in the back room. How will this combination of a store be successful?
Bliss is a romantic comedy for those who enjoy chic lit with books like Bridget Jones and The Devil Wears Prada. Unquestionably, the intended audience is for the up and coming females in their twenties and thirties. The story is well-organized, laughable, and delightful. The story moves quickly and does deal with lesbian relationships and sexual topics rather openly and bluntly.
Hilary Fields is a New Yorker who currently makes her home in Sante Fe, New Mexico somewhat similar to her character Serafina Bliss. She has written three historical romances as well as working as a copywriter and web editor.

Bliss is a humorous page-turner for those who enjoy a fast-paced romp.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Sarah Pinborough
Jo Fletcher Books
Quercus Publishing
Random House Publishing
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-086-5
January 2014      
320 pages      
Most people have heard about the legendary serial killer of the late 1800s in London, Jack the Ripper. Part of his fame was due to his letters to the media, However at the same time and also in London and during this same time in the mid-1880s another serial killer was active who also preyed on women who were on the streets.
His manner was different from the notorious Jack the Ripper. Known to Scotland Yard as The Torso Killer, he dismembered his victims after killing them and tossed the remains into the Thames. He did keep one souvenir of his victims, their heads.
Dr. Thomas Bond, as police surgeon, begins to investigates these killings. He is one of the first to notice that there are two separate killers even though both are brutal. With the usage of opium, he begins to make connections to the identity of the killer that seems to elude the police.
The opium dens happen to be where the doctor connects with a priest and a hairdresser who believe they know the identity of The Torso Killer. The doctor though is a friend of this man's family and does not want to believe it. Could someone of his social class be this type of murderer? What could cause such an evil to possess any person? Are his family and friends safe?
Mayhem has the reader viewing these killings through the eyes of the forensic doctor, Dr. Bond as he investigates both the brutality of Jack the Ripper and The Torso Killer. You feel his triumphs and his frustrations as well as the investigation continues.
In “Mayhem” you even experience life in London in the late 1800s during this time of the brutal killings and feel the fear of the residents. The historical descriptions are phenomenal especially the sights, smells, and sight of being inside an opium den.
The story is paced through Dr. Bond's perspective and deals with his guilt, fears, and thoughts throughout the investigation. Because of this, the pacing is sometimes erratic, but so is the doctor. Sarah Pinborough perfectly matched the character as the investigation developed even sometimes leaving the doctor exhausted.
The capturing of the setting in “Mayhem” from the varying residential and business areas of London to the prostitutes and the area around the river, allows a window into the past to view what is difficult for us to actually experience.
Sarah Pinborough is a British author, teacher, writer, and screenwriter specializing in horror and the supernatural. Using the name Sarah Silverwood, she has written fantasy novels for children. Sarah's books were finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. She has won the British Fantasy Award for the Best Short Story in 2010.
“Mayhem” is a brilliant story encompassing Jack the Ripper and The Torso Killer in a well-organized hypnotic tale.


Shadows of the Alchemist

Shadow of the Alchemist
Jeri Westerson
Minotaur Books
St.. Martin's Press
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-00030-9
October 2013
$ 25.99
305 pages

According to Shakespeare, Richard II was a memorable and fickle ruler of England. That was part of the reason that eventually he was deposed. While he ruled, those he did not favor, were frequently executed. Fortunately for Crispin Guest, he only lost his riches, land, and life of privilege. However, how does someone who has only lived the noble life adjust to living on the streets?
Crispin Guest discover that he possesses a natural gift of being a tracker. He logically views the evidence of a crime that leads him to the culprit. Basically, a tracker is a private investigator for hire during the Middle Ages. Frequently, this places him in opposition to the local law enforcement being the Sheriffs.

Living a hand to mouth existence is difficult with always being on the edge of survival. Due to the brutal circumstances of life, Crispin also as a young apprentice who previously had been an orphaned and survived by thieving. Jack Tucker feels fortunate to be able to learn from the legendary tracker, Crispin Guest.
Nicholas Flamel, famed alchemist, hires Crispin to rescue his missing wife who has been kidnapped. However, the ransom is the famed Philosopher's Stone, the legendary stone created from lead and turned to gold and immortality. Does the stone really work? Does Flamel have the knowledge of immortality?   This is "Shadow of the Alchemist" by Jeri Westerson.

Jeri Westerson's writing is magical in that she literally transports you into a different time and place. She is masterful with all the small details of a setting establishing the sights, sounds, and smells of London in the late 1300s for the reader without the dangers of actually being there.
In “Shadow of the Alchemist”, the characters are believable intermixing with real historical people making these people come to life. Especially for someone like Nicholas Flamel is daring since he was a real alchemist of the late Middle Ages even though he is also known for being in the Harry Potter series. Jeri Westerson's story shows a deeper insight into the person while adding depth and a deeper understanding to the problems of the time within the story.
“Shadow of the Alchemist”is the fifth book in the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson following "Veil of Lies", "Serpent in the Thorns", The Demon's Parchment", "Troubled Bones", and "Blood Lance”. Each of these books is rich in the history of the late Middle Ages with life in England during Richard III. All of these books can be read as stand-a-lone novels. With Jeri Westerson's writing style, once you begin any of these books, you will want to read all of them. Warning, once you begin any of her books, you will want to read all of them. Her books are addictive.
Coincidentally, I was watching the video, "The Hollow Crown" about Shakespeare's Richard II while reading this book. It was fascinating how both helped me to visualize the events and to better understand this ruler in the DVD and the novel.
Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, will be mesmerized by “Shadows of the Alchemist”.
Personally, if I had to return to London in the year of 1388, I would want Crispin Guest to be my guide and am delighted to view the story through his eyes and not to have to experience it myself.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Growing up, most people vividly remember a family from their neighborhood that they probably avoided. This family usually was poorer and had developed survival skills that were not always socially acceptable. There usually was at least one bully in that family, and sometimes every member of that family was a bully.
Charlie knew this family well. In fact, Charlie knew them so well that he loved going to church. He loved going to church because that was the one safe place. None of the Herdman children had ever stepped a foot into a church. Then Charlie's choice of words changed all that.
He happened to mention all the good things about church. He mentioned the cakes, donuts, and all those wonderful sweet joys of church that were too appealing for them to resist.

Unfortunately, the week the Herdman children decided to visit the church was also the week that parts were being assigned in the annual Christmas pageant. For years, the same people had owned their roles but things were about to change. The fearless leader of this pageant had fallen and was unable to lead this year. Who would lead it this year?

