Thursday, February 28, 2013

Personal Recollections of Van Cliburn

Years ago, never mind how many, I was a voice student at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.  This was way before the NCAA "Death Penalty" for their football program.  Anyhow, my voice teacher asked me if I had plans that evening.  Van Cliburn was coming to SMU to perform with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  She had a ticket that she could not use and wondered if I would like to go.

Thanking her profusely, I grabbed the ticket, half afraid she'd change her mind...

I went to the concert.  The orchestra played during the first act.  Then after intermission, Van Cliburn joined them.

The audience had been rude prior to the intermission.  Many of them were late in coming, apparently not wanting to hear the symphony without the evening's soloist.  They made noise as they entered, talked over the music, laughed, greeted friends in the audience, and rattled their programs.

The orchestra was playing "The Rites of Spring" by Stravinsky, which if you ever saw Disney's "Fantasia" was what played during the death of the dinosaurs segment.  In other words, in places, it is a loud piece of music with throbbing drums.  I could hear the audience members over the music.  Like I said, they were rude and dismissive of the talented musicians.

After intermission, a red-headed tall "drink o' water" walked to the piano to thunderous applause.  Mr. Cliburn had arrived.  Then an amazing transformation came over the crowd.  They sat rapt and silent, all eyes on the man at the Steinway.

He played brilliantly, nimbly through a difficult program, and came back through NINE encores.  Before or since I've never seen any musician come back for that many encores.  He looked exhausted at the end.  I suspect he put his whole heart into the music.  No wonder he was tired.

He had the complete attention of the crowd.  There were no sounds - no auditorium coughing - no shifting uncomfortably in the seats - no whispers - only reverent silence.  And most telling, there was a space of a few seconds before the audience applauded after he finished each piece.  Any performer will tell you that is the sign the audience is transformed, taken to another place by the skill of the artist.

Like the rest of the audience I was transfixed with open-mouthed awe.  I wasn't very sophisticated in those days, hadn't had a lot of life experience.  But I recognized true genius when I saw it.

You've probably read how he won a prestigious piano contest in the Soviet Union, but you may not know how hard that was.  America and the Soviet Union were enemies engaged in a cold war.  We were told that they wanted war.  They were told the same thing about the United States. They were the first to put a satellite in the sky.  It was a big deal for American families to look up at the night sky and see the little point of light travel across the star field.  I remember as a little girl watching it cross the sky.  It was creepy.  You knew your enemies had put it up there and they were probably watching.  (Don't get me started on how they used dogs in their test rockets.  That was the ultimate proof to me that they were mean.)

Van Cliburn won the music competition the year after Sputnik was launched.  I read that Nikita Kruschev, their premier at the time, had to ask the members of their Politburo if the prize could really be awarded to an American.  The general consensus was if Cliburn was truly the best then he should win. 

Kruschev would become famous to Americans by his trip to the US where he addressed the United Nations and proclaimed to the Americans, as he banged his shoe on the podium, "We will bury you."  Given that visit and the Cuban Missile Crisis, sales of fallout shelters in the US rose to an all-time high.

Yet Cliburn continued traveling periodically to Russia.  He won them over with his skill and artistry, winning their biggest prize at a time when Americans were discouraged from traveling over there at all.  He was a kind, warm, funny young man from Kilgore, Texas.  His music crossed all barriers that existed between the US and the USSR.  The soviets loved him.  And so did we.

He was truly an ambassador of good will throughout his life.  His music spoke for him and reached people of all national origins, political affiliations, and dogmas.

He passed away quietly yesterday, surrounded by friends and family.  Van Cliburn touched this world like very few.  Fortunately, he left us the gift of his recorded music.  Check it out sometime.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Knight & Day by Kathryn J. Bain

Trubleh Lawrence has a lot on her mind.  She recently divorced when her husband left her for an OLDER woman.  To make matters worse, Trubleh discovered them in the act, let us say, before she knew she needed a divorce at all.  That kind of thing can warp a woman.

So Trubleh leaves her home in Louisiana to move near her family in Jacksonville, Florida.  She begins the search for a new job and a new life.  She is excited for her next interview, to be an assistant for a private investigator.  When she arrives a bit early, she enters the office and finds her prospective boss dead.  NOT ANOTHER DEAD BODY!!!  She hears someone coming and tries unsuccessfully to hide.  The intruder is a gorgeous guy.  Trubleh is determined to stick to her new policy - no men, no matter how handsome.  But Mace, as he calls himself, pays no attention to the policy.  He pays a lot of attention to Trubleh, which rattles her resolve.

