Friday, February 28, 2014

Discovering Balance

Discovering Balance
A Chip Fullerton/Annie Smith Sports Novel
T. L.Hoch
Tate Publishing
Mustang, Oklahoma
ISBN: 978-1-62854-925-6
Trade Paperback
 $ 19.99
295 Pages

How often is a person's life out of balance?   Think of many of the professional athletes and the numerous personal problems that draw the attention of the media, would they have these issues if their life was more balanced? How often have you prioritize your work over your family?
B.A. Smith realizes that going to a new high school can be difficult.   She has successfully made new friends and been accepted as part of the girls' basketball team even earning respect as a valued player.  More importantly to her is the development of being a team with everyone working together.  Of course, there will always be a few difficult people who feel threatened by another athlete, but overall, the move has been a success.  
Now that the basketball season is over, will B.A. continue with her athletic stardom into softball?  Her rival, Tammi still feels that since B.A. arrived, her athletic gifts have been overlooked.  Will she ever have the respect that she deserves?
Chip Fullerton is the spunk and spirit of both the basketball and softball team.   She also realizes that life needs to be balanced.   With her high school responsibilities of academics and sports, she strongly realizes that you also need time for family, a boyfriend, friends, working out, working at her family's business, and to volunteer in some way to help others.   How do you keep all of this in balance all the time?
With the immense challenges of today's life, successful role models who effectively solve their multitude of problems are needed both in real life and in fictional books. Also needed, are positive examples that are not contrived, but realistic ways of balancing our busy lives without watching much television or spending hours on the internet.
Books that have real life situations along while balancing the complicated intricacies of life without violence, bullying, and people taking advantage of others are seldom found in literature.. Discovering Balance excels with creating role models who value keeping their lives in balance and doing the right thing for their friends, families, others, and for themselves.
Tom Hoch writes from his years of experience as a retired teacher and coach.  In this unique series he perfectly intermixes the skills needed for sports along with the skills for a successful winning team and maintaining all the relationships and responsibility of a successful life.  
Discovering Balance is unusual in that this book can be read as a standalone, but succeeds in teasing the reader to want to read the previous book Chasing Normal.   Without revealing the story from  the first novel, there are some questions in this book that are only answered in the first book.
Discovering Balance is a well-written insightful novel that both teens and adults of all ages value within an enjoyable story.  The characters seem to be real people with real problems.   With an organized, logical story building on real life situations Discovering Balance leaves you reflecting about your choices and priorities.
Are you living a balanced life? Discovering Balance is a wonderful tale for everyone.

Diane Schurr

"It's so good to be in O-ma-ha-ha-ha" was how Diane Schurr started the night's performance last Friday.
Diane Schurr sold out two concerts last weekend at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha.   The first one was in the 1200 Club of the Holland replacing the Sean Jones Quartet and then followed by a jazz festival on Saturday. 
The two-time Grammy Award winning artist thrilled both audiences with her mastery of jazz and blues on the piano with her magnificent voice proving that she unquestionably is one of the most talented performers of all time.  She is unquestionably one of the best vocalists ever.   Her unusual combination of songs from the Big Band era with jazz were at times reminiscent of Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, with even a bit of Mel Torme.  However, she proved to have learned from the masters in that her musical creations were exquisite. Her clear and powerful voice hit highs and lows that are extremely impressive for a woman of any age with remarkable breath control.   Her selections were a mixture of styles with varying meters and transpositions where the smooth transitions were so well blended that it was difficult to notice. She perfectly maneuvered each selection into a masterpiece creating music from the syncopated rhythms into a jazz treasure. I was surprised that this was Diane Schuur's first visit to Omaha.   Considering that she has performed at the White House for years beginning with President Reagan, it is unusual that she has not visited this area before and graced us with her musical gifts.      
Years ago, she started with the great jazz musician Stan Getz who recognized her talent and mentored her as a jazz vocalist and pianist.
"I Remember You" was a title of one of her marvelous selections reflecting her influences by Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra and is also the title of her next album which will be released in June.   "Nice and Easy", Michel Legrand's "Cold", "Here's That Rainy Day", "Didn't We", "Land of Make Believe", "I Get Along without You Very Well", "Louisiana Sunday Afternoon", "Love is Lovlier the Second Time Around", "Lady Be Good", and "For Once in My Life".
Also adding to her music was Ben Wolfe on bass and local UNO professors Dana Murray on drums and Darrin Pettit on saxophone.  Their contributions to the music was outstanding as well as their versatility and flexibility in working with her jazz arrangements.
Although this was Diane Schurr's first time to perform in Omaha, with the audiences delight, I hope that she will now return many times. For those who could not actually be at the Holland, her new album "I Remember You" will be released in June.   It will be music that you will enjoy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Visit from Santa Clops or The Fright Before Christmas

