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."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chanticleer- Cabaret - Porter & Gershwin

Where can you hear twenty-four  legendary songs of Cole Porter and George Gershwin in less than ninety minutes?   At the Chanticleer Theater this weekend with music of another era.
As with all shows in a cabaret style, certain numbers work better on particular days and Friday night definitely made some songs be outstanding.
With Terry Debenedictus sizzling the stage with "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", no man on stage was safe from her scarf.   Steve Gillespie hypnotically sang "Night and Day".   The entire group production of "Nice Work if You Can Get It" was fun to watch.   The familiar harmonies sung by Steve and Cindy Mirfield in "True Love" were delightful to hear.  The torch songs sung by Denise Putman, Cindy, and Cheryl Langer were refreshing along with the humor in Kathy Gray's songs.
Glenn Prettyman commanded the stage and the sound system by projecting over the piano perfectly with "I've Got You Under My Skin".   His voice with
"Embraceable You"  caused many a heart to flutter both on stage and in the audience.
Many of the songs reflected the light-hearted humor  of this period such as "Be a Clown", "Friendship", "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and the stage hogging number "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" masterfully performed by Tim Daugherty and Dave Howard.
Jerry Gray directed and narrated this musical group explaining the history of these songs with Cheryl Langer as the pianist and performer and Samantha
Thomas on the drums.
What is unusual about the Cabaret Series is that the theater becomes a nightclub with food and drink on your table throughout the show. This creates the intimate relationship with the performers as those on stage actually become part of the audience when they are not performing.  The purpose of these shows is to provide the theater additional funds for their expenses throughout their season.
The show continues at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and  at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Chanticleer Theater which is located at 830 Franklin Ave.    For $ 25, you receive over an hour of entertainment which includes hors devours and drinks so reservations are needed.  Call (712)323-9955 or through e-mail at
The Cabaret Series is a wonderful way for those of any age to enjoy the talents of our local performers and support our community theater.

The Book of Mormon

"The Book of Mormon" was not what I expected.   Hilarious, great singing and acting, dancing that was comical, and very adult.   Do not bring your grandchildren or teenagers.
This show that was created by the writers of "South Park" and is a religious satire about the Mormon faith.
This winner of nine Tony Awards "The Book of Mormon"  is about two young missionaries who are the opposite of each other in every way, being sent to Uganda to baptize new souls into their faith.   Unfortunately, this particular area already has some missionaries who have not been successful in baptizing one soul into the faith of the Church of the Latter Day Saints while the local residents are more concerned about a nearby general with his own version of conversion.
What was a pleasant surprise to me was the history about the origin of the Mormon faith.   Yes, it was a parody, but informative, not to mention comical with the illuminated Jesus.
Nic Rouleau as Elder Price and A.J. Holmes as Elder Cunningham were both wonderful in their roles.   Their singing was outstanding, dancing was perfect and energetic, with their acting demonstrating their enjoyment of their roles as well as their immense talent in telling the story and connecting with the audience.
Nabulungi portrayed by Syedha Mercado was both the innocent young girl while still being wise beyond her years.   She definitely can sing and proved her tremendous talent that she was a former  "American Idol" finalist. 
Pierce Cassedy is both Moroni and Elder McKinley stealing the show in a few places with his dancing antics that definitely showed his love and enjoyment of this musical.
The ensemble in this show was amazing.   In their dances, costume changes, singing, and complicated choreography that both told a story and was technically correct, this group emitted constant energy and enthusiasm throughout the show.
The show lasts two and a half hours with an intermission.
"The Book of Mormon" will continue shows at the Orpheum Theater, 409 South 16th St. in Omaha through October 20th with both  afternoon and evening performances available.   For tickets, call Ticket Omaha at (402) 345-0606, online at, or at the box office at the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas in Omaha.
With tunes the stay with you long after the performance, "The Book of Mormon" still has me humming, "I Believe",

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Boob Girls IV

The Boob Girls IV: Murder at Meadow Lakes
Joy Johnson
Grief Illustrated Press
Omaha, Nebraska 
ISBN: 978-1-56123-237-651
$ 14.94
136 pages

The man was more than dead.  Because he was living in a retirement community, it was likely that
he would eventually succumb to death naturally.  However, this was unquestionably, overkill.