That is "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" which is being performed as a readers' theater this weekend at the Chanticleer Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs.
Charlie, portrayed by Nolan King, is a delightful character with his constant worry about the Herdman children and his concern about is being a shepherd, again. As his sister, Beth, Rachael Schnitker demonstrated a mature stage presence in leading this production. Other children participating are Wyatt Sargent, Emma Chvala, David Wright, Chase Sargent, Natalie Simons, Emily Umphreys, and Jacob Umphreys.
Unquestionably, Denise Putnam stole the show as the Mother who is burdened with being in charge of the church's Christmas pageant and dealing with the Herdman children who had no previous knowledge of the Christmas story, the boredom of the previous participants, and a threat to burning down the church.
With the Christmas songs, Terry DeBenedictis sang a beautiful descant in one while Jerry Gray added wonderful harmony.
The show lasts about an hour and continues Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Ticket costs are $ 25 for adults and $ 10 for students with a donation to the food bank. For reservations contact the theater at or call the box office at (712) 323-9955.
For those who enjoy a lively and short show, this is the perfect event this weekend for the entire family.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Priests

Last Saturday at the Holland Performing Arts Center was a rare experience for area music lovers, The Priests made their Omaha debut to a full audience in the Kiewit Concert Hall.
Members of this group are three Irish priests who began to sing together about forty years ago when they were in school together. For the past four years Frs. Martin O'Hagan, Eugene O'Hagan, and David Delargy have joined to share their musical gifts with the world. Although well-known in Europe and Australia, this was their first exposure to America with Omaha being their last stop before returning to Ireland.

The first part of the program featured classically religious music such as "How Great Thou Art", Schubert's "Ave Maria", Franck's "Panis Angelicus", Karl Jenkins' “Ave Verum” and Vivaldi's "Laudamus Te". A new selection which was written by a friend of the three, "Ring Out Your Praise" was sung and enthusiastically received. The second half of the program focused on Christmas favorites including "O Holy Night" as well as "Silent Night" which unquestionably showcased how well these three voices beautifully blended into one and even a few secular selections such as "White Christmas" and "Silver Bells".

What makes The Priests special is their beautifully blended voices. Even though each voice has its own personal texture in tonal quality, together these voices blended as one with perfect diction, unified breathing, and artistic expression.

Also singing was Council Bluffs' resident and U.N.O. professor, Shelby VanNordstrand. She sang four selections focusing on her outstanding talents as a leading soprano in this metropolitan area.
Accompanying both were Keith Plenert and Jeffrey King playing violins, Thomas Kluge with viola, Gregory Clinton playing cello, and Stacie Haneline on keyboard with The Priests' musical director playing the piano. Alone, this group played "Nocturne" which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995 by Secret Garden. This selection was wonderfully hypnotic.

Part of the formula that made their songs so outstanding were the written arrangements and the musicians who were the background foundation. These arrangements were a little unusual in that the two violin parts did not just harmonize with each other, but actually were playing counterpoint to each other and to the singers. This created more depth and interest with each selection.

The Priests presented a program of music featuring those well-loved songs of the classical religious tradition mixed with the Christmas melodies of old.


What place is always winter but never Christmas?

For readers of C.S. Lewis, "The Chronicles of Narnia" the answer is obvious, the mythical land of "Narnia" which is currently onstage at The Rose Theater. Narnia is a musical adaptation of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". This musical is very loyal to the book, does involve fighting, violence, loyalty, betrayal, death, sacrifice, and ultimately grace and forgiveness. "Narnia" has a phenomenal cast.

In the 1940s as London prepared for the upcoming war, many families chose to keep their children safe from the bombing by sending them to the country. The four Pevensie children are sent to a distant relative's large estate in the country. Their uncle is not accustomed to children, neither is his staff. Out of boredom, the youngest children enter an old wardrobe, completely filled with clothing hung up, and discover a world unknown to the adults.

The four children were outstanding. As Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie wonderfully portrayed by Kevin Mikuls, Laura Davis, Max Hauze, and Emma Dougherty were the ideal British children complete with British accents exploring the house. All perfectly embrace their parts complete with styles and hair directly from the 1940s. However, Laura Davis unquestionably sings beautifully with a voice that would rival any trained adult singer.

Wai Yim was a superb Tumus. As a faun, he balanced the demand of being both a mythical character with artistry. Walter Shatley was outstanding in his multiple roles as the uncle, Father Christmas, and Aslan. Kirstin Kluver doubled as both the Queen of Narnia and the head housekeeper. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Patrick Wolfe and Nicklaus Knipe, were humorous while providing comfort and guidance for the children.

The rest of the cast and crew were outstanding in this show. With the clothing representing the 1940s, the costumes, makeup, and hair design, every element was outstanding. The difficulty of recognition of a mythical or real creature while remaining human was mastered. With the sets, props, scenic design, lighting, and sound, all were artistic and beautifully reflective while unfolding the story.

The music literally encircled the story with musical director, Jerry Brabec, former Council Bluffs teacher and musician, leading on the keyboard with John Bennett playing the piano. For me, the outstanding acapella song, "Lay Him in a Field of Flowers" was gorgeous. The harmonies and blending of the children and adult voices was almost hypnotic.

Also, the heartfelt conversation between Aslan and Edmund discussing healing from the inside out rang of the wisdom and the message of loyalty and the love of this legendary tale.

The recommend ages for “Narnia” are 6 to 13 and for those who have read the books. They will thoroughly enjoy this show. For the younger ones, the show could be long and scary if they are not acquainted with the series. The show lasts over two hours with an additional intermission.
"Narnia" is continuing at The Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam Street in Omaha through December 29th with shows at 7 p.m. every Friday and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. On December 21st, this performance will be interpreted for those hearing impaired and an additional performance at 7 p.m. on December 26th. Tickets can be purchased at discounted prices for main floor seats at all area Hy-Vee stores for $ 20. Also, tickets can be purchased at prices from $20 to $25 by calling the Box Office at (402) 345-4849 or online at

“Narnia” was written to reassure the British children of the good in the world during bad times. This legendary tale continues be a message for all today.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
Chris Grabenstein
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-3758089-7
$ 16.99
293 pages
"A library doesn't need windows, Andrew. We have books, which are windows into world we never even dreamed possible."

In every family, each person usually thrives best with their individual abilities. For Kyle Keeley, being the youngest in a family with three boys can be a challenge. His oldest brother is gifted athletically, the other brother is the smart one. What gift does that leave for Kyle? He is the game master of board games.
Fortunately Kyle lives in a town with the world's most famous game maker resides. Since the town has been without a library, Mr. Lemoncello has funded a new library for the town. Their town has been without a library for Kyle's entire life. To celebrate, his school is sponsoring an essay contest for the privilege of being one of the first twelve twelve-year olds to compete in a game while locked inside the new library.
There will be special features this particular night turning the library into a form of a real-life board game focusing on the special attributes of this phenomenal building. Each separate part of this huge structure had a different builder so no one except the library director and Mr. Lemoncello are knowledgeable about the entire building.

