Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey

Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey
Adrienne Dillard
Made Global Publishing
Lexington, Kentucky
ISBN: 978-84-937464-7-6
Trade paperback
306 pages

How many illegitimate children have been born who had royal fathers? Kings who misused their wealth, power, and influence to impregnate a woman is not unusual even in present times. Surprisingly many have been known throughout history and many were acknowledged or accepted by their royal cousins and step-families.

Catherine Carey believed her parents were Mary Boleyn and William Carey. Being that her family had fled to Calais when trouble began with her aunt, Anne Boleyn, she was not aware of her probable lineage. Mary had been a mistress to King Henry VIII before he had a relationship with her sister while married to William. When Catherine was born, most people realized that Henry was her father being that both shared the same shade of red hair. She did not know of her true lineage until she was summoned to court.

Now that Henry was marrying Anne of Cleves, Catherine was invited to return to court to serve the new queen. How would the young woman who was a niece to Anne Boleyn fit into this new court where intrigue and gossip reigned?

Catherine Carey served many queens during her life at court and survived through the reign of others from Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr, Edward VI, Jane Grey, Queen Mary and into the reign of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Cor Rotto is a possible and likely tale of what could have happened between the documented historical events. Being that with some of these rulers, not being at court or even out of the country was much safer.

Cor Rotto in Latin means "heart-broken". Obviously much of story of this novel is romantic focusing on Catherine's marriage and relationship with her husband. Even though there were some "heartbreaks" in her life, Catherine led a privileged life of wealth with a stable and loyal marriage complete with numerous children.

Historical fiction relies on documented events and creates a fiction logically filling in the undocumented sequences. The author, Adrienne Dillard chose to write Catherine's story as a historical romantic novel.

Cor Rotto is an intriguing, fast-paced story of a time period in England that resulted in major changes for the country and how many who survived of the time actually were forced to live.

The Prince of Risk

The Prince of Risk
Christopher Reich
Anchor Books
Random House
New York, New York
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-307-94657-7
$ 9.99
548 pages

The Prince of Risk proves that some people seems to live charmed lives being born into good-looks, brains, and money. However appearances can be deceiving. Some people enjoy and thrive on taking huge risks in life, walking a tight-rope between success and bankruptcy.

Robert "Bobby" Astor is a self-made man. Even though not earning a college degree, throughout the years he has instinctively known when to buy and sell on the stock market earning a reputable and successful career as a hedge fund manager. He has paid the price of success by realizing that his career has essentially become his family. Since juggling two families is difficult, his wife divorced him taking his daughter with her.

Bobby's father is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. He discovers a major problem and realizes the need to contact the Secretary of the Treasury, Martin Gelman and Charles Hughes, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. The three realize that this problem is overwhelming and immediately they depart to consult with the President. This problem is so large that they realize that it is imperative that they awaken the White House in the middle of the night. However, they never arrive.

In their armored Chevrolet Suburban the vehicle quickly maneuvers onto the street and has passed security at the gates of the White House. Once on the property of the White House, it appears that their driver plans to crash the vehicle into the building. Those inside the vehicle quickly realize that the driver is not controlling the car but someone else is driving the vehicle as a remote-controlled-car. How could this happen? The Secret Service has no choice but to defend the White House grounds and open fire on the vehicle, exploding the car and killing all those inside.

Bobby was estranged from his father. They seldom spoke. His father in his last moments of life, sent Bobby a text, "Palantir". Bobby had no idea what it was or what it meant. He did realize that this obviously was huge, whatever it was. Although he wanted to devote time to research Palantir, his own company was having a financial meltdown and on the verge of bankruptcy.

The Prince of Risk is a page-turning action-filled novel with many life-or-death situations galloping the financial district of Wall Street and the U.S. Economy seeming to walk a tightrope between life and death.

From the Asian triads which began as secret societies founded in the last century to help support and protect communities from the tyrannies and injustices of their governments. Frequently they could provide justice without dealing with beauracracy. In many instances, these groups also allowed and made certain that local businessmen had financing, helped ensure that police or petty government officials did not interfere with their activities, and engaged in other, less proper businesses, such as prostitution, drug trafficking, and extortion. In the end, a triad was a business, and like all businesses, it was required to earn a profit. To many, the triad was a blessing not just a mafia-like organization.

So how could the triads in Asia cause a problem large enough to murder the three most influential financial minds in America?

This is the story of Bobby as he attempts to save his own company, his family and his country. Will he risk everything to save life as he knows it?

Christopher Reich is the author of many action-adventure thrillers novels and short stories. He currently resides in San Diego, California.

The Prince of Risk is a thrill to read about the financial world where everyone is one step away from immense gains and death.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Jo Baker
Alfred A. Knopf
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-385-35123-2
$ 2595
332 pages

"Life was, Mrs. Hill had come to understand, a trial by endurance, which everybody, eventually, failed."

In the memorable Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, we were introduced to characters of privilege who had servants who were to be agreeable and basically fulfill whatever their these people wished.   Basically it was slavery of a sort where their opinions of the servants were not valued and being that jobs inside the houses were few and considered prestigious, the servants worked for low wages with their housing and meals were provided.  In exchange, these same servants were granted little time-off or freedom to choose their own career.  Granted that a few people who were servants became their own independent masters, that was unusual.
This was also the time period where wealthy women wore long dresses often trailing on the ground.   Perhaps fashion would have changed sooner is the people who wore these magnificent gowns were responsible for keeping them clean.   This is the story of those who resided in the back of the house and frequently lived in the attic rooms.
Longbourn is the story of Sarah who even though she was an orphan, received the opportunity for a better life being a housemaid.   Yes, being a housemaid is definitely better than being in the workhouses where life truly was miserable.  Her days in the Bennet house of Longbourn seem monotanous but she truly appreciates her position cleaning chamber pots, hand scrubbing all the laundry, and accomplishing all the multiple duties needed to keep a place proper and clean.
Besides Sarah, the other servants in the story include Mr. and Mrs. Hill who are the long term butler and cook and another housemaid, Polly who is new and unfamiliar with the expectations and lifestyle of servitude.
Her attention is diverted when a new footman, James Smith is hired.  He seems to have a mysterious past being that most able-bodied men at the time are off fighting the Napoleonic Wars.  So why is he at Longbourn?  Being that he tends to avoid those in the military, is he a deserter?  Why does his back have scars of being whipped?
While many writers throughout the years have attempted to emulate Jane Austin, Jo Baker wonderfully composes a story which could easily be the companion novel to Pride and Prejudice, essentially an "Upstairs, Downstairs."
Longbourn is unquestionably an outstanding novel.  With vivid descriptions and visualizations, the reader feels as if they are Sarah in England during the early nineteenth century.  These is definitely a sense of the time period and the place as well as the sense of
the smells and tastes.
Yes, the story at times seems contrived as in so many romantic novels.  However, the writing is exquisite with outstanding descriptions and developed characters.
The author, Jo Baker is well known from her previous novels The Undertow, Offcomer, The Mermaid's Child and The Telling.   She was born and continues to live in England.


Jo Barney
Encore Press
Portland, Oregon
ISBN: 97801496004369
Third Edition
$ 12.95
303 pages

"Then, on this weekend, just as water flew landward onto the beach in an uprush, a breaking wave of sorrow flows through their days, an uprush that changes each of their lives."

Four longtime friends are meeting at a beach house to renew their friendships, updating and sharing their lives with each other. All the women are in their sixties and each has discovered that life is not as well-ordered and smooth as they had hoped and expected.

Madge Slocum is a successful writer and has a gift for each of her friends. In her newest manuscript, she has written a chapter covering each of the women's lives. How would you like someone documenting all your life choices into a story? Madge does have a particular touch in story writing focusing on the truth which is not always what we want others to see. Each of the three women is challenged to correct, change and to continue their story before it is sent to be published. Does anyone want their lives revealed to everyone?

Lou, Madge, Jackie and Joan have endured troubled marriages and lives that appear perfect but in actuality have more heart-break and problems than they could ever have imagined. Appearances and plastic surgery can be deceiving. This get-together every few years catches them up on each other's lives and also brings a sense of “truth” into their relationship.

After the first night together, Lou, Jackie and Joan awaken to find Madge is not in the house. However, they are not really surprised. Together they wander on the beach and discover Madge's walking stick. Could Madge have been drowned, taken out with the tide? Why are these women not frantically searching more for her?

The women call the local sheriff after awhile to inform him of Madge's disappearance.

Lucius Baker tends to have an easy life in this small community. The most excitement he has had since taking this job in this small community of three thousand has been chasing cows, rescuing cats and goats and breaking up fights in the bars. His years of experience have given him an intuitive sense of knowing that these three women have not been completely truthful with him. Where is Madge? What secrets are they refusing to share with him?

Uprush is a stimulating novel to read involving realistic characters who have believable issues in their lives. The writing at first is a little confusing until it is understood the differences between Madge's writing and the actual events of the story. The characterization is outstanding with the reader being able to actually visualize each person and to understand the challenges and successes of each woman.

Uprush was previous published as The Solarium and is still available through Barnes and Noble and I-Books.

Jo Barney has written numerous short stories and has also published the thriller Graffiti Grandma.

