Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Book of Madness and Cures

The Book of Madness and Cures
Regina O'Melveny
Little, Brown and Company
Hatchette Book Group
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-316-19583-6
$ 25.99
321 pages

Life in Venice, Italy in the year 1590, Gabriella Mondini is a well-respected doctor with many patients who appreciate her care as a female doctor. She was accepted as a physician in Venice because of the well-respected influence of her father who is also a physician. However brilliant, her father leaves the city, with his absence, Gabriella is no longer allowed to practice medicine.

Her father seems to be own personal quest. This might simply be an excuse for his mental illness. He frequently suffered from fits of manic behavior and times of withdrawal and depression. He views his travels as an opportunity to complete his resource book of maladies and cures.she is no longer allowed to practice medicine.

Gabriella's father had a special relationship with his daughter. His wife, Gabriella's mother had a different perspective and preferred the tradional roles of the time.

Gabriella was her father's daughter. Her mother did not understand her daughter's attraction to medicine. She was naturally slightly jealous of their relationship.Gabriella realized that she was well-respected in the community only because of her father.

With her father's leaving Venice, Gabriella is no longer allowed to continue to treat patients. She had a special bond with many women patients since she really understood their ailments. The local community of physicians do not allow her to practice without her father's support.

Without being able to practice medicine, she had no strong connections to the community. Gabriella decides to find her father and to somehow help him to return to Venice to resume his life and her life as a physician. Gabriella pursues her quest to find her father accompanied by her faithful servants Olmina and Lorenzo.

Being a woman accompanied by both a male and female servant helps in her travels tremendously but many people are wary of a female physician in this male-dominated occupation. Gabriella strives to learn as she travels creating her own resource book of maladies and the treatments.

Oftentimes, I felt that this book was closely following somewhat similar journeys and adventures of Don Quixote, especially with the supportive servants. The book excelled in character development and a true sense of the time and place. The pacing was uneven which is to be expected of a debut novel.

The Book of Madness and Cures is a wonderful debut novel for Regina O'Melveny. The intended audience is for those who enjoy historical romance novels. The strength of this novel is the historical research into the setting actually placing the reader in the time period traipsing around Europe.  There was even consideration to the Gregorian and the Julian calendars and their ten-day difference.  Gabriella and her father were well-developed characters along with her servants. Many of their adventures seemed contrived but overall it was an enjoyable book. For a debut novel, unquestionably delightful.

To Catch the Snowflakes

To Catch the Snowflakes
Lawrence J. Schulenberg
Publish America
Baltimore, Maryland
ISBN: 1-4137-0749-1
$ 20.45 at Amazon
125 pages

What happens to teachers when they retire?

For former Council Bluffs' public school teacher, Larry Schulenberg he decided to reflect upon his life, his challenges and successes by penning a short story of his life. This isn't a person who only tells of his success, he speaks of his struggles, failures, and his “snowflakes”.

"Maybe not now, but someday soon, you're going to have to decide if you want to spend your life sitting inside watching the snowflakes fall...or do you want to go out and...catch the snowflakes. If you choose to go out into the will surely fall...but that's life...we all fall... Do you want to be a part of life? Or do you merely want to watch?"

Bluntly stated, there are no guarantees in life but how you handle the challenges throughout life can make all the difference in the world.

Larry Schulenberg somehow had the misfortune of being the only person in his hometown to be affected by polio. He was fortunate to have parents who did not excuse his handicap but who encouraged him to live every moment to the fullest. He quickly learned how to be successful adult complete with a career and a family.

Even though Schulenberg appears to have led a successful life, he and has family have experienced problems as everyone finds at some point with his career and challenges for his family.

While being a well-respected teacher in the Council Bluffs School District, he discovered the problems of advancing a career within a school district. He discovered that the way to further his career was by uprooting his family. However, this path is constantly changing in a field constantly changing and he even discovers himself without a job to support his family.

In his personal life, Larry and his wife wanted a family. When that did not happen, they chose adoption through a well-respected agency, first with a boy and a few years later, a girl. What they never expected was contact with their son's birth mother.

When a well-respected adoption agency does not disclose information, there are always ways around the system. Apparently a private detective managed to be employed by the adoption agency revealing to the birth mother the identity of the family adopting her boy. Throughout the years, his birth mother had followed the family. Was she a stalker? Why does she want to be a part of his life now?

Larry Schulenberg wrote this novel to entertain but more than that, he wanted to share his lesson of life about a personal attitude and especially for those challenged with handicaps of any kind proving that each person can be capable.