Being a typical twelve-year-old, Kyle missed the deadline for the essay contest but thought there might be a possibility if he still wrote an essay and sent it directly to Mr. Lemoncello. Would it be accepted? Did he even have a chance?

Reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is also a challenging competition between all the candidates. This challenge requires knowledge of both the games created by Mr. Lemoncello as well as well-read twelve year olds.
Chris Grabenstein is an award-winning author of young adult books with his Haunted Mysteries beginning with The Crossroads, as well as the Riley Mack series setting a mystery in Central Park. Also, Mr. Grabenstein is the author of the well-regarded mystery series for adults featuring his creation, John Ceepak (a combination of NCIS Gibbs and 007). He has also been a coauthor with James Patterson most recently with the number one New York Times bestseller I Funny. Mr. Grabenstein resides in New York City.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is intended as a young adult book.  However, any reader will thoroughly enjoy this fast-paced adventure.


The Invention of Clay McKenzie

The Invention of Clay McKenzie

Ed Teja and J. Reid Beckett

Float Street Press

Silver City, NM

ISBN: 1479378216



$ 13.99

306 pages

In the book business today, it is difficult for an unknown author who writes well to become successful. Besides having the skills to be an excellent writer, the authors of today need to be charismatic with the media to become a celebrity in order to make those best selling charts with every published book. The total package is needed for success.

Stephanie Masters works as a junior editor for Icon, a large and successful publishing firm. However, advancement is this competitive business is a matter of luck and capitalizing on any and every advantage.

Stephanie has found the opportunity of a lifetime. In the multitude of submissions to Icon, one manuscript is exceptional. She is aware that if she takes this through the ordinary procedures, this manuscript will probably not be the best seller. This could be her big break of a lifetime.

Why not check this opportunity out to take a chance?

Stephanie decides to take some time off to actually meet the author. What she discovers is a reclusive widower in New Mexico who wishes to be left alone. She knows that she is capable of working with this author to create a phenomenal novel. The problem is that the author will not and can not be the face for this book. He has no charisma and doesn't want it. However, Clay McKenzie is the author's pen name. Can a Clay McKenzie be created as a corporation? Can an actor become this fictional author? Could this work? Could you make money, real money through this corporation?

The Invention of Clay McKenzie is an intriguing tale of a fraud, or is it? Is it legal to create a public author for the general public? What problems could happen? This particular story made me question some of my favorite authors. Are there Clay McKenzie's out in the real world?

Ed Teja and Jim Beckett have created a thought-provoking, well-written novel. Their years of experience in the publishing world from their perspectives have created a unique story that utilizes the excellent writing gifts of both.
The Invention of Clay McKenzie is a book that I recommend for everyone, especially book lovers to read.

The Bat

The Bat
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Vintage Books
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-345-80709-0
Trade Paperback
$ 14.95
369 pages
Having previously read other books in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, why wouldn't I want to read the first book of the series introducing the main character, Harry? These books have been translated and available in English, but not in the order they were written or in the series.

Harry Holy is a disgraced Norwegian investigator. Being in an accident has left him battered, bandaged, and carrying feeling of guilt about the death of a fellow officer. Yes, he is an outstanding investigator and a member of the Oslo Crime Squad. His superiors have covered up the fact the Harry was intoxicated as he was driving the vehicle. Now, what do they do with him?
The Bat explains Harry's past and the decision by his superiors to send him to Australia to assist in the death of a Norwegian female. Harry is to assist and not to cause any trouble, in any way. Inger Holter hosted a children's television program for a few years making her a celebrity in her homeland. She was brutally strangled by what is appearing to be a serial killer. There is definitely a pattern to this death.

As he arrives at the Sydney airport, Harry meets his investigative partner, Andrew. Andrew, a former boxer, explains his own Aboriginal heritage as the case develops. Andrew immediately warms to Harry as they investigate every aspect of the crime while noticing that their murderer is beginning to resemble a serial killer with a preference for blonds. As their friendship and trust grows, Harry learns more about Australia and the people and possibly even begins to develop a new special relationship with a woman.

What he did not plan on was becoming too close to this case and people that he questions, quickly become victims.

Jo Nesbo has won numerous writing awards but the one that stands out is for his book, The Redbreast which is considered to be the best Norwegian crime novel of all time which was compiled by Norwegian readers.

Whenever I read an excellent book that was translated, I always wonder if the talent is due to the writer, the translator, the editors, or a winning combination of all three.

Harry Hole in The Bat is a simpler mystery without the darkness of The Redbreast. However, this novel is instrumental in understanding the flawed and fascinating character, Harry Hole.


Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press
Scottsdale, AZ

ISBN: 978-1464201-691
Trade Paperback

$ 14.95
250 pages

Most of us think of archaeologists as people who are outside digging in the dirt searching for ancient ruins. That is not a complete picture of these historians. Frequently they are hired in the uncatalogued files of museum archives looking for that special document or picture that will give instantaneous notoriety.
Faye Longchamp Mantooth has been hired to discover proof of spirituality in the small community of Rosebower, New York. This town is proud of its numerous practitioners conducting seances communicating with the spirits of those departed and those special relationships with Tarot cards and crystal balls to predict the future with fortune telling . Realistically, Faye does not believe in the occult and is wondering how the museum owner will react en she fails to discover any evidence. Fortunately, she is able to hire an assistant and finds that this is perfect for her recently adopted seventeen-year-old daughter, Amande. This could be an opportunity for them to work more together and get to know each other better. Unfortunately, this also separates her from her husband and two-year old son.

Establishing friendships and relations with the people of the community along with their questionable practices of levitating tables, spirits speaking, and crystal ball is fascinating for Faye and Amande but immediately the two are distracted by the unfortunate death of a local soothsayer.
Rituals is unusual with its mystery of the occult inside the mystery of the suspicious death of Tilda Armstead whose "utter honesty" in readings made her a community leader. An investigator quickly discovers that the inside room in Tilda's house had been nailed shut from the outside, trapping her in the burning house. However, Tilda had escaped from the burning house and died of smoke inhalation. How did she escape the burning room? Where is the crystal ball that resided in the room? Why is it missing from the burned remains of the house?
Being near to Seneca Falls, New York, Rosebower had frequent visitors from many feminists early in the twentieth century such as Lucretia Mott. Could this town have been instrumental also with feminism?
Lurking throughout the town is Antonia Caruso, also known as Toni the Astonisher, a former magician's assistant/reporter who is searching for proof of the fraudulent ways of the town.
Rituals is a fast-read with strong human relationships complete with doubts, guilt, anxiousness, and murder. Even though this is the eighth novel in Mary Anne Evans' series which can be a stand alone novel. The character development is refreshed for those new readers and to refresh those readers of the previous novels.
Mary Anne Evans is the award-winning author of this series of archeological mysteries featuring Faye Longchamp. Trained as a chemical engineer, Mary Anne Evans integrates her multitude of interests into her stories of Faye.
Rituals is an interesting, realistically written novel that is well-organized and planned with a warm feeling from phenomenally developed characters.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Nutcracker 2013

