Monday, March 31, 2014

The Cold Nowhere

The Cold Nowhere
Brian Freeman
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-131-2
April 2014
$ 24.95
432 pages

Have you ever been drawn to a particular person?   Have you wondered why someone gets and holds your attention but you don't completely understand why? That is the problem Detective Jonathan Stride has with Catalina Mateo, a sixteen-year-old runaway who happens to be pregnant.  However, there is a history between these two.
About ten years ago, Detective Stride met Catalina's mother, Michaela.   The two had a special relationship.  Both were married but not to each other.
The nightmare for Cat began the night when her mother was brutally stabbed to death by her father who then shot himself.   She was only six-years-old and fortunately was not in the house when the murder happened but hid under the porch, hearing the entire nightmare. How does anyone stop this from haunting them?
Orphaned, Cat lived with her aunt who worked as a prostitute to pay for her personal drug usage and then went into the foster care system.  This was not much bettered and Cat became a runaway.  She wants a better life so she is selective about men, but also turns to prostitution in order to live.   What chance does Cat have of ever having a normal life?
Catalina appears at Detective Stride's home one night, soaking wet and terrified, believing that someone is chasing her, wanting to kill her.   Stride wants to believe her but his partner, Maggie, is very suspicious.
The Cold Nowhere is a riveting tale where you feel that you are discovering the details along side of Detective Stride.  However, you don't know about his past relationship with Michaela or Cat that is unveiled by Maggie and his former wife. It seems that the more that is found out, the more dangerous the situations become with people dying around them.
The story is well-organized and intense with well-developed characters. This psychological thriller keeps the reader engaged past the last page.
Author Brian Freeman has written many novels featuring Detective Jonathan Stride and Serena Dials winning a Macavity Award for his Best First Novel, Immoral and nominated for the Edgar Award.
The Cold Nowhere is a masterful tale written by a phenomenal storyteller.

Soweto Gospel Choir

Mixing African spirituals with American gospel songs is what makes the Soweto Gospel Choir special..  It is also what has earned this group an Emmy Award, two Grammy Awards, three South African Music Association Awards and even an Oscar nomination.
Last Thursday, the Soweto Gospel Choir proved that the deserve all these awards.  Their unusual musical approach delighted the audience for ninety minutes with an assortment of selections from both South Africa and America.  Much of the music was not in English but the melodies and rhythms transcended any language barriers.  
What also surprised me with the Soweto Gospel Choir was the amount of dance integrated into the songs.   The dances were not conventional in what I usually think of us African or American dance but perfectly matched the selections with enthusiasm and a fresh perspective of original choreography as an added expression of the song.  
With about a 25 member choir who also were members of the band, no two were dressed the same.  For the females, all of them wore a white skirt with a pattern in the front near the bottom and a black shirt covered with a lined-colorful shawl that covered one shoulder and had a matching scarf used in a variety of ways in the hair.   In the second half, the black and white remained with each one wearing a different robe and a decorative trim on the top section.   The men wore black pants with two different shirts also in different colors but the same style.
Unquestionably the acapella singing with only a djimba, a native drum, is where this group excels.   This allowed the audience to better hear the wonderful four-part harmonies in their songs along with solo parts which seemed to feature every member of the group at some time.
For the songs with accompaniment, members of the choir also played the keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, and drum. Unfortunately, many times the band overwhelmed the choir in volume.  As the show progressed, this seemed to improve.
For the audience, the favored songs were unquestionably the ones well-known.  "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" began with the choir singing their back-up music for the entire refrain while soloists joining in this expressive rendition which was beautiful and inspiring.  Also well received was when Mandla Modawa demonstrated how a true bass voice should sound in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". This was one of those times where the audience wondered about how low could he sing musically without rumbling.
Two particular selections were show stoppers with the audience immediately rising to standing ovations.   "This Little Light of Mine" combined American gospel music with the African enunciation delighted the audience with dancing, singing, and toe-tapping.   Unquestionably "Arms of an Angel" was a wonderful experience and the balance with the instruments was much improved from earlier. This is one song that could have been repeated for hours.