His throat was cut and his head was smashed.   Also, there was a bullet hole in his jacket, a knife in his back, and a nylon cord wrapped tightly around his neck.  Which method really killed him?  Strangely, his toes had been freshly manicured and painted, even the ingrown ones.  Is this a murderer who is a pedicurist?

For the victim, Perculator Rasmussen, he was hanged, banged, and stabbed.   Yes, he wasn't well-liked, but no one deserves this much death.

Also living at this facility are the three surviving Boob Girls, the Burned Out Old Broads at Table 12, who have experience as amateur detectives, much to the chagrin of local law enforcement.  They do believe in doing the right thing even when others don't.

For those who have read the previous three novels, this is a fun addition.   If you have not read them, read the first book at least before reading this one.  The first one is strong with the development of the major characters who are so important in the series.   These Omaha-based novels are a combination Nancy Drew meeting Saturday Night Live.

Hadley continues to spend the money earned by her late husband while enjoying the attention of her retired sheriff.   Robbie thrives in intellectual challenges and is considering moving on now and might discover a new relationship.   Mary Rose has kept her weight off for quite a while now and is keeping Wiley close to her.

How are the girls going to react to this new resident?   Driving a gaudy Smart Car, black with large pink polka dots and eye lashes over the headlights,  is a retired homicide detective, Madge Aaron.  How will she get along with the girls and the investigating officers?

The Boob Girls IV: Murder at Meadow Lakes is a light, quick, simple mystery.   The story is fast-paced, maybe too fast-paced.   h



Margit Liesche

Poisoned Pen Press

Scottsdale, Arizona

ISBN: 978-1-4642-0180-6


October 2013

$ 24.95

326 pages
Are we all victims of our heritage?
Ildiko Palmay lives as a single working woman in Chicago as a part time ESL teacher for the local community college in Chicago. She continues to maintain her relationships with family and friends from Hungary. She delights in making connections with her adult students as they share their cultures with each other as they attempt to become part of the American culture. She is perfect for this job since her family came from Hungary and brought much of their culture with them.
However, Ildiko is haunted by her mother's death. Her mother lost her life when she fell in front of a train. Ildiko has always questioned if she fell or was pushed. Her mother had plans that would not be consistent with someone planning to kill themselves. How do you ever discover the truth?
Much of Triptych reflects on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 when the country was occupied by Russia. During this time in Hungary, it was illegal for anyone to be taught the history of their country. The government at this time questions Evike about her family and whether they are part of the rebellion against Russia. Even though as a student she knows of her family's involvement, she refuses to confess to anything..
Her mother's twin sister is a teacher and she has disappeared during this time of rebellion. No one ever found any evidence of what happened to her when she was questioned by the authorities. She disappeared. Is she still alive? What happened? Could Ildiko's mother have discovered the truth when she visited Hungary? Since she died shortly after her trip, could this discovery be related to something in the past?
Alternating between a Hungarian neighborhood in Chicago in the 1980s and life in Budapest in 1956, TRIPTYCH is a family saga interweaving history into the mysteries of the past which haunt the present.
Margit Liesche writes from her family stories of life during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Russia and life in the country in the 1980s while Russia occupied Budapest. As a child, like one of the characters in the book, her parents worked as missionaries in China prior to World War II. Also, similar to the character in this novel, her childhood was spent in Chicago. 
TRIPTYCH is a family saga with believable characters who care for each other interwoven into the rebellions in Hungary blending the past with the present in this wonderful page turner.  The writing is hypnotic with the reader being in Ilkido's shoes for every step.   Combining the past events into an organized and relevant story is as masterful as the woven TRIPTYCH being unwound and again stitched mixing the past with who we are today.