A Visit from Santa Clops or The Fright Before Christmas
Gig Wailgum, author and illustrator
Wailgum Art Yarns
Charleston, North Carolina
ISBN: 978-0-9850780-3-4
$ 9.99
36 pages

 "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the home," is the beginning of this slightly unconventional Christmas tale.  What could possibly rhyme with home that could set the foundation of this traditional poem?
Did you ever think about the rest of the family who had Saint Nicholas.  Just like everyone else, he came from a family complete with uncles, aunts, and cousins.   Being that the entire family was needed for his success, Saint Nicholas is for the "good little girls and boys". 
What about those who were naughty?
Saint Nicholas has a cousin, Santa Clops whose duty it is to deliver the lumps of coal to those naughty children.   Clops is slightly different from his cousin most notably by the one eye in the middle of his face.  He resides at the South Pole  Instead of reindeer, Santa Clops uses flying penguins.
 A Visit from Santa Clops is based on the traditional poem with a dark side complete with illustrations perfectly matching the story on a background on a nauseating green. Where Santa Claus' suit is clean and shiny, Santa Clop's suit is similar but covered in soot from the coal.
This story is best for those who appreciate the parody of an alternative story  The visual pictures are not scary but perfectly match the story in rhyme. 
Gig Wailgum is an artist from Connecticut.  His character of Santa Clops has been featured in the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker magazine, as well as the cover of Seattle is Stranger newspaper.
A Visit from Santa Clops is a fun but perfect reflection with a different perspective on the timeless poem.  With the naughty children's father saving the day, the older children of all ages would delight in reading.   The vocabulary and references to a "fro" and "Ed Allan Poe" definitely places this story as appropriate for older children, this is probably not the best choice for pre-school children.
A Visit from Santa Clops is a fresh approach to an old tradition.

Hollow City

Hollow City
The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
 ISBN: 978-1594746123
 $ 17.99
402 pages

Everyone wants to be near people who understand them.  People who have common abilities are often close to others similar to them.
For children with unusual natural abilities, they quickly discover that normal people are curious about them, but also fearful.   People are afraid of those who they do not understand.  So how do these children exist in the world?
Simply, they find each other and hopefully have the protection of a caring and nurturing adult.
In Hollow City, the story of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children continues with the children being pursued by wights.  Definitely reminiscent of the German forces surrounding Britain with their submarines, the wights are chasing the children as they quietly are in a boat searching for land after their home was destroyed.  Whether the children are captured alive or killed, the pursuit is on.
The children are accustomed to having the protection of their leader, Miss Peregrine.  Unfortunately, she is stuck in her bird form and cannot change back into a human form.    The only possibility of saving her is for another ymbrynes to help.  Besides being chased, time is also an enemy since the longer she is a bird, the more she loses of her human self.
Hollow City is a page-turner that continues with these unusual children.   The character developments excel in this book.   Whereas you were meeting the peculiars in the first book; in the second the personalities as well as the peculiarities are more apparent and strangely enough, realistic.   With the life-or-death threat, the beliefs and values of each of the children is apparent now.  
Hollow City is the second book in this trilogy by Ransom Riggs.  The story would be difficult to really understand without the background of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Story being read first.   Essentially, the story continues and will hopefully conclude with the next novel in this trilogy.
As the children are pursued by the wights with the dangerous hollows lurking inside each time loop at each turn, will they ever be able to rest?
Hollow City is recommended for young adults from eighth grade.
Ransom Riggs is writes Strange Geographies which is a series travel essays for Mental Floss Magazine.   His debut novel was the first in this series, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children..
Hollow City is more engaging and faster-paced than Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children.  These books are best understood if read in order.
Do you have a secret undeveloped or peculiar talent?   Read Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children and Hollow City to discover your possible destiny.  


