Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ring of Secrets

Ring of Secrets (Culper Ring Series)
Roseanna M. White
Harvest House Publishers
Irvine, California
March 1, 2013
ISBN: 978-0736950992
$ 13.99
352 pages

Who could possibly believe that a woman during revolutionary times from an aristocratic family was actually a spy?

Winter Reeves currently is living with her grandparents in New York City. Since her father left to join the Patriot army and her mother died, she chose to get to know these people who had disinherited her mother. What she didn't plan on was the abusive meanness and controlling nature of her grandfather.

Her grandfather would have a heart attack if he knew the truth, Winter is secretly a spy. Having been a childhood friend with Robbie Townsend of the legendary Culper Ring, taught her about utilizing the tools of being a spy with code books, invisible ink, and drop locations. Feeling needed by the Patriots for the information she can provide and having a strong faith in God are what daily drives her to continue to live under their roof. What she didn't plan on was finding love.

She quickly attracts beaus and one particular, Bennett Lane, is drawn to her. With his family's Loyalist support, this Yale professor finds himself to be a secret Patriot in the midst of the Loyalists.

This fast-paced novel is a romance, historical, and Christian based novel. The research for this novel had to be overwhelming but is a fictional well-written account about real events and real people such as Benedict Arnold, John Andre, and members of the Culper Ring such as Robert Townsend, Austin Roe, Benjamin Tallmadge, and Abraham Woodhull who hopefully will appear in future novels in this series.

Ring of Secrets is a realistic viewpoint of a dangerous time in our history that leads into the War of 1812 and the relationship between our country and Britain during this time. From the divisions of loyalties within families, friends, and neighbors to the Quaker and Puritan influence, to prostitution as a means of survival as well as disease, this novel is a reputable picture into the past and possibilities from a religious viewpoint.

Roseanna White is a senior reviewer for the Christian Review of Books and a senior editor of White Fire Publishing which she founded with her husband. Other Christian novels that she has written are Jewel of Persia, A Stray Drop of Blood, and Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland. Ring of Secrets is the first in hopefully an extensive series of the Culper Ring.

Ring of Secrets is a refreshing novel that everyone, including men, would enjoy reading.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Season of the Wolf
Jeffrey J. Mariotte
Dark Fuse
North Webster, IN
February 2013
ISBN: 978-1937771614
$ 15.99
304 Pages

Life doesn't always work with your plans.

For Alex Converse money has never been a problem. Having inherited money from his family's coal mining business, he now has dreams of making a documentary about how global warming is changing our country. He views this as a way to pay back people for the profiting by his family's harming the environment. His plan is simply to take two people with him to help create this documentary about the
bark beetles who are destroying the trees since they are no longer destroyed by the winter deep-freezes. He carries along the guilt from his family profiting while harming the environment permanently.

What he didn't plan on was the other global nightmare that is quickly killing the inhabitants of Silver Gap, Colorado!

It all starts very simply in the women are disappearing and wolves seem to be attacking and killing people. Wolves travel and kill in packs but don't bother humans. Why would these wolves choose to attack?

Season of the Wolf is a violent thriller, but still has a realistic aspect to this supernatural tale. This tale is fast paced, frightening, but at the same time addictive in that you can't stop reading it. There are twists and turns as the character and events weave in and out of each other. The underlying message regarding wolves, the bark beetles, and our environmental future is evident in every page emphasizing the need for balance within nature.

With outstanding characterization, a complex plot, and the hypnotic voice of a storyteller, Season of the Wolf is definitely an outstanding thriller. This is one novel where you can't wait to get to the end and then are sorry that the book ends.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte has written numerous novels throughout the years and has been nominated for a Stoker Award with his teen horror quartet Dark Vengeance. He co-owns Mysterious Galaxy, a bookstore and lives on a ranch in the American southwest.

I was amazed about how this gruesome thriller has become one of my favorite books. The mix of the gore with someone who just wants to do the right thing is unusual, but works for Season of the Wolf. Definitely read Season of the Wolf but plan to spend an entire day reading it.

The Dark Hour

The Dark Hour
Robin Burcell
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-213347-2
Mass market paperback
December 2021
$ 5.99
370 pages

What would you do if you watched the death of your spouse and then discovered that this person might be alive? Added to that, your ex-spouse is possibly the only witness to an international murder. Would you begin to look for this person? That is what Zachary Griffin decides.

C. I. A. agent, Zachary Griffin chooses to go to Amsterdam to investigate the possibility that his wife, Becca, is alive. The composite sketch of the witness is unquestionably her.