Uprush is a novel reflecting our human nature and finding “truth” in our lives.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The BOOB Girls III - Sandhills and Shadows

The BOOB Girls III
Sandhills and Shadows
The Burned Out Old Broads at Table 12
Joy Johnson
Grief Illustrated Press
Omaha, Nebraska
ISBN: 978010561232314
$ 14.95
240 pages

A gorgeous gypsy reading palms of well-kept and well-respected residents of a nursing home is a calm activity until she alerts those seated at her table to move and to move quickly. In a matter of seconds, a 1962 Cadillac Eldorado convertible is occupying the exact spot where the fortune telling was occurring. The warning had saved their lives. How had Esmeralda St. Benedict known of the impending danger? However she had not warned the poor victim who was trapped in the bathroom after the car had pushed tables in front of the restroom door.

The BOOB girls which stands for The Burned Out Old Broads at Table 12 at the Meadow Lakes Retirement Community. Filling the chairs at the table are Mary Rose McGill, Dr. Robinson Leary and Hadley Joy Morris-Whitfield with one vacant chair. Others have been privileged to share their friendship and adventures with these three women who are determined to live each day to its fullest, even during their autumn years.

Filling the fourth chair at Table 12 now is Esmeralda, the gypsy who definitely is adding a new dimension to their already adventurous nature.

Dealing with the burned-out old broad's love life, family, health, aging, past, and hobbies continue to reveal each distinct personality into a fascinating tale.

Driving a Hummer and pulling a recreational vehicle is a challenge for many and these women successfully handle the two as their adventure continues to Fort Robinson in Nebraska discovering more about the strength and character of the historical figures as well as themselves.

All of the books in this series are light and quick reads. This particular one is different integrating history of the Sandhills. Included in this is some of the history of the imprisonment of Crazy Horse, as well as some of the lesser known parts of history such as the legendary Iron Teeth, the significance of Women's Army Corp, and various snippets of history into this story with the friendships and relationships growing and revealing a little more of each individual personality.

Author Joy Johnson co-founded North America's oldest and largest bereavement resource center for adults and Ted E. Bear Hollow for grieving children in the Omaha, Nebraska area. She has written numerous children books dealing with grief.

This third installment in this series continues the characters with light-hearted humor and friendship into an informative and educational novel in the fun-loving and delightful series.

Cookie's Case

Cookie's Case
A Tug Wyler Mystery
Mysterious Press
Open Road Integrated Media
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-4976-6276-6
February 2015
$ 14.99
287 pages

"What I've learned over the years is that every single event is riddled with several versions of truth. It all depends on whom you ask."

Being a personal-injury lawyer in New York City, Tug Wyler daily meets challenges that keep his life fast-paced and anything but dull. Being in the category as an ambulance chaser, he knows that he is better than most lawyers in his business and that frequently he faces ethical challenges not faced by other attorneys. This is what makes him a successful and classy attorney.

There are always at least two challenges in his business. The first is the honesty of the client. Are they believable? Does Tug really have the complete report of the incident causing the injury? What information has the client chosen not to tell him. The second is the underhanded behind-the-scenes competition and cut throat of other personal-injury attorneys in their attempt to make easy money. It is common for lawyers to steal each others' clients in this business.

Tug is fortunate that he usually does not need to search for his clients. He has HICS - Henry's injured criminals. Henry was an extremely successful criminal defense attorney who committed legal malpractice and can no longer acquire professional insurance needed for his business. Henry chose Tug to continue his business. Even though this is a consistent and constant income source for Tug, each case has some element that isn't quite legal and somehow Tug has to discover a way of smoothing over this wrinkle and winning the case for the client. Of course, Henry receives a percentage in payment for his referral. Their relationship is a win-win situation.

The latest case involves Cookie who is a longtime favored exotic pole dancer at Jingles Dance Bonanza. Cookie has a charismatic charm but has had difficulty dancing since her spine surgery three years ago. She always uses some prop during her acts. What caused her initial injury was the banana peel she had used as a prop. Accidentally she slipped on it hurting herself at the conclusion of her dance. Three surgeries and years later, she has horrendous headaches that require a spinal tap to relieve the pressure on her brain. She still wants to continue to dance and does so, even in a neck brace, cartwheeling her way around the stage.

Cookie's Case is a realistic fast-paced novel that is a mystery but the actual crime is not revealed initially. The writing is addictive with pages flying. The pacing is perfect with visual protagonists and antagonists, family life concerns, and the ethical concerns of a personal-injury attorney.

The author, Andy Siegel is actually in the same business as his protagonist, Tug, as a personal-injury and medical-malpractice attorney in New York City.

Cookie's Case is the second in the Tug Wyler following Suzy's Case. The first novel was named's Best Beach Reads in 2013.

This short concise novel is wonderfully written and a great insightful glimpse into the legal community

The Death of Pie

The Death of Pie
A Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery with Recipes
Tamar Myers
Severn House
Sutton, Surrey, England
ISBN: 9780727883810
$ 27.95
200 pages

The small Amish-Mennonite village of Hernia, Pennsylvania is a traditional village. Families have resided here for generations and sometimes have difficulty finding a distant enough cousin to marry. The community welcomes outsiders but prefers their old ways.

Ms. Ramat Sreym visited the small community and was fascinated by getting to know the people. She used this information to write a best-selling novel. However most of the residents of the community were not pleased with how each of them was portrayed in this novel. A bit of truth can be vicious gossip.

While staying in Hernia, Ramat stayed at a local bed-and-breakfast, The Penn Dutch Inn owned and run by Magdalena Yoder. Unfortunately during Ramat's stay, she didn't become close friends with the owner but did succeed at making enemies of most of the community once her book was published.

Being that now the author is considered to be a celebrity, Ramat was honored to be a guest judge at annual 110th Annual Festival of Pies. The pies for this event are outstanding being made with the natural foods, lard, salt and longtime family.

Ramat takes a bite of Magdalena's pie. She falls directly into it as she dies. It was poisoned.

So who is the likely suspect?

Besides Magdalena Yoder running the bed-and-breakfast in this Amish-Mennonite community, she is a wife to her Jewish husband who is a respected cardiologist and mother to a young son and adopted teen-aged daughter. Besides that she is the town mayor and the one in town responsible for financing the needs of the community including law enforcement.

How does anyone investigate the person paying their salary?

The new Chief of Police, Toy Graham realized that it was his responsibility to discover who had poisoned the glamorous author. Being that Toy quickly realized this conflict of interest since Magdalena paid Toy's salary and had paid for his police car, he wisely requested Magdalena to find the murderer. After all, he believed that she was the murderer.

The Death of Pie is a fun-to-read cozy mystery whose story is told from Magdalena's sarcastic but realistic point-of-view. As the investigation meets dead-ends and searches for new leads, the reader is with Magdalena as she questions each possible suspect. To further complicate issues, Magdalena is related to the suspects and also realizes that she is the most likely to have poisoned Ramat. It was her pie even if she had not actually baked it.

Tamar Myers writes from her Amish/Mennonite heritage and has written and published numerous novels and short stories many with her protagonist Magdalena Yoder. Myers was born in the Belgian Congo where her parents were American-Mennonite missionaries.

The Death of Pie is a delightful fun novel to read as are all the books by Tamar Myers.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Memorist

The Memorist
M. J. Rose
Mira Books
Ontario, Canada
ISBN: 978-0-7783-2584-0
$ 24.95
460 pages

"People are part of one great cosmic awareness, her father had tried to explain in different ways over the years.  And souls who'd bonded in several lives over time and grown together through the millennium  were eventually able to communicate with each other without words through that awareness.- -  But she never had truly believed it."

A cosmic awareness that can connect the past to the present explaining people's inner motivations and relationships which can explain and miraculously answer the questions of the past is a bit much for anyone to believe, but what a great story it combines into The Memorist.

Reincarnation, could it be true?  Could people be in the cycle of being born and dying until for some reason, perhaps they have finally fulfilled their life's destiny?

Add to that the unique musical tone from a particular flute playing a mystical musical pattern that can unlock those parts of your brain. This could open those hidden memories of previous lives by listening to the circle of fifths played on an old bone flute. Could music actually have this power?

For Meer Logan, she has had a difficult past.  Throughout the years, there have been times where she has not been mentally stable, even non-responsive to the world.  After her mother's death, her father delved into his work leaving Meer to withdraw completely into herself.  Through extensive thereapy, Meer has overcome her withdrawal.  However, she still feels distant with her father.  Being trained as a pianist, she still finds a closer music connection than human.

Ludwig van Beethoven was a brilliant pianist and composer.  In this historical fictional novel, he is in possession of a special flute able to connect the thoughts of past lives to the present.  As he nears death, he realizes that this flute should not be owned by those with unethical values.  His plan is to hide it, possibly for eternity.

Is there some way that Meer could ever find it?

Award winning journalist, David Yalom watched as his family was murdered in a terrorist attack.  How can anyone move past that? His plan is to destroy the world leaders meeting in Vienna during a concert.  He has explored the massive tunnels and ruins under the buildings and streets of Vienna planning the perfect place for the explosives. In this act he would destroy the concert goers and himself while simultaneously sending his manifesto to worldwide news' agencies.