Fascinating Medical Mysteries
Clifton K. Meador, M.D.
Create Space
North Charleston, South Carolina
ISBN: 9781491029275 2013
 $ 10.95
153 pages

Fascinoma combines the words 'fascinate' with 'oma.'  The suffix 'oma' usually denotes a growth or tumor. ... Thus a fascinoma is medical slang for an unusually interesting medical case."

Combining the unusual with the study of medicine is the perfect title for this compact collection written in layman terms.

Doctors, fortunately, are usually correct in the assessment and treatment of most patients but it is impossible for a correct diagnosis all the time.  Also complicating this process is the realistic fact that not everyone reacts exactly the same way to every disease.  Most experienced doctors vividly remember those few cases where their diagnosis and treatment did not work.   These are those stories which fortunately are resolved but often require a different approach.

Some patients have unusual allergies which can cause life-threatening situations.   Others can have self-inflicting wounds that unfortunately result in the patient in an endless loop of consultations without ever solving their real problem.  From ticks to cinnamon schnapps to accidental poisonings, these cases daily confound the medical staffs throughout the world.

Fascinomas is a collection of thirty-five situations with real-life patients who names have  been changed.   Also, some of the names of their physicians have also been changed.  Their situations usually first begin in emergency rooms and are frequently referred from one doctor to another who specializes in that particular ailment.  Unfortunately, many of these true life stories and life threatening.

Each selection is only a few pages long written in layman terms and very understandable to the non-medical community.  The cases are fascinating.  With each one the reader is experiencing the examination from the doctor's perspective along with the traditional and non-traditional insight needed to heal each person.  In one case, a nurse solved the patient's dilemma accidentally.

The purpose of this compact collection of case histories is to better inform the medical community of these rare cases which can occur in others.  By not writing this collection as a medical journal, Fascinomas is a quick and easy read even for exhausted emergency room doctors.

Dr. Clifton K. Meador has been practicing medicine for over fifty years.  He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1955 and is an emeritus professor of medicine at Vanderbilt School of Medicine  and Meharry Medical College as well as being selected as chief medical office of Saint Thomas Hospital and dean of the University of Alabama School of Medicine.  Currently, he resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Fascinomas" is for everyone who enjoys real-life medical mysteries.

The Count Basie Orchestra and New York Voices

A legacy is something that lives on after your death and The Count Basie Orchestra obviously fits that description. Count Basie passed away in 1984 but his music lives on in this group.  Two of the present members of the orchestra actually performed with him.
Last Friday night at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, The Count Basie Orchestra combined the best of the blues, jazz, swing, and Big Band to create an evening of musical delights for the large audience.
Due to the weather complications on the East Coast, not all seventeen members of this group were able to be in Omaha.   Mark Benson whose alto saxophone playing is known throughout the area, substituted for one of the members.  His skills and musicianship perfectly blended with the group.   Also as a substitute was Professor Lindsey Sargeant on the piano who is director of jazz studies at Florida A & M University.
Clarence Banks on trombone and Omaha born and raised Marcus McLaurine on bass actually worked and performed with Count Basie.
Scotty Barnhart was the leader of this group and showed his extraordinary trumpet skills in "Who, Me?" where the music of his trumpet sang as a voice when he utilized the plunger mute..
What was truly unusual about this group was the diversity of their selections in style and tempo.  Yes, the  songs were from many years ago but the harmonies were frequently cutting edge perfectly combining old with new.  
Some of the selections played were written by Nebraska composer, Neal Hefti.   He wrote many songs performed by this orchestra as well as the theme for the television series "Batman" and "The Odd Couple".
New York Voices beautifully added their vocal talents to the orchestra with the versatile singing of Kim Nazarian,  Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge and Darmon Meader. Their voices accompanied by the orchestra perfectly blended into one while also creating unusual and exciting harmonies demonstrating a variety of styles and rhythms.  From the pure harmonies in "Devil May Care" to  "Mellotone" to the "scatting" of "Cloudburst", this foursome thrilled the audience with their vocal complexities and style variations. What also was unusual with this quartet was how they frequently changed the parts they were singing while maintaining fluid tonal quality.  Yes, I am purchasing their music to continue hearing both their blending and harmonies  again and again.
The first numbers by both the orchestra and the quartet were not balanced.   As the evening progressed, the both the blending and balancing of music dramatically improved creating numerous magically musical moments.
For those who could not attend or those who would like to hear The Count Basie Orchestra and New York Voices, consider their recorded music.    This is legendary music that has already survived the test of time.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Nursing a Grudge