F. B. I. Special Agent, Sydney Fitzpatrick has been unofficially sent to Amsterdam due to her superb skills as a forensic artist. While in Amsterdam, a U.S. senator is assassinated back in the states. So how is this related to Zach's wife and why does someone want her and Zach dead?

Robin Burcell has been a police officer since 1983 working as a detective, patrol officer, a member of a hostage negotiating team, and an FBI trained forensic artist.
Her first novel, Every Move She Makes was nominated for an Anthony Award which is part of her Kate Gillespie series. Other books in this series featuring Kate are Fatal Truth, Deadly Legacy, and Cold Case. Her series with Sydney began with Face of a Killer and The Bone Chamber with The Dark Hour being the third book in this series. Although part of a series, each of these books is easily comprehended as a stand alone.

With the short intense chapters, The Dark Hour, is a fast read with constant action. The characterization is the strong aspect in this story as the reader can easily see the action through the characters and the conflicts with their emotions, even to the point that the reader feels the physical and emotional exhaustion. The non-stop action wears everyone out much as anyone would feel who would actually have these experiences.

The Dark Hour is breath-taking, intense, and definitely a novel for anyone who enjoys high action-packed thrillers. The frightening part of this novel is that it could really happen. With this intricately woven plot with multiple layers, this complex thriller should delight mystery readers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Casual Vacancy
J. K. Rowling
Little, Brown and Company
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-316022853-4
September 2012
$ 35.00
503 pages

"A casual vacancy is deemed to have occurred:
(a) when a local councillor fails to make his declaration of acceptanceof office within the proper time; or
(b) when his notice of resignation is received: or
(c)on the day of his death..."

Barry Fairbrother was content in his life. He seemed to have everything, a beautiful and devoted wife, twin daughters, a successful career as a lawyer, and volunteering as a girls' rowing coach and developing the disadvantaged members of this team. He also serves on the small town of Pagford's board which decides how the financial resources of the town are spent.
For the past few days, Barry has had a headache that at times almost capacitates him. Being that today is his anniversary, he plans to take his wife out to eat at the golf club. He would prefer to be at home in bed, but decides to just work through the headache is easier than explaining the problem to his wife.

When he drops dead in the parking lot as the result an aneurism, this small town becomes an infestation of gossip, rumors, and self-serving candidates to fill this "casual vacancy".

The Casual Vacancy is about the fictional town of Pagford. From all appearances, Pagford seems to be the perfect small town. However with Barry's death, it becomes evident that there are many hidden grievances from all the residents. Who will actually fill his council seat without having all their dirty secrets unveiled? The people who reside is this small community are normal, flawed humans with many secrets that they would prefer their neighbors not to know. However, when the council's website starts to reveal secrets of those who either are on the council or applying for the casual vacancy, life changes and not every change is for the best.

J. K. Rowling is the author of the seven Harry Potter novels with The Casual Vacancy being her first adult novel. The characters of The Casual Vacancy are not as loveable as those in the Harry Potter series. The adult gossip and secrets are not as much fun as a game of Quiddytch. Also, there seems to be a lack of purpose in the novel, except who wins the seat. By the time the new councilor is revealed, you feel that the entire council should be abolished. Following the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy has no enchantment in any area.

The Bracelet

The Bracelet
Roberta Gately
Gallery Books
Simon & Schuster Inc.
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6912-1
November 2012
$ 15.00
318 pages
What do you do if you witnessed a murder in a foreign country? Most of us would cautiously inform the authorities as Abby Monroe did while in Switzerland. What happens though when the police can't find the body and you are so flustered that you are no longer certain of the location and you are questioning your own sanity?
How many people have made occupational choices based on their love life? Abby has just been dumped by her doctor-to-be via e-mail, her job in New Orleans is no longer available due to Hurricane Katrina, so she decides to accept work from the United Nations in Pakistan.
While waiting for her final flight, she is in Switzerland where she decides to take a morning run. She hears arguing and sees a woman in eastern style dress arguing with a man. The woman grabs his glasses and is pushed over a balcony falling onto cement. Abby quickly approaches and checks for a pulse noticing an exquisite bracelet with gems on her arm. The man on the balcony glares at Abby. Frightened she hides in the bushes while the man descends and finally enters the area.
When she is certain that she can escape, she races back to the hotel and explains the situation to the doorman who calls the authorities. However, she can't find the exact location or a body. The police seem to be that she hallucinated the entire event.
As she begins her duties in Pakistan working with a clinic that vaccinates children, she is still haunted by the incident in Switzerland. As she meets a Pulitzer Prize journalist who pretends to interview you, both of them are catapulted into the illegal human trafficking trade.
The Bracelet is a page turner bringing a realistic aspect to life in Pakistan, especially the women. The story hooks you on the first page and doesn't release. The realistic characters and believable events only allow a small snapshot into the lives of these people, but unquestionably moving. My only complaint was the predictable ending through the roller coaster situations. Abby's emotions are the reader's through each page.
Roberta Gately also wrote Lipstick in Afghanistan and obviously modeled the character of Abby somewhat after herself with her similar experiences of being a nurse and working with humanitarian causes in the Middle East and Africa.
The Bracelet is recommended for a female audience due to the romance tendencies in the novel. Overlooking the romance is a strong realistic story about human trafficking in this part of the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Chieftains