The Poisoner's Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook
Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Deborah Blum
Thorndike Press
Gale Cengage Learning
ISBN:  978-1-4104-2512-6
Hardback-Large Print
544 pages
No, I hope I never need the information in this book.
The Poisoner's Handbook is really the development of forensic science from the view point of New York City's medical examiner, Charles Norris, toxicologist, Alexander Gettler and many others at the beginning of the twentieth century. In many respects, this book is the evolution of science as the processes for identifying chemicals with humans was developing. As our society became more industrialized, more poisons were created and either misused accidentally or purposefully. Unfortunately, few people before these scientists really studied these poisons and knew how to identify and differentiate each.
Parallel to the actual poisons is the history of famous cases where the poisons were found or suspected and how the investigators discovered what poison what used. With viewing the cases first through law enforcement and then through the scientific evidence was fascinating. Before this time, even securing a crime scene was not standard procedure.
The sections regarding prohibition were fascinating and greatly educational in literally understanding this time period. To me, it is amazing the during the time of Prohibition, there were more alcohol related deaths. Being that alcohol was illegal, the cheaply made forms from industry or distillation were not regulated in any manner creating an environment for alternate types.
Each poison is a chapter explaining the history and the people who became famously identified with each poison. From chloroform, wood alcohol, cyanide, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, methyl alcohol, radium, ethyl alcohol, nicotine, aconite, silver and thallium, all of these were easy to obtain and use.
The author Deborah Blum has won a Pulitzer Prize for her journalism.
What is special about this non-fiction novel is how easily it reads. With each of the poisons, the stories of real people and their misadventures with their choice of poison and the challenges of the chemical investigators all blend into a developing science surrounding the crime as a mystery.
There are some technical errors in the science section of this book. I view these as acceptable because this is not an instruction book about how to poison someone but a procedural development of toxicology in forensic science. Also to catch these scientific inaccuracies, a chemist would have needed to be consulted, not a book editor.
The Poisoner's Handbook is not for the queasy folks. The testing process and the crimes can be blunt and at times gory. Unfortunately, these early scientists went through questionable ethical situations to develop their factual information. That's reality. Their past allows for the science success of today.
For those who enjoy non-fiction that reads like fiction or just a good mystery, The Poisoner's Handbook is for you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1
$ 17.99
352 pages
All of us are born with different abilities and talents that make us "special". Some have more and some less. Where is the line between what is a special ability or talent and what society considers strange, odd, or peculiar? Are the people with the most unusual natural talents thought of highly by their peers or are they outcasts?
Grandparents frequently have special bonds with their grandchildren. For some reason, neither is usually close to the generation between the two.
Abraham Portman realized early in his life that he was special. However, his timing for entering this world was not the best since growing up in Poland at the beginning of World War II as a Jewish child with a special ability was very dangerous.
He was sent to live in a house on a Welsh island where children with unusual talents were sent. Basically, this was a orphanage but unquestionably a loving, caring place for many special children called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Many years later, his grandson, Jacob Portman, is being told the stories of growing up in this home. However, separating fact from fiction is difficult with his grandfather's tales of his youth. Upon his grandfather's death, Jacob looks through some of his grandfather's photographs and wonders if these people really existed. He becomes so obsessed that his parents send him to a psychologist who suggests a visit to the island and the home. Perhaps this is just what it takes to realize reality.
Thus begins the story...
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is an enthralling novel whose intended audience is for young adult readers.  However, anyone older will thoroughly enjoy this novel which combines fantasy with mystery through the eyes of a character who doesn't connect well with either his peers or his parents.  Combining the photographs of people doing unusual things such as contortionists, human heads on dog bodies, and people levitating with a story of searching the past and attempting to do what you believe to be the right thing makes this truly enchanting.
For Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is his debut novel with a sequel, Hollow, to be released in January.   While living as a child in Florida, Ransom graduated from Kenyon College and the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television.   He writes Strange Geographies which is a series of travel essays for Mental Floss Magazine.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is for anyone who has ever felt that they didn't fit in with everyone else and to believe in your own goodness.