Nursing a Grudge
A Maternal Instincts Mystery
Diana Orgain
Create Space
ISBN: 978-1492934028
$ 2.99
243 pages

Most new mothers dream.   Many dream of  successfully balancing family, career and truly believe that they can handle it all.  
Kate Connolly is not most mothers.   She has dreams of running her own private investigating agency but first needs to learn the skills.  Fortunately her mentor, Albert Galigani, a retired law-enforcement officer, conveniently is her mother's boyfriend.  Yes, life can become complicated quickly.  Kate Connolly, private investigator, is her dream as soon as she learns the skills and can be licensed.
Kate is looking forward to reconnecting with her an old friend.  Jill is a restaurant review critic who is quickly gaining notoriety in the San Francisco Bay Area.  
This is the perfect outing where Kate can bring her daughter Laurie with her. As Jill arrives dressed beautifully in boots with extremely high heels that Kate never could and would wear.   Her outfit immediately makes Kate a little envious as she quickly realizes how a child can change a life.
Jill explains her latest challenge in being a critic.  A new restaurant, Philosophie, is owned by the famous Brent Miles and Jill's review did not recommend the place.  The owner had called and threatened her to change the review, "make it sincere or else".
Kate notices a man in a Smith and Wesson skull cap seems to be following Jill.  Why?
As the women continue to chat, Jill receives a phone call stating that her boyfriend has fallen from Painted Rock and is currently at the hospital.  He is an experienced hiker and should not have fallen.  Jill quickly leaves to go to the hospital.   Kate quickly pays the bill and also leaves for the hospital to pick up Danny, a two-year-old whose mother is in labor.
Guess who is also arriving at the hospital?  There is the man in the skull cap.
Nursing a Grudge is a fun, cozy mystery with a protagonist who has to balance a family as well as a budding career while still concerned about loosing the weight from the pregnancy.   Added to this Kate has agrees to help friends and family along the way.
Diana Orgain is the creator and author of Maternal Instincts Mystery Series with Bundle of Trouble, Motherhood is Murder, and Formula for Murder.   She resides in San Francisco with three children and a husband.
Nursing a Grudge is the fourth novel in this series which is successful as either a standalone novel or as part of the series.  These novels are quick, fun, cozy reads in a logically organized mystery.  Each novel is a quick page turner with the intended audience of young mothers.  These are fun, humorous novels that are great light reading.

13 Shots of Noir

13 Shots of Noir
Paul D. Brazill
Untreed Reads Publishing
Kindle edition
November 2011
68 pages
$ 3.99 
What short stories catch your attention?   Which stories stay with you?
Authors who tend to shock and surprise the reader are well-respected with a following of loyal readers who might not actually enjoy the content, but truly appreciate the surprise in these unpredictable tales.   Legendary writers and editors in this category include Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone", Roald Dahl, Falkner, O'Henry and Edgar Allan Poe.   These writers of darkness make us uneasy even when we appreciate their creative gifts.
13 Shots of Noir by Paul D. Brazill is definitely one of these uneasy, uncomfortable collections of short stories.   Each one involves a crime and a cover-up with an ending most of us could or would not predict.  These are not tales of justice, but tales of irony.
What excels in this collection is the imagery in each very short tale.   You can easily visualize each  event as the story unfolds, complete with the blood and gore.  These stories excel is sensory details.   These senses of sound and smell create a story much darker and sinister.
The first story, "The Tut" was nominated for the 2010 Spinetingler Award.   The tale revolves around Oliver Robinson who has been married for forty-five years.  He is sick and tired of his wife's "tut" whenever she is unhappy with him.   She sighs and "tuts".  She scolds him and "tuts".  Reminiscent of Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart", he becomes obsessed with this "tut".    Read the story to find out the rest of this story.
The other twelve stories are similar but still completely unpredictable.  Each unique and engrossing even though sometimes, you don't want to know the rest of the story.  However, you need to finish and ponder after each one.
Each story has the reader focused in one direction when suddenly the story switches gears.   This sharp turn is logical but at the same time, shocking.   These stories are addictive.
Paul D. Brazill was born in England and currently resides in Poland.  He continues to write as well as translate many written works.
13 Shots of Noir is a quick read but one that continues to ponder long after each story.

