"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Time Keeper

Critics have labeled Mitch Albom’s books “maudlin”, “sentimental”, and “filled with obvious truths”. They may be right. I like what I have read by him, and I think that I have read them all, starting with Tuesdays with Morrie.

Albom’s most recent book, THE TIME KEEPER is written in a different style than his earlier works, but I am guessing that the critics will still be saying “maudlin”, “sentimental”, and “ full of obvious truths”.  Sometimes the obvious truths are the ones that need to be brought to our attention regularly.

Long, long ago, Alli and her two best friends, Dor and Nim, are playing on a hill. Dor is doing something never done before; he is counting-- his fingers, his breaths, everything. He is a good, gentle, obedient child, but his mind goes deeper than the others. For this reason, God is watching him.

The children grow. Dor and Alli marry. Nim begins to build a tower that he believes will touch the Heavens and give him untold powers. Instead, he changes the language of the world into many languages and changes Dor’s life.

Although Dor loves Alli very much, he continues to count and soon discovers that Time can be measured. This is dangerous knowledge and for his punishment God places him in a cave where Dor has to listen to people praying for more time, for less time, or for time to stand still.

Centuries pass. Finally he is visited by a very old man who tells him that he must go back to Earth and fix two lives.

In modern America we meet Sarah Lemon and Victor Delamonte. Sarah is an unhappy teenager and Victor, wealthy beyond imagination, is dying. Both feel that Time is running out for them.

THE TIME KEEPER is written in a sparse, minimalistic style, unlike Albom’s other books. It took me several pages to adjust, but I felt it a good choice for the fable. The characters of Sarah and Victor may have seemed stereotypical, but it is a fine line between Everyman and stereotype.

I picked this book at the library simply on the author’s name. I was not prepared for the style or the subject and as I said, it took a bit of a mind adjustment. It is a very quick read and if you are a Mitch Albom fan, worthwhile. He makes me feel good, so I will always try his efforts as they are published.

The message of the book was simple. “There is a reason God limits our time.” Maudlin, sentimental, obvious? Maybe, but it is a message that we need to hear now and then.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: True Sisters

Stories about the Westward movement have been a fascinating part of the history of our country. Sandra Dallas captures the lives of four women who made a particularly difficult journey in her novel TRUE SISTERS.

In order to move hundreds of Mormon converts from Europe to Salt Lake City, Brigham Young “organized” companies to travel from Iowa City to the place he called Zion, The Promised Land. These people were to walk the 1,300 mile journey pushing two-wheel carts that held all of their worldly possessions.

The trip was a disaster. They faced the heat of the Plains and later the bitter cold of the mountains. Of the 625 who started the trip in Iowa City, defections on the first part of the journey brought the figure down to 575. Of these 575, at least 170 perished from cold, hunger, exhaustion, or probably a combination of all three.

Based on this historic event, the novel TRUE SISTERS follows four women who start the journey as strangers and learn to depend on the friendships that adversity forges. Nannie had been abandoned on her wedding day and was travelling with her pregnant sister and brother-in-law. Adding to the physical hardships of the trip, Nannie finds her intended and his new wife part of the company.

Jessie is travelling with her two brothers and dreams of the farm that they will share in this Promised Land. Having worked side by side with her brothers back home, Jessie can work as hard as many of the men, but she is not prepared for some of the losses that she has to face.  Jessie married the missionary who was responsible for the conversion of many in the group. The perfect wife, she believes that her husband speaks for God.

Anne has no choice but to follow her husband. He has sold everything back home, given the church elders their money, and threatened to take their children, whether she goes or not. She is the only non-convert.

There are many sad scenes in this book; many people do not make it to The Promised Land. What makes it so inspiring is the fact that the human spirit makes it. It is amazing what we can go through and survive.

Sandra Dallas writes historic fiction and in the process shows us that women have always had the same problems and strengths. One of her enduring themes is how important friendships are to women. Maybe that friendship is one of the sources of our strength.

If you have noticed, this not the first time this author has been part of P.O.V. If you have not found her yet, I suggest that you start with Alice’s Tulips and follow with The Chili Queen; they are connected. This is another author who should be on every woman’s reading list.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

BOOKS: Annual Christmas List

Yes, boys and girls it is once again time for Auntie Santa to help you with your Christmas gift giving and to get a hint or two in for Auntie Santa herself. Starting with the young, especially the young in heart-- I find that some of the best books published are in this group:

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak is still on my favorite- of- all -time list. No matter for what the age, this book is brilliant.

I really enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES series by Susanne Collins. These books have actually been out for some time, but if not already read, a good choice for the futuristic fan.

Our granddaughter has asked for LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. She has never led me wrong and from the reviews, this does sound good. Maybe she will loan me her copy.

I personally am excited that Justin Cronin’s follow-up to THE PASSAGE is out, and on the best- seller lists. The title is THE TWELVE and I am going to be checking under the tree for this one with my name on the tag.

Again for the reader who enjoys something different consider WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks. Max is the son of Mel Brooks, so you know to expect something unusual. It has been around for some time, but I see that The New York Times has it on one of their list. It is definitely different!

For history buffs the selection is always rich. My husband read Bill O’Reilly’s KILLING LINCOLN and enjoyed it. He had been warned that the author may have taken some liberties with the facts.

Laura Hillenbrand’s UNBROKEN is the true story of a prisoner of war during the Second World War. I really got caught up in this one.

From the earliest days of our country comes UNWISE PASSIONS by Alan Pell Crawford. Taking his facts from letters and diaries, this book gave me a new understanding of some of our founding fathers. This was a fascinating read even for those of us who are more interested in characters than history.

Two “just good reads” were David E. Hinton’s KINGS OF COLORADO and Emma Donoghue’s ROOM. I loved both of these although they are very different. Either would be appreciated by the readers on your list.

A specialized book on my list would be I HAD BRAIN SURGERY, WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE? by Suzy Becker. This would be a good “up-lifter” for the reader going through any type of health problem. It is funny-- odd, but funny.

Remember the classics still work; after all, they ARE classics. With all of the publicity for the movie LES MISERABLES, and the local high school doing their production of it, it might be a good idea to go back to read the original by Victor Hugo. It has lasted over time for a reason.

The choices are so plentiful, but I am taking too much space. So, that leaves me with just enough time to mention four of my favorite authors and a bit of advice; try them. Greg Iles. I am waiting for him to recover from his accident and get done with his Penn Cage series.

Sharon Sala. Her books are sometimes OK and sometimes terrific. The terrific are worth waiting for.

Margaret Coel. If modern day Native American mysteries are of interest, give her a try. I cannot understand why she is not on every reading list.

Judy Coopey. Her third book will be out in January, but REDFIELD FARM and WATERPROOF are good choices.

My sincere wish for all of us is that we spend Christmas Day with a new book that we can NOT put down long enough to open the rest of our gifts.

Monday, December 3, 2012

THEATER: Les Miserables

When I heard that Bald Eagle Area Drama Club was doing LES MISERABLES I winced. Don’t get me wrong; I have loved the story since I was forced to read it in my high school French class. I even had doubts when the book was turned into a musical. Now, a group of high school students were going to attempt it. Wow.

Wow is right. I am so glad that I made the trip to Wingate to see those high school students.  First of all the adaption by Tim Kelly from Victor Hugo’s rather long novel is just perfect for an evening of theatre.

Secondly, director Lindsey Allison and technical director Eric Brinser showed great understanding of the show and were able to pass that to the cast and crew. Having Victor Hugo, played by Benjamin Leskovansky, explain the passing of time was a big help for audience members who may have forgotten points of the original plot. The show appeared to be very simple, an easy one to do. It only takes a look at the list of cast, crew, parents, school officials, etc. to give an idea of what an undertaking this was. I wish there were room to mention everyone.

To me the most effective scene was Clifford Smolko’s soliloquy. So many times Inspector Javert is seen as a villain. Clifford portrayed him as being conflicted between his sense of duty and dealing with the goodness of Jean Valjean. That is the way it should be.

Speaking of the personality of Jean Valjean, Richard Spicer is well cast as the man who is basically good and trying to live down his past. Richard also had his chance to show great passion. His speech in the court room was very convincing.

As an actor, the chance to play Thenardier or his wife Madam must be a treat. He is my favorite character in the play; he is so very shady….no, beyond “shady”. Cody Mandell and Nicole Bonsell were almost slimy at times. These are the true villains and Cody and Nicole had fun with the parts.

