Friday, May 31, 2013

Evil and the Mask

Evil and the Mask
Fuminori Nakamura
Soho Crime
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-61695-9
Hard Cover
$ 25.95
356 pages
“A Cancer”, that is your purpose in the world.
When Fumihiro Kuki was eleven years old and living in present day Japan, his wealthy father told him that he was to carry on the family tradition and to become “a cancer”. "I created you to be a cancer on the world." A cancer would be someone who attaches themselves to others as a parasite draining the life for their own personal gain. How would you react to this declaration?
For Fumihiro Kuki, being born into a wealthy family allowed him to receive extra tutoring to that he would excel in school. With no knowledge or evidence of his mother, his father chooses to be distant and unlovable. Doesn't money solve the problem of not being loved?
Living in this house with Fumihiro and his father are many servants and a young girl who is also in his class. Kaori attends school with Fumihiro and becomes his best friend and love of his life. Why is she living with them? It also seems that she is motherless. What is her connection to the family?
Evil and the Mask is about Fumihiro while he lives at home with his father and how he adjusts to life. After being cursed, Fumihiro enjoys his growing friendship with Kaori but begins to feel revengeful towards his father and this curse placed upon him. When opportunity for revenge occurs, he makes a well-planned decision that changes his life and his character.
As he begins his adult life, his family resemblance to his father makes him uncomfortable so he chooses to have his face changed through plastic surgery and taking on a new identity. This new identity causes Fumihiro problems since the original owner of this face quite probably murdered his girlfriend. By changing your appearance, can you change who you really are inside?
The author, Fuminori Nakamura has won the Oe Prize which is Japan's most prestigious literary award as well as numerous awards for his previous works, A Gun, The Boy in the Earth, and The Thief.
Evil and the Mask is an engrossing account of Fuminori and the choices of life. In some ways, the story reminds me of Hannibal in that the evil becomes norm. The story is violent, revengeful, and often disagreeable but it still contains that hypnotic voice that makes you want to read more.
However, I don't plan to read more by this author being that this particular novel is too dark for my tastes.

Wizard of Oz

Who hasn't seen The Wizard of Oz? You've never seen the story told like it is currently being performed at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The excitement, surprises, and total enjoyment make this a “must see” event for everyone of all ages.
Why would anyone want to see The Wizard of Oz on stage since most people have seen the traditional movies so many times that they can almost recite the lines with the characters? The answer is simple. Who wouldn't want to see this new production at the Omaha Playhouse with some of the collaboratively creative costumes, special effects, and unique ways of retelling this traditional but well known story?
Charlotte Hedican, has a fresh approach utilizing her beautiful voice as Dorothy. Glinda, portrayed Dawn Buller-Kirke, proves that beauty does not have to be skinny or blond to be a glorious good witch with a dynamic voice. The Scarecrow who is St. Albert grad, Noah Diaz, shows the goofy side of the Scarecrow with a natural grace to his clumsiness on stage. Kevin Olsen as The Tin Woodsman has a voice the glides as he stiffly moves his character into having a heart. For the Cowardly Lion, Noel Larrieu, he really turns into the Lovable Lion winning the hearts of everyone. Sally Neumann Scamfer as the Wicked Witch of the West successfully became the horribly revengeful ogress in her pursuit of those ruby slippers.
What makes this production so outstanding are the non-traditional roles mixed with today's technology, a creative costume designer, and choreographer. The Three Crows are wonderful with their unusual costuming and movements along with the Three Trees which amazingly were sultry and sexy. Who could not love the Munchkins which their colorful costumes along with the Poppies and their choreography. The Citizens of Emerald City were gorgeous with their wigs and shades of green costuming that made each character unique. The technology in creating the tornado and the screen scenes are frightening while staying true to the story.
The Wizard of Oz will continue to play at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 30th at 6915 Cass St. in Omaha. From Wednesdays through Saturdays with the shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets costs are $ 40 for adults and $ 24 for students. For more information call (402) 553-0800 or This is a long show with the first act running 80 minutes and 70 minutes for the second. Even with that, this production of The Wizard of Oz will amaze children and adults of all ages at The Omaha Community Playhouse.

