Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0316055437
October 2013
$ 30.00
755 pages

"That life-whatever else it is- is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random....And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and privilege to love what Death doesn't touch."

How do we know when a piece of artwork is a masterpiece? How does anyone learn about beauty, form, style and technique in recognizing true art whether in music, writing, or art?

Theo Decker has never been a part of a group. Early in his life, he was singled out for his intelligence and placed in advanced classes. With another student, Theo and Andy frequently found themselves bonded in a type of friendship joining in their constant battle against bullies. Through the natural isolation, the two had a bound of survival by relying on each other as their only friend.

Theo also was extremely close to his mother, especially after his father abandoned the two. She was beautiful and had a natural charm attracting people to her as a fly is drawn to a light.

After being suspended from school one day, his mother took him to a museum prior to their meeting with the school. When she went into another room, Theo's world changed forever. The building exploded. Theo became conscious and was aware of two people near him, an elderly man and a girl who was close to his age. The man gave him a ring and told him to take a particular painting, The Goldfinch which was painted by Vermeer's teacher who was also a student of Rembrandt. Realizing that death was near, he grabbed the painting and went home to wait for his mother. He knew that if she could not find him, she would look for him at home. At what point would he give up and realize that she was dead?

What does an orphaned thirteen-year-old boy do with a stolen painting? The answer is The Goldfinch.

The Goldfinch is a little reminiscent of the Twin Towers' disaster along with a realistic view of gifted children, absent fathers, foster care, drug-usage, art crime, and the antique business all blended into a well-written memorable tale.

This is the type of tale the obsesses your thinking day and night, even when the last page ends with the final period. The true gloriousness of this tale is how well the book constantly encircles art and attempts to define that which words cannot describe,

The Empty Throne

The Empty Throne
Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-225071-1
$ 27.99
297 pages

"Leave one alive, that had been my father's advice. Let one man take the bad news home to frighten the others,...which meant the survivor, if there was one, would take the news of defeat to widows and orphans."

This was the belief of many fighters of numerous battles throughout history. Always leave one person alive, usually a youngster, to deliver the news to the towns and families about the fates of their loved ones. Considering the limits of communication back in the years prior to the 1900s, this appeared to be a common practice throughout much of European history.

In the land that would become England in the years of 900 A.D. the constant battles between the Vikings and the Saxons proved that life was still unsettled. Besides heritage there were also changes in religion with most people either following the gods of the Norse or the new beliefs of Christianity. Between the regions of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria there were constantly disagreements but there is now a possible hope of becoming a unified country since AEthelred, the ruler of Mercia, had died without a legitimate heir.

The obvious successor would be the West Saxon king. However, AEthelred's widow, AEthelflaed was loved by the people of Mercia, but not her husband. She followed her own path as a warrior and also possibly had her own lover while frequently in disagreements with her husband. Could a female succeed in uniting this land?

The Empty Throne opens with Uhtred who was called Osbert, the son of Uhtred, the lord in The Pagan Lord. So now the son is in charge of a war party with many men who had served his father. Lord Uhtred is not fighting but becoming an aging warrior who is slowly healing from numerous old wounds. Uhtred has devised a strategy for capturing a large group of Norsemen. Through cunning, scheming, misdirection, and the firm belief of doing what he believes is right, they look forward to the day when this land in no longer plagued by these Northern invaders.

Bernard Cornwell places the reader directly in the middle of the battles. With Uhthred whose brother was disowned in the previous novel for becoming a Christian priest and his father, Lord Uhthread, Cornwell masterfully writes a tale based on the actual recorded history of these events. With names that are not commonly known, this novel is action-adventure at its best turning history into a readable page turner

The Empty Throne is the eighth book in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales following The Pagan Lord. I strongly feel that this particular novel would be difficult to understand without reading the previous installment.

The Secret Rooms

The Secret Rooms
Catherine Bailey
Penguin Books
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-14-312473-3
$ 16.00
465 pages

With all the "Downton Abbey" attention lately, it seems like anything British regarding the same time period can instantaneously be a best seller. However, author Catherine Bailey was looking for a story when she was allowed access to rooms that had been sealed for years in Belvoir Castle. Little did she realize that her research could unearth some family "skeletons" that she had not planned on discovering and many more questions than answers.

The author was allowed into the sealed rooms where the 9th Duke of Rutland had died in the year 1940. Apparently the Duke had been sorting through all his family letters saved from his entire life during his final days. The Duke's son, Charles had sealed the rooms when his father died. In those sixty years, no one had been given access to these rooms which even while in use years ago, were cold and sparsely furnished. Why had a man of such wealth lived in these isolated rooms with little heat and comforts? What secrets did he feel needed to remain hidden?