Unfortunately, the Soweto Gospel Choir only performed for ninety minutes on stage.   The first half lasted a little over 45 minutes and then had almost a 30 minute intermission.  The ninety minutes included the encores.  Members of the audience did complain about the shortness of the program.

Soweto Gospel Choir is an energetic group of talented performers who sing and dance of variety of music that is African and American creating a wonderful experience that is both visual and auditory. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Story of Sassy Sweetwater

The Story of Sassy Sweetwater
Vera Jane Cook
Musa Publishing
Lancaster, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-61937-0272
e-book format
December 4, 2013
$ 5.99
320 pages

Sassy Sweetwater's mother told her that she was named after the nearby Sweetwater Creek, not her father.   As Sassy's mother, Violet McLaughlin has decided that it is time to return home with her daughter.  She left thirteen years ago as a pregnant seventeen-year-old.  Sassy has never met her family.
Life in Carter's Crossing, South Carolina during the year of 1962 has many secrets which Violet's family would prefer to keep hidden. The entire family has been a leading family in the community for generations enough to have their own versions of justice, morality, and obeying the laws.  1962 was before the Civil Rights changed society and the real law frequently varied depending on the color of your skin, the money within your family, and the influence of your status within the community or family.
To Sassy all this is new and a completely different world.  With her beautiful mother, Violet, and her bewitching dark looks, Sassy feels strange as a pimply redheaded teenager.  She doesn't completely understand life in this closed community.  The rules and values are strange to her not to mention that no one completely explains the past events and relationships to her. 
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is a page-turner with the viewpoint of a curious teenager who doesn't feel that she belongs with this family.  Even though she is related to this family, the secrets from years ago have permanently changed people's lives are not easily or willingly revealed to her.
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is unquestionably adult oriented.  The story involves many delicate family events that require mature readers. This is also what makes this story fascinating in talking about uncomfortable and unspeakable family events and how the individuals handled these situations without involving law enforcement and attempting to maintain their lives as uncomplicated or normal.
This particular novel would best be categorized as woman's fiction with some history and romance intermixed.   The story is well-written and organized by an author who obviously loves her believable characters whether protagonists or antagonists.          
Vera Jane Cook is an Award-winning author of ten novels.   Although born and raised in New York City, she was unquestionably influence by her beautiful Southern mother while living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is a wonderful story of Sassy learning the secrets of her family and her own past.

Peter Pan

"If you believe in fairies, clap your hands."
Last weekend, Peter Pan opened at the Chanticleer Theater in Council Bluffs to a full house of enthusiastic youngsters and for those of us who have never completely grown up or are just young in heart.
This particular production has many outstanding performers.  Caroline Hinrichs as Peter Pan has a phenomenal singing voice and perfectly creates a character conflicted with the responsibilities of growing up and having fun.   Amanda Biller was the picture perfect Wendy with an angelic voice along with the responsibility of being the oldest in the family and becoming a mother to the Lost Boys.   As her brothers John and Michael, both Kevin Mikuls and Austin Lempke are great singers and talented actors.  Patrick Wolfe as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook and Sarah Query as Mrs. Darling and the adult Wendy, were also outstanding with their performances.   
The entire brigade of pirates were an inspiration with their villainy, comedy, and choreography.   Who could not enjoy the enthusiasm of the Lost Boys with many of the younger audience members dreaming of joining them? Tinkerbell was outstanding with her non-verbal lighted character.   Mackenzie Storey as Nana, the dog nanny, was delightful with her protection of her children.
Peter Pan excelled with outstanding sets and props and all the characters wearing gloriously detailed costumes which had to be a challenge with this immense cast.   The support production crews were superb with utilizing the space to create additional performance areas within the theater both high and low and within the audience.  
D. Laureen Pickle excelled with coordinating and directing this massive production along with W. Jerald Brabec as music director, Michael Deatz on keyboard and Kristine Wolfe playing the oboe and English Horn.  Kerri Jo Richardson-Watts demonstrated creativity in her choreography.
With opening night jitters there are always some areas that need tweaking.   First there was a lack of continuity with the story.  I don't know if some lines were missed, or if there were some gaps in the script, but there were a few "huh?" areas for the audience.   Also, the flying seemed awkward and limiting while the harnesses were visible to the audience. 
Peter Pan requires a large cast along with an attentive support crew which is outstanding in sound amplification, sound effects and lighting.  Also wonderful is the volunteer staff assisting the audience in finding seats and assisting the guests throughout the theater. The show lasts about two hours with two intermissions.  
You will want to arrive early to have the best places to park your vehicle. Tickets cost $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 10 for students and children and can be reserved by calling Chanticleer's box office at 712-323-9955.   Also available are souvenirs being sold in the lobby.
Peter Pan is a fun-family show for children of all ages.