Thus begins the roller coaster ride of Knight & Day by Kathryn J. Bain.  The fourth book by this talented author, it is a smoothly blended story filled with humor from quirky characters, warmth from developing relationships, and true suspense for a touch of danger.  Someone is after Trubleh, but the suspects keep dying.  It is an exciting read with a surprising conclusion.

If you like your stories well-balanced with comedy, warmth, and suspense, this one is for you.

Congratulations on another job well done, Ms. Bain!

A name can mean a lot. You expect a Jasper to be the CEO of a company. Name your son Phineas, well, he might get beat up a lot. However if you chose to call your daughter Trubleh (True blay), you get what you ask for.
Trubleh Lawrence makes a habit out of discovering dead bodies. When the police look to her as a suspect, she has no choice but to search for the killer. If that’s not bad enough she has to deal with a grandmother who has visions, a co-worker who makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like Shirley Temple, and a guy who constantly reminds her that celibacy is hard when a hot male's around.
Links to purchase:

Barnes and Noble:

Write Words, Inc.:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Angel Unaware by Elizabeth Sinclair

Best-selling author, Elizabeth Sinclair's wonderful novel, Angel Unaware is being re-released by Salt Run Publishing.  It is a beautiful story, filled with love and gentle humor and enough obstacles to make you nervous about the outcome.

Poor Dora DeAngelo is having a hard time being an angel.  She's given one last chance with dire warnings about what might happen should she fail.  She has very good intentions, but her charges are not as receptive to her help as she hoped.

This is a story of healing, of growth, and the discovery of love.  As always Ms. Sinclair's well-drawn  characters make this tale come alive on the page.  Their emotional depth make them real to the reader.  It is a charming read, one that will make you smile and cheer for Dora and her charges as they all learn unexpected things.

For anyone wanting to escape their everyday stressful world, this is the novel for you.  So curl up with this good book and let your troubles slip away.  I know mine did. 

I hope there will be a sequel someday.

Another good one, Ms. Sinclair!


Dora DeAngelo is one of the most inept angels Heaven has ever had the misfortune to employ in the Celestial Maintenance Department.

As a last result, Dora is sent to Earth. For the three weeks prior to Christmas, she must help a mortal family and then return to Heaven on Christmas Eve. During that time, she must help a man find his faith in family again, and his ability to trust in love. Dora must also help a little girl become a child again and get past the guilt she feels for the death of her parents. Doing so, Dora finds more than just a challenge in her questionable angel skills.

Will Dora lose her wings? Or will she gain something she has always wanted with all her heart? Her family...and love. And the hope for a future she only dreamed of...

Purchase Information:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Whatever It Takes by Skye Taylor

In our current political climate, including last year's contentious election, many people are tired of the bickering, the arguing, the inability of politicos to work together.

In her debut novel, Whatever It Takes, Skye Taylor has gifted readers with a realistic story of the hidden side of a Presidential election.  She has created an effective story of a three-way race, the undercurrents between the candidates, the things the public is never meant to see.

It is a novel rich with depth in its characters and the plot.  These are not beings who are just talking heads in the media.  They read as emotionally true characters, who face obstacles according to their personalities and agendas.  Without the interference of spin doctors, you will come to care about some of the characters and dislike some of the others, as you learn who they truly are. 

Each of the candidates has a secret or two that must be protected.  As the action builds to its surprising climax, you will find who has the best interest of the country at heart. 

An exciting page-turner as the story skillfully unfolds it is filled with suspense. I found it hard to put down.

This is a wonderful book and an impressive first novel.  I look forward to reading more of Ms. Taylor's work.  I also wish one of her characters was real and could run in 2016.  But I'll leave it to you to decide who that is.


Matt Steele has a no-nonsense plan to fix the economy and restore America’s legacy, Roland Miller dominates the polls, and Blair Cabot, the first Independent candidate with a realistic chance to win the presidency, has the determination to get there at any cost. All three have secrets that could derail everything.

At a campaign rally, Matt Steele is slipped an old snapshot by an Amerasian man who claims to be the son of Matt’s closest friend who was killed in Vietnam. Matt’s acceptance of this man and his claim soon erupts into allegations that the young man is Matt’s illegitimate son, a story the press is eager to exploit. The photograph also triggers memories long forgotten, and guilt long buried about the woman in the picture and promises he made to her after his friend was killed. Rolly Miller wants to maintain his public image as a grieving widower and keep his long time lover a secret until after he has won the election. And Blair Cabot is determined to bury his opponents what ever it takes, including arm twisting, blackmail, lying, and leaking information to the press. But Cabot’s past includes some very shady shipping deals and three men who may have died to keep them quiet.

