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.