Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas on Franklin Avenue

December is always an exciting time of years for me especially since that is one of the few times you hear all the wonderful Christmas music.   At no other time can you hear these wonderful songs of your childhood and our traditions in this country.
Chanticleer Theater held a cabaret show last weekend to help all of us get into the holiday spirit.
As you entered their lobby, the delicious aromas of food and wine immediately awakened the senses while two manikens dressed in Dickensonian costumes met the guests.
The stage was decorated with poinsettias, Christmas tree lights, assorted Christmas-themed mugs and park benches painted red and green while reindeers and with street signs labeled Franklin Avenue for the theater location encircled the stage.
Those participating in this show, Christmas on Franklin Avenue were Terry DeBenedictis, Sheila Mazzei, Denise Putman, Kathy Gray, Sarah Meyers, Tim Daugherty, Glenn Prettyman, Steve Gillespie and Boyd Littrell as the singers.   Jerry Gray was the music director while Cheryl Haines accompanied the group, Dave Podendorf controlled the sound while Bob Putman was in charge of the lighting.
The songs chosen were well-known to the audience.  Most songs had some light choreography while all the singers were dressed in Christmas shirts or colors.   Each singer had their one special song as well as being part of the ensemble.  In the middle of the show, the singers left the stage to sing carols with the audience.
Throughout the night there were many highlights.  Also any live performance can vary from night to night depending on the performers and the audience response.  
The ensemble singing was wonderful with rich and balanced harmonies in all the songs along with a relaxed feeling combining music, light humor, and showmanship as well as all the singers thoroughly enjoying singing with each other on stage.  
Terry DeBenedictis elegantly sang "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" even adding a little sign language.   Performing "Silver Bells", Kathy Gray utilized light humor as well as being masterful with a light-up necklace.   "The Twelve Days After Christmas" was reminiscent to me from singing this song from my high school years.  Glenn Prettyman has a gorgeous voice that is relaxing and reflective of the Big Band Era when there were numerous great singers.  "Carol of the Bells" was a cappella and delightfully musical.   Sarah Meyers sang beautifully Leonard Cohen's "Halleluiah" with appropriate and meaningful Christmas words.  The "Silent Night" arrangement was absolutely breath-taking.  All these songs were expressive and musical with controlled breathing, phrasing and dynamics masterfully used in each song.
These cabarets are wonderful for all ages and would be a relaxing and special date night for the adults.
The evening ended with the wish of peace and goodwill to all men in 2016 which I hope for each of you.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Snowflakes and Teardrops

Snowflakes and Teardrops
B. J. Betts
Five Star Press
Smashwords Edition
Amazon Digital Services
November 2014
154 pages
$ 0.99 Amazon digital

Celina Gray is accustomed to stress while daily working as an emergency room nurse.  Living in Council Bluffs, Iowa during the winter, she knows that the weather changes quickly with the temperature being sixty degrees yesterday.  Today she is driving home in freezing sleet while the inside of the car seems reluctant to provide heat.  This is nothing unusual in this part of the country.
While stopped at a traffic light, she observes two little girls walking to their school.  The older girl is arguing with her younger sister who is claiming to feel sick and wants to go home.  What Celina noticed their legs which were cold and red and wonders about how cold their feet must be in flip-flops.
Celina hears the honk of a horn as the light turns green.  As she turns the corner, another car races through the intersection forcing her to slam on her brakes and fish-tail, cutting a cookie on the icy road.  As she takes a few seconds to refocus and breathe, Celina is startled by a knocking on her car window.  The kind man outside just wants to be certain she was fine. It is reassuring to know there is still some kindness in the world.
All these factors combine into Snowflakes and Teardrops, a Christmas novel by local author, B.J. Betts.
Snowflakes and Teardrops is a warm, fuzzy romantic Christmas story.  Betts' writing is engaging with a logical conclusion that yes, fits the typical romance novel.  Her characters though are becoming more developed in her writing with conflicted situations between right and wrong and more realistic and complicated characters.  Although most of the characters could be classified as good and bad, it is refreshingly realistic to have characters who are victims of circumstances with no hope of change within their lives.   To view life through their eyes is a privilege and unquestionably adds depth to the characters and story.
Council Bluffs' native, B. J. Betts married her high school sweetheart while raising their children.  Previously she has written Saigon Moon and Echoes in the Night which are both set in the Vietnam War and inspired by her grandson who served in Iraq, as well as A Moment in Time, Belle's Crossing, and Mile Marker 59.  She in a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Authors of the Heartland.
With only 154 pages the story is fairly simple but comforting with a reminder of the warmth of caring during the holiday season.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mama's Girls

It really wasn't that long ago when life was simpler.  If a family had a boy and a girl, it was expected that the boy would be a miniature version of the father and the daughter, a miniature mother.  There were common hopes and dreams.  The life of the 1960s sitcoms like "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Father Knows Best" was the expectation of the average American family with all problems being easily resolved within a thirty- minute time session, including commercials.
However these television ideals were fictional.  Real life had no role models for many families who were dealing with other issues such as being transsexual.  For the parents, their problems frequently left them feeling isolated with few resources, except possibly a psychiatrist.  For the child experiencing these conflicts and changes, there are not role models in any media to give them advice. For the sibling, supporting your twin, loving your companion since before you were born, fitting into society and fulfilling everyone's needs can be overwhelming. 
The Jacobs' family seems ideal with a mother, father, and twins.   With a boy and a girl, the father, Samuel dreamed of the old song, "A boy for you, a girl for me".   Dreams are not always realistic.
Sammy was named after his father, actually Samuel III.  In reality, she/he prefers to be called Sammy as she sees herself as a female trapped in a male body.  Yes, she is only eleven.  She knows that she is book smart but has absolutely no athletic ability.  She sees that she thinks as a girl and views herself as a girl.
Her sister, Amelia was blessed with the natural athletic abilities of her father.  She enjoys baseball and all sports.   She also is extremely astute to understanding her twin.
Their mother is doing her best to do what is best for her girls.   She believes in both of her children and is working hard to give Sammy the support through the psychiatrist.
"Mama's Girls" was written by Marilynn Barner Anselmi.  Focusing on the eleven-year old twins is fascinating in this engaging play with Hannah-Kate Kinney portraying Amelia Jacobs and Chloe Irwin as Sammy.   These two masterfully educated the audience last weekend at the Snap Theater in Omaha in this entertaining, enthralling and mind-changing play regarding the life as a transsexual child.   The issues with each parent seem extremely realistic with the mother portrayed by Kathleen Lomax being supportive of Sammy, calling her a "she" and the father, Michael Simpson thinking that this whole transsexual thing is just a phase.
"Mama's Girls" is one of the most informative, realistic representative of this changing world where due to ignorance and inexperience, many of us are uncertain how to react to these sexuality issues which are not new, just finally discussed more openly.   This ninety-minute play including intermission is intense, but also allowed the audience to view a different perspective.  The support crew to the family on stage perfectly blended into the background focusing on the issue of Sammy.
Even though this play closed last weekend, this is one play that I personally would feel privileged to see again.   The fast pace, the outstanding acting masterfully controlled by two young actresses, the realism of the parental conflict in dealing with a problem outside the box of family issues, and a play with the courage to reveal the today challenges.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Bookseller

The Bookseller
Cynthia Swanson
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-233300-1
$ 25.99
339 pages

"My whole life, in these dreams, turns on an event that happened eight years ago."
Rene Descartes stated "I think, therefore I am."   Does that mean then, if you can think of an existence, it exists?  
That is the problem for Kitty Miller.   She is an old maid, thirty-eight years old, never married, and part owner of a bookstore.  Her life is consistent from day to day.  It is safe.    She is fairly content with her life until she begins to dream.
Each night these dreams place her in an alternate reality where she is Katharyn Andersson, wife and mother of triplets. During the day she is the bookseller Kitty.   Every night when the dreams begin, more of her life as Katharyn continues.  Living two lives can be exhausting. 
It all ted eight years ago. Kitty responded to a "lonely hearts"  ad in a local Denver newspaper.   She was to meet a young architect, Lars Andersson but he never showed up at the restaurant.   So why is she dreaming of her life with Lars when in reality they never met?    So how is it in her dreams that he sweeps her off her feet into another life? 
Kitty's days are fairly calm but Katharyn's nights as a wife and mother of triplets with  one having special needs can be overwhelming.
How could she be married to this man?  Who are these children?  Will Kitty/Katharyn be happy?   Will she know what is real and what is a dream?
Author Cynthia Swanson has published short fiction and even was a Pushcart Prize nominee with her story 13th Moon. The Bookseller is her first novel.
The Bookseller in an intricately engaging novel forcing the reader to question reality and to begin to wonder whether Kitty/Katharyn in schizophrenic.   The characterization is phenomenal with the reader feeling and reacting along this journey.   This is an outstanding page turner that is aimed at a female audience but a story strong enough and engrossing, that all adult readers would enjoy this book.
The Bookseller blurs the lines between sanity and insanity, between dreams and reality.

