Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians- a guest review by Keith Mecklem

“Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians” by Virginia Waring taught me a lot about a man who did far more than lead an entertainment group of singers and musicians. I was somewhat familiar with Waring from growing up in Pennsylvania while Waring continued to tour. To my young eyes, he was another big band era, Lawrence Welk type of entertainer who attracted the same older crowd. I since have learned that Lawrence Welk was the follower; Waring was the original and best.

Waring invented a music system for singers to enunciate words perfectly. The Pennsylvanians, the book says, could be understood perfectly in every song. One humorous story relates how a fan told Waring they enjoyed a new group because it reminded the fan of Waring’s group. His reply, “But did you understand what they were saying?” The fan admitted he did not. Waring’s system was passed on through schools and colleges, but never with the perfection the Pennsylvanians carried it out.
Waring was the first to be famous for directing a choral group, then, later was the first to direct a regular group of singers and musicians. In fact, his musicians were often the singers.

Waring started Shawnee Press, a music publishing company, so he could control his own output and reap the financial rewards. He risked his own fortune and reputation in his efforts to get music arrangers royalties, arguing that the songwriter may have written a piece of music; but the arrangers turn it into a hit. Waring even stood up to unions. He already paid more than union scale for his performers.

Waring bought a new invention that later became the Waring Blender. The inventor died shortly after selling Waring on the idea. He paid royalties to the inventor’s widows for decades, even though he legally did not have to pay anything.
The book covers the joy and trials of a large group of performers who were together so much practicing, traveling, and performing it was like a large family. They all had marital problems because of the lifestyle, including Waring. Waring and his brother, Tom, had vicious fights about the group’s direction and had to part ways. Yet, everyone supported each other.

“Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians” was a fun book to read, full of funny and tragic stories. Packed with details of how the Pennsylvanians were trained to perfection. Full of back-stage drama and big star visits — a fun book to read.

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Review of Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius

A South African boy succumbed to a strange illness that left  him trapped in his own unresponsive body. Aware of his surroundings but unable to respond, Martin was vulnerable and lonely.  One amazing massage therapist began to suspect that there was more to Martin than anyone guessed. An excruciatingly slow journey of learning to communicate began. Martin’s experiences “speak” for themselves as testaments of what is possible for many people in similar medical dilemmas.

Today, Martin has broken forth with the fervor of enjoying life and advocating for others. You can follow his adventures on Twitter and Facebook.  I also enjoyed watching this video that he made when submitting his book for publication.  Seriously, who could resist that smile?


The Most Difficult Book I Have Ever Read

Most people know that I do not enjoy reading “tearjerkers.” I avoid romance novels (and math books) for this very reason. Emotionally manipulative books should die a slow death on dusty shelves next to used tissues.  When I saw the cover of this book, I rolled my eyes and thought “Oh there’s another one of those.”  But it wasn’t one of “those.”  Look beyond the cover.  This book has teeth.

Forgiven by Terri Roberts did make me cry. On almost every page.  However, I was not crying from manipulation, I was crying because of the beauty that grew from this tragedy. The author of Forgiven is the mother of a man who shot little girls in an Amish school house.  She leads the reader through a storm of horror, loss, and forgiveness. The Amish community effected by Charlie Roberts chose to forgive. Of course, it was a difficult choice to make. To most of us it was a surprise. This community did not just say, “Okay, I forgive you” and walk away. They protected and provided for the killer’s family. This absolution healed Pennsylvania families and carried an incredible message to other victims of violence around the world. That is real forgiveness.  We all need a lesson in what real forgiveness is and the healing power that it brings.

I received this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review.

Avenue of Spies- A Review of an Alex Kershaw masterpiece

Paris has been called a city of light.  During World War II it became a city of darkness. It was Hitler’s prize and a privilege for high ranking Nazi officers to live on the prestigious Avenue Foch.  Torture chambers were a normal part of some households along this street.  Ordinary French citizens kept their windows and doors tightly shut through the long hot summer to prevent hearing the screams. Paris was a city abandoned to hopelessness and terror.
There were some who resisted the smelting pot of evil. Living on the very same street as several dedicated Nazi officials was one family who was determined to kindle hope and resilience.  The Jackson family endured the increasing pressure of ordinary life in Nazi France while using their home as an extraordinary escape route for those fleeing from the terror.
The Jackson family was determined to resist  the noose of Nazi capture. Even in the face of paying the ultimate price this family knew the value of human life and wanted to see the restoration of Paris.
This anecdote was riveting, terrifying, and informative.  It deserves to be on the list of “must reads”  for history.

Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary (review)

As an immigrant from Sri Lanka, Rifqa is raised in a strict Muslim home governed by the code of her family’s culture. The trouble is that her home is also filled with violence. It is a harrowing tale of a teen’s life trapped in abuse in which she fears no one will believe what is happening to her or help her escape. Rifqa literally runs away to save her life. These events occur in a country that guarantees freedom of religion yet Rifqa feels that her conversion to Christianity will be her death sentence. After her escape, she must endure more humiliation by being arrested as a runaway and living in several foster care homes (some of which were sub standard). Things become a further muddle when politics and immigration officials become involved. There are endless court cases and a life in hiding from her family and the press. Her only real escape was turning eighteen and becoming a legal adult. She survived and thrived by graduating valedictorian of her high school class and developing the confidence to live on her own. Alas, the trouble continues as Rifqa still lives in hiding while attending college and limits contacts with her friends because of the pervasive threats toward them. However, the book ends on a positive note as Rifqa forgives her family and makes plans for a life lived in freedom.
Rifqa’s experiences are related eloquently and left the reader completely absorbed in her peril. How many abused children are living with the terror of a violent parent in this country? How many teens are waiting for a safe and caring foster home? How many people would believe a troubled teen claiming violence at the hands of her own father? This book cries out for a response from each of us.
This book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Trapped Under the Sea- Review

Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey was a big disappointment. This book is a detailed piece of investigative journalism that promised to read like a suspense novel. It did not live up to its potential. It is a grim reminder of the dangers of underwater construction but it did not have any level of expectancy. Even the death scene was a disappointment. The history of Boston Harbor and the relentless background information of the divers made the book plod along in textbook style. Its only redeeming value is the quality of research.
This book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Yes! It’s Possible!

Possible- A Blueprint for Changing How we Change the World by Stephan Bauman was a pleasant surprise. It is arranged into 3 sections: Recovering our Call, Reframing the Problem, and Remaking the World. The first section’s purpose is to motivate the reader to a renewed desire to be involved on a personal level. The author is effective in making the reader feel the urgency of using our talents NOW without waiting for a specific overture of mission. This first section was necessary but could have been shortened without sacrificing effect.
Parts 2 and 3 were far more interesting. Bauman uses a figurative tree to illustrate the relationship of our values, beliefs, behavior, and results. The reader can practice this exercise on a personal level and then expand its use to a community level.
The author has plenty of experience in his mission to make a difference in the world. He is president and CEO of World Relief. Bauman wants us to stop seeing the poor as victims. We need to see them as people who have the potential to be heroes in the same causes that concern us. It is time to stop the “unhelpful assumptions, hidden paternalism, and subtle arrogance” that plague us. We must work together with those we see as victims in order to make any real change in violent cultures.
It was refreshing to read a book focused on justice that motivates the reader as well as provides step by step help in creating change. Yes, it is POSSIBLE to change the world.
A copy of this book was provided to me for free in exchange for a review.