Lake Country

Lake Country
Sean Doolittle
Bantam Books
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-345-53214-0
Trade Paperback
$ 15.00
322 pages

Does punishment for breaking a law suffice for justice?   For some people, when the punishment does not match the crime, they feel that it is their personal responsibility to do the right thing.  They feel personally responsible to equalize life for the victim. In their mind, someone needs to do the right thing.
But what if doing the right thing in a person's mind requires breaking the law?
Wade Benson is a successful architect who works long hours.  Five years ago when he was exhausted, he fell asleep while driving home.  He caused a traffic accident resulting in the death of a young twenty-year-old woman, Becky Morse. 
Unfortunately for Becky's mother, her son also lost his life in Iraq at almost the exact moment as her daughter's death.  How can one person ever heal from the death of both of her children in two separate places on the planet with one day?
For some reason, Wade's  punishment was to spend two days on the anniversary of her death in jail for five years.   This year is his final imprisonment.  The local television stations cover this story every year and televise his entrance and exit from the jail annually.  Even the media questions this punishment as justice?   Is ten days equate to her life?
For ex-Marines Darryl Potter and Mike Barlowe this doesn't seem fair.  They served in Iraq with Becky's brother.  They have seen Mrs. Morse and the effect of her deaths with her grieving.  Darryl especially feels that Mrs. Morse is owed something from Wade Benson.  What could make up for the deaths?
Darryl Potter and Mike Barlowe don't have much in their lives.  Both had difficulty holding a job and gambling with bookies.  By living together Mike is more realistic and attempts to keep Darryl in the real world. 
The Elbow Room is the local bar where the two spend much of their time and they can frequently have free sandwiches and cheap beer from their longtime friendship with the owner..  As a bar owner, he realizes the need to sometimes get away from life.  He owns a cabin located up in the Lake Country where everything seems to work itself out.
Maya Lamb, a local news broadcaster, recognizes the irony of interviewing Juliet Benson for the local television news station.  Juliet is the same age now as when Becky Morse died.    How strange to speak with the daughter of the killer who could easily have been the dead girl.
Darryl decides to settle the score for his wartime buddy and the mother of the two who have been dead for five years.   He is going to take Wade Benson's daughter from him so that he understands.   His plan is to kidnap Juliet.  
Can anyone find or save Juliet?
The race to save Juliet's life is on with Mike, Maya, a bookie, the bartender, and law enforcement trying to find her.
Who will live through this?
Sean Doolittle has recently been a featured author with Mystery Scene magazine as one of five best new authors to follow.  His previous novels are Rain Dogs, Burn, Dirt, Safer, and The Cleanup which one the Barry Award.   He resides in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Lake Country is a haunting tale because it is easy to see this story as real.  The race to save Juliet's life is page-turner where you literally cannot turn the pages fast enough.   The empathy for Mike who really is attempting to do the right thing is heart-wrenching.   The contrast of Doolittle's clean and clear writing is for this messy story truly masterful.  This is story telling at its best.
You are with the characters understanding the logic of each but basically from Mike's point-of-view.
Lake Country is one of those books where you will want to reread certain sections.  This is a phenomenally written mystery.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Sad Tree and Pronuba

The Sad Tree and Pronuba
Christina Steiner
Mary Manning-Illustrator
Outskirts Press
Parker, Colorado
ISBN: 978-1-4327-9893-2
October 2013
$ 14.95
32 pages