It is a shame that the character Fatine is not on stage longer. Lexi Holderman was so good and needed more time to develop this fantastic person. Her death scene was well played, not overly dramatic, just very touching. Another actress who is worth mentioning is Abbey Crago as Eponine. Again, I wish Abby would have had time to develop her character. It was still possible to get to know this complicated person through Abbey’s acting and Ms. Allison’s directing.

I enjoyed the show immensely and it made me even more excited to see the upcoming movie. The sad thing for me was knowing that some of my favorite actors up on the Bald Eagle stage are seniors and only will be seen in one more show. Incidentally, that will be Fiddler on the Roof; you won’t want to miss this one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Expecting Adam

Sometimes a book comes along that makes me a little nervous to tell you about it; I am afraid that I will not do it justice. EXPECTING ADAM by Martha Beck is one of those books. As the cover says, it is a “true story of birth, rebirth, and everyday magic”.

My first contact with Martha Beck was a book titled The Joy Diet. It was an upbeat, humorous guide on how to add joy to your life. As I read it, the author’s life became slowly revealed showing that she was a person who had experienced so many things that should have made joy a foreign emotion. She knows that being happy is a deliberate decision that we make.  Probably the major event in her life was giving birth to her son Adam. But, let us start at the beginning of EXPECTING ADAM.

Martha and her husband John were graduate students at Harvard. With two degrees apiece under their belts, they were on their way to successful careers. Although already the parents of a daughter, Martha was on the professional track demanded by her school and fellow classmates.

The new pregnancy brought with it constant battles with nausea, dehydration, and censure from the Harvard community. The criticism became more intense when the unborn baby is diagnosed with Downs Syndrome and it is clear that she is not going to terminate the pregnancy.

This story covers so many issues that it is hard to know where to begin. I was particularly amazed by how critical her fellow female colleagues were. Showing signs of illness was showing signs of weakness and as one woman told her, “gave woman a bad name”. The stress to get ahead on campus did not allow for any type of personal life. Almost from the moment that she thought she was pregnant, Martha started having “spiritual” experiences. She said that she could not explain some of the things that happened, but it was as if Adam brought his own guardian angels with him from the very beginning.

This is a tender, honest, funny, wonderful book. If you are the type to scoff at visions or guardian angels, you will still be captured by the warmth and love contained in Adam’s story. If you have been blessed with a special needs child, this book should be required reading.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Devil's Punchbowl

THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL is the most disturbing Greg Iles book that I have read. A Greg Iles book is going to deal with unsavory characters and situations. We know that; he is not for the faint of heart or squeamish. This time the subject matter pushed some personal buttons.

After the death of his wife, and thinking to give his young daughter the support of her grandparents, Penn Cage had returned to his home town, Natchez, Mississippi. He had been elected mayor on the promise to bring fresh money to the small city and to improve the school system.

Penn reluctantly agrees that one way to bring jobs and money in is to allow riverboat casinos to set up at the bottom of the town. When his old high school friend Tim asks to meet him in the local cemetery, Penn is pulled into the evil that has come to his town. Tim shows Penn graphic pictures of the dog fights that are drawing the big money gamblers to the Magnolia Queen Casino. Shortly after their meeting Tim is found murdered and when threats are made to Penn’s family, the depraved new world collides with Penn’s world.

Although I feel that I should warn you of the violence, it was always done as part of the horror of the situations. (Trust me; you will not be able to forgive the people involved in dog fighting after reading this book.)

There are so many things that I like about Greg Iles and this novel is no exception. First of all, he is never a formula writer. Each book is fresh and inventive. I also love his use of language. On one page his description is Southern poetry; the next page will be in words that only a man from the gutters would use. Both rang true to me.

If I have a problem with THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL it is that it ends with a doozy of a cliff hanger. In searching for the title of the next book in line, I found that Iles has been in a very bad automobile accident and, as far as I can find, the sequel has not come out yet. He is worth waiting for, but I hope that he hurries up!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Calling Invisible Women

Ladies, have you ever felt invisible? Have you ever felt that your loved ones would not notice if you were present, as long as the food appeared on the table and the laundry was done? Or… better question…..What would you DO if you were truly invisible?

If any of these questions have ever crossed your mind, meet Clover, the fifty-something heroine of Jeanne Ray’s CALLING INVISIBLE WOMEN. Clover panics when she makes the discovery one morning that her body can no longer be seen. Although her husband Arthur and their son Nick sit across from her at the breakfast table that morning, neither are aware that Clover has no body.

Wearing long sleeves, slacks, a hat, and sunglasses, Clover ventures out of her house into a world that does not notice her lack of a body. Luckily, she finds that she is not alone with this condition. The Organization of Invisible Women helps the members develop self-confidence and useful survival skills, particularly the freedom of being naked. After all, no one can see them.

Being unseen gives Clover and her new friends an ability to do Super Hero types of actions like stopping bullying on the school bus and stopping a bank hold-up. The women discover that the one thing that they have in common is a combination of drugs that they had taken and that the responsible pharmaceutical company knows of this side effect.

CALLING INVISIBLE WOMEN is a very light read, but it does have serious ideas. The author seemed to have two points that she wanted to make: how easy it is to over- look women of a certain age and how far large pharmaceutical companies will go to make a profit.

One quote saved the book from being silly : “…..before it happened I felt that I had all of the burdens of no one paying attention to me and none of the benefits. Now I can see how many things you can do when no one is watching. It’s a huge freedom when you think about it.”

So, if you ever feel invisible, dance as if no one is watching; it can be liberating according to Jeanne Ray’s CALLING INVISIBLE WOMEN.

Monday, November 12, 2012

THEATER REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest

The high school theatre season has started and I could not be happier. If I have as much fun at the other schools as I did this past Friday at Bellefonte High School's fall play, it will be a good year.

The Bellefonte Area High School Drama Club stretched their Thespian muscles with Oscar Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST proving that audiences can still relate to Oscar Wilde and that our high school students have talent.

The two charming bachelors who confuse the plot by proposing to their respective girlfriends under the pseudonym of “Earnest” were played by freshman Stephen Giacobe and senior Sean Connelly. Both actors captured the period of the play well. I initially had some trouble with Stephen’s British accent, but before the end of the first act it was no longer a problem.

The girlfriends were delightfully played by seniors Elizabeth Catchmark and Julia Laufer. These two young actresses have great stage presence and clear diction. Since so much of Wilde’s humor depends on the audience catching the clever lines I really appreciated the work that went in to the dialogue. They are also to be commended on handling hoop skirts so skillfully.

Senior Chelsea McGhee played the only “earnest” person in the play, the pompous Lady Bracknell, with dignity and a touch of true snobbery. When she and the governess Miss Prism, senior Marichka Lucas, explain what has happened, it almost makes sense. Again, the work that went into making the lines clear to the audience was appreciated.

Zachary Spaw and Kyle Naylor “ butlered” perfectly. They were the very model of Victorian correctness. Sean Gipson had the fun part of the Reverend Canon Chasuble. These three actors proved that there are no small parts in theatre. Each young man took his part and made it his own.

Extra credit goes to the technical crew for capturing the period so well. Costumes, sets, and even the women’s hair styles were well done. Artistic Director Shaun McMurtrie put together a very enjoyable evening. It will be fun to see what this group will do with South Pacific in April.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Moment of Truth

As I said last week, I have discovered Lisa Scottoline. I just finished MOMENT OF TRUTH and am a little ambiguous about my feelings.

Wealthy Honor Newlin has been murdered. Her husband Jack finds her body in their apartment, rearranges the death scene, calls 911, and confesses to the crime. Jack knows that their daughter Paige was to have met her parents for dinner that night, so he is sure that Paige is guilty of killing her mother. Jack hires the inexperienced attorney, Mary DiNunzio. Mary may not be a veteran criminal lawyer, but she finds Jack’s story unbelievable and starts investigating Paige. Sixteen-year old Paige is a very successful model whose career has been managed by her mother. For all of those years Paige has put up with her mother’s abuse and now she has to tell her mother of her pregnancy. What follows, of course, is a plot full of twists, chase scenes, and several more murders.