To Catch the Snowflakes is an authentic reflection on a special person who looked for the best in everyone even when life was challenges. This short autobiographical memoir is best stated by what Schulenberg's father told him, "We must travel through the valleys to appreciate the peaks."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-231205-1
$ 35.00
352 pages

Two-hundred years ago in the year 1815, Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.

With history usually being written by the victors, this famous battle of the French against the combined forces of Prussia and Great Britain has been told from various perspectives throughout the years. Three armies with three battles over four days ended Napoleon's rule over much of Europe. So why write another book about Waterloo?

Historical fiction writer Bernard Cornwell decided that none of these accounts truly reflected the actual battle. In his first non-fiction book, Cornwell breaks this battle down into chapters with accompanying maps detailing the placement and actions of the troops as well as artistic paintings of the events, explaining both in a readable version for the non-historians and military strategists demonstrating that sometimes the portraits painted years after the events were flawed.

This is a book for those who would like to better understand the actual strategies, complications, problems, mistakes, weaponry, uniform, communications and conditions and people which led to Napoleon's ultimate defeat. Revealing the human faults such as mistaking the uniforms as friendly forces, fighting in mud and a battle fought not in a hilly area with ridges rather than a flat plain, all became major factors in the battle.

It is difficult to imagine the actual battle scenes, but Cornwell excels with this factor. As you read the book, you can easily picture the fighting in the mud where oftentimes the killings were layered on top of the already dead making movement of horses and men almost impossible.

This book is fascinating in the descriptions of the military strategies. Cornwell describes these as a sort of “rock, paper, scissors” methodology. It cavalry is used, the best defense is ...and so on. Imagining the weaponry of the time period and the best offensive and defensive methods is intriguing. Having the troops in a square was often the best as described.

"To stand firm because as long as the square kept its cohesion then the French cavalry was impotent."

"Those squares could be broken by artillery if Ney had managed to bring more guns close to the line, or he could have destroyed them with infantry."

"That was the scissors, paper and stone reality of Napoleonic warfare. If you could force an enemy to form square then you could bring a line of infantry against it and overwhelm it with musket fire.."

Bernard Cornwell is a master storyteller well-known for grabbing one small section of British history and turning the events into a logical and readable novel which can be enjoyed by adult readers.   His Saxon Tales and Richard Sharpe novels are perfect examples of well-developed characters bringing to light the events that resulted in the Britain of today.

The book consists of twelve chapters each with a map explaining the troop movements of that section and portraits of the major players and events. Also included is a foreword, a preface, an aftermath and an afterword besides the acknowledgments, bibliography, and index.

From Cornwell's story of Sharpe's Waterloo, he realized that the battle of that particular novel overtook the plot. Realizing the immense importance of how these few days shaped Europe, Cornwell created this non-fiction book based on the various perspectives of the combatants.

Waterloo is for adult readers who would like to better comprehend the Napoleonic Wars and Europe in the year 1815.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Capturing Iowa's Seasons

Capturing Iowa's Seasons
Text and Photography by Ty Smedes
Iowan Books
Des Moines, Iowa
ISBN: 978-1-934816-07-3
October 2008
$ 19.95
164 pages

Once in a while you find a book that is a perfect combination of photography and writing. Capturing Iowa's Seasons is one of these accomplishments created by Iowa author, Ty Smedes.

Relying on Ty Smedes experience and artistry in photojournalism, he has created a collection reflecting the natural beauty of each season in Iowa. Understanding the conflicts of preservation of the prairie as opposed to the maximum utilization of the state's farmland, he captures the natural world into photographs of the rarely viewed wildlife both flora and fauna.

Realizing that less than one percent of Iowa's natural prairie still exists, he has devoted numerous hours to focus on the lives of the mammals who daily need to adapt to a diminishing area for their families to thrive. Between the spreading of urban areas and the need of farmland, the challenging of maintaining life for the prairie in challenging for the survival of these creatures.

What this book has captured is a beautiful moment for each animal, bird, or plant that naturally resides in the state of Iowa. Each picture is art balancing the light, shadows, form, structure, texture and color into a photographic masterpiece.

Beginning with springtime in Iowa, this section beautifully illustrates the awakening of new growth, complete with babies of all kinds. As with many babies, these picture are adorable and even comical. The pudgy baby raccoon clinging to a branch is a rare gem. With the focus on the young wildlife of deer, coyotes, woodchucks, red foxes, rabbits, otters, skunks, owls, bobcats, many birds and plants, this collection is an unusual collection. The photos are obviously the result of numerous hours of loving diligence to record the beauty of the creatures of this land.