As the author, Catherine Bailey read through a multitude of boxes of letters she quickly realized that there were gaps in the life of the 9th Duke of Rutland. She quickly discovered that there appeared to be three time periods were no correspondence existed. It quickly seemed as it the Duke had purposefully destroyed all records during these times. Why? What secrets did he take to his grave? What was so terrible that he desired to have certain events erased from history?

The Secret Rooms describes the life of John Rutland as the 9th Duke and his family prior to the first World War, during World War I and afterwards. As the secrets are somewhat revealed, what is fascinating is the lifestyle of the Duke and his family, their choices, their actions, their successes, and even somewhat, their failures. Revealing the true actions and secrets of this family succeeds in giving the reader an insight into life in the early twentieth century through the eyes of the elite in British society.

The description of this book is "a true story of a haunted castle, a plotting duchess, and a family secret." Much of the book is devoted to the Duke's mother who unquestionably was the plotting duchess in attempt to save her son from harm during the War. The family secret was somewhat revealed but more than likely died with the Duke and his staff. The haunting though is barely mentioned and is never completely explained or identified.

The Secret Rooms is a page-turning non-fiction account about the Rutland family turning the individuals into real people who led a life of privilege with many of the same problems that trouble everyone. Included in the book are actual pictures of the people and the places of the book as well as an index, map of the castle, as well as a family tree.

I was slightly disappointed that the haunting was never explained but seemed to be a teaser for the book cover. Also the first time gap was never completely explained since the author was unsuccessful with discovering the true explanation but did attempt to fill-in the gaps. Her explanation is a possibility but it could be very misleading into the actual events.

The story was interesting even when it became focused more on gossip than actual records. Yes, the letters were revealing but only stated whatever the family had wanted recorded. However, the story succeeds in placing the reader in the center of life during World War I.

Whine, Women and Song

Chanticleer Theater proved last weekend that women do age gracefully and are still talented, musical, and beautiful due to their varied life experiences and their love of songs that have identified womanhood throughout the past decades. This particular Cabaret show was entitled “Whine, Women, and Song” featuring the songs of women from roughly the 1930s through the 1970s.

The voices of Vicki Moacek, Laura Randall Stannard, Anne Soderlund, Mary Sorensen, Kim Alger, Dianne Jones, Lori Lynn Ahrends all accompanied by Bernadette Smith were the performers for this women's show with Gary F. Bosanek being the stage director and Shane Lewis being the production assistant.

This particular night was filled with songs traditionally identified as women's songs throughout the from Shirley Temple to Marlene Dietrich to Ethel Waters to Dionne Warwick to Barbra Streisand and many more.

What I found most enjoyable was their ensemble singing. Their harmonious blend was perfect sending shivers through my spine while wallowing in their glorious sound and intonation.

With their opening number of "One Fine Day" to "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to their delightful 50s medley of "Lollipop", "Sincerely", "Going to the Chapel", and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" these women beautifully recreated magical musical moments reminiscent of long ago times.

The acapella songs were outstanding. "He" with Lennon Sisters harmonies, "May You Always" reminiscent of the McGuire Sisters and "Where We'll Never Grow Old" from the musical “Quilters” were unquestionably so well-sung that I would return again and again to hear these women sing these songs.

Naturally with a show lasting ninety minutes and including over thirty songs, the pacing was fast with a variety of songs. And yes, I definitely had my favorite numbers. Mary Sorensen beautifully sang "Tammy" with a voice of innocence and even included the trill around the whippoorwill. Anne Soderlund's "His Eye is On the Sparrow" was heavenly,. Vicki Molacek's Kate Smith songs along with "Cry Me a River" were gorgeous. Dianne Jones created her own version of Barbra Streisand's "People" showing the gloriousness of her talent. Laura Randall Stannard excelled with her Judy Garland "Get Happy" as well as a tap-dancing Shirley Temple for "The Good Ship Lollipop". Lori Lynn Ahrends singing "Secret Love" thrilled the audience. Kim Alger performing as Carmen Miranda and Marlene Dietrich was phenomenal. The seven singers as an ensemble also displayed their professionalism by staying perfectly together when there was a little slip in the rhythm.

This is one of those shows that I would love to see over and over. These women were fantastic proving that beauty in music is still possible and achievable at any age.