For most of us, The Nutcracker is something that we see every year. Why? The Nutcracker is the perfect example of holiday magic in a beautiful story without the chaos and noise of the holidays. It's Christmas as it should be, even if it is in our dreams.
Ballet Nebraska always excels with intertwining tradition with creative artistry in telling this traditional Russian Christmas story. This past weekend, Ballet Nebraska opened their Nutcracker performances at Iowa Western Community College. The program will continue at The Orpheum Theater in Omaha on December 7th at 2 and 7:30 p.m. as well as 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 8th. Incorporating local young dancers into this choreographed extravaganza has to be a monumental task considering that this year Ballet Nebraska has more than 120 students mingling among their 18 professional dancers with singers from Opera Omaha's Children's Chorus and a dog from Nebraska Humane Society for every performance.

As Clara, Kalin and Katie Rice, identical twins, excelled in this role expressing emotions beautifully through dance and movement. The choreography is always exceptional with Ballet Nebraska with multiple dances frequently on-stage at one time to create realism and engagement with the audience. Erika Overturff as Artistic Director along with Matthew Carter, Ballet Master excelled with their creative ideas this year. As usual, the sets, costumes, make-up, and hair were all outstanding. This is always one of Ballet Nebraska's strengths.

The professional dancers are always conscious of the children assisting the youngster's with their excited energy while staying within the storyline.  It seemed that in this particular performance, the male professional dancers seemed to leap higher than in previous years making their dances more exciting.
The performance including intermission lasted approximately two hours which is perfect for young children.
Most noticeable and exciting to me is the quietness of the performance. Yes, there is Tchaikovsky's delightfully picturesque music, but even when the dancers appear to be talking, there is no sound from them. With long leaps, jumps, movements, you never hear "prancing and pawing of each little hoof" as Santa's reindeer, you literally see movements but absolutely no sound is coming from the stage. No, their gracefulness creates silence in telling this story.
I was delighted this year to see The Nutcracker character actually on stage for most of the performance and interacting with the dancers. His presence is needed as he is important in the story line. This is an issue that seems to be missing from many performances of this ballet from numerous companies which is an integral part of the story.
Some of the traditional songs were shortened slightly that sometimes created an awkward cut-off to the end of the ethnic dances feeling a little awkward and ironic, considering the gracefulness of the performance.
To purchase tickets for this wonderful event on December 7th and 8th at The Orpheum contact, or call (402) 345-0606, or at The Omaha Performing Arts box office at the Holland Center, 12th and Douglas Street in Omaha with seat prices between $25 to $59.
This elegant gracefulness during the busy holiday season is invigorating to those of us who can only dream, like Clara, of the beauty, artistry. and the glorious quietness of the ballet.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars

John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars
Roland Hughes
Logikal Solutions
ISBN: 978-1-939732-00-2
Trade Paperback
274 pages

Do you ever reflect about how your life could have been different if you had made different choices twenty, thirty, forty years ago? Imagine yourself sixty-eight years now in the future. What choices should you have made now on November 13, 2013? How could these affect your life and every living creature on the planet?
On November 13, 2013, the world ceased to exist as we know it. Now, sixty-eight years later, John Smith attempts to explain life before this time. He wonders if finally people are ready to understand the history that created the world of today.
Now, people live at a basic survival level without the use of our established means of transportation, communication, health care, and food service. How do you prevent the catastrophe of the past from ever happening again. In the hopes that this history will never occur again, John Smith has left his isolated world to communicate the mistakes of the past to a world that has no memory. He is the only known survivor from this event sixty-eight years ago.

John Smith was only eleven years old at this time making his age of seventy-nine the oldest known person alive today on the planet. On that fated day, John's family had built a bunker when the Microsoft Wars started where he was trapped for ten years.
Susan Krowley is a newspaper reporter for The Times which is published twice a month with the widest circulation of 5500. Reading newspapers is not a common activity and only for the few and the privileged. She is thrilled to be able to conduct this interview for her newspaper. This is her story of a lifetime interviewing John Smith who is the only known living person who actually experienced the Microsoft Wars.

The world is much different now. People travel on horseback. Schools of the past no longer exist, including colleges. Everyone learns from their home. Jobs that formerly required college degrees now are filled within families. Technology as we know it does not exist. Knowledge and books are limited. Life is at a simplistic level. Even access to books is extremely limited. Without the widespread usage of computers, telephones, and nuclear energy, life is very different.
The seven continents are now twelve. There is no way to travel or communicate from one continent to the next with an ocean covering much of the center of the United States. John was very fortunate that his bunker was in an area that had not been covered by an ocean.

"John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars" is thought provoking. The author reviews much of our technological advances throughout the years, while also demonstrating the uneven advances and questionable uses and obvious abuses with the ethical practices. This book is a warning of what could happen if we continue without a complete understanding of our societal choices.
This entire book is written as an interview between John Smith and Susan Krowley, as a question and answer format. Within the responses are the elements of action usually in a novel. This is definitely a different perspective of a novel and the message within the story.

Who is the intended audience? Everyone who inhabits this planet. The relevance of this novel is a perfect example of cause and effect and even goes beyond that concept. This is required reading for everyone.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Noises Off

Anyone who has ever been in a theatrical production knows that the final rehearsal can be disastrous. To add to this tension, this particular show has had less than two weeks of rehearsal.
This is "Noises Off" which is about the theatrical production "Nothing On" which is this play that was expected to be ready to perform after only two weeks and the director is having difficulty with people forgetting props and stage directions both on stage and back stage. The audience gets the rare privilege of seeing the show from the directors perspective which is act one. Act Two is observing the play from backstage where you get to know the actors and actresses as real people with the problems and jealousies. Act Three is the show on the road.
The play within a play begins with D. Laureen Pickle playing Dotty Otley as Mrs. Clacket who is the housekeeper of the Brent's vacation home kept by a management firm. However, Dotty cannot remember whether she is to take or leave the plate of sardines as she leaves her scene and if she needs to leave or take the newspaper. For the director, Lloyd Dallas portrayed by Ron Hines, he is completely frustrated with Dotty and is looking forward to getting this play on the traveling circuit so that he can begin his next project, "Richard III". Looking forward to a long weekend with his special woman, Roger Tramplemain portrayed by Garry LeJeune who is really Chris Ebke enters the house with the lovely and ditzy Vicki played by Brooke Ashton portrayed by Jacqueline Kappes who manages to be enthralled by the many closed doors and discovering which one is the bedroom. Since Roger works with the management company, he knows that the home is frequently vacant and that the housekeeper is only there for a short while each day. What a great opportunity to get to know a pretty girl!
Hiding from the tax authorities, Philip Brent portrayed by Frederick Fellowes played by John Hatcher with his wife Flavia Brent, played by Belinda Blair, portrayed by Karrin Dignoti also plan to spend time at their house.   Philip is overwhelmed when he discovers the many notices from the income tax collectors.  These were not forwarded to his home.  Added to the confusion is a burglar portrayed by the legendary Selson Mowbray portrayed by Rodger Gerberding and both an assistant played by Sarah Query and a repairman portrayed by Jon Turnbeaugh.   Confused yet?