Island of Wings

Island of Wings
Karin Altenberg
Penguin Books
New York, New York
ISBN: 0143120662
$ 15.00
320 pages
Most of us know very little about the island of Hirta, which is part of the St. Kilda archipelago, one of the Outer Hebrides, the islands off the northern part of Scotland.  Hirta is isolated and in July of 1830 this was the destination of a missionary and his young wife. (The island was eventually evacuated in 1930 and is now used only for defense and conservation.)
The missionary for the Church of Scotland, Neil McKenzie, knew Gaelic and could communicate in words even though their life style, local customs, superstitions, and beliefs were all foreign to him. How could he teach these people to become modern, educated, spiritual people like those in Glasgow?
Unfortunately, his wife, Lizzie, knew no Gaelic. Being in a strange land with a different language, unusual customs and superstitions, and unsanitary living conditions, great challenged her as an expectant mother of their first child. Learning how to survive with what was available on the island along with little communication from anywhere else, made day-to-day living a challenge. What happens in the long winter months when there are no more birds for food? Added to this, most of the newborns died on the eighth day after their birth. Why?
Island of Wings is a fictionalized account of the real people who actually were the missionaries. Their experiences on this island has been documented. Karin Altenberg beautifully intertwined these events into this debut novel which feels like an act of love in describing the people, customs, and physical aspects of the island and creating a tale about how both Neil and Lizzie would have felt and reacted to this isolated culture. Her experience as a PhD in archeology shines through utilizing her studies for the information and the basis of survival. Understanding of the people of St. Kilda and how they would react to the organized religion which conflicted with their superstitions is outstanding in that the reader is discovering these people along with the characters.
Island of Wings is one of those rare gems which succeeds in interweaving the past events with real people into an act of becoming a wonderful and memorable tale.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Music of Ghosts

Music of Ghosts
A Mary Crow Novel
Sallie Bissell
Midnight Ink
Llewellynn Publications
Woodbury, Minnesota
April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7387-3584-9
$ 14.99
384 pages
What college students wouldn't want to stay the night in a haunted cabin? When six students who are volunteering at a raptor center hear the legend of the Fiddlesticks' cabin, they can't wait to find out if there is a legendary ghost. With the legend of a woman and her lover being murdered in the cabin years ago, that just makes it more appealing and an adventure for the students who plan to videotape the entire event.
What the students didn't plan on happening was one of their own being brutally murdered outside the cabin. What was even stranger were the unusual and unrecognizable carvings or writings all over her skin. Is the killer trying to send a message?
To complicate things, the victim just happens to be the only daughter of the former governor of North Carolina. He public ally challenges the local law enforcement to make an arrest, maybe even before all the facts are discovered.
Mary Crow is a local attorney who lives in the area with her boyfriend and his daughter. Since a recent visit to Oklahoma, the nine-year-old daughter has been acting differently and has obviously been influenced by her grandparents who believe that Mary killed their daughter, the girl's mother, and now want complete custody of their granddaughter. The last time the daughter spent time with Mary involved rescuing an injured owl by taking it to the raptor center. This was the night of the murder.
The person in charge of the raptor center is the one who is now accused of the murder of the former governor's daughter. While looking into her life, it is obvious that she had a crush on this older man. However, he didn't seem to know a thing about it, or did he?
With the custody battle taking place in Oklahoma, Mary is free from her family duties and promises and finds herself being asked to represent the accused. She had promised her boyfriend to not be involved in any murder cases, but this is an exception and she plans to transfer this case to another attorney as soon as he returns from Israel. So, did she break her promise?
I find it amazing the this particular novel is the fifth in the Mary Crow series since the characters are so well developed and evolve as the story continues. Without knowledge of the previous novels, Music of Ghosts is outstanding without having read the previous installments.
At first it seems as if the story is disjointed but perfectly interweaves with the resolution complete with a lesson about Sacred Harp music. The tempo of the story is fast with the realistic parts of everyday life being important to each character.
Sallie Bissell spends her time either is Asheville, North Carolina or Nashville, Tennesee. Her previous Mary Crow mysteries were all published by Bantam Doubleday Dell.
The writing in Music of Ghosts is hypnotic and addictive. You can't put the story down as each chapter unfolds passionate intensity. The characterization is phenomenal making each character multi-faceted and having the reader understand their choices, while not always enjoyed reality. Music of Ghosts is a fast-paced hauntingly realistic novel that definitely makes me want to read more by Sallie Bissell.

