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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Glass Menagrie as performed by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN

The Glass MenagerieThe Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of the performance by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN.

Just about every year, the Festival does a non-Shakespeare performance in addition to its two Shakespeare plays. This year the selection was a classic of American theater, The Glass Menagerie. It tells the story of the Wingfields, who were displaced from Mississippi to St Louis. Tom is a writer who works in a warehouse, but dreams of more. His mom, Amanda, can be very domineering. She wistfully remembers the Old South she grew up in. Tom's sister, Laura, has a walking impediment. She likes to take care of her glass menagerie. Laura is also painfully shy. Her mother is trying to find a gentleman caller for her, so that Laura has someone to take care of her. The gentleman caller turns out to be Jim, an old high school classmate of Laura's. I won't say any more because of spoilers.

The atmosphere is very melancholy. The set design made the family feel cramped. There was no way out. The father had left 16 years before. His picture, like his legacy, hangs large over the stage. It reminded me of Big Brother from George Orwell's 1984. The dinner scenes used pantomime to mimic eating, reminiscent of Our Town. The play is set in the 1930s, during the height (or is it the depths?) of the Great Depression, when America was at its lowest, and things were stirring up all over the world. Given that this premiered in 1944, during World War II, audiences back then would have remembered it all too well.

The cast was great. Stephanie Lambourn was excellent as Laura. She portrayed the shyness of Laura with incredible depth, making her seem just as fragile as the menagerie she loves so much. She is just as breakable as they are. John Maltese is great as Tom, who narrates the story as a flashback. He is even nicknamed "Shakespeare" at work, which makes this even more appropriate for the Festival. He is at odds with his mother, but he still loves her. Andrew Carlson is great as Jim, the gentleman caller who brings Laura out of her shell. He strikes the right balance between the super outgoing guy and the gentle soul that can draw out Laura. The biggest role was Leslie Brott as Amanda. Her performance is not totally domineering, but rather a woman who wants what she had, and wants everyone else to help her in that. She brings a certain level of humor, to avoid having this play be too depressing. Some of the banter between Tom and Amanda reminds me of Howard and his mother on The Big Bang Theory.

The one negative I found in this production was too much silence. I realize silence is important to set the mood, but I felt there should have been something to fill in. It made the play drag on too long.

All in all, an excellent performance. Someone commented that there was a sense of hope at the end of the play. I don't know if that's totally true. The characters in the play didn't know it, but World War II was coming soon. *Spoiler Alert* Tom would either have enlisted or been drafted if he had not gone into the merchant marine. Amanda and Laura would still be in that apartment together, waiting for something that might never happen. The only sense of hope is that Tom is narrating this, which means he did not die in the war. We may never know.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Siren's Call

Siren's Call (Dark Seas)Siren's Call by Debbie Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for this review.

Siren's Call is the 3rd installment of the Dark Seas trilogy, focusing on the Borsage sisters, Shelly, Jet, and Lily, who live in Alabama. Book 1, Siren's Secret, focused on Shelly, book 2, Siren's Treasure, focused on Jet, and book 3 focuses on Lily. To update everyone, Shelly married Tillman, the sheriff. Jet married Landry, a former FBI agent, and is pregnant. The Bosarge sisters are all mermaids, a secret known only to them and to their husbands. Lily has the gift of the siren's song, which attracts men to her. This makes the women in town very unhappy. One day at the grocery store, Lily runs into Nash, and old childhood friend, who is immune to Lily's siren song. Nash is a photographer, who came back to take pictures of the area. Since he is immune to her song, Lily wants him more. She also runs into Opal, Nash's assistant. The novel follows their interaction. Lily's mother comes to town to convince Lily to go back to the mermaid community. Nash's grandfather, who is dying, tries to convince Nash to stay. He also tells Nash of the legend of the Okwa Nahollo, a race of underwater creatures that live in the bayou. Nash and Opal have secrets of their own, which I won't reveal here because of spoilers.

Overall I thought the book was great, just like the first 2. The plotline was defined, with just enough twists to keep everyone interested. The characters of Lily, Nash, and especially Nash's grandfather were very well-developed. The climactic scene was very engrossing.