All the characters portraying other characters playing parts in a play where delightful.  The first act is a bit tiresome, but is the foundation for the next two acts.  The second and third acts are hilarious in this adult themed production.  Between who is behind each door, the personal relationships between the cast and crew, the sardines, the telephone, and the newspaper, not to mention the dress and contact lenses.  

"Noises Off" was superbly directed by Jonathan Wilhoft with perfect timing for the lights and sound, the sets and props were perfect for this performance in every aspect in this fast-paced slapstick comedy.             
"Noises Off" continues at the Chanticleer Theater at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs through November 24th with the Friday and Saturday shows beginning at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday show at 2 p.m.   The show has two intermissions and lasts almost three hours. For tickets, contact the theater at (712) 323-9955 or through email at Ticket costs are $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 12 for students.  

"Noises Off" is a fun, adult show with a delightfully energetic and fun cast..                

Night in Treme

Last Thursday at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, was an unusual night musically with "A Night in Treme". Treme is a neighborhood in New Orleans where a particular style of African-American music originated and continues in a series on HBO.

Soul Rebels started off the evening. This eight-member ensemble comprises of two trumpets, one saxophone, two trombones, one tuba, and two percussion players. With songs like "504" and "Turn It Up", many of these songs were reminiscent of high school jazz bands with most of the group playing a repeated pattern known as vamping while a soloist is featured during an improvisation. Their music integrated a younger type of music utilizing rap and funk into their jazz/rock beats. Each instrumentalist also sang. With each performer adjusting their own amplifiers, sometimes the balance was off since they didn't utilize the acoustics and sound system of the Holland. They did attempt some dancing moves which actually resembled those from a marching band. This group kept encouraging the audience to stand-up to clap with them, however, very few actually were comfortable with this request.

The evening changed though when Donald Harrison and James Andrews appeared on the stage. These two are both understand about how to work with an audience and how to enjoy your performance and to project that to the audience. Even though the music from Soul Rebels was from New Orleans, people expect the old blues melodies of their legendary performers.

Donald Harrison spoke with the audience about his personal identity as a big chief. He explained that much of the music of this neighborhood is based on old African-American chants set to a set of three African drums. With just is drumming he sang demonstrating this for the audience while combining a music lesson into entertainment. As a change of pace and to demonstrate the wide range of his abilities, he completely engaged the audience with his version of "What a Wonderful World" played as a jazz selection with his saxophone with Soul Rebels providing the accompaniment creating a song that was enchanting.
James Andrews appeared in a suit with a bright red vest playing his trumpet in a similar style as Louis Armstrong, even inflating his cheeks as he plays. His engaging showman skills, thrilled the audience with his singing, whistling, and playing songs such as "Little Liza Jane" and to the delight of the audience, "When the Saints Go Marching In", New Orleans style even with parading down the aisle and dancing. Yes, there was an interesting traffic pattern in the aisle with the instrumentalists and the spontaneous dancers.

The audience had members of all ages, however, many older people left early.  I believe these people expected the music in the second half and did not enjoy the music in the beginning.  Considering how outstanding both Donald Harrison and James Andrews were as New Orleans' performers,  they missed some outstanding and completely engaging music.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Covenant with Hell

Covenant with Hell

A Medieval Mystery

Priscilla Royal

Poisoned Pen Press

Scottsdale, AZ

ISBN: 9781464201950

Trade Paperback

$ 14.95

December 2013

250 pages

Sometimes everyone just needs to get away. That is exactly what Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas from Tyndal were thinking when they decided to pursue a pilgrimage to a nearby priory to worship at their holy relics. Looking for peace and personal repentance the two were not planning on a death immediately after their arrival. Also, they discovered that they were not really welcomed here and this particular priory was not friendly or charitable.

A young nun died from her fall from a bell tower Was she pushed or did she jump? Rumors in the town are speaking about a possible affair, a lover who was meeting with her in the tower. Unfortunately, this particular priory tends to believe the worse with this dead nun. Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas do not accept this conclusion with no evidence and begin to question those closest to the priory. The poor are discarded and have few rights in this community and the two do whatever they can to help others.

Rumors of King Edward visiting this town while having troops invading nearby Wales are running through the town as well as rumors of him possibly being assassinated.  Since Prioress Eleanor's brother is a close friend of the king, she questions if she should remain in this town in case he would visit.
The township has many secrets they wish to keep hidden.  Are all these somehow related?
Covenant with Hell is a well-written and well-organized mystery.  The story is gripping as more than the actual mystery causes problems for the main characters making the story believable.   Even though this is part of a series, this book is not dependent on the readers having knowledge of the previous series.  This book does work as a stand alone novel. 
Priscilla Royal currently resides in California.  Even though she grew up in British Columbia, her home was in the state of Washington while she earned her Bachelor of Arts in World Literature from San Francisco State University.
Covenant of Hell is a wonderful novel intermixing a mystery into the time of Edward and Eleanor in England.

Awakening Colors

Awakening Colors
Ritu K. Gupta
Amazon Digital Services
Woodbridge, Ontario
$ 2.99 Kindle
All of us are born with special gifts and spend much of our lives discovering them. What if your gift is one of the unusual ones? One that people will have difficulty believing? How do you learn to use this gift while wanting to be certain that no one is hurt because of your gift? How does your family deal with this gift?
A car accident shatters Pari's life. Her father is with her in the car when someone talks to her about getting out of the vehicle. Her father doesn't want her to leave. She sees colors around her. Then all is dark.
Six months later, Pari finally awakens from a coma. Her father died in the accident. How do you pick up your life now?
However, things are different now. Pari can actually view people's auras - the colors constantly surrounding and changing with each person. She quickly learns how this allows her to sense their moods, intents, character, and their choices in their future. Who can you talk to about this?
One of her father's associates, Arche, attempts to assist her with her newly discovered gifts which he also possesses. He knows that he is also able to change others' destinies but doing so can change three worlds: the material, the illusionary, and the timeless. He quickly realizes that Pari's abilities far surpass his. He hopes to "guide" her with her new discoveries. However, Pari senses a darkness within him that frightens her. Pari must learn more from Chanakya, her spiritual guide, reflective of the goddess Devi..