This book was a disappointment to me. I know that just because an author makes it to a best seller list does not guarantee that I will like him or her, but I expected more. The characters in MOMENT OF TRUTH did not ring true to me; I wanted more depth, more growth. The basic plot was good and Scottoline is able to introduce humor in the spots that need to be lightened, but somehow this book felt rushed, as if the author’s mortgage was due and a deadline was fast approaching. I will read Lisa Scottoline again. Her collection of articles, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog made me feel that I know her personally. Keeping that in mind, I will give her another chance.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog

It is not clear how Lisa Scottoline has escaped my radar screen. She is a best-selling author of mystery stories and like mystery stories. One day a friend gave me a copy of WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG, a collection of Scottoline’s newspaper articles, and about a month later, our book group decided to read Moment of Truth. It seemed as if fate wanted me to read something by Lisa Scottoline.

WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG, is an honest relating of the day to day life of a woman who is a best-selling author, has been married twice, Thing One and Thing Two, has a grown daughter, a mother who is starting to age, and several dogs with distinct personalities. Besides being full of wit and wisdom, this book is full of advice. For example: if you crave carbs and your jeans no longer fit and you believe that these two things are unrelated, you may need a reality check.

Scottoline can cleverly twist a line to bring humor to a situation, but she can also make you sigh with recognition over the death of a beloved pet or the independence of a daughter out on her own. On a visit to her daughter’s apartment, she learned that daughters CAN do laundry, cook a decent meal, and stay safe in a big city.

The chapters in this book are very short, the length of a newspaper article, so that it is a good book to “read at”. Several of my reads have been a little heavy recently and it was pleasant to pick up something that was fun. (It was too light to read in one sitting). It also was a good thing to have read before her novel, Moment of Truth, but I have run out of space and will get to that book next week. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

THEATER: Little Shop of Horrors

GUEST REVIEWER:  Sydney Fondi


LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, playing at The Community Theatre League on 3rd Street in Williampsort, PA is a fantastic stage reproduction based on the well known 1986 film starring Rick Moranis as Seymour and Steve Martin as Orin the Dentist.

This Community Theatre League musical stars Johnathan Hetler as Seymour and Melissa Mabus as Audrey.  The vocals alone are enough to keep you in your seat, but the humor that this cast has incorporated into their performance is what brought down the house.  Orin Scrivello is played by the young Caleb Albert who successfully channeled his inner Steve Martin for this outstanding role. 

This theater is cozy and intimate and perfect for this play.  I'm new to being a critic of the arts, but I am a huge fan of them.  This performance was nothing less than stellar and I encourage everyone to come out and see them perform.  The casting and directing was brilliantly chosen and there is a fun and enjoyable atmosphere about their performance as a result.  Enjoy!

For more information or to get tickets for Little Shop of Horrors, please visit the Community Theatre League's website.  The show will be performed November 1 - 3rd at 7:30pm and November 4th at 2:30pm.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

EVENT: Designer Bag Bingo

This is a plea to help our local public libraries and therefor a shameless bit for your help.

As you know funding has been cut drastically to public libraries. As is the case in all towns, Bellefonte’s library is really hurting for funds. If you want to help, there will be a 

DESIGNER BAG BINGO 
at Lambert Hall, 303 Forge Road, Bellefonte, Pa. 
on Saturday, November, 10, 2012. 
Doors will open at 12:30 p.m. 
The cost will be $25 for advance sales and $30 at the door. 
All proceeds will benefit the Centre County Library and Historical Museum. 

This will be a fun way to show your support of the services provided by our library.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Winter Moon Trilogy

My husband and I just got back from the perfect vacation. Well, it is perfect for the two of us. He fishes all day and I sit in the air conditioning and read. I take a large bag of books with me, a little bit of this and that. Finding a collection of novellas is always a treat and for this trip I had found a volume that contained two of my favorite fantasy authors and one who was new to me. As expected, WINTER MOON was fun.

Mercedes Lackey is probably the best know author of the three. Her Moontide was a good opening for the book. Moira na Ferson has been ordered home to her father’s keep along the stormy seaside. He had sent her to be fostered by the Countess Vrenable not knowing that the Countess trains her select group of young women to be Grey Ladies, ladies who have been prepared to be skilled assassins. Arriving home, she finds that her father has hired a mis-shapened Fool and has a guest who is to be her future husband.

The purpose of the keep is to maintain the beacons that warn the passing ships of the dangerous rocks surrounding the coast. Moira discovers that somebody in the castle has the magical powers to move the lights to deliberately mislead the ships. Her secret training will have to be used either to obey her father or to trust the Fool.

The Heart of the Moon, the second story is by Tanith Lee and was my favorite. Warrior priestess Clirando finds that her lover and her best friend have betrayed her. She challenges each of them to a public duel. After the fight, struggling with the curse of her dead comrade, Clirando is sent on a spiritual journey to the Moon Isle. On the magical island she meets Zemetrios who is there to battle his own demons.

My favorite part of any story is character growth and this story emphasized character more than it did the magical events. Good fantasy and/or science fiction depends on keeping the human element a contributing factor. What is truth is truth no matter when or where a story takes place.

The final story, Banshee Cries is by C.E. Murphy. I was not as familiar with this author as I was the other two, so I had no idea what to expect. I learned that the main character is a part of an ongoing series. Even though this novella stands perfectly on its own, I want to know more.

Jo Walker is happiest when working as a mechanic on the police cars. Her gift to see supernatural happenings does not go unnoticed by the police brass and she is taken from the garage pool and finds herself on the homicide squad. A ritual murder has taken place under the full moon and Jo is called in to view the crime scene and to pick up on clues that the “ungifted” police would miss. Her sight discovers two other bodies, all three connected physically.

Jo is very unskilled at using her talents and not at all sure that she even wants them. She is sure that she is not happy to be dealing with the gruesome aspects of ritualistic murders. When she finally has to confront a Harbinger of Death, her gifts are the only thing that will save her own life.

Novellas are perfect vacation reading. They are short and fast paced. That fact may have been my problem with Lackey’s contribution. The other two told a neat, compact story; Moontide needed to be longer to give the characters space to develop. I have enjoyed other books by her, but if this had been my only contact, I am afraid that I would have dismissed a top notch fantasy author.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Language of Sycamores

Lisa Wingate is a writer of unusual heartfelt warmth and honesty.  Her THE LANGUAGE OF SYCAMORES is certainly no exception to this.

Karen Sommerfield has just been the victim of downsizing from her high powered job. The job had allowed her to distance herself from a recent miscarriage, a bout with cancer and her marriage to an airline pilot who is rarely home. Now that she is jobless and facing the fact that the cancer may have reoccurred, she decides to go home to the farm in Missouri in search of herself.

Her sister Kate, with her husband and two young children, now lives on the farm that had belonged to their Grandma Rose. Karen and Kate have not had a close relationship. One has been busy getting ahead in the corporate world in Boston; the other has been living on a farm raising children. The rivalry has been of long standing due to a father who had high ideals for both girls. Karen has not been back since Grandma Rose’s funeral. Karen rediscovers her lost love of music, a love that her father had made her abandon to pursue a more lucrative career. She also finds Dell, a young neglected girl who says that Grandma Rose still talks to her. With the help of Dell, music, the call of her home memories, and the soft, secret language of the sycamore trees, Karen discovers herself and some very surprising answers to life’s questions.

Actually THE LANGUAGE OF SYCAMORES is part of a five book series. Each book could be read for itself and I have to admit that I did not read them in proper order. I would recommend reading Tending Roses first. It is Kate’s story of coming home to take care of Grandma Rose, to get the feisty old woman ready to go to a nursing home. I also really enjoyed the final book, A Thousand Voices. This is Dell’s story and her search for her Native American father. Trust me; once you meet Grandma Rose’s family you will want to learn more about them.

Lisa Wingate is an author who knows how to tell a story. As life can make you laugh and cry at the same time, so do her books. What another author could turn into maudlin sentimentality, Lisa Wingate turns into warn, true, see-myself-and-friends, inspirational stories. I highly recommend her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Return

Sharon Sala is very high on my list of favorite authors. She is very prolific and as a result some books are better than others. THE RETURN is one of the good ones.

For generations the feud between the Joslins and the Blairs had raged with hatred on both sides. In 1973 the final scene should have played out on a lonely mountain, leaving a young mother dead and her new-born daughter in the arms of the mountain’s “witch”.  Twenty-five years later, Katherine Fane brings the body of the only family she has ever known back to be buried on the mountain.

Katherine’s arrival with her Granny’s casket is met with superstitious fear by the people in Camarune, Kentucky. A calf is born with one eye; an egg with blood in its membrane is broken for breakfast; snakes appear in a barn. The people are so sure that the witch or her granddaughter has cursed the town for the things that happened in the past and things quickly get violent.