Sebastian is a member of the symphony. His son has withdrawn into himself splintering his marriage. He will do anything to save his son. What price will he pay?

A security firm wants to prove their excellence by providing safety for the international leaders and for the concert goers.  However, they overlooked the area under the concert hall.   Will they find the bomb in time?

Reincarnation, personality withdrawal, Beethoven's flute and the circle of fifths' melody, terrorism and security all combine into a riveting story creating The Memorist.   This non-stop page turner combines history into a breathless tale by a master storyteller, M. J. Rose.

The author, M. J. Rose has written numerous novels both fiction and non-fiction while being a founder and board member of International Thriller Writers as well as

The Memorist is an intriguing novel, fast-paced, and riveting making you wonder about what might be in your past.

The Girl in 6E

The Girl in 6E
A Deanna Madden Novel
A. R. Torre
Redhook Books
Hachette Books
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0316404389
July 2014
$ 20.00
352 pages
"Hope is dangerous.  Hope can be the loose thread that pulls apart your sanity."

People are judged by how others view them.  If you live next door to a librarian, you expect the person to be quiet and rather reserved.  If your neighbor is a policeman, you expect a no-nonsense individual who has a strong few of right and wrong. What kind of neighbor would an internet sex performer be?

What would you expect if your neighbor was a recluse who received numerous packages and was never seen outside their apartment?   Also, there is a lock on the outside imprisoning the occupant.  Would you be curious?   Would you attempt to make contact with this person or would you leave them alone?

This is the problem a delivery person has with the person living in apartment 6E.   She has a nice voice and appears to be attractive.  So why won't this person come out of their apartment? Jeremy, the UPS deliveryman slowly has a form of relationship with the resident in 6E leaving packages and forging her signature. That doesn't stop his curiosity. He wonders about the girl in 6E. He is intrigued by Jessica.

What about the occupant?  Shouldn't they be entitled to their privacy?  As long as no one is being harmed, endangered, and no laws are being broken, why can't people just leave others alone?

Who really cares if she earns her money through the internet via online sex sites?

Are the people on these sites moral, ethical, or even good people?

"I haven't touched another person in three years. That seems like a difficult task, but it's not anymore, thanks to the Internet.  The Internet makes my income possible and provides anything I could possibly want in exchange for my credit card number.  I've had to go into the underground world for a few things, and once in that world, I decided to stock up on a few fun items, like a new identity.  I am now, when necessary, Jessica Beth Reilly.  I use my alias to prevent others from finding out about my past."

The Girl in 6E is an intriguing novel with the protagonist/antagonist Deanna Madden/Jessica Reilly  living a comfortable life in a self-enclosed prison of her own creation.  This duality creates a novel that at times felt disgusting while at the same time slowly unveils the secrets of the main character, similar to pulling off each layer of an onion to find the soul with an assortment of supporting characters who you are never completely certain who is helpful and who is just plain evil.  This constant weighing of love/hate or good/bad made for an unusual story.

The author, Alessandra Torre is a wife and mother living in the southern part of the United States.   Previously she has written two erotic novels, Blindfolded Innocence published in 2012 and its sequel, Masked Innocence in 2013.

The Girl in 6E is not a novel for everyone, especially anyone under the age of eighteen.  It is an adult novel but unquestionably is written by a gifted writer who can weave a character into an intricate and well-written story with numerous colored threads.

Monday, December 15, 2014

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Everyone one has secret dreams.  "I've always wanted to be called Flash."  Who would have this dream?  The unlikely character of Charlie Brown from Charles Schultz's Peanuts shared his secret dream with Lucy.  Of course she would keep his secret safe.
"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" focuses on the frustrations that almost everyone has felt while growing-up.  Whether it is loneliness, tying your shoes, crushes on the little red-haired girl, Valentine's Day, or never winning a ball game, the issues although small to adults are reminscent of everyone's childhood.
Last Friday and Saturday nights at the Chanticleer Theater as part of the Cabaret series six talented individuals became Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Sally in the Tony Award winning musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
The purpose of the programs in the Cabaret series are fund raisers for only one weekend. This particular show was different for this series.   Even with only two performances, this delightful family show introduced many new performers and audience members to Chanticleer.
Jack Erbs was wonderful as the socially-challenged Charlie Brown who has to eat lunch by himself and never being part of a winning ball team.  While perfectly wearing the yellow t-shirt, the audience even occassionally had a glimpse of his marvelous singing voice.  As the slightly overbearing Lucy, Elizabeth Huggins was marvelous ruling on the stage with her dreams of being the Queen.  Darin Hemmer was a great dancing Snoopy even with a little acrobatics and moonwalking.  Megan Lane was delightful as Sally, Charlie Brown's little sister.   Linus portrayed by Eric Cavanaugh warmed everyone's hearts as he sang and danced with his blanket showing the vulnerability and brilliance of his character.  Tessie  Flower excelled in the role of Peppermint Patty in her down-to-earth wisdom with a beautiful singing voice.
The minimal sets were completely appropriate considering that the entire cast was on stage all the time.   The lighting, music, sound and direction were outstanding in that the musical appeared seamless and smooth.
Naturally as in all shows there are favorite scenes.  "The Kite" was outstanding with Charlie Brown singing about his frustration a kite that doesn't always want to fly.  However the kite eating tree perfectly matched the song and the action on stage creating a humorous but honest viewpoint from Charlie Brown.
Another of my favorites is "The Book Report" where Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Charlie Brown and Linus are all to write a one-hundred word book report about Peter Rabbit.   Varying from Linus's verbose report, Peppermint Patty comparing the book to Robin Hood and basing her report completely on that book.   Lucy is focused on the one-hundred words and can finally approach the goal but only by listing the vegetables growing in the garden and over-using "very".   Charlie Brown just keeps worrying about not being rested so he continues to procrastinates.
I applaude Chanticleer for taking a chance on a different fund-raiser that was family oriented, humorous, relaxing and enjoyable for everyone.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Joyful Noise

"That's Christmas spelled C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S.  X mas take on a whole different meaning when it's Christmas."

This quote is part of a program featuring the gospel choir from Salem Baptist Church with their program "A Joyful Noise: A Gospel Christmas” last Sunday at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha. This program featured the Grammy-nominated Salem Baptist Church choir located in Omaha with their singers, band, dancers, children and special guests Lecresia Campbell, Jonathan McReynolds, Daniel Martinez, Eric Jordan and Elaine Stoner. This collaborative program combined Omaha Performing Arts with Omaha's Salem Baptist Church members and musical friends.

The choir along with the band was the foundation of this program which was essentially a variety gospel program. The band played various accompaniments while also playing an independent number of "Carol of the Bells' reminiscent of Mannheim Steamroller with "My Favorite Things" blended into this melody. A large screen provided background graphics for the instrumental group as well as the entire program.

The Salem Gospel Choir was amazing.   They obviously knew the music which varied between unison and three-part SAB singing.  Every member of the choir had their eyes on the conductor, not holding their music but knowing their music, barely blinking as every chorus member attentively watched for their cues and cut-offs while all being dressed beautifully in black.

Each solo performer was very different representing their own interpretation and style of gospel music.

Daniel Martinez played an amazing rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on his acoustical guitar.   This was an invigorating and delightful arrangement.  This international Flamenco guitarist is brilliant in his playing.  He has recorded five solo albums.

Also performing was Jonathan McReynolds singing and playing a reflective song stating what many today believe with words such as "I want to be saved and be cool too."  He sings with a lyrical voice relating to everyday life.   He recently signed with Tehillah Music Group/Light Records label.    

An unusual but meaningful selection was "Christmas Makes Me Cry" sung by Elaine Stoner and Eric Jordan. Christmas is not the same for everyone and this piece was wonderful for showing different perspectives.

Lecresia Campbell sang one song, "Holy, Thou Art Holy" which unquestionably demonstrated why she is considered as one of the best gospel singers in the country.

One of the most outstanding parts of this program was the integration of the children in the show with the dancing and singing while dressed in their holiday best.   It was obvious the these young church members had practiced many hours to dance and sing their songs with such enthusiasm.   The leadership is truly outstanding in allowing each child to be part of this exciting event while being close for the support and redirection if needed.

The dancers were usually from the pre-school aged through teenagers all of which were beautifully and tastefully costumed.  What is seldom seen is that each dancer did not have to fit a particular stereotype. With their gorgeous and flowing costumes, you could tell that each dancer felt their steps as a reflection of their relationship with the music. Obviously much time was taken to work with the youth in this professional quality show with outstanding choreography, music and stagemanship.

The entire cast of this program exemplified stagemanship, respect, beauty, devotion, and professionalism in their performance with minimizing movement between acts and truly finding the beauty for each individual performer.

WOWT sponsored this program this year and along with other sponsors sees this as the beginning of an annual event which is entertaining, respectful, uplifting and puts Christ back in Christmas.

The King's Singers

Six male voices perfectly blending into one well-balanced sound is how to describe The King's Singers. This Grammy winning ensemble performed at the Holland Performing Arts Center last week thrilling the audience with close-harmonies and exciting seasonal madrigals.