How many performing groups have won six Grammy Awards, celebrated their 50th anniversary, and performed at the Holland Center last Tuesday night?
Only one and that is the legendary Chieftains featuring Paddy Moloney for ninety minutes to a packed hall last Tuesday. Since this group was formed in 1962 they have toured the world bringing Irish music to everyone's attention. With some songs in English and some in a Gaelic language, the audience thoroughly enjoyed all the music whether they knew the songs or not.
Paddy Moloney led the night with his uilleann pipes and tin whistle showing that music is truly ageless. All the instrumentalists were phenomenal musicians in playing, singing, and dancing a variety of music. From their traditionally well known songs such as "Mo Ghile Mear" to country and bluegrass music, this definitely was an enjoyable evening.
Matt Molloy's flute playing is both energetic and soulful. Kevin Conneff is a true Irish tenor with a love of a ballad and storytelling through song that seems effortless while also playing a variety of percussive rhythms on the bodhran. Cara Butler and Nathan Pilatke were both phenomenal dancers. Jon Pilatzke proved that fiddlers can certainly dance. Jeff White has a distinctive style in his playing guitar and singing. He is truly a musician and he also performs with Lyle Lovett. Deanie Richardson can 'literally fiddle any song into any style and a memorable rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown". Triona Marshall plays both the keyboards and the Irish harp. Her music is relaxing and mesmerizing. Alyth McCormack is from a Scottish isle off the northern coast of Ireland. Her soprano voice is clear with an unusual tonal quality that is both youthful yet haunting. It was truly amazing how she could enunciate the multitude of consonants from Gaelic that sounded like tongue twisters. Even though I had no clue what the words of the songs were, the songs as she sang were instant favorites with the audience and myself.
Omaha Pipe & Drums were phenomenal as they majestically joined The Chieftains on two selections and the girls from Dowd's Irish Dance Academy definitely livened the evening with their lightning fast Irish steps. Jerry Morgenson, a local accordion player, also joined the group in a few selections.
For those who could not be there, The Chieftains recently released their new CD entitled "Voice of Ages". The Deluxe Edition contains two CD’s of music and a bonus DVD. Also, I plan to purchase music by singer, Alyth McCormack and harpist, Triona Marshall. Their music is both traditional but definitely inspiring and relaxing.
You've probably heard the old saying about when you perform, to leave your audience wanting more. With only ninety performance minutes, I definitely wanted more.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chasing Normal
T. L. Hoch
Bloomington, IN
ISBN 978-1-4697-5148-1
$ 17.95
278 pages
Who wouldn’t want to be considered the star high school athlete? To be admired by everyone is a high school student’s dream, but is there a down side? Have you ever known coaches who believe that winning is everything and the only thing? Is there more to a sport than winning?

Annie Smith has not had an easy life. Her father died in an airplane accident just as she was becoming a teenager. She quickly discovered her fascination for basketball and softball. This interest developed her skills as an outstanding athlete who strongly values her team rather than being a star. Throughout her short competitive experience, she strongly worked with her team in developing their strengths and the value of teamwork. This success caused the media in her small community in Arkansas to become obsessed with her life. Now Annie and her mother have an opportunity for change by moving to Texas.

Annie dreams of being “normal” rather than a superstar and begins her new life by calling herself B.A. B.A. joins the basketball team but is not enjoying playing guard on this team. She chooses to stay quiet with an inexperienced coach who believes that your tallest players should always be the forwards. With considerable attitude, the taller players are threatened by this newer, shorter girl who only wants to play the game and to do her best for her team and herself. Between the coach and the players being threatened and challenged, how does the new kid make friends?

Through her one new friend, Chip, B.A. begins to learn about friendship and trust. CHASING NORMAL excels with lessons of sportsmanship and the personal responsibility of doing the right thing in helping others. The teenager issues of friendship in a relationship with a boyfriend who is a friend, is refreshing.