Sheriff Luke DePriest has been busy tracking an unusual thief - a thief who only takes basic necessities and leaves carved wooden pieces in their place. As the sheriff tries to keep peace in town, protect Katherine, and find the thief, an old man is watching Katherine from the woods and another shattered old man is watching through hate filled eyes the impossible conclusion to the feud that should have ended twenty-five years earlier. Home is where a person goes to be safe, to find comfort.

It was easy to get into Katherine’s mind as she found these things in Granny’s old cabin, but not in the people of the town. The conclusion of the book, although not completely unexpected and a little too neatly tied up, was still very satisfactory. By then I was so involved with the characters that I finished the book with a smile and a tear. That makes a good read.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Fall of Light

The cover of the book advised me that the author had been the recipient of the Bram Stoker Award and that she was “This generation’s Ray Bradbury”.  How could I refuse? Allow me to state up front that although FALL OF LIGHT by Nina Kiriki Hoffman was an interesting read, Ray Bradbury is still the only Ray Bradbury.

Movie makeup artist Opal LaZelle has used her magical powers to specialize in transforming actors into the grotesque creatures of grade B horror movies. Her current job is to turn actor Corvus Weather into the Dark God making it easier for him to “become” the role. It seems that something is causing his performance to become a little too convincing. When Corvus seems to be taking his role off the set, Opal realizes that he is not acting.

The old women in the isolated town where the movie is being shot tell of how young girls vanished years ago and how residents were still reluctant to go out after dark. It soon becomes apparent that Corvus has become possessed by the supernatural power that has been sleeping all these years. Opal’s powers may not be strong enough to save Corvus and other members of the cast and crew.

 I was very disappointed in this book, especially after the build-up on the cover. I know that it is accepted that books dealing with the supernatural should leave some questions unanswered, however, Ms. Hoffman needed to be clearer on many points. After spending a large part of the story showing evil intentions by the possessed Corvus, when we do get to meet this unknown being, it seemed anti-climatically benign.   About half way through the book Opal has to confront herself and her use of power. This would have been a terrific turn for the plot line, but, again, I felt that too many questions were left unanswered.

Author Nina Kiriki Hoffman has an impressive list of works that have been published as well as awards received. Her physical descriptions of color and texture were worthy of a movie, but her characters lacked depth; and as I said, too many questions were left hanging. It seemed as if the author could not quite make up her mind where she wanted the book to go. To compare her writing to the poetic Ray Bradbury just seemed wrong.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BOOK: Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the current political climate, it seemed only right that I learn something about the Mormon religion. Most books on the subject seem to be written either by devout members of the church or disgruntled ex-members. UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN was written by Jon Krakauer, a man who admits that he has no idea if there is a God. He has written a book that is a combination of true-crime reporting and well-documented history.

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN’s base story is that of brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty. In July of 1984. Ron and Dan brutally killed their brother Allen’s wife Brenda and his fifteen-month-old daughter Erica, on what they believed to be a commandment from God. As members of the 40,000 strong Mormon Fundamentalists community, Ron and Dan believed that Brenda was keeping Allen from being a true believer and was encouraging the other women in the family to be disobedient to their husbands and church.

In telling Ron and Dan’s story, Krakauer goes into the history of the Mormon faith, starting with Joseph Smith being given the golden plates in 1827 and their finding their present headquarters in Salt Lake City. He covers the split between the main body of the Mormons, now known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and the Mormon Fundamentalists. The main body of the LDS make it very clear that the Fundamentalists are not part of the Mormon church.

Parts of the book were a tough read. The early church promoted polygamy and the author‘s detailing of family histories became very complicated. It was when the LDS did away with polygamy that caused the uprising of the Fundamentalists.

Although this book covers the details of Ron and Dan’s lives and thought process surrounding the murders and the trials that followed, Krakauer makes a good case against extremes in any religion… be it Mormon, Muslim, or Christian. It raises some interesting questions. Questions like: Is everyone who prays for God’s guidance to be considered psychotic? ..or.. How far does a person go to follow the laws of his faith over the laws of the land?

Jon Krakauer has written a book that has all of the true crime reporting of In Cold Blood, but also has given the reader a history of a little known religion that is growing rapidly. He also helps us to understand how religious splinter groups can start and how dangerous such groups can be.

Monday, September 24, 2012

UPDATE: Update on Local Happenings

Things seem to be back to normal at our place. Well, as normal as can be expected. Our front porch offers a view into two of the court rooms in the Centre County Court House so we had more involvement in the two big court cases in Bellefonte this summer than we wanted. The Sandusky trial may have attracted more media attention, but the so-called Russian Mafia trial was a little frightening. The police coverage included snipers on the surrounding buildings. (All of this action did give my husband a chance to hang out with part of the NBC crew.)

More recently, a fire that destroyed the hotel and theatre in our block caused us to be evacuated from our home. This was the fourth beautiful, historical building that our town has lost in the last few years. Our home is the third building up the hill and it was a very good thing that it was a calm, damp night. It has probably gone through every person’s mind what he would grab in such a case. We did think of the important papers and our medicines as well as the “always-packed-in-case–somebody-asks-me-to-go-someplace-interesting” bag. That took care of the important stuff.

I did go back in the house for my address book. To my surprise, I found two women taking pictures off my walls. Having strangers going through my house did make me a little uncomfortable although I am sure that they were being helpful. The pictures were not a priority; my brother and our daughter would have copies of them.

We got back into our house about 6:30 in the morning, threw everything that we had taken out the night before on the dining room table, except for that bag packed to go interesting places, and headed to the Seneca Casino. I felt that I needed, and deserved, some R&R. Now everything is back in its proper place, as I said, back to normal.  The only thing that I cannot find is the grocery gift cards that are used for our community “soup kitchen”. When I think of what could have been, that seems a minor thing.

Back to normal also means that book reviews will be starting again this week. My reading did slow down, but I never go anywhere without something to read and I love sharing. Now you have had my apologies if you were expecting a book review last week.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

THEATER: The Man Who Came To Dinner

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER is currently playing at Boal Barn and the opening night attendance was proof of how badly we need local coverage of the arts.  State College Community Theatre provided another fun evening, but few people were aware that a show was going on. I really wish that The Weekender could cover, once a week, the local arts as well as the sports section covers local sports daily.

Now that I have that off my chest, allow me to tell you why you need to go to Boalsburg before THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER is over. The show is funny, well directed, well-acted, and the producers have even included a glossary of terms in the program for those of you who are too young to remember Katherine Cornell, Jascha Heifetz, or Margaret Bourke White. (There is a lot of “name dropping in the play.)

The story involves the Stanley family who is initially thrilled that the famous Sheridan Whiteside has broken his hip going into their home and will be forced to spend an extended visit. A visit spent in a wheelchair. They quickly come to realize that the time will also be spent following his dictatorial demands.

This show requires a very strong male actor to play Whiteside and Jason Poorman was well cast. He knew when to harass, when to flatter, and when to be extremely sly. Playing a strong, bigger than life character from a wheelchair must be difficult, but Jason made good use of the complete stage.

Kat Shondeck gets my personal Tony for her role as Whiteside’s long suffering assistant, Maggie. If a good performance is more about re-acting than acting, she was brilliant. Her facial expressions spoke louder than most actress’ speech.

It is always a delight to watch Katie Kensinger vamp up a stage whether she is playing the long suffering Miss Adelaide or the glamorous Lorraine Sheldon, the man stealing friend of Sheridan Whiteside. Katie had an opportunity to show a range of acting skills as she went from seductive to revengeful all in one scene. The silver and black gown did her figure justice……or maybe it was the other way around.

To me the best part of local theatre is watching actors show what they can do in a multiple series of roles. I love to see versatility. This list of talents has to include Jonathan Hetler. His over-the-top portrayal of Beverly Carlton was pure fun and different than other roles I have seen him in. Very good.
Local theatre buffs are very familiar with the name of Martha Traverse for her work on and back stage. Her part in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER was listed as a “cameo” performance. Trust me, she almost steals the show as the batty sister Harriet Stanley. Again, folks, there are no small parts in the theatre!

The rest of the cast also deserve special recognition and from the talent spread among them, if they have not been mentioned from earlier shows, you will be hearing about them in the future.

September is an idyllic time to visit the Barn; the weather is just about ideal and the staff has chosen the perfect show to end what was a superlative season. The program for this last show of the summer season has a teaser in the form of the list of next summer’s shows. Look for me there next year.
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER will be at the Barn until September the 15th.