The King's Singers is a British a cappella group that was formed in 1968 being named after King's College in Cambridge, England.  It is complied of six choral scholars. Since the group's creation, their sound has not changed. Although the members have changed through the years, their sound has not. For the group, that is the foremost requirement. As the group sings, the focus is on blended intonation as well as precision with minimal use of vibrato into harmonies that sound as if they are coming from one single voice.

The current members of The King's Singers are countertenors David Hurley and Timothy Wayne-Wright, Julian Gregory singing tenor, baritones Christopher Brueton and Christopher Gabbitas and Jonathan Howard as bass.  As they entered the stage, the group was dressed identically in dark blue suits, red ties, tan shoes and at least one foot was wearing a Christmas sock.

Much of the music was sung in another language while the audience relished in the perfectly balanced harmonies of the group.  Musical selections in the first part were the old carols from various parts of Europe with members of the group explaining the meaning of each.  Naturally being British, there were some newer selections by John Rutter and Herbert Howells.  Other selections well-known were "Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen" by Michael Praetorius which is better known to us as "Lo, How a Rose ere Bloometh", "Coventry Carol", and the gorgeous rendition of John Rutter's "There is a Flower".

New to me was the music of Francis Pouleric who wrote a cantata in four movements each of which was shortened and arranged by Goff Richards for the ensemble,  This particular music had lyrics written by Paul Eluard in 1944 while serving in the French resistance. Reflective of a cold winter night in a French forest, the beauty of a wolf being compared to a German soldier, being lost, and finally hiding underground from the Germans combining fear with the feeling of isolation being created into hauntingly beautiful musical selections.

Besides the blend and balance of The King's Singers, their precise intonation was amazing.Their breathing included a minimum of four-bar-phrasing leaving the audience almost breathless at the conclusion of each song.  Complementing this is the concert hall itself, where the audience listened for the resonance pf sound as each selection ended.

Part of what is unique to this group is that no one is attempting to out sing another part. Their blending of voices is perfect. Along with the utilization of quietness, silence, and minimal vibrato creates a serene and peaceful performance while still exciting through using dynamics expressively as each part interweaves into and through each other.

After the intermission, the program changed into more current and seasonal medlies delighting the audience adding a little choreography and showmanship.

The King's Singers is a group I would enjoy seeing again and again.  Why not purchase their songs this Christmas as a perfect gift of music?

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Christmas Carol 2014

"A Christmas Carol" just again opened this year at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  With over 1000 performances, this seasonal favorite is beginning its 39th consecutive season.
Obviously many people in the area have seen this show at some time.  Why see it again?   Omaha Community Playhouse purposely changes the show each year.  Yes, the story is the same but small changes can make enormous differences.
This year's show is outstanding and one that you don't want to miss.
"A Christmas Carol" is not a musical.  Charles Dickens is known for his writing, not his music.   Throughout this play are many traditional British Christmas carols of the time period..  Many of these are gorgeously sung by the cast such as "Coventry Carol", "Susanni", and "O Come, O Come Imanuel"  with rich four-part harmonies.  The children's version of "Away in a Manger" is beautiful and amazingly balanced with their voices perfectly blending.  The dancing is simplistic while being both tasteful and realistic.
As usual the sets, costumes, and props are gorgeous with actors that are all superb with each one possessing a confident stage presence, even the children are mature and experienced performers.  All of this creates the magic in a show combining the talent of the cast and crew while remaining true to the original story.
A noticeable difference is that both the character of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are allowed time to develop their characters not only through words but actions.  For example, Bob Cratchit portrayed by Steve Krambeck is obviously cold while working at his desk in Scrooge's office.  He is shivering and wrapped in his coat and wearing gloves while he completing his bookkeeping work.  To help warm up he attempts to take coal to add to his small fire in his bucket under his desk.  This small act quickly establishing the character of both the miserly Scrooge and Cratchit.
The sets, props, costumes, wigs and make-up are outstanding.   Some people have more than one part so changing their complete identity is critical but masterfully accomplished.
One adaptive change with this particular performance is the integration of the Christmas story complete with shepherds, three kings and a manger into Ebenezer's past.  This addition blends perfectly into the story.  Why wasn't this is the original story?  It makes sense and adds to the understanding of the relationship between Ebenezer and his sister.
The part of Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Jerry Longe.  For many in the area, it is difficult to imagine or accept a Scrooge who is not the Dick Boyd but Jerry Longe successfully creates a slightly different Scrooge and is wonderful in this part.  Unquestionably Steve Krambeck is one of the best actors portraying Bob Cratchit that I have ever seen.  He spends the time to develop his relationship with Scrooge and his family not always through words but his actions and gestures along with Emily Mokrycki as his wife.  Both are wonderful actors and singers.
Everybody has favorites in this show.  Mr. Fezziwig is delightful in this version as portrayed by Gregg Learned as well as both the Ghost of Christmas Past played by Julie Huff who was also a delight in the bedchamber along with Marguerite Bennett.  Mackenzie Reidy asTiny Tim has a beautiful singing voice.   Dancing as the beggar is the wonderful Jason Delong and as Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep are Natalie and Alexis Reynolds creating the wonderful life-sized dolls.
The music perfectly enhances this show with the small orchestra never overwhelming the singers but beautifully setting the mood and complementing the singers.  Also the choreography smoothly blends into the show.  The lighting, sound system, and special effects are perfect creating a supportive crew for the cast and a delight to the audience.
The behind-the-scences directors and stage managers obviously are outstanding for a show to run so seamlessly and professionally.  As always, the Omaha Community Playhouse box office staff,  ticket takers and ushers are courteous, helpful and gracious to everyone.
The shows begin at 7:30 on Wednesdays through Saturdays with the first act lasting seventy minutes and after a fifteen minute intermission, concludes in sixty minutes.   The Christmas carols, dances, and play are mixed throughout keeping a fast-paced and quickly moving performance.
"A Christmas Carol" will continue at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha through December 23rd with shows Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and two shows on Sundays at 2 and 6:30 p.m.   Tickets can be purchased by contacting the box office at (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse. org or Presently the ticket prices are $ 36 for adults and $ 25 for students.   After December 15th, the price increases to $ 40 for adults and $ 29 for students with special rates for groups over twelve people.
Wanting to give a special family gift this year?  The Omaha Community Theater has the solution with a special family gift package for their upcoming show "Little Women" which will open in January 2015.  Contact the box office for additional information.
So why should you see "A Christmas Carol" this year?  This is an outstanding show that will  leave you humming the carols while putting a smile on your face and unquestionably rejuvenating the Christmas spirit in everyone.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mystery at Rolling Dunes
Carson Cunningham
ISBN: 9780990494508
$ 9.99
213 pages

How would someone who lived almost two centuries ago react to waking up today in America? What if that someone was the legendary Huckleberry Finn? Huck had difficulty with the societal rules of his own time period so how is he going to handle the technology and transportation of the 21st-century?
At the conclusion of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the readers find Huckleberry choosing between living his life and following the rules established by his Aunt Sally or to run away to Apache territory.
Naturally Huck chooses the easiest one and explores America’s southwestern region. He quickly discovers that he does not enjoy hot climates.
Seizing an unusual opportunity, Huck invests his money and himself into an expedition to the Arctic.
During this time, there were not successful Arctic explorations. The expedition has their ship wrecked and the survivors set up their camp on a glacier. Exploring the area, the last thing Huck remembers is falling through the ice.
Huck awakens about 170-years later on a table connected to various tubes and wires. A scientific team has successfully thawed and completely revived this teenage-age boy. While the medical staff dreams of how this remarkable feat will change their lives, Huck dreams of his freedom and is feeling confined and imprisoned.
However what the scientists don’t realize is the natural capabilities of Huckleberry Finn. Huck has never handled rules and regulations in his own time. Now a medical team will likely want to continue to study him.
While moving Huck by train, he manages to escape. Life has given him a second chance and he plans to take it.
How does someone from 170-years in the past hide? If anyone can succeed at this task, it would be Huckleberry Finn.
Huck quickly discovers that the world has changed during his deep freeze. Accustomed to being extremely self-sufficient, survival is not difficult for Huck since he knows how to camp, fish, hunt and to live in the wild. How will he stay hidden? How will he fit in?
One of the first lessons for Huck to learn is the people in the twenty-first century wear shoes when in public.
Huck observes three boys playing “rounders” which is similar to the game of softball. Once Huck asks to join the game, he quickly learns that life in the twenty-first century is quite different from daily life in the nineteenth-century.
Huck knows that the medical team will be searching for him. This causes him to adjust to this century so that he doesn’t seem different. Also, he now calls himself Mark Finn.
Dealing with cell phones, high-definition flat screens, automobiles, and life for teen-aged boys in today’s world is a complete shock to Huckleberry. For the never flustered Huckleberry Finn of the 19th-century this is a challenge that he completely understands.
Will he be recaptured and for the rest of his life be studied as a medical experiment? How will he get along with today’s teens?
21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful adventure in friendship.


What is the difference between an assassination and a murder? An assassination is the killing of a political leader.

Now name all the assassins in American history. Most of us would immediately have Oswald, Boothe, and probably one or two more.