Friday, March 21, 2014


The Missing: Book 4
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
New York, New York
ISBN: 9781416989806
August 2011
$ 15.99
352 pages

Time travelers need to respect continuity and to realize that by changing one small thing, everything in the past, present, and future can and must change.
Jonah and Katherine find themselves on Henry Hudson's ship, Discovery, in the year 1611 just as the crew is ready to mutiny. This historic event places Hudson in a small ship along with his son and a few who are near to death.  The doomed boat is never to be heard from again.  Jonah quickly discovers that he is to take the place of John Hudson, the son on the boat.   Will history repeat itself?  Life on the ship, Discovery in the early 1600s life was not easy with the crew low on food, a tired and irritated crew and a captain wanting to extend their exploration into finding the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.   Hudson and many other explorers were certain that there had to be a waterway to the other side of the American continent. Logically with the new land explorations and the number of newly discovered waterways, there had to be rivers, streams, and creeks that were unexplored and one could actually reach to the Pacific
Torn is a gripping tale of life and death on the Discovery weaving logic into past history based on real events that were never completely concluded.   Taking what is already known of Henry Hudson and creating a character true to the historical documents of the time,  Haddix's approach of filling-in the missing information was well-organized in a wonderful science fiction historical mystery.
Torn is the fourth novel in Haddix's Missing series following Found, Sent and Sabotaged.  Even with being a part of a series, Torn can easily be understood without having read the previous books.    Each of the novels in this series centers around a historical event that has elements that are not well-known such as the Roanoke settlement and in this particular novel, the disappearance of Henry Hudson. Since this was published further books in this series are now available.  Caught focusing on Albert Einstein's daughter and Risked is about the Russian Revolution have been.
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many middle-grade and teen novels, all of which quickly become the favorite of these tween readers.  Her stories are always appropriate for all audiences within gripping tales enjoyed by young and old and all her books are page-turners that cannot be put down.  Her series of the Shadow Children is both chilling but realistic science fiction for younger readers.
Torn is a fascinating story teaching history through science fiction.

The Valley of Amazement

The Valley of Amazement
Amy Tan
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
 ISBN: 978-0-06-210731-2
$ 29.99
 589 pages