The Pocket Wife

The Pocket Wife
Susan Crawford
William More
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-236285-8
$ 25.99
305 pages

Who is a pocket wife?  Any wife who feels that she is as useful and wanted as forgotten loose change in a pocket, no longer practical, just a weight dragging down.
Unfortunately this is how Dana Catrell feels.  Her husband is a tax lawyer and values her as much as loose change. 
Years ago she was the one who was the one who was valued.  She was the one who taught her husband to become the success that he is now.  
So how does he show his appreciation?  When he receives a phone call from his devoted and loving wife, he drops the phone into his pocket.   There are obviously more important things than their relationship.
Dana has an additional problem.  She is bipolar.  She realizes that she has problems due to her mental illness, but daily works to keep herself balanced and well.  Part of her problem is her memory lapses.
Dana's problem is her neighbor, Celia who was just murdered.  Guess who is the only one with a key to Celia's house and who was probably the last one to see Celia alive?  Could she have killed Celia?   With a murder of her friend, the breakdown of her marriage and the mental illness, how does Dana discover these answers before the police arrest her for murder.
The Pocket Wife reveals the investigation into Celia's death through Dana.  Dana knows that she is intelligent but fears trusting her husband or the police. She knows that her husband would quickly blame her for killing Celia, even though she believes that she is completely innocent.  She even wonders if he had an affair with Celia which would give her a reason to be the murderer.   She also cannot explain to the police that she is bipolar and while Celia was being killed, she had a blackout.   She is fairly certain the police would not ignore that but target her as the most likely suspect.
Susan Crawford is a native of Florida.  Through her adult life, she has lived in New York City, Boston, and now Atlanta with her husband, daughters, and cats.  The Pocket Wife is Ms. Crawford' debut novel.
The Pocket Wife is a fast-paced page turner, well-panned with realistic characters that all mystery readers would enjoy.

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor
Julie Iromuanya
Coffee House Press
Minneapolis, Minnesota
ISBN: 978-1-56689-397-8
$ 16.95
292 pages

"So I must find my way back to my old dreams.  And you must find your way to yours."
We all have dreams and perceptions of who we really are.  If you believe you are someone, does that make you into your own personal perception?   What about reality?   Can you afford to be whomever you decide?
Job Ogbonnaya frequently lives his dreams, then there is reality.   Job is a descendant of an
He came to America at the age of nineteen with dreams of becoming a doctor.  His plan was to become a doctor, arrange to marry a wife from his home village in Nigeria , either have his wife become a nurse or start a family, get wealthy on the American dream sending money home, eventually return to Africa establishing a medical clinic and retiring there.  As simple as that seems, there are many things which can go wrong? 
After all, Job is the son of a chief.  Since the death of his older brother, Job realizes that it is his obligation to fulfill his father's dreams. It might be fate that named him Job.
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is a unique creation combining dreams into reality and discovering that the two  cannot easily coexist.  Being one person in your daily life, another to your friends, another to those in a far away country and another in reality can be overwhelming, even to the ever patient, Job. 
The problems and challenges of immigration is an underlying motivation throughout this novel.  With bringing up the idea of marrying strictly for citizenship, the continual challenges of the immigrants is shown in a realistic light. 
The prejudices revealed in Mr. and Mrs. Doctor are uncomfortably honest showing racism in many forms.  By having this novel in the genre of African American, it is limiting the scope of the story which should be general fiction.
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is the debut novel for Julie Iromuanya.  She currently works as an assistant professor at Northeastern Illinois University where she teaches Africana literature and creative writing.  She earned her doctorate from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is a well-written tale of an immigrant.  What is refreshing in this novel based in the Omaha, Nebraska area is the honest realism in the character of Job who is attempting to constantly be someone else.  This unique twist is what is special. 
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor surpasses genre limitations and is a brilliant debut novel for author Julie Iromuanya.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Box of Pandoras

A Box of Pandoras
Steve Brewer
Creat Space Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1481807739
$ 12.99
308 pages

Everyone has dreams.
Loretta Kimball is the wife of Harley who owns a hardware store in the rural community of Pandora, New Mexico.  This is her hometown and she still has a few unpleasant memories from her high school days, but for the most part, Loretta is a content person.
What makes her passionate if being the founding president of the International Michael Girard Fan Club.   Michael has been a leading actor for years and she has meticulously and carefully devoted endless hours to her idol as his most loyal fan.  Throughout the years, she has never neglected her obligation to this man of her dreams.  Even from her rural home in Pandora, New Mexico, she has successfully maintained her loyalty via the computer and her website dedicated to her idol.
Her devoted and loving husband, Harley is extremely understanding and patient with this labor of love.  He also is secure in their relationship.
A dream is about to happen for Loretta.  She has the chance to meet this man who will be at a new film festival just a few hours away in Albuquerque.   Even her ever-patient husband, Harley, plans to take a few days leave from his hardware store to accompany his wife.  What could possibly go wrong?
First is a death with the most likely suspect being Michael Girard.  Oh no, could the idol be a killer? 
And then there is her high-school classmate who seems to be competing for Michael Girard's affection.  It seems that there is a devious plan to upstage Loretta with every little act of devotion. 
A Box of Pandoras is fun reading.  This cozy tale is a light mystery, well-organized, with characters that are easy to visualize, understand and succeeds in making the reader a close friend to the protagonist.
Steve Brewer is a former journalist who has written over twenty novels while also teaching at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Who would enjoy this novel?  Anyone who likes quick, fast-paced cozy mysteries would enjoy A Box of Pandoras even though it leans more towards a female readership.   Sometimes you want to read something a little less intense, but fun.   Read A Box of Pandoras.

The Children Act

The Children Act
Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-385-53970-8
221 pages

"When a court determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child...the child's welfare shall be the court's paramount consideration."
Even though this is a quote from from Section 1(A) of The Children Act of 1989 in Great Britain, very similar laws, rules, procedures values and ethics exist in much of the world.  Even though this novel deals with the British legal system, it is relevant in the United States.   The actual name of the number and the act might differ, but the ideas are the same.
Changes in society cause numerous problems for families.
For High Court judge, Fiona Maye this idea of change also applies to her life.   In her early years of being married to Jack, she expected to have children.   That never happened.
Now Jack wants to have an affair which a much younger woman, one who can be passionate.   She is not passionate?   Years of marriage and devotion is not passionate?   Loyalty and devotion mean nothing?  Does this mean divorce is next?   Fiona has no idea how to fix her broken marriage.
A traditional Jewish family has two daughters.   When their mother becomes educated, she causes changes in her family.   The mother wanted the daughters to be sent to a coeducational Jewish secondary school exposing them to boys, the internet, pop music, fashion and today's culture.   In this family, when the mother and father married, the mother was to stay at home to raise the children.   The father wanted many children but due to the difficulty with the birth of the second daughter, the mother was not capable of bringing more children into the world.   To compensate, this mother took classes at the local university and earned a degree to become a teacher.   So who should raise the children?
A seventeen-year-old boy is dying.   Due to his religion, his parents will not allow him to have a blood transfusion which can save his life.   He believes his parents are correct. What is the right thing for a judge to do?
Ian McEwan is an award winning best-selling author.   He has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the W.H. Smith Literary Award, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award.
The Children Act takes place in England but the laws in this summer are similar.  This story could take place anywhere and opens everyone to consider how our lives change and to question if the rules and laws of years ago will be relevant today.

Night Heron

Night Heron
Adam Brookes
Redhook Books
Hachette Book Group
New York, New York
ISBN: 9780316399845
$ 15.00
416 pages

"I will not tell anyone that you sold sexual favors in a labor reform facility."
Most people have heard of the horror stories about life inside a Chinese prison. Not many people survive life inside and even fewer share their experiences inside the prison.  Few people leave these facilities alive and that attempted escapes are rare, if ever successful.
It seems that many of the prisoners are not hardened criminals but idealists who are a threat to the governmental authorities.  Spying or a threat of spying is not unusual.  Speaking out for your beliefs is not commonly tolerated in many places throughout the world.
Peanut is one of these unfortunate prisoners. His real name is Li Huasheng who was an up-and-coming engineer living in Beijing who did sell his country's technology secrets to the U.K.  The support for Peanut was pulled when he attacked a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protests. 
However he has a special talent for survival.  Each day he plays the game of being hard-working and obedient while secretly planning his possible escape, looking for the weaknesses in the system that could be opportunities for him.
Wisely he knows how to search out those people who are the most vulnerable and the most likely to help him, those who live on the edge of society.
Twenty-years ago, Peanut spied for the British.  After living in a prison all this time, he knows that it is time for him to leave.   Through years of observing and planning, he successfully escapes the confines of the prison encampment and somewhat surprising, he is not diligently pursued.  Obviously the authorities do not believe anyone can survive the night in the winter desert area of northwest China.
Imagine his surprise when he arrives in Beijing.  How does anyone survive in the city after being away so long?  Who will help him?  How can he contact his MI6 paymaster from years ago?  Are his secrets still valuable to be rescued?   What is his future?
Adam Brookes has been a foreign correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation serving in China, Indonesia, the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea and numerous other countries.   He currently resides in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Night Heron is an enthralling tale of life in a place and situation that is unique.   Imagine anyone, even in this country attempting to understand the technological world after being isolated for twenty years.
Peanut is a fascinating character with the reader accompanying him with every choice, sometimes frustrated or triumphant, and irritated that you can't assist him a little more.
Night Heron is a wonderful novel that open everyone's eyes to a much wider world.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Grove