Now think about these people and imagine a musical about who they were before they possessed a gun. Would these people be considered mentally ill? Misguided? Educated? Respected? What were they missing that made them believe that killing another person was the solution to their problems?

Steven Sondheim thought this after reading John Weidman's book by the same title. Could he utilize this book and miraculously turn it into a musical? Would people be interested in these murderers as people?

Intrigued by common traits shared by assassins, successful and unsuccessful this show is a lesson in history and humanity.

Sondheim musicals tend to be thought provoking and at times a little humorous which can sometimes be uncomfortable.

With the issue of gun-control and mental illness surrounding the characters, what is fascinating is that each one truly believed that their actions were justified, correcting whatever was wrong with their life and the world. This musical is about the reasons for each of these people becoming an assassin.

This show has no one star, but many performers as the legendary assassins John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Lincoln along with his co-conspirator David Herold, Leon Czolgosz who shot President William McKinley, Samuel Byck who attempted to hijack an airplane which he planned to fly into the White House where Nixon was residing, Giuuseppe Zangara who shot Chicago's mayor, Cermak and barely missed President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Guiteau who assassinated President Garfield, Sarah Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme who both attempted to kill Gerald Ford, political anarchist Emma Goldman who unsuccessfully shot industrialist and financier Henry Clay Frick, John Hinckley Jr. while obsessed with Jodi Foster attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan, and Lee Harvey Oswald who shot John Fitzgerald Kennedy. These assassins were portrayed by David Ebke, Nate Simons, Jesse Black, Zachary Kloppenborg, Joey Galda, Adam Hogston, Sarah Query, Angie Heim, Sara Mattix, Chris Scott, and Dan Whitehouse along with cameos of Artie Bremmer who shot and paralyzed Geoge Wallace by Dave Podendorf and Sirhan Sirhan who killed Robert Kennedy by Keefer Podendorf. Each individual thoroughly became their character learning the personalities, oddities, and the physical resemblances. Added to these characters are a Propreitor portrayed by Steve Ebke and the Balladeer who is the marvelous Roderick Cotton. These ringmasters wonderfully commanded the stage and elaborated the circus rings of each assassin.

What makes Assassins unusual is the interactions that transcend time as these infamous personalities discuss their issues with each other allowing the audience to have a possible insight into the individuals and their actions. So yes, John Wilkes Booth actually does interact with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Also demonstrating immense talent and support is the ensemble of Brooke Fencl, Danielle Smith, Mary Slater, Mark Reid, and Jim Farmer.

The behind-the-scenes crew is outstanding in Assassins. As director Keefer Peterson excelled with Chris Ebke perfectly directing the orchestra of Janet Williams, Kristine Wolfe, Dave Black, Kay Johnson, Machelle Mitchell, and Ben Samson. The orchestra beautifully creates the music and excels in both accompaniment without overpowering the soloist. The lights, sound system, sets, props, costumes all blended artistically with this unusual show.

The show with eighteen scenes lasts almost two hours with no intermission. Due to the content and the length, "Assassins" is an adult performance.

"Assassins" continues at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and on Sunday at 2 p.m. through November 23rd with ticket costs as $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 10 for students.   This is an adult play that could be upsetting for children.  Tickets can be purchased by contacting the box office at 712-323-9955.

This is a show that although few people leave humming the tunes, you will leave thinking more about what we can do to prevent the mistakes in history from ever repeating.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Little Shop of Horrors

Owning a successful flower shop can be a challenging business but when your shop is located on Skid Row where only the drunk, homeless and the poor reside, the idea of selling any flowers seems impossible.

That will quickly change when one of the store employees purchases an exotic plant. Little do they know that this small purchase will change their lives (and deaths) forever.

Welcome to "Little Shop of Horrors" which will continue Friday and Saturday through November 15th with show times at 7:30 p.m. at the Iowa Western Community College Lied Performing Arts Center.

This is a cult-classic, comical, horror musical with catchy tunes, great Doo-Wop music, and rhythm and blues music from a plant with a lot of attitude as a blood-loving puppet.

As the trampy bleached-blond Audrey in tight skirts and high-spiked heels, Kelsi Weston is delightful with her beautiful high voice. She is the not so secret love of Seymour who named the plant after her. Landry Matthews is perfect as the wimpy Seymour who dreams of Audrey. Dan Luethke portrays the perfectly villainous, vain and sadistic dentist with a James Dean look. As the overnight successful business owner Mushnik, Jordan Rudningen clearly embraces this role expressing his frustrations and triumphs. As the Wino, Thomas Bennett has a beautiful singing voice which can almost stop the show.

Each of the trio of girl singers of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette known in real-life as Stephanie Parris, Alia Sedlacek, and Brittany Allen have great solo voices but on opening night, they were not blending as a trio.

The backstage crew is outstanding with the lighting perfectly matching the storyline. The sets, props, costumes, hair and make-up were all wonderful as well as the small orchestra which was unseen but both supportive and leading while enhancing the story and the songs. The choreography by Michelle Garrity was simple but complimentary to the story and the dancing abilities of the cast. The sound system was overall good but was uneven in places.

The star of the show, Audrey II was controlled by puppeteer Adam Long with the deep-voice of Caleb James. This team obviously thoroughly enjoys their creation of Audrey II.

The show begins at 7:30 with a fifteen-minute intermission after the first hour. Including the bows, the show concludes around 9:15. This is not a show for small children but teens and adults will completely enjoy the performance.

Tickets can be purchased contacting the Arts Center box office at 712-388-7140 with $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

Overall, Little Shop of Horrors performed by the IWCC students is a fun show for a great price.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Whipping Man

When most people think about slavery, they think of Southern plantations during the Civil War, we think of masters resembling Scarlet O'Hara's family with slaves working in the houses and the fields.   However that is a not a complete viewpoint.

Although rare, a few Southern plantations had Jewish owners who were immigrants fleeing their homelands of Germany, Russia, and Poland searching for religious freedom and a better life. About 1.5% of the slave-owners were in this category.  When the War began, some of these people chose to move North to become abolitionists while a few chose to fight for the Confederacy in the belief that they were defending their homes and preserving the economy.  Some actually bought slaves with the intention of giving them a better life and to keep them from the harsh plantation life of their neighbors.

The Whipping Man offers an interesting perspective.  The Confederate forces had just surrendered, Caleb DeLeon is a wounded Confederate soldier who arrives at his family plantation house.  As with all the large mansions of the time, they were in ruins from being looted, burned, and vandelized.

Caleb has been shot in the leg and is shocked to discover that his home is also in ruins.

Still living at the home is one faithful slave, Simon who has attempted to keep the entire estate as livable as possible. With the house surviving a fire, the furniture and valuables had been stolen, windows and mirrors broken, holes had been made in the walls and the floors where looters searched for hidden gems, and water damages from leaks in the roofs and ceilings.

The Civil War is now over and Caleb has returned to his childhood home.  What is his relationship with the family's  former slaves?  Will they help him now that he is wounded?

As Simon, Carl Brooks is masterful as the older, faithful servant who has been promised his freedom.   Andy Prescott portrays Caleb as the privileged Jewish heir who is aware of the changes since the War began but still does not completely understand them.   Luther R.  Simon is John was understands the changes and is an opportunist while reluctantly providing for both Simon and Caleb. All three are outstanding in becoming and completely becoming their character.

The Whipping Man is an exquisite play observing how the world had changed around these three men and their challenges in adjusting to this new world.  This is an unusual play regarding the differences of love, friendship, loyalty and ownership.  Can these occur simulataneously?   Can they overlap or can they always be mutually exclusive?

This play has sets and costumes which perfectly fit the time period.   The props, lighting, sound system, and stage direction also perfectly blended into an outstanding show.

The Whipping eighty minutes for the first part of the program with a fifteen minute intermission concluding with the final forty minutes.

The Whipping Man continues Thursdays through Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Howard Drew Theater in the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Ticket prices are $ 36 for adults and $ 22 for students and can be obtained by calling 402-553-0800 or online at or

This adult show shows creativity and ingenuity in a thought-provoking show facing changes in lives and how to make peace with the past to live for the future.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Suede to Rest

Suede to Rest
Diane Vallere
Berkley Crime Mystery
Noveber 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-27057-8
Mass Market Paperback
$ 7.99
304 pages

"A breeze rippled through the trees to the left and the right of the storefront.  I stood across the street, taking in the blacked-out windows and the once-magnificent sign now covered in bird poop, decades of grime, and spray-painted curse words.  Land of a Thousand Fabrics, it said.  I wondered briefly if that had ever been true, if my great-aunt, Millie, and great-uncle Marius, had ever actually counted the bolts of fabric in their inventory or amassed that number in order to avoid false advertising.  And now that it had been left to me, I wondered if that would become my concern."

What do you name a baby who is born in a fabric store?  Polyester Monroe grew up in her family's textile store in San Ladron, California.  Life was normal and happy until her aunt was found murdered in the family store.   Since it was Poly's high school graduation, her parents chose not to inform her until later after the celebration.  Her uncle chose to close-up the store immediately. 