CHASING NORMAL is definitely a change in the traditional young adult novel. There are no inappropriate violent or sexual scenes or language. This is unusual in any book and even the main characters do not approve of using bad language or having inappropriate relationships. The choices the characters make in the book are ethical and moral and excellent examples of role models.

The story is well-written and logically organized with a developed plot and climax that is perfect for young adults to view as a story map with all the elements of literature woven into an refreshing story.

A few minor elements cause concern such as the minimal mention of B.A.’s mother and their time together. After everything that both of them had been through and moving to a new town, the mother seems too distant. Also, there is no mention of her grades except that she does not excel in math. When does she complete her homework? With her love of playing the bass guitar, she seldom plays or practices. Sometimes it seems that B.A. is too good to be true, even in fiction with her poise and maturity that definitely outshines most adults.

T. L. Hoch is a retired high school social science teacher and golf coach in northwest Illinois.

I look forward to the next book in this series and also a possible spin-off following the mother in raising such a classy daughter as B. A. Smith.

The Harlem Gospel Choir

When you hear the song "O Happy Day" you don't just sit in your chair and tap your foot. This music awakens something inside us that yes, makes us happy, but also reaches our souls through music in ways that uplifts our spirits. This song and many other gospel songs were performed last Thursday night at the Iowa Western Arts Center by The Harlem Gospel Choir.
This group sang a variety of well-known gospel favorites as well as some contemporary songs. From well-known favorites as Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace to Total Praise by Richard Smallwood, the choir approached each song as an expression of their religious beliefs literally turning the songs in prayers of praise. Most of the selections featured one soloist with the other voices joining in the three-part harmonies.
The Harlem Gospel Choir was created in 1986 with many members from Harlem's Black Churches near the New York City area. The touring choir has nine members: three sopranos, three altos, three tenors, with a drummer and a keyboardist. These members are a part of the larger group located in their home of Harlem and weekly perform at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York.
Part of this groups mission is to give back to the community. The Harlem Gospel Choir did this in three distinct ways. First, they selected a child from the audience to give a bracelet to for the "Save the Children" foundation explaining their donation and requesting donations from the audience. Next, the seventh and eighth-grade choirs from Kirn Middle School sang one selection with the choir as backup singers coaching in their style of music. Especially noticeable were how quickly some of the choir members, especially those in blue were in understanding the style of the music and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Lastly, the Harlem Gospel Choir chose one audience member who was completely enthralled with their entire experience and rewarded this college student with an autographed CD.
The program concluded with "Celebrate" and audience members were invited onto the stage. After the standing ovation, the Harlem Gospel Choir concluded with a glorious arrangement of "Love Train" with their rich harmonies. The nine singers were all outstanding and their keyboard player and drummer were marvelous at never missing a beat and perfectly balancing and blending the various accompaniments. The lighting, sound, and stage crews perfectly matched the needs of the performers and IWCC Arts Center excelled in making this night enjoyable for all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blues at the Crossroads 2

Have you ever been to a concert that was so phenomenal that you were tempted to call everyone in your phone book to hurry and be at this concert too? That is what Blues at the the Crossroads 2: Muddy & the Wolf was like last Wednesday at the Holland Center.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds led by the phenomenal Kim Wilson accompanied all these blues' legends. The FabulousThunderbirds proved that they can play any music amd that they truly are fabulous. Their expertise in adjusting to any performer with any music proved that they are true musicians who can play anything. With Jay Moeller on drums, Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller on guitars, Randy Bermudes on bass, and Kim Wilson as a vocalist, harmonica player, and leader, the Fabulous Thunderbirds demonstrated the difference between playing music and the experience of making something outstanding, music from the soul.
Tinsley Ellis, the legendary guitarist, strummed the blues with varying styles of the Bayou and the South. Bob Margolin, who actually played guitar with Muddy Waters back in the 1960s, showed his own style with his deep baritone voice in the Chicago blues style. Jody Williams continued with his unusual style of sliding on the guitar bridge. James Cotton truly enjoyed creating the blues on his harmonica and singing with his raspy voice.
Kim Wilson was everything, master of ceremonies, singer, harmonic player, he achieved a level of musicianship where he assisted in bringing the best out of each performer.
Added to that, all the performers were available during intermission and after the two and a half hour concert for autographs providing for their fans to buy special editions of CD’s not available anywhere else.
With this Blues on the Crossroads, the audience was predominantly older males who appreciated these gifted artists for the music that they created. No one was aware of the time as they were there to play and create music.
Unusual to any performing group was Kim Wilson's mastery of quietness. Yes, most people have been to a concert with the music blaring. Kim showed true musicianship by singing quietly without the microphone, being heard and understood, and having the audience appreciate this control and excellence in an unusual type of showmanship.
Also unusual were two harmonicas playing together with the full band but not dueling, complimenting and creating exciting and thrilling music.
I was thrilled with the first Blues at the Crossroads and amazed that this one was more outstanding. Blues at the Crossroads 2 proved that music surpasses all language and is truly a communication in itself.
Anytime any of these musicians, especially Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds are back in the area.
What is being planned for Blues at the Crossroads 3?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Night Circus

