Mona Lisa’s Secret Review
By Alexis Mercer
This book review started as a result of a survey I conducted on Near North Now asking readers to weigh in on which genre I should read next. The readers chose Historical Fiction, which had me excited. I’m horrifically pathetic at remembering details about history (just ask the group of friends who witness my abysmal daily results of Isaac Asimov’s Super Quiz...I’m really that bad). But I love to read historically based novels.
My search began to find a title that peaked my interest. My original choice (I’ll save the title because it is going to be my review in a few weeks) was a book I knew my mom owned, but I wouldn’t have immediate access to it, so I kept looking. World War II was a prevalent theme in my searches, but being that it is summer and I knew I would be reading while my kids were playing outside in the sun, I wanted something a little lighter. I happened upon Mona Lisa’s Secret by Phil Philips and was intrigued. I clicked the magic Buy Now button on Amazon and started reading two days later.
My intrigue about this book came from the idea that it seemed DaVinci Code-like. And who didn’t like DaVinci Code?
I’ll start with the positives. The storyline of the book was good. Joey, the great-grandson of Vincenzo Peruggia, the man who stole the Mona Lisa, and his girlfriend Marie, an art gallery owner, discover a secret chamber in Joey’s newly inherited house in California. Within the chamber is the Mona Lisa; the original.
Marie has a connection to the Louvre curator and immediately the pair report the find to him. Once in Paris, things turn for the worse and the two find themselves running for their lives to protect the painting and discover the truth.
Sadly the intrigue of the plot was deafened by the misery of the writing itself. The attempts to insert the historical facts into the plot were contrived. As was the characterization throughout. The dialogue was almost comical in its forced nature.
My disappointment in the writing itself was more than I could overcome to be able to enjoy the book despite its interesting plot.
If you can put on blinders to the author’s inability to naturally weave a tale, you could try this book. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I will try again in the category of Historical Fiction with a book I am quite sure will renew my belief in good writing.
Now through August 4!
Grand Rapids-The Grand Rapids Mini Maker Faire announced today that the Call to Makers for the 4th annual Grand Rapids Maker Faire has been an extended! Makers now have until Friday, August 4 to sign up to showcase what they have invented or are making.
This year’s Maker Faire will be August 19 & 20 held at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and nearby Grand Valley State University’s John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering.
Maker Faire is looking for participants who enjoy tinkering, hacking, building and designing new technology based inventions. Any groups or individuals interested in participating in the Maker Faire should complete the application at Grand Rapids.MakerFaire.com. Unfinished projects are also welcome at Maker Faire.
The Grand Rapids Maker Faire is a family-friendly celebration featuring tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and commercial exhibitors. Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.
The Faire will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 19 and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, August 20. Early bird tickets are available for purchase at GrandRapids.MakerFaire.com through Friday, August 4! Museum members receive FREE early bird tickets.
By N3WH staff
A Little Hog Heaven
The fine folks who make up the Friends Campaign Committee to support the efforts to build a new library in White Cloud will be hosting a community picnic featuring a pig roast Saturday from 3-6pm. at the facility.
In addition to the porcine entree there will be salads, chips, drinks, and best of all, desserts all at a bargain price (see ad on our home page).
And while you’re there you might give some thought to how vital libraries have become these days, evolving with the times particularly with regard to expanding internet access for our citizens who would otherwise go without.
There has always existed a personal soft spot for libraries ever since a first encounter with a phenomenon known as...
By Ken DeLaat
The Rough & Tumble do it right.
They’re a duo extraordinaire who produce a wide range of music. Strong instrumentals from the guitar of Scott Tyler combine seamlessly with the absolute cavalcade of sound makers (both named and unnamed) Mallory Graham uses to create a carnival of collaboration. Their songs are lyrical stories that can amuse with a twist of sardonic wit or give a pull to the heartstrings with poignant prose.
Thursday night at the Dogwood’s Black Box they played to a crowd mostly unfamiliar with their music and didn’t just win them over, they absolutely charmed them. The self-deprecating humor, the road stories and most of all the wonderfully winsome musical creations they shared with the audience seemed to forge a connection.
Mallory puts into play her funky collection of musical tools from a toy piano, small xylophone,various shakers and sand blocks to the kazoo, accordion and banjolele and each provide a well placed addition to Scott’s string work. Scott also brings out a well played harp on too few occasions.
And then there are their road companions and sometime recording accompanists Butter and Pud a pair of pleasant pooches who take their places on stage and settle in for an evening of audience interaction.