"Awakening Colors" is a story of a young woman's discovering herself and how she chooses to become part of the adult world while possessing a gift.  The characters are believable with choices that are part of a normal everyday life even in dealing with aspects of the supernatural.
Dealing with an unusual ability that is not can easily by misused, was perfectly plotted.  While still maintaining a family relationship with her sister and her mother as their lives evolve is part of the strength of this novel.   Pari daily has to appear living a normal life even to her family.
Author Ritu K. Gupa is a native of India who has lived in Canada for the last twenty-five years.
The intended audience for "Awakening Colors" is women in their twenties and thirties and those who enjoy an unconventional tale about life choices.           

Cameron Carpenter

Cameron Carpenter dazzled the audience last Thursday night with his phenomenal artistry with playing the Historic Orpheum Theater Wurlitzer organ. His approach to playing demonstrated pedals which literally resembled a ballet and fingers the flowed from one keyboard to the next playing Chopin, Dupre, Bach, and yes, even Gershwin.

I was amazed with his pedaling. Wearing sparkling-heeled boots, his feet were in constant motion actually resembling a dance while constantly adjusting the volume with his right foot. Every line, had obvious crescendos and decrescendos without once touching the crescendo pedal. He constantly played on the choir and the swell keyboards with one hand, thumbing down to the lower keyboard and making it all seem so easy while continuing the consistency of each selection on the great keyboard.

As most experienced keyboard players know, you can never completely know the challenges of the instrument where you will be performing. Every piano and organ has their own idiosyncrasies which the performer must respond to quickly bringing out the best of the instrument as well as the performer. Cameron Carpenter discovered this quickly with the Historic Orpheum Theater Wurlitzer organ. In his frustration with the instrument, he spoke to the audience comparing the organ to a 1927 semi-truck on an icy road and having technicians fix both the pedal board and a pipe during the intermission. Being this is not an unusual problem, Carpenter is currently building his own portable organ for his future performances.

However, Cameron Carpenter did work miracles with this organ in utilizing almost all the stops creating a menagerie of voices. In the Gershwin medley, he literally would change a stop with each note to allow the audience to hear all the multitudes of voices in this legendary theater organ. Observing one of his Chopin selections, it was fascinating to see his fingers literally ascend up one keyboard to descend down the one above it. His choice of voicing for each of his selections gave a fresh perspective to the listening ear. The pedaling was extremely light, which amazed me, and poetic to watch. New to me, John Downland's "Now, Oh Now, I Needs Must Part" was hypnotically gorgeous.

The River City Theater Organ Society generously funded the repair of the organ and this performance. Cameron Carpenter is truly a genius in the performance of organ technique. He created organ voices that I was amazed could be produced on any organ, not to mention an organ that is not digital. He showed his talent as well as exhibiting the glorious sounds of this phenomenal instrument. It is evident why he was nominated for a Grammy Award.

If Cameron Carpenter comes to any place near you, see him. Whether you are an organist, musician, or some who just enjoys superb music, he unquestionably has a fresh perspective about organ music.

Matters of Doubt

Matters of Doubt
A Cal Clayton Oregon Mystery
Warren C. Easley
Poisoned Pen Press
Scottsdale, AZ
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0174-5
September 2013
Trade Paperback
$ 14.95
280 pages      
Does it make a difference if a lawyer knows whether or not his client is guilty? Their job is to defend the person to the best of their ability. Lawyers normally defend criminals who they know and believe are guilty? What if they truly believe the person is innocent even if circumstances make the defendant look guilty?
Cal Clayton has this problem. He has agreed to represent Danny Baxter, known to his friends as Picasso. Danny's mother disappeared eight years ago when he was just twelve. He would like Cal to investigate this cold case and he claims that he can even pay for the services.
Danny has dyed black spiky hair, a ring in his eyebrow and lip, a tattoo of a snake around his neck, tattoos on his arms and is homeless. How will he pay?
Finally her body is found. Danny firmly believes that it was her boyfriend, Mitchell Conyers who killed her. Cal asks if Danny has ever spoken to the police about his suspicions, but then he realizes that they would not believe him because of his youth and appearance.
Danny's aunt has kept his mother's records: her appointment book, computer files, address book, and newspaper clippings and has given these to him. Danny firmly believes that somewhere in these documents is the clue to what really happened to his mother.
His mother had been a newspaper reporter who at the time was investigating something big. Even though her editor knew that the story would be revealing, he had no idea what secret was about to be revealed.
Danny has plans to meet his mother's former boyfriend and when Cal discovers this, he immediately drives to Mitch Conyers' house only to find Danny already there, stating that Mitch is dead. Did Danny kill him or did he really just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? Danny had both motive and opportunity.  This definitely creates " Matters of Doubt."
"Matters of Doubt" is an excellent mystery where the reader is discovering the clues along with the protagonist, Cal Clayton, even making the mistakes and assumptions along with him.   The story is well-organized and written as an enthralling narrative with realistic characters.

The strength of this novel is unquestionably bringing to light the multiple social issues of society such as the homeless, free clinics, veterans, post traumatic stress disorder, and the social class system. These are woven throughout the mystery creating a deeper understanding of the problems and the realism of dealing with people, not just statistics.

Author Warren Easley has a background as a research scientist and an international business executive while now he writes and tutors individuals with earning their G.E.D.

Anyone who enjoys well-written, realistic mysteries, would thoroughly enjoy "Matters of Doubt."       

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Quest

The Quest      
Nelson DeMille    
Center Street      
Hachette Book Group
New York, New York
September 2013
ISBN: 978-104555-7642-5
$ 26.00      
464 pages '
“But if you believe in love, then you believe in God."
In 1974, Ethiopia was experiencing a civil war resulting in the death of the last member of their royal family descended from King Solomon and Queen Sheba. This historic and biblical lineage ended a three thousand year reign.
Unfortunately, there were not just two sides in this battle but many with support from both Great Britain, Italy, and local tribal factions.
Two reporters Frank Purcell and Henry Mercado along with a photographer Vivian Smith were searching for a shelter in this vast savannah to rest for the night. Riding through this rugged and dangerous country in a jeep was not always safe or easy. They found a relatively safe spot at an ancient mineral spa with Roman baths.
The three watched nearby illuminating skies from the nearby fighting, their plan was to report to the victors, whoever they might be, in the morning until they saw a man in front of them, holding a skull. Quickly they approached the elderly man who immediately wanted water. They were reluctant to give him any since he was obviously wounded in his abdomen. Water and food often is the worse thing for anyone with an abdomen injury.
The man identified himself as Giuseppe Armanno, an Italian priest who supposedly had been imprisoned for thirty-eight years. He knew that he was going to die so and he wanted his story heard. What they didn't plan on was his story turning into their "Quest". Could the priest's story be true?
He didn't give them all the details so the three would need to explore and research more before beginning their unbelievable “quest”, but who better than reporters could discover the truth?
“The Quest” is definitely a page turner. As each clue is uncovered, the reader feels the urge to continue while alongside his trio of journalists. They don't have any special skills or abilities, but their curiosity drives them into this dangerous land with a possible dream of their treasure. The three main characters are realistically written with the problems of traveling in a third world country of being tired, filthy, thirsty, lost and people viewing them as foreigners. This is not an Indiana Jones but people who drink too much and frequently make stupid choices, especially when having sex while drinking and are frequently drunk and hung-over making the characters unlikable.