The summer months open with a variety of colorful butterflies. Each picture is gorgeous. Ty Smedes view of the world is obviously one looking for the beauty in the surrounding world. To prove this, one of the most unusual photographs is of a spider web covered with the morning's dew. Capturing the light perfectly, this web actually resembles a piece of jewelry, a beaded necklace. This with numerous other examples are a result of his expert photography as an accomplished piece of art.

The lush autumn colors are expressed in the next session with the focus on the glorious deciduous trees. In this section, Mr. Smedes simplifies the rare loess soil found along the Missouri River explaining how the wind blew around bits of earth from the valleys into drifts of this soil. Naturally, no book of Iowa would not be complete without including the migrating snow geese showing their grandeur with expressive photos.

The bald eagles are included in the winter chapter combining educational information in a majestically entertaining manner. In this section is a photograph of a fence in Clear Lake. Covered in ice, this perfectly capture the stark isolation of the winter in many farm communities across the state. Also reflective of the winter months are his pictures of the trees. Each one perfectly captures their shivering, cold beauty.

The concluding chapter is an educational resource for nature photography tips.

Ty Smedes photos excel in beauty. Compared to the legendary National Geographic photos, his selections perfectly match the pride he has in discovering and sharing the beauty of his state, Iowa. In addition to this book, he has also published The Return of Iowa's Bald Eagles which is now in its second printing.

Both books can be purchased through local retail book sellers or at Many photographs capturing the natural world seen through Ty Smedes' eyes can be purchased for reasonable rate at

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” For this phenomenal book, Ty Smedes photographs are unquestionable a work of art that beautifully reflects his love of the natural world in this state.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Unholy Bargain

Unholy Bargain
Travis Hallden Holt
Double Dragon Publishing
Markham, Ontario, Canada
ISBN: 978-1-77115-239-6
April 2015
$ 6.99
222 pages

“People created the world around them, as if their lives, their stories, they themselves authored.”
Can we control our lives so well that we each “author” our individual lives?
For Kaitlyn Spencer and Nate Barrington, there definitely seem to be forces working on each of them that they cannot control. Being that they are two very different people, will they ever be able to be a successful couple raising their child?
“I teach the invisible side of life. The existence you can’t remember. I teach our origin. The journey of our soul. Our evolution.”
Are there spiritual beings surrounding each of us every day creating situations that are difficult for us to understand? If these beings exist, how can they influence our lives? Can we protect ourselves from them? Why are they here? What are the capabilities of these beings? Can they temporarily possess a human body? These are the questions that Kaitlyn welcomes in her teachings about spirituality.
Nate is a deputy sheriff. He views the world in shades of black and white with gray being nonexistent. Kaitlyn is a spiritual guide/teacher. She reads people’s futures by tapping into their energy fields. Except for the physical attractions, do the two of them have enough in common to become a family and to welcome their unborn child into the world?
Logically Kaitlyn’s students are not the sort of people who easily fit into Nate’s world. One particular student bothers Nate. Michael Tabscott even visits Kaitlyn at her home. Is he a stalker or is the relationship as innocent as Kaitlyn believes or is Nate just jealous of their friendship?
Important in this novel are two spiritual beings, the Journeyman and the Emissary. If the Journeyman completes this assignment, his debt is paid. Why does the Emissary want this particular child? The Journeyman knows that this assignment involves killing and Kaitlyn. For a being that has existed for one hundred and fifty years after his death, why now?
Nate oversteps his boundaries and finds himself on leave pending an investigation. Since there seem to have already two attempts on Kaitlyn’s life in the past two days, this allows him the opportunity to investigate and protect her. With Nate’s sense of justice, he firmly believes that whatever he does is right even if it against the police procedures and the law.
What Unholy Bargain has been made for Kaitlyn’s life and that of her baby?
The author Travis Hallden Holt has worked in law enforcement with over twenty-years in the prison system and as a probation officer supervising felons. Added to that is his training in the U.S. Navy as a surface warfare officer and a Persian Gulf War veteran. In his home in Atlanta, Georgia, he continues his work as a peace officer.
Unholy Bargain is a fast-paced thriller. The strength of this novel is unquestionably the characterization with a vivid understanding of the motives of each person and what factors each can actually control. The reader truly knows these characters as real people, complete and flawed with sometimes-unwise choices.
Can Kaitlyn’s knowledge of the spiritual world along with Nate’s skill be enough to save her and the baby? Read Unholy Bargain to discover the life or death deal.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Bride for the Sheriff

A Bride for the Sheriff
Jewell Tweedt
Prism Book Group
Stewartstown, PA
ISBN: 978-1-940099-88-0
October 2014
Trade paperback
$ 12.99
182 pages

Life seldom happens as expected.