In the ten-years Poly was succeeded in becoming a well-respected dress designer working in Los Angeles.   She is frequently frustrated with her boss using inferior fabrics and cheapening her designs and dreams.   Is it time for a change?

Land of a Thousand Fabrics not belongs to Poly, the lone inheritor of the business.   Remembering her childhood brings back pleasant memories and makes her realize the positive influence of the family store.   As she reenters the store into her past, she wonders about the condition of the bolts of fabric.  She realizes the unusual value her family possessed in quality textiles rather than the cheap imitations that she commonly and currently views and uses causing her to hesitate in selling the store.

Her initial thoughts were to sell the store.   With a developer ready to buy the store and her boyfriend also willing to assist with unloading her store, selling should be simple.   Unfortunately, Poly is hesitant.   When a senior citizen on the neighborhood watch is murdered behind her store and two kittens are also discovered in her dumpster, Poly's curiosity makes her hesitant to sell.  What difference could a few days make in selling the place?

Suede to Rest is a delightful romp through bolts of fabric complete with kittens, murders, and even instructions for making glamorous throw pillows and even an enlightened perspective regarding the fashion industry today.

Author Diane Vallere bases her books on years of personal experience as a seamstress as well as owning her own detective agency.  She has three series the Style and Error Mysteries featuring Samantha Kidd, the Mad for Mod Mysteries featuring her interior decorator Madison Night, and the Material Witness Mysteries with Polyester Monroe.

Suede to Rest is a delightfully realistic cozy mystery featuring a wonderful new protagonist, Polyester Monroe.

I Love Grass

I Love Grass
Maria Boston
Outskirts Press
ISBN: 978-1-4787-2568-8
$ 13.95
24  pages

Once in a while you come across a form of art the makes you stop in your tracks and to really examine the picture.   That is my reaction to I Love Grass by Maria Boston.

Imagine a picture of grass with dirt on the ground and a blue sky in the background.  Each blade of grass is a separate piece of yarn illustrating the waving fields giving depth and movement to each picture matching  the short verses on the opposite page with what appears to be watercolor grass in each corner beneath the writing.

It is difficult to truly visualize the illustrations in this book because they are so realistically perfect for the story.   Imagine a tree with the bark made of various shades of brown yarns in pieces with the leaves in green yarns on a background of a blue yarn sky and green yarn grass with yellow dandelions, also made from yarn. 

I Love Grass is a beautiful children's book giving a basic overview of grass along with unique textured pictures perfectly matching the words.  Even with the flat colorful pictures, the depth of the textures is clearly visible with each page depicting an outside  scene with a variety of various materials.

Who could imagine yarn artistically creating a picture similar to a painting of nature with the focus being grass with dandelions intermixed?   Imagine a blue sky with white clouds,  green grass, a yellow sun, and a variety of flowers made from swirls of yarn accompanied by grass paintings under the writing on each page.

Interesting also is the progression of the seasons completely in yarns.   Transitioning from dandelions, to flowers, to autumn leaves, from day to night, to caterpillars, to snow demonstrate originality artistically and as an inspiration for various modes of creativity.  Also due to a very artistic creator, each illustration varies in shades as the story progresses, the time of day changes, and the seasons evolve.

I Love Grass is a wonderful children's book by a creative author and illustrator.

Panthers Play for Keeps

Panthers Play for Keeps
A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir
Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen Press
Scottsdale, AZ
ISBN: 978-1-59058-872-7
Trade Paperback
April 2014
$ 14.95
256 pages

Finding a dead body is not what Pru Marlowe planned while working with Spot.  He was being trained to become a service dog and walking him daily was included in his education.  His nose picked up the scent of the body which in turn, picked up Pru's curiousity.   Even when the local law enforcement takes over the case, Pru just can't help herself.

The victiim appears to have been killed by a wild animal, specifically a wild cat, a puma.  This gruesome death appears as if the victim was mauled and attacked at her throat.   There have been no recent sitings of pumas in the local area.  How did the animal come to this part of the country?

Pru has an unusual ability.  She can communicate her thoughts with animals telephathically. Unfortunately the language is not always common everyday English, but more conceptual in a few basic words.   Between Spot and her personal cat who lives with her, Pru is the privileged recipient of their thoughts, memories, and emotions.  

What Pru was for Spot's thoughts to link the dead body to his prospective owners. The victim worked for the service dog's new owners as a maid.   Why was a maid wearing an elegant blouse?  Was she meeting someone?  With just glimpses of Spot's memories and thoughts, Pru really couldn't understand the entire picture and was puzzled about how these two were related.  

Added to this already complicated life, Pru's former love is the detective investigating this case. He knows that she has some hidden secret.   How can you tell a law enforcement officer about your Dr. Doolittle type of gift without him thinking that you are crazy?  She quickly learns that her therapist is also her newest rival to his affections.   Will her secrets be told to her former lover?

Clea Simon has published numerous novels both fiction and non-fiction including the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, as well as the Pru Marlowe's series.   This former journalist currently resides in Massachusetts.

Panthers Play for Keeps is a wonderful cozy mystery with a well-planned story involving a gifted protagonist.  The story is predictable, but the journey to the end is an adventure.

Nobody's Child

Nobody's Child
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense
Libby Fischer Hellman
Red Herrings Press
Chicago, Illinois
ISBN: 978-1-938733-46-8
$ 16.99
350 pages

"No one cared whether she lived or died... Not her mother.   Not the half-sister she didn't know but hoped would somehow rescue her.  All she had was the memory of a loving father and he was dead. She was Nobody's child.  Her life wasn't worth a sheet of used toilet paper.  The first time she'd heard the expression, she thought it was just the cynicism of an acne-scarred kid she went to school with.  She knew better now."

Georgia Davis realizes the differences between abiding within the law and the actuality of justice. She no longers works as a law enforcement officer but is now a private investigator.   That's what occurs when you feel responsible for doing the right thing.

Georgia is hired by a small business to discover who was responsible for organizing a flash mob.  Rather than dance at a public place, this particular mob stole over five thousand dollars worth of inventory off their shelves injuring the owner who attempted to stop the crowd.  Small shop owners cannot afford to lose that much inventory.

While beginning this investigation Georgia receives a blood-stained napkin with a note asking for her help. Supposedly this is from her sister, but Georgia doesn't have a sister.

Since Georgia's mother left both her husband and daughter years ago, she had no way of knowing of her mother's new life in another city.  She had again married, obviously no legally, and gave birth to another daughter, Savannah.  However, Savannah grew up hearing about Georgia living in Chicago.

As a rebellious teen, Savannah wondered about her sister and decided to find her in Chicago.  However being young and on your own is dangerous in metropolitan areas especially for pretty and naive women.  She quickly discovered herself involved with drug usage and prostitution.   Could her sister help her?

Nobody's Child is a realistic mystery set in the present day Chicago area encompassing the problems of black market babies and body parts as well as the illegal trade of drugs and human trafficking creating an enthralling story with an alternating point-of-view between Savannah and Georgia.  This strategy created an understandable perspective for the character decisions in a logical and organized story involving many crimes wihin their complicated personal lives.

Libby Fischer Hellman has written numerous novels including the Georgia Davis series and another featuring Ellie Foreman.  Nobody's Child is the fourth novel in this series as well as three standalone novels, Set the Night on Fire, A Bitter Veil, and Havana Lost.

As with all of Libby Fischer Hellman's novels, her characters become real people in situations that make their choices understandable, even when they break the law.   These novels are intriguing as the reader along with the heroine attempt to reconcile their lives.   Nobody's Child exceeds in being am intriguing novel of life.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Deliverance of Evil

The Deliverance of Evil
Roberto Costantini
Translated by N. S. Thompson
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-002-5
$ 26.95
576 pages

"Evil is part of the divine plan."

World Cup victories are known as celebatory events.   When Italy won the event in 1982, Elisa Sordi was killed.   Although there were many suspects, the true killer was never found.   Elisa's death was never solved due to the influence, wealth, and power of those in her life.  The guilt of never finding her murderer forever stayed with the main investigator, Michele Balistreri. 
The next time Italy wins the World Cup in 2006, Elisa's mother commits suicide. Why? 
Investigator Michele Balistreri has carried the guilt of never bringing Elisa's killer to justice.  After so many years, can he now find out who killed her and why?
Michele has secrets of his own.  His privileged past has the typical young man rebellion.  However, his past has large amounts of time when he seemed to have completely disappeared.  What was he doing during this time?   Finally, he finished his schooling with a degree in philosophy.  For some reason he becomes employed with the police and manages to be assigned to one of Rome's quietest neighborhoods upholding the ideal of honor, loyalty, and courage while attempting to overcome his own faults and prejudices.
Unfortunately for this particular police investigation, people do not always tell the complete truth and frequently those of wealth and power hinder solving a crime.  Ranging from the Vatican to Romania to Dubai the issues of everyday life in Rome all are part of this investigation which seems to cause more deaths than answers.
The Deliverance of Evil is the story of this investigation dragging on throughout years with constant interferences, avoidances, and hidden secrets.  Unfortunately mixing Michele's personal life with the lengthy investigation tended to make the story realistically to drag.  However, the pace increases as the secrets are slowly revealed with many regrets from everyone involved.
With any novel which is translated, few people, especially the readers can truly understand how much credit should be given to the author and how much to the translator.   Just choosing the best synonym that best expresses the author's intended story has to be a challenge as well as the translating of the sentence structure.
The Deliverance of Evil excels in realism and the pacing matches this investigation.  Unfortunately, that alters the style of most mysteries of today.   Winning the Scerbanenco Prize for the best Italian crime thriller, this psychological thriller is the story of twenty-four years of Michele Balistreri's life.
For a challenging, realistic story, read The Deliverance of Evil.

