"...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.