The Grove
John Rector
Typhon Media Corporation
Naples, Florida
ISBN: 9781600815348
$ 6.99
255 pages

Dexter McCray has many things he wants to forget and many things he just can't remember.  That happens when you still feel the loss of your own child dying.  His daughter was killed while riding her bicycle.  Added to that, now he has alcoholic blackouts added to his everyday challenges.
Fortunately for Dexter, he has a longtime friend, Greg.  Greg understands Dexter's challenges and tries to help him which can be difficult being that he is also the sheriff.
Not surprising, his marriage is also troubled.  His wife, Liz was at the house last night.   She tried to move out.  Dexter's reaction was to threaten her with a gun.
After speaking with Liz, Greg wisely appeared at Dexter's house the next morning and took the clip from his gun.  Even though it angers Dexter, he does understand Greg's reasoning.
Dexter's memory is foggy about the previous evening.  Did he have another blackout?
The Sheriff asks about the location of his tractor.  It's gone.
As Dexter begins to search, he notices that tractor seems to have been backed into a ravine next to the grove by the field.
Greg, the Sheriff, offers to help pull it out.  No, Dexter will get it out by himself.  He know that it is likely in the mud and if it rains, he will never be able to move it.  Even understanding this, he knows that he needs to do himself.
While working hard, Dexter manages to free one of the back tires.  Freeing the other tire results in a broken board and blood.  As he looks for another rock or board to use as a brace, he notices a few empty beer cans in the grove and then a purse.  Naturally he looks inside to discover that it is owned by Jessica Cammon who is sixteen years old.  A little further on, he finds her body.
He has no memory of last night but is fairly certain that he had not seen her.  Or did this happen during a blackout?  Is he responsible for her death?  What did he really do last night?
With his history, he does not feel like he can report this to Greg.
Can Dexter find her killer?  Is he the killer?  Dexter knows that he is the only one that he trusts enough to find the answers.   Can he trust himself to do the right thing?  When should he tell Greg?
The Grove is a haunting tale with well-developed and realistic characters.  The character of Dexter is remarkable human with the reader really understanding and sympathizing  while at the same time wanting to kick him.  The story revolves around his daily routine, slowly revealing much of his past and his relationships.
The story is fast-paced, well-organized, logical and developed into a page turner that moves at a racing pace.
John Rector is an Omaha author whose books have become bestsellers with The Cold KissOut of the Black and recently Ruthless.  
Who would enjoy this novel?  Anyone who enjoys intense, realistic mysteries and thrillers would thoroughly dive into The Grove accompanying the daily challenges of Dexter McCray.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


"Boom" is an apocalyptical play continuing this coming weekend by the theater students at Iowa Western Community College.   In this particular play, there are only three characters.
Many grad students can relate to Jules.  He is a marine biologist who has a strong belief in his research, even if his peers consider him a little strange.   Months ago,Jules chose to be on a deserted tropical island studying fish, specifically their behavior.   His finding are that fish are predicting a cataclysmic event, a comet which could annihilate life on our planet. 
Now he lives in an underground bunker complete with an aquarium and fish while preparing for this ultimate moment.  He just needs someone to share this new beginning.  How do you have an Eve for this Jules version of Adam?
Jo is a  22-year-old female journalism student who is struggling with her final project.  She is to a write a story that will make the writer feel honest.  Each student is not to write the usual underachiever story, but to find something real, different. 
To achieve this goal, Jo looks at the personal ads.  She answers one promising to "sex to change the course of the world".
What is quickly learned is the neither have any sexual experience and Jules is gay.  So what are his hopes on this first date?
Jules immediately explains his theories, complete with the fish tank, and displays his preparations to repopulate the world complete with diapers and tampons.   Jo just wants to complete her writing assignment.
And then, "Boom"!
All the action of this play occurs in one room, Jules' apartment living room bunker.   Off to one side is a little room for Barbara, complete with a tympani drum and her pull-down switches.
Barbara is a museum guide of sorts for a futuristic exhibit portraying the end of civilization, basically the story of Jules and Jo, the "Boom".   Yes, the ending does seem a little contrived.
"Boom" is an adult play surrounding this apocalyptical disaster which strangely has a darkly humorous side. 
Portraying Jules is Jackson Newman, Jo is Jamie Herzberg and Barbara is Alia Sedlacek.   All three seemed a little nervous rushing their lines while maintaining high-energy levels in this ninety minute play. That was last weekend.   This upcoming weekend should allow each of them to relish in their roles and to enjoy their parts more.  The intensity of these three actors is outstanding.
The sets, costumes, lighting, sound, directions, props were well-planned.  Strangely though, the playbill consisted more about the production staff than the actual people on stage.
"Boom" continues November 12, 13 and 14th at 7:30 p.m. on the Main Stage at Iowa Western Community College at the Performing Arts Center.   The tickets prices are $8 for individuals and $5 for seniors and students.
Since the world supposedly started with "The Big Bang" apparently play writer Peter Sinn Nachtrieb believes then it will end with a "Boom".

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Lady for the Lawman

A Lady for the Lawman
Jewell Tweedt
Prism Book
Stewartstown, PA
ISBN: 978-1517355364
Trade Paperback
203 pages
$ 11.99

"Arianna sputtered then stomped her foot and narrowed her eyes, her gumption returning full strength.  Oh, he was irritating, and no kind of a gentleman whatsoever."
Life for a single female living in Omaha during 1870 could not have been easy. Arianna Quincy had a plan as she entered Weikert-Second Mercantile, she needed to buy a few things, find a job to support herself, and unquestionably begin to live a new life.  She needs to no longer be a burden to her family who has many mouths to feed.  She knows that this her chance to be independent earning money of her own and had hopes for a job at the store.  With her cousin already working there, this connection could be her first step.
What she didn't plan on was to have the store robbed.  As Arianna is choosing material to buy for a new dress and carrying the bolt of material, a man enters the store with a gun.  As the gunman was forces the clerk to give him the money, Arianna observes another customer silently grabbing a shovel.  This other customer quietly mouths to her to drop the bolt of cloth she is holding.   At the instant of the thump, the man strikes the robber with the shovel in his ribs. 
That is how Arianna meets the new deputy, Jason Reynolds.  He definitely is intrigued with Arianna but she does not want to be bothered by a man.  She wants to focus on her new life, not a man.   Jason feels a strong attraction to Arianna.  Will either of them find what they are searching for?
What she doesn't know is that Jason is a Pinkerton agent working on an undercover assignment.  With direct instructions from President Ulysses S. Grant, he is searching for a former soldier who might be in possession of the stolen gold from the Confederacy, the legendary treasure of Jefferson Davis. 
A Lady for the Lawman is the sequel to Tweedt's first book in this series, A Bride for the Sheriff.  Both books are Christian-based romantic novels based in Omaha, Nebraska after the conclusion of the American Civil War.  These books are research based about what life would be like in the frontier town of Omaha at the edge of civilization. 
The story is rich on realism of the time period with authentic characters focused on their day-to-day survival in Omaha.  Living in this time period was not usually easy even though the times were simpler.
With the integration of the gold of the Confederacy, this story delves into an issue that still has many unanswered questions.  Supposedly the gold was to finance the war when the South would again rise to power and to a country just recovering from a crippling war.  The threat was genuine.
Jewell Tweedt uses her hometown as the setting for these books.  She daily lives in history teaching middle school students while residing in her home in western Iowa. 
Who would enjoy these books?  These books are written for female readers who enjoy romance surrounding people living a Christian life.


