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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky’s novel THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER confirmed several of my literary theories.

My first theory is that belonging to a book group enriches a person’s reading enjoyment. Other members often have insights that either reaffirm your ideas or make you look at the material in a new light. Belonging to a group also stretches you. I have overlooked the perks of being a wallflower, thinking that it was a piece of teenage fluff, but it was the Friday Book Group at the Centre County Library’s choice for the month and I felt obligated.

The second belief, and this is one that is getting stronger, is that some of the best new writers are writing for young people. The Book Thief is high on my list of favorite books, as are The Giver series and The Hunger Games. These all have an insight that has become lacking in most of the “adult” best sellers.

Also, I have found that “banned” books are frequently worth checking. It always intrigues me why some books make the list. It seems that too many times it is because the author spoke a truth that is unpopular or that it contains honest language. The perks of being a wallflower  has been on the banned list for both reasons.

Through letters written to an unnamed person, Charlie shares his fear of starting high school and the fact that he does not fit in with any of the groups. His older brother is at Penn State and his sister is a senior at the high school. Although his parents are very nice people, they are not aware that Charlie is so alone.

At a football game, Charlie takes his teacher’s advice to “ participate” more and starts a conversation with seniors Patrick and his step-sister Sam. The two of them take Charlie under their wing and soon he has friends and the complications that go with relationships.

This is a strong coming-of-age book. Charlie is very bright and has the ability to stand back observing what he sees. These are not  traits that would make him popular with his contemporaries. It does give the reader a chance to travel the road through high school. The journey that includes first dates, family problems, drugs, sex,suicide, and never feeling truly connected to any of it.

I am so glad that I read the perks of being a wallflower. The characters were so well done. The author has the ability to make even secondary characters well rounded. Each one of them would be worthy of his or her own sequel,  But please, I hope that never happens; sequels have a way of watering down the original.

The author made the correct choice in telling the story through Charlie’s voice. His thoughts on the great books that his English teacher, Bill, assigned as extra readings were perceptive. So were his comments on the actions of his fellow students.On senior prank day, Charlie could not understand what filling the school swimming pool with grape Kool-aid had to do with graduating.

Stephen Chbosky did an excellent job of portraying the trials and loneliness of being a teenager. This book should be required reading, along with  Catcher in the Rye, by any teenager as well as anyone who wants to better understand that difficult time of life.  

Consider it for your reading list, but be aware that it does contain some language and situations that might be controversial.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Bald Eagle Area High School Drama Club did it again. Starting with their choice of play to the energy of the cast and crews they provided a fun evening. The play, LEAVING IOWA, was unfamiliar to me, but I have learned to trust directors Eric Brinser and Lindsey Allison.

The plot revolves around Don Browning, played by Matthew Blaylock, taking his father’s ashes back to the old family homestead. In flashbacks, we meet the younger Don, Cody Mandell, his rather bratty younger sister, Abbey Crago, his mom, Kourtney Vermillion, and Dad himself, David Gawryla, on a car trip. These four actors captured the squabbling, the boredom, and the less than educational aspects of an extended family outing almost too well.

Kourtney’s patience with her family was well done, making her “ blow up” something mothers everywhere could relate to. I also loved David as the father who was determined to make this trip fun AND education! Cody and Abbey as the squabbling siblings were so believable that if we were not familiar with their work from earlier plays, we could accuse Mr Brinser of exceptional type casting. These seniors will be missed next year.

Holding the show together was Matthew Blaylock as the adult Don Browning. Charged with taking his father’s ashes to their final resting place, Matthew acts as the narrator for the play. Fortunately, we should see Matthew for the next few years.

These leads deserve more credit for their hard work and talent, but I have to save space for what made this show a stand out. If a high school drama coach is worthy of the title, his or her problem becomes what to do about a large group of students who all deserve to be featured in the few plays that get produced. This is one of the joys of Leaving Iowa. There were so many bit parts that were glowing...and I do not use that term lightly.

Meghan Shields was a believable drunk lady. Too often young actors over-do dunk scenes. She was confused, a little flirtatious, but never over the top. Maya Eppley as the very talkative waitress at Gabby’s restaurant was delightfully “over the top”. Rattling off lines with that type of speed is a difficult thing for experienced actors to do. Maya never missed a beat. I also liked the bored museum assistant played by Margaret Cowen. How often have we run into her type at what should be an otherwise interesting historical site? Luke Besong was fortunate to have had some very good, cynical lines and delivered them so that the audience “got them’. Many young actors have a tendency to throw one- liners away.  

The list could go on, as I said it was an exceptionally large cast, as well as an exceptional cast. This was a group of Thespians who proved that there are no small parts. Good work, guys!

Future events at Bald Eagle include the Middle School production of  James and the Giant Peach January 31st and February the1st. The big spring musical will be Shrek  running April 24-26. I will want to be there if only to check out the costuming.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Starship Titanic

The novel STARSHIP TITANIC was fascinating on several levels, at least for me.