I had two issues with the book. First, the ending with Carl Desmukes. He had been threatening the sisters by claiming to have documents showing that Tillman's father had been embezzling from the county. He had been threatening them for all 3 books. It ended too abruptly, in the middle of the book. I would have liked to have seen it at least extended out to the end of the book. Second, the ending, which was designed to wrap up the trilogy, was too much a Disney movie "happily ever after" ending. I believe there should have been some tragedy in the ending.

These are just minor quibbles. All in all, it was a great book. She's currently working on her next book about the Okwa Nahollo. I look forward to it.

Full disclosure: The Okwa Nahollo is a Native American legend. The author stated that she did enhance some elements of the legend for dramatic purposes.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

The Monopolists

The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board GameThe Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked playing Monopoly growing up. I loved being able to buy up properties, collect the rent, and crush everyone. Mwah hah hah. Of course, I also lost my share of games. Those were not fun.

Monopoly will be celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Millions of people like me love playing the game. A lot of people think they know the origin of the game. It was in every box of Monopoly. According to Parker Brothers, Charles Darrow was unemployed in 1935. He remembered his family trips to Atlantic City. One day, he sat down at his kitchen table and sketched out a board game, using street names from Atlantic City as references. He refined the game with the help of his family, and eventually sold it to Parker Brothers. He collected royalties for his family, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Not quite.

In this book, the author tracks down the true origins of Monopoly. It turns out that Monopoly was based on a game called The Landlord's Game, which was patented in 1902 by Lizzie Magie. She wanted to show the evils of capitalism, and felt that this game would do that. The game became popular very quickly, and was played on college campuses in the 1920s. In fact, it was one of Darrow's neighbors who introduced him to the game. Parker Brothers very quietly bought up old boards, and paid Lizzie Magie $500 for her patent rights. They printed up a few copies of The Landlord's Game, but only for her benefit.

The book follows Ralph Anspach, inventor of a game called Anti-Monopoly. He first invented the game in the 1970s, a time when trustbusting was big business. One day, he received a cease and desist letter from Parker Brothers, saying that his game and its name violated Parker Brothers' trademark for Monopoly. The book follows his legal battle, which focused on whether Parker Brothers had any right to a trademark for Monopoly, since it had existed prior to Darrow's patent in 1935. *Spoiler alert* In the end, Mr Anspach lost the first round, which led to several thousand of his games being buried in what is now a housing development in Mankato, MN. He ultimately won the right to sell his game, although Parker Brothers' trademark was never canceled.

The author does a good job of tracking down the origins of the game, and of following Mr Anspach's legal battles. Her book was limited by two major restrictions, both beyond her control. First, most of the key players are dead, so she had to rely on documents and 40-year-old depositions. Second, Hasbro, which bought Parker Brothers in 1991, declined to cooperate with the book. The book is still fascinating reading. There is a picture in the book of a board from the early 1920s with "Monopoly" printed in the center. It came up for sale on ebay last year (2014). If this had been available back in the 1970s, I wonder if Hasbro would still have a trademark on Monopoly. (As part of a settlement with Parker Brothers, Mr Anspach is not allowed to reopen litigation.)

The book is a great read. However, I suspect most people playing Monopoly won't even care. They will continue to pass Go, draw Chance and Community Chest cards, and hope they don't land on Boardwalk or Park Place with a hotel. McDonald's will still have its annual Monopoly promotion. Robert Kiyosaki and others will continue to promote playing Monopoly as a way of learning about how capitalism works (ironic, considering the origins of the game.)

Anti-Monopoly is still available for sale at Amazon and University Games. (The website listed in the book expired on 3/29/15.) I recently purchased an Anti-Monopoly game from Amazon. On the bottom of the box, in very small print, was a statement that Anti-Monopoly is a trademark owned by Hasbro, Inc, and is used pursuant to a license. I assume that was part of the settlement, or perhaps University Games negotiated that with Hasbro, because it's another huge irony. The man who fought Parker Brothers on the trademark for Monopoly now finds his game trademarked by Hasbro, successor to Parker Brothers. The book mentions how Parker Brothers then Hasbro tried to massage the origins of Monopoly as printed in the rules. Recent editions of Monopoly don't even mention the origins of the game.