Two punctures the resemble a snake bite on someone's neck mean one thing, vampires.  The most famous of these creatures is the legendary, "Dracula."
The Chanticleer Community Playhouse is hosting this play through this weekend.  Loosely based based on Bram Stoker's novel, this production has been adapted to theater by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. 
Matthew Kelehan has the part of Dracula.  The character he creates is slightly stooped in posture and just creepy. Yes, he is portraying a villain and unquestionably seems almost slimy and a little difficult to understand.  This is not a Dracula anyone would enjoy being near for long.  The character is not likeable but he is not suppose to be someone you would want to be near.
The role of Dr. Seward is played by Alfred J. Salanitro and Mark W. Reid convincingly becomes the expert Van Helsing.   Amanda K. Vyhnalek is Lucy whose best friend just died of an illness very similar to symptoms she is currently experiencing.  Geana Schneider doubles in her roles of Miss Wells and the dearly departed Mina.  Adam Haverman portrays Lucy's concerned fiancé. 
Unquestionably, Andy Niess as Renfield is perfectly cast into the role of being insane and succeeds with making the audience wonder if he is insane or a victim of Dracula.  Also strangely, his character or his interpretation makes this character likable.  While either eating the flies or feeding the flies to the spiders, he constantly entertains the audience with his escapes from his room at the home of Dr. Seward.  He aylso effectively teaches the audience the difference between a sanitarium and a lunatic asylum. 
Michael Taylor Stewart plays Butterworth and also is responsible designing the set and being technical director.
This set perfectly matches the Victorian era with the furnishings and décor.  Obviously the director, designer, and producers are masterfully invisible with the lights and sound even effectively bringing in some background music.  The support crews including costumes, make-up, and hair are outstanding.
This production is appropriate for any one over the age of ten.  There are no innuendos of sexual situations or inappropriate language.  The show lasts a little over ninety minutes including an intermission.  You want to be seated in the center or on  the right side facing the stage or you will miss an event near the conclusion.
"Dracula" continues through this weekend with the curtain opening at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday night, 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 1st.   An additional performance has been added on Friday at 10:30 p.m. which requires reservations.  Both Friday shows also have opportunities for the audience to participate in a costume party and refreshments following the first show.  The judging for costumes will be in the Chanticleer's lobby  between 9:30 and 10p.m. with chances to win gift baskets and gift cards.
For all the shows the ticket prices for adults is $20, $16 for seniors over 60 years of age and $10 for students. Reservations are available by contacting the box office at (712) 323-9955  located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs.
Halloween is always enjoyable for children that many people miss.  The Chanticleer Community Theater is allowing everyone to again enjoy dressing up in costumes, having a party, and being scared by the creepy "Dracula."
You might want to consider wearing a scarf to keep away the autumn chill or to hide those two little puncture wounds on your neck.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Robin Mason and Michael Mason
Tricklewood Press
Brooklin, Ontario
ISBN: 97809948337103
$ 12.99
284 pages

"In the center of a small glade in a deep wood, an animal crouched, hidden within the shadow of a pillar of blood-red stone.  One paw rested on the cool, rough granite.  The eyes of the animal closed.  It breathed quietly, its flanks rising and falling; its black nose quivered.  It seemed to be listening...sensing.  All around, the forest was still...The glade echoed with the sound of its fury.  And with its fear...Danger was coming-they could feel it, though none but the beast from the glade knew what it was."
Most people don't enjoy moving to a new home and that is true for Jax.   In England, Jackson who goes by the name of Jax, plays ball, has his friends from school and was enjoying life.
Change is part of life and his father moves the family to a remote wooded area of Oregon. The idea of starting over at a new school in a different country and making new friends does not seem exciting.  In this area, the closest neighbors are just an elderly couple who happen to own the land and who live a little distance away.  Jax feels as if he is living in the middle of nowhere, completely isolated with only his parents.
For lack of anything to do, Jax begins to discover the wooded areas and begins to communicate with nature.  He quickly learns of the animals who inhabit these woods and with the assistance of a little magic.  As he daily grows closer to nature, he also begins to respect each animal's perspective of the world around them including their fears and daily joys while still maintaining the predator/prey relationship in nature.
The theme of land conservation vs. suburban sprawl is well-stated throughout the novel.  With the suggested audience being children 8-12, Oldenglen weaves a magical tale for all readers.  This could easily be a read aloud book for children 6-9 with fairly short chapters or chapters that are divided.  This novel is ideal for teachers as it is a rich resource of literary elements, especially foreshadowing.
This joint father/son writing team is excellent.  Characters are well-developed, the setting is rich with descriptions allowing the reader to visualize each event as the story progresses, and a plot that seems predictable but has twists and turns keeping the reader engaged to the last page.
The authors masterfully use a bit of humor throughout the story.  A great example of this is the discussion about Jax's paw coverings which are obviously, shoes.  "No self-respecting creature covers their paw prints."
With the authors, being father and son, both were born in England.  The idea of the story is a result of the family renting a large estate in British Columbia, Canada years ago obviously when Robin was young.  Robin who is a lawyer today, actually resides in a twelve-acre forest.   For his father, Michael Mason, this is his first novel.   He has earned a doctorate in English literature and is a published poet and playwright.
The idea of doing what is right even when you have no voice is prevalent.  One or two against the world is a theme that rings true on every page.
"For both, the worst summer had become the best summer ever, one they didn't want to end.  Every day was magical.   Everything was magical - everything except the unwanted and seemingly increasing human presence in the glen."
Oldenglen is the first novel in this series that will be a trilogy entitled the Oldenglen Chronicles.  I unquestionably look forward to the entire series in this new and invigorating series by this masterful storytelling father/son duo.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding

The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding
Victoria Alexander
Toronto, Ontario-Canada
ISBN: 978-1420132267
Mass Market Paperback
October 2014
$ 7.99
400 pages

'Plato wrote that originally men and women were one creature but their strength threatened the gods.  So Zeus split them in half and each half spends it life trying to find its mate.  To become complete once again.'

Does each person spend their life looking for their other half?  Is fate involved in each of our lives?

The unexpected guest at the wedding is Jackson Quincy Graham Channing who is visiting England for the first time.  As a banker in New York, this journey is somewhat of a surprise to Jackson who just discovered that his long departed father is alive.   His mother choose for Jackson to believe for thirty years that his father was deceased.   Now that father and son are reunited, he is excited and thrilled to meet his family on his father's side while also giving himself some space due to his anger with his mother.

Fortunately for Jack, he has an inherited title and family wealth on his father's side. What a wonderful opportunity for him.  Where will he finally live?

Jack also has an intended love in New York, Lucy.  The two have grown up together and are each other's best friends.  Even though their family's see that the two are likely to be married, each of them are hesitant to actually marry. 

Jack arrives in England meeting his new family at a family wedding for Camille, Lady Lydingham to Grayson Elliott.   As a newcomer, he obviously is unacquainted with his cousins but is drawn to Lady Theodosia Winslow who has secrets of her own.

Theodosia, Teddy with her mother plans weddings and major events for the wealthy.   Yes, she is one of them, but when her father died, he left his wife and daughter with immense debt.  This is one of Teddy's secrets that has driven her to work to pay off his debts while appearing not to need the money.

Yes, admittedly this is my first Victoria Alexander novel.   She is a legend among romance writers.  Much of the novel is dialogue that argues, teases, discusses and reveals much of the characters and how the intended couple grows slowly closer together.  At times, it feels that there is no action, just dialogue which is likely realistic.  

Victoria Alexander has worked as an award winning television reporter and journalist before she decided to become a full-time writer in Omaha, Nebraska.  In 1995, she had her first book published and has successfully published thirty-one novels in the romance genre.  

I was surprised at the constant twists in the story making the predictable romance interesting until the last page.  Some of these twists do feel contrived but in this particular story, they are enjoyable with many loose ends neatly concluding at the end.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Witches Protection Program

Witches Protection Program
Michael Phillip Cash
Create Space Independent Publishing Platform
Middleton, Deleware
ISBN: 9781511411349
Trade Paperback
$ 12.99
222 pages

It is well known that many law enforcement agencies have special divisions, some even have secret branches for specific purposes.   Who are the people who work in these branches?  Why are some secret?  What do these people know that the general public is not  privileged to know?
Wes Rockville is part of a successful law enforcement family.  However he feels as if he is a failure being the black sheep of the family.   Currently Wes is facing the humiliation of being reassigned, a type of Black Ops within the police department dealing with witches.  Yes, that is correct, witches.
Added to the shock and disbelief is his first assignment.   He is to discover and stop a billion-dollar cosmetic company who utilizes their witchcraft skills with hopes of ruling the world.   Part of this job is to protect Morgan Pendragon from her aunt's manipulations and curses.
Fortunately his partner is longtime witch protector, Alastair Verne.   Will Alastair be able to save the career that Wes is quickly loosing.
Witches Protection Program is a fun book to read.   The good witches and bad being the Willa and the Davina.   Do witches have to be in one or the other?   Can a witch be somewhere in-between?
There are some things which are not completely revealed to the reader but they are also not explained to the rookie Wes.  Does this mean that there will be further cases and adventures?
Michael Phillip Cash frequently is known for his intense science fiction, bordering on horror.  Witches Protection Program proves that he is not limited to one genre and enjoys having a good laugh in the fantasy world.
The characters are well-developed and flawed but human enough errors to be laughable.  The story is fast-paced and moves quickly making you regretting that the tale was not longer.   Hopefully there will be further adventures for the Witches Protection Program.
Who would enjoy this book?   Any adult reader could enjoy this quirky novel.  The introduction immediately hooks you with Wes failing and feeling hopeless and quickly enters the world of what appears to be magic.  Wes is a skeptic.   Will he begin to believe in witches?   Do witches ever used powers to control you?   Do you need help from Witches Protection Program?