Links for purchase:

"Whatever It Takes by Skye Taylor is an absolutely fabulous debut! Check it out if you love political intrigue." Tracey Garvis Graves, author of Times best-seller, On The Island.

Killing Lincoln Update

Last night the National Geographic Channel presented their film of "Killing Lincoln" taken from the book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, previously reviewed on this blog.

Directed by Ridley Scott and narrated by Tom Hanks, the docu-drama moved between on camera narration and filmed action.  The production was dedicated to the late Tony Scott.

It was an excellent adaption of the book and used some actual photographs of events to bring a touch of reality.

A two-hour film, the first hour was dedicated to events leading up to the assassination.  The second hour portrayed events after the assassination culminating in catching the conspirators.  Their ultimate fate was shown through the use of actual photographs taken at the execution of those that were sentenced to death.

I've seen other photographs of the conspirators.  Every attempt was made to cast actors of similar appearance to the people they portrayed.  I'm sure make-up and facial hair made a difference on the men.  But they certainly looked very much like the conspirators.

My elderly father was going to turn it off after the first hour.  He said, "well, they've already killed him.  What else is there?"

The second half was as good as the first. They portrayed the detective work that caught the guilty parties in the first assassination of an American president.

My dad has seen enough violence and strife in his 90+ years.  I can understand why he didn't want to watch the rest.  It isn't pleasant to watch.  Lincoln was brought to life, a real person, a real father.  The sadness came from knowing what was going to happen to him.  We all know the history.

As Santana said, "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." (No, that's not Carlos of "Black Magic Woman" fame.)

There will be an encore presentation on Nat Geo this Saturday, the 23rd.  Check your local listings.

By the way, Dad watched the rest of the movie last night...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Skyfall, the Evolution of James Bond

When the latest James Bond movie came to the theaters, I read several reviews saying it was the "best Bond movie ever."  Now that was hard for me to imagine.  Way back when in the land of teased hair and frosted white lipstick (i.e. the mid-1960s) as a teen, I stumbled into a movie called "Dr. No" at my neighborhood theater.

I was fascinated with the premise, plot, location, and most of all SEAN CONNERY!  I fell irrevocably in love with that Scot and saw all his movies after that.  Of course seeing "Dr. No" these days is taking a trip back to that time period.  The clothes are laughable, not to mention the women's hairdos and the attitudes toward women.  It's like an outtake from the movie "Hairspray", without the great choreography, or a less cut-throat version of "Mad Men," with cheesy stunt fighting.

When I first saw "Dr. No" and found out a man named Ian Fleming had written a series of novels about James Bond, I hit the bookstore.  By the time the Beatles dedicated their song "Paperback Writer" to Ian Fleming I had read most of the Bond books.

I saw every one of the subsequent Bond movies.  When my favorite book On Her Majesty's Secret Service was made with someone named George Lazenby as 007, I was crushed.  Who was he anyway?  Somebody's nephew?  Where did he go after making the movie?

I suffered through the Roger Moore years with their inherent silliness.  What kind of villain was "Jaws"?  He was so ridiculous he was laughable. I breathed easier when Timothy Dalton showed up as Bond.  He, like Connery as Bond, was urbane, and sensually lethal.  You knew this guy was licensed to kill before he ever pulled the first trigger.  He and Connery most mirrored the James Bond in the books.

Pierce Brosnan was okay as Bond, but I kept picturing him as "Remington Steele" the character he played on a popular television show.  He just wasn't innately lethal - it did not play that way.

And then we come to Daniel Craig.  When I first saw him in stills, I thought he looked more like a KGB agent rather than James Bond.  When I saw his first Bond film, I realized he is the total package, even if he is a blond. 

So now we come to Skyfall, an original script like Craig's last outing as Bond, which I saw earlier this week.  It has all the earmarks of vintage Bond films, exotic locales, beautiful women, a seemingly invincible villain, and a flawlessly lethal James Bond, who kills with impunity and without thought to the consequences.

It also has a familiar plot device - Bond is assumed to be dead after the beginning sequence.  There are at least two other Bond movies in which 007 supposedly dies. 

Skyfall has incredible action sequences worthy of a "Die Hard" movie.  In this one MI-6, British Intelligence, is the target of the villain, and "M" herself, ably played by Judy Dench.  That's an oxymoron if ever I heard one.  When is Ms. Dench EVER less than superb in her film rolls?  (Please do not miss her in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.")