For ticket information, please visit their website.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Over the last several years our granddaughter Grace kept telling me about this great book series that she had read. It sounded good to me, but other books were already on my night stand waiting. This year the first book in the series fell into my hands and I thought, “It is time.” That is how I found myself wrapped up in THE HUNGER GAMES by Susanne Collins.

The former North America is now a country called Panem ruled by beautiful people in a beautiful Capitol. The rulers are harsh, cruel, and easily bored. The outlying area consists of twelve districts where the people are controlled by desperate poverty. Each district is responsible for supplying the Capitol with the needs required for the citizens’ lavish lifestyle. The districts also provide the children for the yearly big entertainment, the Hunger Games.

The rules for the Hunger Game are simple enough: each district supplies a boy and a girl; then the twenty-four youngsters, called Tributes, meet in an elaborate arena and battle to the death until only one is left. This event is televised for the enjoyment of all, thus, great effort is put into costuming, makeup, TV interviews, etc. This allows the citizens of the Capitol to pick favorites and to know who to bet on.

In District 12, sixteen-year –old Katniss Everdeen has been taking care of her little sister, Prim, and their mother since their father was killed in a coal mining accident. In order to feed her family and provide meat for others in her neighborhood, Katniss and her friend Gale spend the days outside the fenced town hunting. At the yearly drawing for the games, Prim’s name is pulled. Katniss knows that her gentle sister would never be able to survive the violence of the games, so she volunteers to take her place.

Katniss and Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, are the two from District 12 who will be expected to kill not only the Tributes from the other Districts, but each other.

By the end of the first book I was captured. There was no way that I could not read the following books, CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY. The story does not end with the end of the Game, but continues through the revolution that finally brings the Districts together. From the beginning to the end, the reader is introduced to fascinating characters and given fast moving plots.

I have to admit that the middle book, CATCHING FIRE was not as good as the other two. It was needed for the plot advancement, but was little more than a short story pumped up. There should have been a way for the author to have blended it into the other two.

Suzanne Collins makes a very anti-war statement with these books. (I was not surprised to hear that she was raised as an army brat.) The violent scenes are at times shocking, especially when it is remembered how young so many of the Tributes are. It was a fine line for the author to develop a heroine who had to kill, but make her someone who we would still root for.

I remember how shocked I was by Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”; THE HUNGER GAMES goes more than one step beyond her story. This series proves once again that some of the best writing is being done for the Young Adult trade.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Things We Once Held Dear

THINGS WE ONCE HELD DEAR by Ann Tatlock is a gentle read even though the plot revolves around a murder that happened years earlier.

Neil Sadler had left the small town of Mason twenty years ago to make a successful life in New York City. The death of his wife has drawn him back home, back to the sad/happy memories of growing up as part of a loving, extended family. The center of that life was the large, rambling house that the children had called The Gothic House. Now, his cousin Grace has plans to turn the old place into a bed and breakfast with Neil’s help.

His Aunt Helen’s death was a big part of why Neil had left Mason. As the story unfolds in flashbacks, we learn that Helen had been murdered and that her husband Tom was convicted of the crime and had died in prison. As Neil tries to repair his own shattered world, he reconnects with his close childhood friend Mary, Tom and Helen’s daughter. Mary still believes that her father was innocent.

Several people who had been involved in the twenty year old mystery are at the end of their lives and are willing to get things off their own conscience. Among this group is Neil’s Uncle Bernard, an aging, retired Episcopalian priest. Although still bound by the silence imposed by his religious calling, Bernard helps Mary and Neil face some hard truths.

The physical labor on the Gothic House and finding closure with the past, all help to give Neil some of the peace that he had returned home to find.

Ann Tatlock creates well defined characters. I like an author who can build three dimensional side characters. This book takes us back to a more mellow time in our own life while giving us a plot that will keep us intrigued.

Ms. Tatlock is the recipient of the Christy Award for her I’ll Watch the Moon. The Christy Award was named for Catherine Marshall’s book Christy, one of my all-time favorite books.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

THEATER: Seussical

For the first time that anyone could remember, Boal Barn had a sellout crowd on an opening night. There was not even standing room for the opening performance of SEUSSICAL. This is, of course, a warning that if you are planning to see it, get tickets as soon as possible. This large audience may be partly caused by the amount of people it took to produce the show, thirty-four cast members, eighteen musicians in the orchestra, and numerous technicians working on costumes, lighting, set design, choreography, props, etc. (Director Kim Silverman and her assistants deserve credit for keeping everything organized). If each person involved with the show had an average of two family members buy a ticket…..well, you do the math.

Considering the amount of people on stage and the fact that some of them were quite young, choreographer Rebecca Kelley and vocal director DJ Matsko are to be congratulated. The dances were lively and stayed in character. The Birds and the Wickersham Brothers were a delight. One of the good/bad things about a small arena theatre is that the singers are very close to the audience. This was a treat Tuesday night; the voices were good, plus they “sang out”.

The individual talents were all impressive; the trouble is not having enough space to mention all of them. This production is an example of a director knowing how to cast a show.

Jared Paxson has the energy, voice, movements, and, most importantly, the ability to work an audience making him a terrific Cat in the Hat. He was literally in charge of the stage and the show.

Rob Arnold was perfectly cast as Horton, the Elephant. His quiet compassion was either the result of excellent acting or Rob is a very nice fellow to know.

Justin Shondeck’s actual age surprised me. His strong voice and stage presence made me think that an older actor was playing the young Who, JoJo. We should be seeing a lot of this young man.

The two birds, Gertrude McFuzz and Mayzie LaBird, were played with beautiful contrast by Gail McCormick and Amanda Leggett. Gail was charming as the insecure Gertrude who is not too sure what to do with her beautiful new tail and Amanda had the right amount of brass as the bird who would rather party than hatch an egg. Both actresses have remarkable voices.

The show is full of talent. It would be hard to find fault with any of the cast or crew. My problem is that the show itself is not one of my favorites. It always seems too complicated to be a tribute to Dr. Seuss. His stories were special because he could tell them in such a simple manner. Trying to weave a string of these stories into one musical makes for a musical that is a little heavy.

I can see why it has become such a popular show for young people to do. Nothing can take away from the delightful characters that Seuss created. The Cat in the Hat, Horton, the Grinch and their friends have become beloved members of our culture. Thus, they are a delight to play.

SEUSSICAL will be in the Barn until August the 18th. The Man Who Came to Dinner will open September the 4th and run for two weeks. Call 814-234 SCCT (7228) for more information.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Kings of Colorado

It is usual for me to keep a copy of the book that I am reviewing next to me as I type in order to remember the character names. Will, Coop, Mickey, and Benny, the KINGS OF COLORADO, will stay in my mind for a long time to come. I did not need reminders. Author David E. Hilton has developed a group of young boys who will tear at your heart in KINGS OF COLORADO. I do not know when I have read such a poignant, beautiful story.

Thirteen –year-old William Shepard and his mother fear the drunken rages of his violent father until one night as his father is savagely beating his mother, Will stabs him with a pocketknife. In all of his thirteen years Will has never been beyond the streets surrounding his apartment in Chicago. Now, after a lonely bus trip, he finds himself facing two years at Swope Ranch, a reformatory for boys hidden away in the mountains of Colorado.

The ranch is financed by breaking and selling horses; it seems to make its fun by breaking young boys. The horrors that are inflicted on the boys come not only from the staff at Swope, but from the other boys as well. As a form of self-preservation, Will, Coop, Mickey, and Benny band together in a friendship that will last a life time.

Over time we learn what has caused each of the main characters to end up at Swope. Some of these stories will break your heart, some will appall you. The truly sad thing was learning from the author’s notes that the most horrific story was based on an actual crime committed by a juvenile. Good and bad, or maybe a bit of each, all of the characters will live with you after you close the final chapter.

I loved how the horses were used as a metaphor. The book opens with Will, as an old man, witnessing an accident on a street in Chicago involving a white mare. The sight of that injured mare causes him to write the story of his time on the ranch, making the book a journal of sorts. The fact that he lives to write the story helped get me through some of the more difficult scenes in the book. It also helped to introduce Reaper, the white mare that played such a large part in the lives of the boys.

KINGS OF COLORADO is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men. It is probably the fact that the latter is on my Top Five Favorite list that helped to make KINGS OF COLORADO so special.  The friendships, especially between Will and Benny, affected me the most. Granted the violent scenes are worthy of comparison to Lord of the Flies, but there is something more optimistic about this book. Again, this comes back to the friendship shared by these four boys. This is Hilton’s debut novel and it is hoped that he is not a one-book-wonder. So much heartfelt power has been poured into Will’s story that I wonder how the author could have anything left.