The Red Notebook

The Red Notebook
Antoine Laurain
Translators: Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken
English Translation
Gallic Books
London, England
ISBN: 978-1-908313-86-7
$ 14.95
159 pages

"The gap between his ideal and his reality was too great.   The weight turned into an anguish which was succeeded by the intolerable idea that he was wasting his life - or even that he had already wasted it."
This is a reflection of the main character, Laurent Letellier who is a middle-aged male owner of a book store in Paris in a rare literary gem, The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain and translated by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce.   By that one sentence, the mood is set for a masterful tale with an eloquent gift of word choices perfectly reflecting the characters.
Paris is a well-respected city for fashion.  Finding an obviously pricey purse abandoned, Laurent Letellier looks for who is the owner.  However, no one is around who would own the purse.  So what does he do?
As a middle-aged male and responsible business owner of a bookstore, Laurent wants to do the right thing.  What if the purse had belonged to his daughter?   What would he expect and want a stranger to do in these circumstances?   Should he look inside the purse?   As a responsible adult and good citizen, he visits the local police station with the purse.   Unfortunately they offer no assistance in returning the purse to the owner.  
This purse is expensive and unusual, likely expensive.  While missing the wallet and cell phone, there are numerous other clues to the identity of the owner.  The most unusual inhabitant of this purse is a  red notebook and autographed copy of a book.  Could the author know who owns the purse?   Most likely, no.
Why hasn't the owner contacted the police about the purse?  With the only clue being a laundry tag, Laurent decides to continue this investigation.   Why wouldn't she pick up her laundry?
With only the purse and its contents, Laurent begins his quest to find the owner.  How do you balance this personal goal without it becoming an obsession?   What is wrong with doing the right thing?
The Red Notebook is a gem.  The writing is lush with the reader being inside Laurent's mind, understanding his daily life while weighing the conflicts of this purse.  The characters are well-developed, the plot is simple but intriguing with words swirling and interweaving into a masterful short tale.  
This small book is a masterpiece for both the author Antoine Laurain and the translators Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken who perfectly matched the differences of the languages and best selecting the words and phrases to reflect the author's masterful tale.

Come Rain or Come Shine

Come Rain or Come Shine
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam's Sons
Penguin Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-399-16745-4
$ 27.95
290 pages

"I'm gonna love like nobody loved you, Come Rain or Come Shine."
These famous song lyrics are the center of Jan Karon's latest Mitford book featuring the wedding of Dooley and Lace.
Dooley Kavanaugh has graduated and is beginning his veterinarian practice back at his home in Mitford.   He is choosing to marry his long-time love, Lace Harper in a simple, down-home ceremony.   The couple wants simplicity so instead of caterers, they are having a potluck and a friend in providing the music. 
For those who have never read any of the books by Jan Karon, don't read this novel first.  You really need to know the characters featured in the Mitford series since much of this story relies on the reader knowing the history from events in the first five books beginning with At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window, These High, Green Hills, Out to Canaan and A New Song.   With twelve Mitford novels now in this series, the first five are a prerequisite before reading this newest novel.
For any author writing a dozen novel featuring the same characters, some of the novels are more enjoyable than others.   No one can continually redevelop the continuing characters.  Whether it is just too much familiarity or loosing the passion and love of the characters along the way, it is difficult to maintain the same energy level throughout the entire series.  Unfortunately Come Rain or Come Shine just is not as enjoyable as the first five books.  The delight in the simple things were the gifts of the first five, this just concludes a long expected event.
These books are light reading, no crime, little danger, just people doing their best in everyday life with a strong belief in God and taking time to smell the roses along the way while finding the laughter in everyday events.  Unlike the previous novels, this particular novel seemed to have one plot and everything aimed at this high point as opposed to Karon's previous novels with interwoven plots overlapping and complementing each other.
Actually, I found Come Rain or Come Shine to drag in many places, almost feeling contrived at times and being obviously predictable.   For some reason, Karon did not delve into the little events in the everyday lives of these characters but literally focused exclusively on the wedding, not the loving and caring relationships with the characters. 
Perhaps the problem was not the book but my expectation.  I expect more involvement in these books not a linear approach to the climax which is obviously the wedding.   Since the wedding was a simplification, did Karon also simplify the story?
Who would enjoy this novel?  The novel is strictly for Mitford fans who have been demanding more from Karon.  If you are not acquainted with Karon's writing, do not read this book.  The book is Christian based and leans towards the romance genre with its predictability.
My concern regards the lack of love of these longtime characters.   Perhaps it's time for Karon to develop a new series.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mile Marker 59

Mile Marker 59
B. J. Betts
Fire Star Press
ISBN: 978-1412237566
$ 9.99
164 pages

"Now, he believed there was something out here. He just didn't know what.  A feeling of dread washed over him whenever he stepped from the cruiser in response to automobile accidents here.  Something tangible filled the air; he could feel it. Something dark - - and evil."

Marissa Daniels has everything many people desire.  She is successful with her career as a pediatric surgical nurse and would soon be marrying the love of her life who happens to be a handsome orthopedic surgeon.   With their best friends, the four are returning from a relaxing outing in Sturgis and looking forward to her upcoming wedding. 

What seemed a certainly changed instantly.  Brody James is driving home along Interstate 29 with Marissa in the front seats and their, Evie and Tyler Brooks snoozing in back.  Brody asks for something cool to drink so Marissa twists around in the seat to reach the cooler.  She just needs another inch or two so she temporarily releases her seatbelt.

As she is reaching, turning and stretching into the back seat, a wolf bounds onto the hood of the car.  Naturally, Brody swerves in an attempt to throw the beast.

Seconds later, the car is overturned with Marissa being thrown from the vehicle.  The wolf seems to view her as prey and runs to her, immediately pinning her to the ground with its paws.   The creature tears into her side causing Marissa to scream as she hears her friends also screaming and smelling gasoline.  She is helpless and isn't able to save them before the car burst into flames.  

Marissa survives however she is still haunted by her friends' screams and the wolf who changed her life.

Slowly she physically heals and returns to her career, heavily carrying the burden of the guilt by being alive.   Every night is filled with the nightmares of those few seconds.   What really happened?   Certainly wolves do not attack cars on the interstate in western Iowa.  What can explain this, logically?  She doesn't believe in ghosts, but was that really a wolf?

Marissa decides that she need answers so she returns to the town near where the accident happened at Mile Marker 59 near Cutter's Bend, Iowa.   She quickly learns that this wolf has appeared to others and has caused many accidents becoming a local legend.   With the help of the local sheriff, Michael Morris and another accident victim, the three hope to put an end to their nightmares and to stop this creature, whether supernatural or real from hurting anyone else.

Council Bluffs' native, B. J. Betts married her high school sweetheart while raising their children.  Previously she has written Saigon Moon and Echoes in the Night which are both set in the Vietnam War and inspired by her grandson who served in Iraq.  She in a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Authors of the Heartland.

Mile Marker 59 is a haunting tale by a local author scary enough that when you are on Interstate 29, you will look to see if the marker exists.   The story is well-organized and developed into a fast-paced adventure that will leave you wanting to read more by this author.

Who would most enjoy this novel?   Even though it involves the supernatural, Mile Marker 59 is still a romance book with an intended audience of middle-aged women.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

By the Iowa Sea

By the Iowa Sea
A Memoir
Joe Blair
Simon & Schuster Inc.
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3606-2
Trade Paperback
$ 16.00
280 pages

"Life can hypnotize you into thinking that you have no choice.  That you're trapped.  You have a mortgage.  You have a job.  You have a wife.  You have children, one of whom will never dress himself. Never hold a conversation. Never fall in love. And you will provide.  This will be your life.  What choice do you have in the matter? Things will always be this way."

Joe Blair is like many normal people.  He works hard to earn a living for his family.   He has a mortgage, a wife, and four children.   He is fairly certain that the oldest three will be successful in life with one day having their own careers and families.   His fourth child, Michael, is autistic.  Will Michael always need to depend on him for his care?  What do people do when they have a handicapped child? 

Joe and his wife, Deb have been married for many years and between the daily routines, Joe feels that he has no choices with his life.   He feels trapped.   Everyday requires him to work and to run errands.  What happened to his dreams?   Is this a late reaction to "the seven-year itch" or a middle-aged crisis?  Joe wants change, happiness, a sense of accomplishment that just isn't happening?

By the Iowa Sea is Joe's memoir of his thoughts, frustrations, and journey through this point in his life.  Many people have discussed the differences between men and women at various stages in their lives.  This is a beautifully written honest account about life as we age and the struggles of being a parent, especially one with a mentally-challenged son.  He expressing his fears, concerns, hopes, and dreams as well as many real-life experiences. 

As a female, I found myself reading angrily through the parts where I disagreed with the author's decisions bringing up past conversations that I would have preferred to be forgotten.  Joe Blair's raw account of his own crisis which happened a few years ago when much of Iowa flooded, is haunting.  This is the male voice that explains why so many marriages fall apart and how one person managed to accept those things that he cannot change.