The descriptions of both the Gallas and the Falashas seemed narrow-minded and judgmental. Granted this was a viewpoint by the foreign journalists, but it was limiting the story line.

Nelson DeMille published this book back in 1975. He chose to rewrite this story into the 2013 version. This New York native is well-known for writing bestsellers such as “The Gold Coast”, “The Gate House”, and “The General's Daughter”.

“The Quest” wandered through much of the story, along with the characters creating a realistic view of the story. Basically, it is a decent story with interesting history that could have been an Indiana Jones, but was in actuality, three drunk journalists.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Simply Music

Do you ever regret that you never learned to play the piano? If you started as a child, did you thing more about playing with your friends outside rather than practicing?
Times have changed and for some of us, piano lessons have changed.

Quite a few years ago in Australia, a man named Neil Moore was asked to teach piano to a blind student. He realized immediately that he needed to change his approach. How do you teach someone to play the piano without won't be able to read the music?

Neil developed a method where you begin to play the piano by learning the patterns of the instrument with both hands. This is called a "playing" based approach. This blind student was thrilled with what he was learning each week and started to teach his family, then his neighbors, until all those around him were playing the piano. Similar to learning to talk before learning to read, this method called Simply Music and it teaches people of all ages to enjoy the piano while learning to play it.
Naturally skeptical, I discovered a little about this method and was intrigued, although still wondering about how this could or would it actually work. The method isn't memorizing but you do need to practice to become proficient with the patterns. Does it work? Can you actually learn to play the piano without reading the music?

Yes, it does work and you also learn to read music. Currently, I have students of all ages from 5 to 83. My 83-year-old student is delighted with her progress and is outstanding at improvising. ( I couldn't improvise after ten-years of piano lessons.) What delights me the most is how well my students are playing after such a short time!
My students are playing blues, contemporary songs, classical music, and composing while also learning to accompany, improvise, and transpose. Their weekly success thrills me in that they are able to do in a few short weeks what took me years to learn.
Why not see if this method is for you? It's never too late to learn.
The first lesson is free and allows you to see if this method could work for you, your children, your grandchildren or even your parents.
Even after the first lesson you are able to play a recognizable tune with both hands. Also, in Simply Music the parents can learn to play right along with their child. A husband and wife can learn to play together in the same lesson. This creates an environment where learning to play the piano can become family enjoyment as they spend their practice time together learning from each other.
Simply Music has a special program for those children from ages five to seven called "Play a Story". This program is about creating music for both the child and the parent on the piano and learning the basics before beginning the actual lessons.
For people with special needs, Simply Music is perfect since the lessons break down into pattern blocks. This can work for anyone and how fast you learn strictly depends on you. What have you got to lose? A little time trying his method could change your life.
For more information call (402) 290-5451 or e-mail at
The motto for Simply Music is "...a world where everyone plays." Why not join in the delight of being able to play the piano for your family and for yourself?

The Cantor Wore Crinolines

The Cantor Wore Crinolines

A Liturgical Mystery
Mark Schweizer

St. James Music Press
Tyson, North Carolina

ISBN: 978-0-9844846-7-6
Released to bookstores 2013

Released to Amazon- January 2014
$ 12.95

204 pages

The murder of four women whose bodies where placed in four separate vacant houses is a crime in a novel read by an exclusive book club the has their own website. However, when three bodies of women are found in vacant houses in the small community of St. Germaine, North Carolina, does that mean that someone is going to be murdered?

Three houses have been auctioned off in St. Germaine for unpaid taxes. No one had been allowed to enter the houses to examine them closely so for each new buyer, really doesn't know what they will find when they enter the house. Those who bid on these houses are just guessing at the condition inside.

After the first new buyer enters their house, the local law enforcement is called. In a closet there is the body of a woman. She is nicely dressed and there is no obvious reason for her death. Known only to the police though, is that she is missing one earring.

Just like the story of the three bears, as each new owner enters their house, a well-dressed woman is found in a closet, missing an earring, with no obvious reason for her death. Who are these women? Wouldn't someone notice that each of them was missing?
For Sheriff Hayden Konig, life is quiet contentment is this small town. There is not usually much crime and personally, he has it all. With a beautiful home, money in the bank, a wonderful wife, and a dog, he has taken a sabbatical from his job as church organist and choir director for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church where his gun is kept in the organ bench.
With recent changes in the leadership of the church, he felt most comfortable taking a leave-of-absence until things settled. Now, the church has a new interim, Father Dressler who supposedly wants to change to the Anglo-Catholic tradition but no one is certain what that really means.
Hayden's wife,Meg is well-respected in the community. Her mother, Ruby notices that these deaths are very similar to a recently read book recommended by a book club where she is being excluded from joining.
“The Cantor Wore Crinolines” is a comical mystery which is perfect for those who are over educated in the field of church music.
Referring to some of the classical choral works as warm-ups or recommendations is sometimes invigorating. Sure, using F. Melius Christiansen's "Lamb of God" as a choir warm-up? I have nightmares of learning this particular selection eons ago with a director who knew that for the piece to be sung well, everyone must know their music, listen for blending, and have eyes on the conductor at all times.
This is book number twelve in this series featuring Hayden Konig, organist/sheriff. The relationships progress through the books which are "fun" reading with a story in the style of Raymond Chandler within the external mystery of the murders. The entire selection is just relaxing and enjoyable to read.
For someone not acquainted with this series, I would recommend to at least read the first few books in this series before reading this one to better understand the characters. This book is currently only available at and independent bookstores like The Mystery Bookstore on 13th Street in Omaha. It will be available on Amazon and other on-line sellers in January.
What do you give your favorite music teacher or church organist for Christmas? Why not purchase for them these books by Mark Schweizer? They would thoroughly enjoy his off-beat humor in a harmonious way.

