Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review of "Look Again" by Lisa Scottoline

Review by book club member and book blogger Cheryl McDermitt.

"Look Again" is another wonderful mystery/thriller written by Lisa Scottoline! I have to admit at first when I saw the subject matter of this book I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. Stories about abducted children aren’t the genre I usually read. I am glad I read this one though.

Ellen Gleeson is a Philadelphia reporter who adopted this sick little child named Will. She juggles work and home life like any other single mother. She has a very competent nanny named Connie to help her out with Will. One day she picks up her mail and staring her in the face is a card with an age-processed photo of a little boy named Timothy Braverman and he had been abducted in Florida . Ellen can’t stop thinking of how much the little boy on the card looks so much like her Will. Ellen’s mind constantly goes back to the little boy in the picture and she starts investigating her son’s birth mother. During the length of the investigation she finds out the attorney that handled Will’s adoption commited suicide 3 weeks after the adoption, the supposed birth mother, Amy can’t be questioned because she died of a drug overdose and according to Amy’s mother Amy could never get pregnant. Ellen tries to locate a man who was Amy’s boyfriend at the time of the abduction of the Braverman boy. Ellen keeps going back and forth in her mind about whether Will could be Timothy Braverman or not. Her instincts are telling her they are one in the same but her Dad tells her to leave well enough alone and her present attorney tells her the same thing.

In a desperate attempt to find out the truth Ellen flies to Miami where the Braverman’s live. She finds their home and parks out on the street watching them. All the time it is driving her deeper and deeper towards danger. You really need to read this book to find out how the story unfurls-it is worth the read!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

David Sedaris Visits Charlotte; Signs 'Squirrel', Sings Praises

Photo by Anne Fishbein

Almost every year, America’s beloved humorist and best-selling author David Sedaris visits Charlotte to read from his latest work, albeit a book, an essay or even bits from his journal. This week, the author’s visit to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center featured a happier, shinier version of the author who enchanted the packed Belk Theater leaving the audience more uplifted and enlightened than when they arrived.

Sedaris fans are an interesting cross section of the community that might not ordinarily come together in one space. There were his National Public Radio fans; (Sedaris breakthrough the comedy barrier with his piece for Ira Glass on what it was like to be an elf in Macy’s Santaland in NYC.) And then there were commuters who delight in hearing his exquisite and unique voice read his numerous best-selling books such as “Me Talk Pretty”,Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” and “When Engulfed in Flames.” And then there were the progressive, forward-thinking citizens that delight in Sedaris’ acid tongue and rapier wit.

Sedaris on stage is something to behold. All he needs is a few well-chosen essays and you could feel the laughter of the packed audience here to see North Carolina’s favorite son buoy to higher levels of delight. The author’s newest book (which he reminded the audience is now No. 5 on the New York Times best-seller’s list) is “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.” “One might call them a set of fables; but they are not,” Sedaris opened. “Fables have morals. These are a collection of animal stories where the animals act like people.”

Indeed his latest book can easily be best described as animals gone awry or at least gone human. And with his incredible attention to detail, animals take on the type of qualities we humans might be afraid to mock in ourselves. However in animals, it’s all together charming.

The collection of stories includes “Motherless Bear”, “The Parenting Storks” and “The Grieving Owl,” which Sedaris read for the howling crowd. The story is about how a great horned owl, that recently lost his spouse, spends the rest of his time trying to become a more informed creature by asking his prey to teach him something. Sadly, just as he does and lets the animal go, a family member will swoop down for the kill. “It’s easier than doing it alone; think of the hours I’m saving, the owl’s sister shrieked,” he read.

Sedaris and friends on tape
Normally one of the best things about a new Sedaris book is the audio book version, which features his deadpan delivery and inimitable voice. For the uninitiated, his comic stylings are as unique as Woody Allen or Chris Rock. This time, “Squirrel” features the vocal talents of three other contributors who breathe a new twist into the author’s words. “When I write these stories I keep reading them aloud over and over and testing the material in front of audiences,” he said. “But when you hear (Broadway legend) Elaine Stritch read the sentence and talk about the Motherless Bear in her own way, it’s pure delight.”

To keep producing quality work takes a commitment to the craft. Sedaris told the audience that he writes for at least four hours a day, every day of the week, splitting the work between morning and evening. “After any more than four hours of sitting in front of the computer and it becomes time to check out YouTube for videos of animals eating other animals,” he opined.

The stop in Charlotte was one of many; the author will visit 36 cities in 37 days and then begin a four-week book tour to promote “Squirrel.” Sally Brewster and Frazer Dobson, owners of the esteemed Park Road Books who have often been the bookseller of choice on his visits, commented on the author’s convivial air at the Belk. “You can tell he’s happier and more relaxed this time around,” said Brewster.

Part of that can be attributed to the author’s new healthier lifestyle: he’s quit smoking and works out regularly. He even had time to offer praise for a Charlotte institution. “Do you all know how lucky you are to have an amazing YMCA?” Sedaris offered praising the Dowd. “They will all be friendly, but swimming in the pool at the Hilton was amazing!”

Sedaris rounded the evening out by sharing essays such as “Stand By” about the travails of airline traveling and selections from his journal. It can be intimidating to think, ‘who can be funny even in their journal?’ But as audience members lined up to get their book inscribed and chat with the delightful author, the author asked those in line to share their favorite joke. As many comic tidbits flowed forth it became obvious, this man knows how to not only be funny but help others delight in the humor of life as well.

“Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” is now available at booksellers everywhere.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review of Opera Carolina's "Cosi Fan Tutte"

There are many reasons art enriches life. Besides its beauty and its spectacle, it speaks truth.

Recently, I've been musing a lot about the role of love in one's life. It's very easy to somehow forget how transformational true love really is. We all get busy with work, family and just day-to-day life and even if we have a beloved in our lives; it becomes very easy to forget the magic.

Opera Carolina's premier offering of the season, Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" reminded me just how important love really is. And more importantly not questioning or testing love but believing, accepting and surrendering to its power.

At the heart of the story lies two sisters who are faithfully devoted to their beaus. However a world weary older man convinces their boyfriends that they could be swayed by their devotion. And therein the plot unfolds.

To say more might ruin the fun. But take a dash of "The Road" movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, add some modern goddesses and add some the lushly inspired music of one of the world's greatest composers and you begin to understand what a delightful experience "Cosi" offers.

James Meena's thoughtful staging of the show really helped make the plot relevant and realistic. Originally Mozart wrote this as a contemporary piece in the 1790s but Meena updated the period to the 1920s/30s and used a somewhat contemporary set from "The Transit of Venus." This helps make the opera far more approachable than if it had stayed in the 18th century. Even though stories of love are universal, the updated staging and costumes helps the audience just relax and slip into the beautiful arias.

The opera talent on stage -the combined talents of Robert Mack (Ferrando), Caitlin Lynch (Fiordiligi), Elizabeth Stannard (Dorabella) and Marian Pop (Guglielmo) - are uniformly spectacular. Together with Sarah Callinan and Krisopher Irmiter, as Despina and Don Alfonso, respectively, the cast puts forth a world class offering. They make the quartets and sextets reach incredible heights as well as shine in their solo arias.

Ultimately the story leaves you wondering to the end how this romantic folly will play out. But I walked away feeling more hopeful about love than before and being grateful how great art can inspire great living. See "Cosi Fan Tutte" before its run finishes this week at the Belk and remember the magic of love!

To learn more or purchase tickets, visit CarolinaTix.

Alison Woo
Carolina Weekly Newsgroup