For those people who occasionally feel trapped in their daily lives or for the dreamer who still wants to enjoy those goals that long ago have been put aside, Joe Blair's By the Iowa Sea is a phenomenally well-written and unquestionably memorable.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Kill Switch

The Kill Switch
James Rollins and Grant Blackwood
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-213526-1
January 2015
548 pages

Former Army Rangers have distinct skills that are frequently needed in other situations throughout the world.  Sigma Force is a governmental agency that employs many of these people who can actually keep the world safer.   Their latest mission is to assist a Russian pharmaceutical expert to acquire an organism that could be the survivor of all plant life, essentially being the equivalent of stem cells in plants.   Whoever can utilize and control this organism could rule the world.  This is definitely a new type of biological warfare.
Sigma Force assigns this particular job to Tucker Wayne and his partner, Kane, a military working dog.  These two have a special communication and relationship. 
Naturally nothing is as simple as the plan seems.  Tucker Wayne finds the scientist, Dr. Bukolov quickly but he insists that his daughter accompany him.  Naturally she is in another location and has secrets of her own.
The Kill Switch is non-stop action rushing through over five-hundred pages.  What is outstanding is the relationship between Tucker and his dog that is the driving force.   At times though, their actions seem larger than life and almost unbelievable that they are not killed, or minimally temporarily incapacitated.  Even with that, this is a fun novel and typical of Rollins' previous books where you feel rushed to the last page, panting.  
The historical aspects of the story including the Boer War makes this novel fascinating.  The authors incorporated much of the South African history while weaving a biological thriller.   The threat of invasive species in other parts of the world is already an ecological problem along with the discussion of LUCA, Last Universal Common Ancestor.  How this scientific information was woven into this story is masterful.
Who would enjoy this novel?  Anyone who enjoys a good adventure thriller will love The Kill Switch.
James Rollins is a former veterinarian turned author has written numerous novels.   Grant Blackstone has also written many novels collaborating with Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy.  A U.S. Navy veteran, he has written three novels, The End of Enemies, The Wall of Night, and An Echo of War.
The Kill Switch is a great fast-paced adventure.


John Rector
Thomas & Mercer
Seattle, Washington
ISBN: 978-1477827628
$ 15.95
274 pages

"Every decision we make has consequences...Some people, however, don't grasp the concept of consequences, and I can see now that you're one of those people, Nick."
There are certain times in your life where a mistaken identity can be a blessing, others where it definitely is a curse.   For Nick White, he is uncertain which.
Nick is in a bar when a woman comes up to him and giving him an envelope full of money and a picture.  Apparently someone believed he is a killer for hire.   So what does a normal person do now? Take the twenty-thousand dollars?  Should he actually find and kill the person?  What about the real killer?  What will the real killer do when he discovers that the money was given to the wrong person?What does anyone do when they are in deep water that is way over their head?
Nick is basically a good guy, just a little lazy with no career direction or ambition.  He was fired while being a journalist which also caused problems in his marriage.
He decides to find the girl in the picture.   Shouldn't he warn her that someone wants to kill her?
What should he do with the money?   No one would miss a few hundred.  Or would they?
Nick White is a superbly developed protagonist, seriously flawed while still having an innocent quality of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Ruthless is a page-turner.  With this engrossing tale, you will stay up all night trying to find a good stopping place.   There isn't one.   This is a book you will not be able to put down leaving you constantly yearning to read just one more page.
John Rector is an Omaha author whose books have become bestsellers with The Grove, The Cold Kiss, and Out of the Black.   He is also a winner of various awards including the International Thriller Award for "Lost Things" a novella.
The twists and turns in Ruthless allows you to accompany Nick into a world where he does not belong.  While bumping along the guide rails in a believable roller coaster rider, you frequently feel the closeness to almost jumping off in this "gritty" tale.
Ruthless is a tightly-written adventure with an unusual writing style that is masterful, grabbing the reader's thoughts and ruthlessly never releasing.  This intense form is aimed at adult readers especially those who enjoy a thriller.
I look forward to reading more by this immensely talented area author, John Rector.

Crime and Clutter

Crime and Clutter
A Friday Afternoon Club Mystery
Cyndy Salzmann
Howard Fiction
Simon and Schuster
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-58229-644-9
Trade Paperback
$ 12.99
270 pages
It's confession time.  What secrets about your family would you prefer no one to ever know?   What do you believe your friends would think if they knew about your past?
Everyone needs a good friend and the Friday Afternoon Club is a group of women who for many years have supported each other and their families while creating a close-knit group of six women who also pray together.   Lucy, Jessie, Marina,  Mary Alice, Kelly and Liz take turns on hosting this weekly event  at four.   Obviously their families  assist in allowing these women their special "me" time.  This special relationship  has kept this group together for over eleven years.
Marina who is a female lieutenant on the Omaha, Nebraska police department is discussing  a bust that had happened earlier in the day at Storage Unlimited.  Apparently this was where the supplies for a meth lab had been stored and the fire department had to be involved in the clean-up.
As Marina is telling the group of this event, Mary Alice is turning paler with each word.  Marina ends this discussion by asking Mary Alice what she was doing at the storage unit facility.  Mary Alice is so startled and upset that she drops the glass pitcher on the floor.
Why is Mary Alice so upset?  To the members of the group, they know that Mary Alice could never be involved with anything criminal.  She looks and acts like the perfect shining example for each of them.  What is she hiding?
Crime and Clutter is a light, cozy mystery involving these women as they uncover Mary Alice's past, including what she has chosen not to share and what she does not know.    Unique to this Christian mystery are helpful household hints such as the best way to clean up glass,  recipes that are delectably  delicious, discussion questions for book groups.  Added to this is a mystery surrounding a historical era which slowly uncovers a past that Mary Alice never knew, a past she had always hidden from others and herself, and her reconciliation of the two. 
Who would best enjoy this book?  Crime and Clutter is aimed at a middle-aged audience of women who have children in school,  a career, a spouse while maintaining a strong Christian relationships.   The book's characters are real women who lead very busy lives.
Revealing the events of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as  historical  initially bothered me.  How can something that I watched on television be history?   However revisiting this time of change in our society is refreshing besides aging this reviewer.  This would additionally add the readership to women who at some time in their lives have been these women in some form.
Cyndy Salzmann has previously published three Christian nonfiction books on home management for the "domestically challenged." 
Crime and Clutter is the sequel to Salzmann's novel, Dying to Decorate.  
Crime and Clutter is a delightful fast-reading novel for the overwhelmed and busy mom of today.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Guys and Dolls Jr.

The Chanticleer Community Theater has taken up gambling.  For a city that already is home to three casinos, this should not be a surprise.  However this form is a little different.   They are performing "Guys and Dolls Jr." while singing about gambling, love, sin, love and falling in love.
A "junior" version abbreviates the original songs and dialogue making the story move faster and has no intermission.   The show lasts about ninety minutes and is appropriate for all ages.
This weekend concludes "Guys and Dolls Jr." with a large cast of children, phenomenal sets and costumes, superb musical numbers, and obviously a host of adults who have donated their time and talents to make this show a success.
Opening the show with "Fugue for Tinhorns" was sung by Matthew Hansen as Nice-Nicely Johnson, Adam Fulbright as Benny Southstreet, and Conner Mowery as Rusty Charlie. These three set the tone for the rest of this Broadway musical that has been around for sixty-five years with strong entrances and great harmonies.
In the lead role of Sarah Brown, Hannah Goodrich sang beautifully while Nick Haats as Sky Masterson showed a tremendous stage presence.   Isabelle Cutler as Miss Adelaide was the perfect squeaky New Yorker frustrated while being spending fourteen years being engaged to Nathan Detroit portrayed by Matthew Parker who has a wonderful singing voice.
Unquestionably "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" almost stopped the show on opening night.   Singing the lead as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Matthew Hansen was phenomenal along with the entire cast while they were singing and dancing.   The movements were simple, yet intriguing and well-planned with everyone, cast and audience enjoying their music.   This is musical theater at its best.
Another stand-out favorite of mine was the singing of "More I Cannot Wish You" with Riley Pope's beautiful singing.   This particular song is different in style from the others in this musical and was perfectly matched with her voice.
While the show actually lasts about ninety minutes, this includes fifteen scenes with eighteen songs and forty-six cast members for a fast-paced and enjoyable show for everyone of all ages.
Coordinating this many people within a short amount time showed the expertise of the support crew and direction.   Denise Putman as director, Jerry Gray as musical director, Ariel Ibsen as choreographer, Beth Rutz as stage manager, Ann Coombs as costumer, Bob Putman as tech director, Darrin Golden in charge of light design, Dave Podendorf running the sound system, with Cheyenne Hanson being the light board operator and numerous others make this show successful and memorable.
The show continues through this weekend with performances at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and on Sunday at 2 p.m.  The ticket prices are $20 for adults, $16 for seniors over the age of sixty and $10 for students.  You can purchase tickets by calling the box office at (712) 323-9955 located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs.
Each year I am amazed by these "junior" productions and how each demonstrates the talent in our area by watching these children become singers, actors, and dancers.
A special thank you is to Rhoden Auto Center in Council Bluffs for partially funding this production of Chanticleer Community Theater.
What is amazing in this show is the youth, talent, and musical ability of this cast.  These are unquestionably the performers of tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set A Watchman
Harper Lee
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-240985-0
$ 27.99
280 pages

How does anyone write a sequel to a legend?  To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous other literary awards.  So how do you write anything else?