Gold in My Pocket

Gold in My Pocket
Jewell Tweedt
ISBN: 978-1499316476
Create Space Independent Publishing Platform
$ 7.99
80 pages

When gold was discovered in California during the late 1840s, many dreamed of the instantaneous wealth with enough profits to last a lifetime.

Living about thirty miles away from Independence, Missouri, Laura Webb's life is about to change.   Her mother died two years ago.  Her father has sold their farm and dreams of finding gold, striking it rich in California. She is reluctant about leaving her home, her mother's grave and Jimmy, her boyfriend.

Being only fifteen years old, Laura needs her father's permission for her to marry. Unfortunately, her father wants her to continue with her household duties while traveling with him on the wagon train and in establishing their new home while he searches for gold.   So instead of fulfilling Laura's dreams, he gives her a blank book to record her new life experiences as they travel to California.  Gold In My Pocket is this book.

The journey to California by wagon train where progress proved challenging.  The slow pace as the many families plodded through the prairies and the mountains, created a multitude of challenges along the trails.   Laura fortunately discovers that her own resourcefulness is essential for her own survival.   She learns that this will be essential in her new life.

Life's dreams seldom come true and even when they do, Laura discovers challenges that she never anticipated.  So what happens when you are a young female and discover yourself alone?

This short novel closely resembles the journals in the Dear America series of books published by Scholastic.  Like these novels, the intended readers are young teens or anyone who is interested in history.

Jewell Tweedt has written Faith of the Heart, Still Faithful, Faith and Hope, and When Christmas Bells are Ringing.   All of these are set in Omaha as the city was just beginning as a prairie outpost while also being Christian romance novels.

Gold in My Pocket is the perfect realistic historical novel for teenaged-girls.  With Laura being a realistic heroine meeting the daily life challenges, she proves that her own skills, abilities, and determination as well as friendships are the qualities needed to have a successful life.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Chanticleer's Cabaret - October 3 & 4, 2014

Quite a few years ago, Walter Cronkite spoke at a one-hundredth birthday celebration about a man who "helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shaped our lives." This particular man had over a sixty-year career of writing more the 1500 songs.  Irving Berlin was this legend.
For the Cabaret at the Chanticleer Theater last weekend, the focus was the music of Irving Berlin.   With so many songs written, it had to be difficult to choose the twenty-four selections for this fund-raising show.   Musical director, Jerry Gray along with accompanist, Cheryl Haines led the group of experienced singers through the various selections of show stoppers, ballads, love songs, partner songs, and just some of the old songs with memorable melodies.
With so much music in a little over an hour, it was not easy to select my favorites.   Tim Daugherty, Steve Gillespie, Boyd Littrell, Glenn Prettyman, Rachael Schnitker, Terry DeBenedictis, Kathy Gray, Sarah Meyers, and Denise Putman sang their ways into the hearts of many of the audience members.   With many selections from "Annie Get Your Gun", there were character songs that are fun as well as some other old time favorites such as "White Christmas",  "Easter Parade",  "Alexander's Ragtime Band", and "God Bless America".
Many songs were reminscent of tunes song by Ethel Merman, Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Dean Martin.  Of course with any performance, everyone has some songs that stand out as your favorites.   These were the ones that were meaningful to me.
Boyd Littrell sang "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor" and the haunting melody "What'll I Do?"  Glenn Prettyman and Rachael Schnitker singing and dancing to "We're a Couple of Swells" was outstanding.  Both have wonderful voices and a strong stage presence.   "Old Fashioned Wedding" perfectly matched the light-hearted humor and the singing voices of Terry DeBenedictis and Tim Daugherty.  Rachael Schnitkker and Sarah Meyers were wonderful with the song "Sisters".   Kathy Gray and Steve Gillespie expressing their thoughts in "You're Just In Love" was fun to observe.   Glenn Prettyman beautifully sang "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody".  Tim Daugherty's "The Girl that I Marry" perfectly matched his range and voice as did Sarah Meyers' rendition of "They Say It's Wonderful" and Rachael Schnitker's "Let's Take and Old Fashioned Walk".   It is still reassuring to here the old favorite "Count Your Blessings" sung by Denise Putman.   Both Denise and Terry DeBenedictis showed their talent and experience with some great saves.
Some of the music could have better matched the singer or been transposed to a different key to better enhance the singers.
These cabarets always have an intimate setting with refreshments and a closeness with the audience along with well-loved music for a delightful and relaxing evening of entertainment.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Annie Jr.

This past weekend "Annie Jr." opened at the Chanticleer Community Theater. 
The first scene is set in a New York City orphanage during The Great Depression with many girls and few beds.  When one young girl is having a nightmare, she is comforted by an older girl, Annie whose parents left her there years ago.   Annie realizes that she is not likely to be adopted.   She realizes that life is difficult on the streets, but knows that she will never find her parents unless she looks for them.  She decides to run away.
Annie is portrayed by eleven-year-old Natalie Simons who possesses a strong stage presence as a leading actress with a confident voice singing her way into the hearts of the audience throughout the musical.   This opening act sets the tone for the entire show with the other eleven young actresses acting, singing, and masterfully dancing while delighting the audience.   These talented roommates are Gracie Clark, Zoey Dittmer, Ryan Doner, Kyrstin Holmes, Olivia Kisicki, Maddy Koch, Alicia Leinen. Violet Lotenschtein, Carson Santee, Mackenzie Storey and Ella Walker.
Considering that the entire cast is between the ages of eight and eighteen, the Chanticleer Theater has excelled with training these young stars of the future and uniting their talents in this show.
Other outstanding performers were Zach Schnitker as Daddy Warbucks, Audrey Schnitker as the Star to Be, and unquestionably Hannah Goodrich as Miss Hannigan whose singing voice is amazing.   All three proved to be excellent singers, dancers, and actors.
As Sandy, the dog, Ginger Insolera quickly won the hearts of the audience.
Overall the support crew for this production was outstanding.  With almost fifty performers and a dog on stage, it definitely had to be challenging with all the costumes, hair, make-up besides the set design and constructions, the transitions between scenes, the lighting and the sound were all outstanding. The only criticism would be the floor microphones which sometimes picked up the dance steps rather than the voices.
When Chanticleer began the Jr. musical programs a few years ago, I was skeptical about these shortened versions losing their story line and of course, my favorite musical selections.  Like condensed books, shortened versions sometimes lose the value of the original.  That is not true of this year's Annie Jr. 
For the Chanticleer each year, these productions have improved significantly while promoting the talented youth of our community.   Denise Putnam, Jerry Gray, Rachael Schnitker and all the production crew are phenomenal with development of evolving these children into performers with their annual Chanticleer Children's Theater Summer Workshop.  
This is a family-friendly show for everyone.   The actual production lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes for the twelve scenes.
Annie Jr. continues through this weekend with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night and at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.  Ticket costs are $ 20 for adullts, $ 16 for seniors, $ 10 for students, and season membership packages for upcoming shows are still available.  To purchase the tickets contact the box office at 712-323-9955 or
Last Friday night's performance proved the success of this program with a full house and a standing ovation and not just from family members.   Get there early to find the best parking and theater seats.
Annie Jr. is a delightful performance for everyone in the family besides having a wonderful time listening to wonderful singers, actors, and dancers with an optimistic outlook on life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Lewis Man

The Lewis Man
Peter May
New York, Ner York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-829-9
$ 21.94
368 pages

"When you are young a year is a big part of your life and seems to last for ever.  When you are old, there have been too many of them gone before and they pass all too fast.  We move so slowly away from birth, and rush so quickly to death."

The Isle of Lewis is the largest and northermost island of the Outer Hebrides off the northwestern coast of Scotland.   During the harvest season when the peat fom the bogs is actually cut to be used for heating during the long harsh winters, a body is discovered.  

Being mummified, the first reaction is to bring in archaeologists to date the body.  Peat is an unusual substance in that it stops the body from decaying while preserving it.   The facial features of the dead man are clear enough for others to notice a resemblance to local families. The medical examiner notices multiple stab wounds concluding that death was caused by the victim's throat being cut. Could this have been a human sacrifice from ages ago?

On closer examination, a tattoo is discovered on the victim's arm.   Looking carefully, the tattoo is of Elvis.  Immediately law enforcement realizes that this murder happened in the last fifty years.  How do you identify the owner of the body from fifty years ago?   How do you bring the killer to justice?

Fin McLeod has left behind his life as a detective inspector and is returning to the island to restore his parents' derelict croft and hoping to reconnect with a former love who he believes was the love of his life.   He didn't plan to be involved with this investigation.