James, this time, is recovering from near fatal wounds.  He is less than perfect on his return to duty.  He battles the villain.  MI-6 battles the government reps who think covert services are outdated, expensive, and no longer needed.  The government officials get an up close and personal lesson as to why M's section is still a vital part of MI-6 and 007 in particular.

As the final showdown looms between James and the villain, he loses a valued treasure, and one of the main characters.  But he keeps going and prevails in the best Bond tradition.

Along the way, he proves his bravery by putting a huge scorpion on his hand and downing a drink before the scorpion can sting him.  He also spends time in an elaborate Macao casino where Komodo dragons dine on the unwary.  Fortunately for James, his opponent is unwary and becomes the dragon's dinner.

There are enough of the traditional trappings - the twangy guitar original theme music, a new Miss Moneypenny, and a new "Q", to make Skyfall a Bond film in the grand manner of the franchise.

What is new is a contemporary intensity in the story, with bigger and more impressive action sequences.  Also the villain commits acts of cyber-terrorism that endanger embedded intelligence operatives.

Craig's Bond is excellent. 

Also notable in the cast is Albert Finney as the gamekeeper at Bond's family home in Scotland. 

Ralph Fiennes plays a government minister that gets his own lesson in the need for the covert section of MI-6. 

As the new "Q", Ben Whishaw of the BBC series "The Hour", is wonderful.  The late Desmond Llewelyn was followed by John Cleese in the role.  This new "Q" (which stands for quartermaster) is a young cyber genius who has done away with exploding pens, cigarettes with poison darts inside, and other such hokey gadgets in the 21st century.  As he says, he can do more damage sitting at home in his pajamas than 007 can in the field.

Finally, there is less emphasis on the "Kiss-Kiss" and more on the serious nature of the "Bang-Bang" in the contemporary Bond films.  Craig's Bond is not adverse to beautiful women, but his priority is his work.  For you younger folks out there, Connery, in his heyday as 007, was called Mr. Kiss-Kiss - Bang-Bang in certain parts of the world.

Taking all that into consideration and the fact that I enjoyed Skyfall so much, I must agree that this film is the greatest Bond film to date. 

It's fast, colorful, fun in places, occasionally nostalgic, and frequently hard-hitting.

See it - it's well worth your time. 

And if you hear some mature lady giggling like a teen-ager when the twangy guitar starts, forgive her.  She can't help it.

Oh Sean, it's a shame we've got to get old...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Little Big Heart by Dolores J. Wilson

Popular author Dolores J Wilson has re-released one of my favorite books of hers, Little Big Heart.  It is a warm tale of love and healing.  The course of love never runs smoothly, at least not in a captivating story.  And this one is no exception.  There are obstacles, seemingly too high to climb, that must be hurdled before the hero and heroine can be together.  It is a vibrant journey of a read.
Ms. Wilson skillfully maneuvers through the plot which deals with the distant past and contemporary times.  She has a wonderful understanding of human behavior and uses it to make her characters come vividly alive.  You will relate to these people, laugh with them, and cry with them.  This is one of those stories that stay with you long after you close the book, sighing with satisfaction.

It is currently available in ebook form and due to come out in paper copy soon from Salt Run Publishing.  I'll post a note when the paper copies are available.
If you haven't discovered Ms. Wilson's work, you are in for a treat.  This one is rated four stars.
Widowed neurologist Dr. Daniel Lucas has a comatose Jane Doe patient. The only thing he knows about her is that she was badly beaten by someone and left for dead. And that he is strangely, inexplicably drawn to her. So drawn, he allows his young son to sit by the woman's bedside and relate stories of the old west once told to him by his deceased mother.
The abandoned wife of an abusive husband, Cassie struggles to maintain the small Montana ranch she and her young son call home. When drifter Daniel Lucas comes by she hires him on, grateful for both his physical labor and the support he lends against a greedy neighbor who wants her land. And although she is still legally bound to the man who deserted her and her son, Cassie finds a transcendent passion. A doomed passion.
Dr. Lucas' skill finally brings his Jane Doe back into the world of the living, and her secrets are revealed. Along with a brutal ex-husband who is coming back to finish the job he started. Is Cassie doomed to suffer the same fate twice? Or is love indeed strong enough to transcend time?

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I have to admit with my schedule and responsibilities I never get time to go to see a movie in a theater.  Instead I have to wait until they come out on video or make it to pay-per-view.  While I have already pre-ordered my copy of ARGO, it won't be out until a few days before the Oscar winners are announced.