Mr Darrow died in 1967, but his family continued to receive royalties for decades after his death (I wouldn't be surprised if they still do). One subtle impression I get from the book is this: Once in a while, cheaters do prosper. That is definitely a lesson in American capitalism you can learn from Monopoly.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Execution is the Strategy

Execution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum TimeExecution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time by Laura Stack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the (now-defunct) 12 Books Group in exchange for this review.

Execution is the Strategy. When I first saw the title, I thought, "Duh." Nothing gets done unless you execute. You can sit around in meetings all day and plan to your heart's content, but unless you execute, it's all meaningless. Unfortunately, a lot of corporations don't do this, or don't really know how. The author has a 4-step plan, based on the acronym LEAD, to get things done.

L stands for Leverage. This means that you have the right people and drivers to execute your strategy.

E stands for Environment. This means you have the right organizational atmosphere , practices, and culture to allow employees to execute.

A stands for Alignment. This means that employees' attitudes align with the organization's goals.

D stands for Drive. This means that everyone is agile enough to move quickly to execute.

Within these, she discusses various strategies to make sure can execute effectively. She goes through the ideal scenario, and then explains what to do when the ideal scenario doesn't work. There's also a "Final Word" in each chapter, summarizing what was said.

I've read a lot of business books, and some of this reminded me of things I'd seen elsewhere. For example, the section on prioritizing reminded me of the "ABC" method I've seen elsewhere. (A is top priority, B is important but lesser priority, and C is trivia.) Also, a section on refreshing your mind by doing important things that aren't urgent. reminded me of Stephen Covey's quadrant system. (Check it out in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

She does address big disasters in the book, where you do what you can, but a lot of other plans go out the window. She doesn't mention the biggest one of the last few years, however--9/11. That was a big improvisation. It also illustrates the dichotomy in the book. For a big emergency, you need to have one person in charge, giving orders. For other considerations, however, collaboration is better, but not to the point of analysis paralysis. The response right after 9/11 was great. The decisions on what to do with the site, though, were not great. It took over a decade to decide what to do with the property, and the new building just opened.

This is a good book. The best thing to do with this, however, is to put it into action. If it just sits on a shelf, the title becomes ironic.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Past lives reading.

This is a past lives reading I got from Shoshannah J Kirchbaum yesterday. I fixed some minor typographical errors, but otherwise it's exactly as she wrote it. What do you think? I think I have some book ideas here. Read the original for yourself here;

Shoshannah J Kirschbaum Joseph McGarry: So are you Irish mate? Lol. You are truly a male version of me, lol. You are working first on responsibility and second on psychicness so they will thread thru all your lives. And you are truly giftedgrin emoticon. In your last life you were a priest, and a chaplain in the army. You were American. Your unit had gotten thru many scrapes so they called you Father Lucky. But one day as you were giving last rites to a young man your unit was strafed by some German airplanes and almost the entire unit was killed. In the early 1800's you were of Irish decent and owned a large plantation in Georgia. You were kind and fair and then married the neighbor's only child and doubled your holdings. Your wife died in childbirth with your third child, all boys and you raised them well and responsibly. But one day in your 40's you died checking a field from a snake bite. In the 1700's you were English, and was the second son, you inherited money when your father died so you invested in a great ship, and became a pirate! You used your psychic gifts often to stay from storms, from capture and to find the richest ships. Your wife thought you were a sailor, You had 2 daughters, and had enough money behind a wall in the cellar When you died of an illness they buried you at sea and your first mate, and your best friend inherited the ship and gave a letter to your wife about the monies below the floors in the wall. 1600's you were a shaman in the Lakota tribe. You had great visions that kept your people fed and moving to the best spots for them. You also did amazing healings. Your tribe got status just by having you in it. You loved your wife and your oldest son had your abilities so you trained him to be a shaman. The other was a great warrior. One day when you were about 40 you told your wife you were going to die. You loved your wife, ate your favorite meal and then died at sunset. IN the late 1500's you were a German who lived in your father's house and was a healer and herbalist. At about age 23 you were actually burnt as a witch after a child died you could not heal. You have been an Incan priest, an Egyptian astrologist, a Buddhist monk, and advisor to Genghis Khan, and had many more lives. You have a couple left and those gifts make you important to raise people's vibrations in the now. Namaste.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Notre Dame Day.

My new page for Notre Dame Day, starting April 26 at 6:42 PM EDT. More to come. GO IRISH!