Scott and Mallory each possess a wide vocal range allowing for some impressive and innovative musical harmonizing, yet what sets Rough & Tumble apart is the obvious rapport between the two.Their shared adventures involving the intriguing people they’ve met, life on the road in a 16 foot camper with a couple of canine companions, and a playful relationship that seems to work well personally as well as professionally collide to produce a whimsical presence on stage.
Having listened to their music and spoken to them by phone before the show my anticipation level for this concert was high. I was anxious to experience this duo whose music seems to challenge and charm the listener. The couple who displayed a delightful sense of humor during a recent interview and spoke candidly about their compassion for the less fortunate.
They did not disappoint and truly exceeded expectations.
Granted, their music is not for everyone, nor perhaps should it be. They are Americana Folk Artists with musical lineage tracing back to the creative contributions of outsiders. Those gifted musical folks who passed along tuneful tales after tweaking them into their own versions or perhaps created songs others would honor in the same way. Songs crafted from the stories of real people met along the way combined with insightful vignettes inspired by a deeply personal view of the world we live in.
And The Rough & Tumble?
They get it. Their music is powerful yet kind. Their songs are humorous and touching, warm and witty,and always, without exception entertaining. They connect with people and build a relationship with their audience.
And as we said in the beginning…
They do it right.
Murder on the Orient Express Review
By Alexis Mercer
I do fancy myself a reader. A connoisseur of mysteries, in fact. My love for mystery started in elementary school when I read my first Nancy Drew mystery. I proceeded to read every book in the series at least once. My fascination with mystery continued into my teen and adult years.
So when Murder on the Orient Express was chosen for this month’s Book Club read, I was rather taken aback. I realized I knew nothing about Agatha Christie other than her name and that she was referred to as “The Queen of Mystery.” Could I truly call myself a connoisseur?
I decided to dig in and do a bit of research before I read the book itself. I was amused to find that there is an entire website dedicated to Agatha Christie (though my husband feels Wikipedia is a reliable source, I do not share his enthusiasm).
At www.agathachristie.com I read that she “is best known for her 66 detective novels, 150 short stories, plays, and her famous sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.”
First published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express is claimed to be one of Christie’s greatest novels. An original movie adaptation came out in 1974 with actors Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.
It was made into a BBC radio show, a PC game and also TV series.
The remake of the original movie will come out this fall, starring Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, and Michelle Pfiffer to name a few.
Armed with the knowledge that this was an award winning book that has been turned into every adaptation at least once, I settled in to read a mystery.
Ms. Christie did not disappoint.
"The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances."
The setting begins on a train platform in Aleppo with Hercule Poirot, the main character in a series of mystery novels by Christie. He finds himself in a somewhat empty train car, and enjoys his wintery ride with a plan to stay in Haydapassar. But upon his arrival at the hotel, Poirot receives a message at the front desk that a previously started Kassner Case needs his assistance, so he must find his way back to London immediately.
Poirot boards the Wagon Lit train to find the director of the train, as well as his friend, Monsieur Bouc. In what is a surprising turn of events for the winter months, they find the first class sleeping rooms to be full. But M. Bouc pulls some strings and fits Poirot in to a second class coach.
The characters, including Americans, a German, French, two Russians and Englishmen, take off on their journey on the cross country train. Quickly the action unfolds as M. Poirot is approached by a passenger, Mr. Ratliff, to guard his life from a threat he received, but Poirot declines as he is suspicious of the ordeal.
That evening the train simultaneously gets stuck in a snowdrift and Mr. Ratliff is killed in the sleeping coach right next to Poirot. So begins the search to find the killer before reaching the next destination.
Christie’s ability to masterfully weave a story and intrigue the readers with her characters exceeded all expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed the tale and the way in which it was told.
Now that I have finished my first experience with Agatha Christie’s novels, I do plan to continue reading more. Maybe then I will revisit my possible title of Mystery Connoisseur.
*I have chosen a historical fiction novel and am about halfway through. Stay tuned for the review next week.*
The Dogwood Summer Youth Theater will present "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" on July 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. both evenings. The Dogwood Summer Youth Theater is directed again this summer by Chelsea Webb and involves area youth in all facets of the production.
“A Midsummer Night's Dream” is a comedy written by William Shakespeare. It portrays the events surrounding the adventures of characters who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.
The production has 32 Newaygo County youth participating in the show. This program is funded in part by the Fremont Area Community Foundation and Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Free admission with donations accepted at the door to support Dogwood programs. The production is on the Dogwood Main Stage with general admission seating.
For more information please contact the Dogwood Center at 231.924.8885. The Dogwood Center is located one mile east of downtown Fremont.
By Alexis Mercer
Thanks for all N3 Readers who responded to the survey!
We have a winner....
I will be doing some research this week to find a book within that genre about which to write my next review.