So I have to wait.  But FLIGHT, starring Denzel Washington, in his Oscar-nominated role, has made it to ppv on cable.  Last night I watched it.  I've always liked him and admired his skill as an actor.

Though not as dark a character as he played in Training Day, FLIGHT is another chance for him to play on the darker side of a personality.  Washington stars as an airline pilot with a drinking problem and drug addiction.

One day, after a night of carousing, he flies his regular route from Orlando to Atlanta, going through some severe weather (read that severe downdrafts and turbulence) until he gets clear of the system.  Later on in the flight, they experience catastrophic mechanical failure, after he has downed orange juice mixed with three of those little airplane bottles of vodka.  The result is a harrowing set of scenes featuring the cockpit action and the main cabin action.

As a white-knuckled flyer, those scenes were hard to watch.  It took me back to being on a plane en route to Hawaii and encountering major thunderstorms over the southwest US.  We were in a 747 and dropped 10,000 feet...That's an experience that colored my view of airplane travel for the rest of my life.  Not to mention the lunch that went all over me.  At least I hadn't asked for tomato juice like one of my friends did...

Anyhow, our movie "hero" manages to safely land the plane, gliding onto an open field.  The plane breaks up and six people are killed from 102 on board.  The pilot is called a hero in the press for saving so many lives.

They take blood tests of all the crew and that's when the drama truly begins.

It is a tense story acted by a talented cast.  Don Cheadle plays the attorney representing Washington's character.  Mary Reilly plays a recovering heroin addict that tries to help.  Most memorable is John Goodman, who plays an affable, amoral drug dealer, who is Washington's long-time supplier and friend.  You might also recognize Tamara Tunie as the chief flight attendant on the doomed plane.  She plays the Medical Examiner on the long running "Law and Order: SVU."

FLIGHT is the story of a man who has ruined most of his life with his substance abuse, falling faster than that 747 I was once aboard.  It's hard to watch in places and not just because I don't like to fly. 

But it is an excellent drama with a surprising ending.  Directed by the talented Robert Zemeckis, of Forrest Gump fame, it is well worth a viewing.

I'll review ARGO after I've watched it.  Sigh, but I'll have to wait a bit to see LINCOLN and LES MISERABLES.  Oh well, such is life... 

Take care.  If you are in the area of the country affected by "Nemo", stay safe inside and keep warm.

Am I the only one shaking my head over the naming of winter storms?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Starfish Objective

Some wonderful people I know have started a webpage on Facebook, entitled The Starfish Objective.
It's sole purpose is to spread positive energy and celebrate the good things people do. 

In our time of negatively charged current events, nightly news, family discussions, political arguments, etc, we need some positive energy and the reminder that despite what Lex Luthor said in the original Superman movie, there is good in the world.  Even Anne Frank wrote she believed that people were basically good at heart.  If she could believe that, given her situation, anybody can, just open to the possibilities.

The webpage will be sharing stories of people who do good in the world and people to whom something good is done.

The other day a stranger two cars up in the line paid for my latte at Starbuck's.  No reason given, except to say "have a good day."  And no, I'm not some young blonde hottie, as you can plainly see by my picture.  I was astonished when I reached the window and was told a stranger had already paid for my coffee.  He was paying it forward. 

I was asked to share the story on the webpage.  I was honored to do so.

Paying it forward - The concept has been around for centuries, as in "do unto others" - and no, that phrase does not end with "before they do unto you."  The true concept was wonderfully promoted by a film made in 2000, entitled "Pay It Forward" - based on a novel, in which the character of a child put forth the idea and touched people to pay it forward.  In other words, do good deeds for others for all the good deeds he received.  In the film, the character promoted doing three acts for each one he received.

This is also known as "random acts of kindness."  You'd be surprised how much little things matter to a stranger.  It can make the difference in their day.  It can make a difference in yours. 

The concept is being practiced all over.  It just doesn't get much press.  But when your day is stress-filled, your mind cluttered with all that is wrong with your life, your situation, act of kindness from a stranger can turn it all around - take you out of the quagmire in which you have been sinking.  It can remind you to step back from the stress.  The world is much brighter when you do.  It doesn't have to cost any money - help an elderly person take their groceries to their car, or put the home-delivered newspaper by the door when it's in the yard (if you see a home-delivered newspaper these days.)  Just do something kind.

I encourage you to go to the webpage.  I further encourage you to do something nice for a stranger.  You'll feel better and you'll make the world better.  Try it.

Check out the link:

Take care, everybody, and let's be kind out there...Calling all angels.