World Blues

How often do you go to a concert where the opening acts are so outstanding, they receive standing ovations? Friday night at the Holland Center in Omaha, that is exactly what happened.

"World Blues" featuring The Taj Mahal Trio with Vusi Mahlasela and Fredericks Brown was this phenomenal show.

Fredericks Brown is the name for a female duo comprising of Taj Mahal's daughter, Deva Mahal and Stephanie Brown. Stephanie plays the keyboards and sings harmony while Deva sings the lead with a voice that is a combination of Mama Cass, Etta James, with a little Ella Fitzgerald. This duo is definitely uplifting and soulful. When Deva sang "I Can't Make You Love Me", the audience was spellbound with her unusual vocal texture. Stephanie provides all the accompaniment and background and instinctively knows to best harmonize Deva's voice. For anyone who enjoys good music, these two ladies have a unique sound that is both reminiscent and refreshing.

Vusi Malasela is a performer that everyone needs to see in person sometime. His energy surges through his music with his guitar actually being an extension of his voice in harmony. Whether he is singing, dancing, playing guitar, he continues to deliver his message for a better world. Being that he has actually lived through Apartheid in South Africa and met with both Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, his perspective is unquestioning uplifting. Some of the quoted verses in his songs and stories were "Wisdom is forgiveness”, “When you don't forgive, you are punishing yourself”, “Wear forgiveness like a crown." Vusi loves expressing himself with music. Whether his legs are moving, or his hands, he literally allows the music to speak in many languages using him as an instrument.

The Taj Mahal trio made their stage entrance after the intermission with Taj Mahal singing and playing guitar. He has been recording since 1967 and is a delight to watch whether he is singing, trembling, shaking, strutting, all of this makes his music expressive and fun to watch as well as hear. Taj has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards and has won two of these as well as being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2009. He is unquestionably a "showman" in every possible way. For over forty years, Biily Rich, whose hometown is Omaha, has been with Taj Mahal playing the bass guitar. Kester Smith plays drums and has been a part of the trio for over twenty years.

For those who were not able to attend, you can still hear some of this music from their CDs. Taj Mahal recently released a 15-CD deluxe box set covering his long blues history. Vusi Mahlasela has "The Voice" which is a CD with songs from South Africa and also "Say Africa" which was produced by Taj Mahal. Fredericks Brown also have their CDs available with their most recent "Glass House Mountains".

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Turtle Island Quartet

"A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" is an unusual name for a program from a unique musical group, the Turtle Island Quartet and Nellie McKay which performed last Sunday afternoon at The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College.

Turtle Island Quartet is not your normal string quartet. With influences from many countries such as Poland where violinist, Mateusz Smoczynski studied and lives; India where violinist, David Balakrishnan's father was born; Mark Summer, the cellist, whose experience and expertise has allowed him to perform with numerous musicians throughout the world; and from the viola player, Benjamin von Gutzeit whose musical German family has assisted with his classical and jazz work.

When these four get together, they do not perform classical string quartet music but utilize music traditionally played by big bands, rock groups, or brass and jazz artists and play the music their way, with their personal improvisations and musical adaptations creating a completely different sound for any string quartet and even including music by Bob Dylan and Jimmy Hendricks.

When the Turtle Island Quartet performed, their music was a modernistic fusion of many jazz and rock songs utilizing improvisation with their instruments and doubling as percussion.

Nellie McKay started her part of the show with the old time favorite, “Sentimental Journey” accompanying herself on the piano. Throughout the show while not always singing, she also played the ukulele and the marimba.
The combination of their music selections often gave a feelings of music from the 1920s due to the texture of Nellie's voice and that some of their selections were original songs from that time period, but you could not categorize the music into any one particular genre.
From music with a Caribbean flavor, to literally a song about a dog including the panting, to Broadways musicals with flavors of South Pacific and Guys and Dolls, to music of India, fun and funny songs, and big band sound on strings making the Turtle Island Quartet obvious why they have won Grammy Awards for their crossover music.
Unquestionably, their sound and music is different, even a little quirky. Usually songs from Broadway musicals played with an accompaniment of major seconds is a disaster, but it worked while Nellie McKay sang the melody. At first their music seems bizarre, but it is truly amazing how all these musicians create new harmonies with a unique texture for the voicing with their instrument.
The Turtle Island Quartet and Nellie McKay are musicians I would like to hear more from in the future. At first, their style is a little uncomfortable, but well worth listening to this creative form of music. For those who were not able to attend their concert, you definitely will want to purchase their CDs to see how you like this form of alternative music.

Freud's Last Session

Wouldn't it be interesting to go back in time and to witness the meeting of influential scholars of a particular time period? That is exactly what playwright Mark St. Germain was contemplating when he decided to have a dying Sigmund Freud meet with the young professor, C. S. Lewis in ”Freud's Last Session.”

This fictional meeting of these great minds happened at the beginning of World War II on September 3, 1939 in Dr. Freud's study in his London home. Being that Freud whose mother was Jewish, had just recently left his native Austria due to the invasion by the Germans and their Nazi government, he relocated to London while battling the final stages of oral cancer.

He had been through a multitude of surgeries removing parts of his jaw and palette. Unfortunately, the cancer continued to grow while Freud attempted to live with prosthesis parts in his mouth that were limiting and painful.

C. S. Lewis was a professor and author who still carried the memories of fighting in the trenches during the First World War. While a close friend of J. R.Tolkien, Lewis developed his lectures and stories on his personal beliefs in Christianity.

As Sigmund Freud, Bernie Clark perfectly became this opinionated psychoanalyst who had many strong viewpoints. As C. S. Lewis, Nick Zadina truly became his character, matching Freud at every step while still showing respect for Freud's opinion and concern for his declining health.
"Freud's Last Session" is literally a portal to the past. The set perfectly portrayed a British study of the 1939 even with the radio relaying the latest development with the German invasion of Poland. The clothing was also outstanding in showing a different time, especially Nick Zadina's shoes.
The intended audience for this play is for those who have some background and knowledge about these two. C. S. Lewis had published by this time but had not yet written his well-known “Chronicles of Narnia”.   Freud's works were known throughout the world as well as his thoughts about Darwin and evolution and proclaiming to be an atheist.
The play last about ninety minutes with no intermission but also having about twenty minutes after the show for a discussion with the actors.
"Freud's Last Session" will continue at the Howard Drew Theater. The Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Howard St. in Omaha through November 17th with showtime at 7:30 pm. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 pm. on Sundays. Tickets are $ 35 for adults and $ 21 for students with special discounts for groups of twelve or more. To purchase tickets, contact The Omaha Playhouse online at,, or by calling (402) 553-0800.
For a window to the past with an unusual pair of intellectuals, spend a night with "Freud's Last Session."