An American woman becomes pregnant by a Chinese man while he is in America.   Being disgraced, she feels that she has no choice but to follow him to his home in Shanghai in the hopes that he will marry her.   His family has promised him to another.   Even though he loves the American woman, he will not marry her but claims to only love her.
This is the story of Lulu and her daughter, Violet.
Violet Minturn doesn't have friends her own age for many reasons.   She is a mixed-race child living in her American mother's courtesan house in Shanghai during the year of 1912. 
Lulu, her mother had a relationship with a man from Shanghai while living at her home in California.  When she discovered that she was pregnant, her family was obviously upset.  They knew that a mixed-race child would unquestionably not fit into their social setting.  Violet's father will not marry her mother since he plans to follow his family's wishes and to marry a bride chosen to him for the family.   What is her mother to do?
Lulu decides to travel to Shanghai truly believing that he will marry her.   His family has to accept her. What are her choices?  How do you live you survive in a foreign country where you don't know the language or customs and have been abandoned?
Violet is naturally curious about her past and the identity of her father.  Could one of her mother's patrons be her father?
With the collapse of the last Chinese imperial dynasty, life is quickly changing throughout the country.  For years, Lulu has relied on the loyalty of her staff and patrons and now that is changing as the country changes.  Who can she trust to help her?
Lulu decides that is time to take her daughter back to her native California.   She needs to trust another person to retrieve Violet's birth certificate from the embassy.   Since the city is rioting, it is not safe for her to be in the streets.  She has no choice but to trust.
Through deceit, Violet's mother is on the ship as it leaves for America.  Violet is not.
How does a mixed-race child with limited language and real life experiences survive in a country during a revolution?
Dealing with the changes in traditional practices of marriages as well as the influences of the opium usage, the hierarchy and practices of the prostitution trade, gambling dens and the activities of the Green Gang, as well as life in the countryside as opposed to the city are all what makes The Valley of Amazement an outstanding novel for life in Shanghai in the early twentieth century. The theme of this novel is the constant strain of mother/daughter relationships and the perspective of each constantly judging and unfulfilling each others' dreams.  The constant battle between control and submission involves both women and their similar lives.  
The Valley of Amazement is unquestionably an epic novel covering years for both Violet and her mother with frequent windows into the past which at times is a little confusing.   Amy Tan writes the continual story of Lulu, the mother, Violet and with multiple episodes into the past.  
The Valley of Amazement does relate some of the previous experiences in Amy Tan's other novels.  For a novel that truly pictures Shanghai, The Valley of Amazement truly is amazing. tale.

Gordon Lightfoot

I admit that I wanted to hear "If You Could Read My Mind" actually sung by the legendary songwriter and singer Gordon Lightfoot in person last Thurday night at the Holland Center in Omaha. Considering that the song was released in 1970, forty-four years ago, the seventy-five year old man did not quite sound like he did years ago, but he can still hold the tune and has an amazing voice for his age. 
Also amazing is that this man has probably sung this song at every concert in his long touring and recording history. After listening again to the song from a 1974 recording on You Tube, I realized that it was a little unrealistic to expect the performer's same love of the song with his unique voice quality. What made the song to special way back then was the intensity through dynamic changes mixed with words and a tune that everyone could feel a connection.
Yes, this was the same person singing but now the voice is a little less melodic and edgier.   He still has a wonderful tenor voice but the years have not always been kind to him.
The concert began with many of Lightfoot's country songs.   Being that he has composed music for years and for many performers, these were not songs that were well-known, but they were enjoyable.  At times his singing seemed a little weak but as the night progressed and the bestsellers were performed, his strength and connection with the audience grew.  All the songs were well-balanced with the focus on the words and tune of selection rather than volume.  
Much of the night was listening to the country and folk music of Gordon Lightfoot who actually started in the music business in the early 1960s.  During the night filled with many of his ballads, folk music, and country songs were also the favorite "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", "Sundown", The band playing along maintained the perfect balance while always centering on the singer.  Barry Keane on percussion, Rich Haynes playing bass guitar, and Mike Hefferman playing the keyboards have been a part of the creation of Gordon Lightfoot's music since the 1970s.   Carter Lancaster on the lead guitar is the newest member who joined this group in 2009.
It has been five years since Gordon Lightfoot last visited Omaha.   For a seventy-five year old, he created a magical experience for the audience of memories and songs from years ago.

Monday, March 10, 2014

After Eli

After Eli
Terry Kay
Untreed Reads
November 2012
Previously published in 1981
$ 5.99
271 pages

"Death's just God's way of showin' his believers what it's like to be forever achin' with happiness."