For anyone who has ever felt alone, a friend is always appreciated and valued.  For a single tree in the desert life can be lonely with only the moon, wind, sand, stones and rocks for companionship. 
Deserts are the natural habitat for lone Joshua trees that live throughout America's Southwest.  These trees seem to be isolated and unlike other trees, are not part of a forest.  
Unique to this tree is their cooperative relationship with the Pronuba moth.  Both the tree and the moths rely on each other for their species to propagate. The Pronuba moth needs a place for her eggs to incubate and the Joshua tree protects these from the wind and the blowing sand.   As the eggs hatch and continue through the stages of their life-cycle, this co-dependency is important for their lives.  The moth leaves her eggs within the shelter of the tree while also collecting pollen to transport to other locations for other Joshua trees to grow.  As the eggs hatch, the grubs feed on the seeds and their life-cycle continues while the seeds of the tree are spread in the area.
This concept can be difficult to understand for children.   It is not immediate and happens over time.  "The Sad Tree and Pronuba" is a story accompanied by  illustrations which explains this life-cycle concept using a tree named Joshua and the moth, Pronuba.  The story simplifies the science procedure seen as a special friendship.  This story has wonderful illustrations which perfectly match the words of the story.
Christina Steiner, the author, resides in Southern California who was inspired to write this story after a visit to the Mojave Desert.   Mary Manning, the illustrator, is a well-respected artist who specializes with landscapes featuring America's Southwest.   These two storytellers both in words and pictures perfectly matched the story. 
 "The Sad Tree and Pronuba" is a wonderful story telling the tale of friendship surrounding the scientific concept of pollination whose target audience is for children aged 5 to 12.   This difficult concept is beautifully written and illustrated in this story of the Joshua tree and the Pronuba moth.   Reading "The Sad Tree and Pronuba" is educational and a wonderful story that both parents and children will enjoy to read and reread.

Poisoned Ground

Poisoned Ground
Sandra Parshal
Poisoned Pen Press
Scottsdale, AZ
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0224-7
March 2014
$ 24.95
250 pages

New developments offer economic revivals for small communities.   The possibility of new jobs is exciting for most small towns even for Mason County, Virginia. Who wouldn't want a new development in a small town?   This would offer new jobs and opportunities to a diminishing community.  
However, not all is as it seems.   Most of these new jobs would be at minimum wage with no to little chance of advancement.  Added to that, this new development would likely pollute the land and the water as they take over this community, not to mention the loss of family homes and lifestyle of many local farmers who for years have lived off the land.  
Is this opportunity to cater for the wealthy patrons of this new adventure with a spa worth it or is it destroying the community?  What is the cost of progress?
Rachel Goddard enjoys her life in the Blue Ridge Mountains as a veterinarian and recently married  Sheriff Tom Bridger.  Supporting  her best friend, Joanna who is being offered money for her horse ranch, Rachel is drawn into the conflict within the community especially since the slick developers seem to be forcing people to sell their land. 
When Joanna's neighbors, Marie and Lincoln Kelly are shot, people are beginning to wonder about the actual cost of this development in terms of people's lives.   It was well-known that Marie and Linc were against selling their land.   Could someone be tipping the scales to favor the development?  Why would anyone want to murder two elderly farmers?
To author Sandra Parshall she truly understands these changes that are happening to her communities throughout Blue Ridge Mountain area.   She  lives in Northern Virginia with her husband who is a Washington journalist.   This is a challenge to numerous rural communities.
Poisoned Ground perfectly envisions both viewpoints of community development surrounding an intriguing mystery.   As Rachel supports her friends and clients in her animal care business, she is drawn into the situation of conflict while also being privileged to discover clues to assist her husband with solving the murder. 
This is a fast-paced mystery which keeps your interest through the last page.   With well-developed characters who are realistic within a logical mystery that continues to unravel with each page.   Even though this is part of a series which has won an Agatha Award, Poisoned Ground does not require knowledge from previous books in order to understand the story.
Anyone who enjoys a good mystery would like Poisoned Ground.  I would categorize this book as a cozy since the story is straight-forward in direction.
Curl up with Poisoned Ground and enjoy a good book to read.