If You Were Me and Lived in France...Mexico...South Korea

If You Were Me and Lived In...France...
ISBN: 9781481032001
22 pages
If You Were Me and Lived In...Mexico
ISBN: 9781480209626
24 pages
If You Were Me and Lived In...South Korea
ISBN: 9781481062343
26 pages
Carole P. Roman
Create Space Publishing Platform
Charleston, SC
$ 9.99 each

If You Were Me and Lived In... is a series of books which illustrate the cultural uniqueness in France, Mexico, and South Korea. These three books each discuss the famous events and attractions of each country. This is a quick overview of the culture and language with each one stating words such as boy, girl, mom, dad, money, school, and a quick look at the food choices.
Each book begins with the physical shape of the country and then show its place in comparison to the rest of the world. A drawing of recognizable and well-known sights from each capital city is described and illustrated. All of the books show a common shopping scene while discussing common children's proper names for each of these countries.
For the book discussing France, how the children address their parents as well as the money, and everyday activities such as buying bread in Paris, a visit to the Eiffel Tower, eating crepes, playing football which is really soccer and to learn about Bastille Day.
In the book about South Korea, there is information about the money system, how the children speak with their parents, common sites from ancient times to modern amusement parks, the food and how to eat it, Taekwondo, dolls, the Lunar New Year celebration, as well as many of the cultural tradition in dress with elders, and going to school.
The book about Mexico won the Pinnacle Award in 2013 for the Best Non-fiction for Children. This book continues as the other two while also bringing in the significance of Columbus Day. The illustrations strongly support the written information with a review of the foreign words on the last page of each book. Also, the last page of each book is a quick reference for all the foreign words used in the book with the translation into English.
Carole P. Roman is a former social studies teacher who has also been an instrumental in her family's business. She resides on Long Island.
For anyone curious about the cultures and life in South Korea, France, or Mexico, these books are a wonderful introduction to life in a foreign country for young children.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

The Universe Versus Alex Woods
Gavin Extence
Redhook Books
Hachette Book Group
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-316-24657-6
$ 26.00
401 pages

Are come people born with everything against them? If some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, it makes logically sense then that some people are just born with more challenges than most other people. What makes the difference between those born with this burden is whether they choose to allow these setbacks to become part of their life or whether they choose to literally make lemonade from the lemons that life has given them.

Alex is seventeen years old and being held by custom's officials. He was driving a vehicle with 113 grams of marijuana and an urn with the ashes of a recently deceased neighbor. Why?

Alex Woods started out with a normal childhood with being the only child of a single parent mother. However, that is where ordinary ends. His mother is a fortune teller and has even been considered to be a witch.

When Alex was ten years old, a meteorite crashed through his house hitting him on the head, putting him in a coma for two weeks. It almost appeared as if the meteorite had aimed for Alex. The advantage of this event was the contact with a real astronomer who wanted it to study for science. This meeting turned into a friendship. The attention did not help Alex with his peers at school and he quickly discovered that life with adults was easier for him.

Adding to those within Alex's limited friendships, was an elderly widower, Mr. Peterson. Mr. Peterson is an American who fought in the Vietnam War before falling in love with a British woman and relocating himself. With the recent death of his wife, Mr. Peterson preferred to live his life with little contact with the outside world while cultivating his private marijuana crop until Alex appears at his house. Through developing an interest with other adults from the local library, the two develop a special friendship over Kurt Vonnegut.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a debut novel by Gavin Extence. As a child, Gavin exhibited a rare ability in playing chess representing Britain and has competed internationally.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a rare novel with a strong personal voice. It is well-organized and with an addictive writing style. The generational relationships between a teenager and adults is realistic and wonderful as the story develops. The ethical decisions in the story makes each reader question their personal values and also considers the problem of what is fair and just that is against the law.

The characters is this novel are realistic. With a caring mother, a loyal friend, a science advisor, adult friends from a book club, an understanding librarian, a grouchy old man, and a boy who just wants to do the right thing, whatever that may be, makes The Universe Versus Alex Woods an outstanding book.