This is a book that I highly recommend. It brought me to tears at times. Some tears were for the loss of innocence of young boys, yet others were for joy when good things happened. The Bellefonte Centre County Library Book Group will be discussing KINGS OF COLORADO this month. I cannot wait to hear what will be said.

Friday, August 3, 2012

THEATER: The Fantasticks

“Without a hurt, the heart is hollow” is not only a meaningful line from the song “Try to Remember”, but a summary of the lesson from THE FANTASTICKS, the play currently running in the Cabaret at Millbrook Playhouse. I have lost count of how many productions of this play I have seen, so I truly appreciated some of the original touches that director David Winitsky added.

Casting Josh Houghton as El Gallo was a decision that I had questioned. Josh was last seen as Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and the two roles certainly require different approaches. His El Gallo was more cynical than threatening, more "what fools these mortals be”. This role also proved that not only can Josh dance and sing, but he can act.

Chandler Reeves and Cameron Perry added to my original impressions of their talent; both have exceptional voices and stage presence. Watching them grow from the young naive lovers to the young man and woman who have had their eyes opened to a less innocent world was a tribute to their acting. The director kept it simple and believable.

The veteran actors, Richard Guido and Ted Cockley, were perfectly cast as Hucklebee and Bellomy, the fathers. Those of us who have been regulars at Millbrook were eagerly waiting for their duet, “Plant a Radish”.  It did not disappoint.

I was also waiting for Mortimer, listed in most play programs as “the man who dies” to, well, die. Remy Germinario made use of not only the whole stage but some of the other actors as well to finally give his last breath.  This death scene proves once again that there are no small parts in theatre.

There is not much more that can be said about Frank Franconeri that I have not already said. His handling of the role of Henry showcased the character actor that lurks in Frank. Clever Frank even worked in a plug for his part in I’ll Be Back Before Midnight. For those of you who have not had a chance to see Frank without his outlandish character makeup, he is extremely good looking. A leading man role should be in his future; ah, but then we would miss the off- the- wall- fun parts that he does so well.

The duet “I Can See It” was particularly enjoyable. Josh and Cameron were able to pull the best out of each other. I also loved Chandler’s checkered tights. Sometimes it is something that subtle that sets the mood of a play.

 I did feel that some good lines got lost especially during “It Depends on What You Pay”. At times the piano was a little loud and sometimes it seemed to be the actor’s position on stage. Speaking of the piano, Jad Bernardo did a stellar job. The piano is almost a soloist in its own right in THE FANTASTICKS, the music is that familiar.

THE FANTASTICKS will close on August 12, thus ending the summer season at Millbrook. Oh, but wait, Lend Me a Tenor will return for one week—August 16 – August 19 in the Cabaret. Plus, the Theatre Camp will be doing their performance of Seussical, Jr. on the Main Stage August 10 and 11.
Ticket and time information can be found by calling 570-748-8083 or checking their web site, www.millbrookplayhouse.org.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Perfect Match

Author Jodie Picoult is known for her intense novels. Her subject material always seems to be pulled from tomorrow’s headlines. PERFECT MATCH was published in 2002, but is very relevant to Central Pennsylvania in 2012.

Nina Frost is a career-driven assistant district attorney who spends most of her work day prosecuting child molesters. Her job has made her very aware of the legal loopholes that allow these criminals to walk free or to spend little time behind bars while their victims spend a lifetime recovering.

She has a comfortable life with her husband Caleb and their five-year old son Nathaniel. The routine of this life is shattered when Nathaniel is traumatized by a sexual assault. Nina knows too well how the legal system can fail. A very young victim runs the chance of not being believed, plus testifying can be traumatic to a child because it is a reliving of the experience.

Ignoring her long held convictions and turning her own life upside down, Nina takes the situation into her own hands, shooting the suspect during the trial. The results affect her marriage, her professional life, her friendships, and her already distressed five-year old son.

Once again Jodie Picoult raises difficult moral and ethical questions for the reader. How far does a parent go to find justice and how much are we willing to sacrifice for our child? Are we willing to go as far as to kill another human being?

If you are familiar with Jodie Picoult’s writings, you know that nothing is as simple as it appears. As in her other books this story is told in various voices. This gives the reader a glimpse into the heads of not only Nina, but also her husband Caleb, her best friend Patrick, the prosecutor Quentin Brown, and, most touchingly of all, Nathaniel himself.

The background involving the trial was very informative. Collecting evidence of sexual abuse, especially when the victim is very young, can be difficult. I also learned that even DNA is not always reliable evidence. It was almost as interesting to read Picoult’s comments on how she researched this subject as it was to read the novel.

Some of my favorite reads have been by this author and PERFECT MATCH did not disappoint. I have learned not to read back to back Jodie Picoult novels; they are too powerful.

Friday, July 27, 2012

THEATER: The 39 Steps

Millbrook Playhouse has done it again.  THE 39 STEPS is a complete surprise! When I first saw that Millbrook would be doing a production of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film THE 39 STEPS, I was delighted. The movie is a classic suspense film done as only Hitchcock could do suspense. When I heard that Millbrook would be doing it as a spoof, and with only four actors, I was apprehensive to say the least. I should have trusted Artistic Director, Teresa Pond.

Selecting Lawrence Lesher to direct was the first good decision. Regular patrons of Millbrook know Lawrence as an actor. Remember Saunders in Lend Me A Tenor? It is nice to know that he has the directorial touch to do fast moving comedy as well. The pacing is crucial to this show.

Getting the right four actors was also vital. These four people are responsible for playing over 150 roles. Yes, you read that correctly…..150 roles played by four actors. Now you see why pacing was so important.

The exception to the above paragraph is Chris Kateff who played the single role of Richard Hannay, the innocent man who gets pulled into the spy/murder/intrigue/ romance plot. There were few times that Chris was not on stage and the audience depended on him to keep us abreast of the story line. He also has the sophistication of a true British leading man. It was the little touches that reminded us that he was in a farce. I loved his reaction to hearing the radio describe him as he was running from the law. He ran a little taller and prouder as the radio announcer gave his physical facts. I would love to see this actor in some of the roles listed in his bio.

Synge Maher had the fun of playing most of the women parts. She got to be the murder victim, the submissive wife, as well as the love interest, thus giving her a chance to show impressive acting skills. Synge understood that sometimes the best way to do comedy is to do it straight. This is especially true if everyone around you is a little frantic.

Tim Cox and Matt Harris played every other role. They each had so much energy and talent that the show raced to its logical conclusion before I knew it. Keeping the different parts with different voices and accents took amazing skill. The train scene had to be watched to be believed. The two actors never left our sight but we watched a newsboy selling the ever important newspaper with the picture of our hero on the front page, the train conductor trying to get everyone back on the train, the local constable, a policeman, and I am sure that I have missed some more. This was a fast change of voice, hats, and simple props. I was very impressed with how fast they moved and never got the parts confused. It really had to be seen to be believed.

The female roles not played by Miss. Maher were handled by Matt Harris. Matt kept the theatre tradition alive of cross-dressing comedy. Why are we so amused by men dressed as women? It never seems to get old. Tim Cox even in a comedy plays a very believable villain. These guys were terrific. I would imagine that by the end of the two week run, they will both have lost a significant amount of weight.

So many little bits of business made this a very funny show. I had fun just watching for references to other Hitchcock films. Watch for them; they are cleverly worked into the dialog, music, and props. As all Hitchcock fans know, he made a “hidden” appearance in each of his films. Watch carefully for him in this production of his  THE 39 STEPS.

THE 39 STEPS will run through August the 5th. The Fantastiks will run from August 2 through August 12. This production will showcase some of the best talent that Millbrook has given us this summer.

Now for the good news: After the conclusion of the regular schedule, Millbrook treats us to an encore production of their most popular play from that season. This may have been a difficult year to pick only one, but I think that their choice of Lend Me a Tenor is the right one. I went to see it twice and will go the third time if I can find someone to go with. It will be in the Cabaret from August 16-19.
Call 570-748-8088 for ticket information.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

EVENT/MUSIC: JazzPA's 2012 Summer Jazz Celebration

(Guest Blogger:  Wendy Myers.  This blog is designed to expand upon, just a little bit, each performance based upon what I could find and already know.  For a more succinct list of performances, please visit the JazzPAs website and see their Schedule of Events.)