Free Fall

Free Fall
A John Ceepak Mystery
Chris Grabenstein
Pegasus Crime
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-60598-475-9
318 pages
How many people are convicted only on circumstantial evidence? How many people are convicted because the accuser has money, power, and influence?
In the book Free Fall, Christine happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Being a home health care nurse, frequently places her in a situation where people are more at risk to die. However, did she help any of her patients along the journey towards death?
Detective Danny Boyle along with his new partner, Salvaore Santucci are called to a house by a 911 call. The caller is a young teen in a wheelchair whose mother is fighting with his nurse to the level that the mother is actually choking the nurse. When the officers stop the fight, the old woman immediately accuses the nurse of attacking her. However, the nurse, Christine, has finger marks on her throat that are visible enough to be photographed. Danny recognizes the nurse as being a close friend of his deceased fiance and agrees to assist her in moving her personal items out of this house. Since Christine was a live-in nurse, now she has no place to live. Danny calls a friend who can give her temporary shelter.
Since leaving the hospital, Christine has both a day and a night job. Thee older gentleman that she cares for during the day is found dead from poison that was in his medication. Guess who administered the daily medication?Yep, Christine, again.
Free Fall is the 7th book in the John Ceepak series. This novel does require the reader to understand the characters of Ceepak and Boyle which were in previous books, Tilt-A-Whirl, Whack a Mole, Hell House, Mind Scrambler, Mad Mouse, and Rolling Thunder . You really need to read at least Tilt A Whirl before starting this particular novel in the series.
Yes, I love these light fast-paced enjoyable adventures of Ceepak and Boyle.
Christ Grabenstein is an award winning author with two Anthony and three Agatha Awards. He is successful as a comedian, playwright, screenwriter, as well as a children's book author.
Free Fall is like a reunion. The character combination of Ceepak and Boyle is special and delightful. This well-written novel continues with a well-organized plot that keeps the reader wondering as each step of the investigation unfolds.

Hawk Quest

Hawk Quest
Robert Lyndon
Redhook Book
Orbit Books
Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-0-316-21956-3
$ 25.99
April 2013
672 pages
At the time of the Crusades in 1072, it was not unusual for a son of a noble family to gain further riches by going off to fight in the distant land. Many of these sons were trained to be skilled in fighting with cultural rules. Many were shocked while fighting when their opponents fought in a different style. Gold was highly valued by both friend and foe.
When the Turks won a particular battle, rather than killing the noblemen, they held these privileged sons for ransom, usually to be paid in gold. Since not all families, even noble ones were wealthy enough to pay the ransom, another option existed, to find the legendary white falcons and to transport them back to the captors.
Who would or could achieve this quest of first capturing these rare and elusive birds and manage to keep them alive during this journey?
Vallon is a disenchanted crusader who is a wanted man by the Normans. He is guilty of killing his wife and another man. In his depressive wanderings, he happens to meet an older scholar and his aide who are on a mission of delivering this ransom note to the prestigious family. When the old man dies, Vallon agrees reluctantly to assist the aide in this vast quest. What he didn't plan on was this becoming his quest.
Robert Lyndon, the author, is an experienced falconer. He utilized many of his own experiences into episodes in this epoch novel. Hawk Quest is the debut monthly novel for the new division of Hachette which will concentrate on only one book per month. This particular historical fiction novel is for those readers who enjoy epoch fiction interweaving actual historical events and famous people. In much the same style as Ken Follett, Bernard Cornwell, Margaret George, and Sharon Kay Penman, this also centers around England with encounters with Vikings, the Lapp people, and various tribes along the journey.
The characterizations are phenomenal in Hawk Quest. From the first page, Vallon is a questionable character never being quite certain about his loyalties except to himself. Hero lives up to his name and is the solid heart with Wayland becoming human through the adventures and trust of a woman.
The historical tidbits interwoven made this novel realistic. From the encounters with the Vikings and why they did not stay in North America, as to fleeing from the Normans, working with noble families, the people of Scandinavia and moving into what we now know as Russia, with the glimpses of the past as well as the threat to Christianity make Hawk Quest a thought provoking and well-written novel.
Unquestionably, Hawk Quest is an outstanding debut novel for both Robert Lyndon and Redhook Book.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Addams Family: The Musical