In 1939, it was not unusual for a family living in the Nahella Valley in the Appalachian Mountains to be isolated.  Familes frequently spent days or weeks without seeing another person outside of their immediate household.   Life was different there and then.  If someone needs a temporary home when  just passing through, it was not unusual to have shelter for the night in a family's barn.

For the drifter, Michael O'Rear this is an opportunity.   With his Irish accent and being a previous performer, he also possesses the skills to charm and for people to trust him.

Unfortunately a young couple first met Michael.  They pay the price of being hospitable to him.  However, they also tell about a neighboring farm where there are just three women: a mother, daughter, and the mother's sister.   The father, Eli, just disappeared.  The local talk is that Eli stole some money and hid it before he left.    To Michael, this seems like a wish come true.

He can read people and has an understanding about their acceptance of him as a stranger.  

Michael visits this farm with the legendary hidden treasure of stolen money.   Certainly a man with his talents can charm these lonely women into revealing the treasure.

Quickly Michael learns about an elderly woman who has the power of healing in her hands.   Even though the community has a local doctor, he even has been astonished about Mama Ada's skills.   Mama Ada seems to sense something in Michael but doesn't say a word.

As Michael builds a relationship with Rachel, Sarah, and Dora, they notice that he seems similar to Eli.    So Michael feels it is safe for others to believe that he is Eli's distant relative from Ireland.

Terry Kay is best known for his novel To Dance with the White Dog which was made into an award winning Hallmark Hall of Fame production.   He has written numerous novels set in the South of life during the depressed times of the 1930s.  

After Eli is a unique novel in that the reader has insight that is not immediately revealed to the characters giving depth to each protagonist and trepidation to the antagonist. 

 In all of Terry Kay's writings all his characters are loved by the author whether good or bad.  His stories are reminiscent of a skilled storyteller weaving an enticing tale into a captivating web. 

Tao: Phoenix Rising

Rock, paper, scissors mixed with Japanese music, drums, dance and martial arts created excitement last Friday night at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha.  Tao: Phoenix Rising overwhelmingly delighted the audiences of all ages.
Tao began engaging the audience early on before the show while playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors" with many of the children and adults creating laughter on the main floor while also settling the audience into their seats for the show to begin on time.
The show opened with a cloth nature scene in various shades of green and performers adding to the nature sounds with flute and drum music creating a gorgeous introduction to the night's performance.   Peacefulness in harmony with nature established the standard for the evening.
Tao displayed the perfect balance between musicianship and athleticism.  With an assortment of elaborate costumes, a variety of drums, harps, sticks, cymbals, and stringed instruments blending the visual with the melodic, harmonious, and percussive tunes each selection varied in tempo and style from the previous. Numerous selections were delightful to hear the assortment of tones and tunes along side the excitement and energy of the visual scene.  
One of the selections involved three performers playing small cymbals with the three playing catch with an invisible object and often changing to a game of keep away.   Their unique awareness of the visual and the musical performance created picturesque and memorable experiences for the audience. 
Another of the selections involved lanterns while drumming.   In contrast a later scene involved lights creating huge circles in darkness.  
Athletically, everyone in the audience was impressed with the athleticism of the male performers who were  on their back drumming.  They needed to do crunches while performing and holding the large drums between their legs with their toes balancing themselves in a partial sit-up in order to play the drums.   
The shamisen, a banjo-like three-stringed lute was frequently used throughout the show in a variety of styles from hard rock to dueling banjos.  The flutes were mesmerizing throughout their various songs.  Another noticeable instrument was the plucked strings on the harps which created beautiful melodies.
Tao: Phoenix Rising was fun family entertainment while also experiencing the musical traditions of old Japan.  This is a show that the audience did not want to end and the performers continued in their various roles exhibiting a wide range of talents and skills to the delight of everyone.