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern
Anchor Books
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-307-74443-2
$ 15.00
512 pages
"Anything either of us does has an effect on everyone here, on every person who walks through those gates. Hundreds if not thousands of people. All flies in a spiderweb that was spun when I was six years old and now I can barely move for fear of losing someone else."
How much of our life is truly the choices that we make? Do each of us have a predetermined fate and we are only pawns in this game of life? Are all of us so interwoven together that the choice one person causes effects on everyone else?
The quote above is about the circus and those paying their admission fee as they enter this unusual circus. The tale of The Night Circus is a tightly interwoven story based on the theme that each of our life choices has an effect on the others in our lives.
This story encircles two children, Celia and Marco who are both to be trained as magicians. However these two are destined to compete with true magic at some time in their future, possibly to their death. Who is better trained? What phenomenal magic will win the competition? What if they fall in love?
The setting is in the late 1800s and early 1900s at The Night Circus which mysteriously appears and disappears throughout the world without any prior advertising. This circus has a mysterious enticement with their own followers who recognize the unusual gifts and talents of these performers.
I have mixed feelings about The Night Circus. The story is character driven and a predictable romance, however, several aspects of this story especially the visualization is outstanding. The descriptive passages which support the characters are truly magical and inspirational. These sections were outstanding in this debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. Unfortunately these aspects favor female readers regarding the dresses and the romance.
The Night Circus is a different style in reading with very short chapters centering on only the characters. The strength is definitely how each event and character is so dependent on each other focusing on how everybody’s actions change everyone's effects. Definitely unusual, Erin Morgenstern has utilized her skills as multimedia artist to paint in words visual characters in this debut novel, The Night Circus.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Does mathematics explain life?
With the play, "Proof", it is the eve of Catherine's 25th birthday. She chose to take care of her father, a mathematical genius who has taught at the University of Chicago but who also suffered from being mentally ill instead of attending college. Now that her father has just died, Catherine has agreed to allow a former student of her father's to search through over one hundred notebooks of her father's ramblings and mathematical proofs for evidence of his brilliance, possibly finding insight to a new mathematical thought.
Catherine allows Hal to unlock a desk drawer that contains one notebook. The beginning of this particular document rambles but does appear to prove a mathematical question that has never been solved. This discovery could revolutionize the world of academic mathematics.
Life is seldom simple and Catherine tells the grad student and her sister, Claire, that she wrote the proof. Claire does not believe this but thinks that Catherine is mentally ill. Hal, the grad student, quickly discovers his attraction to Catherine and wants to believe her. This conflict about who wrote the mathematical proof also shows the many unsolved proofs that are in daily life.
There are many insightful lines throughout this two act play. "She's not my friend. She's my sister." definitely explains the relationship between Catherine and Claire. When Catherine wonders about possibly inheriting a mental illness she states, "Am I crazy? Crazy people don't ask if they are crazy." While observing everyday life, Catherine states, "All I see are compromises, approximations."
Jesse Hager is superb in the demanding role of Catherine. As Catherine wavers through the conflicts of being a care giver and sacrificing her own college education, she is also attempting to find out her own independence. Eric Griffith as Robert, the unstable mathematical genius, shows the ever shifting fine line between insanity and brilliance. Corie Grant Leanne is perfect as the nurturing sister who lives in New York. She perfectly matches this conflicted character who helps Catherine and Robert from a distance while also believing that her decisions are for everyone's best. They just don't realize it yet. Hal, portrayed by Matthew Hemmingway, truly becomes the character both wanting time to discover the brilliance of his mentor in the notebooks while being attracted to Catherine and wondering if she is also mentally ill. All the support staff are outstanding with the lighting, props, sound, and stage management that are completely unnoticed because they blended perfectly with the story.
"Proof" has won numerous award including a Pulitzer and was nominated for a Tony Award in 2001. "Proof" continues at the Chanticleer Theater through February 10th with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm. and Sunday at 2 pm. Contact the Chanticleer box office at 712-323-9955 or e-mail The tickets cost $ 17 for adults, $ 14 for seniors, and $ 9 for students.
See "Proof" this weekend for an excellent thought-provoking play.