DNA reveals that the mummified body is a close relative of his former love's father who is living his final years in the throes of dementia at a retiremens home.  Quickly Fin learns that her father is not the man whose name he has used for fifty years.  Why?  What is the old man hiding?  Who is he?  Could this old man be a killer?  What does he know about the dead man?  How do you discover his secrets?

The Lewis Man is an enthralling novel with a different approach for a mystery.  The movement is slow at first while introducing the characters and their relationships.   Incorporating a background of the isolated and desolate everyday life on Lewis fifty-some years ago brings to light the problems of the time period.  With the Catholic/Protestant conflicts, orphaned children, as well as the problems of the simplistic and constant working of the fields and the bogs these island inhabitants led a hard life.

This book is a reprint of the original published in 2011 and is part of a three book set  The Lewis Trilogy all by Peter May.  The Lewis Man is actually the second novel in this series following The Black House and concluding with The Chessman.   Attached to the trilogy is another photo book also by Peter May entitled Hebrides.

Author Peter May is an award-winning journalist currently residing in France.   He has been the screenwriter for three prime-time British drama series as well as numerous television programs.   He has over fifteen published novels including additional series The Enzo Files and The China Thrillers.   He is the only western author who is an honorary member of the Chinese Crime Writers' Association and has won the Barry and the Crime Thriller Hound Award.

Dark, depressing are both perfect descriptors of The Lewis Man. However, this is unquestionably a superbly written novel which slowly draws the reader into the story in a masterfully creative manner while viewing just a glimpse of a past life in the Outer Hebrides.  

I definitely plan to read the other novels in this trilogy as well as Peter May's other masterpieces.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dead Line

Dead Ball
A Lainie Lovett Still Kicking Mystery
Judith Arnold
Bell Bridge Books
Memphis, TN
$ 14.95 Paperback
ISBN: 978-161194412
$ 4.99 Kindle
248 pages

Curiosity is what causes Lainie's problems.  Widowed elementary-school teachers who have a college graduated daughter living back at home and who play soccer with the local women's under-fifty soccer league are not the most likely murder suspects. 
When rain cancels soccer practice, Lainie and a few friends relax at a local pub, the Olde Towne.  What they didn't plan on was seeing a teammate's husband with a young well-endowed blond.  What do you do now?  Do you tell Patty, his wife?  The husband was so engaged with the blond that he did not notice the other women.  What do you do now?
In the past, Patty has stated that if her husband messed around, she would kill him.  Is this premeditated murder?
Arthur Cavanaugh had a dream to develop a new housing development for the wealthy.  The locals have mixed feelings about this new area.  Most realize that the new area should greatly increase the value of their property while also attracting environmentalists due to the destruction of the forested areas and wildlife.
Lainie seems to attract trouble.  When she hears rumors of the possible death, she decides to drive over to the construction site where Arthur was killed.  Unfortunately, the police have not even left the crime scene yet and see her observing from the distance.  Added to that, she meets the foreman of the construction project, Bill Slavik who seems interested in her.  Lainie is interested and agrees to go out with him.  This is her first date since her husband died of cancer.
Arthur was killed at the construction site.  Who would be the likely suspect?  Bill Slavik, the foreman who frequently yelled at the developer or the wife?  Considering the he was killed with a nail gun, who would be your most likely suspect?
When she finds Arthur's phone in her purse, she wisely calls her attorney.  He escorts Lainie to the police to turn in the phone.  How did it get in her purse?
Lainie quickly discovers that this first date and the phone have made her a suspect.  She is arrested as a possible accomplice.  
This creates another problem for Lainie.  Because she is a murder suspect, she is placed on temporary leave from her fourth-grade classroom and because Patty is on the soccer team, she is also temporarily suspended from the team.
What does she do with her extra time?
Why not investigate who really killed Arthur?
Dead Ball is a fast-paced romantic mystery.  Lainie is a delightful protagonist with real-world problems and issues, even if she is a little dense and blind to the obvious.  The supporting characters are varied with their roles in Lainie's life even when adding humor and realism with her Jewish mother-in-law.  The story concludes completely as most romances, almost so nicely that it seems a bit contrived.  Real life usually does not conclude quite so completely.
Judith Arnold has written more than ninety novels and has won numerous awards for her romance novels.  One of her books earned the distinction of being a finalist for the RITA, the Romance Writer's of America while also being the winner of the Reviewer's Choice Awards for R.T. Reviews.  Her novels have won the best Harlequin American Romance Award, as well as the Harlequin Super romance, Harlequin Series Romance, Harlequin Contemporary, and Single Title Romance.  Love in Bloom was considered to be one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.
Dead Ball is a wonderful, fast-paced, cozy, page turner that will keep your interest to the last page.

When a Spider Came to Stay

When a Spider Came to Stay
Author: Rebecca Crosdale
Illustrator: Charles Berton
Create Space Independent Publishing
Amazon Digital
ISBN: 978-14006109010
e-book $ 2.99
Paperback $ 12.99
32 pages

"Along came a spider, who sat down beside her and frightened..."

Those words from the old nursery rhyme have created generations suffering from arachnophobia.  Are spiders really that frightening?   Are they a threat to humans?

Those words have terrified many a child and yes, even adults throughout the year.  Spiders with their wiggly legs, often hairy, and fanged mouths appear frightening.  In reality, most spiders really do not choose to be near humans.   Yes, spiders can appear scary, but most are harmless to humans.   However to insects, they are lethal.

When a Spider Came to Stay separates children's fears from reality.  A girl is sitting quietly in her den with a spider weaving an intricate web in the corner of the room along the ceiling.  After awhile, it quietly descends on a single silken thread to the ground where it approaches the girl and seems to sit beside the chair.  She leans to the opposite arm of the chair actually cowering in the corner of the chair.  In time, she feels a little more comfortable with the creature even attempting to talk and feed the spider.

When a Spider Came to Stay has clear and vividly colorful pictures perfectly matching the text as the girl's curiosity replaces her fear recognizing the beauty and artistry of one-small arachnid's magnificent creation even beginning to slightly alter the perspective from the spider.

With short sentences on each illustrated page, the story moves quickly in the first twenty-six pages.  Additionally there are four pages of questions for teachers and parents leading into the underlying themes not immediately revealed in the story creating a deeper understanding and realization regarding differences and acceptances of others who are different.

The approach of the author regarding fear of the unknown is clever with this parallel story of the spider.  Utilizing people's common misconceptions of ignorance through this delightful tale is a brilliant idea by the author Rebecca Crosdale while also teaching about friendship and courage.

Also unusual and wonderful is that this tale is also published in a simplified version for younger children or for those with special needs entitled The Spider in My Den with Sherry Rose Anderson as the illustrator. 

The Spider Came to Stay is a delightful small book for children of all ages teaching some life lessons for everyone.

The Son

The Son
Jo Nesbo
Translator - Charlotte Barslund
Alfred A. Knopf
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-385-35138-6
$ 25.95
402 pages

Can a confession without evidence convict someone of murder?
Sonny Lofthus is in prison in Norway for committing two murders.  Naturally many felons continually profess their own innocence but how often do other convicts believe in another inmate's innocence?
For Sonny, this unique situation of respect also appears to have given him healing hands capable of mending the broken souls of these imprisoned souls.  The cost of this service is to keep him supplied with enough heroin so that he stays high.  Yes within prison walls, all the inmates and the staff manage to keep Sonny content.
However, Sonny really is innocent of these two murders.  Was his confession years ago worth the way he lives now?
Sonny's father as a policeman, appeared to be deeply involved in corruption.  He killed himself, or did he?  With new information, he questions the truth about his father.  Was he set up?
He realizes that within the prison walls, he cannot discover the truth.  With help, Sonny manages to successfully escape.   On a personal quest to exonerate his father and to discover the truth, Sonny needs to stay ahead of law enforcement and those you do not want their secrets revealed.
The Son is an unusual mystery separating the law from justice.   What is right when the law is mistaken or corrupt?     
From the law enforcement perspective, Chief Inspector Simon Kefas with a new inexperienced partner are investigating a murder and the likely suspect is Sonny.  What isn't clear is how Sonny is somehow connected to the death.   Could he be innocent and because he is escaped, he is just the most likely suspect?  Simon, coincidentally was the partner of Sonny's father, Ab.  A part of Simon wants to save Sonny while also he realizes his commitment to enforce the law.
Added to Simon's conflict, is the personal problem of his wife going blind.   As an addicted gambler, there is no money that  creating is needed for her to travel to the States for surgery to save her sight.   When money is offered, can he accept it to save his wife and what is expected of him in return?
The Son is a standalone novel and is not in the Harry Hole series.  As with Nesbo's other books, this book was originally written in Norwegian and then translated into English and whether it is the writing or the translating, The Son is an enticing and enthralling tale that is graphically violent, although not as dark as Nesbo's other novels. What is unique about The Son is the internal conflicts of each character and each other creating fluctuating between being protagonists and antagonists.
Viewing the escaped murderer who seeks justice and truth creates hope in this conflicted tale.
The author, Jo Nesbo resides in Norway working as a songwriter, musician, economist as well as the award winning author for the Glass Key which is given for the best Nordic crime novel.
For a different type of mystery with realistically human characters, read The Son.