What is one song that can have everyone of all ages clicking their fingers in unison once the tune begins? Unquestionably, young and old react the same way when they hear the theme song from "The Addams Family: The Musical" showing at the Orpheum Theater through May 19th
The Addams Family began as the published cartoons by Charles Addams. Their success in print resulted first in a television series and then a movie. Now, the life of this family is in a new show with Wednesday in love with a normal boy from a normal family. That is normal compared to the Addams'.
The normal family has been invited to the Addams' home for the parents to get to know each other. Secretly this meeting of the families is to announce the engagement of Wednesday and Lucas. Gomez unfortunately has the burden of being the parent who Wednesday first confesses of her love for Lucas. He has promised his daughter that he would not tell his wife, Morticia, even though he never keeps any secrets from her. Gomez finds himself struggling with doing the right thing for both of them. Besides keeping a secret from his wife, Gomez also admits that as a parent he is conflicted with being completely happy while also completely sad with his only daughter in love and wanting to marry.
The costumes are traditional for the characters with Morticia's form fitting dress "cut down to Venezuela" as quoted by Gomez.
The Addams Family is a clever show where you just never know what to expect. With some unusual effects, the show offers humor as well as the remembrance of the television series and the good times with Wednesday torturing Pugsley.
Certain scenes perfectly combine the character traits with music in a way that is entertaining as well as hilariously memorable. My favorite is definitely Uncle Fester singing "The Moon and Me" ending with memories of Debussy "Clair de Lune". Also, a special cameo appearance is well appreciated in the second act.
To truly enjoy this show, you need to have some idea of the old television series and the characters. There are a few lines in this show that require some history such as a one-liner from Jackie Gleason's "The Honeymooners" which the younger ones in the audience did not understand but most of the audience loved. Also, some references to other musicals appear in some unusual places.
Wednesday, portrayed by Jennifer Fogarty, is outstanding. Her strong voice beautifully tells of her woes and darkness. Keleen Snowgren was the perfect Morticia overflowing in seduction, dancing, and singing. Jeremy Todd Shinder as Pugsley won the hearts of the audience. Shaun Rice as Uncle Fester was truly charismatic making everyone laugh.
Tickets for this darkly delightful musical begin at $25 and can be purchased at the Ticket Box Office for Omaha Performing Arts at the Holland Center, online at, or by telephone at (402) 345-0606.
The sign of a good show is when the audience clicks their fingers at the beginning and substitutes the clicks for applause at the end. The Addams Family:The Musical is a dark delight for everyone.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Little Night Music

"A Little Night Music" is a Stephen Sondheim musical in waltz time as the characters interweave their steps and their lives. As the twentieth century approaches, Fredrik Egerman is a middle-aged lawyer in Sweden who eleven months ago married a second time to a much younger woman. Anne loves the wealth and buys clothes while still stalling in her marital responsibilities. His son, Henrik, is home from his religious studies and is having difficulties with his commitment to God while balancing life with the household maid, Petra, who is tempting him into sexual liaisons.
When Fredrik takes his wife to the theater, a former love, Desiree, is performing. When Desiree and Fredrik connect their eyes, Anne definitely notices while assuming her own conclusions. When Desiree's lover also becomes involved with this love triangle, he enlists his wife to inform Anne of the relationship.
Five singers dressed in period costumes interweave the story while beautifully reflecting on the actions of the scenes and assisting in transitions. Each of these sang clearly and beautifully. Sean Buster excels with his glorious tenor voice resonating throughout the theater.
This production at the Chanticleer Theater directed by Dwayne Ibsen is a very ambitious production with this cast being accomplished singers. The set is very basic but functional. Costuming including wigs, hats, and parasols is glorious. Each outfit was perfect for the characters showing their own individuality. The sound system balancing a six-piece basic orchestra with trained singers proves a monumental task which is masterfully accomplished along with the lighting crew. With so many phenomenal singers and performers, all are great in developing their character through song.
As Desiree, the actress, D. Laureen Pickle is delightful merging both dialogue with song in "Send in the Clowns". Fredrik Egerman, portrayed by Chris Ebke, showed his maturity with playing this role as a master truly commanding the stage. Petra, portrayed by Kat Jarvis, comically and beautiful sang while constantly flirting. Mark Hinrichs as the Swedish dragoon, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm demonstrated this dominating role with his character's opinions and his enthralling voice. As Madame Armfeldt, Ruth Rath is wonderful as the wise matriarch enriching lives with such bits of wisdom as, "To lose a husband, or a lover or two during one's lifetime can be vexing - but to lose one's teeth is a catastrophe!"
"A Little Night Music" will continue at Chanticleer Theater through May19th. On Fridays and Saturdays, the show times are 7:30 pm. and at 2 pm. on Sunday. Tickets are $17 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $9 for students. For tickets call (712) 323-9955 or online at Tickets are also available the day of the shows.
"A Little Night Music" demonstrated that Chanticleer is capable of longer and more demanding musicals in different styles that exhibit the outstanding talents of our local performers.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Is is Still Murder if She Was a Bitch?