Do you still have the same close friends from high school?
For many cheerleaders, it was not uncommon for girls who were best friends in 1963 to have established a special bond that would permanently cement their friendship. Is that just a dream or reality?
At the Chanticleer Theater this past weekend, this friendship was explored with three seniors in high school who were cheerleaders during November of 1963.
Joanne, Kathy,and Mary gossip about the high school dances and the popularity, their boyfriends who are all on the football team, the girls in the band, and the important things in life. Homework is not a priority but mailing their college applications at the post office at the same time is so exciting. These three cannot imagine a life without each other. Will they be together forever? Of course.
“Vanities” is a three-act play focusing on the relationships of these three women portrayed by Corie Grant-Leanna, Mary Beth Slater, and Mary Trecek who excelled in bringing these characters to life. Between the years of 1963 in the first act, 1968 in the second act, and the final act during 1974, there were many social shifts and changes in our country which permanently affected our way of life. As these changes occur, will their friendship change?
“Vanities" written by Jack Heifner has evolved since its premier in 1976. Originally it ran on Broadway for five years. Since then it was reappeared on Broadway as a revival, been recreated as an HBO special, and recently been revised into a musical which is currently playing on Broadway.
Corie Grant-Leanna, Mary Beth Slater, and Mary Trecek were wonderful in their parts. Each perfectly stayed true to their character as age changed their lives. The sets, lights, sound, and overall support crew were excellent in making this seamless performance. The adapting of the set from scene to scene was enjoyable while still meeting the needs of the cast with memorable background music.
"Vanities" is written for an adult audience. Those who would most enjoy this show have an understanding of the changes in our lives between 1963 and 1974.

"Vanities" will continue at the Chanticleer Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs through February 16th . Show times on Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket costs are $20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $10 for students. To make reservations call (712) 323-9955 or email
“Vanities” is a wonderful play about how people have change. If you have ever wondered about whether or not to attend your high school class reunion, you will definitely need to see “Vanities”,

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Troop

The Troop
Nick Cutter
Gallery Books
Simon and Schuster

New York, New York
February 25, 2014
ISBN: 978-1476717715
368 pages

Many scouting troops have camping traditions.  Taking five boys in their teens onto an island in the Canadian wilderness is an annual event for Tim Riggs who is the scoutmaster as well as the local doctor of this close-knit community.   He realizes the value of taking the boys away from their families for a weekend to an uninhabited nearby island with a cabin.  They can camp outside or use the cabin if it rains.    What could possibly go wrong in three days?

For Kent this trip is tolerated.  He is accustomed to being a leader among his peers being both popular and athletic.   At the other end of this small social hierarchy is Shelley who is strange along with his nerdy friend, Newt.   Ephraim and Max are likable and get along with almost everyone.  As expected the relationships between these five is teasing with sometimes a streak of meanness from Kent.  

Tim Riggs is accustomed to their pranks.   As a bachelor, his life is fairly dull and he looks forward to this time each year.

During their first night, a stranger lands on the island in a small boat.  He is pale and ravenous.   He acts as if he has never eaten.  With his extreme thinness, the voracious hunger pains seem to move under his skin.

Dr. Riggs immediately suspects that the man might have a tape worm.  He chooses to examine the stranger within the confines of the cabin as a precaution while having the boys camp outside.   He makes it very clear that the boys are not to reenter the cabin until he allows them back inside.

Reminiscent of "Lord of the Flies", The Troop explores the conflict of doing what is best for everyone and doing the best for yourself.   

For Kent, he sees himself as the leader of the group.  In school he is popular and athletic.  He is the top of the social hierarchy of this group.   At the bottom is Shelley who is just a strange duck.   He relies on Newt for friendship.   Newt is the nerd.   Somewhere in the middle are Max and Ephraim who are both easy-going and likable.  They attempt to be the peacemakers, somewhat mediating Kent's comments.

The characterization in The Troop is phenomenal.   As a reader, you can visualize each person throughout this page-turner.   Each event is well-described while maintaining a terrifying pace in the story.   Even the setting of the island is visually descriptive perfectly matched with the pacing of the story.

The Troop is one book that you will want to read in one-sitting.  You do not want to leave the story as you hope for the best for each character.   What is most horrifying in this thriller is the realism!   This is a story that could be a possible situation.

The author Nick Cutter is the pseudonym for Canadian author, Craig Davidson.  His other published books are Sarah Court, Rust and Bones, Fighter, and Cataract City as well as many short stories.
The Troop is a wonderful book to read on these cold winter nights inside a house which is not on an island in the Canadian wilderness.