In the first place it is based on a computer game developed by Douglas Adams. The fact that Adams was involved at all, was enough to tickle my interest. There was a time in my life that his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe was the most talked about book in our house. Badges saying “Don’t Panic” were worn daily and questions were answered with “ Don’t worry Mom, I know where my towel is”. The book had, and still has, a large cult following.

The introduction to STARSHIP TITANIC is written by Adams. Here he explains that when his editor asked him to write a novel based on his adventure computer game version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, he realized that such a book would help sales for both the game and the book. Although he was best known as a novelist, time was a factor. That lead him to his good friend Terry Jones.

For those of you not familiar with the name Terry Jones, allow me to explain that he also has been a big part of the “artistic” life of the Park household. If you have watched any Monty Python’s Flying Circus programs, Terry is the “ Naked Man Playing the Organ” in the opening credits, as well as the “Naked Hermit in Pit” in the movie Life of Brian. Adams points out that Terry’s face may not be as recognizable as other parts of him.
All of the above information is given only to prepare you for the fact that Starship Titanic is a silly, naughty, wonderful novel, that never comes close to making any sense. Of course, the title alone should have given you a hint of that.

Simply put, the plot involves Professor Leovinus of the plant Blerontin who has become an international hero by designing the ultimate spaceship, one with all of the luxuries ever dreamed of. The “brain” of the ship is beyond human conception...if indeed the people of Blerontin were human. The trouble is that Leovinus has been so busy doing the media interviews and the publicity luncheons, he had no time to do a final check of the ship before the initial launch.

As a result, to make a short story shorter, the starship ends up on Earth where it picks up three stowaways. Earthlings, Dan, Lucy, Nettie, and the Blerontin, known as The Journalist, find themselves on an intergalactic trip that involves all types of dangerous situations.

It was fairly easy to see why this would make a fun computer game. The fights are very cartoonish and with lots of action. If you are looking for a deep read with life changing insights, this may not be the book for you. But, if your sense of humor allows for pure nonsense, it might be your cup of tea.

Last note: RIP Douglas Adams and thanks for all of the fun you created for your ever-growing group of fans.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Wish You Well

David Baldacci is known for his fast paced thrillers. The reader can depend on a protagonist up against an evil that seems unbeatable. WISH YOU WELL is not what we would expect from a Baldacci novel.

Twelve-year- old, precocious Louisa Mae Cardinal is happily living in New York City with her timid younger brother Oz, her loving mother and her adored father. Lou’s father has found acclaim as an author, but very little pay.

After a terrifying accident, Lou finds herself on a train heading away from New York and into the mountains of Virginia. The rustic way of living is completely foreign to Lou and Oz. The work is hard and there are dangers that did not exist  in New York. The remarkable part of their new life is the great-grandmother who is now responsible for the young brother and sister.

WISH YOU WELL is a coming of age novel warmly told by an author who obviously loves the area of his own youth. In true Baldacci style the characters are well drawn. It is hard not to fall in love with Lou’s new best friend Diamond Skinner or the only lawyer on the mountain Cotton Longfellow.

But the person who will stay with you long after the book is closed is Great- Grandmother Louisa. With almost unbelievable strength and patience, she teaches her new family the life lessons that are important to all of us. Because her work ethics are so strong, and because such work ethics are vital for existence on a rural farm in 1940, Lou, Oz and the reader learn “ ... from the great and little miracles that can change lives- or save them”.

It took me several pages to stop looking for the evil characters that I expect from David Baldacci and realize that the characters in this book are heart- warmingly real. There are bad characters just as there are in real life, but most of them are written with a touch of humanity. Wish You Well gives us a glimpse into the range of a talented author.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

THEATER: The Miracle Worker

Bellefonte Area High School’s production of THE MIRACLE WORKER was an example of why I so strongly support high school drama.

The selection of the play itself was a good choice. It is the story of two real women, Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, each who overcame handicaps to make a difference in our world and our attitudes toward education. A dramatic plot with a lesson to be learned is always a good thing.

A major key to any production, whether it be amateur or professional, is the casting. Executive Producers Shaun McMurtrie and Luke Skerpon chose their cast to each actor’s strength; keeping within his or her reach. I also liked the fact that the cast covered the student body from Freshman to Senior.

The costumes were beautiful and as historically correct as possible thanks to Sarah Toyos and her managers Dori Puzycki and Jonni Fogleman. (Period men’s costuming can be challenging). Credit goes to scenic artist Yoon Hye Lee and the large stage, carpentry, paint crew. I appreciate a set that works on different levels. Set changes were simple and in most cases, quick.

This is a show that requires some complicated lighting and it was handled expertly by coordinator Chip Rupert with Ryan Diers and Joseph Eirmann running the board. To me this is the most difficult part of theatre; it is harder to cover mistakes with lights than in other areas.

The actors appeared to be comfortable in their parts. Madisen Querns was a woman who was patient with her husband and seemed to know that loving her difficult daughter was not helping her. Christian Hopple had the difficult role of Helen’s father. Captain Arthur Keller was not a likable character, but the audience has to see beyond the autocratic Southern male to the love that he had for his family. Hopple was believable in both aspects of the man.