By Ken DeLaat
This has been an outstanding year for music in our area as the Dogwood has tossed out a sumptuous series of compelling concerts for our listening pleasure.
This week however you absolutely need to go to the Black Box if you want to hear a duo that produces some of the most unique music to have hit these ears since our musically astute friend Tom Bland told us about a group called Donna the Buffalo years ago and turned us into lifelong fans.
The Rough & Tumble will be bringing their innovative and exciting sound to The Box this Thursday night and from all signs and omens being put forth this looks like an evening you will not want to miss. Mallory Graham and Scott Tyler took to the road awhile back to embark on an extended tour and exploration adventure. In doing so they have shared their music with folks throughout the country while continuing to develop new sounds and forging ahead into new musical territory.
To call their sound unique is a bit of a misnomer. They have a style that reaches inside, with songs that ring of honesty. Music that relates to others in a subtle way.
We caught up with them as they were grabbing a quick coffee in Traverse City on the way to their upcoming gig in Bellaire. They were facing the prospect of trying to park the camper they call home (along with their canine companions and sometime collaborators Pud and Butter) on a Saturday morning during the peak season in that town, a rather formidable task.
The duo engages in conversation similar to how they perform, playing off each other and engaging in a lively dialogue tinged with the delightful sense of humor both seem to possess,
N3-Describe your music to those who might not be familiar with your sound.
S- We are an acoustic folk Americana duo.
M- We used to call ourselves hillbilly grunge but that doesn’t really fit anymore.(laughter)
S- Yeah, we have this odd collection of odds and ends and musical instruments,that help accompany our folk songs so it’s kind of a unique sound I’d say
M- And story based. Our instruments are part of our telling the story in the song. Whenever we add an instrument we talk to each other about what it might add to the story.
N3-In listening to your music it comes across rather fearless. You seem unafraid to put whatever you’re experiencing into your performance.
S- Thanks.You know,here’s a lot of fear out there and when you write songs and go out there and perform them with strangers you’re actively working through that fear
M- And hopefully inspiring other people to do the same.
N3-Most of the songs are written by the two of you. How does that collaboration work.Is there a back and forth kind of process to the writing?
M-When we started working together sometimes we couldn’t tell when one person stopped and the other started so we decided at that point whatever song happened when we were in the same room it’s a 50-50 split.Even just a week after we’ve written a song we can’t remember who wrote what. We’re happy about that though sometimes it feels like if we ever stop writing together I’ll probably never be able to write another song.
N3-Where do you get your inspiration
S Early on we were kind of taking stories from our friends and turning them into songs ...and then, you know, our friends ...well... they kind of got tired of us (both laughing).
M- Yeah we had to get real honest with ourselves on that one.
S-So we bought this camper headed out and then as cliche' as it might sound,we started getting our inspiration from the road.
M_ And from our relationship too. like there might be a song about a fight we had last week.
N3-I can only imagine how that plays out on stage.
Both-(Laughter) Yeah it can be pretty interesting
S- One would be Will Gray who was a songwriter we knew who unfortunately passed away. I remember him telling us ‘You need to be more honest. Your songs are good but they’re not good enough.’
M- Yeah I don’t think he would have said that if he didn’t think we could do better. I think we’ve also had what I would call accidental mentors along the way. People we’ve met who have influenced us.
S- When a song is done right it can really just communicate so much more and getting it right is what we strive for.
N3-Who have you been listening to?.
S-Regina Spektor Esme Patterson, and lately some older folk songs.
M-We just started doing this Wednesday live podcast (http://www.theroughandtumble.com/) where we pick an older folk song and perform it.It helps us learn our roots.
S- The music is inspiring. We recently came up with an arrangement for the old folk tune “The Water is Wide” and afterwards I had my guitar out and Mallory came up with a line and we started writing and in an hour and a half we had a song.
N3-If I were to tell people to listen to one song of yours on Youtube which would it be.
M- 'Cicada'. We did it on an earlier record and just included a newer version on our latest. I think it’s a good example of what we do.
N3- Nowadays many performers are taking political stands. Is there an obligation as an artist to do so?
M- Hmmm... We’ve been talking about that a lot lately.
S- I don’t believe there’s an obligation to align with a specific political party but people’s lives are political and as we tell the stories of the people around us and what they’re going through...well...
M- The obligation might be to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice.
N3-I described your music as fearless but there’s also an obvious innate kindness in it
S- Yeah, we maintain a pretty strong belief in people as a whole.
N3-Lastly, why should people come?
S- It’s going to be a really fun show.
M- And it’s live music. I mean... you can Netflix a show any night of the week and our show is a chance to have a group experience. A pleasant group experience because we really try to interact with the audience and create a relationship with them.