In case you're wondering, I have 2 degrees from Notre Dame.

  1. Bachelor's in Accounting 1986
  2. Law 1989

Monday, March 9, 2015

Confessions of the World's Oldest Shotgun Bride

Confesssions of the World's Oldest Shotgun BrideConfesssions of the World's Oldest Shotgun Bride by Gail Hart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book is about Steve and Katie. Katie is 40 years old, a successful career woman, who has given up on love after breaking up with her boyfriend. Steve is a pilot in the Air Force, in his early 20s. They were next door neighbors growing up. Steve lusted after Katie as soon as he was old enough to know what lust was. They meet while they were both on vacation in the Cayman Islands. They hook up several times on vacation. When they get home, Katie wants to go back to her work life and just pretend it was just a vacation fling. Steve, however, wants to make this a relationship. Then Katie finds out she's pregnant. What will happen next? (By the way, that was not a spoiler. That's on the cover of the book.)

The plot moves along quickly. This is the younger man lusting after the older woman, a switch on how it usually plays out in the novels. The main problem I had is that some of the other characters weren't fleshed out enough. I felt like there were some subplots that could have been explored further. For example, Katie is up for promotion to president of the firm. That seems to be given short shrift. Some characters, like Katie's and Steve's friends, also pop in just long enough to move the plot along. Also, the section where Katie wonders if she's pregnant went on for too long. We already know she's pregnant, so why drag it out? Without giving away any spoilers, I thought the ending was contrived. It cut things too short. I also would have liked to see what happened 1 year later, after the baby was born. An OK book, but not special.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

You could win a FREE autographed copy of my novel and a $25 Amazon GC.

Who would like a free autographed copy of my novel, Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident, once it's published? When I get to 2000 likes, I will draw for one person to get one. (US only, please). I'll also throw in a $25 Amazon GC. To enter:

1. Like the Operation Mermaid page if you haven't already.

2.Tell your friends and family to like this page. We need 532 more as of today (March 6) to get to 2000.

3. Become a fan of my Pubslush page.

4. Go to my Pubslush page and support me before April 15. (As a tax accountant, I am well ...aware of the April 15 deadline.) Any amount, even $2, will help. One of the incentives is a free autographed copy if you contribute $30 or more. if you win this giveaway, I'll waive that requirement.

5. Share the campaign with your family and friends, and encourage them to support me.

I need at least $3500 to meet my minimum. The money is being used to help cover the cost of editing, professional cover design (the design you see is a mockup, cut and pasted from Google), and the cost of the incentives. Your book will be sent once it's published. Thanks in advance for your help.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pubslush campaign is live

My Pubslush campaign for my new novel, Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident, is now live. The link is at the end of this post. Any amount you can give is greatly appreciated. Thanks.


Friday, February 27, 2015

The Language of Flowers

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the Cambridge Public Library, as part of their reading group.

The book focuses on Victoria, who is a girl living in San Francisco, and has been through the foster care system. She has just turned 18, and is now legally an adult. After 3 months living in an apartment, and not paying rent, she is homeless. She meets a florist, Renata, who takes her in. One of Victoria's most prized possessions is a dictionary of the Victorian language of flowers. The book also flashes back to when Victoria was 10, and was placed with Elizabeth, a single owner of a vineyard. Elizabeth is estranged from Catherine, her sister. Catherine's son, Grant, becomes a major character in this book. I'll stop here to avoid spoilers.

I found the book very confusing. For one thing, it bounces back and forth between the present day (whenever that is; the book really doesn't say) and when Elizabeth is 10, without any warning. It would have been nice to have the chapters labeled "Now" and "Then", or something like that. The plot developments seemed a little forced. Everything just seemed to happen at the right time. Again, I can't say too much without revealing spoilers, but the ending seemed too much like a Hallmark Channel movie for me. Everything is wrapped up in a nice, neat little package, tied with a bow on top. Everybody lives happily ever after. The author said, in an interview at the end of the paperback edition, that she was trying to show the problems of the foster care system. I didn't see that. Maybe because I live in Minnesota, and the book takes place in California, I don't understand the foster care system described in the book. Not one of my favorite reads. I agree with one of the other participants in the group, who said that after a while, this became a chore read. If not for the book club, I would have stopped.

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