A few years ago, Claire Secord never imagined herself in her present situation.

She lived on a farm with her parents and was betrothed to Cal Davidson. The Civil War changed her expectations. Caleb never returned after leaving to fight with the Union forces. After four years there was still no word of his death. It was as if he had disappeared.

Her parents died leaving her alone.

Now in April of 1868, Claire discovers herself at another life decision. A family in nearby Gettysburg, Pennsylvania have hired her to be nanny to their rambunctious sons as well as having the household duties such as housework, cooking, and tending the vegetable garden. The family feels that Claire should be indebted to them for providing for her.

When she receives a telegram from her aunt who is living in the frontier town of Omaha in the new state of Nebraska. Her elderly aunt desperately needs help to run the general store, especially since her uncle just had a heart attack and died.

Should she stay in the known, safely with the family in Pennsylvania or travel to the unknown, to a frontier town?

Claire, like many family employees of the time, welcomes the opportunity to start over, to have a new life. Added to that is the lure of loyalty to her loving family.

Twenty-one year old Claire, boards a train with all her possessions to the edge of civilization as she knows it, Omaha.

Tom Maxwell becomes one of her first friends in the new settlement.  Being a handsome sheriff certainly grabs Claire's attention but part of her still belongs to Cal.

Running a general store requires all of Claire's skills and talents.  She is a quick learner but does she have what it takes to make this a successful business?

Will Claire be able to help run the store? Can she be safe and happy in this new town? Will she ever get over the loss of her one love, Caleb? Can she learn to live again?

Added to her new challenge, Claire is kidnapped.  Why? Who?

A Bride for the Sheriff is a Christian historical romance novel. The author, Jewell Tweedt beautifully transports the reader into 1868 and vividly sets Claire into Omaha describing the scenes, the smells and the sounds and even occasionally the tastes. Viewing this new settlement through Claire's eyes is an well-researched history lesson. The story is well-organized with characters who have depth to their personalities and real flaws.

The author, Jewell Tweedt is an Omaha, Nebraska native who now resides in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Working as a middle school teacher, Ms. Tweedt utilizes her love of history and literature into this fast-paced gem.

Who would enjoy this novel? Anyone who loves history and romance would love to be transported back in time to Omaha through reading Jewell Tweedt's novel, A Bride for the Sheriff.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Belle's Crossing

"Belle's Crossing"
B. J. Betts
Tornado Alley Publications
Prairie Rose Publications
September 2014
Kindle $ 0.99
60 pages

In 1909, three beautiful teenaged daughters spent their time preparing for a dance. With all the teasing and primping they quickly turned their household into temporary chaos. With this loving and caring family, they were delighted with the enthusiasm and were content to know that the girls would be safe being that they were together.

This was the annual dance and for their sister, Rosie, it would be her first time being allowed to attend a dance. The thrill of growing up and included with her older sisters made her nervous but also exciting as a new chapter in her life was about to open.

On their way home from the dance, Katy, Susie, and Rosie Clark died in an unfortunate accident while crossing a train track in the swampy area known as Big Lake Park in the rural area of northern Council Bluffs, Iowa on Halloween Night. Was it an accident or was it someone's idea of a prank?

If people die under unsettling circumstances does it mean their spirits are unsettled? What would allow them to rest in peace? Can they become angels waiting for destiny to fulfill their purpose

One hundred years later, Laynee Rodgers has almost an identical accident. However, she lived due to the help of three women who were dressed in old clothes. Who were these women? Where did they go? Why did they need to save her?

"Belle's Crossing" excels in bringing the past to life. In this haunting short story, the reader feels as if they are with accompanying Laynee with her investigation into the past. The history of past traditions and practices into Beggar's Night perfectly educates as well as delights in the tale by local storyteller, B. J. Betts.

B.J. Betts is Council Bluffs' born and raised while now residing close-by in Missouri Valley. She has published two novels Saigon Moon reflecting on the Vietnam War mixed with romance and Echoes in the Night also about two brothers who were drafted to fight in Vietnam. She is active in the Romance Writers of America and also the Romance Writers of the Heartland.

For a quick romantic story, B. J. Betts “Belle's Crossing” tells a haunting and memorable tale.

She Weeps Each Time You're Born

She Weeps Each Time You're Born
Quan Barry
Pantheon Book
Random House LLC
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-307-91177-3
$ 24.95
270 pages

"Three things cannot be hidden long: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened."