S- And we’re excited to be playing at the Dogwood. We’ve heard so many great things about the venue.
M- Yeah, like Scott said it will be a lot of fun, so maybe Netflix a different night and come out to see the show.
Mallory and Scott are a charming, funny, insightful and candid pair of performers who pour out their music with a cavalcade of sounds from a number of sources and lyrical stories woven into a most intriguing pattern.
As we opined earlier it has truly been a banner season for concerts at the Dogwood to be sure.
But catching performers such as this...in the fun club-like setting that is the Black Box…. on a mid-summer night?
Yeah, don’t miss this show.
Click here to purchase tickets! $12.50. Black Box. General admission seating. 7:30 p.m. Tables can be reserved with the purchase of eight tickets. Call the Dogwood to reserve yours at 231-924-8885!
Dogwood Box Office hours are Tuesday - Friday from 10:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and two hours prior to an event. For more information please contact Dogwood Box Office at 231.924.8885. You may also purchase tickets from the Dogwood Center Facebook page!
Tickets may also be purchased at the NCCA-Artsplace in downtown Fremont. Hours are Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Thursday, 9:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. For more information please contact NCCA-Artsplace at 231.924.4022.
Upcoming Book Review Survey
By Alexis Mercer
Near North Now readers! I am hoping to get some input. There has been wonderful feedback on my Facebook page about the book reviews. I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing from readers about how they are trying out books I have suggested or whether they have read the book prior to my review.
Right now I am between books. I recently finished the most recent Book Club selection and will be writing a review soon. The pile of books on my night stand is teetering dangerously. So I need your help in deciding.
Please take a minute to answer this survey. I would like to know which genre I should choose next! Whichever the genre, I will choose from that for my next selection and review.
I do enjoy all genres except horror....sorry, horror fans. I just can't do it.
The survey will be open until Tuesday at 9:59 PM.
By Alexis Mercer
If someone asked me even a year ago if I had a favorite author, I would have had to say no. Granted, I’m mildly obsessed with the Lee Child Jack Reacher series (let’s NOT get into the horrid decision to cast Tom Cruise as Jack because I could go on for hours). And I’ve read nearly every James Patterson novel ever printed. But neither of those authors could even come close to qualifying as a favorite. Their novels are mindless reads that I enjoy on the beach or between novels with substance.
But then I read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. And I was reminded of my deep love for Patchett’s writing.
Many, many years ago I read Bel Canto; my first Ann Patchett novel. Immediately I was infatuated with Patchett’s ability to string words together in a way that stuck with me and created a beautiful picture in my mind.
Her capacity to tell a story about human nature and how we are all alike in the most unlikely ways is fully divulged with that first book.
Sometime after Bel Canto, but still many years ago, I read Patchett’s Run. Though when I think about it now, I don’t remember many details of the plot itself, I do remember being transported into a beautiful world of story.
So when it was my first time to choose for Book Club last year, Bel Canto was my immediate thought. I wanted everyone to be able to experience the joy I had when reading that book. As I reread it, I was reminded just how much I wanted to read more of her novels.
Over the winter I bought State of Wonder. Unlike anything else of Patchett’s I had read so far, I found myself in a South American jungle, dreaming of travels and learning of a world about which I knew nothing. I was awestruck at the disparities between the three novels I had encountered.
How could one author so authentically construct such divergent stories in the most magical of ways?
State of Wonder led me to Commonwealth; I was hooked on Patchett’s astonishing oeuvre.
Published May 2 of this year, it is her most recent novel.
A story of two families and how their lives intertwined, Commonwealth is unpredictable yet familiar.
Unpredictable in that I couldn’t possibly have thought in my own mind how the book would unfold. Nor did I even attempt to predict - which I do sometimes in books I find to be frustrating in how they progress. Instead I was able to settle in to the story and enjoy the tale chapter by chapter, word by word.
Familiar in that the characters and situations they encountered felt real, genuine and true. Nothing was far fetched, hard to believe, or unrealistic. I felt comfortable with the characters and how I could relate to them even if their stories were nothing like my own.
The tale of Commonwealth is spun about the Keating and the Cousins families and how their lives are changed after one chance encounter. Fifty years' worth of reaction to the action of one character unfurl in front of the reader.
I knew before I had even reached the last chapter that this was a book I was going to read again. The words are still ringing in my ears and in my heart. So much that as I turned to the last page, I was truly sad that it was over.
While the jury may have been out since I learned to read when I was 4, it is official that Ann Patchett has stolen my heart and my mind with her beautiful prose in each novel of hers I have read.
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“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”
- Eric Qualman