To Kill a Mockingbird awoke the world to the truth the everyone in the South knew existed, but no one ever had put into words.

Go Set a Watchman continues the story with Scout returning to her home for a two-week vacation.    Now she is twenty-six.   How has she changed since she was eight?  Does she still wear overalls?

To be fair to all the hype and criticism of this book, I decided to reread To Kill a Mockingbird.   It is amazing how much I enjoyed the book since reading it back in junior high.   I also question how much I probably did not understand in the book from a teenager's perspective. I strongly felt I needed to read two books to see if I also questioned whether Harper Lee actually wrote both books.

What is disturbing is what Go Set a Watchman is missing.   Very little is given as to Scout's life in New York City.  Doesn't the reader want to know how she lives there, how she works, who are her friends, and many other questions?

Also To Kill a Mockingbird obviously went through a long editing process.   Few books today are given that attention which can turn a book into greatness.

The story continues while missing some major characters from the first book.  It takes a while to reveal why they are not in the story.  I really missed these supporting characters and unfortunately no one replaced them.  Harper Lee loved her characters in the first book.  In this one, the love is not there.

Go Set a Watchman has flashbacks of incidents that happened supposedly in Mockingbird
and during Scout's other school experiences.  This feels like snippets just to fill the space.  The relevance to the story is not a continual line but jumping between the present and the past. These flashbacks greatly enrich Go Set a Watchman.  The problem is that these memories although significant change the tempo in reading due to their significance.

The sequel has the same number of pages but close to half the words.  Larger print was utilized to make the book as a physical duplicate of the first book.  

The book feels as if someone combined possible story events into this book without the love of the characters.   However, the does change in the last third of the book.  When Uncle Jack is explaining the Civil War to Scout, there is no question in my mind that this voice is Harper Lee.  The frankness, truthfulness, and awareness of the Southern culture changes dramatically in this section.  This is someone who truly understands the South.

As a mixed-child with a mother from the South and a Yankee father, I loved her vision of the South.
The book was worth reading just for those five pages.   That is the exquisite writing I expect from Harper Lee.

Would I buy the book again? No.  Will I buy any future finds of Harper Lee's?  Probably not.

A Killing in Iowa

A Killing in Iowa
A Daughter's Story of Love and Murder
Rachel Corbett
Byliner Originals
San Francisco, California
ISBN: 978-1-61452-018-4
$ 1.99 Kindle book

How many of us have questions about our family's past?   The problem is often that the question needed to be asked years ago or the only person who could have answered the question is now dead. So how do you find these answers?  That is what Rachel Corbett is asking.

Rachel grew up in eastern Iowa.  Her mother like many others was a single parent who had temporary dads.   One of these dads who seemed more permanent and more fatherly to her ended up murdering a former girlfriend and then killing himself.   To Rachel this was confusing.  This man was always loving and caring in her household.  Why the complete change?  Could the victim have been her mother?

Scott Johnson was the man and the killing happened on May 13, 1993 in Vinton, Iowa.  This is a small town where life seems to stand still.   Everyone knows everyone.  There is little change throughout the years.   The village looks very similar today as it was in 1993.

Rachel Corbett has been haunted by this event and has constantly questioned this man who was a caring father to her.   She returned to the town to find answers to the change in this man.

What has bothered Rachel throughout the years was that she didn't understand the reasons for the murder/suicide.   Scott Johnson had been a loving and caring man when he was living at their house for years.  Could the murdered woman have been her mother?  What had caused this violence?   Scott had been with Rachel's family earlier the day of the incident.  What had changed?

Eighteen years before the author wrote this memoir, she could never have imagined the violence or the actions by Scott.

Rachel Corbett now lives as an arts writer in New York.  She has written for the "New York Times," "The Nation," and the "New York Observer" as well as being the news editor at "Art Net Magazine."

A Killing in Iowa beautifully describes much of the state, especially the rural areas explaining the multi-generational homes and towns where everyone does know everyone and many things have not changed for years.

A Killing in Iowa journeys Rachel's past childhood as each person slowly reveals their perspective to the author. As the truth through various sources is revealed, Rachel still discovers that the answers she is searching for just are not there.  Many are a waste of her time as is realistic in any investigation.  Being that she was a child at the time of the murder, she needed to read the newspaper and police accounts to attempt to find out why.  Why had this man who had been kind and caring to her change into someone violent?

Unfortunately sometimes answers to the questions from the past cannot be resolved.   The tale of the investigation is completely haunting.

How well do any of us know anyone?

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks
David Mitchell
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6567-7
$ 30.00
624 pages

"The world wasn't made of stone, but sand. I'm afraid. One bad storm is all it will take."

Unfortunately this is the reality of life. Our lives are simply blown into sand with the wind constantly changing directions, reshaping our priorities. We like to think our lives are carved in stone. Perhaps that is why we are so resistant to change. Think of how much less stress each of us would feel, if we would simply shift with the sand.

Horology is the study of the measurement of time with the skill and art of making time pieces. Is time consistent everywhere or is it relative? Do we change through time? Is time the cause or the effect?

Holly Sykes seems like the typical teenager. She argues with her mother about anything and everything. She does have an unusual gift. She is able to talk to beings that are not present for most of us. Who does she talk with?

As a child she connected with "the radio people". She has a psychic sense but has yet to discover if this is a gift or a curse. Can it be both or neither?

The Bone Clock feels like multiple unconnected events and people for much of the book. Once the reader starts understanding the connections, this evolves into a page turner.

The author, David Mitchell has had two of his novels on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize and The Bone Clock was on the 2014 long list. He is the author of Ghostwritten, Number9Dream, Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He lives in Ireland with his family.

The book is composed of six novellas featuring different characters explaining things from their perspective. Holly is the focus of the first novella but makes appearances in others. At first the six stories which progress into the future in ten years progressions seem unconnected and at times rambling. However their significance does eventually appear into a single conclusion.

The characterizations are phenomenal with the reader easily visualizing each character with their flaws and natural gifts.

The pacing with each of the novellas is unevenly bothersome. The first story regarding Holly flows quickly and evenly. Then the pace dramatically slows. This can easily cause a reader to lose interest but this book is definitely worth reading as the pace picks-up.

The Bone Clocks is fantasy dealing with possession and psychic gifts and warring psychological factions.

The Incidental Spy

The Incidental Spy
Libby Fischer Hellman
The Red Herrings Press
Chicago, Illinois
ISBN: 978-1-938733-84-0
181 pages
$ 7.99

How does anyone become a spy? Oftentimes it is not the person that chooses the profession but the profession which chooses the person. Lena became a spy because of who she was, who she knew, and how she could be controlled. Lena was forced to be a spy. She felt that she had no choices.

Being a Jew has frequently been dangerous throughout history in many places in Europe. This was especially true for those families who lived in Europe prior to the Second World War. For Lena, her life is no different than many people of the time, only much more complicated.

Lena is in love with her childhood sweetheart who is also Jewish. Josef just doesn't look Jewish but Scandinavian. The two know that their souls are destined to be together and truly believe that somehow, they will be together. Their intention is to marry, but the threat of the Nazi party throughout Europe force the families to move.

Lena is fortunate. Her family sends her to an aunt living in the Chicago area. She expects her family to join her eventually as well as Josef. However the Nazi movement overtook the people of the neighboring countries faster than expected. Lena had to learn to connect with her family and friends through the infrequent letters. Sometime she feels guilty leaving her love ones behind.

Lena's aunt arranges to have her educated in English and even assists her in a job at a local university as secretary to the physics department. Her aunt knows that Lena needs to be busy and to develop a new life in her new country.

Lena's new life changes everything including marrying another man and having his child. She is happily adjusted to her new life when her husband is killed. Suddenly being s single parent supporting a child makes life difficult. She just doesn't realize how difficult and complicated will become. Can Lena be forced to become someone that she does not choose to become?

The Incidental Spy is a page-turner. Viewing the situations of the time period with what would become the Manhattan Project through Lena's eyes makes the reader contemplate what would be their choice in the same situation. Unfortunately, Lena has no choices, forcing her to become a pawn in a dangerous game in becoming a spy.

The story is short, but superbly developed into a logically thrilling story with well-developed characters that seem too human many times.

The Incidental Spy is a riveting tale for anyone who enjoys a haunting and memorable story.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola
Timothy Schaffert
Riverhead Books
Penguin Books
New York, New York
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59463-343-0
$ 16.00
456 pages

A hot-air balloon has just crashed into a farmhouse on the lonely Nebraska prairie begins the adventure in the unconventional tale by a local author called The Swan Gondola. The unintended pilot, Ferret Skerritt tells of the circumstances of 1898 Omaha World's Fair and his escapades to the two elderly spinsters who reside at this home, Emmaline and Hester. Their home was the unfortunate landing spot for this stolen hot-air balloon.

