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.