Tonight begins JazzPA's 2012 Summer Jazz Celebration in Centre County.  This annual event has rocked Centre County for the last few years and continues to be a crowd pleaser!  Musical acts include the sounds of jazz, big band, blues, boogie, soul and so much more.  Performances include local high school students, local amateur and professional musicians and world-renowned musicians.  All come together for one weekend to show Central PA just how jazz gets done.

The weekend kicks off with JT BluesJohn "JT" Thompson is a blues pianist who will be doing his "blues, boogie and other popular songs" up right at the Governor's Pub in downtown Bellefonte beginning at 6:30pm.  JT is a popular fixture at many local clubs and restaurants.  Don't miss this local favorite!

The Phil Haynes Trio will begin their act at the Palmer Museum in State College tonight at 7:30pm.  Phil Haynes is a jazz percussionist and composer with much experience and critical acclaim.  Tickets were free... and I say "were" because they are gone.  There is, however, a waiting list...  call Sue Bryant at (814) 863-6635, or email suebryant@psu.edu.  If you have tickets, I'd love to hear what you think!

Friday and Saturday are both packed full of entertainment.  Friday kicks off with Catherine Dupuis with Russ Kassoff performing at Centre Crest in Bellefonte beginning at 2pm.  Ms. Dupuis is not only the President of the board of JazzPA, but a renowned vocalist and actress, having worked regionally and off Broadway for many years.  While her dedication to JazzPA is a stand-out as she returns to her roots of Centre County for this event, her singing is phenomenal.  Do not miss her performance with jazz pianist Russ Kassoff, as this is truly one of the highlights of the weekend!

The State High Jazzers will be performing at Cool Beans in Bellefonte on Saturday at 4pm.  

Zeropoint Big Band is jazz in the best of the big band styles (in my opinion).  Full horns, trippin' percussion, something you can dance to or sit back and sip your martini to.  They'll be playing Friday at the Match Factory in Bellefonte beginning at 6pm on Friday.  There is a $5 cover charge at the door, which is well worth it, given what I've heard of them!

Carl Ector and Chip Lovett will sooth your soul at the Governor's Pub Friday night beginning at 7:30pm. This violin/piano duo will allow to relax after a long day, visit with your friends and STILL hear great music!

If you want something a little more upbeat to end your evening, head over to the Gamble Mill Friday at 8pm to catch the Arthur Goldstein Quartet with Steve Bowman.  Both Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Bowman are well-known jazz staples in the area.  Their popular jazz styles command much attention, which is why making reservations at the Gamble Mill is very highly recommended.  Call (814) 355-7764 to be sure you get seat!

If you're in State College on Friday night, don't forget to check out The Jazz Connection at Zola beginning at 9pm!

Saturday starts with a chance to hear music in the making!  The Friends Band will be rehearsing at the Main Stage in Bellefonte beginning at 9:30am.  This would be a great way to introduce children to music!

While you have your children out Saturday morning, head over to the Children's Garden in Bellefonte to hear the Children's Jazz Storytime performed by Arthur Goldstein and Rick Hirsch.  The story begins at 11am and I would suggest getting there a little early to make sure your little ones are settled in and ready to be entertained!  Don't let the "Children's" part scare you -- children of ALL ages should hear this!

A personal favorite of mine begins at 11:30am at the Gazebo in Bellefonte - The Tarnished Six!  I've heard them many times and they are always fun and ready to entertain!   Be ready to applaud.  They like that.

The Bellefonte Area High School Jazz Band will begin at 12:30pm on the Main Stage in Bellefonte.  Yes - I have a soft spot in my heart for these kids, as this is my alma mater.   Now, as an adult, I'm amazed at the incredible amount of talent and musicianship these kids have!  Don't miss ANY of the school bands - you'll be VERY pleasantly surprised!

Russ Kassoff and Catherine Dupuis perform again, this time with the Russ Kassoff Trio and the Friends Band.  They will be performing on the Main Stage at the Train State in Bellefonte beginning Saturday at 1pm.  If you don't catch Catherine and Russ at Centre Crest earlier in the day, be sure to catch them here the Friends Band!  Personally, I love it to hear musicians of this caliber come together to jam and this should do it up right!

THE highlight of the weekend is a Master Class with renowned tenor saxophonist Houston Person!  He takes soul jazz to a whole new level and he's willing to share his knowledge with you on Saturday at the Gazebo beginning 2pm.  Whether you are a saxophonist, musician, fan or hack, this is a huge don't-miss event!

The Rick Hirsch 5 will entertain Talleyrand Park from the Gazebo beginning at 3:30pm on Saturday.  Rick Hirsch is a local saxophonist, composer, arranger... many other things related to his talent and love of jazz.

Two more local high school jazz bands take the Main Stage beginning at 4:30pm.  The first is Penns Valley Area HS Jazz Band, followed by the State College Area High School Jazz Band.  As I mentioned before, take a listen to the up-and-coming talent in Centre County.  Take your young children to see them (that's how I got interested) and enjoy their youth, vitality and energy!

Another absolutely don't-miss event is  Houston Preston performing with the Russ Kassoff Trio!  Again - I love it when musicians get-together and jam and this one should take the cake!  The performance begins at 7:30pm at the Match Factory in Bellefonte.  Tickets are required ($15) and can be purchased at Websters in State College or at Cool Beans in Bellefonte.   This should rock the house!!

On Saturday at 10pm you have a choice of music and venues.  The Burlingame Group will be at the Gamble Mill and Carl Ector and Chip Lovett return to the Governor's Pub.    This may be a difficult decision, but they're close to each other... do both!!

On Sunday,  the Jay Vonada Group will be performing at the Deli in State College beginning at noon. This cool, jazzy trombone-based trio is perfect for a relaxing Sunday afternoon sipping coffee at the local cafe.  Need a good first date??  I think this may be it!  Ever since I started listening to my mom's JJ Johnson albums, I have loved to hear a good trombone jazz ensemble.  This one fits the bill.

Just as John "JT" Thompson kicked off the weekend, he also wraps it up with a piano performance at the Gazebo on Sunday evening beginning at 7pm (also as part of the Summer Sounds From The Gazebo concert series in Bellefonte).

Please send us your comments regarding each of the acts.  I would love to hear feedback.  There is a LOT of talent in Centre County and to have just a small piece of it packed into a fabulous weekend like this is a rare treat!  Listen, enjoy and let me know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: Cold Case AND The Price of Silence

The weather has been hot in Central Pennsylvania. It has been too uncomfortable to do much of anything except read…at least that is my excuse and I am sticking with it. I want authors who can keep me completely engrossed and Kate Wilhelm fits the requirements perfectly.

COLD CASE picks up the characters twenty-two years after the death of a young college girl. Two fellow students had been suspects at the time, but the case had never been solved. Robert is now an ambitious state senator and David, a successful author. The old case becomes news again when the senator is found shoot to death. Once again David is a suspect in a murder case, only this time he is the only one.

After I started COLD CASE I discovered that it is part of a series. My bad. This book is several books into a series featuring attorney Barbara Holloway. It took me several chapters to identify the people who were regulars around her and not connected to the mystery. Once the characters were clear to me, the story moved well.

The other Wilhelm book that I relaxed with was THE PRICE OF SILENCE. Todd Fielding has moved to the small town of Brindle to work for the newspaper. She is getting accustomed to living with the boredom of the rural community when a local girl disappears. Todd is shocked by the complete indifference of the town to the disappearance. Not even the police seem to care; they all assume that the girl has run away.

As Todd looks more closely into the story, she learns that over the past twenty years five girls have “run away”. What she finds is evidence of a series of brutal, cold-blooded murders. In true, good murder mystery style, Todd finds that she may be the next victim.

My first Kate Wilhelm book was When Late the Sweet Birds Sang, an excellent example of how fantastic science fiction novels can be. She seemed to have dropped off my radar and I had not noticed anything by her for years. I am so glad that I have found her again. Her characters are well done and her plots are full of suspense and twists. She is going to be a regular on my reading list.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

THEATER: I'll Be Back Before Midnight

We just got back from seeing I'LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT at Millbrook Playhouse and I want to thank everyone involved with the show. It was terrific!

The first person to be thanked is Ken Kaissar, the director. The action was non-stop through all six scenes; he even had the audience buzzing with curiosity during the intermission. The suspense had us on the edge of our seats and some of the action caused us to jump out of those same seats.