With a taste of Baum's The Wizard of Oz, this tale begins to unwind as a storyteller slowly reveals each layer of this unconventional adventure.

Ferret Skerritt is a ventriloquist/pickpocket. He earns money as a wandering artist attaching himself to various traveling productions. With friends who possess a multitude of bizarre talents both natural and learned, many of his motley crew of friends prove that descriptions and appearances can be deceptive.

Love at first sight does exist for Ferret and he is immediately smitten and obsessed by the beautiful actress who is part of a traveling company. He must meet this elusive, but charismatic woman. Like many who have this ability, she has a secret that is kept in her traveling carpetbag.

The Swan Gondola tours the fair through Ferrit. Fortunately throughout the book, the reader is privileged to attend the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. Chicago had been the host city of a previous world fair but Omaha was not established and respected. The city was still young and more often than not, resembled a Wild West Show. Many early business wanted to attract the world to this new city and financed this fair in their investment of the future. This entire fair complete with a lagoon in the northern part of east Omaha was meant to be completely temporary to display the world's best, newest, and most modern attractions.

The story is told by Ferret who is not always honest or likeable. The perspective is through Ferret's eyes and his eyes see things that most of us would never notice. He observes pickpockets and the light criminal side.

How can Ferret attract Cecily to fall in love with him? He arranges for their first true date in the swan gondola on the lagoon after the fair closes for the day. This tale of history and adventure is full of surprises and twists with unique characters that are visually realistic.

The author, Timothy Schaffert is a Nebraska native, currently residing in Omaha while teaching writing and literature at the University of Nebraska located in Lincoln. The Swan Gondola is his fifth novel following The Coffins of Little Hope, The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, Devils in the Sugar Shop, and The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God.

Who would enjoy this book? The Swan Gondola is for those readers who appreciate well-researched historical fiction in an unusual tale.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Skip's Game Plan

Skip's Game Plan
Steve Sigafoose
Publish America
Baltimore, MD
ISBN: 978-1-4512-5798-4
$ 24.95
204 pages

Starting a new school is not enjoyable for most students. For high school students it can be a nightmare. However, Calvin Hawkings is conscientious, works hard, and focuses on what he should in high school, his classes. His friends are his books and one is always close to him. He is not athletic even though he is close to seven feet tall. Why isn't someone who is almost seven feet tall on the basketball team?

Skip Weber is on the basketball team and plans to play on the varsity team this year since he is now a junior. Most of last year's team graduated leaving only one senior for the varsity team. That leaves room for many juniors making varsity this year but no one has any height.

Skip is determined to make this varsity team the best possible this year. Could this new student be the answer to a successful year for the basketball team?

Skip lives, eats, and breathe basketball. His classes are not really important to him, basketball is his world. Wouldn't it be great it this Calvin played basketball? This could be just what his high school team needs.

Calvin has never played basketball. Skip is determined to make Calvin his friend, but what do they have in common? Can there be a friendship between a scholar and an athlete? Can Skip turn a tall scholar into an athlete? Would Skip learn anything from this relationship

Skip decides to make friends with Calvin. Could Calvin be the basketball center the other players dream about?

Skip's Game Plan is a book about high school basketball. As the friendship develops between Skip and Calvin, they learn how friendship can benefit everyone. Perhaps Skip could utilize some of Calvin's study skills as Calvin learns about his basketball skills.

Skip's Game Plan is outstanding with explaining basketball skills and what is needed to develop a winning team. The sporting observations and skill building ideas in the book would benefit any team.

I did thoroughly enjoy reading this novel but was bothered by one aspect. What high school boy is not interested in girls and cars? Apparently the ones in this book have little interest in either. Is that realistic?

Who should read this gem of a novel? Everyone who enjoys a well-written novel set in a high school without foul language, sexual situations, or violence. Even high school students would enjoy Skip's Game Plan, especially those who play or dream of playing basketball.

Being that this book was published through a self-publication, there are some spelling errors that occasionally distract from the story.

The author, Steve Sigafoose retired from working at the Council Bluffs' Nonpareil. He is a former sports editor who covered high school and junior college games over thirty years in Leavenworth, Kansas and Rome, Georgia as well as Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Skip's Game Plan is a great book for everyone to read, learn a little basketball strategy, and to thoroughly enjoy.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The American Game

The American Game
Jeff McArthur
Bandwagon Books
Burbank, CA
ISBN: 9781500420475
$ 12.99
324 pages

Few things throughout the years have unified enemy soldiers.

The most memorable was the singing of "Silent Night" by opposing forces on a Christmas Eve almost a hundred years ago which became problematic for the leadership of both sides. Despite the military leaders and the politicians, most people saw this events as the joining of humanity while temporarily putting aside differences. These instantaneous events prove the vulnerability but also strength of character in all those who were privileged and fortunate enough to be part of the unexpected gifts uniting people.

Jeff McArthur researched the Civil War battles and events discovering that baseball was often successful in unification while political leaders failed with compromises. Yankees facing Rebels sometimes shared an old-fashioned game of baseball. With a variety of ever changing rules, substituting anything available for bases and bats, the game became a unifying element proving that the people are basically the same no matter where they are born or who they choose their alliances.

The American Game excelled with the sense of place and time. For example when some Confederate soldiers were relaxing, they would play a game using stale bread as a ball in a simple game with rules constantly changing to meet the current situation. How many strikes were allowed? What can be used as a bat? How far apart are the bases? These varied as much as the players. The game was called stick ball, cricket, fletch-catch, and city ball with many more other names for what would eventually evolve into baseball.

Another positive and realistic aspect of The American Game was the age of the characters. In almost every time of war, many men were really boys. Viewing the wars through the eyes of boys definitely changes the perspective of the reader. The soldiers on the ground involved with the fighting were boys, as has been frequently found in every war.

Sometimes in this novel, it is difficult to separate the Confederates from the Union soldiers. However this book was written while looking at their commonalities, not their differences. Perhaps this was intentional by the author.

This is not a book for children or teens. The language and events are only for adult readers.

The focus of The American Game is a field somewhere in the middle of Tennessee, The two sides met with a different type of combat, the winning of games. What did they have to do to play ball with the enemy? As the wagers increase so do the risks.

Jeff McArthur is a native of Nebraska. For his education, he studied the film and the television business at New York University leading him into the film industry for fifteen years in Los Angeles. Mr. McArthur has written a variety of fiction and non-fiction books including the Relic Worlds science fiction series and Pro Bono which is about his grandfather's case as a lawyer while defending Caril Ann Fugate. He then wrote The Great Heist-The Biggest Bank Robbery in History. Additionally Jeff McArthur is the author of The Table of Truth and Stolen Souls.

For a different book for the history buffs, the baseball fans, and those who enjoy fresh approaches to both baseball and the American Civil War, read The American Game.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Gateway to Intimacy

Gateway to Intimacy
Edward M. Gomez

Millstone Press
Ashland, Oregon

How often do people wish they had fatherly advice?
When Edward Gomez received a phone call from his daughter to ask him to walk her down the aisle in her upcoming wedding, he was thrilled. After his divorce from Jessica's mother, contact between father and daughter was not as frequent or meaningful as a father desired. Weekly phone calls are not enough to maintain a strong relationship. He viewed her phone call as an opportunity to again establish a meaningful relationship between a father and daughter.

As he searched for the perfect wedding gift, Mr. Gomez pondered what gift would be reflect his renewed connection while still being significant, helpful, and meaningful for his daughter? His solution became this book. Sharing his years of experience, he chose to write this book based on his personal reflections, personal growth, education, and experiences throughout the years.

Originally written for a newlywed couple, "Gateway to Intimacy" is a guide for couples of all ages to share a more intimate approach in marriage to their special partner. The emphasis is on the couple as one and not as individuals.
Much of the advice is common sense but that element is frequently missing in relationships. The author spends time step-by-step explaining the foundation to the stairway of true intimacy complete with exercises for the emotional as well as the physical aspects of a strong, loving relationship. Utilizing breathing exercises, the book gradually teaches the individual and their partner how to improve their personal responses to each other beyond the sexual activity.

The first of three parts is this manual are Laying the Groundwork, Technical Assistance, and Application. Laying the Groundwork discusses the foundation of positive and profoundly intimate relationships. Technical Assistance discusses the physical sexuality aspects with Application combining and utilizing the information from the previous two sections. These are supplemented with appendices explaining Karezza, basic sexual anatomy, sexual complications, as well as a list of additional resources, glossary, and an index.
Karezza is also an important element in this relationship building. This is a special type of relationship focusing on the spiritual rather than the orgasmic ejaculation aspects in a bonding sexual partnership.

The author Edward M. Gomez practices the principals of this guidebook and is creating a companion workbook entitled “The Thirty-Day Passion-Building Workout”. He currently resides in Oregon and is a Gottman Seven Principles Program Educator.
Who is this book for? Anyone who wants to enhance their relationship into becoming more intimate would unquestionably treasure this book. There are explicit drawing and explanations which are adult oriented.