Is It Still Murder Even If She Was a Bitch?
A Donna Leigh Mystery
Robin Leemann Donovan
Write Life Publishing
Omaha, Nebraska
ISBN: 978-1-60808-038-0
$ 12.95
284 pages
By being a part owner of an advertising business, if a former employee is murdered, you know that your business will be involved in the investigation. So what is the wisest thing to do? For Donna Leigh that answer is to just solve the murder with the help and resources of the business. Is that the smartest thing to do though? Are you endangering yourself and your co- workers? Only after finding the murderer will anyone know if that is smart, if she lives long enough for that conclusion.
When Claire Dockens was found dead, no one was really surprised.   The woman had the bad habit of creating enemies.   Unfortunately for Donna Leigh, her advertising agency had been one of Claire's stepping stones on her quest for riches with many wounded co-workers along the path.  
A former employee, Clovis, firmly believes that she is the most likely suspect to be the murderer.    With her flair for the overly dramatic, flamboyance, and being extremely self-centered, she made the book believable as well as comical. Her intention is for Donna to stay in constant contact with her on every development.
One conflicted situation revolved around Donna's husband, a gifted mystery solver. This man doesn't even read mysteries because he usually solves them within the first few pages of a novel.  Early in the story, he believes that he knows who is the killer. He then writes it on a piece of paper and places it in a sealed envelope to be opened when the case is solved.   Considering the his wife Donna is investigating everyone and has even been threatened, wouldn't a caring person at least advise his wife to stay clear of certain people?
The characters in Is it Still Murder Even if She Was a Bitch? are realistic.  Who hasn't known a person who must always be the center of attention?  With all the employees of the advertising firm, the characters are believable. With including their personal relationships whether solid and shaky.   
The setting is easier to understand for those people who have a some background of the basic layout of Omaha. For those outside the metro area, it might be a challenge.
Robin Leemann Donovan is a transplanted New Jersey native who now makes her home in Omaha.  Is It Still Murder Even If She Was a Bitch? is her first published fictional novel.
Omaha author, Robin Leeman Donovan is an award winning author for the blog, Menologues. This particular novel, Is it Still Murder Even if She Was a Bitch? won an AMA Pinnacle award. Obviously she has utilized much of her personal experience in writing this novel.
Is it Still Murder if She Was a Bitch? is a light cozy mystery which keeps the reader wondering to the end about who was the murderer. It was comical since almost everyone had some motive to kill the victim. The relationships and friendships with the characters were the strength of this novel.
Why not read this novel to discover the answer to Is it Still Murder if She Was a Bitch?

Recommended Reading for Girls

What reader hasn't fantasized about the characters from a particular book coming to life?  What if those characters from your favorite childhood novels actually moved into your house? With "Recommended Reading for Girls", that is what has happened.  Or is it?
As families evolve through the transitions of life, the Saunders family finds itself at a difficult transition.  The mother, Maureen Saunders, has just chosen not to be a part of a cancer trial program and is again entering chemo treatment.  With her husband away at a conference,  their adult daughter, Amy, returns to her childhood home to help out.  
As Amy enters the house she sees a young girl on the steps to her old bedroom eating an apple.   When she calls out, the girl runs away.   Not knowing if this incident is a hallucination or a criminal event, she investigates without being certain of reality.
This worldwide debut of "Recommended Reading for Girls" is the creation of Omaha resident, Ellen Struve, and was chosen to be produced by the Omaha Playhouse. The show is based on the preteen literature of most females with heroines such as Heidi, Sarah Crewe, Anne of Green Gables, and Penny Parker, girl detective. 
The set for  this play was both creative and functional.  In the limited space, it was amazing how spacious the stage was for the rooms within the house and including a delightful attic entry.   Costuming and hair design were outstanding in making these fictional characters come to life.  All the staff with the sound, lighting, and stage were outstanding.  The acting was superb in all parts.
What is outstanding in "Recommended Reading for Girls" was the realistic interactions between the sisters about their mother.   Christina Rohling as Amy and Laura Leininger as the pregnant sister, Jackie both excelled in these challenging parts.   As sisters can so easily do, they seemed to know how to play on each others insecurities.  Also, I couldn't help but admire the sunny outlook of Olivia Sather as Anne of Green Gables and the German speaking by Mika Caplan as Heidi.
This play is not for young girls as you really need to have some background of the four literary characters.   Yes, I even had to explain to a husband about why Sarah Crewe changed since he was not acquainted with the character.
With a memorable moral for this story, "Recommended Reading for Girls" is delightful for the intended literate female audience.
“Recommended Reading for Girls” will continue through June 2nd with Wednesday through Saturday performances at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at (402) 553-0800 or online at or Ticket costs are $40 for adults and $24 for students with special group rates available.