Too often the sound crew gets over-looked in the theatre. Sound designer Lorraine Rhoden gave us footsteps, heartbeats, gunshots, offstage voices, and other weird sounds that added to the tension. Daniel Thobias designed a great set and Kimberly Jones gave us costumes that helped to define characters.

As in most murder/mysteries, lighting was very important and Ethan Vail knew just when to black out the stage or create a mood. Lighting is one thing that demands perfection. Mistakes in other areas can usually be covered, but if lights come on at the wrong time it can be disastrous.

The cast was full of experienced actors and it paid off. As Jan, the young housewife on the edge of a breakdown, Olivia Bosek was perfectly vulnerable. This actress has moved beyond the virginal ingénue of past plays.

Nicholas Wilder played her husband Greg. Nicholas can be remembered from last season in vastly different roles. Going from the roommate in drag in Love, Sex and the I.R.S. to this more dramatic roll shows what Nicholas is capable of doing.

There is something about Cara Maltz’s smile that seems evil making her perfect for the role of Greg’s sister Laura. Cara was probably the main subject of conversation during intermission. She did a great job in a very taxing part.

George, the friendly neighbor, was brilliantly played by Frank Franconeri. Frank is a very talented character actor and the part of George gave him room to show what he can do. A show with this much drama/ suspense needs comedy relief and fortunately we had Frank. His timing on stage is excellent.

I'LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT is a show that could be a complete disaster. It depends on the audience being completely engrossed in the action on stage. Noticeable mistakes, even hesitation with lines, can break the spell. If there were any miscues, the cast and crew covered skillfully.

The best compliment that I can pay this group is that I was scared. During a performance, I usually check to see audience reaction, what lights are on, costume details, etc. This did not happen last night; I did not want to miss a thing on stage. Great job everyone.

I'LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT will be in the Cabaret at Millbrook until July the 29th and will be followed by the popular The Fantasticks. The 39 Steps starts July 26th on the Main Stage.

Go to their website or call 570-748-8088 for tickets and times.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

THEATER: Steel Magnolias

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is currently at the Boal Barn in Boalsburg. This is a play about six strong women and the success of the production depends on finding six strong actresses. State College Community Theatre found them.

Four women meet regularly at Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana and along with Truvy and her new assistant, Annelle, we listen in on the gossip and learn about the private lives of these steel magnolias.

Ginger Larson was a sweetheart of a Truvy. Her love of juicy gossip was underscored by a very caring heart, a true concern for her assistant and customers. I got the feeling that Ginger was either type cast or is an exceptional actress. I am thinking that it might be the former; her sweetness came across as very natural.

Trudy’s assistant Annelle was played by Elaina Mercurio. This is a more complicated roll then an audience might recognize. Elaina grew from the very frightened, lost young girl to the mature mother-to-be with ease. Her quiet acting was a perfect foil for the drama in her customers’ lives.

Another actress who had a chance to grow was Priscilla McFerren in the roll of Clairee. Recently widowed when we first meet her, Clairee uses her love of the local football team plus her determination to make a very full life for herself. Priscilla was fun to watch as the mature member of the group who had a surprising sense of humor.

Susan Kleit had a ball as Ouiser, the group grump. Susan made good use of the stage as she became very vocal about her neighbor shooting his gun to scare off the birds and the disappearance of the blooms from her magnolia tree. Personal note to Susan: I believed EVERY word in your bio.

The evening belonged to Kristi Branstetter as M’Lynn. Kristi is enough of a pro to know when to under play a scene and when to tear up the stage. She was able to capture the love, fear and heartbreak of every mother watching.

The actual plot of the play centers on Shelby, the daughter of M’Lynn. Jocelyn Kotary is such a natural actress that it was very easy to get caught up in her story. To tell you about her progress at the Salon would ruin the dramatic ending if you are not familiar with the play.

On opening night it took the ladies several lines to settle into their parts. Nerves seem to have affected their speaking voices. They all appeared to be much more at ease once Susan Kleit came bursting on the scene.

The only problem that I had was the costuming. The Barn, as some of you know, is not air conditioned and if the location of the play, Louisiana, is added to the mix, the costuming was too warm. Black shoes, sweaters, etc. did not work. I have seen other plays that Diane Twomley has costumed and was surprised that she dropped the ball on this one.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is such a tribute to the strong women in our lives that it should be watched regularly.  STEEL MAGNOLIAS will be playing through July 28th.

For photographs, please see Meadowlane Photography on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

BOOK REVIEW/MOVIE REVIEW: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The following statement is rare, one that you seldom read on this blog: “I liked the movie better than I liked the book.” Allow me to explain.

Jean, Geni and I went to see the movie THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and loved it. As a result, I had to read the book by Deborah Moggach. I have found that if I see a movie first and then read the book, I enjoy both more than if I read the book first. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL proved this to be true.

The basic story involves a group of senior citizens who, for mainly financial reasons, move from England to the Marigold Hotel in India, a hotel advertised to be an exotic home for the elderly. Arrival in India, and especially the promised “elegant” hotel, causes different reactions in the retirees. To one, it is coming home after years in England. To another it is a chance to find romance in the later years of life. Some are just appalled by the poverty of the country….. not to mention the lack of water, electricity, and privacy at the hotel itself. This gives the opportunity for a multi-layered plot and us a chance to watch each of the characters to grow, in spite of their ages.

The movie had several advantages going for it. To me the biggest plus was the cast: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson, among others. This is a very heavy acting ensemble. I love all four of them, but have to admit that if a movie is ever made of my life, I rather hope that Maggie Smith is given the opportunity to play me.

The second thing that got my approval was the condensation of the characters. Due to time constraints movies have to compress people and plot. Many times this is a bad thing. This time it helped. In some cases, a character was dropped completely; in some cases, several characters from the book were blended into one person for the movie. I felt that this strengthened the importance of the main characters considerably. It also gave more interesting twists to their individual stories.

I also like the addition of the sub-plot. Instead of a bickering married couple as the owners of the Marigold, the hotel owner in the movie was young and in love with an, according to his mother, unsuitable young woman, giving a nice Romeo/Juliet touch.

Deborah Moggach has written a nice book, but THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL made an excellent movie. It is the perfect choice for the more mature movie goer. Such movies are becoming scarce.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

THEATER: You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown

Each of us can identify with one of the Peanuts gang: crabby Lucy, her brother Linus with his blanket, musical Schroeder, loyal Snoopy, youthfully optimistic Sally, and clumsy Charlie Brown himself. For 62 years we have watched them face the joys and hurts of growing up and understood them because we have been there ourselves. The whole gang is presently at MillbrookPlayhouse, much to everyone’s delight. 

Director Snechal Desai and chorographer Edward Carignan have beautifully captured the spirit of the original comic strip in their production of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. With help from costume designer Kimberly Jones and scenic designer Daniel Thobias, we are transported to the playground to watch a baseball game, a kite that just might fly, a glee club rehearsal, and a famous beagle chase some rabbits.

The best thing about this show though is the casting. (Have I mentioned what a talented group is hanging out at Millbrook this summer?) Mathieu Whitman plays Charlie Brown and there were moments when I wanted to walk on stage and give him a hug. We all celebrate his few, small victories. After the show, Lora Nicolas assured me that she really was not actually as crabby in person as Lucy. She was definitely convincing on stage.

The part of Linus gave us a chance to see another side of Cameron Perry. He is proving this season that as an actor he can do it all, and do it well. Brandon Hanks may have been slightly miscast as Schroeder. He has the talent to sing and dance, but he came across as too mature to be on the playground with the little kids. Maybe we are too accustomed to seeing him in more sophisticated roles.

Josh Houghton brought a touch of Ray Bolger to the part of Snoopy. Josh has the long legs and the ability to move his body into what seems to be impossible positions. The actress lucky enough to be cast as Charlie Brown’s sister Sally has the opportunity to steal the show and Chandler Reeves took advantage to do just that. She was all of the joys and innocence of a little girl rolled into one person, a little girl who just happens to have a great singing voice.

This is a show that will take you back to your childhood in a painless way. We remember some of the heart aches, but the Peanuts gang gives us lots to laugh about also.

I would like to add a line to the closing song “Happiness is …”. Happiness is knowing that Chandler Reeves, Cameron Perry, and Josh Houghton will be appearing later this season in The Fantastics.

YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN will be on the Main Stage until July 22.  I’ll Be Back Before Midnight opens July 19th in the Cabaret.  This is a show that is completely unknown to me, so I am looking forward to a new experience. You can call 570-748-8083 for tickets for either production.