Jordan Corman  is an actor to keep our eye on. As Helen’s half brother James, he comes across initially as being mean and a bit of a bully, but his underlying sense of volubility was able to be felt making the scene where he stands up to his father  believable as well as dramatic.

The two stars of the play are definitely Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. Kaitlyn Whitesell was very impressive as the blind, deaf, out of control child. This young actress was able to get her emotions across to the audience without speaking a word throughout the three acts. Cat Rokavec’s Annie Sullivan was exceptional. Again, here is a character that has so much going on under the face that she presents to the world. One could feel the battle going on inside Annie as she fought for Helen to become a whole person despite her handicaps.

The few flaws… I lost some lines due either to enunciation on the part of the actors or the sound system… were balanced by some heart stopping scenes. The very physical battle between Helen and Annie over table manners was excellent.

Everyone connected with this production is to applauded. I personally am waiting now for April when the Spring Musical will be Elton John and Tim Rice’s version of the timeless love story Aida. Now there will be a Challenge! Stay tuned to Bellefonte's Drama Club for more information about that this spring!

Friday, November 8, 2013


Any movie starring some of my all time favorite male actors is a must see. Just think Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and (sigh) Kevin Kline all in one movie...I could not wait. LATE VEGAS  finally came to town.

Billy, Paddy, Archie, and Sam have been friends since grade school. Now, in their late sixties, the four of them are in Las Vegas to throw a bachelor party for Billy, the one who swore that he would never marry. This provides the movie with the perfect vehicle to showcase the charm and talent of the stars.

Michael Douglas’s Billy is a wheeler-dealer marrying a girl half his age, the perfect trophy wife. Of the four, he seems to fit in with the Vegas lifestyle the best. He and Paddy,Robert De Niro, have become estranged because Billy did not attend Paddy’s wife’s funeral. Archie, Morgan Freeman, has been living with his son who has been treating his dad as an old man. Kevin Kline’s Sam is a little naive, but eager to use the Viagra and condom that his wife gave him at the airport.

This is a comedy, but the four stars get a chance to show that each is an accomplished actor. The tension between Billy and Paddy is well played and could have only been handled by quality actors. De Niro does rage as well, if not better, as anybody. Mary Steenburgen as the mature lounge singer provides the romantic interest. It says something about her that she holds her own against a screenful of young, bikini clad bodies.

I love Morgan Freeman and since he played Archie whose son is so concerned that he take his medications and not overdo any physical activity, I was afraid that he would die in this movie. (There have been too many movies where Freeman has died). We do get to see him cut some cool moves on the dance floor.

To me Kevin Kline is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood and he was the main reason that I wanted to see this film. I will not tell you more about his part except that I still think that he is one of the best actors in Hollywood. There was one scene that caused me to have a flashback to The Big Chill.

Paddy, Archie, and Sam are a little out of the loop when it comes to pop culture and sophisticated Vegas, but by the end of the movie they owned it, Baby -- and what happened in Vegas should happen to us all.  It is a funny, touching movie with a cast to love. Oh, watch for Jerry Ferrara as Dean, the young tough guy who ends up taking pick up line advice from Archie and plays a big role in Paddy getting some of his own swagger back.

I am happy that Hollywood is making movies aimed at the ‘senior”  market, not patronizing, but with humor and intelligence.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Fortune Quilt

Ladies, I have just read my first book by Lani Diane Rich, but I assure you it will not be my last. THE FORTUNE QUILT had everything that makes for a fun read: a slightly mixed-up family, a confused heroine, a hunchbacked toad, a quilt that can foretell the future, and witty dialogue.

Carly McKay is the producer of a television program that features colorful, local people. Her assignment is simply to do an interview with a woman who makes unusual quilts, quilts that can foretell a person’s future.

Brandy, the maker of these beautiful works of art, gives Carly a quilt that had been created just for her, long before Carly and Brandy had ever met. Carly dismisses the whole idea of the psychic reading that Brandy does from the quilt  until parts of the reading start  to come true.

After losing her job, her family, and her best friend and blaming it all on the quilt, Carly rushes to the artist community where Brandy lives. The next thing she knows she has rented a cabin and is involved with the quirky residents of Bilby, Arizona.

The characters in this book all shine. Carly’s family is a delight. The three daughters have been named for famous singers. Carly was an easy guess as was Ella, but the youngest insisted that she be called Five and you will agree with her reasons. I was even able to feel sympathy for the absent mother.

The residents of Bilby were all people that I wanted to know. Each was unique and likable, from the same sex couple and their precocious daughter to the transgender store owner and the artist who only has two words in his vocabulary...words that are not suitable for this review.

THE FORTUNE QUILTis the perfect book for one of these evening coming when you just want to grab a quilt of your own, a pot of ginger tea, curl up in front of a fireplace, and chuckle at another woman’s confused life. I am glad that I have other books by Lani Diane Rich to explore.