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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


While I was telling myself that I had no time to join a new book group, the librarian was putting the book ROOM in my hand and assuring me that I could get it read by Friday. I finished it that same night and could not wait to see what other readers had to say about it. Yes, I am now in the afternoon book group at the library.

Emma Donoghue, author of ROOM was new to me and I had no idea what to expect. That “not knowing” was a good thing, making the book a total surprise.

Five year-old Jack has never been out of his eleven-by-eleven room. It is his home. He loves sleeping in the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma’s clothes when Old Nick comes to visit; he takes good care of eggshell Snake under the bed; Clock, and the old familiar books that he and Ma read together are the best friends that a boy could want.

Ma sees it as the prison that has held her for seven years. Abducted when she was nineteen, she has endured the nightly visits of her abductor. The only thing keeping her from going mad is her love for her son. Now, Jack is getting older. Her jailor is getting more abusive and without any type of health care there is the certain knowledge of what will happen to Jack if she dies.

The story is told through Jack’s five year-old voice, making it funny and poignant. His innocence helps the reader to keep cheering for him and Ma during the most horrific circumstances.

I really loved ROOM. I like stories that show great character development and true devotion. The bond between this mother and child is unbreakable. Ma’s dedication to seeing that her son is raised as normal as possible, in an eleven-by-eleven room, is amazing. The subject may be too close to headlines that we want to ignore, but the book is beautiful.

THEATER/EVENT: Isaac Awards 2012

The Isaac Award Ceremony was held at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona this past Sunday. Twelve high schools from across Central and South Central Pennsylvania took part. Full of Red Carpet glitz and glamour, it is the “Tonys” for high school musicals.

In addition to recognizing the outstanding performances, the winner of each category receives a $500 scholarship to be used in any field of study at any accredited post-secondary educational institution.
Hosted by Mistress of Ceremonies, Carolyn Donaldson of WTAJ, the evening included a musical number from each school, a thank you to each of the corporate sponsors, and awards presented by last year’s winners.

This year’s winners were:

  • Best Actor or Actress in a Featured Role--- Seth Hull, Bishop Carroll High School.
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role--- Benjamin Laskovansky, Bald Eagle High School.  Runner-up--Jesse Moore, State College High.
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role---Erin McQuay, State College High School.
  • Achievement in Design Award---Tracy Eckenrode and Olivia McCall, Bishop Carroll High School.
  • Best Ensemble Award---West Branch High School and Philipsburg Osceola High School (tie),
  • Best Musical Number Award---State College High School (As We Stumble Along).  Runner-up -- Bald Eagle High School (Honestly Sincere).
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role Award---Emily Dennis, State College High School.  Runner-up--Morgan Sichler, State College High School.
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role---Ben Unpingco, Bishop Guilfoyle High School.  Runner-up-- Ricky Howsare, Bedford Area High School.
  • Best Featured Dance Award--- Philipsburg High School (The Shriner’s Ballet).  Runner-up-- State College High School (Toledo Surprise).
  • Best Production Award --- State College High School.  Runner-up-- Central Cambria High School.
  • The Judges’ Discretionary Award: Rising Star went to Daniel Slogosky from Philipsburg Osceola High School for his role of Randolph MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie.
  • Chosen by their classmates the Isaacs MVP Awards went to Lexi Krug, Courtney Reese, Shannen Snyder, Tracy Eckenrode, Moran Horell, Mike Kinley, Katie Pribish, Caleb Pons, Joanna Ruhl, Justin Baumgartin, Rachel Reed, and Jamison Monella.

The Isaacs Booster Check of one thousand dollars was accepted by Bald Eagle High School senior, Maggie Mehalko.

Friday, May 25, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Forgotten Garden

(note from Wendy:  Usually, book reviews are posted on Wednesdays, but because of the frequency of theater reviews, this one is a bit off schedule.  Enjoy!)

The plot to Kate Morton’s  THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN is as complicated as the maze in the center of the garden itself. Following the lives of three generations in order to solve the mystery of one little girl, takes talent on the part of the author and concentration on the part of the reader.

The year is 1913 in Australia, the dockmaster has found an abandoned child hiding among the boxes and barrels piled on the dock. She will not or can not tell him her name. Her small suitcase has a few pieces of clothing and the most beautifully illustrated book of delightful fairy tales.

The dockmaster and his wife name the tiny girl Nell and raise her along with their other daughters. On her twenty-first birthday, Nell learns the unique story of her life and starts a journey to discover who she is and to help her to understand some of the faint memories that are always with her.

Thus starts the stories of three generations of women: Eliza and her young brother who live in the worst conditions possible in London in the year 1900, Nell, who in the year 1975, goes from Brisbane Australia to London to find her early life, and Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra who will finally bring the journey to an end.

It is not as difficult for the reader to jump from generation to generation thanks to the author’s skill. Time clues are given either through identification at the beginning of each chapter or with subtle mentions of details of clothing, transportation, etc.

With each generation’s story, we travel a little farther through this maze of who Nell is and how she appeared alone on a dock in Australia. Along the way we meet a complicated family with exceptionally strong women.

This is a beautiful book, full of complex characters, both men and women. Interwoven between chapters are original fairy tales from the book that Nell had in her suitcase. These tales may be hints to what happened all those years ago.

Sometime it worthwhile to lose yourself in a garden’s maze.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


If you have read Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit you know that she can take the story of a race horse, a story that may not be of great interest to everybody, and turn it in to a #1 Best Seller. In her latest book, UNBROKEN, she starts out with a fascinating man who lived through an extraordinary experience during the Second World War.

Louis Zamperini was born in Torrance, California and spent most of his early teen years in trouble. His defiance and ability to steal anything that seemed to be a challenge would be an asset in the years to come, but to the people of Torrance and to his family he was a delinquent. Everyone assumed that his future would include jail time.

In high school his older brother Pete introduced Louie to the sport of running. Soon the defiance turned to an obsession to run in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. In Berlin, Louie got to know the great Jesse Owens and felt the challenge to steal the flag in front of Hitler’s office which caused a stir among the Germans as well as the press.

Louie was back in Torrance, sitting in a movie theater when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Louie was quickly in the air corps. This is when Louis Zamperini’s story really begins.

After being shot down over the Pacific and drifting on a small raft for over a month, Louie washes up on an island that is occupied by the Japanese. What follows is the story of Louie and other prisoners of war in the Pacific. Here his early training as a petty thief and a well conditioned athlete, in addition to his streak of defiance, would save his life. His captors, recognizing his name as an Olympian, tried to use him for propaganda. This may have been also the reason that he was kept alive.

The story of Louie and his fellow prisoners does not stop at the end of the war. To many, the horrors of their experiences lived with them for the rest of their lives. Hillenbrand interviewed many of the surviving men and their family members to give this book an impressive list of notes and acknowledgments.

This was a hard book to put down while I was reading it. I simply could not let Louie and his friends in such horrific conditions. I knew that I had to keep reading until all was well. So much of the war in the Pacific has been glossed over in history books and most of the men that we know who were there are reluctant to talk about their experiences. Laura Hillenbrand found some who told her their stories and were willing to share those stories with us.

This book will be a great find for those who are interested in true stories of the Second World War, but also it is a terrific story of how resilient man can be. As the front cover says, it is “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption”. It is indeed all of this.