While the fighting is at its most intense during the Vietnam War, Rabbit is born in a grave during a night with a beautiful full moon. This is her destiny. The story is her life and those who have called this country “home” for generations. As with numerous wars, her family consists of people from her village and travels, all thrown together into a unit that depends and protects each other.

Rabbit has a rare gift. She is able to "hear" the dead reflecting on the past in this war torn country from the French Indochina to the World War II rubber plantations to the American occupation to the reunification. The sights and sounds are her voices from the past beautifully woven into a tale of those Vietnamese people who miraculously survived and even those who died retelling from their perspective all the violence of the twentieth century in their homeland.

The personal voice of Rabbit throughout She Weeps Each Time You're Born is astounding making the reader hear, touch, see and even smell as she journeys her country through the extended time had been at war.

What is unusual about this novel is the poetic word choices creating an aviance surrounding each paragraph. There is beauty in the writing of this novel that creates a deepness often reflected in poetry. Each carefully crafted sentence appears to have a more intensive meaning that frequently has the reader stopping and reflecting upon the inner truths of the words chosen. With words of wisdom and real life experiences in every character's life, Barry concisely and perfectly writes what others feel but cannot express as eloquently in carefully sculptured sentences such as "He of all people should know that when the heart breaks, there is no salve," or "Overnight a thousand-year culture of hospitality had been reduced to everyman for himself."

She Weeps Each Time You're Born tells of those who were not fighting, but just trying to survive as their country is torn-apart around them. The writing allows the reader to visually view life throughout the twentieth century in Vietnam while working on a rubber plantation, being re-educated at a camp, experiencing not being on the winning side of a war, magical gifts, atrocities, tragedies, and the love and loyalty between people.

She Weeps Each Time You're Born is Quan Barry's debut novel. She has previously published poetry books that have won awards while working as a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This is a novel that luxiates in the language while allowing the words to surround the reader engulfing each person into She Weeps Each Time You're Born.


"Once in every show, there comes a little song, it starts out soft and low, and goes on and on and on... and ends up with a kiss, this is the song that goes like this." Thus is Spamalot.

Spamalot is a show that appeared on Broadway and won three Tony awards in 2005. It is based on the movie by Eric Idle "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". In typical Monty Python style it is funny, slightly obscene, and not politically correct. This show is meant to be entirely entertaining using basic slapstick comedy and poking fun at other Broadway musicals and Las Vegas shows. The current production at the Omaha Community Playhouse is delightfully fun to watch and includes even a little audience participation with each show featuring one local long-time supporter of the theater.

This cast is immensely talented with phenomenal singing voices. I could have just listened to their songs all night with their well-balanced harmonies. Every voice could have been a lead role.

In the lead role of King Arthur, Nick Albrecht beautifully fills the theater with his mellow baritone voice. As his sidekick Patsy, Brian Priesman charms the audience during "I'm all Alone" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" while still being the master of the coconut shells. As The Lady of the Lake, Melanie Walters is phenomenal with her gorgeous singing while doing double duty as the shows choreographer. Matthew Jeske is unquestionably multi-talented in his often scene stealing roles as the Historian, Not Dead Fred, a French guard, The Head Knight Who Says "Ni", the Lead Minstrel, Prince Herbert's Father, and Brother Maynard. Yes, he has a different costume and personality for each one within the two-hour show.

For those appearing on the stage, with the constant costume changes and fast-paced, high-energy levels required, every cast member has to be exhausted by the end but never misses a beat. This has to be one of the best ensembles assembled anywhere. My regret is not mentioning each one. A perfect example is Josh Davis who excelled as the mime and puppetteer. What is a mime doing in a show about King Arthur? Go see the show to find out.

The eleven band members under the direction of Jim Boggness are wonderful. During the preview night, the balance was always perfect thanks also to the sound crew. Comically at times the trumpets almost become another character.

This production has a large cast with many actors having more than one role requiring numerous dressing changes. The supporting crew and cast are phenomenal with these costume and scene changes.

The large numbers of supporting crew members are outstanding with this almost seamless production. On preview night, which is essentially the final dress rehearsal, the projection screen lagged behind the stage action. I feel confident that this is fixed for the other shows.

The show lasts a little over two hours. It is fast-paced and adult oriented. Even though it is a light-heared musical with catchy tunes, this is not a show for children.

Spamalot continues at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha until June 28th with showtimes at 7:30 Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $ 40 for adults and $ 25 for students with discounts for groups of more than twelve and can be purchased by contacting the Omaha Community Playhouse box office by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse. org or www.Ticket

Please leave your coconut shells at home. (If you don't understand this request, go see the show.) Even if you do understand it, grab the opportunity to see this completely laughable. light-hearted and entertaining production.